Smell the Coffee Already:

Propaganda 101

 

This page offers some correspondence between myself and a pro-Bush Republican residing in Florida.  Over the years she's always faithfully sent on to me nearly every ridiculous political email forward she's received, sometimes jamming my inbox with overly illustrated "patriotic" tripe intended to convince me of my wrongheadedness.  Still, I've never blocked her address, but rather, more or less wasting my time, have stayed in steady debate with her since 2001.  The letters here come from two periods, first being the period of the push for war in Iraq, second being the current period, after the leaking of the much-ignored Downing Street Memo.  This page might be of interest to anyone studying the force of propaganda in the war on terror.   --E.M., 2005

 

 

1) Eric to T----- (June, 2005)

 

Dear T-----:

 

I was going through my email from recent years and came across an exchange we had in March of 2003.  I think it's interesting to reread these letters in the light of what's happened since.  What's more, when you sent me your original letter I made some skeptical comments and said you should "remember" our exchange.  Because I suspected just such a day as today would come.

 

Here are the original letters:

 

 

Dear Eric:

 

     My neighbors, Heidi and Dick --------, went to a small dinner party two days ago.  One of the couples at the party was General [Norman] Schwarzkopf and his wife.  He was the head general in Desert Storm.  As the evening passed the subject came up of the pending war with Iraq.  The general was pointedly asked if he felt war with Iraq was truly necessary.  His response was interesting.  He said that if the public knew what he, the president and his cabinet knew concerning what was really going on in Iraq, that there would not be one American that wouldn't fully support this war.  He said it was indeed terrifying.  He also said that he was not able to discuss things to a greater degree, but that the situation was critical. 

       That is how I have felt all along.  Within myself, I feel that there must be a lot that we do not know and it is perhaps good that it remains that way.  We have enough fear to live with; who needs more?

 

My Best,

 

T-----

 

 

Dear T-----:

 

If it's true that there is some horribly menacing weapons program or something of the like going on in Iraq, and if for some reason the CIA and the Administration can't presently reveal anything about it, then I'm sure that after the war is over the American people will be able to learn what the Iraqi threat really was--that, for example, it wasn't merely unaccounted-for stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve gas, which wouldn't justify going to war.

     If, on the other hand, the war passes and this threat is not finally revealed, then we'd have to conclude my suspicion about this business is right: Schwarzkopf was talking a lot of baloney at a Naples dinner party.

     We will see.  We will see.  But remember this letter you sent me. It's characteristic of wartime, as the general's evocation of some phantom menace is characteristic of wartime government propaganda.

     "If you knew what we know you wouldn't even think twice about supporting everything we do."

     It's a good thing that most Americans don't nod their heads in awe at such words. 

 

Warmly,

 

Eric

 

 

Now I think enough time has passed to assess what the Administration "knew" about the situation in Iraq. 

    

When you wrote your original letter we Americans were being blitzed by Administration propaganda that aimed to convince us Saddam had stockpiles of WMD and was actively developing more.  Now we know the reason the UN weapons inspectors never found anything in Iraq was because there wasn't anything to find.  With the war's end and no WMD found, we've had much wringing of hands around the question: "How could our intelligence analysts have been so wrong?"

    

All this hand-wringing would suggest a certain attitude toward the contents of your original letter.  As follows: Norman Schwarzkopf at that Naples dinner party was offering up a simple misconception the American government then had.  In other words, the general was speaking that way because our "faulty intelligence" had given our leaders, and Schwarzkopf as well, the illusion that Saddam's government had these weapons.

    

But is this the best way to understand it?  Was it really faulty U.S. intelligence?  A trusting Bush Administration misled by shoddy CIA work?

    

Now, finally, we have a more reasonable explanation, or at least we have solid evidence for a more reasonable explanation.  It comes in the form of an internal British government document, an official memo taken of a secret meeting between Tony Blair, the head of British intelligence and various other members of Blair's cabinet.  The document is called the Downing Street Memo.  The memo is genuine, an internal British government document that the British government itself has not sought to deny.  If you haven't read about this memo (the American press isn't really covering this serious bit of news) then here is a brief article in explanation:

 

Last month, the Times of London printed "smoking gun" evidence that long before the invasion of Iraq the Bush administration was determined to go to war, intentionally distorting intelligence and lying to the American people.

 

The proof comes from the classified minutes of a British cabinet meeting, referred to as the "Downing Street Memo." So far President Bush has refused to explain or directly respond to the memo, but pressure is mounting daily from Congress and the public.

 

The memo quotes high-level British officials during a July 23rd, 2002 cabinet meeting, discussing recent meetings with the Bush Administration.  The memo makes clear that the Bush Administration had told British cabinet members of their decision to invade Iraq as well as their decision to manipulate intelligence to back up the invasion. Below are two key excerpts:

 

Sir Richard Dearlove, Director of the British foreign intelligence service, (MI6) reported on his recent meetings in Washington:

 

"Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

 

Later British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw added:

 

"Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

 

The British government has not disputed the authenticity or accuracy of the smoking gun memo, even in the few crucial days after the story broke before Tony Blair's re-election.

 

What the Bush administration told these foreign officials is the exact opposite of what the president repeatedly told Congress and the American people about his decision before the invasion, and what he continues to claim--that he was trying to avoid a war America did not want, and that intelligence about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was "clear and compelling."

 

Why is it important to confront the Bush administration now and get this story out?

 

The Bush administration continues to peddle falsehoods about the rush to war and intelligence manipulation, despite overwhelming evidence from former administration officials, and now from our closest allies. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told troops stationed in Iraq: "This war came to us, not the other way around." And just yesterday Bush avoided a direct question about the Downing Street Memo by simply reiterating his claim that the war was a choice of last resort.

 

We must make it clear that brazenly lying to the people and our representatives about the life and death choices we face must not go unaddressed. Democracy cannot function without truth from our leaders, and it's time for the deception to end.

 

With limited news coverage and an administration completely dismissive of any evidence it doesn't like, exposing the truth can feel like a daunting challenge. But we've been here before. Many of us joined MoveOn at a time when the White House and the press didn't believe there could be any real opposition to the president's war, and it took millions of us working together to prove them wrong.

 

Following are some quotes from the White House made after the time of the Downing Street Memo, i.e., well after the time the Bush Administration had told the British they had already decided on going to war and that they were fixing intelligence to justify a war:

 

"Of course, I haven't made up my mind we're going to war with Iraq." [10/1/02]

 

"Hopefully, we can do this peacefully--don't get me wrong. And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there's a chance he may decide to do that. And war is not my first choice, don't-it's my last choice." [11/7/02]

 

"This is our attempt to work with the world community to create peace. And the best way for peace is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. It's up to him to make his decision." [12/4/02]

 

"The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons...And according to the British government, the Iraqi regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes." [9/26/2002]

 

"I expected to find the weapons [because] I based my decision on the best intelligence possible...The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon." [2/8/2004]

 

2002 is not so long ago.  All the debates that were raging then--remember them?  We now have proof in this memo the extent to which appearances were being manipulated by our own government. 

 

A question that sticks in my mind is as follows: Are educated Americans really as unquestioning and gullible as it seems?  Or is it rather that they knew they were being lied to, but consented to the lies even so?

 

Note: the people quoted in the Downing Street Memo are not left-wing conspiracy theorists gabbing at a Starbucks.  They include Tony Blair, the Bush Administration's closest ally, and the head of British intelligence.  They are talking frankly about American plans at the time, and trying to plan their own strategy vis--vis what the Americans intended.  Their talk is based on meetings with Bush Administration figures in Washington.  The men quoted in this memo would have no reason to distort what was told them by the Bush Administration.  And based on the memo it is clear that the Bush people told them something like: "We are going to try to make a linkage in the public mind between Saddam and bin Laden's group and we are going to bend the intelligence to make it look like Saddam has WMD."

 

What do you think of all this?  I don't want a bunch of rhetoric as a reply either.  I think you can see the factual weight of much of what is presented here.  Whether you want to see it or not is another question.

 

Warmly,

 

Eric

 

 

2) T----- to Eric (June, 2005)

 

Dear Eric:

 

I don't like the idea of our president lying to us.  I do not have access to all the information that George Bush and his staff had in front of them. 

 

I still do not believe that Saddam did not have the capacity to deliver WMD.  He gassed his own people with WMD, so that alone was proof of what he had.  He also had missiles which are the vehicles of such deliverance.

 

He was an extremely heinous dictator who tortured and killed his own people: a man with little respect for human life.

 

It was proven that there were Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq.  This is a bad forecast of things to come.  He hated America, as does Bin Laden.  This is also a bad combination.

 

How many presidents have told the truth to the American people?  Consider Pearl Harbour.  Consider Clinton and his many known lies the least of which was, " I have never had sex with that woman."  I viewed a video cassette on Clinton and it would sicken you.

 

Then also it is apparent that there is a lynch mob that is out there to bring down one fine president.  The democrats lost two elections and they just don't know where to dredge up enough garbage to assuage their sour pie status.  They don't consider that the Iraqi people are better off with the possible future of freedom.  They just continue to sling manure.  They also refuse to accept the belief that dictatorships and terrorism go hand in hand and after 9/11 we have lived fearfully.  Given this, can this country, with clear thinking, allow any dictatorships to flourish?  This of course is a new question that has poked up its head since 9/11.  The wars aren't the same, therefore can we allow evil to grab a strong foothold?  It isn't the way it used to be.  We used to believe that we had to be attacked first to counter attack.  Is that wise now?  I don't know.  A good comparison is the Aids virus.  It appeared....should we have just waited to see if it would die away, or should we attempt to eradicate it.  My belief then boils down to the words that I have often repeated, " It's a good thing that the strongest country on the earth is a freedom loving country."  Imagine if it was the other way around, imagine that we had allowed a dictator to gain such strength that he toppled freedom. That is a thought I don't even want to delve on.

 

In all, I support my president.  He is a God fearing man and that kind of man is far better than those that aren't.  I trust his leadership.  He may not be perfect, but then only one perfect man ever walked the earth.  I support his positions on all issues that I have heard him speak of. 

 

The democrats are sore losers and they should just sit down and continue to eat humble pie.  I only hope and pray that they continue to lose because I can't tolerate any of their agendas.  They will be the ruination of this country with their lax values and so called progressive thinking.  Their liberal ideas have diluted the moral strength of this country and the moral strength is what made this country great. 

 

So there, I have answered your question.  My opinion is fully covered.  I don't know if we should have gone into Iraq when we did, but sooner or later I think it would have been inevitable.  There is too much evil in the world; should we just turn our heads and watch it fester and gain strength.  In all, it's a frightening situation and I am one simple human being who is happy I am not the decision maker. 

 

In closing....  Leave my president alone!

 

My Best,

 

T----- 

 

 

3) Eric to T----- (June, 2005)

 

Dear T-----:

 

Your letter shows there are things you continue to believe, even though they've been proven false.

 

First, it is now universally accepted that Saddam did not have WMD at the time we were preparing for war.  You are just being silly to say you still doubt this fact--that you still believe he had such weapons.

 

That the Iraqis had WMD in the past doesn't mean they had them in 2002, because many such weapons have a shelf life.  The experts knew about this shelf life as well.  Under sanctions Saddam couldn't maintain his stockpiles.

 

If Saddam had had any WMD capability, don't you think he would have used it in his last stand against the hated Americans?  But not a single canister was fired.  Why not?  Because there weren't any to fire.  And not a single canister was found.  Also because there weren't any. 

 

When you compare this absolute lack of WMD with the lengthy list of weapons "we know Saddam has" that was given by Colin Powell before the UN as part of the war effort, it is pretty chastening.  But it is not surprising.  Because we now can see clearly that well before Powell's speech the Bush Administration had decided to "fix the intelligence" to suit the policy.  Which is to say: they had decided to fabricate it.

 

And what does this suggest to you about the doctrine of "pre-emptive war"?  Already in the first usage of this new doctrine (this doctrine which is now official U.S. policy) the truth has been abused in order to make war on false premises.  This has more or less been proven, because as the evidence shows, particularly in the form of the Downing Street Memo, this war was launched on false premises.

 

A good Australian friend of mine says that Bush should not be criticized so harshly because after all he has done the world a favor by getting rid of a nasty regime.  I agree with this to a degree because I think it is good for the world that Saddam is finished.  I too hope Iraq finally establishes a somewhat democratic and functional government.  Nonetheless--and this is a huge nonetheless--the grounds for waging this war were illegitimate and I believe launching this war has only exacerbated the divide between Muslims and the West.  Rather than attack Iraq, America should have stuck with the UN and our allies.  Just as we should have concentrated our resources on bringing stability and development to Afghanistan.  At the very least we should have ensured that 1) there really were WMD and WMD programs in Iraq and 2) there really was an active link between Saddam and al Qaeda.  We did neither of these things because in fact the issue of American security was not the real issue of this war.  The real issue was one of eventual U.S. influence over the oil fields of Iraq.  And eventual U.S. influence in the region.

 

Which brings me to another point.  I have not seen anything that proves there were Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq.  Show me your sources on this.  The only thing that's been proven is that there was a 1994 meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official at which bin Laden requested Iraq's help in setting up such camps.  The evidence--and again all the sources agree on this--shows that the request was not granted.  You will not find any Bush Administration official talking of al Qaeda camps discovered in Iraq.  And they would have the most to gain from demonstrating the existence of such camps.

 

In any event Saddam wouldn't have been wise welcome such camps on Iraqi soil.  Al Qaeda is a Muslim fundamentalist organization that seeks to overthrow all secular regimes, including the secular Baathist regime that Saddam led.  Why would Saddam help out a group that eventually sought to put him out of business?  Of course American propaganda leading up to the war was calculated to mix up in Americans' minds the secular Baathists in Iraq and the fundamentalist terrorists led by bin Laden.  This American propaganda worked, as evidenced by the ridiculous email chatter that kept insisting an attack on Iraq was justified because Americans had to "get back at the killers who attacked us on 9/11."

 

More recently, namely after the Bush Administration had gotten what they wanted out of their rhetorical fudge and smear, the president could come out and admit: "This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda."  He said this in June of last year.  As if he couldn't understand why Americans had thought otherwise.

 

Try to get some idea how all this looks to the rest of the world.  It's as if Brazil were attacked by Maoist radicals based in the mountains of Peru.  Then, in response, they invade oil rich Venezuela, a country without any Maoist movement.  "We have to defend ourselves from future Maoist attacks," the Brazilians say, meanwhile devoting 4% of their war budget to fighting in the mountains where the Maoists are based and 96% of their budget to occupying the country with all the oil.  Hmm.  Then it turns out that the Brazilian president, his vice president, his Secretary of State and half his cabinet are all oil industry people. 

 

Americans hope the project of establishing an Iraqi democracy finally proves successful.  America has sacrificed much to this end.  But whether or not our war in Iraq will ultimately bring good or bad to Iraqis is something only time can tell.  In other words, we still can't know.  What we can know is that this war was launched on a basis of lies and propaganda, and that in order to launch it we have both alienated our traditional allies and lowered the standards according to which war can be legitimately waged.  I think it has brought America more harm than good, though I'm sure there are people in the oil industry who couldn't in their wildest dreams imagine a better U.S. foreign policy than Bush's, not even if Exxon were president and Chevron controlled the Senate. 

 

But let's return briefly to the main issue of the debate.  The Downing Street Memo demonstrates clearly that well before the war the Bush Administration made it known to the British that 1) they were definitely going to invade Iraq, and 2) in order to provide a political justification for the war they were going to "fix" the intelligence to make it appear the Iraqis had significant amounts of WMD.

 

In reply, the first paragraph of your letter states: "I do not have access to all the information that George Bush and his staff had in front of them."  I'm sorry, but I can't see how this matters at all.  Because regardless of what information they did have, they told the British they were going to doctor this information to make the case for WMD.  Which in my mind means they were going to lie about it.

 

And so the conclusion is inescapable.  Americans who believed Bush's talk of WMD were duped.  You were among them.  That Clinton and other politicians have lied in the past is irrelevant to the question at hand: Bush lied his way into this war.

 

Love,

 

Eric

 

The best article I've found on the memo is at:

 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18034

 

Read it for yourself and tell me what you think.

 

 

 

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