During the last few days at dailykos, there have been a number of diaries (including one by me) hyping a special that aired Monday night at MSNBC. The title of the page at the website is "How the Bush administration sold the Iraq war."
Well, I have watched it, and despite my tremendous respect for Rachel Maddow my own reactions to it are mixed.
The blame centers on two main groups of people: the top tiers of the Bush administration and the CIA. Of course, everyone here knows that these groups are guilty but it seems possible that there is a large part of the American public who still does not understand the depth of the lies told by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and C. Rice, and how they were trying to come up with reasons for attacking Iraq. This show may help keep them from being rehabilitated in the public, which would be a good thing.
So, this is a story which needs to be told, and Maddow deserves credit for telling it, and she did get some people to come on camera - people lower down in the Bush administration - to talk about how shocked they were that information that they knew was discredited was being used to justify an invasion. Little is given to acknowledge how soon so much of the information was really known. Obviously France and Germany had their doubts, and
back in 2004, the lying was already known in the US, as reported by Jonathan Landay:
WASHINGTON — The public version of the U.S. intelligence community's key prewar assessment of Iraq's illicit arms programs was stripped of dissenting opinions, warnings of insufficient information and doubts about deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's intentions, a review of the document and its once-classified version shows.Imagine if we had found some way to end the war in 2004 instead of continuing it for so many years!
As a result, the public was given a far more definitive assessment of Iraq's plans and capabilities than President Bush and other U.S. decision-makers received from their intelligence agencies.
The stark differences between the public version and the then top-secret version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate raise new questions about the accuracy of the public case made for a war that's claimed the lives of more than 500 U.S. service members and thousands of Iraqis.
Besides the fact that so much was known before, the Selling the War special does not cover why people actually bought it. It makes excuses for Colin Powell, and it skips the deep complicity of the press. There's only a line about, "the media did not do their job" and, 19 months after the invasion, Tom Brokaw's voice announcing in a shocked tone that there are no wmds in Iraq. Perhaps it is too much to expect a corporation to accuse itself on air, and so I recommend Bill Moyers' "Buying the War" - I've linked to the transcript but you can get to the show from there - and perhaps it can be considered the companion piece, as transactions involve both buying and selling:
DAN RATHER: And every journalist knew it. They had and they have a very effective slam machine. The way it works is you either report the news the way we want it reported or we're going to hang a sign around your neck.So although I am angry and frustrated with the press back then, I think it's important to give credit where credit is due: there were those who stepped forward, who reported the truth, and who the administration tried to silence, including Dan Rather and Phil Donohue.
BILL O'REILLY (2/27/03): I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.
ANNOUNCER: (MSNBC 12/16/02) Now, Donahue.
BILL MOYERS: ON HIS NEW MSNBC TALK SHOW PHIL DONAHUE, DISCOVERED JUST WHAT COULD HAPPEN WHEN YOU STEPPED OUT OF LINE.
PHIL DONAHUE (MSNBC, 1/13/03): Tonight: Anti-war protestors taking on the government, is there a place for them in this post 9/11 world or are they just downright unpatriotic.
PHIL DONOHUE: And I just felt, you know, what would be wrong with having one show a night, you know, say, "Hold it. Wait a minute. Can we afford this? Do we have enough troops? And what about General Shinseki? And where are all-- you know, what is Guantanamo?" I mean, "What's wrong with this?"
I thought people who didn't like my message would watch me. Because no one else was doing it. That's why, I couldn't get over the unanimity of opinion on cable. The drum was beating. Everybody wanted to bomb somebody. And I'm thinking, "Wait a minute." So here I go, I mean fool that I am, I rushed in.
PHIL DONOHUE: Scott Ritter is here and so is Ambassador...
BILL MOYERS: You had Scott Ritter, former weapons inspector. Who was saying that if we invade, it will be a historic blunder.
PHIL DONOHUE: You didn't have him alone. He had to be there with someone else who supported the war. In other words, you couldn't have Scott Ritter alone. You could have Richard Perle alone.
BILL MOYERS: You could have the conservative.
PHIL DONOHUE: You could have the supporters of the President alone. And they would say why this war is important. You couldn't have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.
BILL MOYERS: You're kidding.
PHIL DONOHUE: No this is absolutely true.
BILL MOYERS: Instructed from above?
PHIL DONOHUE: Yes. I was counted as two liberals.
BILL MOYERS: They're under-selling you. (laughter)
PHIL DONOHUE: I had to have two… there's just a terrible fear. And I think that's the right word.
BILL MOYERS: Eric Sorenson, who was the president of MSNBC, told the NEW YORK TIMES quote: "Any misstep and you can get into trouble with these guys and have the patriotism police hunt you down."
PHIL DONOHUE: He's the management guy. So his phone would ring. Nobody's going to call Donahue and tell him to shut up and support the war. Nobody's that foolish. It's a lot more subtle than that.
To sum up: imho, Maddow's show only covers the tip of the iceberg, and it's a tip which many of us have already seen. Still, it could be important in keeping this in the national consciousness. On the other hand, I'm not sure if it will make a difference.
Back in 2005, I had just started a new position in the US and I had a brief discussion with some colleagues. I said I didn't like Bush, and one asked why, and parroted, "but he has kept us safe" (how that meme could be bought I do not comprehend). I said, "Well, he lied to start a war. That's pretty bad - it doesn't get much worse." I did not get much reaction. Perhaps the enormity did not register. Perhaps they did not care about wars in other countries. Perhaps, as happens occasionally, they thought about what I said and changed their opinions later.
I'd love to read your opinions, oh my friends at dailykos.
Tired of politics? Need to escape? Try my Greek mythology based novels, either the story of Oedipus from the point of view of Jocasta, or a trilogy about Niobe, whose children were murdered by the gods - or were they?