“Do you ever get the sense the whole world is becoming unhinged from reality?” That is the question posed by David Brooks in his New York Times op-ed of January 6, appropriately entitled, “The Era of Distortion”.
“Yes,” would be my own answer to that question, and never more so than when the Bush Administration began echoing the neoconservative cabal’s rallying cry for war against Iraq, suggesting that the war-torn and impoverished nation was a grave and imminent “threat” to the United States of America and to the world — a threat so great that the world could not wait for U.N. weapons inspectors to finish their job, for fear that the “smoking gun” would come “in the form of a mushroom cloud”.
It is this same “neocon” cabal which is the subject of Brooks’ article, in which he notes that many articles have appeared suggesting that the neocons “had taken over U.S. foreign policy.” He then proceeds to debunk this “conspiracy theory” by picking out one such article (his “favorite”) which “described a neocon outing organized by Dick Cheney to hunt for humans”. By equating all articles on the topic, then, with “conspiracy theorists” whose ramblings rank with talk no less incredible than Nessie and the Abominable Snowman, he mocks those who would suggest the obviously ludicrous notion that the neocons could possibly be such a powerful influence in our government. Brooks closes his article by suggesting that to state such a thing is to “choose your own reality”; an act dependent largely upon ignoring “inconvenient facts”. Finally, suggesting neocon influence over the White House, in Brooks’ view, equates with nothing less than “anti-Semitism”.
Indeed. As an example of such a fact regarded as all too “inconvenient”, and therefore ignored by the Bush Administration in declaring its case for war, might be that Iraq had been, according to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, 90-95% disarmed by UNMOVIC by 1998, when weapons inspectors were pulled out so that the U.S. and U.K. could begin its bombing campaign, “Operation Desert Fox”. Couple with this fact admissions from such senior officials as Colin Powell, who stated on February 24, 2001 that Saddam Hussein “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction”, and the full extent of the inconvenience of certain facts becomes glaringly apparent.
Another fact which proved inconvenient is that both U.S. and U.K. intelligence analysts believed that Saddam Hussein would use any (alleged) chemical and biological weapons only “if he believes his regime is under threat” — a sentence which proved far too inconvenient to be included in the U.K.’s document “Iraq–It’s Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation”, the “dodgy dossier” which was, in just such a manner, “sexed up” to make the case for war. Recently, the British government confirmed that the MI6 ran “Operation Mass Appeal”, a campaign to plant stories in the media in order to convince people of the “necessity” for war (never mind also the fact that, considering this analysis, which has been the interpretation of the CIA since at least 1988, the Bush Administration deliberately placed the country in the only circumstances under which Iraq could even remotely be considered as a “threat”).
It certainly proved much too inconvenient for the Bush Administration to note, when it mentioned Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes, that Mohammed El Baradei, chief inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency, had stated that the tubes were “destined for the conventional rocket program” and would need “substantial modification before they could be used” for enrichment, a process which would be expensive, time consuming, and detectable. Inconvenient, also, was the note in the CIA’s own National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that the Department of Energy had assessed “that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” The claim regarding the tubes, although “central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program”, was refuted by the “judgment of technical experts” at the DOE, who asserted that “the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment” and found “unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose.” It was considered “far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets.” Truly, such information proved far too inconvenient to share with the American people as the Administration laid out its case for war.
While the Administration claimed Iraq had developed “mobile biological weapons laboratories”, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reported that there was no evidence any such vehicles existed. This did not stop Bush from claiming on May 30, 2003, several months after the invasion, that U.S. forces had “found the weapons of mass destruction”. Testifying that the U.S. had “found biological laboratories”, Bush asked the rhetorical question, “Remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons?”, to which he answered, “we’ve so far discovered two”. Adding that “we’ll find more weapons as time goes on”, he then made a vain attempt to belittle his critics by saying, “But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”
Inconvenient to the Administration, when making this declaration, was the fact that a British investigation launched to determine the purpose of the trailers concluded that nothing of the sort had been found. One biological weapons expert told The Observer, “They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were — facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons.” As it turns out, it was Britain, apparently, who had sold the system, known as an Artillery Meteorological System, or “Amets”, to Saddam Hussein in 1987.
But let us return, for a moment, to Brooks’ own assessment of what he regards as “inconvenient facts”. As Brooks points out, the “conspiracy theory” he attempts to refute is “fixated on a think tank called the Project for the New American Century” (PNAC), which, “To hear these people describe it” is the “nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles.” In order to dispel such “anti-Semitic” myths, he notes that the neocons “travel in widely different circles and don’t actually have much contact with one another.” Furthermore, “The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush” and “senior administration officials” have told him that Richard Perle, who has a legendary “insidious power over administration policy”, has had, in fact, “no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office.” Clearly, then, the neocons could not possibly have any influence over the Bush Administration–at least not unless a man like Perle was “microwaving his ideas into their fillings.”
While it is “true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace”, the fact remains that “correlation does not mean causation”. This undeniable fact having been made apparent, Brooks next states that “All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently.” Of course, any would-be evidence that think-tanks such as PNAC, or other such “tentacles” of the neocons, had any influence on Bush’s “conclusions” is discarded offhand as “conspiracy theory” and “anti-Semitism”. After all, “Jews are a handy explanation for everything”. Moreover, argues Brooks, in certain communities “half-truths get circulated and exaggerated” and “Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them.”
There is, perhaps, no greater example of this latter fact than the Administration’s claim (yet another highly dubious assertion) that Iraq had “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”, a claim which was shown to have been based upon fabricated evidence well before the invasion of Iraq commenced on March 19, 2003, and which the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board headed by Brent Scowcroft has recently concluded was the result of the Administration’s desire to “grab onto something affirmative” in making its case for war.
If such “half-truths” allow us to equate those who propagate them with “conspiracy theorists” who speak of man-hunting Vice Presidents, then I am forced to wonder whether Americans would be just as convinced if the United States government informed them that the Abominable Snowman was intent on terrorizing the nation, or that the bogey man was hiding under their bed at this very moment. After all, America swallowed tales of the “International Communist Conspiracy” for half a century. Replace Emmanuel Goldstein with Osama bin Laden and the two-minute hate with CNN or FOX and you’ve got the makings of a great sequel to Orwell’s 1984.
As Brooks notes, “You get to believe what makes you feel good” and “ignore inconvenient facts so rigorously that your picture of the world is one big distortion.” Indeed.
It’s interesting to note, at this point, that Perle, along with Douglas Feith, was responsible for creating a document entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. It’s further interesting to note that the “realm” referred to is not the United States, but Israel, which could perhaps be a revelation as to where the authors’ true loyalties lie. In that document, they called for a “new intellectual foundation” for “rebuilding Zionism”, which stresses the “shared philosophy” of “might-is-right”, which is a reflection of “continuity with Western values”. Furthermore, the document calls for “reestablishing the principle of preemption” and calls for “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power”, which is considered to be “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right”.
Among other notable facts which might prove “inconvenient” for Brooks is a letter from PNAC to President Clinton encouraging “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power”, which “now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy”; a goal which “cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” Among those who scribbled their John Hancock upon this letter were Richard Armitage, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz (of course, suggesting that such men could possibly have a strong influence on the Bush Administration is merely an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory).
In fact, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz is credited with principle authorship of a 1992 draft document known as “Defense Planning Guidance” which declares that the U.S. “must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role” (emphasis added), and identifies several scenarios in which regional conflicts could threaten U.S. interests, including “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil”.
Far too inconvenient for Brooks is the fact that this document is widely considered by analysts to have been the predecessor of the current National Security Strategy of the United States of America–otherwise known as “the Bush Doctrine”.
Wolfowitz has also noted that, in a meeting immediately following the events of September 11, 2001, Iraq’s place in the “counterterrorist strategy” was discussed in a debate which “appeared to be about not whether but when”. The main disagreement was “whether it should be in the immediate response or whether [the Administration] should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first.”
On September 20, PNAC issued a letter to George W. Bush outlining the “necessary parts of a comprehensive strategy” which notes that Osama bin Laden is “a key goal” but not “the only goal” in the “war on terrorism” and moves quickly on to suggest that “It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States” However, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack”, a “determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power” should be included in the Administration’s “strategy”.
In a PNAC document entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” — a document which builds “upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration” and which notes the 1992 defense policy document as “a blueprint for maintaining U.S. preeminence” — the authors note that “the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security”.
“Security” is, of course, defined in relation to the protection of U.S. “interests”, most notably, perhaps, “access to vital raw materials” such as “Persian Gulf oil”.
The “immediate justification” for providing “security”–that is, for “maintaining U.S. preeminence”–in the oil-rich Gulf region, is provided by “the unresolved conflict with Iraq”, a nation which has proved to be “a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf”. However, as the document points out, “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
To guide us into further understanding of the need to rebuild America’s “defenses”, the document points to a statement from Andrew Krepinevich, a member of the National Defense Panel, in which he explains that “the defense Department’s rhetoric asserting the need for military transformation … has yet to be matched by any great sense of urgency or any substantial resource support”.
Finally, for those mindful of outrageous “conspiracy theories”, it may prove instructive to note that Krepinevich, on March 5, 1999, testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on “the need to transform the U.S. military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars”, noting that “the ‘critical mass’ needed to effect” that transformation “has not yet been achieved”; a transformation which would “likely prove a long arduous process” in “the absence of a strong external shock to the United States — a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts”.
“Rebuilding America’s Defenses” echoes both of Krepinevich’s statements by suggesting that “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, it likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”
After the catastrophic and catalyzing event known as 9/11, Robert Kagan, a director of PNAC, wrote, in a Washington Post column that “Just as the Korean War, Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Lusitania taught us that we can’t immunize ourselves against the world’s problems, Sept. 11 must spur us to launch a new era of American internationalism. Let’s not squander this opportunity” (emphasis added).
If, in light of these facts, we can disregard Brooks’ discourse on the neocon influence in the current Adminstration as being itself too reliant upon his ignorance of “inconvenient facts”, and if, then, following his example, we can place his hypothesis into a category parallel with “conspiracy theory”, then perhaps the corollary can be drawn that the “millions of people” he mentions “who cling to the notion that the world is controlled by well-organized and malevolent forces” are not living in quite so distorted a reality as Brooks would have us believe.
Of course, all else aside, one would be hard-pressed to refute his assertion that the habit of choosing one’s own reality is dependent upon ignoring particular facts “so rigorously that your picture of the world is one big distortion.” And as is quite easily demonstrable by looking at its so-called “evidence” in making the case for war, the Bush Administration has truly ushered in an “Era of Distortion”.