The smoking gun was produced July 6 in Joseph C. Wilson IV's Op-Ed essay in the New York Times. Wilson admitted to being the "unnamed" envoy the CIA sent to Niger last year to check out the claim that Iraq was buying uranium to make nuclear weapons. Wilson writes that he reported to his superiors, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that the uranium story was false. This was a year before the State of the Union speech in which the Liar in Chief terrified Americans with the specter of nuclear arms in the hands of the Butcher of Baghdad.
Wilson, heretofore a loyal Bushie by anyone's definition, writes politely: "Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Predictably, as soon as the ink dried on the Times, the administration began its usual game of lying about the lie. Ari Fleischer insisted this was "nothing new," that the administration had long ago admitted the Niger story was incorrect. He failed to explain why the falsehood was exploited -- and repeatedly -- by Dubya and cronies to begin with. When that embarrassing question came up, Fleischer revised himself again, trying to discount Wilson's findings. Like the minions of the Nixon White House, the lackeys circle the wagons to protect the president by taking the heat. Condoleezza Rice assures us that nobody in their "circle" had been informed about Niger. I guess the vice president, who was certainly informed, is feeling pretty bad about being kicked out of Dubya's "circle."
Meanwhile, pertinent to the larger issue of Saddam's missing weapons, Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee to be more patient. Finding those weapons "will take time." Didn't the U.N. inspectors say they needed more time?
Dubya, who recently appointed himself the Great White Hope of Photo Opportunity-Rich Africa (even though Nelson Mandela refused to see him), is the same cowboy who has repeatedly accused those who question his claims about biological and nuclear weapons of his own practice -- "historical revisionism." That's a fancy expression for making stuff up. This is a narrative worthy of Lewis Carroll. "First the war, then we revise the rationale. Then we accuse others of our own practice," said the Red Queen.
The big mystery remains why Americans are so indifferent to Dubya's lies. Our Iraq commitment is costing our near-deflation economy $3.9 billion monthly and, obviously, entails ongoing loss of life. If the lies about Iraq don't disturb Americans, you'd think they'd be upset that Bush's tax relief for average folks turned out to be a whopper too.
Everyone from columnist Arianna Huffington to Salon's Louise Witt have tried to explain Americans' gross indifference. Witt, calling us a nation of scared sheep, provides the most plausible explanation in her July 9 review of research by Carolyn Keating, a professor at Colgate University. "An audience is softened up to believe information when they feel threatened or when they are aroused by anger or fear," Keating said. "Two things happen when we are under threat: We focus on peripheral, superficial clues and we don't follow complex logic -- only what we feel."
Bush has exploited this completely. By terrorizing people with nuclear holocaust and linking Saddam to al-Qaeda and Sept. 11 -- for which there is utterly no evidence -- he has been able to foist lies on the American people. Keating maintains, too, that we are "hardwired" to believe our leaders, especially during times of stress. The extent to which we will engage in the ridiculous to make ourselves feel safer goes beyond the willing purchase of lies.
Once we have formed beliefs -- especially beliefs that function to lower our anxiety -- we are also hardwired to hold onto them, even when evidence renders them irrational. Thus, Witt writes, most Americans, confronted with the evidence that Saddam really did get rid of his weapons of mass destruction and that he had nothing to do with Sept. 11, would prefer to believe administration claims -- that the weapons were buried in Syria, for example -- rather than face the fact that the rest of the world may have been right in its angry opinion that we were behaving like frightened adolescent bullies instead of war heroes.
The question is: How long will Americans hold onto beliefs that Dubya is acting in their interests? It could be a very long time -- certainly through the next election. The sad fact is that reporters and even many Democratic politicians -- those who should be asking hard questions -- are among those who swallowed Dubya's lies early on and mistook effective lying after Sept. 11 for what they embarrassingly called his "maturing leadership."
It's going to be a long second term as Americans slowly wake up.
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