“Systematic Distortion”

As George W. Bush sets new campaign fundraising records, reflecting dedicated service to the wealthy few, the threat of being removed from office ought to be the least of his worries. Title 18, part 1, chapter 47, and section 1001 of the United States federal statutory code (US Code Collection, http://www4.law.cornell. edu/uscode/ 18/1001.html) mandates fines and imprisonment up to five yearsfor a federal office-holder who “knowingly and willfully – falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.” 

Practicing damage control in the wake of the dominant media’s curiously belated and partial recognition that Operation Iraqi Freedom was based on spectacular high-state dishonesty, the Bush War Party rushed to limit the public dissection of its shamelessly mendacious war propaganda to its claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium for a nuclear bomb from Africa.  But this hopelessly discredited allegation was just one of many “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements and representations” made by Bush and his “posse” (as he like to call his collection of arch-imperialist, corporate-plutocratic advisors) to sell their falsely labeled “preemptive” attack on Iraq as the only to way to ensure that “the people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder” (Presidential radio address, March 22, 2003, available online at http://whitehouse.gov/ news/ releases/2003/03/ print/20030322/html).

Among the other unproven and discredited allegations related to the fictitiously labeled “Operation Iraqi Freedom”:

 *Iraq possessed 30,000 liters of anthrax and other lethal biological agents.

*Iraq attempted to buy aluminum tubes to be used to construct nuclear weapons.

*Iraq had “in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons” (Cheney)

*Iraq possessed a “growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles” that could be used to dispense chemical weapons against US targets within and beyond US soil.

*Saddam possessed 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents and inspectors had recently turned up 16 of them (Powell, to United Nations).

*Saddam was building ballistic missiles that could fly 620 miles, nearly seven times the range permitted by the United Nations (Powell).

*Saddam’s regime possessed several mobile biological weapons labs.

*Saddam removed United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq during the late 1990s without any provocation, seeking to hide a resurgent program of WMD reconstruction.

*During the recent crisis leading to US invasion, “we gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in….so we decided to remove him from power.”

*Iraq had strong and longstanding ties to al Qaeda and was linked to 9/11 and a serious threat to hand off weapons to mass destruction to Islamic militant terrorists like bin-Laden.

*Saddam’s past horrific (and US funded and approved) use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers and his invasion of Kuwait (with perceived US approval) proved his reckless (in fact suicidal) willingness to use WMDs against the US and/or other states.

*The Bush administration wished to avoid military action against Iraq, seeing the use of military force against that nation as “a last resort” and only “reluctantly” engaging in war.  

*The US invaded Iraq out of respect for international law, the United Nations, and international democracy and in opposition to the use of violence in international affairs.

*Invading US troops would certainly be welcomed as grateful, joyous Iraqi masses, celebrating the freedom granted them by George W. Bush and his “liberating” armies. 

Even as he and his subordinates made such strikingly misleading claims in preparing and conducting an illegal invasion of a sovereign state – an action opposed by the preponderant majority of the human species, which sees the US as the leading threat to world peace – Bush had the audacity to include the following quotation from John F. Kennedy in the text of a pivotal war speech given in October 2002:  “Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small.”

The above deceptions are a small fraction of the total number of materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements made by Bush and his administration.  A recent example from a list that is frankly exhausting to track (monitoring current White House misinformation is a full-time job) is Bush’s claim theUS government “has a deficit because we have been through a war.”  As the Congressional Budget Office has shown, Bush’s harshly regressive tax cuts for the affluent have “cost,” writes Newsweekcolumnist Jonathan Alter, “the [United States] Treasury nearly three times as much as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, reconstruction after 9/11, and homeland security measures combined” (“Let them Eat Cake Economics,” Newsweek, June 28, 2003)

Also literally false was Bush’s claim in January 2003 that his latest tax cut would provide “tax relief for everyone who pays federal taxes.” TheTax Policy Center, a sophisticated research arm of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, quickly discovered that 8.1 million federal taxpayers, predominantly low-income, received no such relief from the proposal. 

The deeper deception, however, lay in Bush’s repeated insistence that his plan was designed to help ordinary, hard-working Americans with modest incomes – a claim buttressed by his technically accurate assertion that the federal tax bill of an average (mean) American family would fall by $1,600.  In a report that has gone curiously unchallenged, Citizens for Tax Justice found that half of all taxpayers would receive less than $100 of relief this year.  It also learned that two-thirds of the federal tax savings go to the wealthiest 10 percent of taxpayers and that the richest 1 percent received an average cut of nearly $100,000 a year under Bush’s plan. Also missing from Bush’s statements: the cost of increased local and state taxes, levied to make up for federal dollars squandered by Bush’s determination to reward his well-heeled comrades in the unmentionable domestic class war – the top down version.   

As for concealment of key material facts, we have, among many examples, the White House’s literally sickening decision to strike out important sections on the possible human effects of global warming from a major report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last June.  The White House also deleted reference to a study demonstrating dramatic increases in world temperatures over the last ten years.  It added a reference to a study questioning those findings by the corporate-funded American Petroleum Institute (Dante Chinni, “Bush Credibility Gap – a Slow, Quiet Rumble,” The Christian Science Monitor,June 24, 2003). 

Bush’s defenders will argue that the president’s false statements are not technically illegal he did not “knowingly and willfully” make his false claims.  The president of theUnited States, we are informed by the White House, cannot be expected to be a “fact-checker.”  He relies on the information his “experts” dig up and some of that data is inevitably and unfortunately bad. At the same time, some of his supporters admit, the president himself is, well, not the sharpest person to ever hold the nation’s highest office.   He is especially prone to “regular guy” confusion when it comes to handling the countless facts that cross his desk. This is part of his appeal and popularity.

But do we really want a man of such apparent limitations at the head of the most powerful assemblage of military force in history? And why, moreover, do the president’s supposed “mistakes,” “exaggerations,” and “overstatements” always serve empire abroad and inequality at home? And how bad is the intelligence these days? Why, for example, did the White House never seem to “err” in the direction of the considerable number of respectable intelligence experts who – taking seriously their professional responsibility to discover and report on what’s actually going on in the world, without primary consideration to political concerns – questioned the claims made by the War Hawks like Rumsfeld, Perle, and Wolfowitz, for whom facts are little more than Orwellian playthings.

As Noam Chomsky noted more than thirty years ago in a book that dissected the delusional mindset of the people who brought us the Vietnam War, “mere ignorance or foolishness” on the part of US policymakers “would lead to random error, not to a regular and systematic distortion” that always favors military action.    Now, as during the Vietnam era, reports illustrating the truth beneath official deceptions go essentially unchallenged by the White House because the government “does not really hope to convince anyone by its arguments, but only to sow confusion, relying on the natural tendency to trust authority and avoid complicated and disturbing issues.  The confused citizen turns to other pursuits, and gradually, as government lies are reiterated day after day, year after year, falsehood becomes truth.”  The citizen is “whipped into line by fear that we will be overwhelmed by an external enemy if we let down our guard.” (Chomsky, For Reasons of State, New York, NY: Pantheon, 2002 [originally published in 1971]).  

That analysis from the Cold War period provides a pretty good description of Bush administration political hopes and strategies for 2004 and beyond.  Those hopes are framed by an Orwellian mindset that merges darkly with a number of toxic homeland tendencies – e.g. corporate/big money domination of the candidate-selection and policy-formation processes, the corporate stranglehold on dominant media, chronic overwork, to mention just a few – to raise disturbing questions about the degree to which democracy survives within the world’s most powerful and dangerous state.


Paul Street’s latest publication is “Poverty in Chicago,” Dissent Magazine [Australia], number 12 (Spring 2003). He can be reached at [email protected]

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