I have been spending the weekend listening to the online version of Bill Moyers’ “Buying the War” about how the Bush Administration sold the American Public on the idea of invading Iraq and how the Press, either intentionally or foolishly, assisted in this campaign of deception.
First, I want to say that I do not yet know of any evidence that the members of the Bush Administration ‘lied’ in the most sinister definition of the term. When I see the evidence, I will vote to convict them. In the mean time, I suspect that they viewed the case to go to war the same way they viewed the evidence that the Earth is only 10,000 years old or that there is a God. They believe it. It must be true. From this assumption, one can look at the evidence. Evidence consistent with this unquestioned truth is good evidence, and evidence inconsistent with this unquestioned truth is bad evidence.
The reason they continued to insist that aluminum tubes meant that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons is because of this method of using evidence. The story was consistent with their conclusion, so it must be right. It does not matter if them ‘scientists’ and ‘analysts’ and ‘experts’ held a different opinion. This was no different than those ‘scientists’ who held a different opinion on the age of the earth or the evolution of humans. ‘Scientists’ and ‘experts’ are inherently corrupt, claiming whatever absurdities come into their mind that would help to push their atheistic, liberal agenda. The only real evidence was the evidence that said that God created the earth 6,000 years ago, or that said that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.
Here is a level of consistency that I think many people gloss over. We are dealing with people who can look at the tremendous amount of evidence that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old and sincerely believe that the world is 6,000 years old. These are people who can look at the tremendous amount of evidence for evolution, yet sincerely believe that evolution is ‘just a theory’. These people can look at the tremendous evidence for human contributions to global warming and sincerely believe, at the same time, that (1) there is no warming and (2) it is all natural.
Anybody who has debated these people on any of these issues knows how easily they swallow whatever evidence they can find that seems to support their position and sincerely believe that this is good evidence.
Nobody should be surprised to discover that these same people can dismiss the scientific facts about what it takes to build nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein could not possibly be manufacturing nuclear weapons using any process short of magic or divine intervention, and yet sincerely believe that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons.
People look at what has now become known as the absurdity of the Administration claims – that there is no conceivable real-world way that Iraq could have had the infrastructure for building nuclear weapons and keep it a secret – and they conclude, “The Administration must have known that their position was insane; yet, they still defended it.” These are people who think that the scientific evidence actually supports a 6,000 year old Earth, proves evolution is a fraud, and that humans cannot possibly contribute to global warming. Believing that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons in spite of the lack of evidence is child’s play compared to these other examples of mental gymnastics.
The Culpability of the Press and the Public
The bulk of the show asked the question, “Why did the Press not call the President on these absurdities? Why did they not educate the American people on what it would take for Iraq to build a nuclear weapon and ask, “How could any country ever hide that type of infrastructure?”
The question that I have, however, is not why the Press did not raise the questions that should have been raised. Actually, it appears to me that the answer is quite clear. The job of the media industry is to draw eyeballs to advertisements. The reason the Press did not question the President and his policies is because it would have been bad for business.
The real campaign was simple. “If you watch those other news programs – those programs that question the President and his policies in this time of war, then you are watching traitors out to sabotage our this country. They are trying to destroy America. We are trying to protect it. Nobody who cares about America would dare to question the President at this time of crisis.”
It was not the Press that decided that America was a country that would go to war without seriously asking itself whether it had a good reason to go to war. It was not the Press that decided that America would support a war on false pretenses. It was not even the President or his administration that made this decision. They would not have made this decision unless they knew that the social climate was one in which they stood a reasonable chance of getting away with it.
It was the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – who made the decision that America was going to be a nation willing and eager to go to war with no questions asked. Indeed, it was the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – that decided that asking questions about the justice of killing other people before killing them was going to be made un-American, and that branding those who would ask questions as traitors would be our model of moral virtue.
Things could have been different. Things would have been different if the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – held to a different moral standard. It would have been a standard that said, “When we consider punishing a criminal, we hold that punishment is so terrible that we must presume the person we punish is innocent, and we must require proof as to his guilt. Going to war is even more terrible. Justice demands that the same standards apply, that we hold to a presumption of peace unless evidence beyond a reasonable doubt compels us to the alternative.”
What we had in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq was the psychology of a lynch mob on a national scale. A lynch mob will, sometimes, have a trial of sorts before they lynch the accused. However, the lynch mob makes it clear that anybody who actually dares use this opportunity to defend the accused, and who speaks ill of the mob, will suffer for it. The lynch mob bullies the opposition into silence.
I am not saying that Saddam Hussein was an innocent man. I have argued (e.g., “Richard Perle: Morally Assessing Iraq”) that I thought that there was just cause to remove Hussein from power, by force if necessary. My opposition to Bush’s invasion sprang entirely from the fact that Bush was incompetent and would probably do more harm than good – like a cop who would toss a hand grenade into a crowded subway car to apprehend a purse snatcher.
Part of what is involved in giving a case a fair hearing is not only figuring out whether the accused is innocent or guilty, but the appropriate way to deal with the problem so that a lot of innocent people do not end up getting killed. The Bush Administration pushed for immediate action, arguing that there was no time for a debate on the subject. We had to act immediately “before the smoking gun came in the form of a mushroom cloud”. As such, our options were poorly considered, poorly planned, and poorly executed – exhibiting exactly the incompetence I had expected from this administration.
It is easy, it is even natural, for people to find scapegoats for their wrongdoing. Nobody likes to admit that they were wrong. Yet, there is a certain necessity for calling those who scapegoat on what they are doing. Getting people to admin their own responsibility is an important step to preventing some terrible wrong from repeating itself in the future.
Yes, the Bush Administration was evil, casting aside principles of justice and morality like so much waste as they pursued their objectives. Yes, those members of the Press who became popular by declaring anybody who questioned them to be anti-American traitors in league with the terrorists are guilty of wrongdoing as well. Yet, another group that is just that guilty are the people who decided to use their market power to tell the media, “Yes, I will enthusiastically support the doctrine of unquestioned obedience and unjust war by attaching my eyeballs to the advertisements of those who deliver this message.”
It is probably the most important role. Because, if the American public – or a sufficiently large majority of them at least – would have been enthusiastic about justice and the presumption of peace, then the Press and the President would not have gone on a drumbeat towards war.
Think of how much better off we would have been if a majority of Americans would have had sufficient moral character to have done the right thing.
Immorality does have a price tag.