16 lies

· Edgewise, Paleoblogs, Yellowcake!

Mary McCarthy once famously declared that every word Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, including “and” and “the.” I don’t bring this up to get into the feud between two acclaimed writers. Rather, it came to mind when I was thinking about President Bush’s now famous “16 words” in the January 2003 State of the Union speech. And how the telling of a lie must necessarily include “ands” and “thes”. Those 16 words are not untruths or misstatements or exagerations or distortions. They are lies. They are lies because every word is in the service of deceit. Every word is designed to persuade against fact and against truth.
Here is that lie, somewhat parsed:
“The British government has learned….”
This lie is designed to deflect the listener from thinking the American government is the source of intelligence implicating Iraq in activity perilous to American citizens, and therefore deflecting any suspicion that such intelligence might be fabricated. The British government, it could be reasoned, has no need to fabricate such evidence and, as a friend and ally, is merely warning of the peril. The words “has learned” imply an almost casual discovery, as if the information arrived suddenly, perhaps accidentally, but without, for instance, a concerted effort to uncover or find a secret intent of harm, of war-worthy threat.
This lie implicitly excludes the fact that the American government already knew about documents that purported to reveal the details of a deal between Saddam Hussein and the government of Niger to supply Iraq with yellowcake (uranium oxide) from Niger’s mines. Not only knew, but had those documents widely distributed to its own intelligence agencies by its own State Department. In fact, a government employee (Stephen Hadley) had already met and spoken with representatives of other governments (not British) about those documents.
“….that Saddam Hussein recently sought….”
This lie provides a false and crucial timing for an action that did not occur as described nor in the near past. The lie is crucial to establishing the need for immediate response to counteract an imminent threat to the American people. It personalizes that threat and puts a dark face on it. It is the face of the terrorists who flew American planes into the World Trade Center. It is the face of a despot and a murderer. But not of Americans. The face is that of a dictator who has killed his own citizens, for his own political ends. He is evil. But he is not our enemy.
“….significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
This lie tells us so much more than we needed to know. If we needed to have a reason for declaring war on Iraq. I do not know how much a “significant quantity” of uranium is. Neither do you. It is sufficient that President Bush finds the quantity significant because there is only one reason for mentioning any quantity of uranium at all. And that is to bring up the spectre of nuclear bombs. Even though it was American planes that were used as bombs to attack an American city, there is only one kind of bomb that could attack Americans in America from far away Iraq.
Why tell us the uranium comes from Africa? This is too clever a lie. We don’t care where the uranium comes from unless that place is also to be a target. This lie intends to lend an air of truth to a complicated lie. It is complicated because it must get around the fact that reputable agents have not found actual weapons or materials that can produce weapons in Iraq itself. We know that. We don’t know about uranium from Africa, however. That is a new scenario of plausibility that could perhaps convince us that a threat indeed exists. A threat not only from Iraq but from Africa. The dark continent.
On July 7, 2003–six months after President Bush’s State of the Union speech–Ari Fleisher says, “We’ve acknowledged that the information turned out to be bogus involving the report on the yellow cake. That is not new. You can go back. You can look it up. Dr. Rice has said it repeatedly. I’ve said it repeatedly. It’s been said from this podium on the record, in several instances. It’s been said to many of you in this room, specifically.”
Bogus means fake. So, the British government gave us fake information and President Bush went to war with Iraq on the basis of fake information from an ally. Furthermore, we’ve already been told a million times that this yellow cake report was bogus. Everybody in Washington knew but me and you, apparently.
So, we’ve been duped. By mistake. Shouldn’t we be mad or something? Perhaps we are still stunned by the repeated revelations that our president unwittingly spouted bogus information that led us into war. Maybe we want to give him the benefit of our doubt. Our doubt that we could be so lied to so badly by so many government officials. This isn’t 1984. We would know if our leaders were lying to us.
Wouldn’t we?