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The Emperor Has Spoken


It’s a measure of the imperial nature of the modern American presidency that George W. Bush misstates the truth even as he defends himself against the charge that he misstates the truth.

It takes extraordinary disrespect for the American people to look them in the eyes and say that Congress had seen the same intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as he did, and that a Senate committee had cleared his administration of twisting the WMD intelligence to serve its Iraq war agenda.

Neither of these claims is true, as many have pointed out. No congressional committee has examined the charge that the administration suppressed the substantial doubts within intelligence circles about the information furnished by Iraqi defectors of dubious credibility. Moreover, those evidenced-based doubts were not shared with the House and Senate intelligence committees in the run-up to the war. The Los Angeles Time recently reported that German intelligence personnel had told U.S. officials that administration claims about mobile biological-weapons laboratories were not credible, having come from an unreliable defector. Yet then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made those labs a big part of his major speech to the UN Security Council. And those allegations played no small role in scaring Americans into backing President Bush’s drive to war.

The Bush administration has never shown much confidence in the unvarnished truth. The latest example is the revelation that the U.S. military has paid Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable Pentagon-written “news” — better, propaganda — pieces.

Thus President Bush’s latest PR campaign has to be judged in its proper context. His poll numbers are in the toilet, and congressional elections are less than a year away. His speeches about staying the course and the light at the end of the tunnel are Nixonesque. When will we hear him speak of “Iraqization”?

The president gives the impression that if he uses the word “victory” enough times, we will believe him.

To revive his poll numbers he has hired a political scientist, Peter Feaver, to craft a message and campaign. As reported in the New York Times, Feaver came to Bush’s attention by arguing that Americans would accept high military casualties if they could be persuaded they were for a good cause. Feaver is able to measure what he calls “casualty sensitivity.” He and his Duke University coauthors have written, “Mounting casualties did not produce a reflexive collapse in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.”

And what would those “right conditions” be? Apparently, they include filling the air with a lot of talk about victory, alleged Iraqi assumption of security responsibilities, and the usual war-on-terror buncombe. This last was in ample supply in Bush’s recent speech at the U.S. Naval Academy. In that speech, he called Iraq the “central front in the war on terror,” although he acknowledged that non-Iraqis make up but a small part of resistance to the U.S. presence there.

Facts be damned; the president is not giving up on convincing the American people, contrary to the evidence, that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. He insists on ignoring the self-fulfilling character of his war: it has made Iraq a hotbed of anti-American violence because it has made the U.S. forces an army of occupation. None of this confirms Bush’s position that “they” hate “us” because of our way of life. “They” hated “us” because of a long history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and Bush has only given “them” more reason to hate “us” now.

But in fact, it’s not the American people that anyone hates; it’s the American policy. Readers familiar with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will have no trouble recognizing what’s going on here.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.