But in the end, these are still marginal characters. Most people have never heard of them, and know nothing about their writing. And while it's true that the small size and cliquish nature of the Anglo-American media-political class gives these second-rate minds a disproportionate amount of influence, the greater danger comes, as always, from those who actually wield the weapons and resources of the state.
One of the great state-created blood libels of our age is the utterly false – and easily disprovable – lie that up to a million innocent Iraqis have been slaughtered because of Saddam Hussein's "defiance" of UN demands that he disarm. George W. Bush and his minions have repeated this Big Lie so many times in so many ways over the years that it has taken hold as "conventional wisdom." Learned pundits and celebrity journalists can often be found scratching their heads over this puzzling question: "Why the devil didn't Saddam just say he didn't have any weapons of mass destruction? Why did he keep pretending, even when he was about to be attacked?"
This astonishing, breathtaking – and sick-making – ignorance flies in the face of the open, undisputed historical record of events that happened only five years ago. The historical record is clear: for many years, Saddam Hussein's government declared over and over that it had no WMD. In December 2002, it submitted 12,000 pages of documentation to the UN detailing the destruction of its WMD arsenal and the dismantling of its WMD programs in 1991. (All of this was already well-known to US and UK intelligence, of course; they had been briefed – in 1995 – on the WMD dismantling by the man who had been in charge of it: Saddam's own son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, who had defected to the West.) Iraq then allowed UN inspectors into the country – again – and this time with total carte blanche to search wherever they wanted.
This is what actually happened in the period from December 2002 to March 2003. All of this was reported in the mainstream papers, on network news programs, in the Congressional record, in all manner of public preceedings and official documents. But Bush has always insisted that Saddam "defied" UN resolutions to disarm and even "refused to allow inspectors back in." Thus Bush – who personally ordered an act of aggressive war in the certain knowledge that multitudes of innocent people would die in this unnecessary action -- always casts himself as the injured party, "forced" to order the invasion of Iraq by Saddam's mysterious intransigence. Only a lunatic – or a cold-blooded murderer trying to hide his crime – would publicly exhibit such an obvious, monstrous divorce from reality.
Yet instead of hauling Bush up on charges of impeachment – or calling for his commitment to a mental institution – when he first uttered this bizarre fantasy, the mandarins of America's political-media class simply nodded. He was not confronted with the self-evident falsehood of his statements, never challenged on them – not even during the 2004 presidential campaign. Instead, his sinister fantasy – or rather, his very deliberate lie (for he is of course a murderer, not a madman) – was adopted whole cloth by most the elite, amplified and reiterated again and again until, a little soiled in the working, it has come to seem the ordinary version of events.
Again, you would have to go back to Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union to find such a flagrant reversal of an obvious truth ("black is white, up is down, day is night") propagated so shamelessly by a major national leader – and embraced so eagerly by the nation's elites. [For more on the bipartisan nature of the long-running state deceit about Iraq, see "A Tale of Two Houses: How the Clintons and Bushes Took Us to Hell."]
And so we come to the latest regurgitation of this blood libel, on last Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" – the nation's most venerable and prestigious TV newsmagazine. "60 Minutes" is the closest thing left in our fragmented media culture to the kind of powerful sway once held by Life Magazine and Time Magazine in establishing the parameters of conventional wisdom. The show featured an interview with FBI agent George Piro, who had interrogated Saddam Hussein after his capture. The interview was conducted by "journalist" Scott Pelley, who pounded again and again on this question: "Why did Saddam choose war with the United States?"
The sheer moral depravity of that question is almost beyond comprehension. As the historical record shows, the war was launched at the direct order of George W. Bush. (I saw it on television myself; Pelley might look it up in the CBS archives.) Earlier, Bush had ordered the UN inspectors to leave Iraq; then he ordered a "decapitation attack" (as Bush officials themselves called it) – a bomb strike on a residential neighborhood where Saddam Hussein was thought to be staying. He wasn't, of course, but the innocent people who were torn to shreds by the attempted decapitation were soon forgotten after Bush's next order: the massive "shock and awe" bombardment that was meant to terrorize the Iraqi people into submission, followed by the full-scale ground invasion itself. Bush chose war.
Or rather, he chose to escalate a war that had been going on for years, through sanctions that enriched Saddam and selected Western firms but killed at least – at least – half a million Iraqi children; through CIA-sponsored terrorist attacks against Iraqi citizens; and through the constant bombing of Iraq, which in the months before the ground attack had secretly surged to an all-out air assault to "prepare the battlespace" for the coming invasion. And yet Pelley – who we must assume is not four years old, but was actually an adult during the period in question, even a "journalist," presumably able to read and to comprehend moving images and human speech on television – can go on national television in 2008 and ask why Saddam Hussein chose to make war on the United States.
As this murderous lie engulfs our public discourse, we can see, yet again, that there is nothing – no lie so vile, so howlingly false – that our elites will not swallow, if it helps confirm their comforting self-image as important figures in a noble system dedicated to the highest ideals.
NOTE: For much more on the subject, turn to this richly detailed piece by Robert Parry – one of the great witnesses of our age. Parry will give you chapter and verse for most of the broad outline I've sketched above. If you aren't reading Parry – and supporting his work, if you can – then you are doing yourself, and the world, a great disservice.
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This story was published on January 30, 2008.