Friday, May 30, 2003
An administration hypes the threat posed by a foreign power. It talks of links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; it warns about a nuclear weapons program. The news media play along, and the country is swept up in war fever. The war drives everything else — including scandals involving administration officials — from the public's consciousness.
The 1997 movie "Wag the Dog" had quite a plot.
Although the movie's title has entered the language, I don't know how many people have watched it lately. Read the screenplay. If you don't think it bears a resemblance to recent events, you're in denial.
The Iraq war was very real, even if its Kodak moments — the toppling of the Saddam statue, the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch — seem to have been improved by editing. But much of the supposed justification for the war turns out to have been fictional.
The failure to find W.M.D.'s has been described as an "intelligence failure," but this ignores the fact that intense pressure was placed on intelligence agencies to tell the Bush and Blair administrations what they wanted to hear. Even before the war began we learned of such pratfalls as the presentation of a plagiarized, decade-old report about Iraqi capabilities as hot new intelligence, and the use of crudely forged documents as evidence of a nuclear program.
Last fall the former head of the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism efforts warned that "cooked intelligence" was finding its way into official pronouncements. This week a senior British intelligence official told the BBC that under pressure from Downing Street, a dossier on Iraqi weapons had been "transformed" to make it "sexier" — uncorroborated material from a suspect source was added to make the threat appear imminent.
A final note: Showtime is filming a docudrama about Sept. 11. The producer is a White House insider, working in close consultation with Karl Rove. The script shows Mr. Bush as decisive and eloquent. "In this movie," The Globe and Mail reports, "Mr. Bush delivers long, stirring speeches that immediately become policy." And we can be sure that the script doesn't mention the bogus story about a threat to Air Force One that the White House floated to explain Mr. Bush's movements on the day of the attack. Hey, it's show business.