May 30, 2003

Waggy Dog Stories
'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.

'For the time being, the public doesn't seem to care - or even want to know. A new poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes finds that 41 percent of Americans either believe that WMDs have been found, or aren't sure. The program's director suggests that "some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance." And three-quarters of the public thinks that president Bush showed strong leadership on Iraq.

'So what's the problem? Wars fought to deal with imaginary threats have real consequences. Just as war critics feared, Al Qaeda has been strengthened by the war. Iraq is in chaos, with a rising death toll among American soldiers: "We have reports of skirmishes throughout the central region," a Pentagon official told The Los Angeles Times.

'Meanwhile, the administration has just derived considerable political advantage from a war waged on false premises. At best, that sets a very bad precedent. At worst... "You want to win this election, you better change the subject. You wanna change this subject, you better have a war," explains Robert DeNiro's political operative in Wag the Dog. "It's show business."

- Snipped from Paul Krugman's column in the NY Times. Lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, isn't it?

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