Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Is anything real any more?

Roughly a year ago, a statue came down in Baghdad. Live television coverage showed the world images of cheering Iraqis -- many of whom happened to be carrying photos of Ahmed Chalabi, a man virtually unknown in Iraq (save perhaps to those few who knew of his legal troubles). When I saw this flagrant display of Chalabi-worship, I knew right away that something odd was up. Nobody living in Baghdad gave a damn about Chalabi, so who the hell were these guys dancing in the street?

As the day wore on, the television networks carefully edited their footage to remove any shots of the hagiographic Chalabi portraits. Too obvious. Soon enough, we learned that actual denizens of Baghdad were barred at gunpoint from entering the plaza; the cheering throngs dancing across our TV screens were imported members of the Iraqi National Congress. In other words, our military rented an audience. Sort of like the Dennis Miller show.

That afternoon, the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles showed striking footage from the "enemy" point of view. The anchor informed us that we were watching members of the feared Iraqi Republican Guard in the streets of Baghdad, who, that very day, had opened fire on American forces, only to be soundly repulsed.

Nearly every word of this was false.

I recognized the footage; it had been broadcast two days before on a French-language newscast. The fighters were a hopeless ragtag band of foreign irregulars, not members of the well-trained Republican Guard. These irregulars did not open fire -- they came under attack before they could get into position. The encounter took place in another city entirely, days before American forces reached the Iraqi capital.

Why did ABC News overlay false information onto pre-existent footage? There's good evidence that the American military had, quite sensibly, paid commanders of Saddam's Republican guard not to fight. (To paraphrase Churchill, better pay-pay than war-war.) This ploy had but one drawback -- it robbed American viewers of satisfactory battle footage in which our Army kicked the asses of Saddam's best. Solution: A little found footage, a little editing, and the folks at home got a grand show.

While we're on the subject of Iraq's much publicized Republican Guard and their mysterious absence from the fight: On April 2, 2003, a short while before the American army's entry into Baghdad, Fox News reported that the 3rd Infantry Division had destroyed two whole divisions of the Republican Guard, including the vaunted Medina Division. This victory occurred during a massive battle at the Karbala pass. Alas, this battle never took place. Ted Kopple, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, neither saw nor heard any evidence of combat at this pass. A Guardian story of April 4 also denied the existence of such an encounter.

The Iraq war -- and right now, I'm talking about the actual fighting of it, not the rationales for it -- was marked by incessant lying. We were told that Syria had supplied night vision goggles to Saddam's forces; never happened. We were told that Saddam's henchman "Chemical Ali" was killed; later, we were told that he was the subject of a manhunt. The list goes on.

Is anything real any more?

In order to discount one claim made by Richard Clarke, George Bush's minions assured us that Bush was never in the situation room the day after the World Trade Center attacks; the president thus could not have said the words Clarke attributed to him. Then people began to ask a simple question: Are we to believe that Bush did not enter the situation room on September 12, 2001 -- on that day of all days? Recently, the administration has admitted that Bush and Clarke did indeed have such a conversation, although Clarke, it is said, misinterpreted the president's words. The old truth is inoperative; from now on, please refer to the new truth.

To whip up reactionary fever against traitors and spies, we are told that Susan Lindauer "conspired" with two men she never met in order to conduct espionage -- even though she is not charged with spying. The media screamed "espionage" in the case of army Captain Jim Yee, a Muslim chaplain -- and then charges against him melted away. British M.P. George Galloway was accused of spying, but the evidence against him turned out to be a forgery so well-crafted as to be downright (ahem!) spooky. We all know what happened to Wen Ho Lee. Hell, in light of the Galloway fraudulence, I'm starting to re-rethink the Hiss case.

As noted earlier in this column, Tony Blair warned Parliament about the frightening message sent by the Abu Hafs al-Masri brigades of Al Qaeda, even though intelligence professionals think that this group is fictional. Spain's reactionary leader Jose Maria Anzar infuriated his people by assuring them that ETA bore responsibility for the Madrid atrocity, an event now attributed to Al Qaeda. The Washington Times describes a transcript of an FBI interview with Al Qaeda planner Khalid Shaik Mohammed -- who seems to have died some months before his putative "capture."

One can go on and on. Again I ask: Is anything real any more? Politics no longer exists. There is only epistemology. The only question is Pilate's, and answering it has become an impossible chore.

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