Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In America Belief Runs High, Just Not In Truth

You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons? They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them. -- George W. Bush, June 2003.

In late May of 2003, I was in the Air Force and I remember feeling very dismayed 50 days after we had invaded Iraq. I wanted to know where the WMDs were. Had my trust and support for this war been misplaced? But then, magically, two small trailers in were discovered in Iraq.

“Did you hear about the trailers?” a fellow airman asked me.

“We’ve got them now,” another said confidently.

They had heard the president’s claim that the trailers seized were actually mobile biological laboratories. For the nation it was post-war justification. For the administration it was much needed proof that the carefully scripted cause for going to war, Iraq’s assumed possession of weapons of mass destruction, was for real.

Small trailers like this, and aluminum tubes bought by Iraq for its alleged nuclear weapons program, were the primary evidence the Bush administration used for its contention that Iraq was making WMDs and should be stopped. But a new Washington Post article by Joby Warrick reports that administration officials asserted that the trailers were used as biological weapons factories even after a Pentagon mission ruled that possibility out.

After the mission a report was filed on May 27, 2003 claiming the trailers were not used in the production of biological weapons. On May 28 the CIA publicly issued an assessment saying that the trailers were used to produce biological weapons and soon after the administration was off to the races, with the press in-tow, upholding those trailers as proof of pre-war WMD activities by Iraq.

Did the president know about that the trailers were totally harmless before he told us of their WMD making capability? I suppose we will never know. Millions are confused about the state of Iraq, the war, the cause for war, the exit plan, because of similar rhetoric and spin about Iraq that we have lived with for years.

In June of 2003, shortly after the president’s speech, a poll found that 33% of Americans believed we had found WMDs in Iraq. 22% said Iraq had used chemical or biological weapons. Other findings showed that before the war 50% said that Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers (in-fact none were).

Steve Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which conducted the poll, was startled at the findings. "Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention, this level of misinformation suggests some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance" he said.

“Cognitive dissonance” is the uncomfortable tension of holding two conflicting beliefs in your mind at the same time. What Kull is saying is that many Americans prefer to go on believing lies than having to adjust their thinking. Case-in-point: Kull noted that the mistaken belief that weapons had been found “is substantially greater among those who favored the war.” Confused, rather than admit a mistake, or change a belief, Americans continue to support positions that have long since been falsified.

Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution cites the media and administration for confusing people. “There have been a lot of conflicting reports on the weapons [WMDs]," he said.

Indeed. Before the war Bush administration claims about Iraq’s illegal weapons stockpiles were reported as veritable fact by the U.S. media. After invasion possible WMD discoveries, like Bush’s claim above, were top stories. Ensuing stories countering those claims with truth received far less press.

Facts? Who needs facts? Or, as Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, “What is truth?” The Bush administration must understand this axiom of rhetoric better than anyone, for they have certainly employed it to maximum effect. I find it interesting that so many Christians who claim to believe in facts and absolutes support an administration so far removed from either. They lend their support and trust to an administration that deals on the shadowy edge of reality to accomplish its goals. Facts? That’s the last thing The White House cares about.

This is the administration that described the attack on Iraq as “one victory in the war on terror that began on Sep. 11.” Never mind that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. I wonder how many Americans believe that fact? Even now, after three years of evidence against the very claims used to go to war, people believe. Rather than deal with the cognitive dissonance it’s easier to accept lies. In such a God fearing country, how can we be so comfortable such ambivalence?

In America belief really does run high, but not necessarily in truth. The war started under the guise of National Security. The administration latched on to any whiff of evidence to support it and people believed it. When statements about WMDs became laughable we were told we went to war for humanitarian reasons. Is our attention span that short? Do mistruths and lies resonate for that long? Iraq was a war built on innocuous trailers and aluminum tubes. They’re hollow, and long gone; propped up and blown away with shock and awe. It turns out the real danger is our own lazy and frail beliefs.

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