Best War Ever
Today we bring you Book Salon, Double Barreled: after this edition of Book Salon, we bring you a Special Feature of Marcy Wheeler's new book, Anatomy of Deception, which chronicles the things you need to know about the Libby trial and the outing of a spy by this administration, compromising national security and our ability to thwart nuclear proliferation.
It's especially fortunate that we feature these two books in particular this week. The subtitle to The Best War Ever is Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in Iraq. While the Libby trial, for which jury selection begins this week (stay tuned to FDL for up close coverage!), is narrowly about perjury and obstruction of justice, the two books we feature today present the backstory of the Libby trial, and the reasons why Irving "Scooter" Libby lied to protect the Vice President and other Republicrooks in the first place.
It's about the war. Moreover, how we got into the "mess in Iraq" is absolutely relevant to today's headlines, wherein we learn how the same unaccountable cabal of seeming untouchables seek to widen our current war in the Middle East to include Iran and Syria, apparently escalating our provocations and acts of war in hopes of generating some response that could provide a new excuse to an American public for more, more, more war war war.
And what of the American public, or for that matter, the American press? All have been complicit in the path we've so far trodden, and yet, as Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber point out, we live in a propaganda state, wherein more than fifty percent of the public still believed Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks of 9/11, even after it was exposed to the world that no such link existed. No writer or writers have been so consistent in documenting and deconstructing the propaganda state and hegemony of public relations on our public life as these two men have, through a series of well researched and tightly written books, of which The Best War Ever is merely their latest.
Inside The Best War Ever, you'll find chapters on:
- the initial selling and packaging of the Iraq invasion and occupation, involving conscious administration mendacity and the gleeful complicity of a pliant press, and the assembly of a state run propaganda group to feed stories and misinformation into the world's information bloodstream,
- an account of the inclusion of the famous "sixteen words" in the president's State of the Union address, the subsequent action by Joe Wilson to expose our government's escalation of lies, and the administration's choice to take vengeance on him and on his top secret, NOC CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame,
- the machinations and deceptions that went into the construction of Colin Powell's casus belli speech to the United Nations, so instrumental in manufacturing consent for the Iraq invasion to the American public and to the administration's vast sea of enablers in the establishment press,
- the creation and use of the neocon front group, the "government in exile" Iraq National Congress, spearheaded by serial liar and opportunist, Ahmed Chalabi,
- the slithering dance of amorphous PR to justify the war on ever shifting grounds as each previous justification for our imperialist crusade lost legitimacy as events progressed,
- the government stranglehold on the recording of any imagery, including pictures of flag draped coffins, that might make real to the American public that this war is actually a war that throws American sons and daughters into a pointless, oilman's meat grinder
- a review of the lay of the land we still face today, whereby the administration's enablers continue to search for justifications for their sins of both commission and omission, spinning tales of why they were right to be wrong.
In short, The Best War Ever provides sharp reporting that amounts to a one-stop tour de force, deconstructing the propaganda effort to shield Americans from the truth of our government's actions in selling and promoting its Iraq invasion, all in about two hundred pages of sharply edited and painstakingly footnoted text.
The book merits much quotation, and I've dog eared more pages than I can possibly touch upon in this review. But since we are to follow this Book Salon discussion with some advanced, yet unseen text from Marcy Wheeler's Anatomy of Deceit, allow me please to quote a bit from the Plame chapter, just to give you a taste of the more complete work:
Joseph Wilson was also doing a slow burn. The day after Bush's State of the Union speech, he says, he telephoned a friend at the State Department to say, "Either you guys have some information that's different from what my trip and the ambassador and everybody else said about Niger, or else you need to do something to correct the record." He received no response. A month later, after Mohamed ElBaradei gave his speech to the United Nations exposing the Niger documents as forgeries, Wilson read a story in the Washington Post that quoted an unnamed White House official saying, "We fell for it." This struck him as implausible, since he himself had separately debunked the uranium claim for the government thirteen months earlier. On March 8, Wilson was interviewed on CNN. Without disclosing his role as an envoy to Niger, he said that "this particular case is outrageous. . . I think it's safe to say that the U. S. government should have or did know that this report was fake before Dr. ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the U. N. yesterday."
In May, Wilson discussed his concerns off the record with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Without identifying Wilson by name, Kristof wrote a column stating that "a former U. S. ambassador to Africa" had investigated and debunked the uranium claim long before the White House began using it to make the case for war. Wilson also spoke with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who used it as the basis for a story – again, without mentioning Wilson by name.
On June 8, Condoleeza Rice appeared on Meet the Press and attempted again to defend the administration's handling of the yellowcake forgery. "Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery," she said. This time, Wilson says, he phoned friends close to people in the Bush administration and warned them that if Rice would not correct the record, he would come forward with what he knew.
On July 6, he did. His op-ed, titled, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," was published in the New York Times. "Those new stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.," he wrote. "The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government. The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If. . . the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went into war under false pretenses.
At the same time that White House officials struggled publicly to answer Wilson's charges, they were working behind the scenes to discredit him personally. Even before he published his editorial, they were already finding ways to respond. Beginning in late May, officials in the office of Dick Cheney began seeking information about Wilson and his trip to Niger. . .
Forgive the extended quote, but I wanted to give those who have not already purchased the book (and our colleagues who will be covering the Libby trial) a bit of a sense of what has already been documented about the backstory to the entire Wilson/Plame/Libby saga, even before the pending wide release of Marcy Wheeler's book. The chapter I've quoted goes on to document, with similar diligence, not only steps taken to investigate and discredit Wilson, not only the outing of his wife, who, as an operative with NOC status, was deeply involved in highly secret clandestine activity on behalf of national security, but also the public relations and propagandistic terms under which all of these attacks proceeded: attacks that continue today and that have already been directed at the government prosecutor in the Libby case, Patrick Fitzgerald. The Best War Ever's signature strength lies in this ability to deconstruct the rhetorical strategies and structures of the administration's conscious, serial lying as it relates to the entire Iraq invasion and occupation, and not just as it relates to the Plame affair.
Having given you a flavor for the book, and a sense of its value to the national dialogue, I want to open the discussion up. What would you like to know from our guest author, Sheldon Rampton, who will be joining us in the comments?
For my own part, here are some things I'd like to know, though Sheldon and I have discussed some of these things personally before:
Sheldon, what parallels do you see between the runup to the Iraq invasion, and its supporting propaganda, and the current effort to escalate and expand our incursions into other sovereign states? How, given the change in the polls and the aftermath of the midterm elections, has the landscape changed for the administration, and how is it the same? What are the parameters of the effort to delegitimize Patrick Fitzgerald as we enter into the trial phase of the Libby case, and who are the players (cough, Barbara Comstock, cough) orchestrating these attacks? What have you learned about the matters covered in The Best War Ever since its publication that you think could have added even more weight and heft to the case you and John make in it? How did you become involved in the deconstruction of public relations cant and government propaganda?
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in warmly welcoming Sheldon Rampton, who hopefully will find that wireless access in the Memphis airport is reliable. As always, please confine all discussion in the accompanying comment thread to the topic at hand.