Where"s the Outrage?

During the eight seemingly interminable years of the Clinton administration, Bill Clinton perfected a method of damage control for those ever-so-frequent times when he was caught, or about to be caught, in yet another lie. There were three basic components to this method, each used when appropriate to the problem at hand:

  • 1. Release the damaging information, often only in part, before the accuser does so that when the accuser releases it, you can claim it's 'old news' and that we should all 'move on.'
  • 2. Attack the character of the accuser so as to cast doubt on his veracity. For example, if you know it's about to be revealed that you've been carrying on with an intern, put out the story that said intern was a 'stalker.'
  • 3. Change the subject to the seeming successes of your policies, such as a booming economy.

George W. Bush apparently borrowed Clinton's white horse, which Clinton rode into Washington promising 'the most ethical administration in history,' as Bush promised to return honor and integrity to the White House after eight years of corruption and scandal. It also appears that, like Clinton, he changed horses in mid-Potomac and opted instead for the black horse of smears and evasions when caught in a lie.

We need look no further than this past week to see a perfect set of examples of this warmed-over Clinton m. o., as Bush's already fraying case for war on Iraq started coming apart at the seams.

First, there's the early release of damaging information. On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged that he had seen no 'smoking gun, concrete evidence' of ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, despite his presentation before the United Nations last year in which he alleged such links existed and despite repeated administration attempts to imply, if not actually to allege, such links. The next day National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice admitted that the administration doesn't 'have any indications that I would consider credible and firm that' Saddam Hussein shipped his alleged stockpiles of WMDs to Syria prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This, of course, was one of the many excuses proffered by the administration for its postwar failure to uncover the massive WMD stockpiles and programs that it claimed Iraq possessed. In addition to these two outright admissions of deception, the administration tacitly admitted its lies about Iraq's WMDs by recalling 400 military personnel who were searching the occupied country for said weapons but had come up empty-handed. All of this suggests that the administration knows all of these things, or more, are about to be alleged by credible outside sources, so it's best just to admit them ahead of time so they can claim the upcoming allegations are old news and get our cowed media to agree to drop the subject.

As it happens, the same day that the New York Times published the story about the recall of the weapons hunters, the Washington Post ran a lengthy piece entitled 'Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper.' In this well-sourced article, the Post's Barton Gellman, via recent interviews with Iraqi scientists and others in the know, demolishes practically every administration claim about Iraq's weapons programs. Gellman shows that almost all of Iraq's weapons programs were destroyed after the Gulf War and that those that remained intact were destroyed by 1995. All Saddam had left were a few scientists with some relatively sketchy notes on the prior programs and no way, given existing prohibitions on importing equipment and technology, to obtain the materials and know-how to reconstitute the programs. It would have taken years for the weapons programs to return to their pre-1991 condition, which even then wouldn't have been much of a threat. This story doesn't seem to have made too many waves throughout the rest of the media, perhaps due in part to the administration's having largely given up trying to prove its bogus claims, including by recalling weapons searchers, in favor of pretending that the ouster of Saddam is enough to justify the war, regardless of what they contended beforehand.

Parts (2) and (3) of the Clinton-Bush damage control m. o. were in full flower following former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill's bombshell revelation that the administration began planning for an attack on Iraq almost from day one, over seven months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If O'Neill's allegations are true'and he appears to have the documentation to back them up'then every single thing the administration has told us about taking on Iraq turns out to have been based on the big lie that it was a response to 9/11.

Has the administration denied O'Neill's charges? No, and how could they? He has the documents to prove them. Instead, they first tried the character assassination approach. One 'senior administration official' told CBS News: 'O'Neill had enough problems in his area of expertise. Why should anyone believe he has a credible understanding of foreign policy?' In other words, the guy was a failure as Treasury Secretary (because he didn't always go along with the president), so you can't trust him when it comes to foreign policy, either. This conveniently ignores the fact that, as Treasury Secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council and thus was in attendance at the meetings where ousting Saddam was discussed and, furthermore, has transcripts of those meetings.

Having exhausted the character assassination route, the administration then decided to change the subject. When asked about O'Neill's allegations, White House spokesman Scott McClellan (who must have sent his conscience to Siberia if he's able to sleep at night) replied, 'We appreciate his service. While we're not in the business of doing book reviews, it appears that the world according to Mr. O'Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people.' Translated from Newspeak to plain English, that means: 'Yeah, we know O'Neill's got us dead to rights, but so what? We got rid of Saddam Hussein and liberated the people of Iraq, so our previous deceptions and outright lies are irrelevant. Now bow down and worship the emperor!'

With all of the lies that have been exposed just this past week, not to mention all the others that have been exposed in the months since Dubya declared the mission accomplished, one can only wonder, as Bob Dole did repeatedly in his 1996 presidential campaign: Where's the outrage?

Dole, of course, was referring to the public's complacency over Clinton's repeated lies and his underhanded damage control methods. While Clinton certainly told his share of whoppers as regards truly significant issues'accepting campaign contributions from foreign sources, providing dangerous technological know-how to the Chinese communists, lobbing missiles into medicine factories'just as often, it seems, he was telling them to cover up for stupid personal scandals like Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, and various other women. It is, therefore, understandable that the public thought that all he did to bring impeachment on himself was to lie about sex with an intern. There were, however, a whole host of good reasons that Clinton deserved impeachment, the Lewinsky affair probably being the least among them. Nevertheless, most, if not all, of Clinton's lies did not cost thousands of foreigners and hundreds of Americans their lives.

Now that Bush has established himself as not only a liar but also a damage controller on par with Clinton, it is about time someone asked, 'Where's the outrage?' Bush's lies have cost the lives of thousands of foreigners and hundreds of Americans, destroyed the infrastructure of an entire country, upended the lives of thousands more within that country and among the U. S. military, and bogged our country down in an occupation that threatens to last for decades and cost many more lives and many more billions of dollars. If Clinton's lies, which were far less detrimental and harmed far fewer people than Bush's, were cause for impeachment'and I believe they were'then how much more does Bush deserve not only to be impeached but also to be the first president in history to be convicted and thrown out of office by the Senate? Unfortunately, given the sorry state of our ruling class and the fact that the Republicans control both houses of Congress, we're more likely to see Britney Spears reconcile with her two-minute husband than we are to see justice done in Washington, D.C. What's even sadder is that more Americans would tune in to CNN to see the former than would tune in to see the latter.

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Michael Tennant's picture
Columns on STR: 30

Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.