The Choice

One aspect of the missing explosives1 story ought to be a shock at the fact that the Department of Defense was aware of them but all this time has kept a lid on the news, unwilling to share it with the IAEA or even the American people. Only a fledgling Iraqi government, starting to flex its muscles, was willing to let the IAEA know. But it’s not a shock, because if you’ve been paying attention, this is only the latest in a long string of examples of this Administration putting political expediency and self-preservation above sound policy, above the war on terror, above honesty, even above their own ideology.

Or maybe not. But the alternative to that viewpoint is something along the lines of “everybody is out to get George Bush,” with the understanding that “everybody” includes, most significantly, the Liberal Media, which is, in coordinated fashion, working as a de facto extension of the Kerry campaign. We’re left with that choice: EITHER the situation in Iraq has turned out badly due to not only a lack of planning but a complete lack of interest in planning on the part of Bush’s inner circle, OR the Liberal Media has it in for Bush and is harping on all the lousy news to make him look bad.

From The American Conservative, via Kevin Drum, we have a scene from a Cheney briefing:

The [CIA Counter Terrorism Center] concluded that Saddam Hussein had not materially supported Zarqawi before the U.S.-led invasion and that Zarqawi’s infrastructure in Iraq before the war was confined to the northern no-fly zones of Kurdistan, beyond Baghdad’s reach. Cheney reacted with fury, screaming at the briefer that CIA was trying to get John Kerry elected by contradicting the president’s stance that Saddam had supported terrorism and therefore needed to be overthrown. The hapless briefer was shaken by the vice president’s outburst, and the incident was reported back to [newly appointed CIA director Porter] Goss, who indicated that he was reluctant to confront the vice president’s staff regarding it.

In this case, EITHER the whole story is a fabrication from that cornerstone of the Liberal Media, The American Conservative, OR the CIA is making stuff up to try to get Kerry elected, OR Dick Cheney is (and has been) completely off his rocker.

What boggles my mind is the sheer scope of the conspiracy that must exist, in the media and beyond, to exonerate this Administration. Those wily left-wingers have not only misreported on Iraq, but they’ve managed to turn nonissues like Abu Ghraib and the outing of Valerie Plame into “scandals,” and they’ve coopted figures as diverse as Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill. Plus the whole CIA. In order for Bush to be right, all those people, from the policymakers and Cabinet officials to the reporters and reporters’ bosses, must either be mistaken or deliberately wrong.

Belief in a conspiracy like that is out there, and may not even be all that uncommon. It is buttressed by good old-fashioned ignorance—The Program on International Policy Attitudes reports that “75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda.” (That’s only one of a laundry list of literally astounding statistics in their report.) I don’t think it’s too far out of line to suggest that these two things—habitual distrust on the media based on an assumption of systemic bias, and ignorance of basic facts about recent history—are related.

George Bush will be judged harshly—certainly by history, or sooner if he’s elected to a second term and must lie in the bed he’s made. At that point many of his supporters will admit, if only to themselves, that they were wrong. That is never an easy thing to do. People are extremely good at perceiving the world in ways that justify their decisions and confirm their assumptions, and adjusting that perception is often a painful process. Hopefully—for the good of the country and the world—enough of his former supporters can make that adjustment before November 2.

1 (Josh Marshall has been all over it—start here and keep reading up for a synthesis of the whole situation and the subsequent reporting thereof).