Cracks in the Consensus


It’s too early to predict how far things will go, but it does appear that the Bush political juggernaut, much like the army’s tanks and armored personnel carriers in Iraq, has begun to show signs of breaking down from overuse.

The big issue at the moment is the administration’s blatant lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction–the justification for the American/British war of aggression against Iraq.

The obvious fact that, after all, Iraq did not have such weapons any more by the time of the invasion is leading for mounting calls, both in the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament, for an investigation of the run-up to war, and into how intelligence information was manipulated or manufactured. Perhaps even more important, the American media, which for over half a year played lapdog to Bush and his warhawks, is starting to report more critically about the issue for the first time.

On May 26, media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post published an article airing a set of vitriolic emails between New York Times Iraq bureau chief John Burns and one of the paper’s in-house cheerleader for pre-emptive war, reporter Judith Miller, whose thinly sourced stories repeatedly and breathlessly touted discoveries of WMD sites only to have each discovery subsequently debunked. Those emails make it clear, Kurtz writes, that Miller’s only real source for these stories was Ahmad Chalabi, the convicted swindler being promoted as a potential Iraqi leader by Bush’s warhawks in the Pentagon.

Citing New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh, Kurtz suggests that Chalabi was a key source of WMD “evidence” for the infamously biased “intelligence unit” known as the Cabal set up in the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last fall, when he found he couldn’t get what he wanted from the CIA. Kurtz goes on to say, “Chalabi may have been feeding the (New York) Times and other news organizations the same disputed information.”

Even the Philadelphia Inquirer, which in the run-up to the war was taking a moderately pro-war stance in both its reporting and its editorials, has become more openly critical. On June 1, the paper published a news story by Inquirer Washington bureau reporter John Walcott headlined, “Doubt on war felt at top levels.” In it, Walcott says that the war, which Bush’s top advisers have hoped would be “the centerpiece of Bush’s reelection campaign,” was becoming “a political, diplomatic and military mess.”

He goes on to report that, “A growing number of critics in Congress and some within the administration” are now saying that “much of the administration’s public rationale for the war, and much of its planning for the war and its aftermath, appears to have been based on fabricated or exaggerated intelligence that was fed to civilian officials in the Pentagon by Iraqi exiles.”

Walcott reports that although officials in the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department were all warning that their information was “unreliable at best,” Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles, “got a hearing in two important places. One of these was Rumsfeld’s made-to-order in-house Pentagon “intelligence” team, and the other was “the New York Times.”

Media critic Ed Herman, an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has long monitored the Philadelphia Inquirer, says the Walcott story suggests that a shift has taken place in that newspaper’s political and editorial stance on the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s handling of the issue. The same repositioning seems to be taking place in other media outlets, too.

Coming at a time when the Bush administration is starting to face mounting criticism on a number of fronts–Iraq, economic policy, the Federal Communications Commission’s railroading through of a massive media deregulation plan, and the Justice Department’s abuse of immigrants and its undercutting of civil liberties–it looks like the monolithic consensus within the power structure which has characterized the post 9-11 political environment has begun to fracture.

It remains to be seen whether these fracture lines will grow, whether elements within the mainstream media will become more critical of administration policy, and whether the largely spineless Democratic opposition will begin to take the offensive.

At a minimum, the cracks in the pro-Bush concensus within the media on Iraq policy provides an opening for progressive politicians like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to get their arguments heard. Kucinich, one of nine candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and one of the most consistent and outspoken Congressional critics of the Iraq war, has, along with candidates Al Sharpson and Carol Moseley-Braun, heretofore been largely ignored by the mainstream media (though he has been getting favorable responses from the public on the stump).

On Tuesday, Kucinich announced that he will introduce a Resolution of Inquiry in the House to demand the release of the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq, and to Administration claims that Iraq had tons of biological and chemical weapons, delivery systems, and a ‘reconstituted’ nuclear program. A rarely used House procedure, Kucinich invoked the resolution tactic successfully in March to get the Bush administration to release the controversial 12,000-page weapons report which Iraq had submitted to U.N. weapons inspectors–a report that contained embarrassing evidence that U.S. firms had for years been primary suppliers of WMD-making supplies to Iraq.

“This Administration led this nation into war based on lies,” said Kucinich, in announcing his plan for the new resolution. “I think that this Congress, and the American people, have a right to know what information this Administration had, and how they justify their public comments. Now is the time for truth-telling.”

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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