In Graham Greene’s World War II-era classic, everything starts when the protagonist guesses the correct weight of a cake at a fair and walks off with his prize, not knowing what’s inside. Fritz Lang adopted it into one of the best films of the genre. Fear is pervasive, just under the surface, never quite understood. But Greene’s message is to have courage, stand your ground and not become unhinged by the menace.
The days of World War II were so simple. The threat was clear, and the people had high confidence in their government, its integrity and candor. Josh Marshall recently posted a series of World War II-era public opinion polls. The Neocons, who are, shall we say, rather down on their luck these days (notwithstanding their strangulation hold on the White House), constantly charge that the American people are a fickle lot, without the gumption to stick through a war. But actually, World War II was a demonstration of just the opposite: when the government addressed the people with truth and candor, the people were prepared to sacrifice and back the war to the bitter end. The problem comes when the government lies and misrepresents itself to lead the people to war—to an unjust war, in the end—and the government then proceeds a steady pace of lies and deceit, maneuvering every tool at its call to press its ill-advised objectives. In all these deeds, the government wears not the mantle of the F.D.R.s and Churchills, but rather of people we’d prefer to forget.
I agree with Winston Churchill: the American people will always turn to the right course, though perhaps after first exhausting all the other possibilities. And as that moment of popular choice of the truth settles in, how does the Bush regime react? The Ministry of Fear rears its head once more . . .
Michael Chertoff tells us that “his gut” tells him there will be more attacks on America. This comes just a week after Mr. Chertoff engaged in extensive self-congratulations over his agency’s effective protection of America from the terrorist menace. You can’t have it both ways, you say? Not in Bushworld, where the attention span of the American voter is carefully calculated at 18 minutes.
And yesterday we have the latest assault on reason. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Al Qaeda is declassified and released in part. The NIE itself is a significant document, and read with some care. It points to the magnitude of the conceptual and tactical failures of the administration’s “war on terror”: it has not effectively engaged Al Qaeda. Instead, just as Richard Clarke and other professionals warned at the outset, it has taken the wrong turn at every crossing and has actually served to fan the flames of the Al Qaeda movement. Consequently, approaching six years into the war, Al Qaeda is back and as strong as at the time of its 9/11 attack on America.
However, Bushies know that the vast majority of the public will take their news in the form of 90-second sound bursts in the broadcast news, which will offer no meaningful or independent analysis. So: send out the press officers of the Ministry of Fear, and do as you will. The New York Times sums it up very well:
Yesterday, the director of national intelligence released a report with the politically helpful title of “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland,” and Fran Townsend, the president’s homeland security adviser, held a news conference to trumpet its findings. The message, as always: Be very afraid. And don’t question the president.
Certainly, the report’s conclusions are disturbing. Nearly six years after 9/11, terrorism remains a huge threat. Al Qaeda has replaced leaders killed or captured by the United States, regrouped in its former home base in the tribal lands on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and is trying to use affiliated terrorists in Iraq “to raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives.”
If the report is given an honest reading, it is a powerful rebuke to Mr. Bush’s approach to the war on terror. It vindicates those who say that the Iraq war is a distraction from the real fight against terrorism — a fight that is not going at all well. The administration, however, seized on the report and, through bald political timing, tried to use it to dampen calls for an end to Mr. Bush’s catastrophic war. That required some particularly twisted logic. Ms. Townsend, for example, dismissed a reporter who asked whether the fact that Al Qaeda has regrouped in the area from which it planned the 9/11 attacks suggested that it was a mistake to divert American forces to Iraq. She said Al Qaeda headed by Osama bin Laden and the terrorists in Iraq that use the name Al Qaeda are the same. In fact, we’ve seen no evidence of that, and none was in the intelligence report, at least the page and a half of conclusions released to the public. Was there a link before the war between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader in Iraq? Ms. Townsend refused to answer. “This is ground long covered,” she snapped.
Indeed it is. The answer is, “No.” In fact, Mr. Bush’s bungled invasion spawned a new terrorist army and gave it a home base. Now, the report said, those terrorists are the only ones affiliated with Al Qaeda that are “known to have expressed a desire to attack the” United States.
Ms. Townsend and her masters in the White House think the people of the United States are easily deluded fools. Their loyal supporters in the Senate have adopted obstruction and filibuster as their tools, blocking any vote on the issue. Against all of this, a harsh judgment on the part of the people is past due. It has been delivered once at the polls, and the second time is likely to be still more severe. But in the meantime the citizenry needs to take heart, steel its resolve, and see through Bush’s haze of fear.