Joking about the WMDs
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI
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I have always regarded the WMDs story as a joke Iraqi UAVs spraying Washington with poison gas, that one was a real scream but then I have been said to have a dark sense of humor. Now, however, President Bush has also started to treat the WMD issue as humorous, premiering his hilarious schtick at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner on March 24 in Washington. The tradition at this event is for the President to give a speech that pokes fun at his political foes and at himself; and Bush performed what I think was a pretty funny skit about the missing WMDs. But that performance has been lambasted as totally tasteless by many Democrats and critics of the war. Here is how the grave and solemn liberal journalist David Corn describes Bush's presentation:
... At one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere."
The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again.
David Corn wasn't laughing: "Disapproval must have registered upon my face, for one of my tablemates said, 'Come on, David, this is funny.' I wanted to reply, Over 500 Americans and literally countless Iraqis are dead because of a war that was supposedly fought to find weapons of mass destruction, and Bush is joking about it."
Corn continues: "Was I being too sensitive? I wondered what the spouse, child, or parent of a soldier killed in Iraq would have felt if they had been watching C-SPAN and saw the commander-in-chief mocking the supposed justification for the war that claimed their loved ones."
And he adds:
Yet there was Bush apparently having a laugh at his own expense, but actually doing so on the graves of thousands. This was a callous and arrogant display. For Bush, the misinformation or disinformation he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punch line in the nation's capital. ("MIA WMDs For Bush, It's a Joke: Only in Washington," AxisofLogic.com, March 26, 2004)
OK, OK, Corn's right. Bush's stand-up routine could not be funny for the people dismembered in the war. Or for the families of the victims of the war. And it could not be all that funny to those Iraqis who hate the U.S. occupation and are blowing up themselves and others in an attempt to get rid of it. The American violation of international law in attacking a country by using the fallacious WMD threat isn't intrinsically humorous, either. And the fact that the U.S. military is bogged down occupying a foreign country, the costs of which occupation are helping to spin the American deficit out of control, is hardly a cause for mirth.
And yet even Corn cannot resist revealing his lighter side:
Even if Bush does not believe he lied to or misled the public, how can he make fun of the rationale for a war that has killed and maimed thousands? Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that he deceitfully used as a rationale for U.S. military action in Vietnam: "Who knew that fish had torpedoes?" Or if Ronald Reagan appeared at a correspondents event following the truck-bombing at the Marine barracks in Beirut which killed over 200 American servicemen and said, "Guess we forgot to put in a stop light." Or if Clinton had come out after the bombing of Serbia during which U.S. bombs errantly destroyed the Chinese embassy and killed several people there and said, "The problem is, those embassies they all look alike."
Funny stuff, no question and on deadly serious subjects.
What generates laughter? The essence of comedy is to laugh at things that go wrong or are irrational rational success stories just aren't funny. And the fact of the matter is that the ridiculous misfortunes of others are quite amusing even when they cause real pain: people slipping on banana peels used to be a standby in old comedy routines. As a child I laughed at the furious queen in Alice in Wonderland screaming, "Off with his head." Even Stalinist lies give rise to ridicule and laughter. The current "Museum of Communism" in Prague has its interrogation (torture) chamber exhibit, but it also has humorous posters with slogans such as, "Don't even think of visiting another museum or we'll send you to Siberia." Now obviously Siberia wasn't humorous to the millions of people who suffered and died under Stalin. But comedy is frequently related to tragedy in life. If we lived in the perfect utopia, there wouldn't be much to laugh about.
The WMD story was nothing other than absurd. It was incomprehensible how Iraq, over which U.S. planes continually patrolled, could somehow threaten America. Various extremely unlikely scenarios were concocted. The Bush administration claimed absolute proof without providing any proof. It alleged that Saddam was so adept that he could hide WMDs from any prying eyes even when there was open inspection. WMD factories were said to look exactly like factories producing civilian products the "dual use" lie. Despite the alleged impossibility of verification, Washington somehow knew absolutely that Saddam possessed WMDs.
Then came a whole host of ridiculous contradictory explanations to explain why no WMDs were found they were hidden, blown up, sent to Syria, placed on "mystery ships," and so on. (For a detailed account of the WMD story, see my "The WMD lies," TLD, August 4, 2003.)
The fact of the matter is that every knowledgeable person has long known that the WMD story was false. Certainly the audience at this correspondents' affair realized its falsity. It was as if the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" had made a joke about his "invisible suit of clothes" in front of a group of nobles: They already knew that he had paraded about in the nude. The media played along with the WMD lie during the build-up for the war, and even now they only touch on its falsity the official, mainstream media line is that the WMD story rested on poor intelligence, not intentional deception.
So the WMD story was a joke from the outset. But why would Bush now admit it? Or to phrase the question more precisely, why did Bush's handlers have him perform the comedy routine? (It is apparent that Bush himself does not have a clue about WMDs or anything else.) Well, the whole idea was to defuse the WMD issue, in recognition of the fact that a rehash of the issue can do nothing but hurt the Bush administration politically. Leading figures in the administration want to make it appear that the WMD stories resulted from error rather than deception. Note that the joke made Bush look stupid as he haplessly looked about for WMDs in the White House instead of making the administration look deceptive. (Of course, it could appear that Bush was just clowning around to emphasize that he played the WMD joke on a gullible public, but I don't think that was the way the routine was taken.) So, yes, the Bush administration will "admit," at least indirectly, that it was fooled on the issue of WMDs.
Given the choice between confessing error or deliberate deception, the Bush administration naturally prefers the former. In short, the Bushites' argument is that they made a mistake but that everyone else believed that Saddam had WMDs, too. They can cite the fact that John F. Kerry and leading Democrats repeated the WMD story. And the mainstream media now present this "erroneous intelligence" argument.
While the administration will act out the WMD joke before the sophisticated media, its lackeys will continue to sell the old story to the hardcore war supporters. The Flyover-Country Faithful in all their tens of millions just reflexively support attacks on America's alleged enemies and they don't distinguish much among Saddam, Islamic terrorists, Arab states, and ordinary Muslims.
Since the WMD claims have been thoroughly discredited, the Bushite strategy now is to get rid of the WMD issue. It's a classic old joke that's still funny, and the administration will laugh along with you if you still happen to remember it. But administration supporters now justify the Iraq war using other arguments. It was a humanitarian crusade to save the people of Iraq from Saddam's brutal despotism, mass killings, and so forth. The occupation is connected to fighting terrorists namely, the terrorists who attack the American occupation. America's alleged construction of democracy in Iraq will change the entire Middle East and eliminate the breeding ground for terrorism. And perhaps the capstone argument is that if the United States pulled out of Iraq now it would be surrendering to terrorism. All those arguments are rather unclear and when analyzed are actually ridiculous, but they seem to work.
Maybe after the election all the metropolitan cognoscenti will be encouraged to laugh at them, too.
March 30, 2004
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