It is clear we will need to practice hard on our credulity in the future just to get a grasp on how dumbfounding the entire Iraq war is. We need credulity up to Wonderland's White Queen's standards, believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast every day -- practice, practice, practice.
For starters, we find the Pentagon investigating itself over the secret military practice of paying to plant news stories in Iraqi papers. Now, since it's a secret practice, I don't know if the Pentagon will be able to find out much, but the way it works is U.S. military personnel, also known as soldiers, write "news" stories full of reassuring news.
National Public Radio reports that stories are filled with hyperbole and pro-U.S. rhetoric. One story written by the military and obtained by NPR dated November 22nd says military leaders are succeeding in stopping terrorists. It continues, "They have proven this as quiet slowly begins again to settle on the streets of western Iraq." At the time, insurgents were staging over 700 attacks per week -- up from 150 a week the previous year.
The stories written by the U.S. military are handed over to a defense contractor called the Lincoln Group, run by young Republican political operatives. They in turn pay Iraqi newspapers and television stations to run the stories.
In an attempt to justify this, former Army spokesman Charles Krohn told NPR: "I don't think there's any need for secrecy, but I think it's pretty well understood that it's the custom in that country to pay journalists and to pay newspapers. And certainly, I think the record that Saddam has done this and others do it is pretty well established."
Isn't it nice that we're following in Saddam's footsteps? The problem is one of credibility, in a nutshell. Bruce McCall has performed a great public service in The New Yorker by imagining headlines for U.S.-created stories in the Baghdad Daily Bugle:
"26 Million Iraqis Unhurt in Latest Terror Blast."
"Few Changes Needed to Change Abu Ghraib into an Applebee's."
"Voting Machines in Upcoming Elections Donated by Florida."
If you still can't think of any good news to create, study the recent work of the American news media, particularly cable TV, on the subject of the Iraqi elections. Just like Charlie Brown and the football, they fall for it every time. Those heroic purple thumbs, "70 percent of Iraqis Vote." How would anyone know? Well, there were long lines. There were long lines in Ohio last year too. It meant there weren't enough polling places. Does anyone know what the Iraqis were voting for? Does three separate little state-lets seem a likely answer? (Some analysts actually think this may be the optimum outcome.)
Meanwhile, we are further tested by the president's improbable proclamation that he has the right to ignore the laws and Constitution because he is a wartime president. Actually, that's a real problem. We can't declare war because we haven't been attacked by any government, territory, or military.
Dick Cheney, it turns out, has been fretting about this since the Nixon administration, when we used to talk about the imperial presidency. Trouble is, none of the administration's actions have ever been discussed -- Bush and Cheney just usurped the authority.
If Bush were a different kind of president, they might have gotten away with it right after 9/11. People were genuinely frightened, and there's always that old fantasy that somehow Daddy Will Take Care of Us If We Do Exactly What He Tells Us To Do.
But George W. Bush is not a daddy president. He's the Testy Kid -- Mr. Snippy. He sees no reason why he should answer to us.
Attention, Americans: We have, under the Constitution, a strong executive, noticeably more so than in other democracies. The whole history of the struggle for freedom is about how to curb and balance the powers of the executive.
The United States of America has over 200 years of experience with these questions, and you know what? George W. Bush is not the smartest guy to come along in over 200 years. Be cautious. Be very cautious. Do not endorse authoritarianism out of knee-jerk partisan impulse. This shoe will be on the other foot eventually.