Just leaving Halifax where I attended a workshop called "Democracy in Crisis: Alterity, Violence, and Community." The purpose is to produce a book with, alas, a similar title. (I have an allergy to jargon-y words such as "alterity," which has many meanings in scholarly texts, none of which are especially obvious or consistent.)
It was terrific meeting new scholars and seeing my old friend and colleague, Jodi Dean, a political theorist who runs a well-established political, psychoanalytic, cultural theory blog icite. Her paper "Credibility and Certainty: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories" raises questions about the conspiracy theory blog world, especially the popularity of the video "Loose Change," which suggests that the story of suicide terrorists using commercial planes on 9-11 was a government hoax.
Dean points out the difficulties for a democracy in which only the government's revealed secrets are deemed important, and the openly available government policies are generally ignored. Dean writes:
"By way of an example, we might note how various Democrats and journalists
contested the Bush administration’s classifying of previously public knowledge, its removal of all sorts of documents from the internet after 9/11. It’s unlikely that these Democrats and journalists knew or even cared about this information while it was public."
It's true that under the auspices of the Presidency, elected leaders and their henchmen have abused the public trust. In just the last three decades the break-ins authorized during the Nixon administration, the Iran-Contra subterfuges, the NSA wiretaps, the Office of the President's Legal Council's authorization of torture, provide a sample of numerous good reasons to distrust the Executive Branch.
Still, this does not mean most of government's heinous lies and misdeeds occur in secret. Anyone who reads a newspaper has sufficient evidence about the government's damning record, and looking for the revealing secret is largely a distraction. An excellent example of the Purloined Lie is the debate about whether the Bush Administration deliberately hid their knowledge that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or whether the U.S. was just acting on bad intelligence.
Some background. The U.S. has tended to base its foreign policy on "deterrence theory": the belief that dictators can be evil and still be trusted not to launch wars as long as they fear retribution. The U.S. relied on this theory for close to half a century, during Cold War: as long as the USSR feared mutual annhilation, the U.S. could rest assured that the USSR would not launch a first strike nuclear attack.
After 9-11 a new theory began to be circulated in official U.S. policy documents, articulated most clearly in the National Security Strategy (NSS) written by the White House National Security Council and published in September, 2002. The argument was that "rogue states," i.e., states not conforming to the U.S. foreign policy agenda, were no longer sanely calculating the odds of retribution. Therefore, their weaponry would have to be taken out immediately in order to pre-empt attacks against the U.S. The NSS report states:
In the Cold War, especially following the Cuban missile crisis, we faced a generally
status quo, risk-averse adversary. Deterrence was an effective defense. But deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations.
In other words, Saddam Hussein might have to be taken out because the U.S. cannot rely on Hussein's self-interest to prevent him from launching a first strike. The report continues: "In the Cold War, weapons of mass destruction were considered weapons of last resort whose use risked the destruction of those who used them. Today, our enemies see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of choice." If you put these statements together, and also in the context of allegations that Iraq possessed WMDs, then the only recourse is to invade: Hussein is not the rational actor whose self-interest would deter him from aggression. He's a demented bully so bent on destroying the U.S. that he'll risk provoking hell on earth for his subjects. Since rational deterrence won't work, the only alternative is to preempt his adduced aggression and WMDs by attacking first.
We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning. The targets of these attacks are our military forces and our civilian population, in direct violation of one of the principal norms of the law of warfare. As was demonstrated by the losses on September 11, 2001, mass civilian casualties is the specific objective of terrorists and these losses would be exponentially more severe if terrorists acquired and used weapons of mass destruction.
Based on the public record here are five clear-cut facts
1. The U.S. believes rogue states will not be deterred from using WMDs against U.S. military and civilian targets. (Above.)
2. The U.S. believed that Iraq was a rogue state. (Colin Powell speech to the United Nations.)
3. The U.S. government stated that Iraq had WMDs. (Ditto.)
4. The U.S. knew that Iraq had SCUD missiles and that it used these missiles in the Middle East in the 1991 Gulf War.
5. The U.S. placed over 180,000 troops in the Middle East within easy firing range of Iraq's SCUD missiles, and left them there for two months before actually invading. (Lexis-Nexis article from February, 2003.)
Based simply on the public record, it is evident that one of these facts must be wrong. (I published an essay stating this in Turkish Foreign Policy (2003), three months after the invasion, when the Cheney administration was still insisting that the WMDs would show up.)
That is, either the U.S. believed that Hussein had WMDs but would be deterred from using them against U.S. troops, so it was safe to post hundreds of thousands of soldiers and leave them there as sitting ducks prior to the invasion (and hence the preemption premise is a ruse); or, the U.S. believed that Hussein would use WMDs against the U.S. military, but knew from the weapons inspections that he did not have them.
In the event, it makes no sense to claim that Hussein had WMDs, would not be deterred from using them against U.S. targets; AND THEN to place over 180,000 troops within easy firing range of his SCUDS that, if filled with anthrax or mustard gas and used against the U.S. military in the Middle East, would create what theU.S. itself claimed would be a major public relations coup were Hussein able to kill U.S. military targets in the Middle East. It's true that the troops had some gas suits and so forth, but nothing on the scale that would be necessary to prevent attacks of what the U.S. claimed are weapons of MASS destruction, and not a few clouds of anthrax here and there.
It's also true that armies sometimes make tactical risks for strategic benefits. But in the event Hussein used his weapons on U.S. troops there would be neither tactical nor strategic advantage reaped. The U.S. itself in the NAS report is clear on the strategic, i.e., political, victory Hussein would reap from a massively deadly military attack on U.S. soldiers based in Kuwait and other nearby countries.
In addition to the public record documenting the Cheney-Bush administration's knowledge of WMDs we are beginning to have private confessions, secrets revealed. Powell's former top aide, a Republican Marine, Laurence Wilkerson, has in the meantime come forward to state that the speech given by Powell to the United Nations was a "I participated in a hoax played on the American people," and to apologize for his role in this hoax, but the sort of open secret that should be grounds for impeaching the U.S. President, but it has been sadly ignored. Perhaps if Seymour Hersch had secretly recorded Wilkerson stating this to Scooter Libbey over coffee in a Congressional cafeteria then it would count as news, whereas a mortified former public official coming on the David Brancaccio show is somehow uninteresting. Alas.