Monday 19 May 2003

Questions Of Mass Destruction

Thus it is with a sense of profound relief that one hears the news that Garner is about to be replaced by a civilian with nation-building experience. I realize we have all been too busy with the Laci Peterson affair to notice that we're still sitting on a powder keg in Iraq, but there it is. In case you missed it, a million Iraqi Shiites made a pilgrimage to Karbala, screaming, "No to America!"

Funny how media attention slips just at the diciest moments. I doubt the United States was in this much danger at any point during the actual war. Whether this endeavor in Iraq will turn out to be worth the doing is now at a critical point, and the media have decided it's no longer a story. Boy, are we not being served well by American journalism.

Anent the current difficulties, Newsweek's report today on Donald Rumsfeld's favorite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, leaves one with the strong impression we should not be putting all our eggs in that particular basket.

But the weirdest media reaction of all is to the ongoing nonappearance of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. More and more stories quoting ever-unnamed administration officials appear saying the administration would be "amazed if we found weapons-grade plutonium or uranium" and that finding large volumes of chemical or biological material is "unlikely."

Look, if there are no WMDs in Iraq, it means either our government lied us to us in order to get us into an unnecessary war, or the government itself was disastrously misinformed by an incompetent intelligence apparatus. In either case, it's a terribly serious situation.

What I cannot believe is that respected journalists, most notably Tom Friedman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, would simply dismiss the nonexistent WMDs as though it made no difference. Of course it matters if our government lies to us.

Why do you think people were so angry at Lyndon Johnson over the Gulf of Tonkin? At Richard Nixon over the "secret war" in Cambodia? Even at Bill Clinton over the less-cosmic matter of whether he had sex with "that woman." If it makes no difference whether the government lied, why is Friedman a journalist? Why does journalism exist at all?

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