Thursday, October 9, 2003

Under the headline “Wielders of mass deception?” on the cover of this week’s Economist, President Bush sits, stroking his chin, mouth covered by his right hand, his brow furrowed, with an atrabilious, melancholy look that seems to say, “Now what?” Seated next to him is a chapfallen British Prime Minister Tony Blair, weary head propped up by his left hand, whose unspoken thought could easily be, “I’m not his poodle, but no one believes me.”

The prestigious, global magazine, which was a staunch supporter of the war on Iraq, now feels betrayed by the Bush-Blair duo. There was little evidence for the apocalyptic talk with which American officials attempted to daunt and galvanize the public, said the Economist. “Why did Bush and Blair often omit the caveats and subjunctives with which the spies hedged their judgments?”

Even if the U.S. government were to spend another $1 billion buffing the Bush administration’s credentials around the world, the image of an American president as both deceiver and deceived is firmly fixed in the corridors of power the world over. In most television, newspaper and magazine newsrooms outside the U.S., the question mark in the Economist’s cover headline has long since been removed.

A panel selected by the Bush administration concluded that spinmiesters notwithstanding, America’s image in the Arab and Muslim world is in a tailspin. “Doonesbury” cartoons, by Garry Trudeau, that portray Mr. Bush as a congenital idiot, are published in hundreds of newspapers (including English-language papers abroad).

It is becoming increasingly hard to find Arabs and Muslims who believe September 11, 2001, was an attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al Qaeda terrorists. Best-selling books are peddling conspiracy theories that are palpably fraudulent — but eagerly ingested by millions of gullible people.

Thierry Meyssan, the French editor in chief of the monthly “Maintenant,” convinced countless millions (in English, German, Spanish and Arabic translations) in his runaway best-selling book titled “L’Effroyable Imposture” (“The Big Lie” in English) that September 11 was a plot engineered by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Afghanistan. Why? To discredit Islam, of course, and to move its imperialist pawns closer to the coveted oilfields of Central Asia.

The truth was also turned on its head in Germany where the longest-serving parliamentarian in the Bundestag, Andreas von Bulow, a socialist defense specialist and former Cabinet minister under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, published a copycat book that made readers feel like twits if they still believed what most of the world had seen on TV September 11, 2001. That was no plane crashing into the Pentagon, Mr. von Bulow asserts. The damage to the Pentagon’s external wall was less than the wingspan of the plane. So it must have been a bomb planted inside the Pentagon by the conspirators. Ad nauseam.

Unfortunately, the backing and filling and constant changes in the rationale for waging war on Iraq — from regime change to weapons of mass destruction and back to regime change — only lent credence to the loony lucubrations of a respected French journalist and former German politician. One in 5 Germans now believes the U.S. government carried out the attacks of September 11.

On a more sophisticated level, billionaire philanthropist George Soros was quoted all over planet Earth courtesy of an interview he gave the BBC in which he said Mr. Bush’s “extremist policies” would only cease “if you have regime change in the United States.” In other words, if Mr. Bush is voted out of office. At least, he didn’t suggest a recall, the latest refinement in democracy as practiced in California.

Mr. Soros also said he was “very hopeful that people will wake up and realize they have been led down the garden path, that actually September 11 has been hijacked by a bunch of extremists to put into effect policies they were advocating before, such as the invasion of Iraq.”

Print media picked up Mr. Soros’ pronouncements from Latin America to Asia and from Europe to the Middle East and Africa. Hostility toward America has reached previously unknown levels. The conviction Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair went to war on a “flawed prospectus” is deeply engrained among the geopolitical cognoscenti on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Iraq, the average number of attacks against U.S. and British forces has climbed to 17 per day. As Mr. Bush says, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are no longer the issue. What matters is that Saddam is gone and Iraq is free. And, adds Mr. Bush, terrorist groups will never be able to get WMDs in Iraq because Saddam is no more. Wish it were that simple.

Saddam is still around. And if WMDs are cached underground, with a well-concealed entrance the size of a billiard table covered in grass or dirt, that only a handful of loyalists know about, WMDs could still be passed on to terrorist groups. Iraq is a work in progress — both for the Bush administration and for the terrorists.

With $300 million already spent in the so far empty treasure hunt for WMDs, the administration is requesting an additional $600 million for David Kay’s 1,400-strong group of hunters trying to make Mr. Bush’s original case for the war. The Economist said many feel a frisson of understanding for poor Gregor Samsa, the hapless protagonist of Kafka’s novella, “The Metamorphosis.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of The Washington Times, is editor in chief of United Press International.

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