Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief (director of communications, in the current parlance), once said that if you are going to lie, you should tell a big lie. That may be good advice, but the question remains: What happens when people begin to doubt the big lie? Herr Goebbels never lived to find out. Some members of the Bush administration may be in the process of discovering that, given time, the big lie turns on itself.
The president has insisted that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, a continuation of the administration's effort to link Iraq to the attack on the World Trade Center. While almost three-quarters of the public believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attack, the polls after the president's recent speech show that less than half believe that Iraq is the ''central front'' of the war on terrorism. Moreover, the majority believe that the war has increased the risk of terrorism. A shift is occurring in the middle, which is neither clearly pro-Bush nor clearly anti-Bush. The big lie is coming apart.
There is not and never has been any evidence that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attack. None. The implication of such involvement was an attempt to deceive, a successful attempt at the big lie.
I'm not sure that the president knows it is a lie, however.
Also, the weapons of mass destruction story was never true. It now appears that Saddam panicked in 1995 when his sons-in-law defected to Jordan and revealed the truth about his weapons development. He immediately ordered the destruction of all the evidence. The U.N. team before the war would have no more found any weapons than the Americans after the war.
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Again, I'm not sure that the president knew the weapons argument was false. Perhaps some of his advisers believed it, or, as the Irish say, half-believed it. However, the American people now seem to suspect that they haven't been told the truth.
Why, then, did the United States invade Iraq if the reasons given for the war were so problematic? It would seem that the answer was the same as the reason as for climbing Mt. Everest: Iraq was there. The administration recited the ''war on terror'' mantra as a pretext for doing something that its intellectuals had wanted to do for years. No one in the administration expected that such a war would lead to more dangers of terrorism rather than less. The mantra has been used as an excuse for many things, from the Patriot Act to drilling for oil in Alaska. It won the 2002 election for the Republicans. It is supposed to win the presidential election next year. Will the big lie work? Perhaps, though it would seem that some are growing skeptical about its constant repetition.
Moreover, the corollary mantra, which says that Americans must make sacrifices to win the war on terror, is also in trouble. Who makes the sacrifices? The rich Americans celebrating their tax ''refunds''? The Republican leadership who have few if any sons and daughters in harm's way? Giant corporations like Dick Cheney's Halliburton or Bechtel? No, the sacrifices will be made mostly by the sons and daughters of the poor and the working class who must fight the war. Jessica Lynch joined the army so she could get money for a college education. Her roommate Lori Piestewa, who was killed in action, joined because she was a Native American single mother who needed the money to raise her two children.
There will be sacrifices made by schoolchildren who depend on state and local money, which has disappeared into the ''war effort,'' the elderly who will not benefit from prescription drug reform; the working men whose overtime pay the president wishes to cut; the chronically unemployed whose jobs have disappeared, and the future generations who will have to work to pay off the president's huge debt.
''War on terror'' is a metaphor. It is not an actual war, like the World War or the Vietnamese or Korean wars. It is rather a struggle against fanatical Islamic terrorists, exacerbated if not caused by the conflict in Palestine. When one turns a metaphor into a national policy, one not only misunderstands what is going on, one begins to slide toward the big lie. One invades Iraq because one needed a war.