The anomaly

Read all of Paul Krugman’s great column on Iraq and the US elections today. A sample, with the anomaly sentence in bold.

On Sunday, a celebrating crowd gathered around a burning U.S. armored vehicle. Then a helicopter opened fire; a child and a journalist for an Arabic TV news channel were among those killed. Later, the channel repeatedly showed the journalist doubling over and screaming, “I’m dying; I’m dying.”

Such scenes, which enlarge the ranks of our enemies by making America look both weak and brutal, are inevitable in the guerrilla war President Bush got us into. Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

U.S. news organizations are under constant pressure to report good news from Iraq. In fact, as a Newsweek headline puts it, “It’s worse than you think.” Attacks on coalition forces are intensifying and getting more effective; no-go zones, which the military prefers to call “insurgent enclaves,” are spreading – even in Baghdad. We’re losing ground.

And the losses aren’t only in Iraq. Al Qaeda has regrouped. The invasion of Iraq, intended to demonstrate American power, has done just the opposite: nasty regimes around the world feel empowered now that our forces are bogged down. When a Times reporter asked Mr. Bush about North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program, “he opened his palms and shrugged.”

Yet many voters still believe that Mr. Bush is doing a good job protecting America.

There you have it. PR-savvy students of politics all understand the phenomenon, and it has always been the driving force of this administration: You can spin your way out of anything. The facts are inconsequential. The bodies and the misery are there for all to see, complete with condemnations from our own military leaders on the ground in Iraq (again, read the whole Krugman piece ). And yet, in his acceptance speech bush made Iraq sound like a bastion of liberation, freedom, democracy and hope. It is the precise opposite, yet bush has succeeded in presenting it otherwise. Just like when we couldn’t find weapons, and he re-spun the cause for the war — now, it was “WMD-related program activities” that justified it all. He says things, and people are willing to believe it despite that annoying thing called “reality.”

I’ve always said the Republicans were master spinners and communicators. And since perception is always far more powerful than reality, they just may win. I won’t declare it over yet but I have to give the bush propaganda department the very highest marks, as much as I despise them. I wish Kerry could emulate them.

Whether or not the ANG documents are fake or real, they also underscore the sheer unstoppability of the bush noise machine. It took the Dems and the mainstream media two full weeks to mount a strong challenge to the Smear Boat Vets. It took the warbloggers less than 12 hours to mount a full-scale attack on the CBS report, complete with “expert” testimony — almost as though they were prepared in advance. And since then, the issue of what bush did has been forgotten, and only the debate led by Instapuppy and Tom Maguire and Hugh Hewitt and, worst of all, the right’s resident hater Charles Johnson. But credit where it’s due: they’ve won, at least for now.

I have lots more to say about this, but I’m at work and I can see the boss at the end of the labrynthine hallway.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

Great article from Krugman there. Thanks.

September 14, 2004 @ 9:50 pm | Comment


I blogged the column, but I did not comment on it as eloquently, or as powerfully, as you have here. Excellent writing and insight. Keep up the good fight.

By the way, Ivan is heading directly at my little hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where my mother and sister still live in our family home on Front Beach Road. The only thing between them and the storm surge when it comes are a few feet of sand and my mother’s prayers.

As you know, I have no god other than humanity itself, but I wished I did so that I could pray today.

Linda, my first wife, and my son Joseph and his wife, Michelle, live in New Orleans which is in at least as much danger–from flooding–as the Gulf Coast.

The hours ahead of me will be anxious indeed.

All the best,


September 14, 2004 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

Joseph, tell them to get out of there! There’s still time. What a bizarre year for hurricanes; they say it’s not inconceivable for New Orleans to be obliterated under the worst case scenario. Let’s just hope it veers off in some unexpected direction as these storms are wont to do, and peters off into a minor tropical depression.

September 14, 2004 @ 10:07 pm | Comment

Partisan Democrats, rumored but not confirmed to be Kerry operatives, give OBVIOUSLY forged anti-Bush documents to CBS News which not only presents them as authoritative, but declines to include in its report any of the doubts raised to CBS itself by relatives of the purported author OR CBS’s own experts.

And YOU are concerned that bloggers’ fast response hints at a conspiracy.

I would sooo love to hear the hissy fit you’d be throwing if Fox News ran forged Kerry war records under similar circumstances.

September 14, 2004 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

Check the latest story in the Dallas News, Conrad. It looks like there’s more to the story than we may think. I’ll wait until more info is available before I comment. If the docs are forged and CBS failed to do their due diligence, i won’t go easy on Rather — he should proabably resign.

That aside, do you think we are winning in Iraq? Do you think bush has proven his prowess as a war president? Do you feel the Iraq war is an example of good leadership?

September 14, 2004 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

I can’t see the Dallas News article but I’m with Conrad – CBS and Rather have been caught out and made the mistake of digging themselves a bigger hole.

To answer your questions re Iraq: is it being “won”? It’s pretty easy to answer – how many Iraqis prefer a return to Sadaam’s rule? Was Iraq an example of good leadership? Yes, of course it is. Sadaam evaded and ducked his obligations for years; UN diplomacy was not working; the UN was looking more toothless than usual in pushing Sadaam towards showing if he had WMD (and it is absurd that it turns out he likely didn’t have any to declare anyway, but that’s despots for you). I know you suspect it is part of a Bush vendetta against Sadaam and so on, but Bush did what he had to do in Iraq. Would Kerry have done differently? If so we’d still have Sadaam potentially sitting on God knows what weapons and threatening all manner of hell.

September 15, 2004 @ 1:51 am | Comment

“How many Iraqis prefer a return to Saddam’s rule?”

Answer: enough to send home more than 1,000 American soldiers in body bags.

Was Iraq an example of good leadership: Is Bush’s America any better?

“Saddam evaded his obligations for years”: sounds just like your Dubya, going right back to his National Guard service (or lack of) days.

“UN diplomacy was not working” – is it likely because of the perception that it’s dominated and twisted by US – which, at the same time, refused to pay its dues, and needed Ted Turner to do it?

“It turns out he didn’t have any to declare” – the UN weapons inspectors had done their work, but it wasn’t what the US (or Bush) wanted to believe, because it had already decided to wage war

“That’s despots for you” – bearing in mind that a number of despots, from Marcos to Saddam, were kept in power by American policy, but are discarded once they are no longer of use

September 15, 2004 @ 4:05 am | Comment

Simon, I really think you are way off here, so we’ll have to agree to disagree. If the Iraq war is an example of good leadership and planning, what does the bad stuff look like! Look, here’s the agonizing bottom line: We were told we’d be greeted as liberators, and kids are dancing in the street as they kill us. Even bush’s generals are worrying (I hope you read Conway’s recent comments) and now huge swathes of the country are under insurgent control. Where’s the victory, where’s the cause for optimism, where are the flowers? And have we weakened global terrorism or strengthened it? No need to answer — it’s just food for thought. My personal belief is that things are far worse than even Krugman says, and we’ll find out just how badly we’re losing after the election.

September 15, 2004 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

Simon, I really think you are way off here, so we’ll have to agree to disagree. If the Iraq war is an example of good leadership and planning, what does the bad stuff look like!

WW1, in the trenches.
WW2, invasion of France (from the French POV).
Afghanistan (from the Taliban’s POV).
Iran-Iraq war.
Gulf War 1&2 (from Saddam’s POV).

War is an ugly, chaotic, brutal thing, and always has been. About the only thing that can be counted on is that things will happen that the plans didn’t anticipate, and that’s why we train and equip our military so well- so they can improvise as the situation demands.

Now, to get back to the TANG memos- would someone please explain to me why lefties seem to think that what Bush may or may not have done ~30 years ago is more relevant to how he’d do as President than his performance over the last ~3.5 years?

IMO, Kerry’s record in the Senate is far, far, far more relevant to his qualifications to be President than what he did in Viet Nam… but Kerry doesn’t spend nearly as much time talking about his time in the Senate as his time in Viet Nam. Sometimes it seems like Kerry spent 4 months in the Senate, and 20 years in Viet Nam. Why is that?

September 15, 2004 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

I agree, they should not be focused on the TANG issue. it’s worth raising and moving on. It’s stupid on all levels.

About the war….We were sold a war that would not be brutal and chaotic and horrible. It was going to be swift and surgical and we were going to begreeted almost immediately with flowers. Really. If the American people had any idea that it would be even a fraction as awful as it’s become, we would never have gone in. It was a liberation, not an ongoing, interminable guerrilla war. For the Americans getting maimed and butchered, it’s every bit as bad as WWI in the trenches, though of coucrse it’s nowhere near that in scale.

September 15, 2004 @ 7:50 pm | Comment

Richard, for half a century, people have been making jokes about the French military’s performance in WW2. In comparison to the Iraqis, the French in WW2 were supermen. Really. That’s about as swift and surgical as wars get.

As far as horrible guerilla wars go, Iraq’s not even close to Viet Nam (compare number of KIA/day sometime), and it took around 10 years before Americans got sick of that.

September 15, 2004 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

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