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Squandered Confidence in the United States

Squandered Confidence in the United States*

*William Pfaff*

Paris, December 6, 2007 – At a stroke, the international credibility of
the United States government has been restored. The Bush White House and
its friends do not seem to understand what has happened.

There are few governments, even among the most sober, where the civil
service agencies of government would deliver an analysis not merely
unpleasing to the elected political authorities, but decisively
undermining what currently has seemed the most important foreign policy
project planned by those authorities before they leave power twelve
months from now.

Publication of a National Intelligence Estimate of Iran that directly
contradicts what the Bush government has relentlessly and heatedly
maintained, during the better part of the past eight years, against all
opposition, about the danger of Iran’s nuclear project and intentions,
has delivered an international shock. It has demonstrated that the
American system of government is recovering its ability to defend
objective intellectual standards against powerful pressures to twist
professional judgement to conform to partisan interests.

The Bush White House and its spokesmen and allies are fools to try, as
they are doing, to twist the NIE verdict as somehow supporting them. The
report indicates that the Iranians had a military program in the past,
thus they could have one again in the future, therefore – so the claim
goes – the report really validates the Bush administration’s case.

But anything might happen in the future. The Bush-Cheney argument has
been that a current military program in Iran threatens the United
States. It does so merely by existing. Therefore it must be destroyed.
If the program continues, the United States will have to attack Iran.
This is what hard-liners of the administration have been saying. This is
the project France’ Nicolas Sarkozy has apparently accepted, that Gordon
Brown in Britain has been pressed to support, and the other European
leaders as well.

The official combined judgement of the American intelligence services is
that there is no current Iranian nuclear military project. Four years
ago those same services gave the Bush administration the answers it
wanted to justify invading Iraq. As now is known, they integrated into
their final analysis contrived evidence supplied by what amounted to a
neo-conservative propaganda bureau specially created in the Pentagon, to
promote Iraq’s invasion.

The result was the humiliation of Secretary of State Colin Powell at the
UN Security council, and a war that by now may have uselessly killed
hundreds of thousands, and possible more than a million, human beings,
while inflicting terrible suffering on tens of thousands more.

Such was the result of neo-conservative ideology and political ignorance
or indifference. Ideology, and lies told to support it, murder people.
Lies also make leaders into fools. Yet it seems all but impossible for
elected leaders to grasp that they are strengthened by candor and

The terrible disease of ‘spin,’ information manipulation, twisting the
‘story,’ may work for a while, usually more successfully with the media
than the people. Reporters and editorial-writers hesitate to challenge
authority because they depend on access to authority, and fear what can
be done to them professionally if they make themselves dangerous to
authority. The ordinary citizen is more likely to recognize, and say so,
when he or she is being conned.

Take two minor foreign examples. Soon after the new British prime
minister, Gordon Brown, took the place of Tony Blair – who was notorious
for his manipulation of the media -- Brown encouraged the press to think
that he was likely to call an early election. He started out very high
in the opinion polls and thought it would be smart to take advantage of it.

Shortly thereafter, mostly for reason of mishaps having little to do
with Brown himself, the popularity of the new prime minister and of his
Labour Party suffered a sharp drop. Suddenly an election looked dangerous.

Brown might have said, “I have been thinking about an early election but
because of political and economic developments I have decided that the
voters need to know more about me, and about how my government is going
to handle these problems, before I call an election.” Everyone would
have accepted that.

Instead he denied to the press, including to reporters he had earlier
confided in, that he had ever contemplated an early election. There was
not a politically aware person in Britain who believed him. There was a
storm of derision, severely weakening Brown.

Following the recent strikes in France, in part over buying power and
wages, Nicolas Sarkozy, the other new leader on the European scene,
promised to give the French his solutions. He went on television and was
expected to announce that he would boost buying power by special tax
provisions and other government measures to put money into the public’s

Instead, he said that the French can only earn more by working more. He
announced change in the famous French 35-hour working week, so as to
make overtime work easier and more profitable. He said he would ease
employer social charges on that extra work, and also allow workers to
exchange accumulated time off (due to the short work week) for income.
The speech was unexpected, but there was general approval. The people
recognized that what he said was true.

Copyright 2007 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
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