Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dick! . . . or, the further dissociation of language and meaning in American political discourse

[Bush Administration officials] can and should speak in the tongue of [English], but without coming to prefer it and without losing the mother tongue of faith.Elder Neil A. Maxwell (edited slightly for clarity).

Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker:

Yesterday, Cheney, in an interview with Rush Limbaugh, again touted a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, saying:

...remember Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, al Qaeda affiliate; ran a training camp in Afghanistan for al Qaeda, then migrated -- after we went into Afghanistan and shut him down there, he went to Baghdad, took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq; organized the al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene, and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June.... This is al Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq.

Now, as with nearly every Cheney statement, this is about three distortions rolled into one big lie. The three distortions: Zarqawi did not organize operations for Al Qaeda prior to the invasion, in fact, he did not affiliate himself with al Qaeda until 2004; prior to the 2003 invasion, he was in the northern Kurdish portion of Iraq, outside of Saddam Hussein's control, not Baghdad; and there's no evidence of collusion between Zarqawi and Hussein. (A bonus fourth distortion might be the fact that the U.S. reportedly had a prime chance to kill Zarqawi before the invasion, but chose not to -- some say because his presence in Iraq provided justification for the war.) But the big lie is that Iraq and Al Qaeda were allies and co-conspirators.

Kiel points out that not only were Cheney’s assertions known before the war to be false by the parallel intelligence group Cheney had set up outside of normal channels, but their falsity was confirmed by the Defense Department Inspector General's subsequent investigation into the matter.

This leads me to three possibilities regarding Cheney’s statement:

(1) The Reagan interpretation: Cheney doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but his authority has gone unchallenged for so long that he doesn’t think it matters.

(2) The Nixon interpretation: He knows that what he’s saying is false, but also that this is inconsequential, since his assertions support a narrative that is “truthful” if not factually accurate because it tells the greater story of American goodness and Islamist badness. This big picture “truth” is more important than small bore facts, which can be massaged or ignored as necessary. In short, meaning is no longer conveyed in the traditional way by words, but by intentions and actions. Or, when Dick Cheney says something, the specific combinations of letters into words and words into phrases are essentially irrelevant and should not be invested with too much importance by the listener; the salient point is that he speaks. (This particular conjecture has over the past few years found expression in a thousand and one bloggy formulations rooted in the “reality-based community” meme of late 2004.)

(3) The Clinton interpretation: This is more or less the same as (2), except that Cheney is so caught up in the “truthful” narrative that he actually “believes” what he is saying, in the same way that one believes in life after death or in a divine, omnipotent Creator. That is to say that the accuracy of particular factual assertions is not only irrelevant, but the semblance of fact, the process of determining truth or falsehood through factual inquiry, can be marshaled to serve a useful purpose. Once a given belief is established, all that is then required to inject it into the national bloodstream is a facially plausible interpretation of some supporting set of facts; see, e.g. “intelligent design” or FARMS or global warming denialists. It doesn’t matter much what those facts are or how their interpretation stands up to established methods of testing. What matters is that there are “facts” and an “interpretation”; this alone is enough for the official narrative to gain entrance into the marketplace of ideas and be repeated ad nauseam by Chris Matthews and Tom Friedman.

Perhaps it’s some combination of the three, or maybe there’s a simpler explanation, like Dick Cheney is actually a robot constructed and programmed by scientists of the troika of terror, the Axis of Evil, long before the phantom grouping had even been dreamed up by Michael Gerson, and inserted into the very seat of American power to subvert the imperial project from within.

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