The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
The Iraqi Information Minister
Whatever your stand on the war in Iraq, you probably enjoyed the outrageous press conferences staged by the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.
As the US troops took over Baghdad, the Minister is the official who declared:
They are not in Baghdad. They are not in control of any airport. I tell you this. It is all a lie. They lie. It is a Hollywood movie. You do not believe them.As one commentator observed,
In an age of spin, al-Sahaf offers feeling and authenticity. His message is consistent -- unshakeable, in fact, no matter the evidence. His lunatic counterfactual art is more appealing than the banal awfulness of the Reliable Sources. He is a Method actor in a production that will close in a couple of days. He stands superior to truth.
The constant string of ludicrous statements caught the world's imagination. There are now dozens of Internet web sites with long lists of his absurd quotes.
The Iraqi Information Minister (now said to be on "administrative leave") had a real flair for his job that was put to creative use as his nation collapsed. But even as I stand in awe of his daring style, I have to wonder if he learned the basics of his reality-denying rhetoric from the true experts -- the folk who speak for the Bush administration.
I was struck by the similarity in content a few days ago as I was reading through a report on the Bush administration's environmental record. In 2002, when the EPA sent a report to the United Nations saying that global warming will result in "rising seas, melting ice caps and glaciers, ecological system disruptions, floods, heat waves and more dangerous storms," Bush rejected it as a document "put out by the bureaucracy."
My initial reaction was confirmed in a recent report by Defenders of Wildlife which documents the administration's consistent efforts to gut the National Environmental Policy Act -- the "Magna Carta" of US environmental legislation. The report lists dozens of cases where the government's wild claims would make al-Sahaf proud.
In one such example, the Bush administration wanted to allow construction of condominiums on the protected habitat of a listed endangered species. A federal agency issued a "finding of no substantial impact" from the destruction of that critical habitat. When that finding was challenged, a federal court called the government's analysis "so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view."
The administration is claiming an urgent need to increase oil production on federal lands. The shortage of oil and gas is so desperate that they claim the need for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And yet, at the same time, President Bush said, "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption."
Illogic and distortion are not confined to the environmental arena. Proposals are being pushed through Congress to develop, test and deploy nuclear "bunker buster" weapons. In support of that type of proposal, the administration's Nuclear Policy Review implies that there is no significant difference between conventional bombs and small nuclear weapons.
It makes an al-Sahaf comment like "We have them surrounded in their tanks" sound well grounded in reality.
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People loved to gather around the TV and laugh at the Iraqi Information Minister. Why isn't anyone laughing at the equally absurd comments that come from official sources in the US government?
Perhaps it is because people were watching the war "24/7" and knew the details about how the battles were going. Everybody knew that al-Sahaf was lying. But few people are well-versed about what is going on in this country, and so they are not aware that many of the administration's statements are equally preposterous.
Perhaps it is because the Iraqi Information Minister was making his bold proclamations to a global TV audience, but many of the ludicrous statements from the US government are buried in congressional testimony, court filings, and dense policy reports.
And most importantly, we're not laughing because this is not "a production that will close in a couple of days." These lunatic assertions are not street theater. They are the basis upon which the most powerful nation on earth is formulating public policy.
What is going on with this administration isn't just the normal political "spin" (like calling a program that undermines air quality a "Clear Skies Initiative"). There is a well-documented pattern of making claims which have no factual or rational basis at all.
The Bush administration's counterfactual assertions are laughable, but this is not a laughing matter. Letting these absurd statements go unchallenged will hasten the destruction of our environment -- and the legal framework that has protected it for over 30 years.
So, speak up when you hear about a statement that defies reality. Tell people that it sounds like something the Iraqi Information Minister would say.
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