Tuesday, December 02, 2003

“Turning Those Numbers Around”

White House Press Office, December 2, 2003—

“Boss, I’ve got a great idea. You know how public support has been slipping for the war in Iraq…”

“Are you referring to the rebuilding of Iraq as a model democratic state, Ron? The war is over. We won. ‘Mission accomplished,’ as the President said.”

[Hastily] “Right, right. Anyway, you know how those poll numbers keep dropping…”

[Testily] “Ron, I can assure you, I am fully aware of the slippage to which you refer.”

“Well, this idea I have might be just the thing to turn those numbers around.”

[Skeptically] “Shoot.”

“Okay. You remember how there was a lot of opposition to the invasion of Iraq… sorry, the preemptive strike on terrorists…initially, but Colin Powell’s speech to the UN changed the picture almost overnight? He laid out that long rationale for the war, and people called his arguments ‘compelling’ and ‘irrefutable.’”

“I certainly do remember, Ron. How sweet it was, to have all of those liberal columnists writing about their conversion experiences the next day. Continue.”

[Warming up to his subject] “So what I was thinking was that we could take those arguments Powell made, compress each point into a thirty-second sound bite, and run a series of ads—just flat out blanket the air waves with the real reasons we’re in Iraq. He’s so dignified and solemn and… and… believable. We’ll remind people that there were convincing reasons for the war, and those reasons still hold good, even if the aftermath is a little rockier than anybody could have predicted.”

“Ron, I have to hand it to you. You may be on to something.”

[Swelling with pride] “I knew you’d like it, Boss. I went ahead and worked up some samples, so you could get a feel for what I had in mind. If you’ve got a few minutes, I can show them to you.”

“Very enterprising, Ron. Let’s take a look at what you have. What’s the first one?”

“The first one is about those documents that were hidden in that Iraqi scientist’s house in Baghdad. We were careful to get the part where Powell said they were ‘dramatic confirmation’ of our intelligence about hidden material.”

“Uh, that’s probably not a good one to use, Ron. Turns out those were just old and irrelevant files left over from a uranium enrichment program way back in the 80’s. The program was a flop, and everybody knew about it anyway.”

“Is that right? Okay, let’s scratch that one. The next one here is the satellite photos of those industrial sites where chemical and biological weapons were being produced, and of decontamination trucks associated with chemical weapons. Not only does this nail the Iraqis, but it shows we get good value from our high-dollar high tech intelligence effort.”

“Uh, that one’s a little iffy too, Ron. I’m afraid those decontamination vehicles turned out to be water trucks and fire trucks. Those sites he mentioned, as well as some others, have been visited over 500 times since we took control, and nobody has found any contraband, or any sign that stuff has been moved.”

“Gee, I’m sorry. How do you find out about all this stuff, Boss? Never mind, this next one’s really gonna get you. It’s about anthrax. Anthrax--that stuff scares me just thinking about it. Powell said the Iraqis could have produced up to 25,000 liters of anthrax. The clip I used includes the part where he says none of it has been ‘verifiably accounted for.’”

“The problem with that, Ron, is we still haven’t found any of it. The Iraqis claim they destroyed it. Three weeks before the invasion, they gave soil samples to the UN weapons inspectors from a site where they said the anthrax had been destroyed, along with a list of witnesses to the destruction. But the war began, unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—before those witnesses could be interviewed.”

“No sweat, Boss. There are still plenty more we can use. Here’s the part where he talks about those trucks used as mobile biological weapon labs.”

“Skip that one, Ron. It turns out those were actually used to pump hydrogen into weather balloons.”

[Doggedly] “Perfectly understandable. Anybody can make a mistake. How about this next clip, where he talks about that nerve agent, VX? The Iraqis made four tons of it. When Powell says that a single drop on your skin will kill you in minutes, and then looks directly at the camera and says ‘Four tons’ again, it’ll make your blood run cold.”

[Pause] “Uh, the thing is, Ron, that Powell didn’t tell quite the whole story there. Almost all of the VX was destroyed, under the supervision of UN weapons inspectors, during the 1990’s. So the ‘four tons’ is perhaps a trifle misleading. Weapons inspectors verified that VX actually had been dumped at the site where the Iraqis said they’d disposed of it, and any made before 1991 would have degraded into uselessness. Since we became masters of Iraq, we haven’t found a drop.”

[Discouraged] “This is a little harder than I thought, Boss. Do you want to see the rest of these?”

“I’m not sure. What’s next?”

“A really dramatic one. Here’s where he says that the weapons inspectors found a dozen chemical warheads that might be just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’”

[Embarrassed silence] “Um, one thing the general didn’t happen to mention, Ron, was that those warheads were all empty. They were still in their original crates, and dated back to the 1980’s. Evidently they were just some old things that got overlooked in a storage area somewhere. Since we took over the country, we haven’t found any other chemical warheads.”

“Is this all classified information, Boss? How do you know all this stuff?”

“No, no, it’s not classified. In fact, the Associated Press did a story summarizing all of it back in August. It was written by an AP correspondent named Charles Hanley, who was in Baghdad when Powell was giving his speech. I guess the story didn’t get much attention.”

“It sure didn’t! You’d think if Powell’s speech got such big media play that a follow-up story shredding his evidence would get at least as much attention.”

“Bless your naïve little heart, Ron. What else have you got?”

“Let’s see here. There’s stuff on Saddam’s revived nuclear program, some more stuff on the aluminum tubes to be used for enriching uranium, and some other stuff on Iraq’s efforts to buy magnets for uranium centrifuges…”

“None of that nuclear stuff panned out, Ron. None of it turned out to be true.”

[Dumbfounded] “So Powell’s whole speech was just… just… just….”

[Considering] “You know, Ron, I’m having second thoughts. You watch as much TV as anybody else, and if you didn’t know that Powell’s points were all so--shall we say ‘dubious’?--then neither does any other average American. Secretary Powell does have an imposing presence. Let’s run those suckers! Who’s going to know the difference?”

© Tony Russell, 2003

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