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For the week of June 18 - 24, 2003

Opinion Columns

A triumph of ignorance or manipulation?

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Night owls who take in Jay Lenoís "Tonight Show" wonít be surprised by a poll revealing startling ignorance about the war in Iraq.

Lenoís occasional street-people feature, "Jaywalking," pops simple questions on seemingly uninformed young adults.

Answers are sadly indicative of profound ignorance.

After looking at a photo of the Alamo, for example, one Jaywalking guest said it is "King Tutís tomb."

A photo of the iconic World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima was seen as "landing on the moon" to another.

A humiliating moment involved a college student planning a teaching career--she didnít know how many dimes are in a dollar.

So whatís the connection to a poll?

After interviewing 1,256 American adults, the University of Marylandís Program on International Policy Attitudes found:

∑  one-third believe U.S. troops have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Although, none have been found yet.

∑  22 percent said Iraqi troops actually used chemical or biological weapons on U.S. forces. They didnít.

This ignorance is partly garden variety inattention to current affairs.

But much is a tribute to President Bushís spin machine, according to Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution. "The public is susceptible to manipulation. . . ."

Said Mann: "Tapping into the feelings and fears after Sept. 11 is a way to sell a policy." Bush & Co. filled the air with dark claims of imminent Iraqi use of apocalyptic weapons against the world.

A majority seems indifferent to whether attacking Iraq was justified by hype and distortion. Instead, they accept the war as humanitarian.

If so many are uninformed about going to war or they swallow political spin so easily, are they just as blank about decisions plunging America into deeper debt and deficits, about police powers over their lives by the hyperbolically named Patriot Act?

Now, the question of impeachment has cropped up.

An expert, John Dean, White House counsel during Watergate and one of those who helped bring down President Nixon, hints at the possibility.

"If Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information," Dean writes June 6 on the Web site www.FindLaw.com, "he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be Ďa high crimeí under the Constitution's impeachment clause.

      "(W)hen Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security.

"The same kind of thinking might lead a President to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war."

But even if true, would the Republican Congress regard lying to go to war as nefarious as lying about sex with a White House intern and would it spend $60 million investigating a Republican president as they did his Democratic predecessor?


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