Just a brief follow-up

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Just a brief follow-up on this secret trip to Swansea, Wales, which Jim Woolsey made on behalf of the US government, with a government jet and FBI personnel in tow, to verify Laurie Mylroie’s theory that Saddam Hussein was the mastermind behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

Another article out in Newsweek says Richard Clarke tried to tell this story in Against All Enemies but White House lawyers excised his recounting because it included ‘classified information’, that inviolate shroud of state that can only be pierced when some political opponent needs to be smeared (i.e., Clinton, Plame, Wilson, Clarke, Gorelick, et al.)

Now, I thought I remembered the Inspector Woolsey escapade coming up in Clarke’s book. So I went back to the source. And sure enough, there it is. Right there on page 95. But a quick perusal reveals what happened. The discussion is not in Clarke’s words but rather in an at-length quote from an article by that unique and irreplaceable chronicler of neocon folly, Jason Vest.

So presumably, Al Gonzales’s censors said no-can-do. And to this Clarke replied, “Fine, I’ll just grab this graf out of Jason Vest’s article in the Village Voice. And that’s already public. So what’s the problem?”

Considering that this whole enterprise was an elaborate joke, a fact of which only the instigators were unaware, it’s difficult to see what about this really needs to be kept secret — unless, of course, you’re considering the damage to national prestige caused by revealing the fact that high-level US government officials could have involved themselves in such an amateurish stunt.

Though there may be elements of this we don’t know about, the most probable reason this get nixed is that it would be embarrassing for the administration.

Now, one other point.

There’s been a lot of attention and hand-wringing over the last few days over the release of a new poll which claims that a majority of Americans — not an overwhelming majority but solid ones — believe that Iraq was either behind the 9/11 attacks or provided ”substantial support” to al Qaida and either had WMD at the outset of the war or had major on-going weapons programs.

And to this people say, well, what is it with people? How can so many people not have heard the reports of David Kay and all the rest?

But consider this. And let’s consider this a thought experiment, probing the limits of passive presidential deception.

Let’s say that 55% of Americans still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the war and that they were providing material support to al Qaida. Let’s not question why they believe it. Let’s just put it out there.

Now, what would happen if in some major forum — a press conference or a major speech — the president were to go before the public and say: “Before the invasion, we believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We made the best guess based on the intelligence we had. But, now, having looked at all the evidence, it’s clear we were wrong. He didn’t have them.”

Clearly, here we’re setting aside questions of bad-faith and willful deception. But let’s give him the best foot to put forward.

A week after that speech, or that comment in a press conference, how much do you think those numbers (55%) would change? I suspect they’d change quite a bit.

And what that tells me is that, to a great degree, the portion of the public that is is misinformed on this issue is misinformed because the president continues to deceive them, even if in a passive manner.

And why does he do so? Because it is in his political interest that they remain deceived.

Late Update: Juan Cole also has some very perceptive comments on this poll: “Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs? One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology.”

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