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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mark Danner

by tristero

I'm gonna take about a week off for personal stuff and to collect my thoughts on a topic I've been meaning to post about. But I did want to share this truly superb interview with reporter Mark Danner, whose work is some of the best being done by an American. Read it all. Here are some excerpts:
It underlines [the Bush administration's] policies in all kinds of areas, their belief that the overwhelming or preponderant power of the United States can simply change fact, can change truth. It is quite indicative of their policy of public information inside the United States. They don't care about people who read the New York Times, for instance. I use that as a shorthand. They don't care about people concerned with facts. They care about the broader arc of the story. We sit here constantly citing facts -- that they've broken this or that law, that what they originally said turns out not to be true. None of this particularly interests them.

What interests them is the larger reality believed by the 50.1 percent that they need to govern. Kenneth Duberstein said this recently -- he was chief of staff to Ronald Reagan -- that this administration is unique in that they govern with 50.1 percent. He was referring not to elections but to popularity while governing. His notion was that Reagan would want to get 60 to 65 percent backing him, while the Bush people want a bare majority, which means they have a much more extremist policy because they're appealing to the base. It makes them very hard-knuckle when approaching politics, simply wanting the base plus one.


The icebergs are floating by. I've used the phrase to indicate that a process of scandal we've come to know, with an expected series of steps, has come to an end. Before, you had, as Step 1, revelation of wrongdoing by the press, usually with the help of leaks from within an administration. Step 2 would be an investigation which the courts, often allied with Congress, would conduct, usually in public, that would give you an official version of events. We saw this with Watergate, Iran-Contra and others. And finally, Step 3 would be expiation -- the courts, Congress, impose punishment which allows society to return to some kind of state of grace in which the notion is, Look, we've corrected the wrongdoing, we can now go on. With this administration, we've got revelation of torture, of illegal eavesdropping, of domestic spying, of all kinds of abuses when it comes to arrest of domestic aliens, of inflated and false weapons of mass destruction claims before the war; of cronyism and corruption in Iraq on a vast scale. You could go on. But no official investigation follows


[During the Reagan administration] At a time of real dominance by the Times and Post, and the administration came forward, denied the [El Mozote massacres in El Salvador] took place, and was able to make its views stick. And remember we knew [the Reagan administration was covering up about their knowledge of the death squads]...

That leads me to a conclusion I came to then: that in many stories it's not the information, it's the politics. It's not that we were lacking information. It's that, when that information came out, it was denied and those in power were able to impose their view of reality. Political power decided what reality was, despite clear information to the contrary. When I look at our time I see that phenomenon writ large.

I think it's widely known at the top of the administration that Iraq is a failure. It's also been recognized by many that, in strategic terms, the Iraq war could turn out to be a catastrophe because it's essentially created a Shia Islamist government sympathetic to Iran and, among other things, made it impossible for the U.S. to adequately pressure Iran on the nuclear issue.


[O]ne is perilously close to arriving at the conclusion that reality doesn't matter. When I look at the pieces on the inside pages of the papers about the stealing of funds in Iraq by American officials, when I realize that no one is likely to be punished for this, I think of the novels of [Milan] Kundera, of his vivid descriptions of what it was like to live in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and '60s -- in the Soviet system where everyone realized the corruption, the abuse of power, the mediocrity of the government, the yawning gap between what was said and what was really going on, but no one could do anything about it


Actually, to reach the point of being a TFN [a Totally Fucked-up Nation], I think we have a long way to go. We're at a very low point in the political evolution of this country. I've certainly not lived under an administration as radical in its techniques, its methods, and its beliefs as this one. I've seen nothing like it in my lifetime.

It's a difficult time for those of us who care about the truth and who don't believe, as I think this administration does, that the truth is actually determined by what those in power think. I take comfort from the fact that a lot of people don't believe that.
Like Mark Danner, I'm glad that the US is not yet Sierra Leone. The problem is that Bush just takes that as a challenge, rolls up his sleeves, smirks a few times, and then proceeds blithely about his God-given mission to wreck the United States in every way he can think of.