Spinning reality … the presidential way

Tom Nardi

Last week, The Villanovan’s William McCullough wrote a thought-provoking column on violence and audience exploitation on the hit show “24.” What I found most striking about the column was the stance on exploitation: “Rather than respecting the audience in an attempt to earn viewers …” Whatever you think about “24,” there are much more dangerous exploiters than Kiefer Sutherland.

George W. Bush stood up in front of the nation last Tuesday to deliver the State of the Union address. In an unusual moment of candor and honesty, Bush told us, “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in.” But for those who hoped with the new Democratic majority in place Bush would turn over a new leaf, you hoped in vain.

Bush didn’t talk about Iraq for too long; that in itself was stunning. But he did address what we are now facing: Sunni militias and Sh’ia death squads. For those of you who don’t follow Iraq, the “insurgency” as we think of it is mostly made up of Sunnis. Sunnis resent American occupation because they see democracy as a means for the Sh’ia majority to take revenge for the atrocities committed under Sadaam’s secularist Sunni-dominated regime. In that assumption they are right, because the Sh’ia have organized under militant leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr who have near-immunity from political leaders like Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. And, as we fight the more visible Sunni insurgency, the Sh’ia are fueling Iraq’s civil war.

But even while joining the reality-based community for a little bit, Bush couldn’t help but lie. He explicitly told us that the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara sparked the Sh’ia to retaliate. While this is, in part, true, it is at best a gross oversimplification of the facts and at worst a shameful lie. Now, I accept the fact that Bush knows more about the reality in Iraq than I do simply because of his position. In fact, he better know more than I do. However, I don’t believe that he acts on that knowledge. And in the State of the Union, he clearly showed that he is lying about matters of the utmost importance to national security in a brazen attempt to influence public opinion, exploiting the generous faith the American public has in the office of the presidency.

The bombing of the Golden Mosque occurred on Feb. 22, 2006. It was an atrocity. While no one was killed directly from the blast, violence in the days to come would kill scores of people. However, this tragedy cannot be blamed for Sh’ia unrest. Even a cursory browsing of the Internet reveals that “Sh’ia death squad” was being used as a phrase months before the blast. In fact, the Iraqi government opened investigations in November of 2005 – a full three months before the bombing of the Golden Mosque – into abuse of Sunni detainees by the Sh’ia dominated Iraqi security force at an Interior Ministry prison. The prison in question is also suspected to have been a base for the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Sh’ia United Iraqi Alliance. Al-Maliki is a member of this coalition, as was Ibrahim al-Jaafari, his predecessor and prime minister during the abuse discovery.

Listen to the words of Dr. Laith Kubba, a spokesman for al-Jaafari at the time: “I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralyzed, and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies.” It is wrong to say that the Golden Mosque of Samara bombing started the Sh’ia upheaval. If anything, that bombing was itself retaliatory, stemming from oppression of Sunnis by the Sh’ia government.

In just a few hundred words, you can see how complicated the political process is in Iraq. Add religion, ethnicity and weapons, and you have civil war. Bush’s patent refusal to acknowledge publicly the serious issues on the ground in Iraq is nothing more than exploitation of a na’ve American public. This exploitation of the facts is much worse than any fictionalized violence on “24.” I am not trying to denigrate Will’s column (it is interesting to consider why we need to see a nuclear weapon detonate near Los Angeles). But there are much more important areas where the facts are being spun to meet an agenda. “24” might spin reality to scare you into watching, but Bush spins reality to scare you into supporting him and his destructive failed policies. Tell me which is worse.

I understand that as college students some of us want simply to live in our own utopias, blissfully ignorant of any harsh realities. And all of us – liberal, conservative and everything else – want desperately to believe that our government knows more than we do and is capable of taking care of such difficult matters. But if we allow ourselves to be purchased by this despicable manipulation, to be so easily exploited by a liar, we are ignoring our duties as citizens to be competent judges of our government’s performance. For God’s sake, they are killing people on our behalf! When Bush says that soldiers are in the field “defending” us, he isn’t talking about sports. The least we can do is know the freely available facts.

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Tom Nardi is a junior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]