Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Don’t let Bushies
slip another one by you

REMEMBER those awful pop quizzes on current events in high school civics class? At the risk of stirring bad memories, here's a one-question exam:

True or false: "Iraq's Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that took place two years ago tomorrow."

If you answered "false," congratulations. You get an "A".

If you answered "true," you join ranks with the 69 percent of 1,003 Americans who responded similarly in a recent Washington Post poll. Don't feel too bad about the mistake. People in high places have worked long and hard to push that misconception, albeit stealthily.

Still, it is disturbing that almost 7 in 10 people think the Iraqi evil-doer had a role in the 9/11 strike on the United States. It means people aren't examining the words and statements issued by political leaders to justify a war that, ironically, has transformed Iraq into a gathering place for terrorists.

The belief that Saddam Hussein somehow took part in the attacks is groundless; even the Bush administration says it ain't so. Yet the notion persists, in part because of how the president and his associates have framed their rhetoric and because many people don't take the time to pay closer attention.

It isn't easy to stay informed. Those of us whose job it is to keep tabs on the news spend hours every day reading and listening to reports from various sources, and I'm sure we don't know it all. Meanwhile, most people get their information in snippets from television broadcasts. Although there are all-news, all-the-time networks with 24 hours to disseminate information, they simplify or dumb down data with the view that people aren't really that interested. And they may be right.

After a long day at work, after getting the kids bathed and fed and off to bed, people turn on the tube seeking respite. They want light entertainment, not somber discussions of the issues at hand.

Which is OK some of the time, but like a fast-food meal, a 10-second bite off CNN is hardly nourishing. A strong citizenry requires knowing what's going on, analyzing and asking questions.

The Bush administration is expert at creating sliding impressions. In numerous public pronouncements on Iraq, the president suggests ties between 9/11 and Iraq by abutting statements about one next to the other. Example: "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001," he said last May. "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al-Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more."

Bush's statements slip by the fact that the fundamentalism of al-Qaida and Saddam's secular brand of Islam are miles apart and that there is no evidence that Iraq provided the terrorist group with funding or any of those elusive weapons of mass destruction. What his words do is project a hint of connections. No wonder those listening with half an ear think the Iraqi tyrant Americans love to hate was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Some may argue that the distinctions aren't important, that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are cut from the same cloth and that a terrorist is a terrorist, period. But the devil, as they say, is in the details and if we let the details steal by, we relinquish our responsibilities as citizens. We fail to keep our leaders accountable.

The war on Iraq was brought to you by conjecture, twisted half-truths and qualified "facts." Its continuance is costing human lives and mortgaging our economic future. Every week, $1 billion is spent on the war and now Bush wants at least another $87 billion. If nothing else, that kind of money and the prospect that America may be stuck in Iraq for years to come should make us sit up and listen intently.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at:


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