Jewish World Review July 15, 2003/ 15 Tamuz, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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The fearsome reality of the surreal | Some things are facts. It's a fact that if you can't tolerate the sickly sweet fragrance of formaldehyde, you won't make it as a mortician, and it's a fact that unless you cultivate a taste for the surreal, you can't stay in Washington very long.

The Washington reality, after all, is invented anew every morning by the media, which is the town's dominant industry.

The editors and reporters of the surreal world of the New York Times, The Washington Post and the major television networks are presently obsessed with proving that George W. Bush (with a little help from Tony Blair) invented the war with Iraq by inventing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

To prove that Saddam's weapons program, and maybe even Saddam himself, never existed requires a provable fact on which to build a campaign to destroy the Bush presidency. Even a "factoid," which novelist Norman Mailer famously defined as something that smells like a fact and tastes like a fact and is taken for a fact, but in fact is not a fact, might work if you can't find the real thing.

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The fashionable factoid of the moment is that George W. invented and spread the fiction in his State of the Union address that Saddam tried to buy uranium "yellowcake," lightly processed ore from which a nuclear weapon could be made, from Niger. This was an error, passed along by British intelligence. But in the surreal world, there are no errors, only scandals. The proof of this scandal — a scandal far greater than Teapot Dome, Watergate or Monica's thong — is a 16-word sentence in George W.'s State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Not since the conspiracy mongers set out to prove that FDR set up Pearl Harbor to get us into World War II has so much mischief been predicated on such wishful partisan imagination. If the surrealists can prove that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction never existed, they can "prove" that the war was a horrific hoax, invented by Republicans to assure the re-election of a Republican president. It may be an error big enough to be twisted into an impeachment lie. Twisting this won't be easy, even for the New York Times, still smarting from its failed campaign to prove that keeping women out of the Masters would bring down civilization as Howell Raines knew it. But maybe it's a start.

The reality of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction, for anyone who doesn't live in the surreal world of the dominant media, is grim enough and frightening enough. If the Israelis had not successfully destroyed his nuclear reactor in 1981, Saddam would have had his bomb years ago, and even at the end of the first Gulf war a decade ago, we learned that his nuclear program had survived and was far more advanced than the CIA told the first President Bush it was.

Far more important than the 16 words about Nigerien yellowcake in George W.'s State of the Union address this year was this passage about Saddam's nuclear program: "The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear-weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon, and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb."

The CIA operative leading the charge against George W. is Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent to Niger to verify the intelligence account and after an exhausting eight days returned to Washington to report that he hadn't learned anything about uranium yellowcake, possibly because he had, by his own admission, spent his time "drinking sweet mint tea" with "dozens of people" who didn't know anything about it. Nevertheless, he concluded that it was "highly doubtful that any such transaction ever took place."

Mr. Wilson, an "adjunct scholar" at a Saudi-backed "institute," a sometime essayist for the Nation magazine and speaker for a far-left "peace center," set out all this in an op-ed in the New York Times (where else?); this is the ammunition the guns of the dominant media are lobbing at the White House. The ammo bearer is the same Joseph C. Wilson IV who warned in the run-up to the Iraqi war that Saddam might use biological weapons against American troops. These are the biological weapons of mass destruction we're told don't exist and probably never did, only the fraudulent pretext for going to war.

You might think the relevant question about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is not whether he had them, but what did he do with them? But if you think that, it only proves that you live in the world where the surreal is not nearly as frightening as reality. And that's a fact.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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