Hoax: Why Americans are Suckered by White House Lies by Nicholas von Hoffman

The United States is like the guy at the party who gives everybody free coke, and still nobody likes him.
— Jim Samuels

I know a lawyer who claims that defamation (slander and libel) is one of the most underrated everyday crimes that occurs with little punishment. A lie, concocted as a result of bitterness and sheer malice, can be spread and established as fact amongst unknowing people, many of whom never even stop to question the validity of what they have been told. The fact that it is complete and utter nonsense, cooked up only to malign and harm the individual in question, is a reality forgotten if the lie is repeated often enough. The more the liar pounds their lie into the psyche of the listener, the more acceptable the lie becomes (or so the liar thinks).

However, most liars eventually get caught in their own web of deceit (with or without stern warnings from lawyers), and gradually the lie is shrugged off as what it is, a laughable prevarication with no bearing. Victims of defamation usually have avenues for recourse, but what happens to nations that are maligned? If the legal penalties of defamation could be applied to countries, then Iraq would probably have the greatest defamation lawsuit in history.

In Hoax: Why Americans are Suckered by White House Lies, author and renowned journalist Nicholas von Hoffman (whose son is currently stationed in Iraq) delves into the flimsy case which the current Bush Administration presented for its attack of Iraq. In the beginning chapter, entitled “The Big Lie,” he details the Bush Administration’s diversionary tactics for invading Iraq, thereby pulling off a “bait and switch war”: “There was bait (terrorism), then the switch (weapons of mass destruction), then a switch again (kill the dictator), and yet again (regime change).”

An angry, mystified world watched as President George W. Bush and his cronies (Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, et al), providing no credible evidence, managed to pull the wool over the eyes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair (whose political future now hangs in the balance) and a few other allies, who immediately recognized Saddam Hussein as a modern-day Hitler whose thirst for building WMD and ties with terrorists would soon debilitate the world. But others, including Russia, Germany, and the French (who were then lambasted for their opposition) stood in alliance against the US-British coalition, recognizing that Bush’s motives were either oil-related, or personal (finishing off what his father had started in 1991), or worse, a “We’ll teach you,” payback for 9/11-which had no connection whatsoever to Iraq.

In late 2003, the top Central Intelligence Agency weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, provided damaging testimony, stating that no WMD were found. In a separate mission, the United Nations also issued a report in March 2004, reiterating Kay’s findings. According to USA Today (2 March 2004), “No evidence was found to suggest Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons. UN officials believe that the weapons were destroyed by UN inspectors or Iraqi officials in the years after the 1991 Gulf War.” In June 2004, the 9/11 Commission stated that it had found no link between the al-Qaeda attacks and Iraq. And even the conservative Weekly Standard questioned the connection back in September 2003: “For months before the war in Iraq, the Bush administration claimed to know of ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For months after the war, the Bush administration has offered scant evidence of those claims.”

As Von Hoffman confirms, there is no question that Saddam (commonly known as the Butcher of Baghdad), was a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians (during the Iran-Iraq war), Kurds, and the random butchering of Iraqis whom he suspected as enemies of the Baath regime. But, in an interview, the author questions the timing of the so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” wondering why the sudden desire to get rid of Saddam when he posed no threat whatsoever, as opposed to fifteen years ago when he was at the height of his power. Iraq had been completely crippled militarily and economically after the first Gulf War and the following embargoes.

The answer Von Hoffman offers is that Saddam — particularly during the Iran-Iraq war — served a purpose for the US. As the old saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and Saddam’s battle with the Iranians delighted the US government, which had its own score to settle with the unruly ayatollahs of Iran.

The author emphasizes that Bush’s invasion has more to do with the interest of democratizing the Middle East (Iran and Syria are also on the radar), and introducing “free trade and amity” to the troubled region, with no consideration whatsoever as to whether an American-style government and way of life is what Middle Easterners want. The horrific 9/11 attacks or the escalating anti-coalition violence in Iraq should serve as an example of some sentiment in Middle East towards the US.

He likens the invasion of Iraq to the army’s “tourist excursion,” and draws parallels between President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada and the first President Bush’s invasion of Panama, which also witnessed the removal of a former US friend, Manuel Noriega. How soon they forget.

In addition, the American public’s ready acceptance of what their government tells them — and their suspicion of opinions which go against the American grain — is also a central thesis of Hoax. Von Hoffman writes:

It is as though America is in a 3000 mile wide terrarium, an immense biosphere which has cut it off from the rest of the world and left to pick its own way down the path of history.

He claims that the US has always had a sense of “manifest destiny,” which it believes has bestowed the nation with its own brand of “specialness.” The anger that many Americans felt towards the French, for example, for daring to oppose the Iraq invasion, is a case in point that depicts a “we are right; they are wrong” attitude. Any view that differs from those espoused by the inhabitants of said “biosphere” quickly culminates into a black-and-white “Are they with us or against us?” issue. It’s this very sense of greatness and power that then make it difficult for the American public to believe that their government (Nixon aside) would ever lie to them. If America is the most powerful nation on earth, the government must be doing something right.

Yet, Von Hoffman also rings the death knell for the “American Century,” claiming that despite its current braggadocio and so-called victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has failed in its effort to bring any stability to the region (if anything, the Middle East, he claims, is worse off today than it was in 1991), and its mission to curb the Islamic world and bring terrorism to its knees has proven unsuccessful. America’s staunchest and most important allies, with the exception of Britain, have all placed a distance between themselves and US foreign policy, and the US’ near dismissal of the UN — prior and post Iraq — has situated the nation in troubled waters with the international community. More important, as the US coalition is busy converting Iraq into a “free world,” Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda still remain at large.

Von Hoffman is — as the blurb on the book jacket claims — a “Pulitzer Prize-losing author,” who has consistently been fired by the best editors in journalism due to his “curmudgeonly behavior.” He was a commentator for 60 Minutes and a long-time writer for the Washington Post from which he had to leave in a “lynch or resign” situation. He is currently a columnist for the New York Observer. Irreverent, blunt, and controversial he may be, but he is also brilliant and astute, and God, can he write. Von Hoffman’s assessments of the Iraq situation in Hoax are those which, years from now, everyone is sure to accept as fact. He is one of the most important and knowledgeable journalists writing today, and when he speaks, everybody should listen.