Declaring “Independence from Reality”
50% Still Think Saddam had WMD
By Charles J. Hanley, AP
Chicago Sun Times
August 7, 2006
Do you believe in Iraqi “WMD”?
Did Saddam Hussein’s government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?
Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag.
People tend to become “independent of reality” in these circumstances, said opinion analyst Steven Kull.
The reality in this case is that after a 16-month investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.
Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack that aimed to eliminate supposed WMD.
“I’m flabbergasted,” said Michael Massing, a media critic. “This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence.”
Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania’s Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan’s Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
Latest ‘factoid’ a factor?
“I think the Harris Poll was measuring people’s surprise at hearing this after being told for so long there were no WMD in the country,” said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware. But the Pentagon and outside experts emphasized that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more, their chemical contents were degraded, and they were unusable as artillery ordnance.
Conservative commentator Deroy Murdock, who trumpeted Hoekstra’s announcement in his syndicated column, complained that the press “didn’t give the story the play it deserved.” But in some cases it was highlighted. “Our top story tonight, the nation abuzz today . . .” was how Fox News led its report on the old, stray shells. Feedback to blogs grew intense. “Americans are waking up from a distorted reality,” read one posting.
Kull, Massing and others see an influence on opinion that’s more sustained than the odd headline.
“I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest ‘factoid,’ but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument,” said John Prados, author of the book Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War.
Administration statements still describe Saddam’s Iraq as a threat. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has allowed only that “perhaps” WMD weren’t in Iraq.
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