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"the two most pernicious and consequential conspiracy theories of modern times: that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 and that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction"

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Which “conspiracy theories” the media decide to care about and which they don’t is largely a function of who is advancing those conspiracy theories, and whose interests they serve. The Atlantic (9/17) published a 12,000-word cover story by Kurt Andersen on the history of conspiracies and “crazy” ideas. In exploring how “America lost its mind,” Andersen let everyone in corporate media off the hook, saving most of his ire for obscure hippies, rednecks and postmodern academics.

The piece uses the term “conspiracy” or “conspiracies” 45 times, but somehow—in all the hand-wringing over their dangerous effects—omits the two most pernicious and consequential conspiracy theories of modern times: that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 and that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Fake Moon landings and healing crystals may be easier to deride, but their actual effect on politics, globally and domestically, is thus far (thankfully) fairly trivial. The same can’t be said for the dual conspiracies that Iraq was working with Al Qaeda to knock down the Twin Towers and was—despite all evidence to the contrary—building an active nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program.

This omission by Andersen could possibly be because one of the most visible and high-profile promoters of these two grand conspiracy theories was the man who commissioned the piece from him: Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg and scores of other high-status pundits—many of whom have moved on to even cushier, better-paying jobs—never have to account for the conspiracies they pushed that led directly to the devastating US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

How the most blatant confidence-eroding episode of the past 20 years could escape a 12,000-word piece on the erosion of trust in elite institutions is unclear. Goldberg and Co.’s theory that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda—which was floated by Goldberg everywhere from Slate (3/2/02, 10/3/02) to NPR (2/4/03) to the New Yorker (3/25/02) in the build-up to the Iraq War—was a textbook example of a conspiracy theory, complete with cherry-picked evidence, dubious inferences, rejection of contradictory evidence and ideological blinders. Yet somehow, when Andersen and others review America’s obsession with conspiracy, this one is curiously absent from the inventory.



But Andersen’s task isn’t rigor or material explanation—it’s flattery. The point of the piece is to vaguely allude to a moral panic of lowering intellectual standards, while reassuring readers that they’re too smart to fall for that “craziness”—and in the process getting everyone in power off the hook.

The overreliance on tautological and ableist labels like “crazy” (six uses), “insane” (four uses) and “delusional” (five uses) speaks to the intellectual laziness at work. Andersen refers to the Weather Underground and other anti-war leftist groups as “unhinged,” falsely claiming they “set off thousands of bombs in the early 1970s.” (The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland lists a total of 540 bombing incidents in the United States between 1970 and 1974, many of which are attributed to anti-Castro Cubans and other far-right groups.)

But he does not comment on whether the killing of 3 million Indochinese by the US government they fought against was “crazy” or “unhinged.” Lip service is paid to the CIA’s use of ESP to feign some attempt at balance, but no mention is made as to the normative mental properties of torture, dirty war, executions, coups or the propping up of fascist governments. Presumably in Andersen’s calculus, these things are entirely rational and level-headed.



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Like Trumpers today, my real time discussions on Saddam and the whole WMD thing here were ignored by those who wanted revenge for 9/11 and it didn't matter who it was we went after, as long as they were brown and bad.

After the fact people had to acknowledge the truth or cling to their notions that Saddam Hussein sent his bombs to Syria for safekeeping, which was really, really stupid.

I will never forgive Powell for his hand in the sales job, and Dubya can go straight to hell even though I am sure I'd love to have a beer with him otherwise.

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he did have WMDs ... trying to name all the responses before they are given doesn't make them untrue...it's interesting though this comes up today especially after the  Bush Speech... the question of why Bush said Saddam didn't have them later was just answered /confirmed today as he is all in on the Globalist agenda...that really was the only puzzler in the whole issue...Its also the reason he never defended himself as he knew it was part of his role as a repub President ...

  • Poo 1

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