The New York Times published a fine obituary on U.S. diplomacy today.
But the New York Times, as well as the rest of the U.S. media, needs to shoulder a significant portion of the blame for this colossal failure. The Bush Administration succeeded in pulling off this war campaign with the help of the American public's belief in "facts" for which there is no evidence, including that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11 and that there was a recent nuclear weapons program in Iraq.
It matters that the public believes these falsehoods. The media cannot escape culpability in the dissemination of these strategic lies--it's their job to discover lies and point them out to us, even if that task is difficult, and even if the government stands in the way. In this country, they failed--at a fundamental level, at the level of simple facts--to present the truth to the American public. With their gullibility, they encouraged the Bush Administration to present one deception after another (9-11 connection, the scary drone plane made of balsa, the faked evidence of Iraq's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons), and those deceptions were instrumental in achieving what support there is in the U.S. for this unilateral war.
That American ignorance about basic facts was manufactured is clear. The Christian Science Monitor puts it succinctly:
Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either "most" or "some" of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.
Lest you take refuge in the thought, "Well, at least 56 percent of the nation actually knows an important basic fact about 9-11," the rest of the numbers provide only more reason for astonishment: Only 17 percent knew the correct answer. Six percent believed "one" hijacker was Iraqi, and 33 percent just didn't know.
The most devastating proof of the U.S. media's failure is the possession of basic knowledge by the rest of the world. Polls prove that average citizens around the globe, if asked simple and relevant questions--is there evidence of a Saddam/9-11 connection? is there proof of a nuclear-weapons program? did Iraq hide missiles from the inspectors?--by and large know the answers. The average American, by contrast, would reveal an embarrassing ignorance of the record. The citizens of the country perpetrating this war, with regard to basic facts that prop up their support for it, essentially believe that the sky is green.