Friday, September 29, 2006


The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Frank Rich

The other alternative, of course, is that this war of choice could prove to be an enormous victory for Iran and Al Qaeda alike, a commensurate disaster for Israel and the West, and a political boon to other jihadists worldwide (starting with those who consolidated governmental power in U.S.-endorsed elections in Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt). Should that be the case, the Bush presidency could well prove, as its most severe critics have maintained, the worst ever. Its legacy will include the destruction of America's image, credibility, and prestige abroad; record budget deficits produced by unchecked spending and tax cuts; an abused and broken military; a subversion of the Constitution achieved by rigidly ideological judicial appointments, the abridgement of civil liberties, and outright lawbreaking in the White House; an indifference to environmental imperatives, including the energy conservation urgently needed to end America's chronic economic dependence on the congenitally unstable Middle East; and the promotion of America's homegrown religious fundamentalism with both official and political assaults on medical and earth science (including evolution) and the rights of gay Americans. (And that's just the short list.)

By Edward Copeland
While that is just the short list, the focus of Frank Rich's compulsive page turner, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, only concerns how the Bush administration used P.R. and showmanship to sell the country and trick the Democrats into backing a war in Iraq that we should never have entered and which undermined our war on the real terrorists behind 9/11. The New York Times columnist (and former great, feared theater critic at the same paper) doesn't reveal anything that we didn't know about the war in Iraq, but he has done a great service by compiling it all in one place in an incredibly readable way, with frequent footnotes (real footnotes — not that kind Ann Coulter employs) and a massive timeline that lines up what the administration really knew versus what they told the public.

This corrupt and arrogant administration has committed so may breaches that it is easy to forget all of the details over time, but Rich's riveting account brings it all back to you as on page after page, it retrieves past anger and outrage from the recesses of your mind as to what atrocities Dubyaland has committed against our country, our democracy and the world, undermining the United States' long-standing moral authority around the world when we needed that authority more than ever to combat the threat of terrorism after 9/11.

Still, The Greatest Story Ever Sold is not an angry cry against George W. Bush and Rich's talent also produces many laughs along the way, especially for a subject so tragic you wouldn't think it possible to be funny. He especially accomplishes this in the book's opening pages, setting up what trivialities the U.S. was focusing on in the summer before the tragedy of 9/11, when shark attacks and Gary Condit dominated what passed for "news" on the silliness that passes for journalism most of the time on cable news. He has one particularly funny passage recalling what was supposed to have been the big summer movie of 2001, Pearl Harbor.
The vapid Pearl Harbor was an essential historical artifact anyway — not of its ostensible subject but of the tranquil American summer of 2001. The forty-minute bombing sequence looked like a state-of-the-art digital video game, with even the bloodshed sanitized to preserve the financially desirable PG-13 rating. ... Even medical miracles are effortlessly within reach: in one scene of high drama, FDR, trying to rally his Cabinet, miraculously rises from his wheelchair to stand on his own two feet, polio be damned.

The main selling point of this excellent tome though remains putting in one quick read the laundry list of misinformation, wrong assumptions and attacks on administration critics that the world has endured as neocons pursued their foreign policy visions and then were forced to defend them, despite each new fact that wagged a figurative finger in their face as to how wrong they were.

Rich also points out how Hurricane Katrina may have been the final straw to break Dubyaland's straw man's back, opening most Americans' eyes to the arrogance, corruption and incompetence of this administration.
Katrina was 9/11 deja vu with a vengeance, from the president's inattentiveness to the threat before the storm struck to his disappearing on the day itself to the reckless botching of the reconstruction efforts. ... The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for civil disorder, energy failures and food and water deprivation in a major city under siege lacked only the Rumsfeld tagline of "Stuff happens." Though history is supposed to occur first as tragedy, then as farce, this time tragedy was being repeated as tragedy.

For anyone whose blood has boiled over the actions of this administration and for those who still prefer to shield their eyes from the facts, Rich's book is an essential read. Rich may well have written the finest historical textbook ever.

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