Upside-down Cake

Chait, Jonathan
April 2003
New Republic;4/21/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 15/16, p46
The press has reported that the Iraqi regime spent the prewar months scrutinizing tapes of "Black Hawk Down" for military lessons. The author has begun to suspect that they've also been studying White House press conferences. This would explain the eerie similarity between the pedagogical styles of Saddam Hussein's chief spokesman, Mohammed Said Al Sahaf, and Ari Fleischer. Both are highly disciplined in repeating their insult of choice for their opponents--Al Sahaf preferring "criminal" and Fleischer "obstructionist." Those who watch Fleischer in action are familiar with his practice of escaping questions with long, convoluted answers intended to befuddle the press. Al Sahaf has mastered the same skill. At a press conference, for example, Mohammed Said Al Sahaf was asked why Iraqi troops were equipped with chemical-protection suits if Iraq does not have any chemical weapons. "All the armies, when there are wars, especially when there is aggressive war like the American-British war against Iraq, and they're trying to invade, which they are trying now and which we will foil it, hopefully, the standard that by the armies, the equipment of the fighters and the--we should be among these equipment should be a mask and a description of any weapons," he explained. After this, the reporters had no choice but to change the subject. But the real trademark of both spokesmen is their talent for remaining utterly unflappable in the face of bad news. Rather than attempt to cast unpleasant information in the most favorable light, both spokesmen prefer instead to deny it altogether. Just as technology has revolutionized war, so too has it revolutionized war punditry. Debates that once took years and consumed reams of paper have been reduced to instantaneous affairs thanks to computer databases such as Google and LexisNexis.


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