Like putting lipstick on a pig, President Bush is attempting to dress up the Iraq progress report and convince us that his troop surge strategy is working. At the same time, listening to the various 2008 presidential hopefuls from both parties discuss the ongoing debacle in Iraq, you would think that no one was ever in favor of the March, 2003 invasion. In fact, just prior to the invasion, two-thirds of the U.S. public supported going to war.
We now know conclusively that the war in Iraq has been legitimized by an “elite-engineered moral panic” precipitated by the Bush administration which manipulated public opinion concerning the alleged threat posed by Iraq. An elite-engineered moral panic occurs when an elite group deliberately undertakes a campaign to generate and sustain fear on the part of the public over an issue that they recognize not to be terribly harmful to society.
The key findings of research titled “Whoppers of Mass Deception (WMD): Presidential Rhetoric, Moral Panic and the War in Iraq” demonstrate through empirical analyses of news content and public opinion polls that the distorted and deceptive rhetoric of the Bush administration regarding the alleged threat manufactured public support for the invasion. The events leading up to the war in Iraq meet key requirements of a moral panic: 1) concern, 2) consensus, 3) hostility, and 4) disproportionality.
The first criterion refers to a heightened level of concern about a potential or imagined threat to society. Concern is demonstrated by the findings of this study which reveal that as the number of news articles containing quotes by the Bush administration about the alleged Iraqi threat increased prior to opinion polls, so did public support for the invasion.
Second, there must be substantial agreement in society, although not necessarily universal, that the threat is real and caused by the alleged offenders. Public support for war peaked at 64% just four days prior to the invasion of Iraq, demonstrating widespread consensus.
The third criterion of a moral panic is hostility or moral outrage toward the actors who embody the problem. Following 9/11, President Bush increasingly used pejorative and emotionally laden descriptors such as “evildoer” and “madman” in his references to Saddam Hussein, and he framed Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and North Korea, demonstrating the hostility criterion.
Finally, disproportionality refers to an exaggeration of the objective or realistic threat posed to society. We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no involvement in 9/11, despite the Bush administration’s claims to the contrary, which together demonstrate disproportionality.
These findings confirm what millions of Americans have imagined for some time: The deceptions by the Bush administration actually worked! It is reasonable to conclude from these results that the war in Iraq was legitimized by a moral panic engineered by the Bush administration and fueled by the news media, based on distorted and misleading rhetoric regarding an imminent (but non-existent) threat posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.