New York, New York: Ok, class. No talking. Pencils up. All eyes on the exam. Here’s the first multiple-choice question:
The Iraq War is Bad Because:
a. It is illegal, immoral, and criminal b. It has ended up killing and maiming millions of Iraqis we promised to free c. It has devastated a country and ignited world opinion against the United States and caused thousands of US casualties d. It has debased our media and turned much of it into a propaganda organ e. It was badly managed and poorly executed
If you survey world opinion, there would be a consensus on selecting A-D as a response. If you polled most Democratic politicians and mainstream journalists, you would find overwhelming support ONLY for E-”the we screwed it up” thesis as the correct answer.
What was once hailed as a heroic mission is now being dismissed as a fiasco, error and “mistake,” and to some former war boosters, even a “noble mistake.”
In fact, that’s the view that seems to be framing what debate there has been on the war. It is still-AAU-All About Us. In this view, all that matters is our policy objectives but rarely our economic or geo-political agenda. Iraq as a nation, as a culture and a people barely exists.
For the most part the American debate leaves out the Iraqis except as victims or killers. The leaders that they said to have elected don’t seem to count with Washington giving them orders and pulling their strings. Prime Minister Maliki had to have a press conference to announce he works for the Iraqi People, not the Bush Administration. He knows that if he is to survive politically and personally, he has to distance himself from his wannabe benefactors. How many of us know that the Iraqi Government we trained is running death squads? How many Iraqis do we ever see, or more importantly HEAR on the air?
The Democratic Party line mirrors this America First philosophy.. Never ready to challenge the deeper assumptions and interests guiding the war, most of the Democrats instead harp on the stupidity and failures of the war’s instigators and managers who are considered incompetent. According to the NY Times, The Democrats are “running to the right,” self-consciously becoming conservative and moderate candidates who posture at being tougher on national security that the Repugs. (Oddly the International Herald Tribune ran almost identical stories ten days earlier.”)
So in the same way that Fox News pushed all other news outlets to the right, the GOP has imposed its worldview on the whole political spectrum. As a result, many Dems are not challenging this distorted ideology, only the personalities identified with it.
Bush’s message points, Cheney’s contentiousness and Rumsfeld’s ravings make them a perfect foil those who say what they want to do is right-but the way they are going about its wrong.
Isn’t it obvious that the responsibility for the war goes deeper and further. What about the rest of the military which went along with the “plan,” just “following orders,” knowing it was a joke? (Many of the Generals speaking out now held their fire and muzzled their doubts for years.)
And shat about the press that did more selling than telling about the war? The TV networks didn’t have to wait for Tom Ricks to publish his expose Fiasco to have him on the air and challenge lousy tactics and pervasive corruption. They all drank the Kool Aid. They were all complicit
Where were-where are -the reports about all the war crimes that have catalogued by scores of credible experts and observers. The use of proscribed weapons, the brutality of which Abu Ghraib is not the worst example, the failed “Shock and Awe,” the neglect and indifference of the needs of ordinary people “living” without water, electricity and sometimes food. Where is the concern for them?
We are talking here not just about casualties or “collateral damage” but about the destruction of a society that is rarely described or understood by journalists who keep American body counts and politicians who avoid the big picture. Journalists overseas are able to assess the situation with greater clarity than their “objective” American counterparts:
Journalist Patrick Cockburn who has watched the war up close concludes in a book for Verso: “The U.S. failure in Iraq has been even more damaging than Vietnam because the opponent was punier and the imperial ambitions even greater.”
Pepe Escobar of Asia Times describes what he calls “the logic of extermination.”
“This logic of extermination of a society and culture was inbuilt in the process since March 2003. In fact, the systematic annihilation of 2-3% of the entire Iraqi population, according to a study by The Lancet, not to mention the 1 million people displaced since March 2003, follow the more than 500,000 children who died during the 1990s as victims of United Nations sanctions. Iraq has been systematically destroyed for more than 15 years, non-stop.”
And what about the contribution of the Clintonistas who imposed sanctions that killed off an estimated one million Iraqi children while posturing about how bad Saddam is and was. I still remember Madeleine Albright telling 60 Minutes that that death count was “acceptable” because the goal was so noble. No wonder they have been so timid in criticizing the war. It represents their policy by other means!
Our lack of knowledge and blatant denial can perhaps be explained by the lack of context and background offered in the media and the failures of our educational system to prepare young people for a changing world. . 63% of our students couldn’t find Iraq on a map after three years of “coverage.” This is a reflection of the dumbing-down process which substitutes entertainment for information. No wonder Americans seem to have so little empathy and a sense of connectedness to the rest of the world. Many believe in the title of that anthem-”We Are The World,” a song that was ironically making the opposite point. They support charities but not deeper change.
Playing to this culture of ignorance and indifference is the Pentagon’s Information/media war. They have just announced a new unit to better promote its message across 24-hour news channels, particularly on the internet. The Pentagon said the move would boost its ability to counter ‘inaccurate’ news stories and exploit new media. BBC reports that Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff said the unit would reportedly monitor media such as weblogs-perhaps my own as well– and would also employ ‘surrogates’, or top politicians or lobbyists who could be interviewed on TV and radio shows.
Media propaganda like this, and the role the networks play without anyone in the Pentagon telling them what to do, seems to be ignored by the hyper-partisan “left” as well where concerns about the larger world are minimal, and the focus is ONLY on Bush and the White House as if that is where all power resides. What about globalization, human rights and corporate wrongs as well as economic justice issues like pervasive debt at home? Those issues seem to have disappeared even on so-called progressive blogs and “alternative” media outlets that love insider gossip and revel in a sense of exaggerated self-importance. Their view is often narrow, nationalistic and naÃ¯ve and often apes GOP tactics from the other side.
I don’t want to rant but I am also troubled when I watch nominally independent films about Iraq that sell the war in the guise of offering “verite” reporting by soldiers. “The War Tapes” is one such film-funded in part by progressives-which I later heard praised by President Bush’s media advisor. No Wonder. It is de-facto pro-war!. The War Tapes also use “hot bang-bang footage” from Fallujah to show how scary the US military mission is without offering any context or clearly showing the consequences of their ‘we destroyed the village inorder to save it’ approach.
Even Iraq for Sale by my friend Robert Greenwald tends to praise the mercenaries of “Blackwater Security” because they were double-crossed by the military without fully showing the crimes they committed in Fallujah.
If the war had been more successful-say like Israel’s 6 Day War instead of its recent Lebanon disaster-would we all be rallying behind the Bush policies instead of condemning them? Sure Saddam is a creep but he was our creep for many years and his demonization was not a baisis for the war.
Let’s stop pandering on national security to out-Republican the hard right. That approach failed in 2004 and it will fail again? The whole issue is convoluted anyway. Even as President Bush insists that “America loses” if The Dems win because that will somehow strengthen the terrorists, Al Qaeda strategists say openly that they prefer the Republicans in power and the US military stuck in Iraq to keep their Jihad alive. Odd as it seems, they like Bush, and believe that his Global War on Terror (GWOT) strengthens their war of terror. And like him, they just want us to “bring it on.”
It’s time to abandon this superficial approach with its patriotically correct slogans and failed practices-bombing that doesn’t work, torture that offends the world, resource grabs-and return to core small d democratic principles.
Instead the Repugs are going the other way with more bluster about “progress” and with “moderates” like former Vietnam War Bombadier John McCain proposing a troop increase and more escalations, a clear sign that the US is losing.
Let us articulate what we stand for-not just what are we against. May we oppose the war for the right reasons and absorb its lessons less we repeat them in Iran or other wars that are certain to come if we don’t. How’s that for an “inconvenient truth?”
News Dissector Danny Schechter wrote two books, “Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception” and “When News Lies,” and directed the film WMD about the Iraq war media coverage. See Wmdthefilm.com. Comments to: [email protected]