Bedtime Stories for the Bewildered Herd


he standard power-worshipping position and consent-manufacturing role
of the United States’ “free press” has been clearly demonstrated before
and during the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Dominant U.S. war
and entertainment media have dutifully relayed one White House and Pentagon
fairy tale after another, making occasional limited corrections only long
after the critical damage to popular perceptions is inflicted. 

First there were the WMD, al Qaeda and 9/11 fairy tales. At the outset,
dominant U.S. media dutifully relayed White House myths about Saddam Hussein’s
“weapons of mass destruction” and his alleged connections to al Qaeda and
9/11. It did this despite abundant evidence showing that Saddam’s regime
possessed no significant WMD stocks and had no connection either to al
Qaeda (or other Islamist-terrorist forces) or the terrible events of 9/11.
“Mainstream” journalists like to say that they and we “now know better,”
but the disingenuous nature of the Administration claims was readily
apparent to numerous observers within and beyond the left in advance of
the invasion. Some media outlets (e.g., the

New York Times



) have actually apologized, too late, for the “gullibility” with which
they accepted Administration lies on Iraqi WMD and terror connections.

Next came the “mission accomplished” fable. With cameras positioned to
deceptively sell the toppling of Saddam’s statue (torn down with the help
of an American tank) as a great moment of popular Iraqi rebellion, General
Electric Television (NBC) and its corporate media partners (CBS, ABC, CNN,
and Fox Television) played along with the Bush administration’s childish
construction of the invasion as a mission smoothly accomplished with minimally
negative impact on grateful Iraqis. 

Honest Mistakes, Bad Intelligence, Stuff Happens, and Related Tall Tales 


mericans were then told the “bad intelligence” legend. When it became
belatedly clear to “mainstream” war media that there were no Iraqi WMDs,
the leading popular communications institutions dutifully transmitted the
irresponsible notion that the occupation had been undertaken on the basis
of “honest mistakes” rooted in “faulty intelligence.” The media sold this
idea even though many policy critics knew and observed from the beginning
that the “bad intelligence” about Iraq was being “fixed around the policy”
(to quote the July 2002 Downing Street Memo) of invading Iraq. The “intelligence”
that supported the invasion of Iraq was not so much “bad” as “cooked”—
made to order for enactment of the preemptive war doctrine. No dominant
media authorities have acknowledged or apologized for their role in disseminating
the “bad intelligence” lie. 

Then there was what might be called the “shit happens” lie. Once it became
clear (quite early on) that the occupation of Iraq was not going to be
a neat little affair after Saddam’s regime was quickly dispatched, the
Bush administration dismissed those who criticized the invasion’s messy
aftermath as “Monday morning quarterbacks.” Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld said the following to reporters questioning him about the mass
looting of Iraqi government buildings (which the U.S. military failed to
protect with the revealing exception of the Iraq oil ministry): “Stuff
happens…but in terms of what’s going on in the country, it is a fundamental
misunderstanding to see those images over and over again of some boy walking
out with a vase, and say, ‘Oh my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.’ That’s
nonsense…it’s untidy and freedom is untidy.” As the U.S. Empire’s “untidy”
fiasco —fundamentally related to the lack of a post-invasion “plan”—deepened
in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon claimed that neither they nor anyone
else had good reasons to anticipate the chaos that lay ahead in the shattered

This was completely false. Beyond technically irrelevant predictions from
within the Middle East and from the U.S. and global left, numerous key
establishment “elite” advanced serious warnings about disastrous consequences
after a quick military victory over a weak regime. The agents of advance
warning (to name just some of the more prominent voices) included Bush
senior’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, retired Air Force Colonel
John Warden, Marine Corps consultant Frank Hoffman, National Defense University
professor Daniel Kuehl, conservative Congressperson Ike Skelton (the senior
Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee), and the Committee on International
Security Studies at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. All of these
and other voices within and beyond the foreign policy establishment issued
relevant notes of caution and alarm regarding the difficulties inherent
in illegally occupying Mesopotamia. 

There have been numerous other fairy tales told to the bewildered American
herd by the Administration and its media enablers. We’ve been told tall
tales about the invasion of Iraq being part of the “war on terror” when
it was widely understood in numerous intelligence circles that invading
the sovereign territory of Iraq would increase the threat posed to America
and the world by stateless terror networks. We’ve been fed stories about
successful U.S.-sponsored elections and noble U.S. school and hospital
building projects that supposedly indicate the hidden success and humanitarian
benevolence of the occupation. We’ve been instructed to think that the
killing of a leading terror operative (Zarqawi) was a major step forward
in the reduction of violence in Iraq. We’ve been asked to believe that
the U.S. torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib and other locations was the result
of the misconduct of a few deranged rank-and-file GIs and not of explicit,
top-down U.S. policy. We’ve been told foolish tales about ethnic violence
the U.S. supposedly did nothing to create, had no reason to expect, and
which now necessitates a continuing U.S. military presence to guarantee
“public safety.” 

Never Mind the Imperial Agenda 


ever mind that the preponderant majority of Iraqis have wanted U.S. troops
to leave their nation from the start. According to a recent poll by the
Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland,
78 percent of Iraqis now believe that the U.S. military presence is “provoking
more conflict than it is preventing” and 61 percent of Iraqis approve of
attacks on Americans. A poll commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence
last year found that fully 82 percent of Iraqis were “‘strongly opposed’
to the presence of foreign troops and that less than 1 percent believed
the troops were responsible for improvement in security.” 

Never mind that a poll conducted by the U.S. State Department reports that
almost three-fourths of Baghdad’s residents would “feel safer” if U.S.
forces left their country. 

Never mind that 72 percent of Americans surveyed by the mainstream Chicago
Council on Foreign Relations in 2004 (the percentage is certainly higher
today) said that the U.S. should remove its military from Iraq if that’s
what a clear majority of Iraqis want. 

Never mind that more than half the U.S. population now says the war on
Iraq is not morally justified. 

Never mind that (according to a recent

New York Times

/CBS poll) a majority
of the population now rejects Administration efforts to link the war on
Iraq with the so-called “war on terror.” 

Never mind that (according to a CNN poll in August), 60 percent of the
U.S population opposes the war, 61 percent believes that some troops should
be removed before the end of the year, and 57 percent want a timetable
for full withdrawal. 

Never mind that the U.S. “democracy”-promoting president rejects these
policy choices supported by the American popular majority as naïve elitist
“appeasement”—so-called “cut and run”—even while he insists that the war
is being fought on behalf of the idea that government should reflect the
“will of the people.” 

Never mind that America’s own regressive, hyper-plutocratic domestic policy
is highly unpopular with the American majority, which rejects the regressive
policies that have helped make their nation the most unequal and wealth-top-heavy
state in the industrialized world. 

Never mind that one of the first actions of the U.S. occupation authorities
was to open up much of Iraq’s economy to multinational corporate ownership—an
action that would never have been supported by the Iraqi majority and which
violated core principles of national independence. 

Never mind that the U.S. is building a number of permanent military bases
in richly oil-strategic Iraq. 

Never mind that the U.S. is a close ally and sponsor of the feudal, arch-repressive
Saudi Arabian regime along with numerous other authoritarian state and
political forces (including the Israeli occupation state) in the region
and around the world. 

Critical Leverage in the Heart of

the World’s Energy System 


he notion of the Iraqi people doing whatever they wish with their own
state’s critical petroleum resources—second or third only to those of Saudi
Arabia—is completely unacceptable to U.S. foreign policy makers from either
of the nation’s dominant two imperial business parties. As James M. Lindsay,
a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently proclaimed:
“It was always hard to sustain the argument that if the United States withdrew
from Vietnam there would be immense geopolitical consequences. As we look
at Iraq, it’s a very different issue. It’s a country in one of the most
volatile parts of the world, which has a very precious resource that modern
economies rely on, namely oil.” 

As the leading left critic of U.S. foreign policy Noam Chomsky observes,
“The U.S. invaded Iraq because it has enormous oil resources, mostly untapped
and it’s right in the heart of the world’s energy system.” If the U.S.
succeeds in controlling Iraq, Chomsky notes, “it extends enormously its
strategic power, what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls its ‘critical leverage’
over Europe and Asia. That’s a major reason for controlling the oil resources—it
gives you strategic power. Even if you’re on renewable energy you want
to do that. That’s the reason for invading Iraq, the fundamental reason,”
readily understood, Chomsky argues, by anybody who has “three gray cells
functioning.” Early in the occupation of Iraq, Chomsky adds, Brzezinski
argued, “America’s control over Middle Eastern oil producers ‘gives it
indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies
that are also dependent on energy exports from the [Persian Gulf] region’.”
Brzezinski was simply “reiterating the leading post-World War II U.S. planners,
George Kennan in this case, who recognized that control of the resources
of the Gulf region would give the United States ‘veto power’ over its industrial

But even if the U.S. overcame its gasoline addiction and became fully energy-self-reliant
(it currently receives 20 percent of its oil from the Middle East), something
else would still make U.S. officials positively obsessed with Middle Eastern
petroleum: the ongoing and ever-worsening loss of America’s one-time supremacy
in basic global-capitalist realms of production, trade, international finance,
and currency and the related emergence of the rapidly expanding giant China
as a new strategic military (as well as economic) competitor. As the noted
left geographer and world-systems analyst David Harvey argues, the United
States’ long decline, reflecting predictable (and predicted) shifts in
the spatial patterns of capitalist investment and social infrastructure
gives special urgency for the U.S. to deepen its control of Middle Eastern
oil and use it as what Chalmers Johnson calls “a bargaining chip with even
more oil-dependent regions” like Western Europe and East Asia, homes to
the leading challengers to U.S. economic power. That core objective would
hardly be attained helping Iraq independently determine its own fortunes. 

The U.S. Would Go to Nuclear War

Before Allowing That 


o make “the logic of withdrawal” yet less apparent to U.S. planners, the
majority of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims and therefore likely to use real
national independence as an opportunity to form a rough partnership with
oil-rich Iran. Together with Iran, Iraqi Shiites might well inspire Shiite
resistance to state power in the Persian Gulf’s ultimate oil prize, feudal
and arch-repressive Saudi Arabia, home (by the way) to the world’s largest
known oil reserves where “strategic” petro-imperial considerations have
long mandated a deep U.S. partnership with tyranny and dictatorship. As
Chomsky explains: “Let’s talk about withdrawal. Take any day’s newspapers
or journals and so on. They start by saying the United States aims to bring
about a sovereign democratic independent Iraq. I mean, is that even a remote
possibility? Just consider what the policies would likely be of an independent
sovereign Iraq. If it’s more or less democratic, it’ll have a Shiite majority.
They will naturally want to improve their linkages with Iran, Shiite Iran.
Most of the clerics come from Iran. The Badr Brigade, which basically runs
the South, is trained in Iran. They have close and sensible economic relationships
which are going to increase. So you get an Iraq/Iran loose alliance. Furthermore,
right across the border in Saudi Arabia, there’s a Shiite population that
has been bitterly oppressed by the U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny.
Any moves toward independence in Iraq are surely going to stimulate them,
it’s already happening. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian
oil is. Okay, so you can just imagine the ultimate nightmare in Washington:
a loose Shiite alliance controlling most of the world’s oil, independent
of Washington and probably turning toward the East where China and others
are eager to make relationships with them—and are already doing it. Is
that even conceivable? The U.S. would go to nuclear war before allowing
that, as things now stand” (Noam Chomsky, “There is no War on Terror,”
ZNet, January 16, 2006).

Silly Liberal Talk 


ne of the remarkable things about the democracy-promotion fairy tale is
the exceptional power it holds over liberal war opponents at the leftmost
boundaries of dominant U.S. media’s narrow spectrum. In a March 2006 op-ed
titled “Stop Bush’s War,” the

New York Times

antiwar left-liberal columnist
Bob Herbert found it relevant to quote Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam-era special
assistant Jack Valenti on “how difficult it is ‘to impress democracy’ on
other countries.” He took the Bush administration’s democracy promotion
rhetoric seriously when he argued, “The democracy that was supposed to
flower in Iraq and then spread throughout the Middle East was as much a
mirage as the weapons of mass destruction.”  He engaged in wildly wishful
thinking and whistled in the wind of imperial realities when he said that
“the White House should be working cooperatively with members of both parties
in Congress to figure out the best way to bring the curtain down on U.S.

Nobody at the


has been more naively sucked into the democracy-export
fairy tale, perhaps, than liberal columnist Nicolas Kristoff. In a


op-ed last February, Kristoff naively maintained that the “freedom”-loving
Bush administration should just call off its overly “idealistic” misadventure
and let the Iraqis work their problems out on their own. “We” should accept
“defeat” (which “we” allegedly suffered in Vietnam), he argued, and muster
the humanitarian courage to admit “our mistake” and leave (“What We Need
in Iraq: An Exit Date,”

New York Times

, February 14, 2006). 

In early October 2006 Kristoff cited recent PIPA data showing that, “Iraqis
who don’t think the U.S. wants [permanent military] bases [in Iraq] are
half as likely to favor attacks on Americans as those who do think the
U.S. wants [such] bases” to argue that Bush should “stand up and unequivocally
renounce bases” in order to “reduce popular support for attacks and save
American lives…. The evidence is pretty strong,” Kristoff elaborates,
“that our presence—because of suspicions that we plan to stay forever—is
doing more harm than good” in Iraq. “The present policy,” he adds, “is
also nurturing a broader extremism.” It is now “time to face the grim reality,”
Kristoff concludes, “and announce that all our troops will leave Iraq by
October 2007.” 

In a similar vein, centrist Democratic presidential hopeful and foreign
policy “realist” Barack Obama gave a November 2006 speech in which he combined
a call for the White House to renounce permanent military bases in Iraq
with a demand that the U.S. abandon the “ideological fantasy” that it could
“impose democracy” there. It is time, Obama told the Chicago Council on
Global Relations, for the U.S. to make a “pragmatic” retreat from its excessive
commitment to the unrealistic export of highminded ideals like freedom
and democracy. “The institutions of democracy—free markets, a free press,
a strong civil society—cannot,” Obama intoned, “be built overnight, and
they cannot be built at the end of the barrel of a gun.” This formulation
deleted the conflict between “free markets” and democracy, and the absence
of these purported core democratic institutions in the U.S. 

Herbert, Kristoff, Obama, and numerous other “liberals” just don’t get
it. America’s imperial and authoritarian policymakers couldn’t care less
about Iraqis’ well being or the promotion of actual, substantive democracy
at home or abroad and especially in the Middle East—at the heart of the
world’s super-strategic energy system. Iraq and the Middle East cannot
be physically lost—territorially conceded—to their own people without dire
consequences to U.S. state capitalism’s position in the world economic
and political system. If abandoned, Iraq’s significant share of what U.S.
foreign policymakers have long understood to be “the greatest strategic
material prize in history”—Middle Eastern oil—can only be left to the control
of others, an outcome that is thoroughly unacceptable to U.S. policymakers
for imperial reasons that have nothing to do with the fairy tale goal of
exporting something U.S. policymakers don’t possess in the first place:
democratic values and institutions. 

At this precarious and potentially late point in the history of its global
dominance, the U.S. can be expected to hold on to that control with an
impressive imperial death grip. It will likely exhibit a fierce determination
to defend that grasp through even the most terrible conflicts and violence
abroad and at home. The risks of not holding on are too great, as far as
the structurally super-empowered U.S. actors who crave planetary (and indeed
inter-planetary) supremacy are concerned. 

Getting policymakers to pull troops out of Iraq is going to be a matter
of forcing them from below, not appealing to their need to stand down from
purported idealistic notions of democracy. Becoming an effective democratic
citizen means putting away mind-numbing fairy tales crafted to keep the
restless rabble in line. It means, among other things, reading, hearing,
and viewing dominant media with a sharply critical eye, searching out key
deletions, deceptions, and distortions between and around the propagandistic
lines and images and sound-bites. It also means pursuing, defending, and
advancing alternative, uncompromised, and popular sources of information
and analysis, beyond the authoritarian reach of the leading architects
of imperial policy and opinion and their ubiquitous, democracy-disabling
media mechanisms of thought control, fear-mongering, and war promotion.


Paul Street is a writer, speaker, historian, and social policy researcher
in Iowa City, Iowa. He is the author of

Empire and Inequality: America
and the World Since 9/11

(Paradigm Publishers, 2004);

Segregated Schools:
Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era

(Routledge, 2005); and

Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History