On the Tenth Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq
Ten Years ago:
At least 56 people were reported killed and 100 wounded across Baghdad on Tuesday in a series of bombings that coincided with the ten-year anniversary of the US invasion. The scene appears all too common.
This war – and all of our other wars – could not have proceeded as they did without the support of a compliant, servile press corps. These are the people and institutions that regularly prop up the myths of our American innocence and noble intentions.
As president Obama prepares to visit Israel, and as Congress begins to consider a bill co-sponsored by California Senator Barbara Boxer that would require America to participate if Israel attacks Iran, we should remember how our propaganda machine works. From the first two weeks of the war:
March 18, 2003 – The Washington Post: "Even if Saddam Hussein leaves Iraq within 48 hours, as President Bush demanded...allied forces plan to move north into Iraqi territory."
March 19 — As the bombing begins, radio giant Clear Channel organizes pro-war demonstrations in several cities. NBC's Tom Brokaw: "We don't want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we're gonna own that country."
March 20 —Ted Koppel: U.S. sources describe missiles launched by Iraq as "Scuds." (Two days later, the Pentagon quietly admits that the “Iraqis have not fired any Scuds," and that "U.S. forces have uncovered no missiles or launchers.")
March 21 —The New York Post reports that talk radio is solidly behind the war: "And if you were looking for a debate on 'Operation Iraqi Freedom,' fuhgeddaboudit." Rush Limbaugh: "I'm not messing with people who want to say this attack is illegal, it's not warranted, it's not justified…Take your propaganda to somebody else who might believe it." NBC Nightly News: "…every weapon is precision-guided, deadly accuracy designed to kill only the targets, not innocent civilians."
March 23 —The Los Angeles Times: "Bush appears to be applying force like a scalpel." The war is "among the most nuanced in recent American history." Fox News: "HUGE CHEMICAL WEAPONS FACTORY FOUND...30 IRAQIS SURRENDER AT CHEM WEAPONS PLANT...." (The next day, Fox quietly issues an update: The "chemical weapons facility discovered by coalition forces did not appear to be an active chemical weapons facility." U.S. officials admit that morning that the site contains no chemicals at all and had been abandoned long ago.) The Associated Press: "Protesters Rally Against War; Others Support Troops." Fox commentator Fred Barnes: "The American public knows how important this war is and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are."
March 26 —CNN anchor Carol Costello cuts short a live press conference with the Iraqi information minister: "All right, we're going to interrupt this press briefing right now because, of course, the U.S. government would disagree with most of what he is saying.”
March 28 — The Washington Post reports that broadcast news consultants are "advising news and talk stations across the nation to wave the flag and downplay protest against the war." Advice includes patriotic music, avoiding "polarizing discussions" and ignoring protests, which "may be harmful to a station's bottom line.”
April 2, 2003 — NBC's Brian Williams reports, "They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history.
There is little agreement on the costs of the wars – the American, Iraqi, Afghani and Pakistani dead, the wounded, the 349 active-duty soldiers who committed suicide last year. Some predict that the war will eventually cost over three trillion dollars. But we know this much: In 1996, seven years before the start of the war, a TV commentator asked Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright about the deaths of “a half million children” caused by U.S. sanctions. Her response: “…we think the price is worth it.” (http://www.alternet.org/1-million-civilians-dead-37000-american-sol...).
Enough, already. You get the picture, I hope. Things are different now, we’d like to think; we’re not so innocent anymore. Indeed, a few pundits have expressed remorse over their performance. However, as the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone (3/18/13) noted, “Some prominent pro-war voices a decade ago still occupy high-profile perches on op-ed pages, cable news or Sunday show roundtables.”
Indeed, just as with the financial crisis, the war on drugs, global warming, etc, having been wrong about Iraq almost seems like a prerequisite for being taken seriously as an establishment pundit. The same people – government, media and televangelists – will be lying to you this summer when the attack on Iran begins.
The media misrepresent the truth in two ways: actively, through deliberate lies; and indirectly, by not reporting important news that would counter the official narrative.
Consider that last week, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a Senate panel, “…we do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” (http://rt.com/news/iran-bomb-clapper-assessment-174/). Consider also that this news went essentially unreported in the major media.
When writing about American politics and media, a mythologist has two responsibilities. One, to show the lengths to which the empire will go to shore up our sense of innocence. And two, to report on alternatives to the dominant paradigm. We all need to imagine how things could be in a society that actually values integrity. So I’m summarizing some of David Sirota’s recent observations (http://www.alternet.org/1-million-civilians-dead-37000-american-sol...):
Simply put, in the last decade, the political system has become almost completely impervious to any kind of consequences for bad decisions. Over time, such a lack of accountability has created a self-fulfilling feedback loop. When the public sees no consequences for wrongdoing, the expectations of consequences slowly disappear.
We are now in what he calls “the Age of Moral Hazard — an epoch whereby our failure to demand consequences for bad decisions has effectively encouraged the political class to get things horrifically wrong, as long as doing so serves powerful political interests.”
However, we must ask what is the converse of this dystopia? What does a culture of basic accountability look like?
In a culture of accountability, no politician who votes for these wars or for corporate welfare would be able to preen as a “deficit hawk” or claim to favor “small government.”
In a culture of accountability, no politician who voted for these wars, such as Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, would be considered a serious candidate to occupy a government post that deals with foreign policy.
In a culture of accountability, no pundit who cheered on the WMD “imminent threat” case for the Iraq War would be billed as a national security “expert” nor given a major media platform to spout off about foreign policy.
In a culture of accountability, the relatively few politicians, political activists and scholars who opposed the Iraq War would be treated not just as courageous heroes but as the truly prescient “experts” on national security, and those who blindly supported the war would be relegated to the historical trash heap.
I’ll add another scenario: in a culture of accountability, no politician or media pundit who hasn’t served active military duty (such as Bush, Cheney, Libby, Rice, Ashcroft, Rove, DeLay, Abrams, Armey, Quayle, Hastert, Frist, Santorum, Bolton, Abrams, Wolfowitz, Podhoritz, Fukuyama, Perle, Bauer, Kristol, Huckabee, Gingrich, Krauthammer, Friedman, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Bennett, Negroponte, Woolsey, Romney, Ryan, Paul, Forbes, Clinton, Biden and Obama) would be allowed to participate in or influence decisions on whether young persons would be sent to war.
Even before I finish this blog, the news requires an update: new accusations that the Syrian regime has used “chemical weapons” and calls for American “humanitarian intervention.”
The possibilities of a better way may seem farther off than ever before. But we have to keep imagining.