The U.S. media establishment is mainlining another fix for the Iraq war: It isn’t so bad after all, American military power could turn wrong into right, chronic misleaders now serve as truth-tellers. The hit is that the war must go on.
When the White House chief of staff Andrew Card said five years ago that “you don’t introduce new products in August,” he was explaining the need to defer an all-out PR campaign for invading Iraq until early fall. But this year, August isn’t a bad month to launch a sales pitch for a new and improved Iraq war. Bad products must be re-marketed to counteract buyers’ remorse.
“War critics” who have concentrated on decrying the lack of U.S. military progress in Iraq are now feeling the hoist from their own petards. But that’s to be expected. Those who complain that the war machine is ineffective are asking for more effective warfare even when they think they’re demanding peace.
If Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack didn’t exist, they’d have to be invented. The duo’s op-ed piece on July 30 in the New York Times, under the headline “A War We Just Might Win,” was boilerplate work from elite foreign-policy technicians packaging themselves as “two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” A recent eight-day officially guided tour led them to conclude that “we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.”
Both men have always been basic supporters of the Iraq war. O’Hanlon is a prolific writer at the Brookings Institution. Pollack’s credits include working at the CIA and authoring the 2002 bestseller The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. In the years since the candy and flowers failed to materialize, their critiques of the Iraq war have been merely tactical.
The media maneuvers of recent days are eerily similar to scams that worked so well for the Bush administration during the agenda-setting for the invasion. Vice President Cheney and his top underlings kept leaking disinformation about purported Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda — while the New York Times and other key media outlets breathlessly reported the falsehoods as virtual facts. Then Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and other practitioners of warcraft quickly went in front of TV cameras and microphones to cite the “reporting” in the Times and elsewhere that they had rigged in the first place.
The ink was scarcely dry on the July 30 piece by O’Hanlon and Pollack before the savants were making the rounds of TV studios and other media outlets — doing their best to perpetuate a war that they’d helped to deceive the country into in the first place.
The next day, Cheney picked up the tag-team baton. On CNN’s “Larry King Live,” he declared that the U.S. military “made significant progress now into the course of the summer. … Don’t take it from me. Look at the piece that appeared yesterday in the New York Times, not exactly a friendly publication — but a piece by Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack on the situation in Iraq. They’re just back from visiting over there. They both have been strong critics of the war.”
On August 1, the U.S. News & World Report website noted: “The news that the U.S. death toll in Iraq for July, at 73, is the lowest in eight months spurred several news organizations to present a somewhat optimistic view of the situation in Iraq. The consensus in the coverage appears to be that things are improving militarily, even as the political side of the equation remains troubling.”
Such media coverage is a foreshadowing of what’s in store big-time this fall when the propaganda machinery of the warfare state goes into high gear. The media echo chamber will reverberate with endless claims that the military situation is improving, American casualties will be dropping and Iraqi forces will be shouldering more of the burden.
Arguments over whether U.S. forces can prevail in Iraq bypass a truth that no amount of media spin can change: The U.S. war effort in Iraq has always been illegitimate and fundamentally wrong. Whatever the prospects for America’s war there, it shouldn’t be fought.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. news media were fond of disputes about whether light really existed at the end of the tunnel. Framed that way, the debate could — and did — go on for many years. The most important point to be made was that the United States had no right to be in the tunnel in the first place.
For years now, many opponents of the Iraq war have assumed that the tides of history were shifting and would soon carry American troops home. “President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over,” New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote in August 2005. He concluded that the United States as a country “has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We’re outta there.”
As I wrote at the time, Rich’s storyline was “a complacent message that stands in sharp contrast to the real situation we now face: a U.S. war on Iraq that may persist for a terribly long time. For the Americans still in Iraq, and for the Iraqis still caught in the crossfire of the occupation, the experiences ahead will hardly be compatible with reassuring forecasts made by pundits in the summer of 2005.”
Or in the summer of 2007.
Unfortunately, what I wrote two years ago is still true: “We’re not ‘outta there’ — until an antiwar movement in the United States can grow strong enough to make the demand stick.”
The American media establishment continues to behave like a leviathan with a monkey on its back — hooked on militarism and largely hostile to the creative intervention that democracy requires.