To their credit, top Pentagon officials cautioned
journalists and the public, since the Iraq war's early days, that the dissemination
of misinformation would be a vital weapon in their war strategy. Needless to
say, they have certainly held true to their word.
But what the mainstream media – seemingly little alarmed by the administration's
clear intent to supply journalists with false information – is neglecting to
convey is the fact that misinformation is still the name of the game for the
U.S. government and its well-paid experts and media allies. The fact is that
the administration's propaganda machine was hardly turned off following the
historic, albeit staged toppling of Saddam's statue near the Palestine Hotel
in March 2003. A renowned journalist and a trusted colleague of mine was, among
others, a witness to the intricate pre-toppling show. "It was all an act,"
he declared as we both dined in a Seattle restaurant upon his return from Iraq,
nearly three years ago. His reports however, failed to make mention of that
seemingly valuable note. "The End of a Tyrant," was more or less the
flashing headline everywhere.
To achieve its objectives, the advancing U.S. military started a makeshift
Arabic radio station near Baghdad's airport, made possible with the cooperation
of Arab broadcasters seeking a quick buck. Meanwhile, millions of fliers descended
upon weary Iraqis throughout the country, urging them to give up the fight if
they wanted a better future for their children: freedom, democracy, and an end
to their suffering.
Though access to electricity and clean water are still major challenges facing
ordinary Iraqis to this day, over three years later, U.S. media specialists
in hushed, yet official, cooperation with a Lebanese television station took
on the task of converting Iraq's television station from Ba'ath Party propaganda
to American propaganda in a matter of weeks. Saddam himself would be shocked
to realize that his well-knitted, decades-old media apparatus still had awesome
room for improvement.
A military strategist might defend state-sponsored half-truths and misinformation
in times of war as a justifiable war tactic; not only did it bring a quick end
to the war – or so it seems – but it has also minimized American causalities.
But things have hardly changed since those early days, though the situation
on the ground has been fundamentally altered, in favor of no one. The Pentagon's
latest figures have put America's dead at 2,500, while the number of wounded
has passed the 18,000 mark. The Vietnam War experience can tell us a great deal
of the physiological scars that wars inflict and nothing can heal. Moreover,
the negative, even debilitating harm caused by the U.S. Army's use of depleted
uranium in its war and daily combat against Iraqi fighters requires another
article, if not its own volume. Their long-term consequences, however, are no
longer mere speculation.
Considering the devastating outcome of Bush's military adventurism in Iraq,
one would imagine that sincerity and transparency are required now more than
ever before; after all, there seems to be no particular enemy to baffle: Saddam
Hussein is in prison, the so-called insurgency has no central command, and thus
no central strategy – a fact that renders state propaganda ineffective, if at
all necessary. Moreover, the campaign of lies and deceit cannot possibly be
targeting the Iraqi people, for they were never even taken into consideration
since the systematic campaign of sanctions started in 1991, which killed – according
to the most modest estimates, nearly one million persons, mostly children. The
daily and wholesale murder, organized torture, and Haditha-like executions since
then are further illustrations.
It's clear that U.S. state propaganda – which has been achieved with the willing
cooperation of the mainstream "liberal" media – has one prime target:
the American public. For without their full acknowledgment and support, military
adventurism could be a huge political burden; coupled with a dwindling economy
and mounting debt, it could sway the political pendulum in unfavorable directions.
Indeed, the recent announcement of the killing of al-Qaeda's supposed strongman
in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has unleashed a major PR campaign by the Republican
president to reclaim some of his lost credibility among Americans. To save a
possible major setback to the Republican Party in the November elections – and
considering that his faltering ratings stand at an all time low – President
Bush's camp is turning the inconsequential death of Zarqawi into a major turning
point in Iraq. Though the president insists that Zarqawi's death doesn't mean
an end to violence in Iraq – a clever attempt to avoid another "mission
accomplished" fallout – the PR campaign led by his administration immediately
after the Jordanian militant's death suggests a desperate, yet determined, attempt
at political recovery. Otherwise, how else can one explain the timing of the
following events: Bush's "surprise" visit to Iraq; the announcement
of a major military "sweep"' meant to parade and present U.S.-trained
Iraqi military and police as a strong "partner" in quelling the insurgency;
the Iraqi government's announcement that "this is the beginning of the
end" for al-Qaeda in Iraq; the call for "national reconciliation"
and release of a few hundred Iraqi prisoners; President Bush's two-day retreat
in Camp David to consult with his advisers – sold by CNN as the president's
way of sharing the war responsibility with the people – and so on and so forth?
The reality on the ground points to the fact that if Zarqawi's death was of
any value, it freed the Iraqi resistance from its burdensome affiliation with
a foreign leadership. Aside from that, nothing has changed: bombs continue to
blast throughout the country, tortured and mutilated bodies continue to mysteriously
appear in ditches and alleyways, daily gun battles persist, new militant groups
with confusing names spring up unabashed. Post-invasion Iraq has not changed,
and it is unlikely that it will change any time soon, even if the new Iraqi
prime minister has finalized his cabinet and made an impressive speech or two.
What began as a focused campaign of misinformation aimed at defeating Saddam's
forces has turned into a much more intense campaign of deceit and trickery aimed
at salvaging Bush's political reputation and that of his Republican Party. Thus,
what has really changed in Iraq is that the administration and the media have
suddenly decided to reinterpret the ongoing conflict for political ends. It
has little to do with Baghdad and its Green Zone and much to do with Capitol
Hill and its discontented politicians. Simply put: it's politics as usual.