This week 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
If Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack didn't exist, they'd have to be invented.
The duo's op-ed piece Monday in the New York Times, under the headline
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.
Last Monday, the ink was scarcely dry on the 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. Tuesday night, 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 Wednesday, 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
Or in the summer of 2007.
Unfortunately, what I wrote two Augusts 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.