In front of TV cameras, Pentagon officials do
their best to make war sound wise and noble. Most of all, they lie.
Sometimes they do it with bold assertions, other times with intentionally
tangled syntax. But those who give the orders that consign young soldiers to
participation in horror must assure the folks back home that all the carnage
is under control. The officials strive to project an aura of calm about the
unspeakable; they mumble clichés about grief that cannot touch it.
For the most powerful war-makers in Washington, the most dangerous
potential enemies are the citizens of the United States who might
insist on an end to taxpayer subsidies for mass slaughter. To
forestall such a calamity, officials proclaim endlessly that the
war's worst days have passed and the future looks increasingly bright
for the ravaged land and for the freedom-loving invaders whose
invasion has ravaged it.
And so, on Tuesday night, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff glibly
responded to questions from Jim Lehrer on the PBS NewsHour. And while
the historic disrepute of the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel"
precluded using it in the interview, Gen. Richard Myers was close to chirpy.
Along the way, he tried to make the war in Iraq sound like an uplifting exercise
in civic engagement, inevitably headed toward triumph.
The general was tap-dancing in the footsteps of many who came before him
during another long war based on deception and the assumption that the USA must
keep killing in order to be credible on the world stage. When Defense Secretary
Robert McNamara visited Vietnam for the first time, he came back and told the
press that he'd seen "nothing but progress and hopeful indications of further
progress in the future." McNamara made that statement in May 1962.
More than four years later, in October 1966, McNamara held a news
conference at Andrews Air Force Base after returning from a trip to
Vietnam. Again he spoke with enthusiasm about the progress he'd seen
there. But former Pentagon aide Daniel Ellsberg has recounted that
McNamara made that presentation to the press "minutes after telling
me that everything was much worse than the year before."
Of course, the commander in chief is not to be outdone. He is, among his other
duties, the commander of war lies. And so, as with George W. Bush today, Lyndon
Johnson professed to be grandly optimistic when he proclaimed in early 1967:
"Peace is more within our reach than at any time in this century."
Fifteen months ago, at a turning point when resistance to the
occupation erupted with fury in a number of Iraqi cities, the
response from American officials was to put happy-face stickers on
the carnage. "We have isolated pockets where we are encountering
problems," said Dan Senor, a spokesperson for the top U.S.
manipulator in Iraq, Paul Bremer. A week later, on April 13, 2004,
President Bush declared: "It's not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq
is relatively stable."
These kinds of statements may seem like mere pep talks or, in
retrospect, miscalculations. But they're integral to the war-making
process continually speaking of light that's just over the
horizon, while corpses pile up in grisly shadows alongside the lies
that keep a war going on top of the lies that got it started.
On Tuesday night, host Jim Lehrer asked Gen. Myers: "Do you consider
Iraq a success from your point of view?" The general replied: "I do
now, I do. I mean I don't know why I said now. I do, absolutely; I
think it's a success." A couple of minutes later he was exuding
confidence about the future: "It's going to be a difficult fight, but
we're going to be successful in this fight."
Washington's warriors insist that Iraq is not Vietnam. Any geographer
would certainly agree. But imperial wars share similar
characteristics including the profound fact that the people who
live in a country are more committed to it than the invaders are.
This war can't be won for reasons that have everything to do with why
it's wrong. The occupiers are on the lowest moral ground. No amount
of fake optimism in Washington can change such realities in Iraq.