The U.S. government is waging an air war in Iraq.
"In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased,"
Seymour Hersh reported
in the Dec. 5 edition of The New Yorker. "Most of the targets appear
to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and
along the Syrian border."
Hersh added: "As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in
a significant discussion or debate about the air war."
Here's a big reason why: Major U.S. news outlets are dodging the extent of
the Pentagon's bombardment from the air, an avoidance all the more egregious
because any draw-down of U.S. troop levels in Iraq is very likely to be accompanied
by a step-up of the air war.
So, according to the LexisNexis media database, how often has the phrase "air
war" appeared in The New York Times this year with reference to
the current U.S. military effort in Iraq?
As of early December, the answer is: Zero.
And how often has the phrase "air war" appeared in The Washington
Post in 2005?
The answer: Zero.
And how often has "air war" been printed in Time, the nation's
largest-circulation news magazine, this year?
This extreme media avoidance needs to change. Now. Especially because
all the recent talk in Washington about withdrawing some U.S. troops
from Iraq is setting the stage for the American military to do more
of its killing in that country from the air.
The last few weeks have brought a dramatic shift in the national
debate over Iraq war policies. On Capitol Hill and in major news
outlets, the option of swiftly withdrawing U.S. troops – previously
treated as unthinkable by most partisan leaders and media pundits –
became part of serious mainstream media conversation.
At least implicitly, news coverage has viewed the number of boots on
the ground as the measure of the U.S. war effort in Iraq. And as a
consequence, public discussion assumes – incorrectly – that a
reduction of American troop levels there will mean a drop in the
Pentagon's participation in the carnage.
In fact, beneath the surface of mass-media discourse, there are
strong indications that the U.S. military command will intensify its
bombardment of Iraq while reducing the presence of American occupying
troops before the U.S. congressional elections next fall. With the
White House eager to show progress toward U.S. disengagement from
Iraq, we should expect enormous media spin to accompany any pullout
of troops in 2006.
"The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant
– and underreported – aspect of the fight against the insurgency," Hersh's
New Yorker article observed. The magnitude of the U.S. bombing is a mystery
in American media coverage relying on what's spoon-fed by the Pentagon. "The
military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with
a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or
of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War."
Surely the media spinners in the White House are keenly aware that the air
war in Iraq has been flying largely beneath the U.S. media's radar – inattention
that augurs well for a scenario of reducing U.S. troop levels while stepping
up the air war. Hersh's reporting suggests that's in the offing: "A key
element of the draw-down plans, not mentioned in the president's public statements,
is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower.
Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically
the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."
Mainstream news outlets in the United States haven't yet acknowledged
a possibility that is both counterintuitive and probable: The U.S.
military could end up killing more Iraqi people when there are fewer
Americans in Iraq. "Lowering the number of U.S. troops in conjunction
with a more violent air war and creation of an Iraqi client military,
as some are suggesting, will likely increase the number of Iraqis
killed," says Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service
Committee. "This would in effect be 'changing the color of the
corpses' in order to make the continuing war more palatable to the
There is a strong precedent for such a politically driven strategy.
Midway through 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the start of a
"Vietnamization" policy that cut the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam
by nearly half a million over a three-year period. But during that
time, the tonnage rate of U.S. bombs dropped on Vietnam actually
A similar sequence of events is apt to get underway next year, before the
November elections determine which party will control the House and Senate through
2008. Caught between the desire to prevent a military defeat in Iraq and the
need to shore up Republican prospects at home in the face of an unpopular war,
President Bush is very likely to keep escalating the U.S. air war in Iraq while
reducing U.S. troop levels there. And he has good reason to hope that the American
news media will continue to evade the air war's horrendous consequences for