The media spectacle that John McCain made of
himself in Baghdad on Sunday was yet another reprise of a ghastly ritual. Sen.
McCain expressed "very cautious optimism" and told reporters that
the latest version of the U.S. war effort in Iraq is "making progress."
Three years ago, in early April 2004, when an insurrection exploded
in numerous Iraqi cities, U.S. occupation spokesman Dan Senor
informed journalists: "We have isolated pockets where we are
encountering problems." Nine days later, President Bush declared:
"It's not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable."
For government officials committed to a war based on lies, such
claims are in the wiring.
When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara visited Vietnam for the first
time, in May 1962, he came back saying that he'd seen "nothing but
progress and hopeful indications of further progress in the future."
In October 1966, when McNamara held a press conference at Andrews Air
Force Base after returning from a trip to Vietnam, he spoke of the
progress he'd seen there. Daniel Ellsberg recalls that McNamara made
that presentation "minutes after telling me that everything was much
worse than the year before."
Despite the recent "surge" in the kind of media hype that McCain
trying to boost last weekend in Baghdad, this spring has begun with
most news coverage still indicating that the war is going badly for
American forces in Iraq. Some pundits say that U.S. military fortunes
there during the next few months will determine the war's political
future in Washington. And opponents of the war often focus their
arguments on evidence that an American victory is not possible.
But shifts in the U.S. military role on the ground in Iraq, coupled
with the Pentagon's air war escalating largely out of media sight,
could enable the war's promoters to claim a notable reduction of
"violence." And the American death toll could fall due to
reconfiguration or reduction of U.S. troop levels inside Iraq.
Such a combination of developments would appeal to the fervent
nationalism of U.S. news media. But the antiwar movement shouldn't
pander to jingo-narcissism. If we argue that the war is bad mainly
because of what it is doing to Americans, then what happens when the
Pentagon finds ways to cut American losses – while continuing to
inflict massive destruction on Iraqi people?
American news outlets will be inclined to depict the Iraq war as
winding down when fewer Americans are dying in it. That happened
during the last several years of the Vietnam War, while massive U.S.
bombing – and Vietnamese deaths – continued unabated.
The vast bulk of the U.S. media is in the habit of defining events
around the world largely in terms of what's good for the U.S.
government – through the eyes of top officials in Washington.
Routinely, the real lives of people are noted only as shorthand for
American agendas. The political spin of the moment keeps obscuring
the human moment.
Awakening from a 40-year nap, an observer might wonder how much has changed
since the last war that the United States stumbled over because it could not
win. The Congressional Record is filled with insistence that the lessons
of Vietnam must not be forgotten. But they cannot be truly remembered if they
were never learned in the first place.