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Peculiar Disappearance of Iraq War

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    Americans want the war in Iraq canceled, and first- and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige. The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2006
      Americans want the war in Iraq canceled, and first- and last-place
      networks alike are more than happy to oblige.


      The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq
      FRANK RICH
      July 30, 2006
      http://select.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/opinion/30rich.html


      AS America fell into the quagmire of Vietnam, the comedian Milton
      Berle joked that the fastest way to end the war would be to put it on
      the last-place network, ABC, where it was certain to be canceled.
      Berle's gallows humor lives on in the quagmire in Iraq. Americans want
      this war canceled too, and first- and last-place networks alike are
      more than happy to oblige.

      CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the
      Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but
      you won't catch anyone saying it's Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On
      the Big Three networks' evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq
      has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the
      television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of
      NBC read aloud a "shame on you" e-mail complaint from the parents of
      two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news
      about the war.

      This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than
      100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined. When
      Nouri al-Maliki, the latest Iraqi prime minister, visited Washington
      last week to address Congress, he too got short TV shrift — a mere
      five sentences about the speech on ABC's "World News." The networks
      know a rerun when they see it. Only 22 months earlier, one of Mr.
      Maliki's short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi, had come to town
      during the 2004 campaign to give a similarly empty Congressional
      address laced with White House-scripted talking points about the war's
      progress. Propaganda stunts, unlike "Law & Order" episodes, don't hold
      up on a second viewing.

      The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn't happenstance. It's a
      barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already
      apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply
      making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its
      own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. "It is depressing to pay attention to
      this war on terror," said Fox News's Bill O'Reilly on July 18. "I
      mean, it's summertime." Americans don't like to lose, whatever the
      season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new
      plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

      The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched
      off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don't know what we — or, more
      specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops — are
      fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the
      stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in
      Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere
      else. It's a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the
      thread of a coherent plot.

      Certainly there has been no shortage of retrofitted explanations for
      the war in the three-plus years since the administration's initial
      casus belli, to fend off Saddam's mushroom clouds and vanquish Al
      Qaeda, proved to be frauds. We've been told that the war would promote
      democracy in the Arab world. And make the region safer for Israel. And
      secure the flow of cheap oil. If any of these justifications retained
      any credibility, they have been obliterated by Crisis in the Middle
      East. The new war is a grueling daily object lesson in just how much
      the American blunders in Iraq have undermined the one robust democracy
      that already existed in the region, Israel, while emboldening
      terrorists and strengthening the hand of Iran.

      But it's the collapse of the one remaining (and unassailable)
      motivation that still might justify staying the course in Iraq — as a
      humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people — that is most
      revealing of what a moral catastrophe this misadventure has been for
      our country. The sad truth is that the war's architects always cared
      more about their own grandiose political and ideological ambitions
      than they did about the Iraqis, and they communicated that
      indifference from the start to Iraqis and Americans alike. The legacy
      of that attitude is that the American public cannot be rallied to the
      Iraqi cause today, as the war reaches its treacherous endgame.

      The Bush administration constantly congratulates itself for liberating
      Iraq from Saddam's genocidal regime. But regime change was never
      billed as a primary motivation for the war; the White House instead
      appealed to American fears and narcissism — we had to be saved from
      Saddam's W.M.D. From "Shock and Awe" on, the fate of Iraqis was an
      afterthought. They would greet our troops with flowers and go about
      their business.

      Donald Rumsfeld boasted that "the care" and "the humanity" that went
      into our precision assaults on military targets would minimize any
      civilian deaths. Such casualties were merely "collateral damage,"
      unworthy of quantification. "We don't do body counts," said Gen. Tommy
      Franks. President Bush at last started counting those Iraqi bodies
      publicly — with an estimate of 30,000 — some seven months ago. (More
      recently, The Los Angeles Times put the figure at, conservatively,
      50,000.) By then, Americans had tuned out.

      The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found
      in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at
      Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people
      from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a
      compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized
      by Mr. Rumsfeld's "stuff happens" response to the looting of Baghdad
      at the dawn of the American occupation. In "Fiasco," his stunning new
      book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The
      Washington Post's senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning
      of that pivotal moment perfectly: "The message sent to Iraqis was far
      more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S.
      government didn't care — or, even more troubling for the future
      security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting
      effectively."

      As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn't care, and
      we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more
      explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through
      on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to
      smash. "There's some little part of my brain that simply doesn't
      understand how the most powerful country on earth just can't get
      electricity back in Baghdad," said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and
      prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

      The simple answer is that the war planners didn't care enough to
      provide the number of troops needed to secure the country so that
      reconstruction could proceed. The coalition authority isolated in its
      Green Zone bubble didn't care enough to police the cronyism and
      corruption that squandered billions of dollars on abandoned projects.
      The latest monument to this humanitarian disaster was reported by
      James Glanz of The New York Times on Friday: a high-tech children's
      hospital planned for Basra, repeatedly publicized by Laura Bush and
      Condi Rice, is now in serious jeopardy because of cost overruns and
      delays.

      This history can't be undone; there's neither the American money nor
      the manpower to fulfill the mission left unaccomplished. The Iraqi
      people, whose collateral damage was so successfully hidden for so long
      by the Rumsfeld war plan, remain a sentimental abstraction to most
      Americans. Whether they are seen in agony after another Baghdad
      bombing or waving their inked fingers after an election or being used
      as props to frame Mrs. Bush during the State of the Union address,
      they have little more specificity than movie extras. Chalabi, Allawi,
      Jaafari, Maliki come and go, all graced with the same
      indistinguishable praise from the American president, all blurring
      into an endless loop of instability and crisis. We feel badly ... and
      change the channel.

      Given that the violence in Iraq has only increased in the weeks since
      the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist
      portrayed by the White House as the fount of Iraqi troubles, any
      Americans still paying attention to the war must now confront the
      reality that the administration is desperately trying to hide. "The
      enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and
      terrorists," President Bush said in December when branding Zarqawi
      Public Enemy No. 1. But Iraq's exploding sectarian warfare cannot be
      pinned on Al Qaeda or Baathist dead-enders.

      The most dangerous figure in Iraq, the home-grown radical Shiite
      cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is an acolyte of neither Osama bin Laden nor
      Saddam but an ally of Iran who has sworn solidarity to both Hezbollah
      and Hamas. He commands more than 30 seats in Mr. Maliki's governing
      coalition in Parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is also linked to
      death squads that have slaughtered Iraqis and Americans with impunity
      since the April 2004 uprising that killed, among others, Cindy
      Sheehan's son, Casey. Since then, Mr. Sadr's power has only grown,
      enabled by Iraqi "democracy."

      That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces
      by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad's civil war is
      tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the
      Titanic. Even if the networks led with the story every night, what
      Americans would have the stomach to watch?

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