"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
– attributed to Voltaire
The propaganda war on the American public appears to have entered a new phase.
In a March 30 post at his Foreign Policy blog, Thomas E. Ricks wrote, "I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn’t think that would begin happening this quickly. It’s only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad." Ricks cited a number of recent confrontations between members of the Sunni Awakening movement and Nouri al-Maliki’s government and got all giddy about how he "wouldn’t be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite militia reemerge."
At the end of his blog, Ricks asked, "Question of the day: What should I say the next time someone tells me the surge ‘worked’?"
Ricks will almost certainly say the same thing he’s been saying to Chris Matthews and David Gregory and Washington Post readers and everyone else who’s wasted bandwidth on him since his latest book came out: "General Odierno … would like to see 35,000 American troops [in Iraq] in 2015." That is, after all, neocon message number-one these days: status of forces agreement and campaign promises be damned; the generals say we need to stay in Iraq, so that’s what we need to do. And Ricks, along with the rest of the so-called liberal media, is falling all over himself to help the neocons echo it.
Ricks might also answer along the line of propaganda operations hinted at by a March 31 New York Times story that leads with "As the American military prepares to withdraw from Iraqi cities, Iraqi and American security officials say that jihadi and Ba’ath militants are rejoining the fight." Obama’s announced withdrawal timeline, goes the narrative, is what has caused the "new insurgency." That’s a branch of the original story line that said once we announced a withdrawal date the evildoers would "wait us out." ("Branches and sequels" are the parts of operational plans that describe what to do when things don’t go according to plan.)
The new narrative argues that Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to mop up the Sunni Awakening fighters while we’re still around to help him do it. As journalist Gareth Porter notes, Maliki has drawn us into a fight – possibly a long-term one – with the very Sunni militants we bribed to stop fighting Maliki and us, and whose cooperation we previously credited for the "success" of the surge. In a saner American century, this would have been the camel straw, the signal that finally, for God’s sake, it was time to roll up our tents and bring our sideshow home, two-headed chicken and all. But in the present American century, where Newspeak and Doublethink have supplanted logic and reasoned discourse, it is all the more reason to stay. As in George Orwell’s 1984, we switch sides whenever necessary in order to keep the war going.
It’s quite possible that all our yesterdays in Iraq will have merely led that country back to the dusky state it was in before we invaded it. Having consolidated his power with backing from us, Maliki is on the brink of becoming another Saddam Hussein. That too, in the hands of bull-feather merchants like Ricks, will become a reason for us to stay in Iraq. We’ll need to keep Maliki from becoming a new Saddam Hussein, or to make sure he becomes a new Saddam Hussein who plays ball with us, or to overthrow the new Saddam Hussein and make sure the next new Saddam Hussein does or doesn’t become like the old new Saddam Hussein and/or the original one.
Don’t think that justifying eternal occupation of Iraq is a cakewalk, though. Using the country’s unraveling as the excuse for staying throws a torpedo into the myth of a successful surge strategy. So first, the spin merchants have to re-revise their own revised history, then they have to plaster over the gash they’ve made in the space-time continuum.
Ricks led the charge in that sector of effort. In February, he told NBC’s Chris Matthews that "we have armed to the teeth many Iraqis" and have "trained up and organized a Shi’ite-dominated army" and "made friends with the Sunni insurgency, put them on our payroll," so "there’s a lot of gasoline that Americans have potentially poured on this fire" and if we leave Iraq "it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there." On Meet the Press, he told David Gregory "none of the basic problems that the surge was meant to solve have been solved."
At first blush, that kind of talk doesn’t speak well of Gen. David Petraeus, the MacArthur of Mesopotamia and, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the "hero of the hour" who presided over the "remarkable turnaround" of Iraq.
Fear not, though, Ricks has King David’s back covered. According to Ricks’ new book, The Gamble, it wasn’t Petraeus or even neocon luminary Fred Kagan who invented the surge. It was Gen. Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno, the guy Ricks earlier told us was the big, dumb slob who made such a mess of things right after the fall of Baghdad with his 4th Infantry Division and caused the insurgency and the civil war and everything else that went wrong. Sometime after that, according to Ricks, Odie went through a "transformation." An angel came unto him in the night and gave him an immaculate conception of what a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq ought to look like, or something like that. The important thing is that when there’s anything good to be said about the surge, the warmongery can credit Petraeus (and to a lesser extent Kagan), and when it’s time to tell the truth about it, they can blame the oaf.
It’s important to maintain the illusion of Petraeus as "the best general in the Army," which was how Ricks described him at the beginning of the surge. That’s because the warmongery needs Petraeus’ clout in mugging President Obama into further escalation of – and entanglement in – the war in the Bananastans. On April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough, Petraeus told a Senate panel that extremists in Pakistan "could literally take down their state" if left unchallenged, thus endorsing John McCain’s initiative to send an additional 10,000 troops to the Bananastans on top of the 4,000 additional troops Obama just promised to send on top of the 7,000 additional troops he already promised to send on top of the 38,000 troops already there.
Sadly, even if we have half a million troops in the Bananastans (like we did in Vietnam), they can’t accomplish anything without a coherent strategy, which they still don’t have despite the recent unveiling of Obama’s new Bananastan plan, the tenets of which sound like his policy team stole them from Scientology. The new strategy’s stated objectives include a "capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan" and a "stable constitutional government in Pakistan," goals impossible to achieve without extraterrestrial intervention. Inexplicably, while these two aims would constitute the reengineering of an entire region’s social structure, presidential advisers who crafted the strategy maintain that it does not constitute nation-building. Even more inscrutably, prominent foreign policy analyst Pat Lang agrees that the new strategy avoids "multi-decade nation building." This observation suggests that Lang has been nipping at the Kool-Aid he accused so many of chugging during the Bush administration or that he’s suffering from the long-term effects of having been a military intelligence officer. It’s hard to say which; the symptoms are nearly identical.
The strategy’s objectives also include "Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks." That might be achievable, but it’s not a goal worth pursuing. If evil ones can plan and launch terrorists attacks from a bleacher seat in the mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, they can do it from the other side of the Van Allen radiation belt (and the North Koreans can put them out there now!).
The aspect of the new strategy I find hardest to believe is that none of the goals involve keeping the Islamofabulists from getting control of Pakistan’s nukes or the oil pipeline that runs through Afghanistan. Those are the only real national security concerns we have in that region, ones we can decisively address with military power by blowing up the nukes and the pipeline, declaring victory, and bringing everybody home.
Alas, that would be counter to the real objective of the neoconservative agenda, which is progressive military entanglement. If you’re not yet convinced that’s what the war mongrels are after, take a look at what their most prominent pundits are saying about Obama’s new strategy. Bill Kristol cries, "All hail Obama!" Kristol’s partner Bob Kagan cheers, "Hats off to President Obama for making a gutsy and correct decision on Afghanistan." Charles Krauthammer calls the Obama strategy one that you can imagine "John McCain having adopted had he been elected."
This is the clearest signal I’ve seen to date that America’s collective brain activity has flat-lined. Obama’s election was above all a national rejection of the militaristic adventurism of the previous regime. Yet here we are, not only continuing Bush-era foreign policy but expanding it, and America is watching it unfold dumbly, like a dazed Jake LaMotta, clinging to the top rope and rasping, Come on, hit me. Harder.