The U.S. government is launching a public relations blitz designed to show the American people that they shouldn’t believe the evidence right in front of their eyes, because our success (or lack of it) in Iraq is all in how you look at it. The President has complained that the “good news” about Iraq has been blocked by the “filter” of a hostile news media, as MSNBC reports: “Bush said he was concerned that ‘perceptions’ didn’t reflect the reality of ‘progress’ in Iraq.”
Meanwhile, in Iraq, another suicide bombing blasted a Baghdad police station, killing 8 Iraqis; a Spanish military attaché was assassinated by three Iraqis, one of whom was dressed as a Shi’ite cleric, and we suffered our 92nd American casualty since “victory” was declared.
Who do you believe, asks Bush: me, or your own lyin’ eyes?
According to the President’s epistemology, it’s all a matter of “perception.” There is no objective reality: just spin. That is a politician’s mindset, one that the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth might prove particularly prone to. Us ordinary people, however, are governed by different rules.
To the weekend warriors of the National Guard and other reserve units, there is no way to spin their extended deployments. Are the casualties, and the horrific numbers of wounded, a matter of “perception”? Try telling that to their families, Mr. President.
Bush complains about a “media filter,” but what he would like to see is a government filter that would downplay the unfolding disaster through a thick layer of gauze, and highlight photo ops of clean-cut GIs helping little old Iraqi grandmas cross streets.
The schools are opening, we are told: isn’t that cause for celebration? Well, bully for the Iraqis, but what can this mean in the context of our own decaying educational system turning out a generation of illiterate juvenile delinquents?
America, said Bush the other day, “did not run from Germany and Japan following World War II. We helped those countries become strong and decent and democratic societies that no longer waged war on America, and that’s our mission in Iraq right now.”
Excuse me, but World War II took millions of lives and left a continent in ruins: the conquest of Iraq took three weeks, and, however horrific, hardly resulted in the utter destruction of the country. This WWII analogy is disturbing, no doubt, to veterans of that conflict, who might detect just a slight bit of exaggeration. But it is also unsettling to conservatives. They look at the costs, in troops and treasure, and extend that out over a half a century the length of our stay in Japan and Germany, where our troops are still presumably guarding against the return of the Nazis and a possible coup by Japanese militarists.
It isn’t only the antiwar left that finds the President’s invocation of the post World War II era ominous. Conservative Republicans who have invested a lot in George W. Bush are getting increasingly nervous. As the polls chart declining support for the war, with a majority opposing the President $87 billion funding request for Iraq, so the President’s own poll numbers continue to plummet. Whispered doubts pervade GOP ranks. Will the President sacrifice his post-9/11 popularity on the altar of a futile and increasingly unpopular war, pouring money down the Middle East rathole while the country sinks into recession and reverts to the tax-and-spend politics of the Democrats? The seismic power of California’s populist earthquake is being felt all the way to Washington, D.C. The great fear is that George W. Bush will throw the election on account of this war and drag the rest of the party down with him
And for what? This is the question ordinary people Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents are asking as the lies that roped us into war are exposed, one by one. What must be particularly galling for Republicans, however, is the sheer ineptness of the administration’s much-touted “public relations offensive on behalf of the war.
We have the much-touted story of the lone bottle of supposedly deadly botulism that had been sitting in some Iraqi scientists’ refrigerator for a decade. When that one fizzled, the administration’s PR men came up with a unique interpretation of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Team Bush announced the detection, by David Kay, the Javert of the arms inspectors, of an “intent” to acquire WMD.
Yes, and I have an intent to acquire a fortune bigger than Bill Gates‘ that is, right after I institute world peace.
This administration is absolutely tone deaf when it comes to defending the rationale for war. Condoleezza Rice had the nerve to get up in front of the Council on Foreign Relations and declare that, while they have yet to find anything remotely resembling WMDs, what they did find was evidence of a “massive deception campaign” carried out by Saddam and his underlings that continued “right up to the end.”
It’s sad, really, in a pathetic sort of way. Administration officials, unhinged by the impossibility of defending the indefensible, are now projecting their own crimes onto the wide screen of official propaganda. If I were one of Condi’s speechwriters, I wouldn’t throw around the word “deception,” and I’d avoid the whole subject of lying. Why remind people of how they were systematically deceived, in the rush to war, with tall tales of imminent danger?
If the occupation of Iraq wasn’t already a crime, then the criminal ineptitude of “coalition” efforts would make it one. Will somebody please explain to me why oh why the U.S. is insisting that the Turks take up a major role in policing Iraq? The Iraqi Governing Council has come out against this invitation, but they are being brushed aside. The Kurds, too, are being swept unceremoniously under the rug, in spite of the ancient Turko-Kurdish antipathy that threatens fresh conflict.
Remember, it was the Kurds who were supposed to be “liberated” by this war. Christopher Hitchens told us so. “Self-determination” for the long oppressed Kurds! was his battle-cry. What’s he saying now? Just what Bush and Rummy and Bill Kristol are saying: the media is ignoring the “good news” from Iraq.
I’m sure Soviet journalists were telling their people the “good news” right up until the very end. Just before the Berlin Wall fell, and the Red Empire imploded, Commie news anchors were reporting that the Five Year Plan had been over-fulfilled and the enemies of the Soviet state were on the run. There was just one problem: it was all a bunch of horse hockey.
The Soviets paid a lot of attention to propaganda, and poured billions of rubles into the endless task of persuading their people that the listless, lifeless, gray world created by the heirs of Marx and Lenin was, somehow, in some sense, a workers’ paradise. They, too, believed that it’s all a matter of “perception.” Depending on which “filter” one is using, the long-suffering Soviet people weren’t standing in endless bread-lines, they were marching rapidly along the road to utopia.
The same willful blindness afflicts our own propagandists. Their plan to paint Soviet style portraits of heroic workers and peasants building a New Iraq will make for boring journalism, and, besides that, it is only a stop-gap measure. In the end, reality will seep through any “filter.” The occupation of Iraq is simply not sustainable: we don’t have the military and economic resources to do it, even in the short term, never mind keeping up the effort for 30 to 50 years. It is not economically sustainable, given the coming cash crunch crisis of the welfare state, and, I would wager, it is not politically sustainable for much longer.
President Bush’s reelection prospects hinge on his articulation of an exit strategy that will allow him to begin extricating the U.S. gracefully, and all the while claiming it was a great victory from Iraq. Short of that, I almost feel sorry for the Republicans.