In front of TV cameras, Pentagon officials do their best to make war sound wise and noble. Most of all, they lie.
Sometimes they do it with bold assertions, other times with intentionally tangled syntax. But those who give the orders that consign young soldiers to participation in horror must assure the folks back home that all the carnage is under control. The officials strive to project an aura of calm about the unspeakable; they mumble clichés about grief that cannot touch it.
For the most powerful war-makers in Washington, the most dangerous potential enemies are the citizens of the United States who might insist on an end to taxpayer subsidies for mass slaughter. To forestall such a calamity, officials proclaim endlessly that the war’s worst days have passed and the future looks increasingly bright for the ravaged land and for the freedom-loving invaders whose invasion has ravaged it.
And so, on Tuesday night, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff glibly responded to questions from Jim Lehrer on the PBS NewsHour. And while the historic disrepute of the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" precluded using it in the interview, Gen. Richard Myers was close to chirpy. Along the way, he tried to make the war in Iraq sound like an uplifting exercise in civic engagement, inevitably headed toward triumph.
The general was tap-dancing in the footsteps of many who came before him during another long war based on deception and the assumption that the USA must keep killing in order to be credible on the world stage. When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara visited Vietnam for the first time, he came back and told the press that he’d seen "nothing but progress and hopeful indications of further progress in the future." McNamara made that statement in May 1962.
More than four years later, in October 1966, McNamara held a news conference at Andrews Air Force Base after returning from a trip to Vietnam. Again he spoke with enthusiasm about the progress he’d seen there. But former Pentagon aide Daniel Ellsberg has recounted that McNamara made that presentation to the press "minutes after telling me that everything was much worse than the year before."
Of course, the commander in chief is not to be outdone. He is, among his other duties, the commander of war lies. And so, as with George W. Bush today, Lyndon Johnson professed to be grandly optimistic when he proclaimed in early 1967: "Peace is more within our reach than at any time in this century."
Fifteen months ago, at a turning point when resistance to the occupation erupted with fury in a number of Iraqi cities, the response from American officials was to put happy-face stickers on the carnage. "We have isolated pockets where we are encountering problems," said Dan Senor, a spokesperson for the top U.S. manipulator in Iraq, Paul Bremer. A week later, on April 13, 2004, President Bush declared: "It’s not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable."
These kinds of statements may seem like mere pep talks or, in retrospect, miscalculations. But they’re integral to the war-making process continually speaking of light that’s just over the horizon, while corpses pile up in grisly shadows alongside the lies that keep a war going on top of the lies that got it started.
On Tuesday night, host Jim Lehrer asked Gen. Myers: "Do you consider Iraq a success from your point of view?" The general replied: "I do now, I do. I mean I don’t know why I said now. I do, absolutely; I think it’s a success." A couple of minutes later he was exuding confidence about the future: "It’s going to be a difficult fight, but we’re going to be successful in this fight."
Washington’s warriors insist that Iraq is not Vietnam. Any geographer would certainly agree. But imperial wars share similar characteristics including the profound fact that the people who live in a country are more committed to it than the invaders are. This war can’t be won for reasons that have everything to do with why it’s wrong. The occupiers are on the lowest moral ground. No amount of fake optimism in Washington can change such realities in Iraq.