Mike Whitney: Iraq: The Breaking Point

By Mike Whitney

It was another bad week in Iraq. While bodies were piling up in the Baghdad morgue and the militia fighting steadily intensified, the Bush administration was hit with a rash of PR scandals that are bound to erode public support for the war.

The worst of these is the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which was leaked to the New York Times and which stated that “the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the 9-11 attacks.”

The NIE carries great weight because it represents the unanimous judgment of all 16 of the American intelligence agencies. The document’s findings cast doubt on the central tenet of the war on terror, that is, that terror originates from a radical ideology (Islamo-fascism) which fosters an irrational hatred for modernity, western-style democracy, and personal freedom. The NIE proves that the Bush-Blair theory of terror is hopelessly flawed and that violent jihad is actually fueled by occupation and injustice. Terrorism is a reaction to foreign policy. It has nothing to do with “hating our freedoms”. The NIE confirms this simple truism.

The long-term effects of the report are impossible to calculate. The Bush agenda is predicated on the “Big Lie”, that we are under attack and that “We must fight them there, if we don’t want to fight them here.” The administration has manipulated the “perception of a threat” to justify its endless “preemptive” wars, curtailed civil liberties and enhanced powers of the executive. The NIE shows that the war on terror is a sham that only generates more violent extremism.

The administration will now have to counter the report’s conclusions if it wants to revive support for the war on terror and continue its ongoing consolidation of power. We should anticipate another Karl Rove public relations campaign to reengage the public and perpetuate the global onslaught.

More Dismal News

The results from a number of polls appeared in last week’s news. In a University of Maryland survey the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that “71% of Iraqis want the US troops to leave within a year”. The poll also found that nearly 4 out of 5 Iraqis believe that the US military is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing” and that “60% of Iraqis approve of attacks on US-led forces.” The survey shows that popular support for the occupation has continued to dwindle while hostility towards the American presence is growing beyond all expectation.

In still another poll (Harris poll) showed that only 20% of Americans are “still confidant that US policies in Iraq will be successful”. Public support for the war is plummeting despite the enthusiastic efforts of the media and the political establishment.

Ironically, a “leak” from the Pentagon revealed that the Lincoln Group (which was the focus of an earlier investigation for planting “pro-occupation” stories in Iraqi newspapers) was just awarded another $6 million contract. According to the Kansas City Star, “The Washington-based group won a two year contract to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations products such as talking points or speeches for US forces in Iraq”.

The administration continues to (cynically) believe that their well-paid propagandists can prevail in the “hearts and minds” campaign by creating patriotic sound bytes and poignant anecdotes about devoted soldiers performing their duties. What’s needed, however, is a dramatic change of policy. The country is increasingly disillusioned with Iraq and is looking for signs of progress or a firm date for withdrawal. Rumsfeld’s scribes at the Lincoln Group will have no luck trying to rekindle the confidence they have already squandered. All of the prime indicators are now pointed in the opposite direction and a full 63% of the American people now feel that the war was a “mistake”.

Managing Perceptions

In a fascinating article by Eric Boehlert, “The Press downplays Iraq during the Campaign Season. Again” the author shows how the media either “covers” or “doesn’t cover” the war depending on how close we are to the elections:

“Fact: In the 10 weeks prior to Election Day in 2004, the war in Iraq was the most reported story on the weekly news programs just twice, according to the media research of Andrew Tyndall. But immediately following Bush’s reelection, the war in Iraq instantly became the most covered story on the nightly news programs—for 7 weeks in a row.”

Boehlert also shows how the media has steadily reduced its coverage of the war to maintain the rapidly diminishing support:

“In 2003 ABC, NBC, and CBS nightly newscasts, on average, devoted 388 minutes each month to covering Iraq…By 2005, that monthly tally had decreased by more than 50%—to 166 minutes each month. Today, unless there is a dramatic late-September surge in coverage, the Big Three nightly newscasts will end up the month having devoted a total of 40 minutes to Iraq, or less than 15% of their airtime.”

15% less than 2003! And, Iraq continues to be the main issue on people’s minds going into the election season.

These figures tell the “hidden” story of Iraq. They expose how the mainstream media intentionally reduces its coverage to maintain support for the war. The figures fail to show, however, the omissions and diversions that the media provides on an hourly basis. The American people are prevented from seeing flag-draped coffins, disgruntled GIs, or the vast devastation caused by military occupation. Televised coverage is carefully limited to fashion a misleading narrative of sectarian warfare, which suggests that the main problem is “Iraqi killing Iraqi”. The real problem is US occupation, a fact that is unavoidably evident in every survey conducted in Iraq.

When we consider relentless maneuverings of the media, it is gratifying to see that Americans are finally beginning to recognize the truth behind the imagery. Fortunately, there are limits to the effectiveness of propaganda regardless of how adroitly it is employed.

Stretched to the Brink

In other news of the week, the Congressional Research Service announced that the “total cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhanced security at military bases since September 11, 2001, could reach $549 billion this year. The White House Office of Management and Budget estimated that the war will cost $110 billion for fiscal year 2007” (McClatchy Newspapers)

More than a half trillion dollars in 3 years.

Iraq is devouring resources at an unprecedented pace and producing nothing in return. There’s no more “happy talk” from officials in the Bush administration about how “Iraq will pay for itself” through oil revenues as Paul Wolfowitz foolishly stated prior to the invasion. Iraq has become a black-hole swallowing up boatloads of cash that otherwise would have been earmarked for education, health care, infrastructure and security. The war is bankrupting the nation while grooming the next generation’s terrorists. This is the very definition of failure.

The Iraqi mission is not only over-budget but overextended. The cracks and fissures in the military are quickly becoming gaping holes. The Army and Marines are trying to find creative ways to put more boots on the ground, but their only option is to increase deployments to the theatre. Some of the troops are presently on their 4th tour of duty and it is likely that even more of the National Guard will be called up, leaving the country vulnerable to terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The Washington Times reports that “The increased demand for troops comes at a time when military analysts say it is stressed to the breaking point….Non-deployed combat brigades are experiencing low-readiness ratings due mostly to lack of usable weapons and equipment. The wear and tear in Iraq is ruining M1A1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvees and other equipment at such a fast pace that the Army has neither the money nor the industrial base to replace them.”

The military is in a shambles and headed for a calamity.

America’s enemies should be thrilled that Don Rumsfeld is still overseeing all operations in Iraq. His incompetence is only matched by his astonishing inability to learn from his mistakes. It’s plain that America will not prevail with Rumsfeld in command.

Overextended, over-budget and mismanaged. The war in Iraq is foundering and the war on terror has been exposed as a fraud. (the NIE report)

How Much Worse Can it Get?

There is no good news from Iraq. It’s all bad. The magnitude of America’s defeat is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day. Rumsfeld’s cheery propaganda campaign has fallen on hard times and will have no effect on the wars’ final outcome. The problem is the policy; it is untenable and will require a thorough overhaul.

We should expect to see dramatic changes following the elections. The Iraq Survey Group, steered by committee-chair and Bush family friend James Baker, will release their findings right after the November balloting. Judging by their guarded comments, big changes are ahead. Perhaps, the troops will move to the perimeter and let the Iraqis kill each other in a full-blown civil war.

Whatever transpires, the first phase of the Iraqi fiasco is nearly over. The Bush administration will be compelled to protect its interests while limiting the exposure of its troops. They may choose to minimize their activities to bombing raids and counter-insurgency operations, further destroying the threadbare fabric of Iraqi society.

Security is not important. Lives are not important. Only oil and the people it enriches are important.

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