To their credit, top US Pentagon officials cautioned
journalists and the public, since the Iraq war�s early days, that the
dissemination of misinformation would be a vital weapon in their war strategy.
Needless to say, they have certainly held true to their word.
But what the mainstream media -- seemingly little alarmed by
the administration�s clear intent to supply journalists with false information
-- is neglecting to convey is the fact that misinformation is still the name of
the game for the US government, its well-paid experts and media allies. The
fact is that the administration�s propaganda machine was hardly turned off
following the historic, albeit staged, toppling of Saddam�s statue near the
Palestine Hotel in March 2003. A renowned journalist and a trusted colleague of
mine was, among others, a witness to the intricate pre-toppling show. �It was
all an act,� he declared as we both dined in a Seattle restaurant days after
his return from Iraq, nearly three years ago. His reports, however, failed to
make mention of that seemingly valuable note. �The End of a Tyrant� was more or
less the flashing headline everywhere.
To achieve its objectives, the advancing US military started
a makeshift Arabic radio station near Baghdad�s airport, made possible with the
cooperation of Arab broadcasters seeking a quick buck. Meanwhile, millions of
fliers descended upon weary Iraqis throughout the country, urging them to give
up the fight if they wanted a better future for their children: that of
freedom, democracy and an end to their suffering.
Though access to electricity and clean water are still major
challenges facing ordinary Iraqis to this day, over three years later, US media
specialists in hushed, yet official cooperation with a Lebanese television
station took on the task of converting Iraq�s television station from Baath
Party propaganda to American propaganda in a matter of weeks. Saddam himself would
be shocked to realize that his well-knitted, decades-old media apparatus still
had awesome room for improvement.
A military strategist would defend state-sponsored
half-truths and misinformation in times of war as a justifiable war tactic; not
only did it bring a quick end to the war -- or so it seems -- but it has also
minimized American causalities.
But things have hardly changed since those early days,
though the situation on the ground has been fundamentally altered, in favor of
no one. The Pentagon�s latest figures have put America�s dead at 2,500, while
the number of wounded has passed the 18,000 mark. The post Vietnam war
experience can tell us a great deal of the physiological scars that wars
inflict, and nothing can heal. Moreover, the negative, even debilitating harms
caused by the US army�s use of Depleted Uranium in its war and daily combat
against Iraqi fighters requires another article, if not its own volume. Their
long-lasting impairment, however, is no longer mere speculation.
Considering the devastating outcome of Bush�s military
adventurism in Iraq, one would imagine that sincerity and transparency are
required now more than ever before; after all, there seems to be no particular
enemy to baffle: Saddam Hussein is in prison, the so-called insurgency has no
central command, thus no central strategy -- a fact that renders state
propaganda ineffective, if at all necessary. Moreover, the campaign of lies and
deceit cannot possibly be targeting the Iraqi people for they were never even
taken into consideration since the systematic campaign of sanctions started in
1991, which killed -- according to the most modest estimates, nearly one
million persons, mostly children. The daily and wholesale murder, organized
torture and Haditha-like executions since then are further illustrations.
It�s clear that the US propaganda -- which has been achieved
with the willing cooperation of the mainstream �liberal� media -- has one prime
target: the American public, for without their full acknowledgment and support,
military adventurism can be a huge political burden; coupled with a dwindling
economy and mounting debt, it could sway the political pendulum in unfavorable
Indeed, the recent announcement of the alleged killing of
al-Qaeda�s supposed strong-man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has unleashed a
major PR campaign by the Republican president to reclaim some of his lost
credibility among Americans. To save a possible major setback to the Republican
Party in the November elections -- and considering that his faltering ratings
stand at an all time low- President Bush�s camp is turning the inconsequential
alleged death of al-Zarqawi into a major turning point in Iraq. Though the
president insists that al-Zarqawi�s alleged death doesn�t mean an end to
violence in Iraq -- a clever attempt to avoid another �mission accomplished�
fallout -- the PR campaign led by his administration immediately after the
Jordanian militant�s alleged death, suggests a desperate, yet determined
attempt at political recovery. Otherwise, how else can one explain the timing
of the following events: Bush�s �surprise� visit to Iraq, the announcement of a
major military �sweep� meant to parade and present US-trained Iraqi military
and police as a strong �partner� in quelling the insurgency, the Iraqi
government�s announcement that �this is the beginning of the end� for
"al-Qaeda" in Iraq, the call for �national reconciliation� and
release of a few hundred Iraqi prisoners, President Bush�s two-day retreat in
Camp David to consult with his advisors -- sold by CNN as the president�s way
of sharing the war responsibility with the people - and so on and so forth?
The reality on the ground points to the fact that if
al-Zarqawi�s alleged death was of any value, it freed the Iraqi resistance from
its burdensome affiliation with a foreign leadership. Aside from that, nothing
has changed: bombs continue to blast throughout the country; tortured and
mutilated bodies continue to mysteriously appear in ditches and alleyways,
daily gun battles persist, new militant groups with confusing names spring
unabashed. Post invasion Iraq has not changed and it is unlikely that it will
change any time soon, even if the new Iraqi prime minister has finalized his
cabinet and has made an impressive speech or two.
What began as a focused campaign of misinformation aimed at
defeating Saddam�s forces, has turned into a much more intense campaign of
deceit and trickery aimed at salvaging Bush�s political reputation and that of
his Republican Party. Thus, what has really changed in Iraq is that the
administration and the media have suddenly decided to reinterpret the ongoing
conflict for political ends. It has little to do with Baghdad and its Green
Zone, and much to do with Capitol Hill and its discontented politicians. Simply
put: it�s politics as usual.
journalist Ramzy Baroud is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A
Chronicle of a People�s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).