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Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

 

“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”

Judge Judy

 

Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?

In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”

(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)

 

In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword.  The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions.  The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).

 

In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.”  He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.”  (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).

 

Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure.  If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.

 

In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.

 

First the latter.  Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

A bald faced lie.

Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.”  Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’”  She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”

Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).

Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.”   Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions.  He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”  It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.

Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission.  As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel,  and Blackwater, now Xe).  Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial.  Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years.  But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.

Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”  Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).

The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”

Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie.  In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.  But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place?  In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration.  The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.

(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.”  “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”

http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/128916/why_the_dark_secrets_of_the_first_gulf_war_are_still_haunting_us/)

As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.

Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years.  They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?  Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity? 

There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention.  One of them is “war profiteering.”  Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.  And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.

The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq.  It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation  Iraqi  Liberation.

Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”

Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”

Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade.  Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”

Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”

Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison.  U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.

Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”

Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.

Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”

Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.

Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”

Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it.  Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”

Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”

Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?

Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”

Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.

Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”

Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees.  It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees.  Right?  We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.

Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”

Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.

One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Dark Secrets of the First Gulf War Are Still Haunting Us February 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Nora Eisenberg, AlterNet. Posted February 27, 2009.

Americans, and our leaders, would do well to take a hard look at the war that we continue to love only because we never got to see it.

With rare exceptions, American politicians seem incapable of opposing an American war without befriending another in a different place or time.

Barack Obama, an early and ardent enemy of the Iraq War, quickly declared his affinity for a war in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. And like so many Democratic leaders, he has commended Bush 41’s Gulf War over Bush 43’s, for its justifiable cause, clear goals, quick execution and admirable leadership.

It’s difficult to determine the proportion of expedience to ignorance that allows politicians and pundits to advance the theory of the good and trouble-free Gulf War. What’s clear, though, is that for close to 20 years, the 42-day war, in which we dropped more bombs than were dropped in all wars combined in the history of the world, maintains a special place in American hearts.

But as John R. MacArthur amply demonstrates in The Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, the real 1991 war was kept from the American public. This week, as we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Gulf War’s end, and opportunities for new hostilities beckon, Americans, and our leaders, would do well to take a hard look at the war that we continue to love only because we never got to see it.

Despite our inability to detect it at the time, U.S. prosecution of the 1991 war with Iraq relied on all the now-familiar and discredited strategies used to promote the present war — with equally disastrous and far-reaching results.

Bogus Justification

When Saddam Hussein summoned April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to his office on July 25, 1990, it was to determine what the U.S. response would be should he invade Kuwait with the 30,000 troops he had amassed on its border. According to the Iraqi transcript published in the New York Times two months later, he told the seasoned diplomat that Iraq had defended the region against the Iranian fundamentalist regime, and that the Kuwaitis were paying them back by encroaching on their border, siphoning their oil, increasing oil production and driving down prices. His people were suffering, and his “patience was running out.”

Glaspie commiserated: “I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. … I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that … the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”

Glaspie later claimed that Iraq transcripts contained “distortions,” which may be so. But her own recently declassified cable to Washington closely resembles the Iraqi transcripts: She wrote that she asked Saddam, “in the spirit of friendship, not confrontation” about his intentions with Kuwait. She reports telling him that “she had served in Kuwait 20 years before; then as now we took no position on these Arab affairs.” She wrote that “Saddam’s emphasis that he wants peaceful settlement is surely sincere … but the terms might be difficult to achieve.”

Glaspie was not the only official to deliver this laissez-faire message. The next day, at a Washington press conference, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutweiler was asked by a journalist if the U.S. had sent any diplomatic protest to Iraq for putting 30,000 troops on the border with Kuwait. “I’m entirely unaware of any such protest,” Tutweiler replied.

Five days later, on July 31, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs John Kelly testified to Congress that the “United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait, and the U.S. has no intention of defending Kuwait if it is attacked by Iraq.”

Two days later, when Saddam entered Kuwait, he had no reason to believe that the U.S. would come to Kuwait’s defense with a half-million troops. Or that when he tried to negotiate a retreat though Arab leaders, the U.S. would refuse to talk. In 1990 as in 2002, a Bush president had his mind set on war.

Disinformation

If the White House and Pentagon were fixed on a war with Iraq, during the summer and early fall of 1990, the American public and Congress were not. To change that, the week after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government, disguising itself as “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” hired the global PR firm of Hill & Knowlton to win Americans’ hearts and minds.

In charge of the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton was Craig Fuller, a close friend of George H.W. Bush and his chief of staff when he was vice president. For $11.8 million, Fuller and more than 100 H&K executives across the country oversaw the selling of the war.

They organized public rallies, provided pro-war speakers, lobbied politicians, developed and distributed information kits and news releases, including scores of video news releases shown by stations and networks as if they were bona fide journalism and not paid-for propaganda.

H&K’s research arm, the Wirthlin Group, conducted daily polls to identify the messages and language that would resonate most with Americans. In the 1982 Emmy award-winning Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documentary To Sell a War, a Wirthlin executive explained that their research had determined the most emotionally moving message to be “Saddam Hussein was a madman who had committed atrocities even against his own people and had tremendous power to do further damage, and he needed to be stopped.”

To fit the bill, H&K concocted stories, including one told by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah, to another H&K concoction, the House Human Rights Caucus looking to pass as a congressional committee. According to the caucus, Nayirah’s full name would remain secret in order to deter the Iraqis from punishing her family in occupied Kuwait. The girl wept as she testified before the caucus, apparently still shaken by the atrocity she witnessed as a volunteer in a Kuwait City hospital.

According to her written testimony, she had seen “the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”

During the three months between Nayirah’s testimony and the start of the war, the story of babies tossed from their incubators stunned Americans. Bush told the story, and television anchors and talk-show hosts recycled it for days. It was read into the congressional record as fact and discussed at the U.N. General Assembly.

By the time it emerged that Nayirah was a Kuwaiti royal and the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and that she had never volunteered in any hospital and that the incident and her testimony had been provided by H&K, it was too late. The war had already begun.

Another concoction was top-secret satellite images that the Pentagon claimed to have of 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks on the Kuwait-Saudi border, visible proof that Saddam would be advancing soon on Saudi Arabia. Yet the St. Petersburg Times acquired two commercial Russian satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, that showed no Iraqi troops near the Saudi border, and the scientific experts whom the Times hired could identify nothing but sand at the supposed location of the advancing army.

But the St. Petersburg Times story evaporated, and the Pentagon’s story stuck. When Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 11, 1990, he reported that developments in the Gulf were “as significant as they were tragic”: Iraqi troops and tanks had moved to the south “to threaten Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi reluctance to host foreign troops and bases that would desecrate their sacred sites, the holiest in all of Islam, gave way in the face of an imminent invasion, and the war had its staging area. American discomfort with a war to defend a country most had never heard of began to transform into dread that the Saudi oil they relied on would be swallowed up by a monster.

Censorship

In the lead-up to war, U.S. media organizations, with rare exceptions, had begun to back away from investigative reporting and journalistic scrutiny. Once the war began, government censorship combined with this self-censorship produced a media blackout. The restrictions on the press were tighter than during any earlier American war. Journalists could not travel except in pools with military escorts, and even then most sites were off-limits.

Pentagon censors had to clear all war dispatches, photos and footage before they could be released. Department of Defense guidelines stated that stories would not be judged for “potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment,” but journalists weren’t taking any chances. When news anchors weren’t hosting retired generals and pundits, or screening eerie green images of the coordinates of the day’s targets, they were praising the military on a job well done.

Two months after the war ended, the editors of 15 news outlets protested to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney about the Pentagon’s control. But the damage had been done. The real war was never reported to the American public.

What We Missed and Need to Remember

Americans never saw images of even one of the 100,000 civilians killed in the aerial war, just coordinates of precision-guided strikes, the majority of which missed their marks.

We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.

There were no photos or stories of the start of the ground war on Feb. 24, 1991, after Iraq had agreed to a Russian-brokered withdrawal. We never saw the “bulldozer assault” of Feb. 24-26, when U.S. soldiers with plows mounted on tanks and bulldozers moved along 10 miles of trenches, burying alive some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers. Or the night of Feb. 26, when allied forces cordoned off a stretch of highway between Kuwait and Basra, Iraq, incinerating tens of thousands of retreating soldiers and civilians, in an incident come to be called the “Highway of Death.”

We saw no coverage of dead Kurds and Shiites who, at Bush’s instigation and expecting his support, rose up against Saddam. Nor in the months and years after, the news of the Iraqi epidemic of birth defects, cancers and systemic disease.

We heard little about the 20,000 troops occupying Saudi Arabia after the war, the growing regional resentment for the destruction and death, injuries and insults of invasion and occupation. We never heard of the Saudi Muslim radical Osama bin Laden, his outraged protests, for which he was banished, wandering the region, recruiting young followers to avenge the desecration of Islam’s sacred sites.

As for our own, there were no images of returning coffins filled with U.S. service members, nor, in the days and months after the war, coverage of the war’s aftermath: The 200,000 troops who returned profoundly ill from Gulf War illness; the trauma, addiction and/or brain damage that caused veterans to kill their wives, family, fellow citizens, and/or themselves; and, of course, on Sept. 11, 2001, the tragic event used by the George W. Bush administration to launch a second war against Iraq.

There was no mainstream media coverage of the roots, just of the proclamations of them versus us, hatemongers versus freedom lovers, barbaric cowards versus civilized heroes.

We could read about bin Laden’s jihad, but little appeared of the fatwa he and his counterparts throughout the Middle-East issued, except the often-quoted statement that it was the duty of every Muslim “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military,” leaving out the second part of the sentence — “in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”

Barack Obama’s early opposition to George 43’s Gulf War was a sign of the integrity, knowledge, and depth for which Americans would elect him,  trusting these virtues would guide us in hard times. Patriotic etiquette discourages politicians, especially presidents, from bearing complexities in public forums.

But war-weary, broke and scared Americans will welcome the president breaking rules and speaking awkward truths.

Invasion and violence, like chickens, do come home to roost. We’re ready for a leader who grasps history’s complications and heeds its lessons and who won’t release us from one war only to tie us to another, and another.

Nora Eisenberg is the director of the City University of New York’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program. Her short stories, essays and reviews have appeared in such places as the Partisan Review, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Tikkun, and the Guardian UK. Her third novel, When You Come Home, which explores the 1991 Gulf War and Gulf War illness, was published last month by Curbstone Press.

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