Selling the Iraq War

Think Tanks and the Iraq War

Here are some excerpts from Chapter Four, “Think Tanks,” of
The Silence of the Rational Center
by Stefan A. Halper and Jonathan Clarke.
Paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.
[I don't agree with all of the conclusions asserted by Halper and Clarke.]

[A]s the nation moved toward war with Iraq ...
those who were skeptical of the merits of the Administration’s policy
could not find a hearing

in places like
the Council on Foreign Relations,
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
the American Enterprise Institute, and
the Brookings Institution.

[Endnote 4.1 adds:]
There were notable voices like Brent Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleburger,
James Baker, General Eric Shinseki, and Lawrence Lindsey
who did, indeed, speak out,
but they became the exceptions that proved the rule.
Yet, there are few, if any, similar examples that lead back to Brookings.
A review of the archives reveals considerable Brookings material
being produced during the build-up addressing questions of
strategy, troop levels, the peril of high-speed warfare,
and how best to beat Saddam in the event of war,
but little on the actual merits of Administration policy.
This would suggest that Brookings analysts directed their analytical efforts
to particular elements of the build-up and apparent war-fighting strategy
rather than to challenging the Administration’s rationale
for transformational change in the Middle East or war in Iraq.

Section 4.4
Think-Tank or Political Lobby?

One senior fellow at Heritage told us that
the organization does not sponsor public events and voluminous literature
in order to let the chips of the argument fall where they may.
The primary aim of the material is
to insert a coherent political position
into the center of the national discourse.
It is designed precisely to influence
Congress, the media, the Administration and the public
with a specific agenda.
Its panel discussions and conferences are like controlled explosions,
undertaken within a prescribed environment
and designed to [achieve] an intended outcome.

Other organizations with this rationale include
AEI, Hudson, the Center for Security Policy,
and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).
This does not mean that sensible, informative discussion
is not to be found at these places.
They are perfectly capable of organizing high-standard debate on [some issues].
But there is a sacred territory in which
core issues that are subject to intense political debate
such as national security, U.S. Middle East policy,
and relations with China and Europe
fall out along a predictable left-right schism.
Here, the format does not encourage questioning
of the organization’s central message.
Think tanks of this type, when addressing politically sensitive security issues,
are better thought of
not as research institutions
but as well-funded lobbies
with a support staff of scholars.

Section 4.5
A System Collapsed

It would be hard to conclude that the think-tank system has fulfilled its promise.
It is a system in disrepair.
Our chief complaint is that
the enviable financial resources available to the think-tank system
are not being brought to bear;
they are failing as a collective. [Emphasis in original.]
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the issue of Iraq.
The final word on the Iraq war has, of course, not yet been written,
but there is enough evidence already to suggest that
it will come to be seen as one of America’s greatest policy blunders,
likely on a par with the Vietnam War.
[That is an underestimate.
The Vietnam War did not have long-term negative consequences
on our relations with a large segment of the world’s population.
This one will.]

Here, organizations like
AEI, Heritage, Hudson, WINEP, and the Center for Security Policy
have much to answer for.
Though they had well-identified views in favor of the Iraq policy,
they failed to remain true to their intellectual mission
of offering a platform for a debate on the merits.
They have been led by
the Administration’s crisis narrative and framing concepts.
This is wrong for an organization ostensibly in the ideas business.
Heritage, for instance, demonized those who disagreed with it
in a [2005] formal seminar
where opponents of the Iraq war were described as
“communist fellow travelers.”
In effect, these organizations, together,
fashioned a well-funded campaign of
conferences, books, magazine articles, op-eds,
and regular appearances on television and talk radio
that relentless advanced a single Big Idea,
namely that
the Middle East could and should be transformed into democratic states,
in which process the Iraq war was an essential first step.

Institutions like
Brookings, CSIS, New American Foundation, Carnegie, and the CFR
contributed to the problem in different ways.
Just as substantial sections of the political elite favored the Iraq war,
these institutions had every right to reflect this view.
[That’s their role?
To reflect the view of sections of the political elite?
I thought it was to think about and analyze policy issues,
with particular emphasis on providing points of view
different from the conventional wisdom (what everyone already “knows”).]

But it was far from the full story.
Opinion in the country was mixed, with concern being expressed by
conservatives, liberals, and independents alike.
Within senior political, diplomatic, intelligence, and military circles
there was considerable unease, some of it on the record.
[They cite “Goodbye to the Vietnam Syndrome” by Rick Perlstein; at NYT here.
Could they not have found a more substantial example of prewar dissent?]

Brookings, for example, can certainly not be described as
reflexively acquiescent to the Administration.
The organization contains a spectrum of views.
Yet the bulk of material specifically on Iraq
being produced at Brookings in this period
was coming from those, like Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack
[The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, 2002] and others,
whose international views had steadily evolved
to accept neoconservative solutions.

In late 2001, for instance,
O’Hanlon and Philip Gordon, another Brookings scholar,
had been writing cautiously about Iraq, noting that
“for now, the costs and risks of containment appear lower than
those of attempting to overthrow Mr. Saddam.”

As it became clear that the United States was moving toward war,
the same two scholars, now joined by Martin Indyk,
a former Ambassador to Israel,
seemingly underwent a change of heart:
“with sufficient American leadership, commitment and sacrifice,
the military, diplomatic and nation-building challenges
involved in regime-change in Iraq
can all be met.”

[“Getting Serious About Iraq,” Autumn, 2002]

As the Administration’s line grew harder, so did Brookings’s.
We’re Ready To Fight Iraq: Saddam is no match for America’s military”]

Speaking about the fall of Saddam, Indyk said:
“Wednesday, April 9, 2003, will be a day that will go down in history.
You will probably remember and even tell your grandchildren
what you did on this day.”
U.S. Victory in Iraq
Opens Possibility of Palestinian-Israeli Settlement

Note how outrageously wrong are the predictions in this article,
starting with its title.

A year later his tune had changed:
“failure is not only an option but a likelihood.”
[Actually, it was James Steinberg and O’Hanlon who are cited in the endnote:
Set a Date to Pull Out”]

A review of the archives indicates that
if some in the building were skeptical of
the Administration’s rationale for the Iraq war
and the democratic transformation of the region,
they were not writing about it.
In this sense Brookings became a microcosm of the larger national debate.
The discussion attracted those who were supportive of
the patriotic consensus that dominated America’s sociopolitical landscape,
while the critical American seemed to have gone on holiday.

Brookings has continued to be a microcosm of the national debate.
As the national political discussion gradually regained its balance
and critical voices made themselves heard in the Congress
and among the nation’s editorial writers,
so the critical voices at Brookings grew more pronounced.
This would suggest that
America should not expect its major research institutions
to operate separately or externally from
the broader dynamics and pressures of national debate at times of crisis.
The post-9/11 period indicates that institutions such as Brookings
are as much a product of the public space
as they are a mechanism for its quality control.

This should not be the case.
Any one of these eminent research institutions (really all of them)
should have ensured that
their programs included
a rigorous examination of the Administration’s reasons for war.
This should have occurred
not just through the occasional commentary of an individual scholar
but on an institutional basis.
That it did not is a matter of great wonderment.

In 2002, for example, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
found time in its eighty-six events to discuss
China six times, India four times, and Nepal and Kyrgyzstan twice each.
But Iraq got onto the agenda only once—
in November 2002 when the die was already cast.
That discussion was largely technical,
concerning the possible ramifications
of the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq,
and begged the question of whether Iraq had such weapons in the first place.
The next time Carnegie discussed Iraq was on 2003-02-03,
when its main conclusion was that war seemed likely.

In 2002 the New America Foundation staged seventy-three events,
not one of which was dedicated to Iraq.

CSIS did not hold a single event on Iraq in 2002.
In January 2003 CSIS published a long analysis
A Wiser Peace: An Action Strategy for a Post-Conflict Iraq,” which,
while it anticipated many of the problems that in fact occurred,
included the point that “it takes no position on whether there should be a war.”
A month later, open-mindedness was gone.
At a time of intense public consternation
about the unfolding course of American policy,
CSIS provided a forum for Senator John McCain to make a case for war.
In 2004 CSIS held seven events on Iraq.
By then, the golden hour was long gone.

We mention the Council on Foreign Relations last because
the failure here was the most egregious.
Here is the national membership organization to which all Americans
(membership is not open to nonnationals)
of any standing in the foreign policy world aspire.
It describes itself as a “nonpartisan resource for information and analysis.”
No other venue is better suited to
the airing of the full range of views about major decisions,
most especially a war of choice in a strategically vital area of the world.

Yet the CFR stood mute on the matter of opposition.
Search the articles of Foreign Affairs from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2003,
the period in which the Iraq debate was conducted,
and you will look in vain for a single article that raises moderate skepticism,
let along fundamental questions, about the looming decisions.
There were numerous articles setting out the case for war.
[See, for example,
Kenneth M. Pollack, “Next Stop Baghdad” and
Fouad Ajami, “Iraq and the Arab’s Future”.]
There were plenty of reviews of books that stirred the pot for war.
But there was nothing that reflected the widespread disquiet in the country.
As with Brookings, as soon as it was safe to criticize,
criticism started to emerge—
albeit counterbalanced by
substantial articles defending the Administration’s approach.
[See, for example,
F. Gregory Gause III, “Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?”;
Stephen M. Walt, “Taming American Power”; and
Melvin Laird, “Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam”,
all from 2005 issues of Foreign Affairs.]
Perhaps the editors of Foreign Affairs will argue that
nothing suitable was available.
In that case, they should have commissioned something.
It if clear from their subsequent writings that
some CFR officers were disturbed by the course of policy.
[For example,
Richard N. Haass,
The Opportunity: America’s Moment to Alter History’s Course;
Gideon Rose, “Get Real”; and
Jonathan Tepperman, “Foxes and Hedgehogs”,
again all published in 2005.]

Again, this is an institutional failure.
Certainly, the pressures to conform were immense.
All the major institutions receive research grants from appropriated funds.
Scholars did not fail to notice that
certain institutions, like Carnegie,
engineered the departure of internal critics;
others, such as Cato, which stood out against the war,
had to deal with sharp questions from their supporters.
The task facing the rational center is not an easy one.
But it is precisely at such times of stress
that the think-tank voice must come through.
It does not have to be self-sacrificial, but it should ensure that
any flaws in the Big Idea of the moment are thoroughly examined.

The Iraq debate demonstrated
a fundamental characteristic about think-tank Washington today:
information and open debate struggle to compete in the public space
with empty, slogan-based exchange that
simplifies the variables and suppresses detailed discussion.
The more a think tank can craft a simple, coherent message,
the more its discourse prevails in an environment of complex ideas.



White man's burden
By Ari Shavit
Haaretz, 2003-05-04

The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals,
most of them Jewish,

who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.
Two of them, journalists William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer,
say it's possible.
But another journalist, Thomas Friedman (not part of the group),
is skeptical

[Paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.
The most interesting sections are 1 (doctrine) and 4 (Friedman).]

1. The doctrine

At the conclusion of its second week,
the war to liberate Iraq wasn’t looking good.
Not even in Washington.
The assumption of a swift collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime
had itself collapsed.
The presupposition that the Iraqi dictatorship would crumble
as soon as mighty America entered the country
proved unfounded.
The Shi’ites didn’t rise up, the Sunnis fought fiercely.
Iraqi guerrilla warfare found the American generals unprepared
and endangered their overextended supply lines.
70 percent of the American people continued to support the war;
60 percent thought victory was certain;
74 percent expressed confidence in President George W. Bush.

Washington is a small city. It’s a place of human dimensions.
A kind of small town that happens to run an empire.
A small town of government officials and members of Congress
and personnel of research institutes and journalists
who pretty well all know one another.
Everyone is busy intriguing against everyone else;
and everyone gossips about everyone else.

In the course of the past year,
a new belief has emerged in the town:

the belief in war against Iraq.
That ardent faith was disseminated by
a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives,
almost all of them Jewish,
almost all of them intellectuals

(a partial list:
Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith,
William Kristol, Eliot Abrams, Charles Krauthammer),
people who are mutual friends and cultivate one another
and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving force of history.
They believe that the right political idea
entails a fusion of morality and force, human rights and grit.
The philosophical underpinnings of the Washington neoconservatives
are the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Edmund Burke.
They also admire Winston Churchill and the policy pursued by Ronald Reagan.
They tend to read reality
in terms of the failure of the 1930s (Munich)
versus the success of the 1980s (the fall of the Berlin Wall).

Are they wrong?
Have they committed an act of folly in leading Washington to Baghdad?
They don’t think so. They continue to cling to their belief.
They are still pretending that everything is more or less fine.
That things will work out.
Occasionally, though, they seem to break out in a cold sweat.
This is no longer an academic exercise, one of them says,
we are responsible for what is happening.
The ideas we put forward are now affecting the lives of millions of people.
So there are moments when you’re scared.
You say, Hell, we came to help, but maybe we made a mistake.

2. William Kristol

Has America bitten off more than it can chew? Bill Kristol says no. True, the press is very negative, but when you examine the facts in the field you see that there is no terrorism, no mass destruction, no attacks on Israel. The oil fields in the south have been saved, air control has been achieved, American forces are deployed 50 miles from Baghdad. So, even if mistakes were made here and there, they are not serious. America is big enough to handle that. Kristol hasn’t the slightest doubt that in the end, General Tommy Franks will achieve his goals. The 4th Cavalry Division will soon enter the fray, and another division is on its way from Texas. So it’s possible that instead of an elegant war with 60 killed in two weeks it will be a less elegant affair with a thousand killed in two months, but nevertheless Bill Kristol has no doubt at all that the Iraq Liberation War is a just war, an obligatory war.

Kristol is pleasant-looking, of average height, in his late forties. In the past 18 months he has used his position as editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard and his status as one of the leaders of the neoconservative circle in Washington to induce the White House to do battle against Saddam Hussein. Because Kristol is believed to exercise considerable influence on the president, Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he is also perceived as having been instrumental in getting Washington to launch this all-out campaign against Baghdad. Sitting behind the stacks of books that cover his desk at the offices of the Weekly Standard in Northwest Washington, he tries to convince me that he is not worried. It is simply inconceivable to him that America will not win. In that event, the consequences would be catastrophic. No one wants to think seriously about that possibility.

What is the war about? I ask. Kristol replies that at one level it is the war that George Bush is talking about: a war against a brutal regime that has in its possession weapons of mass destruction. But at a deeper level it is a greater war, for the shaping of a new Middle East. It is a war that is intended to change the political culture of the entire region. Because what happened on September 11, 2001, Kristol says, is that the Americans looked around and saw that the world is not what they thought it was. The world is a dangerous place. Therefore the Americans looked for a doctrine that would enable them to cope with this dangerous world. And the only doctrine they found was the neoconservative one.

That doctrine maintains that the problem with the Middle East is the absence of democracy and of freedom. It follows that the only way to block people like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden is to disseminate democracy and freedom. To change radically the cultural and political dynamics that creates such people. And the way to fight the chaos is to create a new world order that will be based on freedom and human rights - and to be ready to use force in order to consolidate this new world. So that, really, is what the war is about. It is being fought to consolidate a new world order, to create a new Middle East.

Does that mean that the war in Iraq is effectively a neoconservative war? That’s what people are saying, Kristol replies, laughing. But the truth is that it’s an American war. The neoconservatives succeeded because they touched the bedrock of America. The thing is that America has a profound sense of mission. America has a need to offer something that transcends a life of comfort, that goes beyond material success. Therefore, because of their ideals, the Americans accepted what the neoconservatives proposed. They didn’t want to fight a war over interests, but over values. They wanted a war driven by a moral vision. They wanted to hitch their wagon to something bigger than themselves.

Does this moral vision mean that after Iraq will come the turns of Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

Kristol says that he is at odds with the administration on the question of Saudi Arabia. But his opinion is that it is impossible to let Saudi Arabia just continue what it is doing. It is impossible to accept the anti-Americanism it is disseminating. The fanatic Wahhabism that Saudi Arabia engenders is undermining the stability of the entire region. It’s the same with Egypt, he says: we mustn’t accept the status quo there. For Egypt, too, the horizon has to be liberal democracy.

It has to be understood that in the final analysis, the stability that the corrupt Arab despots are offering is illusory. Just as the stability that Yitzhak Rabin received from Yasser Arafat was illusory. In the end, none of these decadent dictatorships will endure. The choice is between extremist Islam, secular fascism or democracy. And because of September 11, American understands that. America is in a position where it has no choice. It is obliged to be far more aggressive in promoting democracy. Hence this war. It’s based on the new American understanding that if the United States does not shape the world in its image, the world will shape the United States in its own image.

3. Charles Krauthammer

Is this going to turn into a second Vietnam? Charles Krauthammer says no. There is no similarity to Vietnam. Unlike in the 1960s, there is no anti-establishment subculture in the United States now. Unlike in the 1960s, there is now an abiding love of the army in the United States. Unlike in the 1960s, there is a determined president, one with character, in the White House. And unlike in the 1960s, Americans are not deterred from making sacrifices. That is the sea-change that took place here on September 11, 2001. Since that morning, Americans have understood that if they don’t act now and if weapons of mass destruction reach extremist terrorist organizations, millions of Americans will die. Therefore, because they understand that those others want to kill them by the millions, the Americans prefer to take to the field of battle and fight, rather than sit idly by and die at home.

Charles Krauthammer is handsome, swarthy and articulate. In his spacious office on 19th Street in Northwest Washington, he sits upright in a black wheelchair. Although his writing tends to be gloomy, his mood now is elevated. The well-known columnist (Washington Post, Time, Weekly Standard) has no real doubts about the outcome of the war that he promoted for 18 months. No, he does not accept the view that he helped lead America into the new killing fields between the Tigris and the Euphrates. But it is true that he is part of a conceptual stream that had something to offer in the aftermath of September 11. Within a few weeks after the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, he had singled out Baghdad in his columns as an essential target. And now, too, he is convinced that America has the strength to pull it off. The thought that America will not win has never even crossed his mind.

What is the war about? It’s about three different issues. First of all, this is a war for disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. That’s the basis, the self-evident cause, and it is also sufficient cause in itself. But beyond that, the war in Iraq is being fought to replace the demonic deal America cut with the Arab world decades ago. That deal said: you will send us oil and we will not intervene in your internal affairs. Send us oil and we will not demand from you what we are demanding of Chile, the Philippines, Korea and South Africa.

That deal effectively expired on September 11, 2001, Krauthammer says. Since that day, the Americans have understood that if they allow the Arab world to proceed in its evil ways - suppression, economic ruin, sowing despair - it will continue to produce more and more bin Ladens. America thus reached the conclusion that it has no choice: it has to take on itself the project of rebuilding the Arab world. Therefore, the Iraq war is really the beginning of a gigantic historical experiment whose purpose is to do in the Arab world what was done in Germany and Japan after World War II.

It’s an ambitious experiment, Krauthammer admits, maybe even utopian, but not unrealistic. After all, it is inconceivable to accept the racist assumption that the Arabs are different from all other human beings, that the Arabs are incapable of conducting a democratic way of life.

However, according to the Jewish-American columnist, the present war has a further importance. If Iraq does become pro-Western and if it becomes the focus of American influence, that will be of immense geopolitical importance. An American presence in Iraq will project power across the region. It will suffuse the rebels in Iran with courage and strength, and it will deter and restrain Syria. It will accelerate the processes of change that the Middle East must undergo.

Isn’t the idea of preemptive war a dangerous one that rattles the world order?

There is no choice, Krauthammer replies. In the 21st century we face a new and singular challenge: the democratization of mass destruction. There are three possible strategies in the face of that challenge: appeasement, deterrence and preemption. Because appeasement and deterrence will not work, preemption is the only strategy left. The United States must implement an aggressive policy of preemption. Which is exactly what it is now doing in Iraq. That is what Tommy Franks’ soldiers are doing as we speak.

And what if the experiment fails? What if America is defeated?

This war will enhance the place of America in the world for the coming generation, Krauthammer says. Its outcome will shape the world for the next 25 years. There are three possibilities. If the United States wins quickly and without a bloodbath, it will be a colossus that will dictate the world order. If the victory is slow and contaminated, it will be impossible to go on to other Arab states after Iraq. It will stop there. But if America is beaten, the consequences will be catastrophic. Its deterrent capability will be weakened, its friends will abandon it and it will become insular. Extreme instability will be engendered in the Middle East.

You don’t really want to think about what will happen, Krauthammer says looking me straight in the eye. But just because that’s so, I am positive we will not lose. Because the administration understands the implications. The president understands that everything is riding on this. So he will throw everything we’ve got into this. He will do everything that has to be done. George W. Bush will not let America lose.

4. Thomas Friedman

Is this an American Lebanon War?
Tom Friedman says he is afraid it is.
He was there, in the Commodore Hotel in Beirut, in the summer of 1982,
and he remembers it well.
So he sees the lines of resemblance clearly.
General Ahmed Chalabi (the Shi’ite leader that the neoconservatives
want to install as the leader of a free Iraq)
in the role of Bashir Jemayel.
The Iraqi opposition in the role of the Phalange.
Richard Perle and the conservative circle around him as Ariel Sharon.
And a war that is at bottom a war of choice.
A war that wants to utilize massive force in order to establish a new order.

Tom Friedman, The New York Times columnist, did not oppose the war.
On the contrary.
He too was severely shaken by September 11,
he too wants to understand where these desperate fanatics are coming from
who hate America more than they love their own lives.
[Really? I haven’t seen much attempt on his part to achieve that understanding.
For a good answer to that question, read Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris.]

And he too reached the conclusion that
the status quo in the Middle East is no longer acceptable.
The status quo is terminal.
And therefore it is urgent to foment a reform in the Arab world.

[Note: not even admitting the possibility of
(re)evaluating U.S. policy towards the Middle East.]

Some things are true even if George Bush believes them,
Friedman says with a smile.
And after September 11, it’s impossible to tell Bush to drop it, ignore it.
There was a certain basic justice in the overall American feeling
that told the Arab world:
we left you alone for a long time,
[how can people tell such lies?]
you played with matches and in the end we were burned.
So we’re not going to leave you alone any longer.

He is sitting in a large rectangular room in the offices of The New York Times
in northwest Washington, on the corner of 17th Street.
One wall of the room is a huge map of the world.
Hunched over his computer,
he reads me witty lines from the article that will be going to press in two hours.
He polishes, sharpens, plays word games.
He ponders what’s right to say now, what should be left for a later date.
Turning to me, he says that democracies look soft until they’re threatened.
When threatened, they become very hard.
Actually, the Iraq war is a kind of Jenin on a huge scale.
Because in Jenin, too,
what happened was that the Israelis told the Palestinians,
We left you here alone and you played with matches until suddenly
you blew up a Passover seder in Netanya.
And therefore we are not going to leave you along any longer.
We will go from house to house in the Casbah.
And from America’s point of view, Saddam’s Iraq is Jenin.
This war is a defensive shield.
It follows that the danger is the same:
that like Israel,
America will make the mistake of using only force.

This is not an illegitimate war, Friedman says.
But it is a very presumptuous war.
You need a great deal of presumption
to believe that you can rebuild a country half a world from home.
But if such a presumptuous war is to have a chance,
it needs international support.
That international legitimacy is essential
so you will have enough time and space to execute your presumptuous project.
But George Bush didn’t have the patience to glean international support.
He gambled that the war would justify itself,
that we would go in fast and conquer fast
and that the Iraqis would greet us with rice
and the war would thus be self-justifying.
That did not happen.
Maybe it will happen next week, but in the meantime it did not happen.

When I think about what is going to happen, I break into a sweat, Friedman says.
I see us being forced to impose a siege on Baghdad.
And I know what kind of insanity a siege on Baghdad can unleash.
The thought of
house-to-house combat in Baghdad without international legitimacy
makes me lose my appetite.
I see American embassies burning.
I see windows of American businesses shattered.
I see how the Iraqi resistance to America
connects to the general Arab resistance to America
and the worldwide resistance to America.
The thought of what could happen is eating me up.

What George Bush did, Friedman says, is to show us a splendid mahogany table:
the new democratic Iraq.
But when you turn the table over, you see that it has only one leg.
This war is resting on one leg.
But on the other hand,
anyone who thinks he can defeat George Bush had better think again.
Bush will never give in.
That’s not what he’s made of.
Believe me, you don’t want to be next to this guy
when he thinks he’s being backed into a corner.
I don’t suggest that anyone who holds his life dear
mess with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush.


Is the Iraq war the great neoconservative war?
It’s the war the neoconservatives wanted, Friedman says.
It’s the war the neoconservatives marketed.
Those people had an idea to sell when September 11 came,
and they sold it.
Oh boy, did they sell it.
this is not a war that the masses demanded.
This is a war of an elite.

Friedman laughs:
I could give you the names of 25 people
(all of whom are at this moment
within a five-block radius of this office)
who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago,
the Iraq war would not have happened.

Still, it’s not all that simple, Friedman retracts.
It’s not some fantasy the neoconservatives invented.
It’s not that 25 people hijacked America.
You don’t take such a great nation into such a great adventure
with Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard
and another five or six influential columnists.
In the final analysis,
what fomented the war is America’s over-reaction to September 11.
The genuine sense of anxiety that spread in America after September 11.
It is not only the neoconservatives who led us to the outskirts of Baghdad.
What led us to the outskirts of Baghdad
is a very American combination of anxiety and hubris.

[Here the focus is on 9/11.
But, as others have observed, adding to the sense of vulnerability back then
were the anthrax attacks.

For a comment in 2008 by Philip Weiss on this piece, click here.]


The NYT’s New Pro-War Propaganda
By Robert Parry
Consortiumnews.com, 2007-07-30

No need to wait until September.
It’s already obvious
how George W. Bush and his still-influential supporters in Washington
will sell an open-ended U.S. military occupation of Iraq –
just the way they always have:
the war finally has turned the corner
and withdrawal now would betray the troops
by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Another key element of the coming propaganda campaign
was previewed on the op-ed page of the New York Times on July 30
as Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution
portrayed themselves as tough critics of the Bush administration
who, after a visit to Iraq, now must face the facts:
Bush’s “surge” is working.

“As two analysts who have harshly criticized
the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,
we were surprised by the gains we saw
and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’
but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with,”
O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote in an article entitled “A War We Just Might Win.”

Yet the authors – and the New York Times –
failed to tell readers the full story about these supposed skeptics:
far from grizzled peaceniks,
O’Hanlon and Pollack
have been longtime cheerleaders
for a larger U.S. military occupying force in Iraq.

Indeed, Pollack, a former CIA analyst,
was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the first place.
He published The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq
in September 2002,
just as the Bush administration was gearing up
its marketing push for going to war.

British journalist Robert Fisk called Pollack’s book
the “most meretricious contribution
to this utterly fraudulent [war] ‘debate’ in the United States.”
(Meretricious, by the way, refers to something
that is based on pretense, deception or insincerity.)

The really smart, serious, credible Iraq experts O’Hanlon and Pollack
by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2007-07-30

[This is an excellent, excellent dissection
of how Big Media sells, and has sold,
this miserable war.
Here is its lead paragraph; comments and emphasis are added.]

What is the most vivid and compelling evidence
of how broken our political system is?

[Uh, Mr. Greenwald,
isn’t it the media who decides who and what goes on the Op-Ed pages?]

It is that
the exact same people who
  • urged us into the war in Iraq,

  • were wrong in everything they said, and

  • issued one false assurance after the next as the war failed,
continue to be the same people held up as our Serious Iraq Experts.

The exact “experts” to whom we listened in 2002 and 2003
are the same exact establishment “experts” now. [!!!]

[For a look at some of the experts
who are giving helpful advice on how to leave Iraq,
but who do not seem to make it onto the pages of elite main-stream media
very often,
see the list of references here.]

Media Blitz for War: The Big Guns of August
by Norman Solomon
Antiwar.com, 2007-08-03

This week the U.S. media establishment
is mainlining another fix for the Iraq war:
It isn’t so bad after all,
American military power could turn wrong into right,
chronic misleaders now serve as truth-tellers.
The hit is that the war must go on.

The truth behind the Pollack-O'Hanlon trip to Iraq
by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2007-08-12


False Pretenses
By Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith
Center for Public Integrity, 2008-02

Following 9/11,
President Bush and seven top officials of his administration
waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation
about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

[An excerpt.]

President George W. Bush
and seven of his administration’s top officials, including
Vice President Dick Cheney,
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
made at least 935 false statements
in the two years following September 11, 2001,
about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
an exhaustive examination of the record shows that
the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign
that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process,
led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions
(in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like),
Bush and these three key officials, along with
Secretary of State Colin Powell,
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and
White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan,
stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
(or was trying to produce or obtain them),
links to Al Qaeda, or both.
This concerted effort
was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.


President Bush, for example, made
232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another
28 false statements about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Powell
had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with
244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and
10 about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by
Wolfowitz (with 85),
Rice (with 56),
Cheney (with 48), and
McClellan (with 14).

The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes
what President Bush and these seven top officials
were saying for public consumption
against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis.
This fully searchable database includes the public statements,
drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts)
and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations)
over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.
It also interlaces relevant information from
more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.

The First Casualty
by Joseph L. Galloway
Antiwar.com, 2008-03-11

Foreword to the book
So Wrong for So Long:
How the Press, the Pundits – and the President – Failed on Iraq

by Greg Mitchell
(Union Square Press, March 2008).

Fast and Loose With the Facts
By Spencer Ackerman
Washington Independent, 2008-03-19

How Two Leading Journalists Played the Public to Help Bush Sell His War

[An excerpt.]

But the public also believed it because the press amplified the lie.
The major networks and papers uncritically recycled
what these administration officials said.
The elite media was no exception --
and played a major role in convincing less-expert journalists
that the administration was on to something.
Two writers in particular, though very different, stand out:
Jeffrey Goldberg, then of The New Yorker and now of The Atlantic, and
Stephen F. Hayes, of the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

The ongoing exclusion of war opponents from the Iraq debate
Charlie Rose convenes
a five-year anniversary panel of American foreign policy experts
to present “both sides” on the Iraq war.
As usual, none were actual opponents of the invasion.

by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2008-03-25

[Paragraph numbers are added; emphasis is mainly original.]

(updated below - Update II)

Several days ago, Charlie Rose broadcast a two-part show
to survey the Iraq War on its fifth anniversary.
He interviewed four alleged American foreign policy experts in order --
as he proudly announced at The Huffington Post --
“to find out how both critics and supporters of the war effort
see the current situation”
(h/t reader pj). [??]

The two alleged “war critics” were
the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Lesley Gelb, and
The New Yorker‘s George Packer.
As Rose put it:
To get the other side’s perspective,
I talked to Richard Perle and Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.”
And therein one finds a perfect expression of
how limited, distorted and propagandistic
the debate over Iraq in the establishment press continues to be.

In no meaningful sense
are Gelb and Packer on “the other side” from Perle and Kagan.
Both Gelb and Packer were, albeit to different degrees,
among the most influential enablers of the invasion of Iraq.

In February, 2003, Gelb went on Fox News with Brit Hume
and attacked the French for impeding our invasion,
telling Hume (via LEXIS):
“But frankly, except for The Cuban Missile Crisis,
I don’t think more has been at stake than today.
Our country really is at risk in a way we’ve never been at risk before.”
Three days before the invasion, he told The Associated Press:
“I’m in favor of this . . . .
It’s the best medicine for anti-Americanism around the world
I can imagine.”

To this day,
Gelb continues to insist that the invasion was the right thing to do,
but that we just should have executed it more effectively.
So that’s one of Rose’s “war critics.”

While much more nuanced and cautious than Gelb,
Packer was one of the intellectual leaders of
the so-called “liberal hawk” movement.
He wrote a highly influential December, 2002 New York Times article
proclaiming “The Liberal Quandry over Iraq,”
touting the views of so-called “liberal hawks.”
The next month,
he demanded “a clean break”
with what he scorned as “doctrinaire leftists,
who know what they think about American foreign policy --
they’re against it,”
and rejected
“an antiwar movement with little to say
to Americans’ fears for their own safety.”

Packer never endorsed Bush’s specific invasion plan,
but he certainly never opposed it, and -- like most “liberal hawks” --
endorsed the concept itself
(“the wrong people
are doing the right thing
for the wrong reasons”).
Packer perfectly exemplified
the Tom-Friedman-esque “liberal hawk” enabling behavior
back then of
advocating American interventionism of the type contemplated in Iraq
(while wishing it would be better executed)
and attacking those who were genuinely opposed to the war
(“Until liberals show that they will make the world safe for democracy --
for their fellow citizens, and for citizens around the world --
the American people won’t give them the chance”).

So when Charlie Rose arranges a five-year anniversary discussion of Iraq
purportedly involving American foreign policy experts on “both sides,”
it completely excludes any Americans
who unequivocally opposed the war in the first place --
it completely excludes those who were right
and offers only those who were wrong.
As always,
unadorned war opposition
is mutually exclusive with
Foreign Policy Seriousness,
and those who are unequivocal in their opposition to
the underlying premises of the war
(rather than its tactical execution)
are almost never heard from in media discussions -- still.

Critically, then -- and just as one would expect --
there was virtual unanimity among Rose’s American foreign policy experts
on the question of
whether we should set timetables for withdrawal --
the central political question on the war.
Despite the fact that unconditional withdrawal happens to be
the position of both Democratic presidential nominees
and the vast majority of the American public
(see this superb new report documenting that fact, by Ruy Teixeira (.pdf)),
the entire panel -- war lovers and “war critics” alike --
agreed that timed, unconditional withdrawal is a bad idea.

Such withdrawal was opposed both by “war critic” Gelb
(“I would say the main decision you have to make is
the decision to begin a withdrawal process,
not to set a deadline or anything like that.
I’ve never been in favor of doing that. . . .
We shouldn’t do it precipitously, and no deadlines”
and by “war critic” Packer
(“John McCain’s victory will not happen.
But neither will
the neat, clean 16-month withdrawal plan of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
I think none of the candidates is capable right now
of leveling with the public about
just how hard it`s going to be to end this war,
and how bad the consequences are going to be one way or the other”).

It should be noted that,
in terms of presenting a complete view of the Iraq debate to the American public,
Charlie Rose is actually much better than
the standard establishment media outlet.
To his credit, prior to the invasion,
he actually interviewed genuine war opponents
(and did so respectfully,
not in order to deride them as objects of freakish wonderment).
He conducted meaningful interviews with people like
Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky --
figures whom the establishment media
(which gives endless airtime to the likes of
Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Kristol)
would never get anywhere near
because they are too far “on the Left” -- far too anti-war --
and thus too far outside of the mainstream to be heard from
(there is no such thing as being out of the mainstream
by virtue of being
too far “on the Right” or too pro-war).

Even more to Rose’s credit,
on the same five-year anniversary show
where he interviewed Kagan and Perle “on one side”
and Gelb and Packer “on the other,”
Rose also interviewed two Iraqis now living in the U.S.,
Ali Fadhil and Sinan Antoon.
Notably, they were not there
to opine on the U.S. invasion of Iraq as American foreign policy experts
nor to speak about the war from the perspective of American foreign policy,
but rather -- as Rose put it -- were there
to describe “how they see it as Iraqis, five years later.”

Still, if you watch nothing else this week,
watch this 15-minute interview with Fadhil and Antoon.
Nothing reveals how distorted, incomplete and propagandistic
to this day
is the American media’s discussion of the U.S. occupation of Iraq
and especially the Glorious Surge.
The facts and perspectives presented here
are excluded almost entirely
from establishment press discussions of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy,
because the only “war critics” who are heard from
are people like Leslie Gelb, George Packer and even Michael O’Hanlon --
people who, at most,
quibble with the execution of the war and our foreign policy
but not their underlying premises:

[See the original post for the link to this video.]

Even now,
Americans are inundated with “The Surge is Working!” rhetoric
and hear almost none of the views expressed in this interview,
just as -- prior to the invasion --
they were exposed to every shade and color of pro-invasion advocates
while the anti-war view was drastically minimized and even suppressed.
Amazingly, nothing has actually changed from that 2002-2003 period when --
as even Howard Kurtz documented
in one of the better (and only) pieces of establishment journalism
examining pre-war media coverage --
actual war opponents were buried, rendered invisible,
and war advocates were amplified and celebrated.
That’s still happening.

Atrios has frequently said that
the range of acceptable establishment political opinion in the U.S.
spans the suffocatingly narrow gamut
from The New Republic to National Review
(or: “From The New Republic to The Free Republic”).
The substantial body of opinion
to “the left” of the pro-war (or, at best, anti-war-execution) New Republic
is excluded as fringe and unserious,
while nothing substantial exists to the right of National Review.
There is never any outer boundary on the Right.

In exactly the same way,
the range of acceptable establishment views on the war and foreign policy
generally spans the suffocatingly narrow gamut
from faux “war critics” like Gelb, Packer and O’Hanlon
to war lovers Richard Perle and Fred Kagan.
In the establishment press, even today --
after five years of the Iraq occupation --
anyone outside of that narrow range is Unserious and more or less invisible,
even though that’s where most of the American public is.

Several people in comments and by email have objected that
there were conservatives, as well as so-called “leftists,”
who unequivocally opposed the war.
That’s undoubtedly true
(though the bulk of war opposition
was from what is generally described as “the Left”)
[where is the slightest shred of evidence to back that up?
There was, for example, great and steady opposition to the war
at The American Conservative and Antiwar.com]
and I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise
(and don’t think I did).
Here, for instance, is
what conservative Harvard Professor Stephen Walt said in February, 2003,
as quoted by the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail:
Advocates of war claim that invading Iraq
will trigger a process like the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe,
and bring a lot of Arab Lech Walesas and Vaclav Havels to power.
This is a dream world.
The populations in most of these countries
are more anti-American than their governments.
Radical change
is as likely to open the door to Islamic extremists
as to bring liberals to power.
We are playing with fire in doing this.
Our invasion will resurrect images of colonialism,
and fuel even greater anger at the United States.
You can’t get more right than that,
yet one rarely hears from him
while being unable to avoid

democracy-exporter advocates like Gelb, Packer and O’Hanlon.

This also illustrates the difficulty of using the terms “Right” and “Left”
with any clear meaning,
particularly in contemporary foreign policy debates.
Unadorned war opponents (as distinct from Friedman-esqe tactical quibblers)
many on the Left,
non-interventionists on the Right, and
Iraq-specific war opponents from the “realist” school.
At least as I use the terms with regard to foreign policy,
the “Right” has come to mean
the Kristol/Limbaugh/Fox News/Brookings faction of endless war, while
the “Left” generally designates
those opposed to
the fundamental premises of America’s imperial and war-making foreign policy.
Those in the former group can never go too far to be out of the mainstream,
while those in the latter group almost presumptively are.

There’s an ongoing myth, peddled by the pro-war establishment,
that very few people with “serious” foreign policy credentials
unequivocally opposed the invasion of Iraq.
That just isn’t true.
Here, for instance,
is an anti-war ad signed (and paid for)
by 33 scholars of international security affairs --
from among the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions --
which they published in The New York Times in September, 2002,
presciently setting forth the case against the invasion.
Review the names of the anti-war signatories
and one finds that they are virtually never heard from in the establishment press,
even now.
As one of the prime movers of that ad,
signatory Stephen Walt of the Harvard School of Government
(who, as indicated, made pre-invasion, anti-war arguments with pinpoint accuracy
in numerous other venues as well),
wrote to me via email today:
Apart from a series of articles that the Harvard Crimson did last week
(focusing on Harvard faculty views then and now),
I haven’t been asked for my views on Iraq by mainstream media
in months, if not years.

What’s more remarkable is that
most of the other academics who opposed the war
are also largely ignored.
As far as I know,
none of the signatories of our original NYT ad
were asked to provide prominent commentary on the 5 year anniversary,

and certainly not in prominent places
like the New York Times or the Washington Post.

Indeed, I believe that virtually everyone in the media has simply forgotten that there were prominent, mainstream voices who opposed the war on straightforward strategic grounds, and were proven correct.
Future historians will have a field day discussing how
the United States continued to listen
to those who were proven wrong over and over and over,
while ignoring those who were (regrettably) proven right.
By contrast, war cheerleader Michael O’Hanlon --
who could not have been more wrong about virtually everything --
has, by himself, had
“13 pieces in four of the most influential op-ed pages in the country
over the past 7 months.”
Just two days ago, he complained petulantly that
he had been “getting on average
three to five calls a day for interviews about the war”
but “now it’s less than one a day.”

In this post here,
Tristram Shandy objects to my inclusion here of George Packer, arguing that --
subsequent to the invasion --
Packer has been “a forceful, exceptional and high-profile critic of the war.”
That may be true, but it’s besides the point.
There are some others who originally supported the war
who have also produced good commentary since then.
I’m not making an anti-Packer point here.
Rather, I’m pointing out that there are numerous experts
who opposed the Iraq War from the start -- presciently so --
yet who are virtually always excluded
from our establishment media’s discussions
of the Iraq War and foreign policy generally.

The political and media establishment
recognizes only two categories of Serious Foreign Policy “Experts”:
  1. those (like Perle, Kagan and John McCain)
    who supported the war from the start and still do
    (the “pro-war” experts), and

  2. those (like Gelb, Packer and O’Hanlon)
    who, in one way or another, supported the war from the start
    and then came to criticize its prosecution
    (the “war critic” experts).
But individuals such as the 33 anti-war scholars who signed that ad,
and most other political and academic figures
who unequivocally opposed the war from the start,
simply don’t exist.
That’s what makes the current Iraq “debate” almost as stilted and one-sided --
and destructive --
as the pre-invasion “debate” itself was.

What can and cannot be spoken on television
Americans are subjected to
a narrow and highly controlled range of opinion
regarding Iraq and the U.S. occupation.

by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2008-03-26

[Emphasis is added.]

I’m going to re-post the segment I posted yesterday,
from Charlie Rose’s fifth anniversary Iraq show,
because I want to encourage as many people as possible to watch it.
If I could recommend one article or segment
for Americans to read or watch regarding the current Iraq debate,
it would be this interview -- the entire interview --
with Sinan Antoon and Ali Fadhil,
an Iraqi professor and journalist, respectively,
currently living in the U.S.:

[See the original post for the link to this video.]

The significance of the interview lies
as much in what it says about the American occupation of Iraq
as it what it illustrates about the American media.
In the American media’s discussions of Iraq,
when are the perspectives expressed here about our ongoing occupation --
views extremely common among Iraqis of all types
and grounded in clear, indisputable facts --
ever heard by the average American news consumer?

The answer is: “virtually never.”

Rose was as adversarial and argumentative -- angry, even --
as he ever gets with anyone,
because he plainly did not anticipate, and did not like,
that he was being exposed to such hostility towards
our Freedom-spreading, Liberty-loving Liberation
of the grateful, lucky (dead and displaced) Iraqi people.

To see how scripted and narrow
the American media’s discussion of Iraq continues to be --
as Americans are told that
it is a matter of mandated orthodoxy
that they believe that the Surge is Working
(so much so that John McCain actually demanded yesterday
that Hillary Clinton “apologize” for daring to question the pronouncements
of the High, Honorable Commanding General, David H. Petraeus) --
watch the entire interview and consider how those views are never heard.
For those who do not watch,
I will excerpt just a few of the illustrative exchanges,
beginning with this opening exchange:
ROSE: And obviously, what we want to accomplish
on this fifth anniversary of the American invasion,
or the coalition invasion of Iraq,
is how they see it as Iraqis, five years later.
Give me an assessment.

ALI FADHIL: That’s a big question, assessment.
Well, basically, probably, I`ll kind of sum it in a few words.
It’s --
we have a country where the government is not functioning after five years.
We have too many internal problems.
And we have the violence increasing day after day.
We have a huge crisis of refugees inside and outside Iraq.
We have a total failure of the -- of the civilian -- the civilian structure and what’s happening inside.
We have the sectarian divisions increasing.
We didn’t have that before.
Now we have it.
So, basically, my assessment is we have a whole nation called Iraq,
now it’s wiped out.

CHARLIE ROSE: And Iraq is worse off because the United States came?

ALI FADHIL: It’s worse off because the United States came to Iraq, definitely,
and because the United States did all these mistakes in Iraq.
CHARLIE ROSE: So where do we go from here?
Five years after the invasion of Iraq,
what is a wise American policy?

ALI FADHIL: Let me start with telling you what is happening right now,
what is the American policy right now in Iraq.
It’s so shame to say that America is in Iraq right now,
and particularly the State Department
and also the Pentagon as well, the U.S. Army in Iraq.
They’re going back to Saddam’s policies in everything. . . .
If you, you know, name it,
name the most successful project of the surge -- outcome of the surge,
the (INAUDIBLE) councils.
You know, these insurgents, the Sunnis, even Shiites.

CHARLIE ROSE: The so-called awakening.

ALI FADHIL: Awakening council, exactly.
They’re giving them money to protect their own neighborhoods.
Isn’t that the same what happened under Saddam? . . .
Anything [Americans] do -- probably even in good intentions --
is bad for us, everything they do, everything.
There’s nothing they’re doing is right.
And that’s what is going to happen.
It’s just prolonging the diaspora of the Iraqis.
We’re suffering more and more every day.
We need, you know, to start the salvation (ph). . .

SINAN ANTOON: The president today said something really obscene to my mind.
He said Iraq is witnessing the first Arab uprising against al Qaeda.
We did not have al Qaeda in Iraq before.
We had a ruthless dictatorship.

I’ve posted similar, equally revealing excerpts here.

One can undoubtedly voice reasonable objections to some of these points.
But they have long been the views
of a huge portion of Iraqis --
on whose behalf Americans are constantly told they must keep fighting --
and they are grounded in personal knowledge, expertise and demonstrable facts.
Yet they are virtually never heard by most Americans,
and are excluded almost entirely from establishment press discussions.

The reason for this is clear.

The American media has a script to which they loyally adhere.
The U.S. can make mistakes
and government leaders can be criticized for incompetence,
we can never do anything
that is actually destructive or evil
or which justifiably provokes hatred towards us
by people in other countries
not even bombing them and occupying them for years
and imprisoning tens of thousands of them with no charges
and replicating the behavior of their hated dictator.
Any views that suggest such a thing are simply not heard.

After I posted this Charlie Rose segment yesterday,
Wired’s Ryan Singel emailed me about this amazing ABC News broadcast,
the transcript of which he posted, from the night in March, 2003
when we began dropping our loving, liberating Freedom Bombs on Baghdad.
Jennings’ entire broadcast that night --
as was true for virtually every establishment press outlet --
was dedicated to the storyline that
we were marching into Iraq
to depose the Evil Dictator, Saddam Hussein,
to rid him of his wicked weapons
and finally free the Iraqi People and give them Freedom and Democracy.
Freedom was on the march -- and still is.

But on ABC that night, something disrupted the script.
In the frenzy of the evening,
ABC producers were desperately trying
to get Iraqis to go on the air
and say how grateful they were for our Freedom Bombs,
but a couple of them ending up saying the opposite -- quite angrily --
just as the two Iraqi interviewees disrupted Charlie Rose’s script.
As Singel wrote:
Cracks in television media facade are so rare.
Absurdities, on the other hand, can be found aplenty --
but the machinery is usually very finely tuned
and rarely breaks down like this.

The relevant sections,
which do not do justice to Jennings’s palpable discomfort
and his disbelief that his producers would actually put him on the phone
with Iraqis who did not support the American invasion . . . .
Singel is unable to find the video, so if anyone can help with that,
that would be appreciated.
The script deviation that night produced extremely uncomfortable exchanges
like this:
(Voice Over) How nice to hear your voice.
I’ll ask you the dumbest question in the world.
How are things?

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI [critic of the Saddam regime]
Well, they are, you know,
the bombardment of Baghdad has been taking place over the night,
and, you know,
people are angry at the destruction of the, their house,
this very ancient or long history city.
They see no point in all this destruction and American bombardment
of this old city. . . .

(Voice Over) That’s a, that’s a very good point, sir.
I, I raise it because I’ve just been handed a note which says that
you’re a former member of the Baath party, but more than 40 years ago,
and that you are interested in more democracy
and an end to the repression by the regime of the Shiites and the Kurds.
And so I wondered whether or not you think that
the targets which have been hit
represent the regime
or represent Iraqis as a whole?

Well, I will ask you a question.
If, if somebody bombarded the Pentagon,
would you say it is a targeted for the American regime
or just a target against all Americans?

(Voice Over)
I think most Americans, the overwhelming number of Americans, sir,
would say for all Americans.
And is that your answer, vis-...- vis,
what has been attacked in Baghdad tonight?

Yes, and what you have referred about me is quite the truth.
But I don’t think that war and destruction
will bring democracy to the Iraqi people
and the necessary civilized for the Kurds and for the Shiites
and for all the population of Iraq.
In fact, what the Americans are doing are destroying the whole country
and I don’t think at all that democracy and political reforms
will appear for this war.

(Voice Over) You’re also described to me as
someone who has openly criticized the Baath party, and the regime.
Do you believe that the United States is arriving in your country
to liberate you from the Baath regime?

Well, when the United States choose someone
who has drawn us to be an international thief
for the job of being a prime minister in Iraq,
you call this liberation or subjugation of the Iraqi and Arab people
for the will of Mr. Bush and his clique?

(Voice Over) I did not know, sir, that the United States had chosen anybody
to be the prime minister of Iraq.
In fact, the Bush Administration says almost on an hourly, if not a daily, basis
that it’s up to the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders.

How, by, by killing the Iraqis and destroying their cities
and ruining their lines of communication?
Is this is the way you bring democracy to other countries?

At the end, Jennings asked Dr. Nazim if he knew how the interview was arranged,
and when he replied that he didn’t know,
Jennings observed -- apologetically to the viewers:
“I don’t either. . . . I don’t know how that happened to be perfectly honest.”

A second interview went exactly the same way:
(Voice Over)
And do you believe that the United States has come to your country
to save the country or to harm the country?

DR. MOHAMMED MOTAFFER ADHAMI [Ba’athist Party member]
Well, is this saving the country, bombing every city in Iraq?
Killing the people? For no reason? Only to occupy the country?

(Voice Over) Do you believe, . . .

This is, you know, this is actually, I believe now, this is a crime.
And they are behaving, the American Administration is behaving
according to the law of jungle.

(Voice Over) Doctor Adhami, you, . . .

So the people are dying.

(Voice Over) Doctor Adhami, again, I apologize for interrupting.
I think Americans believe that there are millions of Iraqis who would be free,
who would be happy to live
free from the leadership of President Saddam Hussein.
Do you believe that to be the case?

Well, let me tell you something, that
the only period that Iraq shows development
was in these 30 years we live.

Before that, during the British occupation, Iraqis were suffering.
And the British were stealing our oil.
It seem that now, the Americans want to do the same.
So I think, you know, that’s why, that’s why now if you go to the street,
you won’t find any disturbance.
All the people stick together and all the people saying, Allah Akbar,
when they saw the rockets hitting their city.
A rattled Jennings again observed:
To be honest, sitting in this newsroom for the last many hours,
I’m not quite sure how we get people on the phone.
But we’ve had two phone calls like that tonight
and [at] the very least they are an admonition that
if Americans end up in Baghdad,
perhaps not everybody is going to welcome them.
We’ll continue with “Nightline” in just a minute.

Whenever things of this sort slip through,
it illustrates just how narrow and controlled the standard script is.
As Singel said in his email:
“The Rose video and the Jennings moment are such clear ruptures
of what can and cannot be spoken on television.”
And the most amazing part of all of it is that the conventional wisdom holds --
and the establishment press even believes --
that they are the “liberal media,”
meaning they are insufficiently reverent of
our wars, our Republican leaders, and our military exploits.
Imagine what it would look like if the media weren’t “liberal.”

Several people in comments and via email
disagree with my characterization of Rose’s behavior during the interview,
which is somewhat amusing because, yesterday,
when I gave credit to Rose for conducting the interview,
many people objected to say that Rose didn’t deserve credit
because he was condescending, snide and disrespectful.
Obviously, it’s a subjective assessment and thus opinions can vary.

I think the behavior I describe is subtle and, as I said,
relative to how Rose treats most of his guests.
He interrupts far more than normal,
persists in trying to impose the narrative that
the invasion would have been a positive act for Iraqis
in the absence of “mistakes,”

generally controls the conversation
far more than he does with other guests.

Compare his respectful, one could even say reverent, treatment of
Fred Kagan, Richard Perle, Leslie Gelb and George Packer.

In any event, that’s a minor point.
The far more important point is that

such perspectives on Iraq
are virtually never heard in the establishment press,

and are heard even more rarely still when coming from actual Iraqis.
Instead, when Americans hear about what is allegedly happening in Iraq,
it is most often happy talk from the likes of
Joe Klein, Fred Hiatt and Michael O’Hanlon --
people whose knowledge of Iraq consists, at most, of what
Gen. Petraeus, other government officials and hand-picked pro-American Iraqis
told them
during a short trip during which
they gullibly ingest what Sen. Jim Webb called
the U.S. military’s “dog and pony show.”

Frontline: Too Timid, Too Little, Too Late
by Ray McGovern
Antiwar.com, 2008-03-27

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

Frontline added little to the discussion.
Notably missing was any allusion to

the unconscionable role the Fourth Estate adopted
as indiscriminate cheerleader for the home team;

nor was there any mention that
the invasion was a serious violation of international law.
But those omissions, I suppose, should have come as no surprise.

Nor was it a surprise that any viewer hoping for insight
into why Cheney and Bush were so eager to attack Iraq
was left with very thin gruel.
It was more infotainment,
bereft of substantive discussion of the whys and wherefores
of what in my view
is the most disastrous foreign policy move in our nation’s history.

Despite recent acknowledgments
from the likes of Alan Greenspan, Gen. John Abizaid, and others
that oil and permanent (or, if you prefer, “enduring”) military bases
were among the main objectives,
Frontline avoided any real discussion of such delicate factors.

[Does anyone really expect that
an Orthodox Jew such as Alan Greenspan,
or a dedicated supporter of Israel such as Henry Kissinger,
is going to publicly state that
the war was for the benefit of Israel?
Of course they’re going to go with the “war for oil” cover story.]

Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News
by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2008-08-01

[This is an extremely important story
for those trying to construct an “audit trail”
on the drivers of our war psychosis in 2001–3.
This “bentonite” issue was a key cause of that psychosis.

Greenwald’s story is too long and has too much highly formatted text
for me to be able to reproduce it in its entirety here;
you will have to read it at its original location via the link.
But here are some key paragraphs,
with a mix of Greenwald’s original and my added emphasis.

(This post is posted in both
Selling the Iraq War and

The 2001 anthrax attacks remain
one of the great mysteries of the post-9/11 era.
After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably
the most consequential event of the Bush presidency.
One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential.
The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but
in the absence of the anthrax attacks,
9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event.

It was really the anthrax letters --
with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 --
that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate
that would dominate in this country for the next several years after.

It was anthrax --
sent directly into the heart of
the country's elite political and media institutions,
then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD),
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt),
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw,
and other leading media outlets --
that created the impression that social order itself
was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.

From the beginning,

By design,
those attacks put the American population into
a state of intense fear of Islamic terrorism,
far more than the 9/11 attacks alone could have accomplished.

Much more important
than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists,
there was

a specific intent -- indispensably aided by ABC News --
to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

In my view,
and I've written about this several times and in great detail to no avail,
the role played by ABC News in this episode is
the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this decade.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross,
continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story
that government tests conducted on the anthrax --
tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that
the anthrax sent to Daschele
contained the chemical additive known as bentonite.

ABC News, including Peter Jennings,
repeatedly claimed that
the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was
compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks,

since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite
“is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program”
“only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons.”

ABC News’ claim --
which they said came at first from “three well-placed but separate sources,”
followed by “four well-placed and separate sources” --
was completely false from the beginning.
There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax
(a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007
only as a result of my badgering them about this issue).
It’s critical to note that

it isn’t the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite
and then subsequent tests found there was none.
No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite.

The claim was just concocted from the start.
It just never happened.
[I.e.: 100% bullshit.]

That means that ABC News’ “four well-placed and separate sources”
fed them information that was completely false --
false information that created a very significant link in the public mind
between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein.
And look where -- according to Brian Ross’ report on October 28, 2001 --
these tests were conducted:
And despite continued White House denials,
four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that
initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland,
have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.
Two days earlier,
Ross went on ABC News’ World News Tonight with Peter Jennings
and, as the lead story, breathlessly reported:
The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests
conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere.
Clearly, Ross’ allegedly four separate sources
had to have some specific knowledge of the tests conducted and,
if they were really “well-placed,”
one would presume that meant they had some connection
to the laboratory where the tests were conducted -- Ft. Detrick.
That means that the
same Government lab
where the anthrax attacks themselves came from

was the same place where the false reports originated
that blamed those attacks on Iraq.

It’s extremely possible -- one could say highly likely -- that
the same people responsible for perpetrating the attacks
were the ones who fed the false reports to the public,
through ABC News, that Saddam was behind them.

What we know for certain --
as a result of the letters accompanying the anthrax --
is that whoever perpetrated the attacks
wanted the public to believe they were sent by foreign Muslims.
Feeding claims to ABC News designed to link Saddam to those attacks
would, for obvious reasons, promote the goal of the anthrax attacker(s).

Seven years later, it’s difficult for many people to recall,
but, as I’ve amply documented,
those ABC News reports linking Saddam and anthrax
penetrated very deeply -- by design --
into our public discourse and into the public consciousness.
Those reports were absolutely vital in
creating the impression during that very volatile time that
Islamic terrorists generally, and Iraq and Saddam Hussein specifically,
were grave, existential threats to this country.

As but one example:
after Ross’ lead report on the October 26, 2001 edition of
World News Tonight with Peter Jennings
claiming that the Government had found bentonite,
this is what Jennings said into the camera:
This news about bentonite as the additive
being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program
is very significant.
Partly because
there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out
to go after Saddam Hussein.
And some are going to be quick to pick up on this
as a smoking gun.

[Greenwald quotes several Weekly Standard stories,
that leading Saddam-basher Laurie Mylroie,
and President Bush.
One should note, though,
that while Bush, in the given quote, did link Iraq to anthrax,
he did not, so far as I can see, there
link Iraq to the specific American 2001 anthrax attacks.

Note, by the way, that Jennings back in 2001 observed that there was
“a lot of pressure on the Bush administration ...
to go after Saddam Hussein”.

Bush-haters, both before and after the war,
have tried to put all the blame for the war on Bush (or Cheney).
This shows why that is both invalid and harmful,
because it avoids correctly diagnosing the causes of this terrible mistake.
And those who do not understand causes of past mistakes
cannot reliably prevent future ones.
In particular, are not Maureen Dowd’s attempts, even as late as 2008,
to blame the war on Bush’s relations with his father
proof that she is a complete ditz?]

There can’t be any question that
this extremely flamboyant though totally false linkage
between Iraq and the anthrax attacks -
accomplished primarily by
the false bentonite reports from ABC News and Brian Ross --
played a very significant role in
how Americans perceived of the Islamic threat generally
and Iraq specifically.
[Greenwald quotes the Post‘s Richard Cohen at great length to document this.]


Critically, ABC News never retracted its story
(they merely noted, as they had done from the start,
that the White House denied the reports).
And thus, the linkage between Saddam and the anthrax attacks –
every bit as false as
the linkage between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks

We now know --
we knew even before news of Ivins’ suicide last night,
and know especially in light of it --
that the anthrax attacks
didn’t come from Iraq or any foreign government at all.
It came from our own Government’s scientist,
from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory.
More significantly,
the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government --
from people with some type of significant links
to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports
is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade.
The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring.
Those fabrications played some significant role --
I’d argue a very major role --
in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat,
and further,
propagandized the public to believe
that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements
that a whole series of radical policies
that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration
wanted to pursue --
including an attack an Iraq and
a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework --
were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions.
They know who concocted the false bentonite story

and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of
having them broadcast those false claims to the world,
in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and -- as importantly --
to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government)
who were behind the attacks.
And yet, unbelievably,
they are keeping the story to themselves,
refusing to disclose who did all of this.
They’re allegedly a news organization,
in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade,
and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

They’re not protecting “sources.”
The people who fed them the bentonite story aren’t “sources.”
They’re fabricators and liars
who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public
an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood.
But by protecting the wrongdoers,
ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public,
rather than a news organization uncovering such frauds.
That is why this is one of the most extreme journalistic scandals that exists,
and it deserves a lot more debate and attention than it has received thus far.

Update II:


On a note related to the main topic of the post,
macgupta in comments notes the
numerous prominent people in addition to those mentioned here --
including The Wall St. Journal Editors and former CIA Director James Woolsey --
who insisted rather emphatically from the beginning of the anthrax attacks
that Saddam was likely to blame.
Indeed, the WSJ Editorial Page --
along with others on the Right such as
Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Fox News --
continued even into 2007 to insist that
the FBI was erring
by focusing on domestic suspects rather than Middle Easterners.

The Nation’s Michael Massing noted at the time (in November, 2001)
that as a direct result of the anthrax attacks,
and the numerous claims insinuating that Iraq was behind them,

“the political and journalistic establishment
suddenly seems united
in wanting to attack Iraq.”

[Are we allowed to say “conspiracy” yet?]

There has long been an intense desire on the neoconservative Right
to falsely link anthrax to Saddam specifically and Muslims generally.

ABC News was, and (as a result of its inexcusable silence) continues to be,
their best friend.

[For a follow-up by Greenwald on the question of Ivins’s guilt
(but not on bentonite),
see What's the answer to this?.]


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