Friday, January 18, 2008

Fighting Bullshit With Bullshit: The Surge And The Myth

Many years ago -- in the New Yorker, unless I am mistaken -- I saw a cartoon that has stayed with me. It was a simple scene: a man in a suit standing behind a podium, speaking. Easy to draw, and hardly remarkable, but the caption was brilliant. It said:
Don't believe his lies. Believe my lies.
I hadn't thought of that cartoon for a long time but it came rushing back to me when I started reading a column by Congressman Robert Wexler [photo], published at Bob Parry's Consortium News, and called "A Surge of More Lies".

In this piece, Congressman Wexler disputes the administration's contention that the surge has been "a resounding success", a contention which, as Parry points out in a short introduction, has become "an article of faith in Official Washington".

Wexler's method is instructive and, I would suggest, representative (no pun intended) of the "best" American "journalism" has to offer. In other words, Wexler fights bullshit with bullshit.

Excerpts first, then translation:
The surge had a clear and defined objective – to create stability and security - enabling the Iraqi government to enact lasting political solutions and foster genuine reconciliation and cooperation between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds.

This has not happened.

There has been negligible political progress in Iraq, and we are no closer to solving the complex problems - including a power-sharing government, oil revenue agreement and new constitution - than we were before the Administration upped the ante and sent 30,000 more troops to Iraq.

The reduction in violence in Iraq has exposed the continuing failure of Iraqi officials to solve their substantial political rifts. By President Bush's own stated goal of political progress, the surge has failed.

The military progress is a testament to the patience and dedication of our brave troops – even in the face of 15-month-long deployments followed by insufficient Veteran's health services when they return home.

They have performed brilliantly – despite the insult of having President Bush recently veto a military spending bill that enhanced funding and benefits, and increased care.

Despite the efforts of American soldiers, the surge alone cannot bring about the political solutions needed to end centuries of sectarian divide.

Enough is enough: While the Administration over-commits American forces in Iraq, we see al-Qaeda regrouping and Osama bin Laden still at large. We remain seriously bogged down in Afghanistan, and are witnessing a crisis in Pakistan that has left a nuclear country on the brink of a meltdown.

America's resources and attention are desperately needed elsewhere and our soldiers must no longer be needlessly sacrificed as we wait for Iraqis to stand up.
First, Wexler misrepresents the point of the "surge". He confuses publicity with reality when he talks about the point of the surge. The basic idea, of course, was to extend and expand the war -- to create a quagmire so deep and so vast that no two succeeding administrations could find a way out. All the rest was window dressing.

But rather than call a war crime a war crime, Wexler goes along with the program. And thus, in his telling, the surge has failed because it hasn't enabled the Iraqis to agree on a formula by which they will divide the scant 12% of the money that comes from their oil after they agree on a formula by which control of that oil will be handed to wealthy foreigners.

The surge has failed because the Iraqi people, in the midst of being tortured and shot, raped and looted, crushed and burned, and bombed in their own homes by the occupying foreigners, have failed to stop the civil war the occupiers started just a few years ago -- but which Wexler now describes as "centuries of sectarian divide".

The surge has failed despite the sacrifices of all the brave soldiers who have served so brilliantly, because America still doesn't have what it wants: a compliant government, the oil rights, a constitution to make all the petro-looting permanent and enough basic security to make commercial development viable.

In other words, since the Iraqis have not stood up and given us what we want, the surge has failed. So now it's time to get out. That's Wexler's lie: we got our ass kicked, the Iraqis aren't worth our sacrifice, so let's go home ... well, not home exactly: let's not be bogged down anymore; let's find Osama bin Laden; let's go save Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It's horrible, and it's double-bullshit, but as I mentioned, it's representative. It's the best you're going to get from the Democrats and it's the best you're going to get most of the time from the major "news" media. Sorry about that.

If you want to know what's really going on -- what the surge was really about and how we really know it has really failed -- you have to know where to look. And surely Chris Floyd's Empire Burlesque deserves a spot at the top of any list of such places.

Floyd's newest post provides a great example of why I consider his site so valuable: in "Ground Zero: On the Front Lines of a War Crime" he links to a powerful source of real information about the real war -- two sources, actually: "As Iraqis See It" by Michael Massing, from the New York Review of Books, and Massing's source, "Inside Iraq", a blog written from Iraq by employees of McClatchy News.

Floyd's sharp eye catches the major theme:
These are people happily working with Americans, English-speaking, not sectarians, not insurgents; yet the picture they paint of the American occupation, and its effect on the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis, is damning indeed. As Massing notes:
The overwhelming sense is that of a society undergoing a catastrophic breakdown from the never-ending waves of violence, criminality, and brutality inflicted on it by insurgents, militias, jihadis, terrorists, soldiers, policemen, bodyguards, mercenaries, armed gangs, warlords, kidnappers, and everyday thugs. "Inside Iraq" suggests how the relentless and cumulative effects of these vicious crimes have degraded virtually every aspect of the nation's social, economic, professional, and personal life.
Massing tells of the confrontation that McClatchy blogger Sahar had with American troops who invaded her home one night. One soldier was astounded to find American science fiction books, John Grisham novels and even video games like Grand Theft Auto on her shelves:
She told me that when the American soldier discovered Grisham and Asimov on her bookshelf, "He was totally amazed. When he looked at me, he didn't see an Iraqi woman in a hijab, he saw a human being. You can't imagine the look on his face—there were tears in his eyes. He was inside a house, with love, a family, like anywhere else."

The incident, Sahar said, gave her a sense of the extent to which the Iraqi people are unknown. "People in America look at pictures of Afghanistan and think Iraq is the same," she said. "They think Iraqis are people who are uneducated, who are Bedouins living in tents, tending camels and sheep." Until the plague of wars began devouring the country, she went on, Iraq was the leading nation in the region, with a highly educated people boasting the best doctors, teachers, and engineers. Americans, Sahar sighed, "don't know this. And when you don't know a person, you can't feel for them, can you?"

She continued: "How many have been killed in Iraq? Bordering on a million. If you realize that these are real people with real feelings who are being killed—that they are fathers and husbands, teachers and doctors—if these facts could be made known, would people be so brutalized? It's our job as Iraqi journalists to show that Iraqis are real people. This is what we try to advance through the blog."
Massing's conclusion cuts to the heart of the matter: the relentless humiliation of having foreign soldiers occupying your native land:
The question on everyone's mind, of course, is whether the Americans should stay or go. On this, [McClatchy bureau chief] Leila Fadel told me, her Iraqi staff is divided. Some of them think the Americans should leave at once. While withdrawal would probably result in a bloodletting among Iraqis, they believe the country would be better off if this happened sooner rather than later, thus avoiding the effects of a prolonged occupation. Others think the Americans should stay and fix all the destruction they've caused over the last four and a half years. But, she adds, the staff's views on this keep shifting: "They're at war within themselves—on whether they want the Americans to stay or not, and whether they think that staying would make things any better. It's something they go back and forth on."

Whichever side they come down on, however, there is one feeling that predominates: humiliation. "They remind me of this constantly," Fadel says. "Americans believe their soldiers are working for the greater good. The Iraqis don't see that. They see people who are here for their own self-interest—who drive the wrong way on roads, who stop traffic whenever they want to, who they have to be careful not to get too close to so that they won't be shot." When one of her staff members wrote the post about the student who threw a rock at a US soldier, Fadel says, she asked him, "Why did this kid throw a rock at a man with a weapon, a helmet, and a vest? What was he thinking?" "These are foreign soldiers," he replied. "This is an occupation." That, Fadel notes, is a very common feeling among Iraqis. "Everybody I speak to thinks this. They don't have power in their own country."
And that's just the beginning of an essential education. I think you should read all of "As Iraqis See It" and bookmark "Inside Iraq".

If you think it's sad that this sort of coverage is lacking from the major dailies, consider that the smaller papers are for the most part considerably worse.

"Maine Owl" provides a perfect illustration with "Fallujah as "progress" in Iraq", landing on a note that rings true and clear:
The entire environment in which news is reported in America about Iraq is broken. The Pentagon very much loves local papers to report the "good news" and not the bad. So far in 2008, it is getting what it wants.