First Published: 2008-03-30

 
When a Great Power Goes Mad
 

An obvious reason why the mainstream US press can’t handle the Iraq truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other US officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals, says Robert Parry.

 

Middle East Online

With the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War and the grim milestone of 4,000 US dead, the nation has been awash with news retrospectives on the war and speeches by politicians, mostly offering sanitized versions of what's transpired.

With a few exceptions, these media/political reflections have had the feel of self-rationalizations, more than self-criticisms. They’ve conveyed a sense that the US system is doing just fine, thank you, although a few mistakes were made.

So, you have President George W. Bush, the chief author of this catastrophic war, declaring that “normalcy is returning back to Iraq” even as fighting rages across much of the country and rockets rain down on the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

Bush’s comment invited comparisons to the acronym coined by US Army soldiers during World War II: SNAFU for “situation normal, all fucked up.”

In the news media, there were specials, including a much-touted PBS Frontline two-parter on “Bush’s War” which followed the mainstream line of mostly accepting the Bush administration’s good intentions while blaming the disaster on policy execution – a lack of planning, bureaucratic rivalries, rash decisions and wishful thinking.

The chief interviews for the program were with former Bush administration officials and with journalists – such as Michael Gordon and John Burns of the New York Times whose influential reporting helped set the stage for the war – and with Bob Woodward, whose Bush at War was a generally flattering account of Bush’s decision-making.

Remaining outside the frame of mainstream US debate was any serious examination of the war’s fundamental illegality.

During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Yet, Frontline and other mainstream US news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.

An obvious reason why the mainstream US press can’t handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other US officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.

To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing US power structure, which hasn’t changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.

Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post’s editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.

The same is true for the New York Times’s op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won’t hail Bush’s courageous war leadership.

Deeper Trends

In evaluating this corrupt political/media elite, a historian might want to go back even further and wonder how someone as eminently unqualified and unfit as George W. Bush became president of the most powerful nation on earth.

How did a technologically sophisticated country like the United States with a relatively free press get led down this dangerous path? Why did so many American voters in 2000 believe made-up stories about Al Gore’s supposed delusions, like the apocryphal quote, “I invented the Internet”?

Indeed, how did a seemingly endless supply of myths and half-truths take root in the American psyche?

Going back even a bit further, how were Americans sold on the happy tales of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as the blood of US-supported dirty wars in Central America and elsewhere was washed from the nation’s memory bank?

Why in a media environment with 24-hour cable news programming has intelligent dissent against US foreign policy been so marginalized and excluded? Why are editors and producers so afraid of allowing some of these voices to be heard? How has such a destructive “group think” been allowed to take hold?

One of the obvious answers is fear – at least fear that one’s career would be irreparably damaged by wandering too far outside the safety of the herd.

And while running with that herd, it’s understood that there’s much greater safety in veering right, given the well-funded conservative attack groups that have devoured the careers of many independent-minded journalists who refused to bend.

(I’ve tried to address this history in my books, including Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, as well as at Consortiumnews.com.)

Well-Spoken Madness

While many Americans – both inside and outside Washington – recognize these real-world constraints on how politicians and journalists address issues, the larger consequences are less understood.

What these trends have done over the past three decades is not just shift the dominant US political/media system to the right. Nor have they just constructed a “group think” that excludes reasonable points of view that challenge the conventional wisdom.

The cumulative effect of this willful conformity and this informal censorship has been to engender a form of collective madness at the decision-making levels of the US government -- and within the upper echelons of the news media.

But it is a flexible form of insanity in which reality is alternatively banished – as it was in the early phases of the Iraq War, from WMD "mushroom clouds" through "Mission Accomplished" – and then is brought in for retooling when matters get too far out of control, when the jarring gap between the official line and the truth starts to destabilize the national political consensus.

In listening to the measured tones of the Frontline narration – not to mention the well-dressed ex-government officials and the well-spoken mainstream journalists – I was left with the feeling that a new synthetic “reality” was being lowered in to replace the older discredited version.

It was as if the bloody madness that President Bush inflicted on the people of Iraq – aided and abetted by many witting and unwitting American accomplices – was being drained of its crimson hue and stripped of its human horrors.

Forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and maimed. Forget the innumerable lives destroyed and the millions displaced. Forget the bizarre forms of torture at Abu Ghraib and the widespread mistreatment of detainees at other Iraqi prisons.

After all, we were being told, the war’s architects were honorable and reasonable men and women who were trying to do the right thing, but sadly they were undermined by bureaucratic inertia, back-biting and, yes, incompetence. It was just one big SNAFU.

But, with a few changes here and there – a new general or two, a tweaked counter-insurgency strategy, some more US soldiers and a bit more patience – everything will work out just fine.

No need for national guilt. No need for accountability. No reason to purge the editorial offices of leading newspapers and TV networks. No reason to talk about impeachment or war-crimes tribunals for committing the "supreme" crime against world peace. No need for any of that.

As President Bush said on March 27, “normalcy is returning back to Iraq,” if you don't take note of the mayhem all around. One might add that a similar form of “normalcy is returning back to Washington,” if you don't take note of all the lies and the self-deceptions.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush , can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

ConsortiumNews

 

Chief negotiator of Syria opposition quits over failed talks

Iraq forces enter ISIS-held Fallujah from three directions

Bahrain appeal court ramps up jail sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman

Sanctions gone, Iran drums up business with West

Plastic replaces glass in Syria window-less city

Jordan heads into elections by fall after parliament dissolution

Turkey to abandon migrant deal if no visa-free travel

Egypt court sentences Brotherhood leader to life in prison

Kuwait jails members of ruling family for insulting Emir

Tunisia blames ‘terrorist elements’ for deadly landmine blast

Turkey offers to join forces for Syria operation -- without Kurds

Starving Iraqis risk all to flee crumbling rule of ISIS

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of sowing ‘sedition’ in Iraq

Israel police send Netanyahu spending file to prosecutors

Bahrain court upholds life terms for five 'spies'

Investigators need 12 days to recover EgyptAir black boxes

Iraq troops prepare for final assault on ISIS-held Fallujah

Iraq Kurdish forces launch offensive east of Mosul

Shipwrecks in Mediterranean claim up to 700 lives in one week

Iran blames Saudi Arabia for Hajj impasse

ISIS offensive triggers mass displacement in northern Syria

Without clear roadmap, Libya unity government fails to bring change

Iran moderate conservative retains parliament speakership

Iran delegation leaves Saudi Arabia without Hajj deal

Hundreds of civilians flee Fallujah area in Iraq

Khamenei urges Iran lawmakers to resist Western 'schemes'

ISIS-rebel clashes grip northeast Syria town

New US law could sanction Hezbollah officials

Thousands of protesters gather in central Bagdad

99 lashes for partying Iranian students

100,000 Syrians trapped after shock IS advance in Aleppo

Iran sticking to nuclear deal: UN watchdog

Turkey party seeks constitutional change to boost president's powers

Turkey accuses US of 'hypocrisy' on Kurdish militia in Syria

Israel environment minister resigns from 'extremist government'

US-led coalition pounds IS near Raqa

Tunisia mulls allowing women to serve in army

US-backed fighters battle IS near Syria stronghold

Tunisia tourism sees 'slight recovery'

UN envoy calls for economic rescue plan for Yemen

Bahrain jails 19 for attacks on police

Up to 30 dead in shipwreck off Libya

UN says Syrians will 'starve' unless aid improves

Christian homes set ablaze in Egyptian village 'love story'

Kuwait's main opposition group ends polls boycott