The U.S. media with very few exceptions enabled the catastrophic war in Iraq by its failure to challenge the core assumptions on which the march to war was based — assumptions which were patently false — patently, that is, for anyone daring to break with a nationalist consensus fueled by demagogues in the Administration and among the neocon and “liberal hawk” talking heads (Yes, folks, the Tom Friedmans and Peter Beinarts and George Packers are every bit as responsible for enabling this moral and political disaster as were the Kristols, Krauthammers and O’Reillys — not that having been wrong about Iraq has harmed anyone’s infotainment career…)
Not only did the media allow the contention that Iraq had WMD to go largely unchallenged; it mostly failed to unpack that contention and its consequences (yes, the consensus among intel agencies and the UN inspectors was that some old stocks of battlefield chemical weapons from Iraq’s arsenal were still unaccounted for, but even if they existed, they represented no strategic threat to anyone). And more importantly, the media largely failed to challenge the patently false assumption even if such stocks of mustard gas and VX shells existed, U.S. military intervention would leave Iraq and the region more stable and secure.
The fundamental assumption left unchallenged is that military force is a wise, prudent or legitimate response to the proliferation of nasty weapons among regimes hostile to the U.S. It’s precisely that assumption that has been trashed in Iraq, which even if it had had a couple of hundred (or even thousand) mustard gas and VX shells would still be the catastrophic mess it is today.
Iraq is lost, of course, and the same media pundits and moguls that gave us the war have convinced themselves of more self-serving falsehoods, i.e. that the U.S. failure in Iraq was largely a product of bad management by Donald Rumsfeld and some of his generals. Good war, badly done, you might say (in the spirit of the Trotskyists who’ll defend their own Bolshevism by claiming that the revolution was led astray by Stalin). Or better still, that Iran was somehow responsible for the U.S. failure in Iraq.
My reason for revisiting the morbid saga of media complicity in enabling the Iraq war now is that a new, even more catastrophic war is in the works against Iran — but it’s not a done deal. Cheney, quite probably the most dangerous man in the world given the combination of his extremist views and his proximity to real power, would love to make it happen, and so would the neocons and Likudniks, who are agitating for it with increasing alarm.
Not only do we have a steady stream of hysteria pouring out of the Israeli establishment and its American backers making the absurd comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany, routinely exaggerating both Iran’s intentions and its capabilities. There’s also the new trope — equally absurd, but it’s not like there’s a very effective filter in place — of blaming Iran for things going wrong in Iraq.
The idea of Iranian “meddling” in Iraq is now commonly discussed in U.S. news outlets, and little air time is given to Iraq’s leaders saying they have no problem with Iran, and reject their country being used as a platform to attack Iran. Just last week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told CNN, “We have told the Iranians and the Americans, ‘We know that you have a problem with each other, but we are asking you: Please solve your problems outside Iraq. We don’t want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria.” And it’s not just the Shiite parties that see Iran as a friend. “If you exclude the Sunnis, the majority of Iraqis think of Iran as a friend,” says Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman. And Kurdish leaders have been equally harsh in criticizing U.S. attempts to ratchet up a confrontation with Iran on Iraqi soil.
The U.S. had promised a major roll-out last week of “evidence” showing Iran was contributing towards instability in Iraq, but it was canceled, reportedly after State and Defense Department officials pushed back against the flimsiness of the evidence on offer. But as Juan Cole notes, the pertinent question worth investigating, then, is “who was spearheading this presentation inside the Bush administration?” ?
I wish I had more confidence in the Democrats readiness to stand up to the demagoguery on Iran. And also the media’s. Thank heaven, then, for former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski, and his moral clarity on the matter. His recent Senate testimony on Iraq and Iran should be required reading for people covering this story. Extract:
If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.
This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran — though gaining in regional influence — is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Deplorably, the Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about “a new strategic context” which is based on “clarity” and which prompts “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles’s attitude of the early 1950’s toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.
One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture…
…It is obvious by now that the American national interest calls for a significant change of direction. There is in fact a dominant consensus in favor of a change: American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake; that it should not be escalated, that a regional political process should be explored; and that an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is an essential element of the needed policy alteration and should be actively pursued. It is noteworthy that profound reservations regarding the Administration’s policy have been voiced by a number of leading Republicans. One need only invoke here the expressed views of the much admired President Gerald Ford, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and several leading Republican senators, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith among others.
The urgent need today is for a strategy that seeks to create a political framework for a resolution of the problems posed both by the US occupation of Iraq and by the ensuing civil and sectarian conflict. Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals of such a strategy, but both goals will take time and require a genuinely serious U.S. commitment.
It’s worth reading the whole thing in full, because it includes a grownup guide to how the U.S. could extract itself from the disaster it has created.
And when you hear the U.S. media echoing half-baked allegations against Iran or flights of fancy about how Washington is building a Sunni Arab united front to push back against the likes of Iran and Hamas, or hawking the same notions that security can be created through the application of military force despite that notion having been so spectacularly discredited in Iraq, remember that it’s often the “expertise” of the same cast of clowns that got the Iraq equation so spectacularly wrong that is now shaping the Iran discussion.