Naturally the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq brought a lot of comment on the editorial pages. Not much of it was clear or helpful, but here are excerpts from three that were excellent.
Gary Younge nails it in The Guardian. Several of his points are things I’ve tried to say, but he says them coherently. Damn.
Six years into his presidency it is difficult to think of a single, substantial foreign policy initiative that US president George Bush has pursued that did not involve war, or the threat of it. There is good reason for this. It is the one area in which America reigns supreme, accounting alone for 40% of the global military expenditure and spending almost seven times the amount of its nearest rival, China.
Yet greatness eludes him. For if the last six years have proved anything, it is the limitations of military might as the central plank of foreign policy. Indeed, shorn of meaningful diplomacy or substantial negotiation, it has failed even on its own narrow, nationalistic terms of making America safer and securing its global hegemony. In short, in displaying his strength in such a brash, brazen, reckless and ruthless manner, Bush has asserted power and lost authority and influence both at home and abroad.
With his approval ratings at Nixonian lows and the mid-term elections on the horizon, many of his fellow Republicans regard him as a liability.
All as Emmanuel Todd predicted.
But of course he’s writing for a British paper. It actually occurs to me that maybe, after the American empire is gone, we might return to having actual civic discourse in our newspapers, like the British and French. Maybe we’ll even have civility in Congress…
Greg Mitchell’s right, I think, when he says that “On 3rd Anniversary: Editorials Dither While Iraq Burns”.
The New York Times, for example, cogently lays out everything that has gone criminally wrong, with little hope for improvement, but concludes with this ringing call for … what? “The Iraq debacle ought to serve as a humbling lesson for future generations of American leaders — although, if our leaders were capable of being humbled, they could have simply looked back to Vietnam,” the Times declares. “For the present, our goal must be to minimize the damage, through the urgent diplomacy of the current ambassador and forceful reminders that American forces are not prepared to remain for one day in a country whose leaders prefer civil war to peaceful compromise.”
Urgent diplomacy and forceful reminders: In other words, leave it to the incompetent gangs in Washington and Baghdad that the editorial has just eviscerated.
Here is what the Times wrote on the first anniversary of the war in 2004: “Right now, our highest priority is making the best of a very disturbing situation.” The “possibility” of “an Iraq flung into chaos and civil war, open to manipulation by every unscrupulous political figure and terrorist group in the Middle East, is too awful to contemplate.” Two years later, we’ve got it.
He’s equally hard on the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. After all, the vast majority of editorial pages in the US, though few elsewhere, supported the war; and the straight news stories, such as those from Walter Pincus in the Post, that questioned or contradicted the administration’s stated reasons for going to war ended up on page 16.
This is the kind of American propaganda, or rather self-censorship, that stunts the growth of democracy.
If you really believe democracy can be a workable political system, then you must, it seems to me, believe that most people will make pretty decent decisions most of the time if they have all the relevant information.
Of course, they rarely have all the information, so it’s hard to tell what they’d do if they did. In the US right now, the major issue is that the mass media are owned by a handful of huge corporations, which carefully package the “news” to encourage the sorts of buying behavior they prefer (whether we’re talking blenders or Senators). As the target of the most powerful propaganda machine ever, popularly known as the Mighty Wurlitzer, much of the US public is not surprisingly overwhelmed.
Democracy, as some who publicly claim to champion it say, can be a messy business. For instance, after decades of being marginalized, the Palestinians elect a bunch of Hamas folks to replace the famously corrupt Fatah. There were stories in US news outlets about the money the US was providing for public-works projects and the like in the last couple of months before the election. Apparently that trick, an oldie but goodie here in the US, didn’t fool the Palestinians. In the end, the administration reverted to its old favorite, “I don’t think anyone ever imagined that …” exactly what happened was going to happen. So far, that has turned out to be a bald-faced lie every time.
Given the supine nature of a lot of the US editorial pages, how about this one?
While Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has said that the United States has no plans for permanent bases in Iraq, the Pentagon has spent $1 billion on base reconstruction in and around Iraq and Afghanistan and wants to spend $1 billion more.
Bush administration officials have refused to specifically rule out U.S. bases on Iraqi soil, although doing so might help quell the insurgency — or at least clarify our intentions. That’s because we always intended to stay.
That’s Cynthia Tucker, editorial-page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writing in the Baltimore Sun. I’ve always liked Cynthia Tucker, by no means only because I agree with her most of the time.
What Ms. Tucker is saying corresponds with what Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, ret., said long ago in an LA Weekly interview I’ve plugged before. The lieutenant colonel points to the permanent bases as one of the three main reasons for the war.
Or, as Chalmers Johnson said, the reason they don’t have an exit plan is that they don’t plan to exit.
The point is that it’s easy for those of us who were right about the war to grow frustrated with the inability of those who were wrong to admit it. Iraq, it’s true, is not Vietnam; the time scale, among other things, is different. But in Vietnam days, dissent grew slowly for several years, during which many of the dissenters found it hard to believe they’d ever see success. Then critical mass was reached and success soon followed. On a different time scale, I expect a somewhat similar process is taking place nowadays.
In other words, keep the faith, brothers and sisters. The war machine is creaking.