Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable

Summary: A sad aspect of our War on Terror (AKA the long mad war) is how it repeats lessons not learned from the Vietnam War.  Here’s an example from today’s news.

Tom Engelhardt’s TomDispatch always goes to the top of my reading pile.  Tom publishes long, complex articles which compare to the average blog post like the Lincoln-Douglas debates to our Presidential pretend-jousts.  Today he pens another classic:  “Petraeus, Falling Upwards — The Petraeus Story“.  Excerpt:

You simply can’t pile up enough adjectives when it comes to the general, who, at a relatively young age, was already a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007. His record is stellar. His tactical sense extraordinary. His strategic ability, when it comes to mounting a campaign, beyond compare.

I’m speaking, of course, of General David Petraeus, the President’s surge commander in Iraq and, as of last week, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) for all of the Middle East and beyond… And the campaign I have in mind has been his years’ long wooing and winning of the American media, in the process of which he sold himself as a true American hero, a Caesar of celebrity.

… This, after all, is the man who, in the summer of 2004, as a mere three-star general being sent back to Baghdad to train the Iraqi army, made Newsweek’s cover under the caption, “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (The article’s subtitle — with the “yes” practically etched into it — read: “Mission Impossible? David Petraeus Is Tasked with Rebuilding Iraq’s Security Forces. An Up-close Look at the Only Real Exit Plan the United States Has — the Man Himself”).

It gets better, and is worth reading in full.  The over the top gushing about General Petraeus mocks the journalism profession’s ideals — especially in light of increasing evidence of the mainstream media’s cooperation with our government’s information operations against the American people.  (some links appear below).  Note:  this post discusses the media, not the General.

Reading General Petraeus’ reviews evoke memories of similar media fawning over that warrior-statesman,  General and Ambassador, Maxwell Taylor (who in fact had a long and stellar record of military accomplishment up to Vietnam).   Also similar were the euphoric descriptions of Generals Westmoreland and Abrams, each in their different ways Hollywood-perfect pictures of the modern major general.

It is only America’s amnesia that makes current events bearable.  Otherwise reading the morning paper, viewing the evening news, would be exercises in frustration.  So that future generations will not consider us all to have been delusional, there has fortunately been some analysis of this phenomenon.

‘Failing Up’ in the Iraq War“, Robert Parry  (19 March 2005) — Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, and is the author of Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq (2005) and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ (1999).  Excerpt:

Indeed, possibly the most troubling commentary on today’s U.S. political/media system is that screwing up on the Iraq War has become almost a rite of passage to better jobs and higher honors. It’s as if the elite circles of Washington have come to operate by the rules of George W. Bush’s business career: as long as you stick with the in-crowd, you fail up.

… particular, the influential Washington Post opinion section is still run by Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt and features the same tough-talking neoconservatives and mealy-mouthed centrists – from Charles Krauthammer to David Ignatius to Richard Cohen – who did more cheerleading than fact-checking on Iraq before the war. They now hail Bush’s wisdom at every sign of Middle East progress, no matter how fragile or unrelated to Iraq.

… For his part, Friedman was a longtime advocate of attacking Iraq, summing up his advice in 2001 with the clever motto, “give war a chance.”  Four years later, assessing the consequences of his cavalier recommendation, he admitted that the war hadn’t turned out as he had expected. 

… By contrast, those who were right in their skepticism not only were punished in 2002-2003 but remain either marginal or disdained figures to this day.

As the war clouds built two years ago, remember how MSNBC fired invasion critic Phil Donahue to better position the network for a pro-war ratings boost; how radio and TV chat shows regularly accused WMD-skeptic Scott Ritter of treason; how France and Germany were mocked as the “axis of weasels” for seeking more time for U.N. weapons inspectors; how Bush supporters drove trucks over Dixie Chicks CDs because one of the singers dared to criticize the commander-in-chief; how Iraq War critics were accused of “hating America” and worse.

Given Washington’s up-is-down rewards-and-punishment system, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that the diversity of opinion is at least as narrow today as it was in those heady pre-war days.  Both then and now, the Washington “winners” have been those who got the facts about the Iraq War wrong, while the “losers” were those who correctly assessed the dangers and recognized the factual holes in Bush’s case.

But by far, the biggest losers have been the American soldiers who were sent to fight and die for the perverse logic of a dysfunctional Establishment – along with the people of Iraq who have suffered tens of thousands of deaths and the devastation of neighborhoods and even entire cities.

As Washington’s politicians and pundits continue to avoid accountability and refuse to think creatively about a possible shift in policy, both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians can look forward to many more months – and possibly years – of bloodshed and disorder.

The ongoing exclusion of war opponents from the Iraq debate“, Glenn Greenwald (25 March 2008)

… 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 — i.e., 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.

…  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.

… 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.

Other article on this topic

  1. Getting It Right on Iraq“, Greg Mitchell, posted at TomDispatch (18 March 2008) — Recognizing those journalists who “got it right” about the Iraq war.
  2. Fast and Loose With the Facts“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent  (28 March 2008) — “How Two Leading Journalists Played the Public to Help Bush Sell His War”
  3. Hidden Hand follow up“, Matt Armstrong, posted at MountainRunner (23 April 2008)

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these:


4 thoughts on “Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable”

  1. While from an ethical, economic, rational, and social point of view, the points you cite are distressing, from an analytic point of view they actually are helpful from a semantic viewpoint.

    The above cited materials help us to define what constitutes “victory” in Iraq.

    “Victory,” with respect to Iraq is the continued ranking of the cited “in-crowd” at its current top-dog status.

    Factors such as the military condition in Iraq; events in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and such; the actual security of the American people; the state of the economy; the readiness of the military; and other such stuff are germane only if and to the extent that they might actually degrade the in-crowd’s status. Otherwise, they are irrelevant.

    This is a war to maintain the domestic status quo; not to achieve anything abroad.

  2. The war has much to do with American politics, little to do with geopolitics

    Pentagon Pundit Scandal Broke the Law, Penter for Media and Democracy (28 April 2008) — Excerpt:

    “If the U.S. Congress had the will to take action, it could create real mechanisms for enforcing the law and ensuring compliance.”

    Our representatives sit on their hands and watch the loose cannons roll by. Being old enough to remember what happened last time is often depresssig. I suppose every generation must make it’s own mistakes. Watching them reinvent the wheel is amusing, but not when it is a square wheel. Where is today’s Leon Jaworski?

  3. And this, takes the cake !

    Is there no end of pepole within the US military leadership ranks
    willing to step up and lie, lie again, and line some more ?!

    Higher US Iraq toll not due to eroded security: general Wed Apr 30, 6:11 PM ET

    “WASHINGTON (AFP) – The jump in April in US soldier deaths in Iraq — at 49 the highest monthly toll since September 2007 — does not reflect deteriorated security in the country, a senior US military official said Wednesday.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: