Iraq and the credibility chasm

During the Vietnam War, a famous phrase emerged: the credibility gap. It referred to the gap between what the government said about the war and what was actually going on.

Now, with the war in Iraq, we have a credibility chasm. There is almost no relationship between the Bush administration’s picture of events and the utterly devastated and bleeding landscape known as the country of Iraq.

Military efforts have created a river of spilled blood and human misery. And for no good reason. There is no persuasive justification for the war and, in truth, there never has been.

The American occupation troops in Iraq are one more military force among contending Sunni and Shia militias, death squads and mercenaries. We have gone from fighting a Sunni insurgency on behalf of a Shia government to fighting a Shia militia while arming and paying off Sunnis.

It is not in the national interest of the United States to remain embedded in this quagmire. Neither right nor reason require our continued presence. After the last five years, prompt withdrawal would be an act of sanity.

The late journalist I.F. Stone used to say that all governments lie. What is striking about the Iraq War is that the proof of this truism is readily available in the public domain. In April, The New York Times reported on the Bush Administration’s efforts to shape coverage inside the major TV and radio networks.

The Bush administration hired and paid military analysts to dupe the American public by presenting propaganda as independent military analysis. This systematic sales job began in 2002 and it continued until April 2008, when the Pentagon suspended the program after it was revealed. Internal Pentagon documents referred to the military analysts as “message force multipliers.” Even worse, many of these military analysts worked or lobbied for military contractors. None of this was disclosed to the public until the Times broke the story.

The Pentagon monitored the reporting of the hired military analysts. Reliable surrogates were rewarded. According to the Times, defense officials expected the surrogates to use their talking points. Those who displayed a degree of independence would receive critical phone calls from their Pentagon handlers moments after being on the air.

Considering the fact that this important story is public information, it is surprising how little coverage the story has received. The failure to report on this story is essentially a cover-up and a continuation of the shameful and cowardly behavior that led to this war being sold to the public.

Based on experience, we need to look at what the Bush administration does rather than what it says. There is no Bush exit strategy from Iraq. Contractors have built and are building five massive military super-bases. They are a giant ongoing construction project.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which is newly opened, has been described as “Vatican-sized.” It includes 21 blast-resistant buildings built on a 104 acre parcel. It is designed to run an ongoing military occupation. Price tag: over $730 million.

While little discussed, there is acute awareness in administration circles that Iraq sits atop a vast reservoir of oil. In speculating about reasons the U.S. government would continue this venture, oil must be at the top of the list. No less than Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chief, wrote in 2007, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq War is largely about oil.”

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the war is costing American taxpayers $2 trillion. Stiglitz believes the cost will reach $3 trillion. It must be remembered that the Bush Administration predicted at the start of the war that the war would be self-financing. They said it would cost $2 billion total to rebuild Iraq.

The Iraq War is an epic disaster on a scale unrivalled in American history. Being spectacularly wrong across the board is the defining quality of the Bush administration. They were wrong about weapons of mass destruction, the Al Quaeda-Iraq connection, the number of likely casualties, how our troops would be greeted and how long the war would last. Not to mention so many other things.

Nir Rosen, a well-informed writer about the Middle East, has written, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the 13th century. Only fools talk of ‘solutions’ now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”

Persisting on a failed course is tragic and stupid.

Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is a lawyer at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Categories: Opinion