Friday, February 20, 2015

The lies and silences necessary to sell (further) war

At Foreign Policy, Ali Khedery contributes a major essay which includes:

But after countless visits to Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed Medical Center, nothing upsets me more than the fact that thousands of American soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, and contractors are now enabling and emboldening a government in Baghdad that is simply beyond redemption.
It took the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, for Western elites to finally begin to understand what many of us saw firsthand in the years since 2003: 
The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern what could be one of the world’s most prosperous nations. Washington’s response to the Islamic State’s (IS) advance, however, has been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are “allies” that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself.

The piece couldn't have been published at a more appropriate time considering Iraqi forces in Baghdad twice attacked the press this week.

From yesterday's snapshot:

Iraqis may recoil at the actions of the Islamic State but they're not pushed into the arms of their government -- no, not when their government is beating up journalists.
Wednesday saw a reporter and photographer for the Sumerian Channel severely beaten and a number of other journalists were harmed -- they were attacked by security forces in Baghdad who were insisting upon seeing their cell phones.  Al Arabiya News reports:

Several journalists were beaten on Wednesday during a press conference with senior government officials held at the Al-Nahrain Strategic Studies Center in Baghdad, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
Al Arabiya’s correspondent in Baghdad said the journalists were assaulted by the body guards of National Security Advisor Faleh Al Fayad when some of them demanded more time to film the event, which was also attended by Interior Minister Mohammed Ghabban and Iraq's Military Spokesman Saad Maan.

Alsumaria notes that today another group of journalists were attacked when they openly protested yesterday's attack.  They were attacked by Iraqi forces.  Today's attack took place in Baghdad's Tahrir Square and left several reporters beaten including an Al-Fayhaa photographer.
It's such a public nightmare that even Iraq's laughable Ministry of Human Rights has had to issue a statement decrying the attack.  All Iraq News notes National Alliance MP Hamdiya al-Husseiny has denounced the attacks.  Alsumaria notes that Diyala Province Governor Amer Nostra is demanding that those responsible for the attacks be punished.  Meanwhile the Observatory for Journalistic Freedoms is stating that an apology will not suffice and will not be accepted, that the attack is an attack on basic rights and an apology will accomplish nothing.
All Iraq News reports Speaker of Parliament Saleem al-Jubouri has declared that legal actions will be taken against those who attacked the journalists. While journalists attached to the United Nations in Geneva are calling for an investigation into the "criminal" attacks.
So how many billion has the US taxpayer forked over for the training of Iraqi forces?
Back in January, Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reported on US training efforts and observed, "Years after the U.S. military tried to create a new army in Iraq -- at a cost of over $25 billion -- American trainers have returned to help rebuild the country’s fighting force."
So they can kill journalists more quickly?
Why are US tax dollars being used to provide training and weapons to forces who openly and publicly attack the press?

At a time when US forces are being deployed to Iraq and billions of US tax dollars are again flooding into Iraq, it is past time to question what has been accomplished and demand that Barack Obama clearly define goals and benchmarks for any further action he's requesting.

An honest discussion about that would require honesty about Iraq.  It's a conversation the press has avoided throughout Barack Obama's presidency.  For example, this very basic observation Khedery offers will shock some because the US press has avoided it:

In its eagerness to withdraw from Iraq, the Obama administration also undermined the country’s central democratic institutions. After preaching the virtues of democracy around the world, Obama chose to bypass the secular, Western-leaning winner of Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary elections, Ayad Allawi, in favor of the runner-up, Nouri al-Maliki. Ignoring Maliki’s sectarian and autocratic tendencies, the White House then repeatedly lobbied Congress to expedite sales of advanced American military equipment, including F-16 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, and Hellfire missiles — even as the Iranian-allied strongman unleashed a reign of terror and purged his political enemies with less sophisticated American weapons systems.

From time to time, a few would step forward and tell the truth.  Michael Gordon, media star and NYT reporter, found out that cheerleading an Iraq War (as he did) did not get you pulled from media programs but telling the truth about Barack's 2010 actions did.  Even longtime chatter Charlie Rose didn't want to sit across the table from Gordo after Gordon and Bernard Trainor's Endgame was published.

As Ava and I explained in September 2012:

Gordon's appeared multiple times on The NewsHour.  Strangely, he wasn't booked for the segment on foreign policy last week.
Why would that be?
If you're wondering, he's not suddenly press shy.  To the contrary, he has a new book to sell, one he co-wrote with Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. The book came out Tuesday.
Generally, that means you can expect to see and hear Gordon all over PBS and NPR. Strangely, that has not been the case.  No NPR coverage last week of the book.  No come on The NewsHour for a discussion.  Frontline loved to have him on in the past but now now.  Charlie Rose?  He has appeared 12 times in the last ten years on Rose's PBS and Coca Cola program.  But he was no where to be found last week.
Did Gordon show up at the PBS office party loaded on booze with little Gordon hanging out of his fly?
No, he did something far worse than that.
He dared to criticize Barack -- the ultimate media faux pas.  From  John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

And that, boys and girls, is how you get vanished by PBS and NPR.

Barack's useless summit has concluded and did so with little attention to Iraq's real problems.  The Islamic State is more of symptom than an actual problem.  If the White House had spent the last month addressing diplomacy, the Islamic State would have lost their footing in Iraq.

Instead, the White House continues to look the other way.

As Mohamad Bazzi (Reuters) points out:

If Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has any hope of repairing relations with Sunnis and persuading them to turn against militants of Islamic State, he must rein in the Shi’ite militias that are increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the Sunni jihadists — and in the process further alienating the Sunni community by committing new atrocities.

But that's another truth that the White House doesn't want to acknowledge.

Selling war requires a lot of lies.  True in 2003, true today.

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