Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Iraqi Invasion, The French Warning and Fox News

by Nomad

As the Republic of Iraq faces its first existential crisis since the evacuation of American troops, it is important to take a look back to the time before the invasion, to the days before the crossing of the Iraqi Rubicon.
The events of this week shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has a memory. After all, the French warned us that this would probably happen.  

With Iraq is such a mess, and Republican conservatives attempting to blame the Obama administration, it is a good time to review things. Let's go back to the months before the invasion of Iraq. The US worked hard to get the UN on board to approve of military action, to sanction the use of force. US troops had already been deployed and were waiting in the Saudi Arabian desert for the "thumbs up" sign. 

But that is when France and, to a lesser extent, Germany, threw a monkey wrench into what had seemed to be a solid coalition of the West. Colin Powell had pulled out all stops to convince the members, with diagrams of mobile chemical weapons factories and even holding up a fake bottle of anthrax.
This form of persuasion, (scare tactics, some said at the time), did not have the desired effects. 

The French ambassador to the UN at the time, Dominique de Villepin, gave his famous speech, in which he told the UN that while nobody was ruling out the use of military action, the inspections and the use of crippling sanctions on Saddam's government should be allowed to continue. Hans Blix, the UN chief inspector, had so far found no chemical weapons and should be allowed to continue the systematic search.

In a calm and cool delivery, he proposed regular meetings of the security council to review the progress. Here is an excerpt of that speech.

In that 14 February 2003 speech, he warns what that any direct military intervention would naturally also involve a difficult peace. It could, he pointed, out also lead to greater instability and provide a suitable environment for the spread of terrorist groups in that region.

Naturally the Bush administration was shaken by this formidable challenge to the Anglo-American war plan for Iraq. Without UN approval, the invasion of Iraq- even with a coalition, could be considered an aggressive and illegal action.

According to a January 2003 poll, a month prior to the French statement, 64% of Americans had approved of military action against Iraq; however, most importantly, 63% wanted Bush to find a diplomatic solution rather than go to war, and 62% believed the threat of terrorism directed against the U.S. would increase due to war. This was nearly precisely what the French had been saying. 

It seemed for a moment that the whole thing was unraveling and that, as many outsiders said, common sense would prevail.
According to the French academic Dominique ReyniƩ, between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war.
Even inside the US, there were rallies in protest. Those protestors were largely ignored by the media. Any famous names, like Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, faced ridicule and threats. Even in Hollywood, once the bastion of liberal conscience, Michael Moore was met with frowns for his anti-war opinions.

In the run-up to the war, Phil Donahue had been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's policy. And for speaking out, Donahue paid the price. Documents prove that MSNBC decided to fire the legendary television host because he was a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” and provided “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
One by one, the voices of restraint were drowned out by the calls for action now.

Winning The Hearts and Minds 
The public relations offensive by the Bush administration was assisted in large part by the news media. The overall message was simple: America was a superpower and as such,  did not have to listen to anybody, not the French, nor the Germans, the United Nations. It had one priority and that was to lead, not to follow.

The conservative Fox New network, in particular, began to air numerous interviews with retired military officials that confidently assured the American public that the Iraq war would be a short conflict and that the destruction inside the country would be minimal. It was, they said, less of a war than an international security action. Retired ambassadors, experts and congressmen all lined up to support the president's intention to invade. 
*   *   *
In addition to that, Fox News pundits like O'Reilly thoroughly castigated the French for not standing with the American and British.
Republican congressmen immediately created a campaign to boycott French products. The then Republican Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Bob Ney even demanded that french fries served in Congressional cafeterias be renamed "Freedom Fries."

Silly and childish in the extreme. But also frightening. Especially when you consider that these were the very people we entrusted to decide whether to go to war or not.

As if that were not embarrassing enough, the Democrats by and large, failed to launch any effective counter-offensive to the administration's selling of the war.
Invoking the phrase 9/11 was more than enough to silence most of the debate even though there was never any evidence that Saddam had anything to do with the September 11th attacks. (Even a former a U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Reagan administration Edward Peck, was quoted as saying, "Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, nothing to do with al Qaeda.") 

Here is an example of how Fox News misrepresented the French position and called into question the motives of those who search for the elusive (and imaginary) WMDs.

While Fox News was not alone in selling the unnecessary war with Iraq, it was the most effective.

The French, Americans were told, were merely obstructionists who were only looking out for their own oil contracts in Iraq. (Ironic, given the later no-bid contract arrangements of the Anglo-American post -war occupation.) 

The French President Responds
Eventually, the French Prime Minister agreed to an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Here's a small clip of that interview.

In the end, the helpful (in hindsight, extremely accurate) advice given to the US by the French president was ignored. Sadly, the disinformation campaign by the Bush administration was successful. 

On 19 March 2003, despite the objections of the UN, the Iraqi invasion began with an air strike on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad. 

The stated aim of the invasion was "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." Looking over those three goals, it's hard to call this campaign a triumph for the crusaders of liberty.

Years of False Dawns and Flames
Warhawks like John McCain- nearly every six months- assured the American public that the war was going well, things were definitely improving, and that a breakthrough in this campaign was definitely on the horizon. America had brought democracy to Iraq on that we could rest assured.
However, it was also apparent that it was also hard- even by conservative standards- to call the Iraqi occupation as a success. 
The occupation proved much more problematic than anybody in the Bush administration had suspected. It had only produced only a facade of democracy and required a costly long term, (indeed, a permanent) commitment. 

Today, despite so much talk, manipulation and spin, the situation inside the devastated Iraq is pretty much what the French predicted 11 years ago. 

In 2011, outspoken Ted Turner, the founder of CNN but sold Turner Broadcasting System to Time Warner in 1996, called the Iraq War "Murdoch's War and compared Rupert Murdoch to another media mogul with a penchant of political interference, William Randolph Hearst. Mr Turner said.
'Hearst used to like to boast that he started the Spanish-American War with his newspapers..It's not hard. All you have to do is fan the flames of hatred.'
Today and Yesterday
And that kind of flame-fanning continues as we speak. 
Yesterday, Fox News carried this news item.
Billions of U.S. dollars invested in training and equipping Iraq's security forces are in danger of going to waste as Iraqi soldiers abandon their posts in the face of Al Qaeda-aligned militants on a deadly march through the country's north -- not to mention the thousands of American lives lost in the nine-year war.
Republicans in Congress appeared to be absolutely stunned by this reversal. Who could have predicted it? Who, indeed.. besides the French, the Germans and the rest of the United Nations.

According to the same article.
"Given past U.S. sacrifices, it's devastating to see terrorist groups taking over large cities in Iraq and marching to Baghdad," Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
And not one trace of conscience is evident in this report.  Once again, military leaders were quick to explain the reasons to Fox News.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, Fox News military analyst and former Army vice chief of staff, said that several years ago, the army was "well-led and it was competent" -- but morale "began to systematically break down for the last three years" because of "ineffective leaders."
As any military leader worth his pay would tell you, armies can never be considered "well-led and competent" until faced with a crisis. That's what makes any war such a risky proposition.
But things, according to Keane, were okay until the last three years. Really? But which ineffective leader were they talking about? El-Maliki, the president of Iraq? 

The former top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, Mark Hertling blamed neglect by the Shiite-led government left Iraq in a precarious position and “squandered” the opportunity for real progress. 
He told reporters:
“While we were there, we were helping them train. We were protecting them.”
And as soon as the Americans withdrew, things in Iraq began to unravel and there was very little any American president could do about it. Except for remaining in the country forever.
“Holy smokes, I mean we were training them and operating with them ... and here it is three years later, and it’s a different military than we trained.”
Sectarianism, he says, played a large part in making this crisis.   
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government had failed to solidify gains made by the Americans and focused instead on installing Shiites into leadership positions and replacing good military commanders with those it considered allies. Al-Maliki asked parliament this week to declare a state of emergency that would give him increased powers to run the country, but on Thursday the lawmakers failed to assemble a quorum to do so.
He also blamed the civil war in neighboring Syria for emboldening the Sunni insurgents and sending many fighters across the border on both sides.Hertling defended his record saying. 
"I am not prepared to take all the blame for them taking off their uniforms and giving away their arms.”
Nor should he. There were plenty of reasons that this Bush administration regime change, nation-building idea was doomed to failure. 

As the French warned in 2003.
Would not such intervention be liable to exacerbate the divisions between societies, cultures and peoples, divisions that nurture terrorism?
Rather predictably Fox News article points the finger in another- more obvious- direction:
The Obama administration's apparent miscalculation of the threat posed by Al Qaeda-aligned militants in Iraq drew severe criticism Thursday from top Republican lawmakers, who accused President Obama and his national security team of "taking a nap," warning "the next 9/11 is in the making."
Those magic numbers that once served the conservatives so well in the past are used one more time.

Only the French and the Germans, it seems, can learn the vital lessons of history.
The Americans, under the sway of the free-flowing propaganda of Fox News and other corporate news networks, appear to be incapable of remembering what happened more than a decade in their past.