Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Bush Administration's War of the Images

by Tom Engelhardt

"If this is, in any sense, a turning-point moment, then it's important to take another look at aspects of the war on the home front that this administration has fought so relentlessly these last years and is now losing – the first being its image wars in regard to Iraq and the second, the numbers games it's played when it came to deaths in that country.

So we're now at the make-or-break moment. Here's Kenneth Pollack, former CIA official and a leading proponent of toppling Saddam: "My real fear is that we've already passed the make-or-break point and just don't realize it. Historians in five or 10 years may look back and say 2006 was the year we lost Iraq. That's my nightmare." Another right-winger, John Hawkins, in urging conservatives not to desert the president on foreign policy, writes: "2007 will be the make-or-break year in Iraq."

Given that we've been breaking things in Iraq for some years now, this isn't the first time the image of breaking has arisen. Most famously, even before the 2003 invasion, there was Colin Powell's warning to the president that came to be known as "the Pottery Barn rule": "If you break it, you own it." As it turned out, it wasn't true – neither of the Pottery Barn, nor of Iraq.

In fact, there's no evidence whatsoever that Iraqis "tolerate" levels of violence that would horrify any society. For most Iraqis, life under such conditions is obviously hell on Earth. It's our president who "tolerates" such levels of violence in the pursuit of his policies, so perhaps he should simply applaud himself.

The fact is that the Lancet figures have largely been avoided because most Americans, including most reporters, can't entertain the possibility that our country might actually be responsible for a situation in which almost 400,000, or around 655,000, or possibly 900,000+ "excess" Iraqis have died.

The Vietnam analogy, never far from American consciousness, has been back in the press recently, but here's an apt Vietnam quote that seldom seems to rise to memory any more. Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, offered the following explanation for similarly staggering Vietnamese body counts (an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died in that country's French and American wars): "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

It's hard to avoid the thought that a similar attitude toward Iraqi lives and deaths is at work in our government and in the media."

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