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"An engaging book that helps explain how the myth-making machine works." (The Texas Observer, July 8, 2005)
"Brutally persuasive...a must-read for those who would like greater context with their bitter morning coffee, or to arm themselves for the debates about Iraq that are still to come." (Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2005)
News outlets may feature arguments about the wisdom of going to war in a particular place at a specific time, but these are usually differences over tactics and priorities. While the administration's upper echelons might be fiercely criticized as ideologues, bunglers, myopic policy wonks, or dissembling politicians, the media assumption largely remains that Washington has laudable motivations. Unlike certain countries that object to U.S. military actions, Uncle Sam does not march to the beat of crass ulterior motives, or so the conventional wisdom goes; the grave matters of foreign policy and war are not mainly about American self-interest, much less about corporate interests. While there are enormous geopolitical advantages to be gained and massive profits to be made as consequences of exercising Pentagon muscle, the media discourse customarily excludes drawing attention to such dynamics as major factors in deployment of the country's armed forces.
The nation's biggest newsmagazine closed 1999 with a forward-looking headline on its back page: "A Second American Century?" Providing some answers was Time columnist Charles Krauthammer. "The world at the turn of the 21st century is not multipolar but unipolar," he wrote. "America bestrides the world like a colossus." Readers were encouraged to perceive that as a very good situation. "The main reason for the absence of a serious challenge to American hegemony is that it is so benign," Krauthammer went on. "It does not extract tribute. It does not seek military occupation. It is not interested in acquiring territory." Krauthammer certainly recognized that foreign rivals were restless. ("The world is stirring.") Yet the outlook was favorable: "None have the power to challenge America now. The unipolar moment will surely last for at least a generation."
Many other media outlets were also buoyant. "There's every reason to think the upcoming 100 years will prove to be yet another American century," according to Fortune magazine. On 1999's last telecast of the CBS program Sunday Morning, a confident pronouncement came from Harold Evans, editor of U.S. News & World Report as well as the New York Daily News: "I would be prepared to say it will be another American century." The preparations were far more than just rhetorical. In 1997 some prominent superhawks-including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz-had founded an organization they chose to call the Project for a New American Century. The subsequent foreign policy of President George W. Bush proved to be a global breakthrough for the project.
While assertions of American benevolence have been never-ending, the first years of the twenty-first century brought some variations in the mantra depicting the U.S. government as beloved the world over (except for some malcontents). One of the punditocracy's leading hawks with intellectual plumage, Charles Krauthammer, reiterated in late spring 2001: "We run a uniquely benign imperium. This is not mere self-congratulation; it is a fact manifest in the way others welcome our power." But the results of global surveys rendered such claims increasingly laughable. A year after the invasion of Iraq, "discontent with America and its policies has intensified rather than diminished," said an international study released in March 2004 by the Pew Research Center, which reported that "perceptions of American unilateralism remain widespread in European and Muslim nations, and the war in Iraq has undermined America's credibility abroad." The very war that had been promoted, in part, as necessary for maintaining American "credibility" was, in fact, severely damaging it.
But belief in the capacity of U.S. military might to bring salvation to benighted portions of the world was a type of patriotic faith-so intense and so deeply held that it could be understood as a form of religiosity. To its adherents, the doubters were the rough political equivalents of heathens, no matter how much the ranks of the unfaithful continued to swell. Extreme gaps in perceptions between people in the United States and the rest of the world were markers for the ease with which the American public was apt to accept rationales for going to war that were widely rejected elsewhere on the planet. Gauging attitudes in the United States and three historically allied nations (Britain, France, and Germany) as well as in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey, the study by the Pew Research Center found "there is broad agreement in nearly all of the countries surveyed-the U.S. being a notable exception-that the war in Iraq hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism." The disparities of outlooks foreshadowed any number of scenarios when the United States, with its window on the world tinted red-white-and-blue, could engage in warfare that the vast majority of the world renounced.
In American media and political arenas, it is routine to ascribe lofty motivations to U.S. foreign policy, a mind-set that tends to limit outcries even when White House policies are undergoing harsh criticism. In contrast, the Pew research findings were clear: "Publics in the surveyed countries other than the United States express considerable skepticism of America's motives in its global struggle against terrorism. Solid majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate the world. People in Muslim nations who doubt the sincerity of American anti-terror efforts see a wider range of ulterior motives, including helping Israel and targeting unfriendly Muslim governments and groups."
But to a pundit like Krauthammer, the sincerity of American power is inherent and necessarily unapologetic. Four months after George W. Bush became president, Krauthammer's lengthy essay "The Bush Doctrine" had been effusive in the Weekly Standard: "Today, the United States remains the preeminent economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural power on a scale not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire.... At the dawn of the 21st century, the task of the new administration is to develop a military and foreign policy appropriate to our position of overwhelming dominance.... By position and nature, we are essentially a status quo power. We have no particular desire to remake human nature, to conquer for the extraction of natural resources, or to rule for the simple pleasure of domination. We could not wait to get out of Haiti, and we would get out of Kosovo and Bosnia today if we could. Our principal aim is to maintain the stability and relative tranquility of the current international system by enforcing, maintaining, and extending the current peace." Celebrating such a pose of simultaneous humility and grandeur, Krauthammer rejoiced that the George W. Bush administration had embraced "the premise that overwhelming American power is good not just for the United States but for the world."
Tactical setbacks and propaganda disasters can be jarring, but the assurances of moral virtue and military capability seem to carry the day. Whatever the question or circumstance, American power remains the potential answer-sometimes utilized, sometimes withheld, always an option. War scenarios can get swift traction on a track paved with the assumption that "overwhelming American power is good not just for the United States but for the world." And this kind of feel-good talk about an American empire is hardly peculiar to neo-conservative pundits. Many other commentators with big media megaphones, across a mainstream political spectrum, took it up during the first few years of the twenty-first century.
A frequent writer for the New York Times Magazine, Michael Ignatieff at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, had this to say in its first edition of 2003: "America's empire is not like empires of times past, built on colonies, conquest and the white man's burden. We are no longer in the era of the United Fruit Company, when American corporations needed the Marines to secure their investments overseas. The 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known. It is the imperialism of a people who remember that their country secured its independence by revolt against an empire, and who like to think of themselves as the friend of freedom everywhere. It is an empire without consciousness of itself as such, constantly shocked that its good intentions arouse resentment abroad."
How pleasant and appealing this "empire lite" is apt to sound, with the lilts of "free markets, human rights and democracy," so that any wars involved are very likely to merit full support! Commenting on Ignatieff's assertion, the historian Howard Zinn wrote: "Only someone blind to the history of the United States, its obsessive drive for control of oil, its endless expansion of military bases around the world, its domination of other countries through its enormous economic power, its violations of the human rights of millions of people, whether directly or through proxy governments, could make that statement."
* * *
While striving to portray a foreign regime as an unambiguous source of evil, the president insists that our side is close to saintly. The White House usually has good reason to be satisfied that U.S. media coverage does not dwell on information running counter to such neat divisions of labor. So, when there's news that American spying operations have undermined possibilities for peace, the shelf life of the story is apt to be fleeting.
During 1998, Clinton administration officials and U.S. news media kept insisting that the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq weren't spies and had to be given full access to all sites in the country. For several nights in December 1998, the United States and Britain fired hundreds of cruise missiles at Iraq-with the rationale that the regime in Baghdad hadn't cooperated enough with the inspectors.
Weeks later, the news broke that some of those inspectors had been conducting espionage. "U.S. Spied on Iraq Under U.N. Cover, Officials Now Say," a front-page New York Times headline announced on January 7, 1999. The article was unequivocal: "United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors ferreting out secret Iraqi weapons programs.... By being part of the team, the Americans gained a firsthand knowledge of the investigation and a protected presence inside Baghdad." A follow-up Times story pointed out: "Reports that the United States used the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq as cover for spying on Saddam Hussein are dimming any chances that the inspection system will survive."
A brief flurry of critical analysis occurred in a few media outlets. "That American spies have operations in Iraq should be no surprise," a Hartford Courant editorial said on January 10. "That the spies are using the United Nations as a cover is deplorable." While noting "Saddam Hussein's numerous complaints that U.N. inspection teams included American spies were apparently not imaginary," the newspaper mentioned that the espionage operatives "planted eavesdropping devices in hopes of monitoring forces that guarded Mr. Hussein as well as searching for hidden arms stockpiles." But such concerns quickly evaporated in U.S. news media, with the Washington press corps engaged in selective attention deficit disorder.
Fast forward: The media buildup for an invasion of Iraq benefited from routine omissions of facts about the use of the U.N. inspection teams for espionage. Such information, forthrightly presented, would have been relevant in news reports during 2002 and early 2003 to explain some of the earlier tensions as well as some current Iraqi concerns. The virtual disappearance of the early 1999 story about U.S. spying via the U.N. inspections made it easy for President Bush to slip this righteous line into his March 17, 2003, speech just before the invasion: "Over the years, U.N. weapons inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials, electronically bugged and systematically deceived."
Journalists working for the London-based Observer revealed other threads of a spying tapestry that showed the U.S. government to be persistently engaged in espionage to smooth the way for war. In early March 2003, a few days after that British newspaper revealed a secret memo about U.S. spying on U.N. Security Council delegations, I asked Daniel Ellsberg to assess the importance of the story. "This leak," he replied, "is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers." The key word was "timely." Publication of the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, made possible by Ellsberg's heroic decision to leak those documents, came after the Vietnam War had been under way for many years. But with an invasion of Iraq still in the future, the leak about spying at the United Nations might erode the Bush administration's already slim chances of getting a war resolution through the Security Council.
"As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq," the Observer had reported on March 2, 2003, the U.S. government developed an "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of U.N. delegates." The smoking gun was "a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency-the U.S. body which intercepts communications around the world-and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency." The Observer added: "The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the U.N. headquarters in New York-the so-called 'Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the U.S. and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for U.N. inspections, led by France, China and Russia."
The NSA memo, dated January 31, 2003, outlined the wide scope of the surveillance activities, seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council-"the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises." The Times of London, noting that the Bush administration "finds itself isolated" in its zeal for war on Iraq, called the leak of the memo an "embarrassing disclosure." And the embarrassment was nearly worldwide. From Russia to France to Chile to Japan to Australia, the story was big mainstream news. But not in the United States.
Several days after the "embarrassing disclosure," not a word about it had appeared in America's supposed paper of record. The New York Times-the single most influential news outlet in the United States-still had not printed anything about the story. How could that be? "Well, it's not that we haven't been interested," Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale said on the evening of March 5, nearly ninety-six hours after the Observer broke the story. But "we could get no confirmation or comment" on the memo from U.S. officials. Smale told me: "We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting." Whatever the rationale, the New York Times opted not to cover the story at all. And the sparse U.S. coverage that did take place mostly downplayed the significance of the Observer's revelations.
Excerpted from War Made Easy by Norman Solomon Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1. America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower.
2. Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War.
3. Our Leaders Would Never Tell Us Outright Lies.
4. This Guy Is a Modern-Day Hitler.
5. This Is about Human Rights.
6. This Is Not at All about Oil or Corporate Profits.
7. They Are the Aggressors, Not Us.
8. If This War Is Wrong, Congress Will Stop It.
9. If This War Is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us.
10. Media Coverage Brings War Into Our Living Rooms.
11. Opposing the War Means Siding with the Enemy.
12. This Is a Necessary Battle in the War on Terrorism.
13. What the U.S. Government Needs Most Is Better PR.
14. The Pentagon Fights Wars as Humanely as Possible.
15. Our Soldiers Are Heroes, Theirs Are Inhuman.
16. America Needs the Resolve to Kick the "Vietnam Syndrome."
17. Withdrawal Would Cripple U.S. Credibility.
Posted August 5, 2005
This book opens with a disturbing prologue. The U.S. media has refused to give serious coverage to the Downing Street Memos on the grounds that they are 'old news.' In the initial pages of his book, and supplemented by the rest, Solomon makes a case that both outdoes and undoes that claim. Solomon outdoes the 'old news' claim by providing evidence that the Bush Administration's campaign to take the country to war in Iraq on the basis of lies was remarkably similar to President Lyndon Johnson's use of the media when he wanted to attack the Dominican Republic and Reagan's when he was inclined to invade Grenada, not to mention Bush the First's when Panama was his chosen victim. In fact, Solomon draws disturbing parallels to Johnson and Nixon's lies about Vietnam, Reagan's about Libya and Lebanon, Bush the First's about the First Gulf War and about Haiti, Clinton's about Haiti, Yugoslavia, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and Bush Jr.'s all too recent lies about Afghanistan. There just doesn't seem to be anything new about a president taking this country to war on the basis of laughably bad lies that anyone who was paying attention never fell for. Solomon undoes the 'old news' claim by documenting how hard the media has always made it for people to be paying proper attention. Not only are the Downing Street Memos not old news to most American media consumers, who've never been told what's in them, but the facts about many past wars are still not known to much of the country. The Washington Post has never apologized for or retracted the Jessica Lynch fictionalization, but that itself is nothing new. Solomon writes: 'In July 1998 I asked a number of Washington Post staffers whether the newspaper ever retracted its Gulf of Tonkin reporting. Finally, the trail led to someone with a definitive answer. 'I can assure you that there was never any retraction,' said Murrey Marder, a reporter who wrote much of the Washington Post's political coverage of Tonkin Gulf events in August 1964. He added: 'If you were making a retraction, you'd have to make a retraction of virtually everyone's entire coverage of the Vietnam War.'' The Washington Post further distinguishes itself in Solomon's account of past media coverage of wars with this opinion it published when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the Vietnam War: 'King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.' Damn liberal media! Of course, many of the facts that Solomon employs in his critique of the media's role as megaphone for presidential warmongering falsehoods come from the media. But they come from passing stories in lower paragraphs on back pages, not from endlessly repeated headlines and sound bites. Solomon does not present a lot of new information in his book, but by gathering together key facts from extensive research he performs the reporting that he criticizes the media for failing to have done. A good analogy for much of the U.S. media's coverage of war, I think, is the coverage Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, gave to Columbus in a text book critiqued by Howard Zinn in the opening pages of 'A People's History of the United States.' Zinn writes: 'One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide. 'But he does something else ¿ he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it's not that important ¿ it should way very little in our fin
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