Today Glenn Greenwald blogged about “the very sudden, and virtually complete, disappearance of the war in Iraq from the media radar.”
That country is literally falling apart, engulfed by what even war proponents are acknowledging increasingly appears to be an inevitable civil war and growing anarchy. And yet for the last week, Iraq was barely discussed, save for a completely inconsequential gossipy sideshow about whether the Democrats did something which the Republicans would never, ever do — namely, exploit a national security matter (Prime Minister Maliki’s condemnation of Israel) for political gain.
In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich also writes about the “disappearance” of Iraq. But Rich documents that Iraq has been fading for a while.
On the Big Three networksâ€™ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. …
… The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isnâ€™t happenstance. Itâ€™s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. â€œIt is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,â€ said Fox Newsâ€™s Bill Oâ€™Reilly on July 18. â€œI mean, itâ€™s summertime.â€ Americans donâ€™t like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.
The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we donâ€™t know what we â€” or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops â€” are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. Itâ€™s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.
Earlier this week I linked to this Michael Hirsh column in which Hirsh discusses the new book Fiasco by Thomas Rick —
Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age menâ€”actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.
As most U.S. military experts now acknowledge, these tactics violated the most basic principles of counterinsurgency, which require winning over the local population, thus depriving the bad guys of a base of support within which to hide. Such rules were apparently unknown to the 4th ID commander, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno. The general is a particular and deserving target of Ricks’s book, which is perhaps the most exhaustive account to date of all that went wrong with Iraq. Nonethelessâ€”according to that iron law of the Bush administration under which incompetence is rewarded with promotion, as long as it is accompanied by loyaltyâ€”Odierno will soon be returning to Iraq as America’s No. 2 commander there, the man who will oversee day-to-day military operations. (Odierno, asked by Ricks to respond to criticism, replied that he had studied the insurgency and “adapted quickly.”)
Frank Rich brings up Fiasco also —
The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized by Mr. Rumsfeldâ€™s â€œstuff happensâ€ response to the looting of Baghdad at the dawn of the American occupation. In â€œFiasco,â€ his stunning new book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Postâ€™s senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning of that pivotal moment perfectly: â€œThe message sent to Iraqis was far more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S. government didnâ€™t care â€” or, even more troubling for the future security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting effectively.â€
As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didnâ€™t care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. â€œThereâ€™s some little part of my brain that simply doesnâ€™t understand how the most powerful country on earth just canâ€™t get electricity back in Baghdad,â€ said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.
Hey, we’re having trouble keeping electricity turned on in the U.S.
Rich goes on to say that the simple answer to the question of why “the mission” in Iraq was such a failure is that the Bush Administration didn’t care enough about Iraq or Iraqis to get the job right. And although I’m sure that’s true, it begs the question — why didn’t they care? We’ve heard time and time again that Bush “rolled the dice” and “gambled his presidency” on Iraq. You’d think he would have been at least mildly interested.
I think the more essential reason for the Bush Administration’s failure is that the Bushies were never clear in their own minds what the mission — and the motivation for invading Iraq — really was. We know that eliminating Saddam Hussein’s fictitious WMDs was not the real reason for the invasion. Converting Iraq to a pro-western democracy was the neocons’ reason, but if the Bushies had been serious about nation building in Iraq you’d think they would have planned some nation-building activities for the “postwar” period. Instead, they seem to have believed that deposing Saddam Hussein would all by itself cause democracy to root and bloom like dandelions in June.
In 2003 and a large part of 2004 the Bushies dragged their feet on even planning for a sovereign and democratic Iraq, as if they had all the time in the world. They dragged their feet even as what little opportunity they might have had to accomplish something was slipping away. You’d think that if establishing a new Iraq was a priority for the Bush Administration, then the White House would have been energized and focused on the project. But, clearly, it never was. What’s left? Oil, of course, and contracts for Halliburton. But I suspect there are other, more primal, motivations in the murky depths of the Bushie collective psyche. Bottom line, the Bushies invaded Iraq because they wanted to invade Iraq. But I don’t think they are self-reflective enough to understand themselves where that desire was coming from. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
So now we’re over there with no objectives, no plans, no hope, and it’s not on television because it’s such a bummer.
Glenn Greenwald points out that even Joe Lieberman wants to “move on.”
Via Atrios, it seems that Lieberman himself yesterday “suggested that he wanted to move the debate away from the war. ‘Weâ€™re going to try hard to focus this back on the issues that I think really are ultimately more important to the future of families in Connecticut: jobs, health care, education,'” he said.
Somehow, the war went from having “enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world” to being something that isn’t really all that important to talk about.
Frank Rich concludes, “That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdadâ€™s civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic.” It’s a horrible mess that makes no sense and has no possibility for a good ending. Who wants to watch that?
Once upon a time news stories from Vietnam were broadcast on television every night, whether we wanted to watch them or not. But in those days, news was news. Now, news is entertainment. The Iraq War just isn’t entertaining. Maybe it could be re-packaged as a reality show.