To hear the mainstream media, the most pressing issue in Iraq right now is the surge. Not U.S. war crimes in Iraq; not ethnic cleansing; not torture; not the U.S. no-bid contracts for Iraqi oil. Just the surge: Did it work? Did it reduce U.S. deaths? Was it a success? Did it help? Did it curb violence? Did it improve security in Iraq? There are as many ways of asking the question as there are ways of answering it, and the sheer volume of questions exaggerates the urgency of the topic, much like the flag-pin flak that dominated headlines for several months this spring. This would be good news -- the media's current obsession with the surge -- were it seeking to correct history, or even to correctly record history. Instead, the media seems to be working in concert with the Bush Administration to re-write history. To the extent this revised history is now being used to *again* question Barack Obama's patriotism, it's all gravy to the Bush-Cheney-McCain agenda of staying the course in Iraq. As is the case with most aspects of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it will likely be 30 years or more before the history books catch up with the truth. For now, the best the truthsayers can hope for is that, against formidable odds, the issues of true urgency in Iraq and the rest of the world will sooner be given the attention -- and ultimately the justice -- that they deserve.
Enter Democracy, American Style
On July 14th, the New York Times published Obama's forward-looking op-ed, titled, My Plan for Iraq, which focused on ending the war in Iraq. The next day, Obama purged his website of criticism toward the surge. This was likely in response to the growing media circus over Obama's criticism of the surge, as the media doggedly ignores the dull nuances of actually ending the war in Iraq, in favor of muckraking new controversy over last year's news. To this end, the media has been barraging both candidates with the same bald-faced question: Was the surge a success?
Here again, we're seeing the fruit of the U.S. media, which operates under a perverse field-of-dreamsesque tactic to the delivering the news: if you can't build a media circus with substance or facts, just start throwing shit -- elephants, tent posts, camel dung, flag pins, rumors, rotton apples, innuendo and lies -- and keep pitching it. The viewers will throng to see your discordant pile of bullshit and will be every bit as outraged as you want them to be.
Just yesterday, CBS aired a Katie Couric interview with Obama, in which Couric (who could have asked the likely next-president anything under the sun) instead pitched him a rotten apple: Was the surge a success? Did the surge -- the addition of 30,000 additional troops -- help the situation in Iraq? To this, Obama offered a detailed answer, with many nuances, which included his perspective that the surge in Iraq has spent resources that could have been spent in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is supposedly located. Couric -- apparently not satisfied with the lack of fodder in Obama's answer -- re-phrased her question: Do you think the level of security in Iraq would exist today without the surge? (Read that: Are you patriotic? Do you love America as much as John McCain?)
Instantaneously, on the heels of this interview, the network broadcast Couric's interview with John McCain -- not to get his perspective on the surge, but to get his perspective on Obama's perspective of the surge. To this end -- while McCain's name was utterly absent in Couric's interview with Obama -- 100% of the questions she posed to McCain were specifically about Obama -- including her one comment in the interview, when she observed, "You sound very frustrated with Senator Obama's perspective."
If the grin on McCain's face was any indication, he was more than happy to partake in Katie's interview style. He began by parading his latest talking point: Obama would "rather lose the war than lose the campaign." From here, he found a dozen different ways to chide Obama's naivetee and to accuse him of denying "the sacrifice of brave young Americans." At the end of the interview, Katie asked McCain about Barack Obama's assertion that the war on terror is centered in Afghanistan, where 9-11 was planned. McCain argued that Iraq is the center in the war on terror. And to back this up, he recited a quote, which he attibuted to bin Laden: Go to the country of the two rivers.
If those words sound like lofty, Big Chief-to-Kimosabe dialogue, straight out of a B-grade western, you'll have to consider their true source: a convoluted trail of sources, actually, that winds through Washington, intersecting with a cowboy from Crawford, Texas and another from Wyoming, before resuming its torturous route through the Middle East, into Iraq, then back again.
The Land of the Two Rivers.
Even tho it's faster to just say Iraq, there are some people -- and McCain's apparently one of them -- who find it faster to say the land of the two rivers. This is because the phrase has become code, in military circles, an efficient form of verbal shorthand for drawing a political-geographical-historical connection between Al Qaeda terrorists, Iraq, September 11th and Osama bin Laden.
For the uninitiated, 'the land of the two rivers' refers not to Iraq, per se, but to al Qaeda in Iraq, which goes by the name, Tandhim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi bilad Al-Rafidain, which translates roughly to The Al Qeada Jihad Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers. This was the official name assigned to Al Qaeda in Iraq when it formed in 2004. Since then, this phrase has been oft repeated in the many purported Al Qaeda missives and messages purportedly sent by Osama bin Laden and Al-Zarqawi, and purportedly posted on various jihadist websites. The 'two rivers' phrase has also become a staple item on some U.S. websites -- from McCain's campaign website, to the White House website, to various right-wing havens. While I've yet to discover any of the purported jihadist websites, nor even the names of these purported jihadist websites that purportedly, originally posted these purported terrorist messages, I'm sure they must exist, because the White House tells us so.
There are some who believe that most, if not all, of these terrorist messages are counterfeit -- sourced out of thin air, or from "intelligence" gathered from torture sessions, then manufactured and released by the propaganda machines of our own government and AIPAC . Regardless, this has nothing and everything to do with Barack Obama.
The Circus Comes to Town
As Obama and his predecessor John Kerry well know -- when it comes to matters of flag, country and war -- it takes only the slightest perversion of the facts to twist public perception. And the Republicans are masters of the smear, which is why McCain repeatedly seeds the media with statements such as, "Obama was wrong about the surge and refuses to acknowledge that fact." McCain's hope, here, is that one of these seeds will take root and grow into a full-fledged smear: Obama is a terrorist appeaser; he's weak on war; he's unpatriotic; he's unAmerican. And the U.S. media scans every inflection of every word -- ever-ready to pitch the next circus.
Fact is, Obama was right: the surge was wrong. Fact is, McCain was also right: the surge was a success. But not for the reasons you've heard. The surge was a success because, in 2007, we began paying our enemy to stop killing us. The surge was a success because we hired and armed tens of thousands of these enemies -- Sunni insurgents -- to work side-by-side with U.S. soldiers, despite that only weeks earlier, these same Sunnis had been ambushing and killing Americans. The surge was a success because, at the moment we began paying and arming these Sunnis, we officially began funding and arming both sides in the civil war. The surge was a success because the 30,000+ U.S. troops sent to Iraq provided the necessary manpower to implement the concurrent surge of 90,000 Sunni insurgent troops we were hiring. The surge is working because these 90,000 Sunnis -- along with the 450,000 Shiites security forces already in the U.S. employ -- are doing just as the U.S. directs: carrying out the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing -- Sunnis against Shiites, and Shiites against Sunnis -- called "the worst human displacement in Iraq’s modern history" . By intensifying the divisions (and, in some cases, creating division where none existed before) the U.S. undermines the goal of reconciliation and compromise between Shiites and Sunnis .
The media, working under the auspices of our government, reports this dynamic as a "refusal" of the Iraqi government to take control. This myth (which seems to suggest that Iraqis are too lazy or corrupt to take control of their own country) will continue to be reported and will continue to be swallowed by the American public, so long as the U.S. can fuel rage between the Sunnis and Shiites. But only so long as the U.S. keeps funding this civil war -- paying Sunnis to brutalize Shiites, and paying Shiites to brutalize Sunnis.
If this sounds foreign to you, it's not because I'm a raving conspiracy theorist, but because most of what we've been told about the surge is a lie. Fact is, however, most Americans -- whether by naivetee or choice -- prefer to believe the propaganda, to the extent that, when they do hear a morsel of truth, they turn away in disbelief, either because it is too horrible to contemplate, or because it seems too incredible to be true. Our administration and our media have conditioned us to do this -- to relegate all anti-Bush news into the realm of the tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists. And this would be just fine with me, if not for the fact that these disbelieving Americans, who enjoy such a complacent ignorance of the facts, are the same Americans who will be electing our next president, not to mention our representatives on Capitol Hill.
The fact is, were the voting American public more informed about the facts, our politicians wouldn't be compelled to campaign from both sides of the fence: addressing the real truth, while also pandering to the Bush Administration's version of the truth, as perpetuated by the media and swallowed -- hook, line and sinker -- by the American public. If Americans were truly paying attention -- which would require considering the validity of uncomfortable and often outrageous truths -- our elected officials could not *get away* with doing this, with capitulating on their party's policies -- based not on facts, but on the public's perception of the facts, as woven by a propaganda-driven media that is bereft of the facts. This is part and parcel of how we got into this war in the first place.
Pleasant Truths vs. Dry Statistics
When was the last time the evening news mentioned the 100,000 Iraqis who have been killed during this war? Or ethnic cleansing? Or the millions of Iraqis violently displaced from their homes? When you hear on the evening news that the surge is a success, you can believe it, so long as you understand, "For whom?"
The death toll of 4000, reached by American soldiers over a period of 5 years has been reached more than 25 times by Iraqi citizens. During the first 7 months of the surge, alone (February-August 2007), a total of 4000 Iraqi men, women and children were killed every 7 weeks. Using the most conservative of estimates, a total of 17,117 Iraqi men, women and children were killed during the first 7 months of the surge. That's an average of 81 people killed each day. That's 2445 people killed each month -- more deaths, even, than before the surge, when the average daily death was a staggering 79 per day. In May 2007, alone, the Iraqi death toll was only 20 fewer people than were killed on September 11th on U.S. soil.
Before your eyes completely glaze over from math fatigue, consider this: The monthly death toll was instantly cut in half after August 2007. And the trend continued, so that -- to date -- Iraqi deaths averaged 36 per day, instead of 81.
What happened? What happened during August 2007 to cause such a sudden, dramatic decline in Iraqi deaths?
Bush-Cheney-Petraeus would like us to believe it was the success of the surge -- despite that the level of violence only grew during the first 7 months of the surge. A more logical explanation would be the ceasefire declared in August 2007 by one of our 'enemies -- Maqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Shiite Mahdi Army, who opposes the U.S. occupation as strongly as he opposed the Saddam Hussein regime. Many of the Mahdi Army leaders are, in fact, former political prisoners who suffered torture under Saddam Hussein. Maqtada al-Sadr's unilateral ceasefire in August 2007 was said to be in response -- not to the surge -- but in effort to weaken the rogue elements that had infiltrated his army and committed violence in their name, which ran contrary to their cause. Whatever the reasons for the ceasefire, it instantly cut the Iraqi death toll in half. Just like that.
Well, sort of....
There's the Surge, and then there's the Surge
When Bush announced the surge in his January 2007 address to Americans, most of us heard the part about sending 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. What we missed was the *other* surge he annonced: "We will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance," In plainspeak, Bush was announcing the addition of 90,000 Sunni insurgents to the U.S. military, being armed and paid -- on the U.S. taxpayers' dime -- to work as security forces. Bush failed to mention, however, that our new "Iraqi forces" were actually Saddam Hussein's former henchmen, who had been working side-by-side with al Qaeda for the previous several years -- ambushing and killing American soldiers.
On the heels of Bush's speech, it became necessary to re-define the enemy, to un-demonize the Sunni insurgents: No longer were Sunnis the enemy; only 'extremist' Sunnis were enemies. This was necessary, if for no other reason than to gain Congressional approval for the $150 million budget (received) to hire, train, arm and sometimes bribe these Sunni insurgents. And, because this plan looked as bad on the surface as it truly was, military commanders in charge of recruiting these Sunni security forces were officially, for the record, ordered to "not deal with those who have American blood on their hands." As if this blood could literally be seen on their hands, or as if the "bad" insurgents would have, tattooed on their foreheads, "I killed Americans."
Equally important to un-demonizing our Sunni enemies, was the need to un-demonize our own history with these Sunnis, so that the U.S. military could make the transition from hunting down, torturing and executing Sunnis, to hiring them to work side-by-side with our own military. This strategy must surely have seemed odd to those 450,000 Shiites -- still in the employ of the U.S. military -- who had spent the past several years torturing and killing innocent Sunni citizens and insurgents alike, while displacing them from their homes in a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Yes, the U.S. strategy of hiring Sunnis to work with our security forces must have seemed awfully odd to the thousands of Shiites in U.S. employ, working with the U.S.-backed Badr Brigade (not to be confused with the Sadr Army) in Iraqi interior ministry, who'd spent the past 3 years working in the infamous U.S.-backed Wolf Brigade Death Squads**, terrorizing, torturing and ultimately executing Sunnis -- many of whom were forced to make public confessions before being executed, with their confessions broadcast on the show titled, "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice," aired six nights per week during the spring of 2005 on the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya television network.
** (note: if Wolf Brigade link, above, does not work, see the video, below, near the bottom of this webpage, titled "U.S.-Backed Wolf Brigade Death Squads in Iraq").
"To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. "
To make this transition more palatable, our government began calling these former Sunni insurgents, "volunteers." To date, the U.S. military employs approx. 90,000 of these volunteers at the rate of $360 per month, plus weapons and ammunition. The Sunni shieks who oversee these 'volunteers' receive an average of $8000 per month. These salaries are but a tiny fraction of that $150 million total allocation in the 2008 U.S. budget to pay off these Sunni insurgents and their shieks. These soldiers go by various euphemisms, such as Iraqi Security Volunteers, or ISVs; neighborhood watch groups; Concerned Local Citizens; Critical Infrastructure Security; Sahwa; or, most famously, the Sunni Awakening. The U.S. military's use of the term "volunteer" with these soldiers is particularly misleading, as is implies these Sunnis are somehow volunteering their time in the name of Iraqi security. Or, perhaps our government merely views these Sunnis as being like our own military -- serving in a volunteer, rather than a compulsory capacity.
In his prepared testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in April 2008, Nir Rosen commented on the U.S. military's stance in arming both sides in a civil war:
"David Kilcullen, the influential Australian counter insurgency advisor (to Petreaus), defined it as 'balancing competing armed interest groups.' Though supporters of the war touted the surge as a success, they forgot that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed, the millions displaced, and the thousands of dead and wounded Americans just so that violence could go back to the still horrifying levels of just a couple of years ago."
Recognized at its inception as a tricky ploy (paying off and arming America's enemies to act like America's friends) this strategy at least -- along with Sadr's ceasefire --worked to lower the death toll of both Iraqis and Americans. Hence, the success of the surge. Problem is, while arming both sides in a civil war to work as "security forces," the U.S. has not undermined the supposed goal of forging Iraqi unity, but we have created a deadly house of cards.
As Nir Rosen earlier observed in his March 2008 Rolling Stone article, titled, The Myth of the Surge, "Loyalty that can be purchased is, by its very nature, fickle."
With only the slightest provacation, either side in this civil war -- both now armed to the teeth with U.S. weaponry -- could turn their weapons against U.S. soldiers. It's no wonder, then, that Petraeus has repeatedly urged caution over the current lull in violence, terming it a "fragile and reversible" peace, while simultaneously pushing for a "pause" in any planned troop withdrawals after July 2008.
“Obviously the tactic of bribing the Sunni warlords will fail the minute we stop bribing them. And then of course the cowardly act of blaming Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki for the failure in Basra, of saying it was all his initiative, when we were totally complicit.”
In a perfect world, every politician of good conscience would be railing against 7 years of lies, and would be unafraid to stand side-by-side with Wexler, Kucinich, Baldwin, Hinchey , Holtzman & Barr and others who are daring to speak the truth on Capitol Hill. Instead, we live in a world where those rare truthsayers on Capitol Hill -- such as Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney -- are belittled, ridiculed, ignored, painted as nuts, hacks, conspiracy theorists and terrorist appeasers, and ultimately driven out of town on a rail.
For this reason, and this reason alone, I am willing to temporarily suspend my disgust at Obama for deleting his criticism of the surge, not to mention his equally reprehensible backslide on the FISA bill. I do this in the hope that his eye is ultimately on the bigger picture, that he is merely being pragmatic, trying to avoid the sort of dog and pony show that could potentially -- and against all that is sane and rational in this world -- swiftboat his candidacy. My hope is that Obama hasn't truly lost his bearings, but that he indeed *gets it* as I've clearly heard him articulate in many of his speeches and statements. My hope is that he indeed intend to do the right thing by this country and this planet -- not the least of which is to purge from our national dialogue the lies we've been conditioned to believing for the past 7 years.