Sunday, March 23, 2008

Musings On Shock And Awe: Five Years Later

Hi everyone. I don't know about you, but I found watching this special to be a fairly infuriating experience. Reminders of the run-up to the war can still make my blood boil even five years later. Because much of this special was put together with interviews from journalists who were there, I initially thought journalistic culpability was going to be addressed. But, uh, yeah, not so much. I won't be addressing that myself in this post at this time because, really, something like that requires a series of posts. Or a book.

Overall, I thought the special was pretty good; though incomplete. But then again, it's only an hour presentation. What are you going to do? The big points were addressed and addressed pretty well--the disbanding of the Iraqi Army leading to the insurgency, the myth of the purple finger, and not supporting our troops with the equipment they needed, to state a few. With this post, I just wanted to address a few specific issues, beginning with this quote from Former White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer regarding the belief that Saddam had WMDs:
I don't remember anybody in America, especially in the party that now is so strongly opposed to the war, the Democratic Party, saying you're wrong, Saddam does not have biological or chemical weapons.
This is simply untrue and should have been contested in the special. First of all, since Fleischer has chosen to throw a little partisanship in his statement by mentioning the Democrats, it should be noted that it has already been established that the administration was privy to intelligence--some of which contained doubts about WMDs--that Congress was not. So while the Democrats can be blamed for being spineless and not doing their homework on what they were given, their culpability is not equal to the administration.

But going back to the crux of Fleischer's statement--that everyone believed Saddam had the weapons, again, it's not true. The "everyone was wrong" meme is popular in Washington and with our nation's media. But everyone was not wrong. There were voices of dissent and award winning reporting occurring on the subject...and no one listened. Or rather, the elite and agenda-makers didn't listen. This is again one of those subjects that would require a book to really explain, so I'll be brief and just leave you with some jumping-off links if this is information you'd like to explore.

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter didn't buy all of the WMD claim and spoke out before the war. Instead of being heard, he was sidelined by the media. Of course, he was just one man. Unlike the paper of record where "reporter" Judith Miller sold us the lies of Ahmad Chalabi, Knight Ridder Washington reporters Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay consistently filed stories filled with sources that were skeptical of the administration's claims. Their work would later be acknowledged and given the praise it deserved, but unfortunately that acknowledgment came too late to stop the war. The right people did not read what they were reporting. Or, perhaps, they just didn't want to see it in the first place.

To state that the Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Iraq and would sell us any reason to get us there is no longer a conspiracy theory. The evidence that has come out since the invasion makes that statement pretty much as close to fact as you can get. Of course if you need something more than statements to convince you, there's always the fact that six months before shock and awe (before the Congress vote on the Iraq resolution), we were conducting massive air operations in Iraq--dropping double the bombs in 2002 than in years prior. Call it a pre-war war, if you will. So, I'm sorry, unlike Fleischer implies, this wasn't all a big "whoops" that everyone made.

The next thing I wanted to bring up was the part in the special regarding the toppling of Saddam's statue:
FLEISCHER: I was standing next to the president watching the TV in the Oval Office when it happened. I remember him saying, look at the crowd. It's not that big a crowd. He actually noticed that as the statue fell.

ROBERTSON: They are a people free at last to express what they really think.

FLEISCHER: When you saw Iraqis beating the statue with their shoes, you just saw that sense of jubilation, the eruption of joy against a tyrant.

ROBERTSON: They really seemed joyful and happy. But, again, at that time I was surprised there weren't more people out on the streets. I think perhaps the Iraqis themselves had an inkling that this wasn't over.
I give them credit for pointing out that there weren't a lot of people there, but I can't believe they won't just call a spade a spade--this was a photo-op. And a perfectly crafted one at that. After all, the Palestine Hotel (where the press was staying) had a great view. The media was practically handed the story on a silver platter. On your television screen it no doubt looked like a huge crowd of jubilant Iraqis celebrating. But pull back the camera lenses a bit:

And there weren't that many people there. In fact, a lot of those people are US marines because they are the ones that pulled the statue down. And those jubilant Iraqis? It's been reported that they weren't so ordinary after all and were actually connected to Ahmad Chalabi and brought in for the occasion. I know that sounds like a tin hat theory, something I usually don't like to subscribe to, but this has been reported widely enough that I believe it. For more on "the show," check out this clip from the documentary "Control Room":

Finally, this quote from Nic Robertson really struck me:
I remember getting a briefing, an off the record, briefing before the war about one of the so-called suspected weapons sites.

They believe Iraq is embarking on a program to enrich uranium.

He showed me the site on satellite imagery. He told me what that site would have to require to have if it were currently being used for certain WMD production. And the Iraqis, amazingly enough, actually took us to that site.

And I remember looking around that site at the time before the war and thinking, you know, I don't see -- I don't see these key telltale signs, I don't see the high-power electricity coming in here.
Perhaps you immediately wondered the same thing I did--did the off the record information make him more skeptical with his on the record reporting? That's not a question that I can answer. I was a news junkie during the run-up to the war, but nothing like I am now (this Eliza has reached premium-level, heh). Unlike with, say, Katrina, the specifics of who said what, when, and where isn't something I filed away in my brain back then. That isn't to say I don't remember any of the coverage--I remember tons. And even in my lower-news junkie state, I remember the realization that it was apparent the media already believed we were going to war long before the supposed final decision had been made. As for Nic, as I said, I can't judge his pre and early war reporting because I don't remember what he did specifically, but I do know it's apparently not a subject he likes to talk about. Check out this clip from the documentary "Weapons of Mass Deception" in which he blows off a reporter (about four and a half minutes in) from Dubai television who attempts to ask him about comments Christiane Amanpour made regarding a climate of fear at CNN during the war.

I had forgotten, but this special helped remind me that in the beginning of the war, the networks would sometimes go live with their coverage all night long. There were nights I sat and watched for hours, not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I felt guilty that I had the option of turning the television off. Can you imagine hours of Iraq coverage now? Five years later and the war is all but forgotten except for those who have someone fighting. Five years later and the consequences of "shock and awe" are only beginning to be understood.


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