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Reporting from Baghdad
It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration's newest military-man-of-substance-turned- political lapdog, General Petraeus, maintains that the situation in Iraq is not only salvageable, but actually improving, due to the "surge" of U.S. combat troops into Iraq over the past year. All the president and his collection of GI Joe hand-puppets ask for is more time, more money and more troops.
There is no reason to believe that the compliant war facilitators who comprise the "anti-war" Democratic majority in Congress will do anything other than give the president what he is asking for. No one seems to want to debate, in any meaningful fashion, what is really going on in Iraq.
Why would they? The Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, have invested too much political capital into fictionalizing the problem with slogans like "support the troops," "we're fighting the enemy there so we don't have to fight them here," and my all-time favorite, "leaving Iraq would hand victory to al-Qaida."
There simply is no incentive to put fact on the table and formulate policy that actually seeks a solution to a properly defined problem. Like the Republicans before them, the Democrats today seek not to govern with the best interests of the people in mind, but rather to game the system in order to consolidate political power. Political sloganeering has so trumped reality that any political backlash that is generated from the so-called "Petraeus Report" will be limited to how the Democrats could better sustain a conflict that kills American troops, since no main-stream Democratic leader has expressed a true "get out of Iraq now" policy.
Nearly 4 1/2 years following President Bush's ill-fated (and illegal) decision to invade and occupy Iraq, few people in a position to influence policy formulation and implementation in America have actually grasped the horrible truth about what has transpired, and what is transpiring, in Mesopotamia today. As the United States places the finishing touches on Fortress America, the new half-billion-dollar Embassy complex in the heart of the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, and more troops pour into mega-bases throughout Iraq, the reality (and futility) of permanent occupation has yet to sink in. What could be going through the minds of those members of Congress who keep signing blank checks for the president? Is there no oversight of how and why this money is spent? How can someone fund permanent infrastructure one day, then speak of the need to get out of Iraq the next?
The compliant mainstream media, of course, is no help. The war in Iraq has become a major generator of advertising revenue for these corporations, so there is no incentive to actually report the truth, but rather manipulate the fiction. Iraq has become a prestige destination for every aspiring journalist or struggling anchor, determined to get "the big story." The most recent manifestation of this syndrome is CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who earlier this week travelled to Iraq because she was (in her own words), "Curious about very basic questions regarding living conditions, about how much fear there is in the street, about how the soldiers really are doing." That the situation in Iraq has been boiled down to these three big, burning issues (living conditions, fear in the streets, and how the troops are really doing), and that CBS is sending their multi-million-dollar investment to investigate, speaks volumes about the truly degenerate state of American journalism today.
The real big three she should be addressing are "Why do Americans keep dying?" "Who is killing them?" and "Why?" Of course, answering these questions would undermine the very fantasy world Couric is being sent to cover, one where Americans are doing good deeds in the name of peace and justice for downtrodden Iraqis. Couric's jaunt is fraud on a massive scale. Ironically, she herself acknowledged this when she admitted that her up-beat reports from Iraq were reflective of what the US military wanted her to see, and not honest 'reporting' on her part.
If Couric and her ilk won't answer these questions, I will. "Why do Americans keep dying?" Simple: Because we are in Iraq. We don't belong there. Our presence is derived from our own violation of law, not someone else's, and as such any effort to sustain our presence is tainted by this same foundation of illegitimacy. In short, Americans will keep dying in Iraq as long as we remain in Iraq. If Katie wanted to really get to the bottom of this story, she could venture out on her own to any one of the villages and towns where Americans have been killed recently. Of course, she would probably end up dead herself, which would defeat the purpose of trying to report the story.
"Who is killing them?" Another easy answer: Iraqis. We are occupying their homeland. We are violating their sovereignty. We are butchering, abusing and torturing their citizens. Our continued presence is an affront to the socio-economic-political fabric that is (or was) Iraqi society. If someone occupied my hometown in the same manner Americans occupy Iraq, I'd be killing them any way I could. And I would be called a hero by my own people, and not a terrorist. The Bush administration, in an effort to deflect public attention away from this reality, has created the fiction of a massive al-Qaida presence in Iraq, working in parallel with a similarly large Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command presence, which apparently is responsible for the majority of anti-American violence and dead U.S. troops.
Rhetoric aside, however, American officials who make these claims have been unable to back them up with hard facts and figures. There is an al-Qaida presence in Iraq. However, the majority of what is known as "al-Qaida in Iraq" is composed of Iraqis, not foreigners. The whole phenomenon is a direct result of the American occupation of Iraq, and would dissipate the moment America left the country. Likewise, the accusation of direct Iranian involvement in anti-American violence is questionable. Iranian political support of Iraqi Shiite groups who violently oppose the American occupation of Iraq is real, but then again we know this: We invited the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to join us in toppling Saddam. Based out of Iran, functioning as a de-facto arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command, SCIRI did as we asked. Why, then, are we shocked when SCIRI maintains ties with the very entity that created and nurtured it? It is Iraqi Shiites who are killing Americans, not Iranians. And they would kill us with or without the support of Iran.
Now we come to the third and perhaps most difficult question: "Why?" In some odd way, Katie Couric's jaunt to Iraq answers that question: Because Americans truly don't care. Oh, we care about vague softball issues, such as "conditions in the street," "fear," and of course, "how the American troops are really doing," especially when they are fed to us in 30-second sound bites or three- minute "in-depth" stories. Little feel good segments planted in between commercials, designed not to infringe on our intellectual curiosity for more than 30 minutes so we don't loose our focus watching the latest "reality" show or made-for-television drama.
The fact is, Couric's made-for-television news is to what is really happening in Iraq as "CSI: Las Vegas" is to what is really happening on the streets of Sin City. CBS knows that, which is why they are packaging Katie in this fashion. The shame is that for most Americans watching, they think they're getting the real deal. They are not, but will continue to wallow in their ignorant indifference. Katie will struggle to tell us that our kids keep dying in Iraq to "improve the quality of life" and "reduce the level of fear" on the streets of Baghdad. She solemnly informs us that "our boys and girls" are suffering, but they know it is in support of a just and noble cause. Katie will continue to report the story in Iraq from the perspective of an American political dynamic, not Iraqi reality.
She won't go visit one of the American mercenary units in Iraq, the private military contractors who challenge the American military for numerical supremacy. She won't burrow into the never-never land of legal ambiguity that allows these mercenaries to commit murder at will, to treat Iraq (and Iraqis) as second-class citizens in their own nation, and whose continued abuse of Iraq results in a deep and undying hatred for all things American. Katie may catch a movie in a hardened underground theater on one of the Pentagon's mega-bases, or go shopping in a PX inside the "Green Zone" to get a "feel" of life for our troops, but she won't venture up north, into Kurdistan, where other secure outposts of foreign occupation sit, out of sight and mind. If Couric would visit the Iraqi Oil Ministry, she might be shocked to witness the legal maneuvering and exploitation carried out by foreign oil companies (including, directly or indirectly, American oil companies).
Working with local Kurdish officials, small oil exploration and drilling camps are sprouting up all over northern Iraq, where they siphon off the wealth of the Iraqi people. Shipped out of Iraq via Turkey and (surprisingly) Iran, using long-established smuggling routes, these illegal ventures are generating billions of dollars in income for oil companies, and because these ventures aren't supposed to exist, this income goes unreported. You can't miss these sites. Any review of Google-Earth imagery would show these facilities springing up like mushrooms over the last few years. The U.S. military knows about them, and yet does nothing. Note to Richard Kaplan (Katie Couric's producer): If you want to investigate this story, I'll provide you with the geographic coordinates. Drive up and try to talk your way into the security perimeter. Position Katie well for the camera shot and demand answers. Just look out for the Canadian, South African or American mercenaries who are charged by "Big Oil" to keep this dirty little secret "secret."
Instead of going to Iraq to report on why Americans keep dying, Katie could just stay here, in America. There are any number of corporations whose board rooms she could visit. Or she could smooth talk her way into a number of country clubs, to interview the human face of the "military industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned us about a half-century ago. She might take a look at congressional campaign financing, where the profits from these corporations fund the campaigns of the politicians who continue to do nothing about Iraq. Then, and just then, would Katie come close to answering the question of "Why?"
But she won't. Or should I say, she can't. CBS is owned by General Electric. GE is working hard to get favorable trading status with any number of foreign trading partners. The U.S. trade representative is working hard on GE's behalf. Hard-nosed "reporting" by the likes of Couric would not go over well in the bowels of the White House, where instructions to the U.S. trade representative are issued. "I'm Katie Couric," her broadcast could begin. "Tonight I am declaring independence from corporate control over how I report (i.e., read) the news." Answering the "why" of Iraq requires confronting the layers of corruption and corporate domination of America on so many levels that even if Katie wanted to, she couldn't-at least not from her perch as anchor of the CBS Evening News.
In a way, Iraq is a manifestation of all that ails America today. A complete breakdown of fundamental societal checks and balances brought on by greed and hubris. From General Petraeus who will give it, to the mindless corporate-owned minions who populate much of Congress who will receive it, to the entertainment-as-news media which will report on it, and to the American people who will consume it with no foundation upon which to evaluate it, the "Petraeus Report" will have little relevance to what is really going on in Iraq. Once again, Americans will be searching for a solution to a problem they have yet to properly define.
Just ask Katie Couric. Or better yet, watch her.
Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) , "Target Iran" (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, "Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement" (Nation Books, April 2007).
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