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A study just released by The Center for Personal Integrity now allows us, on one important measure, to calculate the cost of each of the 4000 American soldiers that have been sacrificed in Bush's War. The study shows that Bush and seven members of his administration made 935 false statements about the national security threats posed by Saddam Hussein in the two years following September 11, 2001. A quick calculation shows that each lie cost us 4 American lives! The Center's study overwhelmingly suggests a White House campaign of distortion and propaganda, aimed at convincing a gullible and vulnerable public, to support an invasion of Iraq. The two-pronged approach, asserting Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links with Al-Qaeda, was built on a foundation of 535 lies, Bush in 250 statements and his chief enabler, Secretary of State Colin Powell, with 244. The White House used Goebbel's first principle of propaganda to promote this war; "repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it." This technique is so effective that even with the countervailing weight of five years of factual evidence, these two myths remain essentially intact.
Recent Harris polls show the blissful ignorance of the American Public continues with 50% believing the myth of weapons of mass destruction and 64% believing that pre-war Iraq had ties with Al-Qaeda. These facts are not surprising given that lying by Bush and his administration continues. Even so, a majority of Americans now recognize that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, and what is indisputable is that without those 955 initial lies these 4000 young men and women would be alive today!
However, continuing the propaganda campaign is now being promoted as official military policy. Recently, Lt. Col. John Nagl began advocating for the establishment of a new information agency on the editorial pages of The Washington Post (We Can't Win These Wars on Our Own, 3/9/08). Nagl was on the team, along with Petreaus, that authored the new and much touted Army Counter Insurgency Field Manual. His call for a new agency of information (i.e. Ministry of Truth) suggests that the current propaganda apparatus at the White House isn't working.
In addition, Nagl trumpets the current Iraq strategy, more money, more troops, and more patience. Nagl also supports the long war strategy that is the military's antedote to the failure of the short war strategy. He conflates the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and around the world and, from that false premise, now argues for essentially more of the same.
Furthermore, his argument that the surge has been successful is shortsighted. He makes only a passing reference to the flawed strategy of hiring and arming the Sunni insurgents to help quell the violence. To hide their participation we renamed them "Awakening (like 'born again') Councils." But their floating loyalties will be short-lived. Already we see that this 'finger in the dyke' public relations strategy employed by Bush and General Petraeus, to run out the clock for this administration, is cracking around the edges as the violence in Basra and elsewhere swings upward. Ironically, it appears that the surge strategy won't even last until Petraeus's next scheduled appearance before Congress in April where he will be begging, like Nagl, for more time, more money, and promoting some new- fangled plan smothered in half truths. In the editorial Nagl greases the way for his General by arguing that "the most important single step the United States could take toward victory" is to establish a new information agency charged with the task of creating a new narrative (translated propaganda) to "amplify our ideas." No kidding! Twelve hundred words later and Nagl concludes we just need some more, new and improved, lies to 'prop' up the 935 false statements that helped start this war.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi people continue to suffer horrific consequences as a result of our occupation. Four million people have been displaced from their homes, 600,000 or more killed, and 5 years later they still lack the basic necessities of life, like food, water, electricity, and security. No new narrative (propaganda) can compete with this reality. To them and most of the world we are the terrorists now, and only a complete withdrawal of all of our troops and the commencement of a regional, war-ending council of Middle Eastern countries, to include Syria and Iran, has any chance of bringing this disaster to some kind of conclusion.
However, in the spirit of fair play, I've got a proposition for Nagl. If he wants civilian support for continuation of this war, let's vote on it. First, I suggest he start with some basic honesty, in his own words, "with clear eyes and no illusions." Let him tell the truth about Iraq by acknowledging the lies and propaganda that fuel the war. Second, once he has come clean, let him make an honest pitch to the American people that we need to raise taxes to pay for the war noting that trillions of dollars will be needed, and more importantly that the long war strategy is going to require a draft of our sons and daughters to provide the bodies needed to fight on. Not only will I stand by the result of that vote, I'll advocate for it. Will he?
The idea that we own the world and can do what we want with it may soon be ending. A financial tsunami is coming ashore. The initial waves of this fiscal chaos are upon us in the form of rapidly rising costs of everything, a plunging devaluation of the dollar, and most notably the, soon to be, realization that what we own is worth a lot less than we think it is. The silver lining in all of this pain will be the dawning reality that the world owns us and that we cannot afford to waste another cent on these failed foreign adventures, like Iraq, that have done nothing to make the world safer and, in fact, have made it less safe. By the nature of this economic reality, the next president may be forced to end our involvement in this foreign adventure because the Chinese, Japanese and others will no longer be loaning us money and, moreover, will be looking to collect the debts we incurred from the spending binge that has fueled our economy for the last 20 years. Sadly, it will be too late for these 4000 young Americans, but maybe their deaths can serve to remind us, once again, that lies made in the service of war always have deadly consequences.
Bud McClure is a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth and Coordinator of UMD Faculty Against War.