Obama v. Washington Mythmaking

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Over the years, Washington has
evolved into a city of deceptions where semantics cloud reality and
where a hazy mix of lies, half-truths and mythology can combine to
unleash the devastating military might of the United States for no good

Indeed, if there were to be a serious effort to "change the mindset"
that got the United States into the Iraq War - as Barack Obama has
promised - one place to start would be to force Official Washington to
take a long hard look in the mirror.

During George W. Bush's presidency alone, language has been routinely
twisted to justify everything from aggressive war to torture. Those two
international crimes were turned into "preventive war" and "alternative
interrogation techniques."

But "preventive war" is nothing but a grotesque Orwellian euphemism,
since it makes no sense to claim that you're preventing a war by
starting a war.

The accurate
phrase, especially in the context of the Iraq invasion, would be
"aggressive war." That phrase, however, would force an uncomfortable
judgment that President Bush and many well-dressed neocons at
Georgetown dinner parties were "war criminals" deserving of hanging.

Under the legal standards applied to the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg
Tribunals, "aggressive war" was deemed the "supreme international
crime" because it sets loose all the atrocities of warfare.

However, rather than liken Bush and the neocons to the Nazis, Official
Washington replaced "aggressive war" with the ever-so-much-nicer
choices of "preventive" or "preemptive" war.

Official Washington also disdains the word "torture" when it describes
actions approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration. It's
so much more comforting to talk about "alternative interrogation
techniques." [For more, see Consortiumnews.com's "Torture Trail Seen Starting with Bush."]

There's also that pleasant denial of reality when one hears
reassurances from Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials
that "the United States doesn't torture."

So what if simulated drowning from waterboarding, forced nudity, stress
positions, sleep deprivation, use of extreme temperatures and similar
techniques have long been regarded as torture, especially when used by
U.S. enemies or against American troops? If U.S. officials now say
those methods aren't torture, then it's time to go with different

False narratives
play an important role, too, in Washington's self-delusions, by casting
U.S. government actions in the most favorable light and those of its
enemies in the most negative.

one level, you have Bush answering the American public's post-9/11
question "why do they hate us?" with the fairy-tale explanation that
Islamic extremists "hate our freedoms." Other times, you get outright

For instance,
President Bush began insisting in July 2003 that he had no choice but
to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein refused to let the United Nations
arms inspectors in - even though any cursory reading of recent history
would show that Hussein did let the inspectors in, in fall 2002.

It was Bush who forced the inspectors to leave in March 2003 so he
could proceed with his shock-and-awe invasion. Yet Bush has continued
to invoke this made-up history about Hussein barring the inspectors as
recently as Dec. 1 when he spun the tale to ABC News' Charles Gibson.

Like many big-name journalists before him, Gibson didn't contradict
Bush's historical revisionism. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Bush Still Lies About Iraq War." For more on the history of Washington deceptions, see Robert Parry's Lost History.]

Change with Obama?

The big question now is whether President Obama will bring any
meaningful change to the deceptive mindset of the Washington
Establishment. Or will Obama bend to Washington's potent conventional
wisdom which incorporates these pleasing narratives?

So far, it appears the Washington Establishment is winning out. Obama's
transition has been so much to the liking of the power elite that
everyone from Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger to the many
neoconservative writers on the Washington Post and New York Times
editorial pages have been pinching themselves to make sure they're not

They have cheered
lustily over Obama's national security picks, particularly the decision
to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw President Bush's
"surge" of about 30,000 troops in Iraq in 2007-2008 after Donald Rumsfeld balked at doing so.

The Gates choice is especially heartwarming to the neocons because it
reinforces an important argument as they rehabilitate themselves in the
wake of the Iraq fiasco. By keeping Gates, Obama is acquiescing to the
myth of the "successful surge," which the neocons see as crucial in
validating their war judgment and discrediting their critics.

The "successful surge" myth is built around the widely accepted
conventional wisdom that the increase in U.S. troop levels in 2007
brought Iraqi violence under control and carried the United States to
the verge of "victory" in Iraq.

This analysis is now considered a nearly indisputable fact by Bush's
defenders and most of Washington's elite news media, although it is
shared by very few military experts who credit the drop in violence to
a variety of other developments, many of which - like the switching of
sides among Sunni tribes in Anbar province and the killing of
al-Qaeda's murderous leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - predated the "surge."

Other non-surge security factors included:

--The surprise decision of radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr to order a unilateral cease-fire by his militia;

--The vicious ethnic cleansing that separated Sunnis and Shiites while
forcing several million Iraqis to become refugees either in neighboring
countries or within their own;

--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas, "cantonizing" Baghdad.

--The detention of thousands of "military age males" who were rounded up often indiscriminately;

--The cumulative effect of five years of concentrated U.S. firepower on
Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders, leaving countless thousands

--With the total Iraqi
death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis
horribly maimed, the extraordinary trauma affecting Iraqi society has
caused many Iraqis to simply look toward their own survival.

Besides being only one of many factors in the reduced violence, the
"surge" also failed to bring about the political-economic
reconciliation in Iraq that Bush had promised when he announced the
build-up in January 2007. Nor has it led to the expected drawdown of
troops to below pre-surge levels, with almost 150,000 U.S. troops now
in Iraq, about 16,000 more than before the "surge."

Yet, the myth of the "successful surge" has proved extraordinarily powerful.

During the campaign, Obama faced hectoring from media interviewers,
such as CBS News' Katie Couric and ABC News' George Stephanopoulos,
demanding that he admit he was wrong to oppose the "surge."

For weeks, Obama held firm, insisting that the issue was more
complicated than his interviewers wanted to admit. He argued that there
were many factors behind Iraq's changed security environment. But
ultimately he caved in while being interrogated on Sept. 4 by Fox News'
Bill O'Reilly.

"I think that
the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated," Obama
confessed to O'Reilly. "It's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Obama may have judged that continued resistance was futile. But his
surrender on the "successful surge" myth may have other long-term

Sizing Up Obama

Having watched him succumb to media pressure - and then seeing him
accept Establishment favorite Robert Gates as a Republican holdover in
the new Cabinet - the U.S. high command in the Middle East appears to
be getting ready to roll over the incoming President on his central
campaign promise of a 16-month withdrawal from Iraq.

Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have outlined to Obama a scheme
for a modest withdrawal of about 7,000 to 8,000 troops in the first six
months of 2009 - bringing the total down to levels that still might be
higher than those before the surge two years ago - and then keeping the
numbers there until at least June 2009 when additional judgments would
be made, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Rather than "change you can believe in," the generals seem to have in
mind something closer to Bush's old "stay the course."

Gen. Odierno, who is commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, also said on
Dec. 13 that American combat troops will remain in Iraqi cities after
June 30, 2009, the date of their scheduled relocation away from the
cities under a new "status-of-forces agreement" with the Iraqi
government. Odierno said these troops would be "transition teams"
advising Iraqi forces.

Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for Odierno, later amplified on the general's comments, characterizing U.S. troops staying behind in the cities as "enablers to Iraqi security forces."

Iraqi critics of the status-of-forces agreement were quick to criticize
these American word games of redefining U.S. troops as "transition
teams" and "enablers."

confirmed our view that U.S. forces will never withdraw from the cities
next summer, and they will never leave Iraq by the end of 2011," said
Ahmed al-Masoudi, a spokesman for a Shiite parliamentary bloc close to

The status-of-forces
agreement, which is intended to govern the actions of U.S. military
forces in Iraq after Dec. 31, 2008, also calls for a complete American
military withdrawal by the end of 2011. However, many Iraqis are
dubious that the United States intends to live up to its word - and
Odierno has noted that the deadline can be renegotiated.

"Three years is a very long time," Odierno told reporters.

In other words, the top U.S. commanders for Iraq have taken the measure
of the President-elect and decided that they can openly flout his
central campaign promise - that he would give them new orders on his
first day in office to begin a monthly withdrawal of U.S. combat forces
from Iraq, culminating after 16 months with only a modest residual
force left behind.

Now on Day
One, Obama can expect to face clear opposition to his withdrawal plan
from the lead generals in the region and from Defense Secretary Gates,
who also has spoken out against Obama's timetable. If he presses ahead
on a pullout, Obama can expect strong institutional resistance and
leaks critical of his leadership.

However, if he reneges on his campaign promise and succumbs to the
power play by these Bush holdovers, Obama will be sending another
troubling signal - that he can be "handled" - a message that will
resonate across Washington and around the world.

Rehabilitating Bush

Besides undercutting Obama, the myth of the "successful surge" has
fueled a new narrative favorable to George W. Bush, that his decision
to liberate Iraq may have suffered from many problems of execution but
he bravely stuck with it until he came upon a winning strategy.

To celebrate this story line, Bush secretly flew to Iraq on Dec. 14 to
sign the status-of-forces agreement and boast about an impending U.S.

However, reality
reasserted itself when Bush was forced to dodge two shoes thrown by an
angry Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, who upstaged Bush's
self-congratulatory rhetoric with shouts about the death and
destruction that the near-six-year-old war has inflicted on Iraq.

is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!"
al-Zaidi shouted as he threw his second shoe (before being wrestled to
the ground and beaten by Iraqi security personnel).

Now, Barack Obama must decide if he wants to buy into Bush's war in
Iraq, even while vowing to increase U.S. forces in Bush's other war in

If he does,
Obama may find himself equally in need of euphemisms to explain his
reversal of a key campaign promise - and to justify the additional
widows and orphans who will surely be created over the next several
years in Iraq.

The question now is whether Obama will change Washington or whether Washington already has begun to change Obama?

© 2023 Consortium News

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