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Wars, Lies and Lyrics

Marwan Bishara

Surprise, surprise ... the US government did not tell the whole truth, yet again, about its war conduct, and indeed misled the public about the true record of the war.
I personally have not met anyone who has been shocked by the revelations in the documents published by WikiLeaks, but many are surprised - not so much by the novelty of it all, but rather by the mundane repetition of more of the same deception.
It is déjà vu all over again. Governments lie, especially about war and violence. And the media as well as the elites remain numb and indifferent until their wars go sour and begin to hurt at home as we saw in Iraq after 2005 and today in Afghanistan.
Unlike what mainstream conventional media would have you believe, democratic governments are worse at lying than autocratic or totalitarian ones.
Because unlike their democratically elected counterparts, autocratic or totalitarian governments just do not have the same need for it because they do not seek public approval or ratings.

In fact, the more accountable they are to their citizens, the more sinister and dangerous are the leaders' lies.
By mere definition of their jobs and scrutiny of their parliaments, democratic and especially Western leaders generally have more leeway in foreign than domestic affairs, and tend to exercise it to solidify their leadership.

Western media preoccupation
Alas, the discussion over the last few days did not delve into the futility of the war and its horrific human ramifications, but focused instead on whether the leaks could harm Afghan informants or compromise US national security.
This preoccupation by the Western media places a large question mark over their journalistic objectivity and stance towards the war. If somehow the names of Taliban informants were revealed, would the Western media also worry about their safety or would they ask for their heads?
The last time I checked, the media's role was to reveal the truth by exposing the facts. But have we? Have we truly exposed the sham and spam behind the decade-long war?
As Lesley Gelb, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the authors of the Vietnam war 'Pentagon Papers' that first underlined the failures in Indochina, put it, the similarity between the US wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan lie in the fact that the US could not win or withdraw.
Instead, another war enters the chronicles of history, like its predecessors, on the basis of lies and deception, and continues on the basis of arrogance and hegemony: 'Empires don't cede willingly to those it demonised as barbarians.'

History of US wars
But it is becoming ever more evident that the US will have to cut its losses and withdraw sooner rather than later.
That is why the best thing the Obama administration can do is to embark on a grand regional diplomatic initiative involving Pakistan, India, Iran etc. - just as the Nixon administration did by opening up to China and the Soviet Union to cut its losses in Vietnam.

If anything needs to be learned from Iraq and applied to Afghanistan it is the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations, not the inapplicable military lessons.
Until then, a more sobering view of the history US wars comes not from leaks and media reports, but rather in lyrics.
Bob Dylan's With God on Our Side summarised two centuries of war. As you read it and preferably hear it, you will notice that the lyrics finish in the early 1960s. Perhaps you could write back to me with your suggested update to the lyrics ...
With God on Our Side
By Bob Dylan


Oh my name it ain't nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorise
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

Through a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

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Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst.

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