Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pentagon Calls Bushit on White House Al Qaeda Claims

Posted by Joshua Holland at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2007.

Joshua Holland: And Keith Olbermann shows how tough it is to counter a massive propaganda campaign.
War Games

The WaPo's Thomas Ricks was on Keith Olbermann's show last week to discuss his recent article about the Pentagon's war-gaming for a post-occupation Iraq [ht: Raw Story].

It should come as no surprise to anyone following the war over the past four years that the Pentagon's planners concluded that the reality in Iraq is the exact, 180-degree opposite of the claims most commonly made by the White House -- and other supporters of the president's War on Terr'r -- to justify the continuing occupation of Iraq, a country whose only "terrorists" prior to the invasion of 2003 were groups opposed to the rule of Saddam Hussein himself.

The Pentagon's war-gamers found that a U.S. withdrawal would not lead to al Qaeda taking over the country and it would not strengthen Iran's hand. In fact, if the U.S. were to pull out, the DoD planners believe Iran would get sucked into the same situation that we're in now: mediating between factions in a multi-faceted civil war.

Watch the clip to your right. It's a good example of how the media could challenge the kind of spin parroted by the pro-war set if they so desired.

But let me take it one step further. This exchange is also illustrative of how hard it is to push back against a narrative when it's echoed by a mountain of consistent propaganda. Specifically, Olbermann does a good job taking apart the claim that "al Qaeda" will take over Iraq, but he's forced to do so within the frame that the war's supporters' choose: as a fight in which "al Qaeda" -- meaning, interchangeably, the insurgent group "al Qaeda in Iraq" and the group that is headed by Osama Bin Laden -- plays a leading role in Iraq in the first place.

That's not the case -- al Qaeda in Iraq is but one of several primarily Sunni insurgent groups, and it's not believed to be the biggest or the most powerful. The Islamic Army in Iraq is thought to be bigger, and the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade is comparable, yet we don't hear them referred to by name very often, and they are certainly not used a sharthand for the entire insurgency.

At various times, occupation officials have also said that the Shiite resistance groups and militias, and not the Sunni-dominated groups, were the leading cause of instability in Iraq, but all-too-often this basic fact appears to have disappeared down the memoryhole.

More importantly, al Qaeda in Iraq is clearly not "al Qaeda," regardless of whether the two groups are allied in their goals or have established channels of communication. "Al Qaeda in Iraq" didn't exist before the occupation of Iraq went bad.

Merely discussing the issue of "al Qaeda" in Iraq has a serious consequence: it obscures the fact that Iraq had no connection to 9/11. That's what it is intended to do, and the question that follows is: why is the media adopting this bit of frankly political rhetoric so uncritically.

The New York Times ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, did a nice job of taking the whole issue apart in a column earlier this month:

[President Bush] declared, "We must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq." The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.
Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.[…]
Middle East experts with whom I talked in recent days said that the heavy focus on Al Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation on the ground -- and perhaps a much more dangerous one around the world.
"Nobody knows how many different Islamist extremist groups make up the insurgency" in Iraq, said Anthony H. Cordesman of the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Even when you talk about Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the idea of somehow it is the center of the insurgency is almost absurd."
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, said, "I have been noticing -- not just your paper -- all papers have fallen into this reporting." The administration, he added, "made a strategic decision" to play up Al Qaeda's role in Iraq, "and the press went along with it." (Actually, that's not entirely accurate, but we'll get to that in a moment.)
Recent Times stories from Iraq have referred, with little or no attribution -- and no supporting evidence -- to "militants linked with Al Qaeda," "Sunni extremists with links to Al Qaeda" and "insurgents from Al Qaeda." The Times has stated flatly, again without attribution or supporting evidence, that Al Qaeda was responsible for the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra last year, an event that the president has said started the sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.

If you missed it, read whole thing, and also check out Jonathan Landay's piece for McClatchy: "Bush plays al Qaida card to bolster support for Iraq policy."

Going against a narrative as all-encompassing as the central one in the War on Terr'r -- a raghead is a raghead -- is all but impossible to do in the kind of sound byte reporting that we get on TV. That's a shame because the truth is that al Qaeda has virtually no popular support among Iraqis, and the only support it does receive is based solely on its opposition to the U.S. occupation. When we leave, it will mark the beginning off the end of al Qaeda in Iraq, but that doesn't seem to penetrate the fog of our discourse on the conflict. The consequence of that is infuriating: more Americans believe today that Saddam Hussein had a direct link to the attacks of 9/11 -- 41 percent, according to Newsweek -- than did in 2004.

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Tagged as: iraq, al qaeda, insugency, propaganda, media

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.

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