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Of Repetition Compulsion, War Crimes, and National Narcissism (Again)

Arthur Silber

Once Upon a Time...December 9, 2006

As a followup to my observations yesterday that nothing will fundamentally alter with regard to our Iraq policy -- regardless of the supposed "seriousness" of the Iraq Study Group, and regardless of the new Democratic Congress -- here are some key excerpts from a recent column by Norman Solomon:

The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has become notorious in the annals of American journalism. Even many reporters, editors and commentators who fueled the drive to war in 2002 and early 2003 now acknowledge that major media routinely tossed real journalism out the window in favor of boosting war.

But it's happening again.

The current media travesty is a drumbeat for the idea that the U.S. war effort must keep going. And again, in its news coverage, the New York Times is a bellwether for the latest media parade to the cadence of the warfare state.

...

During the weeks since the midterm election, the New York Times news coverage of Iraq policy options has often been heavy-handed, with carefully selective sourcing for prefab conclusions. Already infamous is the Nov. 15 front-page story by Michael Gordon under the headline "Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say." A similar technique was at play Dec. 1 with yet another "News Analysis," this time by reporter David Sanger, headlined "The Only Consensus on Iraq: Nobody's Leaving Right Now."

Typically, in such reportage, the sources harmonizing with the media outlet's analysis are chosen from the cast of political characters who helped drag the United States into making war on Iraq in the first place.

What's now going on in mainline news media is some kind of repetition compulsion. And, while media professionals engage in yet another round of conformist opportunism, many people will pay with their lives.

With so many prominent American journalists navigating their stories by the lights of big Washington stars, it's not surprising that so much of the news coverage looks at what happens in Iraq through the lens of the significance for American power.

Viewing the horrors of present-day Iraq with star-spangled eyes, New York Times reporters John Burns and Kirk Semple wrote -- in the lead sentence of a front-page "News Analysis" on Nov. 29 -- that "American military and political leverage in Iraq has fallen sharply."

The second paragraph of the Baghdad-datelined article reported: "American fortunes here are ever more dependent on feuding Iraqis who seem, at times, almost heedless to American appeals."

The third paragraph reported: "It is not clear that the United States can gain new traction in Iraq..."

And so it goes -- with U.S. media obsessively focused on such concerns as "American military and political leverage," "American fortunes" and whether "the United States can gain new traction in Iraq."

With that kind of worldview, no wonder so much news coverage is serving nationalism instead of journalism.
In this manner, the status quo protects itself and its prerogatives -- and its propaganda is dutifully amplified by a subservient press. This is why I have maintained that, even after the journalistic debacle of the leadup to the Iraq invasion, the media in this country have learned absolutely nothing. And Ralph Peters may be a repellently extreme and destructive example of this nationalistic narcissism -- with his endless emphasis on what "we" must do in Iraq, even though there never was and never will be any justifiable reason for our invasion and occupation, and despite the slaughter that is the direct result of our actions -- but the identical underlying perspective is revealed by most Americans, and by almost all of our press. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead and horrifically injured -- and still, it's almost all about us.

For a further discussion of the moral implications of these incontestable facts, implications that our national leaders, our media and most Americans resolutely refuse to understand and acknowledge, I turn once more to Jacob Hornberger:
Hanging over the Iraq debacle, however, is that one overriding moral issue that unfortunately all too many Americans have yet to confront: neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. That means that in this conflict, which has killed more than 600,000 Iraqis, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation.

Why is that issue so important? Because it involves morality, not pragmatics. Do U.S. troops have the moral right to be killing people, when they are part of a military force that has aggressed against another country? Do they have the moral right to kill people who have done nothing worse than defend their nation from attack or attempt to oust an occupier from their midst? Does simply calling an action "war" excuse an aggressor nation from the moral consequences of killing people in that war?

In other words, does the United States have the moral right to violate the principles against aggressive war, for which it prosecuted Germany at Nuremberg and condemned the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

By invading and occupying Iraq, Bush and Cheney have put the American people in the uncomfortable position of either supporting their government and its troops or supporting morality. Should a person support the actions of his government and its troops or should he obey the laws of God, when the government has placed its actions in contravention to those laws? What are the moral consequences for each individual faced with that choice?

Americans, quite naturally, want to continue believing that the federal government projects its power around the world just to help people. They want to believe that their government invaded Iraq just to help the Iraqi people -- well, at least after the WMDs failed to materialize and that primary justification for the invasion fell by the wayside.

But it's all a life of the lie -- a life of self-imposed deception and delusion -- a life that has refused for decades to confront the brutal and hypocritical role of the federal government in the affairs of other nations, including ouster of democratically elected leaders (e.g., Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala), assassinations and miltary coups (e.g., Vietnam and Chile), the support of brutal dictators (e.g., Saddam in Iraq, the Shah of Iran, and Musharraf in Pakistan), brutal and deadly sanctions and embargoes (e.g., Iraq and Cuba), foreign aid to socialist or authoritarian regimes (e.g., Israel and Egypt), the teaching of torture to Latin American military brutes at the School of the Americas, interference in the domestic affairs of other nations (e.g., Venezuela) under the guise of promoting "democracy," and, of course, the far-flung secret empire of torture camps run by the CIA.

But the prospect of indefinite failure and continuous death might well cause people to face reality and cause them to confront the painful facts and truth about U.S. foreign policy.
I deeply hope that Hornberger is correct that ongoing slaughter and destruction might cause people "to face reality" and "confront the painful facts and truth about U.S. foreign policy" -- but thus far, the signs are not at all encouraging.

The myth of Western, and more particularly, of American "exceptionalism" is a fundamental part of our nation's view of itself. It is deeply embedded in our national psyche, and I strongly doubt it will be dislodged in the foreseeable future. I recently quoted from Hampton Sides' new book, on the subject of the U.S. war against Mexico. Recall this sentence especially:"To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor. "

And that remains the American perspective, and it very accurately captures our colonialist, condescending, and racist national attitude toward Iraq and its peoples: we were doing them a favor. If it turned into a genocidal murder spree, well, that's only because it was managed "incompetently." Most people still will not see the inescapable moral meaning of what we have done. And most people will never acknowledge that if we had implemented a murderous plan of conquest "competently," that would only make the results infinitely worse, not "better."

We have murdered an entire country, and an unconscionable and entirely unforgivably huge number of innocent Iraqis. We have murdered them, without even the merest shadow of a justifiable reason.

Remember it for next time. And unless our entire perspective and worldview is challenged and rejected, there will be a next time. That is the single fact of which you can be absolutely certain.


:: Article nr. 28904 sent on 10-dec-2006 04:28 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=28904

Link: powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2006/12/of-repetition-compulsion-war-crimes.html



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