April 16, 2006
In more than 3 years of war, there has never been a positive citing of alleged terror mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi. This has led many to believe that he is merely a creation of Pentagon propagandists working with their agents in the western press. Colonel Derek Harvey strengthened those suspicions last week when he admitted in a Washington Post article that the military intentionally "enlarged Zarqawi’s caricature" to create the impression that the ongoing struggle against occupation was really a fight against terrorism. But, that is not the case. As Harvey notes, "The long term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but former regime types and their friends".
The Pentagon has tried to discredit Col. Harvey, but the damage has already been done. The mask has been removed from the War Dept’s rather ineffective black-op, and the American public has a great opportunity to see the amount of energy that goes into fabricating a narrative to support an unpopular war.
The Zarqawi-myth is strikingly different from other examples of Pentagon propaganda. The Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories both followed a familiar pattern of exaggerating American bravery to shore up support on the home-front. This type of propaganda is harmless and can be expected to appear in virtually any conflict. So too, there’s nothing unusual about the Pentagon’s attempts to distance itself from its actions which resulted in the needless (but predictable) deaths of innocent civilians, like the bombing of wedding parties or the recent rampage in Haditha where a number Iraqi noncombatants were killed. All this is par for the course.
The Zarqawi case is vastly different from these traditional forms of propaganda. It is information-warfare aimed exclusively at the American people with the intention of manipulating their perceptions. It builds the case for war out of whole cloth. Zarqawi has become the central justification for the ongoing occupation; a threatening, spectral figure who embodies the evils of terrorism. His image has overshadowed the obvious self-serving motives which led to the invasion and the subsequent destruction of Iraqi society.
Undoubtedly, many of the generals who are calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation must be uncomfortable with this deliberate effort to deceive the American people. Not surprisingly, support for the war has eroded in direct proportion to the administration’s loss of credibility. The lies simply haven’t helped at all. The exposing of Zarqawi is bound to further erode whatever small amount of faith still remains in government’s trustworthiness.
The influence of foreign fighters in Iraq has always been trivial. In the sieges of Falluja and Tel Afar less than 3% of those captured were non-Iraqis, and even those figures are in doubt. Never the less, a disproportionate number of articles appearing in the media have focused on uncorroborated claims of suicide bombings, beheadings, etc in an attempt to demonize an enemy that is mostly a Pentagon invention. The lesson we draw from this is powerful; nothing the military says can be trusted.
The civilian leadership, particularly Donald Rumsfeld, who we expect has authored many of these clever propaganda-schemes, should consider now whether the damage to their credibility has been worth the small gains they may have made in hoodwinking the public. It may be altruistic to think that "honesty is the best policy", but clearly, deception as policy has some glaring shortcomings as support for the war continues to diminish.
The media’s role in facilitating the Zarqawi charade cannot be overstated. New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins has been singled out for running a dubious letter from Zarqawi "boasting of suicide attacks" on the front page of the Times. Filkins sheepishly admitted that he was "skeptical" about the letter but that didn’t stop him (or 1,400 newspapers across the world) from using the piece to spread unsubstantiated claims about an imaginary Muslim terrorist.
Filkins, of course, is a very bright guy and knew that he was being used to promote the racist themes that have engendered greater suspicion of Muslims and fueled public hysteria. Still, Filkins is just one small cog in the mighty corporate propaganda-matrix which spews out anti-Arab hatred on a daily basis. Zarqawi is merely a way of vilifying the people who occupy the lands which possess the resources required to maintain western prosperity.
In my own research, I have spend a few evenings going over hundreds of articles on Zarqawi to find anything that might confirm his existence. As noted earlier, there are no reliable eyewitness accounts. What we find instead, is sometimes as many as 2,200 articles appearing on any given day pointing to Zarqawi’s involvement in a bombing without any tangible proof of his authenticity.
The news has simply become another "faith based" operation like the Bush administration.
Zarqawi-related news is devoid of any factual content. The accepted policy of the news agencies (without exception) is to reiterate the same Pentagon talking points, suspicions, and baseless claims as their peers. This gives us some insight into the collaborative relationship between the corporate media and their allies in the defense establishment. The Pentagon’s apparitions immediately become part of the national dialogue completely unchallenged by anyone in the news industry.
We should not expect that the Zarqawi myth will disappear anytime soon. The Bush administration has demonstrated a stubborn determination to cling to their fantasies no matter how threadbare they become. Besides, as Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt noted, "The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date".
Indeed, it probably is.
Courtesy and copyright © Mike Whitney