- In the days before the invasion, the administration refuses to provide any cost estimates of the Iraq invasion, marked by Rumsfeld's querulous, "If you don't know if it's going to last six days, six weeks, or six months, how in the world can you come up with a cost estimate?"
Iraq war and occupation
The Washington Post says Congress faces what it calls a "surreal timetable" that demands approval of budget resolutions calling for massive tax cuts without "setting aside a penny for war in Iraq." As with so many other elements of the war, the inability to predict costs is a lie. Rumsfeld has already worked up initial estimates for the first phase of the war, based partially on the expenses incurred during the Gulf War, which he will present to Congress after the war begins. Others have their own estimates. Yale economist William Nordhaus, after careful analysis, predicts a cost of almost $2 trillion over the rest of the decade. (Washington Post/Yale University/Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- In the days before the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld meets secretly with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar.
Iraq war and occupation
As reported by Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack, "Rumsfeld looked Bandar in the eye. 'You can count on this,' Rumsfeld said, pointing to the map. 'You can take that to the bank.'" Bandar asks, "Saddam, this time, will be out period? What will happen to him?" This time Dick Cheney gets to give the movie-cliche response: "[O]nce we start, Saddam is toast." (Bob Woodward/Al Franken)
- Woodward also writes about his later asking of Bush why he didn't discuss the impending invasion with his father, who was president during the 1991 invasion of Iraq.
George W. Bush
"I can't remember a moment when I said to myself, 'Maybe he can help me make the decision,'" Bush tells Woodward. "He was the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appealed to." (Bob Woodward/Al Franken)
The Invasion of Iraq
"You know, this war is so f*cking illegal." -- former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in 2004
"Many a man will have the courage to die gallantly, but will not have the courage to say, or even to think, that the cause for which he is asked to die is an unworthy one." -- Bertrand Russell
"I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war, no matter whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterwards, whether he told the truth or not." -- Adolf Hitler
- March 19-20: Bush sends American and British forces in to invade Iraq, beginning with air strikes directed specifically at Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi political and military leaders at Dora Farm, a complex south of Baghdad, where Hussein was incorrectly thought to be hiding.
Iraq war and occupation
(Hussein takes to the airwaves in the following hours to denounce the strikes.) The operation is labeled "Operation Iraqi Freedom" by the Pentagon. (MSNBC, NBC, and Fox News enthusiastically adopt the name for their own coverage; they fail to report that the original name for the invasion, Operation Iraqi Liberation, was jettisoned after the acronym was observed to be OIL.) Bush, along with British PM Tony Blair, are actively supported by Australia, Spain, and Romania; other countries provide "moral support" or allow US and British forces to use their air- and sea space. Dozens of countries sharply oppose the war; millions of protesters all over the world demonstrate daily against the war. Iraq retaliates with missile strikes against Kuwait; the missiles, which may or may not have been Scuds (prohibited by the UN), do little damage. The air strikes are almost immediately followed by troop invasions from the south. Columnist Paul Holmes writes of the sobriquet Operation Iraqi Freedom, "It's possible, I suppose, that Iraqi freedom might be a by-product of this campaign, but to pretend that it's what the exercise is all about is intellectual dishonesty at its most perverse." Most mainstream US media coverage of the war is completely supportive of the invasion, with no questions being asked about the justification of the invasion or the costs in civilian lives of the airstrikes. Fox News' Greta van Susteren's questioning of Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney is typical of the coverage: she asks McInerney why the Army chose to launch a particular strike with Apache helicopters rather than Air Force fighter planes.
- See the Fall 2002 and June 16, 2003 entries, among others, about the CIA informants known as the ROCKSTARS, and how their information about Hussein and Dora Farms was so grossly inaccurate.) (Wikipedia, FactMonster, MidEast Web, Rampton & Stauber/AlterNet, Amy and David Goodman, Bob Woodward, James Risen)
- March 19: During his on-air address to the nation announcing the strikes against Iraq, Bush is suitably sober and grim-faced.
Iraq war and occupation
But minutes before the cameras are turned on, Bush is almost exuberant. A photographer catches him grinning and pumping his fist in the air as he exclaims, "Feels good!" (The minutes before were spent joking, clowning, and allowing himself to be primped for the cameras.) He then composes himself for the address. Journalist Paul Waldman calls it a "revealing moment." The mainstream media's approach to the incident is equally revealing: the putatively liberal New York Times broadly chastizes the Associated Press for distributing a photo of the gleeful fist-pump, writing that the AP "had the gall to publish a picture that showed the president before he began speaking when he made a real, live, spontaneous gesture. The word in the press room the next day was that access to still photographers would be curtailed due to this transgression." Obviously the Times finds it unnecessary to tell its readers of, in Waldman's words, "Bush's evident excitement at sending young Americans and the Iraqis whose well-being he professed to care so deeply about to their deaths -- better to just call it a 'real, live, spontaneous gesture' and keep Americans from the discomfort that might be occasioned by a glimpse of their president's vulgar callousness." Waldman notes that the Times' "journalistic cowardice" was repeated by the bulk of the mainstream media, who refuses to print the photo at all. This is also an example of how easily the press is cowed by the vengeful Bush administration; better, they obviously feel, to craft their reporting in a positive manner and hide anything potentially negative about Bush than to risk having their access curtailed. This is one example of what ABC's The Note calls "inarguably the most beaten down press corps in the modern era."
- Waldman writes, "The fact that Bush was unable to prevent his glee at launching a war from manifesting itself physically should be nothing short of horrifying to any person of conscience, regardless of what one may think about the wisdom of invading Iraq. It cannot be explained by the fact that Bush himself has not seen war firsthand. One need not have crouched in a foxhole with bullets whizzing overhead to appreciate that war's inevitable costs in life and limb should temper one's sense of fun about the enterprise. As Jimmy Carter said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, war is sometimes a necessary evil, but it is always evil. But starting his long-sought war seemed to bring George W. Bush nothing but delight."
- A raw live feed, accidentally broadcast by the BBC, of a grinning, joking Bush being powdered and primped before his "sober" address to the nation, can be accessed at The Smoking Gun Web site. (Knight Ridder, The Smoking Gun, Paul Waldman)
Bush's "real, live, spontaneous gesture" celebrating his decision to invade Iraq
- One CIA official with the Joint Task Force on Iraq says, in recollection, that the start of the war brings the members of the task force little more than frustration.
Iraq war and occupation
"I felt like we ran out of time," the official recalls. "The war came so suddenly. We didn't have enough information to challenge the assumption that there were WMDs. It was very disappointing. How do you know it's a dry well? That Saddam was constrained? Given more time, we could have worked through the issue. We were trying to think creatively. But the war came too fast, and we did not have the time to look everywhere we could. From 9/11 to the war -- eighteen months -- that was not enough time to get a good answer to this important question. It was just not enough time." (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
Republican Guards stand down instead of battling US invasion forces
- In a stunning development not reported by the American media, in the first hours or days of the invasion, Iraqi Republican Guard commander Maher Sufyan agrees to have his Republican Guards stand down and not fight, in return for Sufyan and his family to flee the country with US assistance.
Iraq war and occupation
This explains why, although the military resistance of the Iraqi paramilitary forces and fedayeen is sporadically intense, there were virtually no major attempts at military resistance by the Iraqi military elite. The agreement between Sufyan and the US military will not be reported until April 15 by France's Le Monde. Some military observers believe that, in light of Sufyan's deal, Iraq's military strategy was not to fruitlessly resist the overwhelming American and British forces, but to allow US forces to "cakewalk" into Baghdad in order to draw them into an unwinnable guerrilla war. (Mark Crispin Miller)
Neocon plans to privatize Iraq's oil industry and destabilize Saudi Arabia thwarted by oil cartel
- In essence, the war is, of course, about US control of Iraq's oil fields, but not in the way that many believe.
Iraq war and occupation
"Was the invasion about the oil?" former CIA oil expert Robert Ebel asks in retrospect. "No, it was about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The morning after, it's about oil." Contrary to popular belief, the invasion and occupation isn't about increasing the US's access to Iraq's oil -- the US could have doubled its take from Iraq simply by lifting the sanctions it had imposed on that country for years. Instead, the invasion is about the Pentagon and White House neoconservatives' plans to use the soon-to-be-captive state of Iraq to assert control over, and perhaps to eventually destroy, OPEC. But those plans will be scotched, not by Iraqi insurgents or by UN efforts at diplomacy, but in what investigative journalist Greg Palast calls "the gladitorial fight to the death between neocons and the Big Oil establishment," fought through, in part, by the idea of enforcibly privatizing and selling off Iraq's oil fields.
- Much of the original plan to use Iraq to break OPEC was concocted by Ari Cohen, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, and his colleagues as what Palast calls "the madrassa of neocon fundamentalism in Washington, DC." Hussein and Iraq are, in Cohen's view, merely tools to use in reducing the real target, Saudi Arabia, to what will amount to a US client state. Cohen laid out his plans to Heritage chief Kim Holmes, who, when he was named assistant secretary of state for international organizations in the Bush administration, brought Cohen's plans to the attention of the Bush neoconservatives. The plan includes a directive for post-Hussein Iraq mandating the "massive...privatization of State-owned enterprises, especially the restructuring and privatization of the oil sector." Cohen's plans are included almost verbatim in the Economic Plan implemented in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer. While the plan itself, as discussed among Bush officials, remains confidential, Cohen himself later explains it to Palast. Cohen asserts that since OPEC's power comes from imposing oil production limits, or quotas, on its members, thereby limiting supplies and raising prices, and since Iraq's quota is well below what it can produce (limited by SOMO, the State Oil Marketing Organization), then if you sell off Iraq's oil fields in chunks to various corporations and consortiums, the individual owners will rack up production from each field, thus pushing Iraq's production to 6 million barrels a day, well above its OPEC quota. That extra 2 million barrels per day will flood the market. OPEC will dissolve into a squabbling, cheating assortment of individual nations each trying to make as much money as it can by ratcheting up production. The price of oil will drop precipitously, and Saudi Arabia, unable to survive the financial crash, will lose its power over OPEC and collapse. Cohen also says that such privatization will deprive Iraqi Shi'ites of much of the money that they are using to implement what he calls the "project of forced Islamization" in the country. And, in the long term, the oil-rich former Soviet states, including Russia, will, because of their own dependence on oil income, will become completely subjugated to the will of the US.
- But the plan to privatize Iraq's oil industry and destabilize Saudi Arabia never comes to fruition. Instead, says Cohen in retrospect, the plan will be sabotaged by what he calls "Arab saboteurs hired by the State Department who are supporting the witches' brew of the Saudi royal family and the Soviet ostblock" (Ostblock is the Cold War term for the Soviet sphere of influence, which does not exist anymore except in the fevered minds of neocons like Cohen.)
- Saudi economist Nawaf Obaid, a powerful figure in both the Saudi oil industry and in Saudi intelligence, says that Cohen and his cohorts are "talking out of the *sses again. ...The neocons say, 'you smash OPEC, you smash Saudi Arabia's power,' and yeah, they're going to use Iraq to do it. Yeah, we were baffled, you know, 'Ramp the production! Break all the quotas!' ...This is crazy." Interestingly, Obaid is completely familiar with the secret Walnut Creek conference of February 2001, where the overthrow of Hussein and the control of Iraq was planned; he even knows of the Pentagon neocons' plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as the head of the new Iraqi puppet government. He is more amused than anything else, particularly at the neocons' plans to destroy OPEC.
- Obaid says there are a number of reasons why the plan wouldn't work even if implemented. First, Iraq's oil fields were in disarray even before their future torching by Iraqi insurgents. It will be years before Iraq would be able to meet, much less exceed, its OPEC quotas. Second, member nations violate OPEC quotas at their peril. Saudi Arabia, whose control of OPEC is indisputable, sees to that. In 1973, Venezuela broke the Arab oil boycott; in 1997, when Venezuela once again ramped up production past its quotas, Saudi Arabia countered by ramping up its own production and flooding the world's oil market; oil prices dropped to $8/barrel, Venezuela went bankrupt and its government collapsed. Now Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez is a faithful observer of OPEC quotas. And in the mid-1980s, Saudi Arabia once again crashed the price of oil to punish the then-USSR, both for the USSR's cranking of its own oil production and to punish the Soviets for invading Muslim Afghanistan. "This choking loss of oil income had a lot more to do with the Soviet Union's collapse than Ronald Reagan's crooked smile," writes Palast. With the post-invasion spike of oil prices in 2004, Saudi Arabia will garner over $120 billion in oil profits in that year alone, giving the Saudis more than enough opportunity to "drop the price of oil for a year to bring Iraq, or any quota-busting nation, to its knees" if need be. Besides, says Obaid, why would Bush allow the Pentagon and White House neocons to attack Saudi Arabia through Iraq when the House of Saud is so supportive of Bush's goals?
- But Saudi Arabia will play its own hand. In December 2002, Obaid publicly announced that, while Saudi Arabia could not officially sanction the US's invasion of a Muslim country such as Iraq, it would pump enough oil to keep prices down during and after the invasion. And it did so; in early 2003, the Saudis increased oil production to almost total capacity, pumping a staggering 12 million barrels a day. But once the occupation is in place, in early 2004 the Saudis will cut back production, causing oil prices to jump 121%, from under $30 a barrel to over $60 a barrel. The cost to the US will be 1.2% of its GDP and the loss of a million jobs; the effect on African and Asian countries is far more harsh. Bush, for whatever reason, refuses to intervene with the Saudis to do something about the exploding gas prices. In return, the Saudis will only crank up production and cause oil prices to drop one more time -- just before the November 2004 elections.
- The tremendous spike in oil prices, courtesy of the Saudis and OPEC, is very, very good for US oil companies. Their profits will nearly triple from 2002 to 2004, from $34 billion to $81 billion; in 2005 their profits will soar to $113 billion. The war helps boost the price of Exxon's oil reserves by $666 billion; Chevron's, $250 billion. The five major oil corporations see their reserves spike in value by nearly $2.4 trillion. The oil companies have no interest in the neocon fantasies of destroying OPEC, and in early May, 2003, they will take steps to see that the neocons' dream is killed a-borning.
- In early May 2003, oil magnate Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil and the former CEO of the Fluor Corporation (the largest contractor in Iraq behind Halliburton and Bechtel), flies to Baghdad to put a stop to Bremer's plans to sell off Iraq's oil industry. "I was very clear that there was to be no privatization of Iraq's oil resources or facilities while I was involved," he recalls. He also refuses to allow any "de-Ba'athification" of "his" oil ministry. Though Bremer is the head of the CPA and in theory the most powerful person in Iraq, he doesn't dare stand up to Carroll and the oil cartel. Both the orders to stop privatization and to stop the purge of former Ba'athists from the oil ministry come straight from the oil company boardrooms. Instead, Carroll ensconces the head of the oil ministry, Thamir Ghadbhan, and the head of SOMO, Mohammed al-Jiburi, in power at the ministry. Both have plenty of experience in producing oil under Hussein, and are close to the centers of power in the American, British, and Saudi oil companies. Ghadbhan and al-Jiburi were anointed as the future heads of Iraq's oil production facilities by the State Department's Walnut Creek planners in 2001, though the neocons had little use for either man. The oil industry is quite comfortable with those two heading Iraq's oil ministry, whom Palast describes as "technicians who could serve democrats or dictators alike with cold efficiency." Bremer and the neocons will be checkmated by Big Oil. In a conversation with Palast, Carroll is dismissive of Cohen's plans for privatization of Iraq's oil fields and the planned destabilization of Saudi Arabia: "I would agree with [Cohen's] statement that privatization is a no-brainer," he says. "It would only be thought about by somebody with no brain." As for the Heritage Foundation planners, Carroll says, "I guess if you're in a think tank you have to think sometimes, not always clearly." He goes on: "Many neoconservatives have certain ideological beliefs about markets and democracy and this, that, and the other. International oil companies, without exception, don't have an ideology, they don't have a doctrine."
- In the winter of 2003, Carroll will leave Baghdad after ensuring that the oil ministry would be safe from Bremer's neocons and that the task of rebuilding Iraq's devastated oil production facilities is well under way. He is replaced by former ConocoPhillips executive Rob McKee, who is given a $26 million farewell bonus from Conoco. During his tenure as the oil company's shadow minister of Iraq's oil, McKee retains his post as chairman of Enventure, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Bremer takes advantage of Carroll's departure to demote Ghadbhan and fire al-Jiburi, who will flee Iraq for a palatial estate in Westchester, New York; Bremer himself will leave Iraq under cover of darkness and his favored Iraqi, Chalabi, will be arrested months later. But in the interim between Carroll's departure and McKee's arrival, Chalabi will install his colleague Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, an obscure oil engineer whose father is one of the senior members of the Iraqi Governing Council; al-Ulum himself was also a participant in the prewar planning sessions in London with Bush's emissary, Robert Ebel. Al-Ulum is also a close colleague of Fadhil Chalabi, the former Iraqi oil minister and a fellow tribesman of the more well-known Ahmad Chalabi. Fadhil Chalabi is also a former Secretary General of OPEC. Chalabi never liked Saudi Arabia, repeatedly accusing that nation (accurately enough) of seeing itself as the power behind OPEC, and openly resentful that the Saudis mandated that Iraq's oil production would match that of Iran, in a failed attempt to preserve the peace between the two nations. The plan failed, but it did keep Iraq from amassing the same kind of petro-fortunes that the Saudis enjoyed. Chalabi is enthusiastic about the neocons' plans to control or destroy OPEC, and has plans for Iraq to pump an astonishing 12 million barrels of oil a day, ensuring that Iraq would supplant Saudi Arabia as the controlling power in OPEC. His man, al-Ulum, has been put in charge of the oil ministry to carry out that plan. Unfortunately, al-Ulum loves to talk to the Western press, and brags about his plans, backed by Washington and CPA neocons, to privatize Iraq's oil industry. The Iraqi insurgents took notice. "We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines," says Iraqi exile and financier Falah Aljibury, "on the premise that privatization is coming. Insurgents and those who want to destabilize Iraq have used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, you're losing all your resources to a bunch of wealthy people; a bunch of billionaires want to take you over and make your life miserable, and the means to live for your children are going to be taken away from you.'"
- In October 2003, McKee arrives in Baghdad to find pipelines burning and oil fields bombed every day. The amateurish al-Ulum couldn't prevent massive corruption from vitiating the oil ministry and the systematic sabotage of oil pipelines. McKee would take control of the situation.
- McKee's job is to ensure the implementation of the State Department/US oil industry plan to consolidate Iraq's own oil industry, and foil the neocon plans to sell off Iraq's government-run oil industry piecemeal. The plan is finalized during meetings in November and December 2003, in Houston, without input from any Iraqis; the upshot is that the oil industry will remain a government-run business, though now by American administrators, and will continue as part of OPEC. Documentation of the Iraq oil plan proves exceedingly difficult for reporters to locate, but eventually Palast's researchers make contact with Ed Morse, an advisor to Hess Energy Trading and a fundraiser for the Democratic Party. Morse, a colleague of Bush advisor James Baker, works very closely with the administrators in Iraq. Morse later says, "Rob [McKee] was very promotive of putting in place a really strong national oil company." He also confirms that the oil industry would not tolerate any more of the neocons' efforts to use Iraq's oil industry to destabilize OPEC and, by extension, Saudi Arabia. Another contact, Amy Jaffe of the James Baker think tank in Houston, confirms much of the content of the Iraq oil plan, including its title, "Options for a Sustainable Iraqi Oil Industry." (Both Morse and Jaffe claim that they never told Palast any details of the plan, but Palast has the audio recordings of his meetings with them.) Armed with the title and details of the document, and threatening legal action, Palast and his researchers eventually persuade the State Department to turn over a copy of the document to them on July 1, 2004. The document was prepared by Washington consulting firm BearingPoint under the tutelage of oil industry experts such as Donald Hertzmark, a consultant to the Indonesia state oil company, and Garfield Miller of Aegis Energy, a firm that advises, among other companies, Solomon Smith Barney. The document was prepared at the Baker Institute in Houston.
- The document itself is fascinating. It gives seven options to the Iraqi puppet government of the kind of state-run oil ministry that American overseers will accept, but warns the Iraqis to steer clear of the "Aramco" model followed in years past by Saudi Arabia -- a joint Saudi-American oil corporation that was eventually taken over in its entirety by Saudi Arabia. Such a model, which would lead to the forced displacement of American and European oil businesses as a partner in the enterprise, would result, the document warns, in the withholding of critical investment funding. Instead, the document recommends the business model followed by the "stans" -- the oil-rich Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, who allow Western oil cartels to control their oil industries in everything but name, and in turn receive a chunk of the profits. The "appropriate share" of the profits, as stated in the document, can be shown from the example set by Kazakhstan, who received more foreign investment in its oil industry than any other former Soviet state. In 1996, Kazakhstan received a $120 million payment in the first sale of a production share to a firm called Hurricane Hydrocarbons; in 2005, Hurricane Hydrocarbons flipped its share to China for $4.2 billion -- a 35,000% profit. Kazakhstan received not one dime of the staggering profits. Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) paid $51 million for its share of Kazakhstan's oil industry; about half of that payment wound up in the Swiss bank accounts of Kazakhstan's president and oil minister, in an apparent payoff. ExxonMobil claims it acted ethically; the broker who facilitated the deal defends his actions by claiming he worked for the US government. Azerbaijan is another example of a Central Asian company who allows Big Oil to take over his country's oil industry in return for fat kickbacks. The oil plan warns that if Iraq tries to squeeze out the IOCs (international oil companies), it "will be unlikely to achieve significant levels of investment regardless of the richness of their geology." "In other words," Palast translates, "give it up like Azerbaijan or eat your oil."
- But the core of the document is the assurance that Iraq will continue to run its oil industry as an adjunct of its government. "Why were the standard bearers of Western capitalism, Texas oilmen, so insistent on Iraq creating a state-owned national monopoly?" Palast asks. "On page 15, they get to the point: 'A single state-owned company...enhances a government's relationship with OPEC.' ...Only through the unique power of government monopoly can a nation hold back production to the OPEC quota." When everyone cooperates with OPEC, the firms in the international oil cartel make staggering profits, and not just from Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil, but from oil pumped from Texas, Alaska, and the North Sea as well. In the first three years after the invasion, the windfall for oil companies taken from the pockets of US consumers will add up to $305 billion over prewar prices. The Baker Institute's Jaffe says in May 2005 that "Under a democratic, privatized system, with private Iraqi oil companies," IOCs might have been left out, and that is something the oil companies will not tolerate. As for the oil companies' preference against having a democracy in Iraq, Jaffe says, "It's in the interest of the Western oil companies to have a stable government. ...[T]here's no ideology behind it."
- So why, Palast asks, get rid of Hussein at all, if all the oil companies want is a stable Iraqi oil industry controlled by a government willing to subjugate its own interests to that of OPEC? He quickly debunks the theory that Bush ordered the invasion because Hussein planned to switch oil sales from dollars to Euros, because Bush has been determined throughout his tenure as president to devalue the dollar in comparison to the Euro; if Hussein had indeed gone over to the Euro, the dollar would have been further devalued in comparison, and that would follow along with Bush's own machinations. Palast also debunks the more prevalent theory that by invading Iraq, the US and Britain would then have the control of Iraq's oil to ensure that they controlled the remainder of the world's shrinking oil reserves -- what Palast calls the "Peaking Oil" theory -- by disproving the widely held belief that the world's oil supplies are in imminent danger of running out. His analysis is long and involved, and something I won't reproduce here, but basically it shows that the oil companies themselves have long since abandoned their support for the famous 1956 analysis by geologist M. King Hubbert that "proves" the world's oil supplies will run out by 2006. As Harpers magazine editor Lewis Lapham notes, the world has been "running out of oil" since the days we drained it from whales. (Lapham's family helped found Mobil Oil.) The real problem is that, in the short term, the oil companies are plagued with too much oil on the market, at least too much for their visions of endlessly skyrocketing profits. Palast writes, "Indeed, Bush and Cheney are more than happy to allow others to promote Hubbert Peak hysteria in the public. 'We need Iraq's oil' is used as a good bogeyman to get the public behind an invasion that promises to get Americans a fill-up for the family gas guzzler for less than a hundred dollars. Anti-war progressives seized on the Hubbert humbug as proof that Bush's invasion was a war of 'Blood for Oil.' Nuns, professors, and rock stars were outraged. But the average Amercian thinks, Blood for oil? That's a BARGAIN." In reality, new oil field discoveries and new technologies have made oil more plentiful now than ever before. OPEC, in reality the creation of the oil cartel and only on paper the creation of a consortium of governments, keeps oil prices artificially high and the oil companies' profits rocketing ever upwards. Palast sums up pithily: "Evil, not geology, has a chokehold on energy; nature is ready to give us crude at $12 a barrel where it was just a few short years ago."
- So why the invasion? The oil cartel's true interest is in suppressing oil production, not increasing it, despite the neocon fantasies of driving oil production upwards and breaking OPEC. "Did the petroleum industry, which had a direct, if hidden, hand in promoting invasion, cheerlead for a takeover of Iraq to prevent overproduction?" Palast asks. He answers his own question: "It wouldn't be the first time." Iraq has 112 billion proven barrels of oil in reserve, larger than any country's except Saudi Arabia. But Iraq has only 3000 operating oil wells, compared with the million oil wells in Texas. With work, in a decade Iraq would rival Saudi Arabia in oil production, weakening the Saudi sheikh's stranglehold on the world's oil supply, and weaken the control of the Texas oil magnates as well. The neocon plan to have Iraq pump 12 million barrels a day "is ridiculous politically. It would never be permitted. An international industry policy of suppressing Iraqi oil production has been in place since 1927." (See the 1927 entry about Iraq's oil production in this site.) By 2005, Iraq, with 74 known oil fields, only has 15 in production. Of the 525 known "structures," or what Palast calls "pools of oil," only 125 have been drilled. The 2003 invasion and occupation is more about keeping Iraq from increasing its oil production than anything else. And it works: in 2003, 2004, and 2005, Iraq will pump significantly less oil than it was allowed under the 2003 Oil-for-Food program, a restriction of 2 million barrels per day. The Iraqi decline in oil production has been a linchpin of the skyrocketing oil profits for Big Oil, with the 2003 profits of the "big five" US oil companies more than tripling in comparison to pre-invasion 2002 profits. How did Bush profit? In part with the $40 million in contributions to his 2004 presidential campaign from the oil companies.
- "Every cartel needs one producer to stifle production, and that was Iraq's sorry role...for nearly a century," Palast writes. "The last thing the oil industry wanted from Iraq in 2001 was a lot more oil." Much of the impetus to overthrow Saddam Hussein came from one group involved in the Cheney energy task force meetings of mid-2001, the Joint Task Force on Petroleum of the James A. Baker III Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations. The JTF was comprised of an odd assortment of oil company and political figures: BP's John Manzoni, Luis Giusti, the then-CEO of Venezuela's state-run oil company, Kenneth Lay of Enron, Philip Verleger of the National Petroleum Council, Mack McLarty of Kissinger McLarty associates, and others, all chaired by Ed Morse of Hess Oil Trading. The JTF decided Hussein's fate when it wrote, "Tight markets have increased US and global vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key 'swing' producer, posing a difficult situation for the US government." In plain English, this means that Hussein jerked his oil production up and down for non-cartel reasons: one week, Hussein would stop oil production entirely in "support for the Palestinian intifada," causing oil prices worldwide to jump, then the next week Hussein suddenly opens the spigots and oil prices plummet. "Control is what it's all about," says Lapham. "It's not about getting the oil, it's about controlling oil's price." Baker group advisor Falah Aljibury called Hussein a "wild card," exerting influence on the world's oil prices far outside his relatively small production should allow. The JTF report called him a "destabilizing influence...to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East." His yanking the market up and down even precipitated the US's ill-conceived attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez in 2002. "Saddam Hussein has demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon to manipulate oil markets," wrote the CFR as part of the JTF's final report. "...United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments." Hussein's manipulation of the oil markets could not be allowed to continue.
- According to Jaffe, Morse briefed the Pentagon's senior officials on the JTF report. Though the Pentagon neocons had different ideas about handling the oil markets, their goal of overthrowing Hussein was reflected in the JTF report, which was also given to Dick Cheney. In early 2001, Cheney met secretly with task force members and other energy industry colleagues to pore over maps of Iraq's oil fields. The invasion plan was on. This also explains why Cheney stubbornly refused to disclose the names of his energy task force, and why the Supreme Court allowed the records of his task force to be sealed. Cheney's own task force agreed with the Baker-CFR report recommending military action against Iraq. Both also agreed that Iraq's oil fields must be left untapped.
- As the occupation continues into 2004, the two plans -- the oil industry/State Department plan to keep a tight governmental grip on Iraq's oil industry, and the neocons' plans to privatize Iraq's oil fields -- are still at odds. Finally, the most powerful person in Washington makes the decision to go with the State Department plan. That person, in Morse's words, is "the person most influential in running American energy policy, the Vice President." From all evidence, George W. Bush had no say whatsoever in deciding if and when the invasion would take place, how long the occupation would last, or what Americans would pay for gasoline. The decisions have always been Cheney's, and Cheney would, in the end, side with the oil industry that has always welcomed him and made him a multi-millionaire. The neocons' plans to privatize Iraq's oil industry and break the back of OPEC would be scotched by Cheney. In May 2004, neocon puppet Ahmad Chalabi will be hounded out of office, his home and office raided, his files seized, and his CIA stipend halted. He will even face accusations of spying for Iran, accusations that so far have been proven true. Another neocon ally, Bahr al-Ulum, will be removed from his post as head of the Iraqi oil ministry and replaced by old oil industry allies from the Hussein regime, including Mohammed al-Jiburi, brought back from exile in New York, and al-Ulum's replacement, Thamir Ghadbhan, who al-Ulum had supplanted. Ghadbhan immediately annouces the creation of an Iraqi state oil company to own and control all reserves. On June 30, 2004, Bremer gives up power in the planned transition to a supposedly independent Iraqi government, replaced by the State Department's John Negroponte, a former neocon hero who, ironically, had long opposed the neocons' plans for Iraq. 200 American advisors are brought in to personally supervise and conduct business in each of Iraq's government ministries -- a true shadow government.
- In 2005, neocon Paul Wolfowitz's grandiose predictions of plummeting oil prices due to a tremendous increase in Iraqi oil production will be proven nothing more than fantasy, when oil prices continue to spike at record levels and Iraq's oil production mired at a low of 1.4 million barrels a day, 30% lower than the country's OPEC quota. In Bush's second term, neocons were purged. The Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith left their positions, Wolfowitz to preside over the World Bank and Feith for the Hoover Institute. State's John Bolton becomes the US ambassador to the UN. The purge results in the triumphal proclamation of the Council of Foreign Relations, "The realists have defeated the fantasists!" But all was not lost for the neocons. Chalabi resumes power as Deputy Prime Minister and interim oil minister. Charges of spying for Iran are forgotten, the King of Jordan offers to pardon Chalabi for stealing $72 million from Jordan's Petra Bank, and Chalabi returns control of the oil ministry to al-Ulum. Ghadbhan is demoted. Negroponte is removed from Iraq to become the Bush administration's new "terrorism czar." At this writing, the US and Iraqi neocons are poised to make something of a counter-coup, with Negroponte replaced by neocon darling Zalmay Khalizad, remembered for welcoming Taliban representatives to Houston in 1997 to negotiate the Caspian Sea oil pipeline for his client, Unocal. Currently Khalizad runs Iraq from a 3,000-member embassy in Baghdad, the largest in world history. "Old puppets, new strings," Palast caustically observes. Despite the intent of Rob McKee's replacement, Conoco's Mike Stinson, to finish the creation of a state-run Iraqi oil industry, al-Ulum has already presided over the sell-off of bits of Iraq's oil fields to private clients, though in January 2006, he hands over the oil ministry to Chalabi. "And the cycle starts over again with the tug-of-war between Big Oil and the neocons unresolved," Palast writes, "never resolved, as Iraq conquest a la Bush staggers into its fourth year." Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita reassures us that the situation will improve: "We're going to get better over time. The future of war is that these things are going to be much more of a continuum.... This is the future for the world we're in at the moment. We'll get better as we do it more often." Palast writes in response, "More often?" (Greg Palast)
- March 19: Justice Antonin Scalia tells an audience that it was "a wonderful feeling"
to have led the Supreme Court's rejection of a recount in the November 2000 Florida election, and thus giving the election to Bush. (Mark Crispin Miller)
"Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties." -- George W. Bush, discussing the upcoming Iraq war with Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson
US troops in Iraq.
- Journalist Ian Williams writes of the assumptions preceding the war:
Iraq war and occupation
"Their bedrock assumptions were wrong. ...[T]here were no massive stockpiles of chemical and biological, let alone nuclear, weapons waiting to greet the invading forces, which is just as well, really, since there were not nearly enough American troops to cope with the threat if it had been real, not least since the Pentagon's other assumption, of massive defections by the Iraqi army and uprisings by the Shi'a didn't happen, either. (Ian Williams)
- March 19: Bush warns media outlets about publishing photos of dead Iraqi civilians;
Iraq war and occupation
the media agreed to keep their coverage free from such upsetting displays. Lewis Lapham writes, "As events moved forward and the home audience registered its approval of a new and improved form of reality TV, it was understood that foreign dead counted merely as unpaid extras briefly available to the producers of the nightly news to fuel the fireballs and stand around in front of the machine-gun bullets." (Lewis Lapham)
- Interestingly, the 2003 discovery of mass graves in Iraq of slaughtered Kurdish and Shi'ite citizens has been used to justify the invasion;
Iraq war and occupation
the graves are a direct result of the first Bush administration's approval of Saddam Hussein's orders to mow down thousands of rebellious citizens after the US withdrew from Iraq in 2001, before imposing no-fly zones and sanctions on the country. (Al Franken)
- March 19: NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw tells his listeners,
Iraq war and occupation
"One of the things that we don't want to do...is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we're going to own that country." (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- March 19: Musician and antiwar activist Ani DiFranco performs in Newark, New Jersey.
She asks antiwar journalist Amy Goodman to speak to the audience before she takes the stage. On Goodman's way to the concert, she phones DiFranco, who tells her that the concert may be canceled -- the booking is by conservative media corporation Clear Channel, and the managers of the venue, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, are uneasy about any possible antiwar messages being made to any audience in its environs. The managers tell DiFranco that they will not tolerate any antiwar statements from the stage. Upon arrival, Goodman is searched by stagehands, who confiscate hundreds of flyers announcing Democracy Now's special coverage of Iraq, but let her through. Though the concert organizers expect Goodman's microphone to be shut off during her speech to the crowd, Goodman is able to deliver her statement, her colleague Jeremy Scahill is able to toss a few flyers into the crowd, and DiFranco is allowed to perform without interruption. "That's one for the people, and zero for the knuckleheads!" DiFranco tells the wildly cheering crowd. (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
Pamphlet dropped by US forces directing Iraqi troops not to harm Iraqi oil facilities
"Embedded" journalists provide groomed and manipulated coverage of invasion
- March 19-on: Around 600 reporters from around the world are "embedded" with various US and British military units, and provide often stunning news coverage from the battlefield as well as the rear echelons.
Conservative media slant
Most TV coverage in the US comes from these journalists, who can be controlled and spoon-fed by Pentagon PR flacks, themselves supervised by the Pentagon's chief marketer, Torie Clarke, a veteran of the National Cable Television Association. (Americans quickly become familiar with the main location of the endless press conferences from Central Command in Qatar, a $200,000 set designed by a former Disney production designer and the illusionist David Blaine.) In their book Embedded, Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson interview a number of journalists and photographers about their experiences with embedding. Washington Times chief photographer Joe Eddins, embedded with a Marine support group, says that there is a big difference between the "grunts" and the supply division Marines. "Essentially what happens is that the various job descriptions are filled within the supply side with the highest rated people to do a certain job. So they filled the electrician slots with the best electricians that they had available. They filled the construction slots with the best construction people that they had. Then everyone who is left over, they say, 'Congratulations, you are now the security company.'" Eddins' remarks highlight the problems that Marines, and other US military personnel, had in functioning as security personnel, a job that they were not trained for. "I am not trying to criticize them as Marines," says Eddins. "It's just the fact that that is not their job." Eddins describes one situation where an inexperienced Marine major worried about security sent four Marines in full battle gear, including Kevlar vests, into a deep, water-filled canal to swim to the other side to set up perimeter security. "Now, if you talk to Marines, they will tell you they are trained to a certain extent to be able to swim with their gear, but it would seem to me that you would have to exercise a little common sense in this situation. There was no enemy on top of them. They could have taken some precautions, but this major didn't. He sent these four Marines into the water without any kind of flotation and without any safety line. Two of them drowned." After Eddins sends photographs documenting the two deaths back to his newspaper, he is unofficially blackballed by the Pentagon, and is not allowed to report on any further actions.
- Mercedes Gallego, a correspondent with Spain's El Correo and Telecinco, says that she was uncomfortable with her role as an embedded reporter, especially in light of her belief that so many other journalists developed loyalties to their "units" that colored their reporting: "I didn't really have friendships with the Marines. I wasn't very happy with the friendships. I thought [the Marines] were very intolerant and I couldn't express my own opinions without getting into a difficult position with them. ...To be honest, I was against this war and against what they were doing. It was tricky to always be hiding my feelings. I never saw the need to make war and never believed the weapons of mass destruction. I never understood why they had to go and take over another country when there are so many dictators in the world that are, in fact, allies of the United States. I've covered Guatamala. I've covered Nicaragua. I thought this was another way of intervention, of doing over here what they were doing in Central America -- of customizing the government. I'm not surprised that Rumsfeld is the guy who cut a deal with Saddam Hussein in the eighties. It was like watching old dinosaurs."
- BBC correspondent Ben Brown says that he and his fellow British journalists were "a bit constrained" in what they could and couldn't report. "I saw a few bodies from a distance, but that was about all I could get away with," he says. "The BBC has their own guidelines, which are based on years of audience complaints. We know what the audience will tolerate and what they won't. Whereas other countries like Japan are happy to see close-ups of people blown up, the British audience does not."
- Geoffrey Mohan, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times embedded with an Army infantry unit, says, "Being an embed was a win/win situation for the military, because it produced a lot of firsthand accounts -- and really compassionate accounts -- of what it's like to be a soldier or what it's like to be on a battlefield. The military knew it would get that kind of 'positive reporting.' There was just so much negative reporting. We wrote about friendly fire; we wrote about civilian casualties; we did not pull punches on those topics and we questioned all those incidents along the way. It was very strange for me personally because no matter how much you guard against it, you start to identify yourself with the people you're embedded with, particularly when you're being shot at. You start to look at the other side as the enemy, you lose sympathy toward the enemy dead, or those that you classify as the enemy. There were several incidents where I really did feel that was the case and was shocked at how I adopted that posture."
- Of his embed experience with a Marine unit, CNN's Martin Savidge says, "In this war, there was a constant battle between Martin Savidge, who was with the Marines, and Martin Savidge, who was the journalist. It was a conflict of the soul. The reason is because if you are in a fight as a noncombatant, and that your life and your fate are in the hands of the unit, there will form a bond with the soldiers. I know I did. No one who has not been in combat can really understand this, and it's very true, because your lives depend on the person next to you. The hard part for the journalist is that you've got to somehow rise above it, and try to look on it thoroughly and with honesty. It's like you're having an out-of-body experience."
- Washington Post reporter Peter Baker says, "The embedding process was a great, huge step forward. What we had in the past was terrible. The critics have a point about some of the things they say about it. But the choice is not between embedding and free, complete access. ...The problem with the war was that some of the unilaterals were cowboys and they made it dangerous for everybody. They did crazy sh*t. They went in front of the front lines, and they got in between battles. That stuff is nuts. It's bad enough that they take chances, but they also create an atmosphere that is dangerous for all reporters because people in the country start thinking the reporters are combatants."
- His wife Susan Glasser, also a reporter with the Post, notes that the embedding process gave journalists excellent coverage of American and British soldiers, but very limited access to Iraqi civilians, thereby slanting the coverage. It did, however, "cause journalists to see...the utter uselessness of the set-piece Pentagon briefings."
- Newsday's Graham Rayman says of the embedding experience, "With the embedding, you're only going to get a very narrow picture of what happened, only what that unit sees, and that can really vary. Second, you're not going to be able to follow up very well. It's difficult to follow up without leaving the unit in very uncertain territory and then, basically, without any resources. Third, just the fact that you're putting your life in the hands of the Marines is by itself not conducive to objective journalismm, right? So it's limiting. But on the other hand, if your aim is to write about what the Marines do every day -- what their relations are like, what goes through their minds -- then it's an excellent idea. Looking at the embedding process, at least from the journalistic side, it's best to have it balanced with people who are also on their own, doing typical foreign reporting assignments. When I covered September 11, the struggle was always trying to pry information out of the city, or the state, or the federal government. They wanted the issue to be the heroism of the firefighters, and the inconsolable grief of the families who lost loved ones, and they wanted that to be the story by itself, not to what extent the construction had anything to do with the buildings' collapse or to what extent political considerations have wormed their way into the redevelopment."
- Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright was embedded with a Marine unit, and came away with a generally positive impression of the Marines' professionalism. He learned to appreciate the platoon leader as a competent, caring soldier who took good care of his men, but he did see one instance that bothered him. "The first time that made him seen like a bad guy," says Wright, "was when they were throwing out humanitarian rations to those Iraqi kids, and he said, 'Vote Republican!' I am pretty apolitical. I am a member of the Libertarian Party. I don't care if he is a Republican, but I thought, 'What a snotty remark!' These kids are starving and he is mocking them. Then it kind of sickened me because, well, he's right. This was brought to them by Bush and the Republican Party."
- Michael Massing of the Committee to Protect Journalists says, "[I]t's just extraordinary the extent to which the American media remained largely ignorant of the Arab world, just as the FBI and CIA have come into a lot of criticism for lacking Arabic speakers and people with on-the-ground knowledge of the region. The press is even worse off and that badly showed in the coverage. It's also important to keep in mind the gap between television and print media. As difficult a time as newspapers had, TV was miles further behind. The number of people these TV networks sent into the field compared to the amount of expertise they could bring to bear, it's really appalling. The US television media and the Arabic TV media certainly seemed to mirror one another. Al-Jazeera has many seasoned correspondents, and its original staff was trained by the BBC and so there's still a lot of those news values in there, but that group is getting squeezed out bu people who have more of an agenda that reflects the politics of the region. These news organizations are sensitive to political trends, and as that region becomes more militant, the TV networks will reflect that. If you look at the Arab world, the opening for political action is so narrow. Press freedom is usually a second- or third-tier freedom that develops after some more basic rights come such as freedom to read what you want and freedom of assembly. ...In the Arab world, you don't really have opposition parties in most places, so you don't even have that level of freedom of the press. There's going to be the need for more general political reform in the Arab world, before press freedom starts to flourish, although al-Jazeera itself has been the vehicle for a sort of earthquake in the region because it is criticizing governments. But in terms of indigenous newspapers in each country, for instance -- or other types of news organizations -- that might be able to report freely, unfortunately, that seems to be way off."
- Al-Jazeera correspondent Amr El-Kakhy says that most Western journalists and audiences have the wrong idea about his television station. "The Qatari government does not control us," he says. "Does not tell us what to do here. All choices are made absolutely on merit. I am sitting there producing on the desk whatever I think of. I just do it and nobody interferes with me. We just discuss it like any other news desk." El-Kakhy, an Egyptian, claims that al-Jazeera is the only independent news outlet in the Arab world, and notes that many Arab governments and civilians see al-Jazeera as almost an outlaw news station: "The main problem al-Jazeera has with the Arab governments is that al-Jazeera has no taboos whatsoever. This is what makes them really anxious, always monitoring al-Jazeera, always complaining about our reports of such things." He says that the US military had erroneous conceptions about the kind of coverage his station produces, and was told by several soldiers that al-Jazeera was seen as "the enemy." He says that his station is careful to balance of footage of, say, Osama bin Laden with equivalent footage of US officials such as Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell, as well as broadcasting US press conferences with ambassadors, military spokespeople, and the like. "Even in this case," he says, "the balance is in the American favor."
- Combat cameraman Staff Sergeant Ronald Mitchell, whose job was to document the war for the US Army, says, "I'm completely against embedded journalists because it takes soldiers away from their jobs to protect somebody who volunteered to come over here. ...Another thing I hate about the embedded media is that nobody is checking their imagery. Like they're just pretty much renegades out there. They can shoot anything and put out any kind of story, and a lot of times they'll put out a bad story depending on how they feel about the military. They have a little agreement that they can't be kicked out of the unit unless they do something extremely dangerous, put soldiers in harm's way."
- Liberal gadfly Michael Moore later says during the Oscar broadcasts, "I would like to call for the immediate removal of all US troops -- from CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN." (Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson, Amy Goodman and David Goodman, Frank Rich p.74)
- Journalist Gordon Dillow of the Orange County Register, who is embedded with a Marine unit, later writes,
Conservative media slant
"The biggest problem I faced as an embed with the Marine grunts was that I found myself doing what journalists are warned from J-school not to do. I found myself falling in love with my subject. I fell in love with 'my' Marines." CBS's Jim Axelrod had far fewer qualms about his prowar coverage as an embed: "This will sound like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but I found embedding to be an extremely positive experience.... We got great stories and they got very positive coverage." Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon spokesperson who formerly worked as a senior executive with public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, says, "We put the same planning and preparation into this [embed program] as military planners put into the war effort." (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- Journalist Amy Goodman writes, "The embeds were supposedly there to offer frontline coverage.
Conservative media slant
But what can you cover from the turret of a tank? You can cover what it feels like to shoot people. Then you can get the gunner's response and the commander's spin. That is one narrow slice of the war experience. What about the victims? Shouldn't reporters be embedded in Iraqi communities and hospitals? Shouldn't there be reporters embedded in the peace movement to give us an intimate understanding of what catalyzed the largest coordinated international protest in history, when 30 million people around the globe marched against the war on February 15, 2003? A few reporters were honest about what was going on -- off-camera, overseas, in private, and talking and writing among themselves. That's where journalists told the real story of how embedding worked. CBS's Dan Rather later tells the BBC in an unusually frank interview (that was largely ignored by the American media), "There has never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as this one. Limiting access, limiting information to cover the backsides of those who are in charge of this war, is extremely dangerous and should not be accepted. ...[Unfortunately,] it has been accepted by the American people. And the current administration revels in that, they relish that, and they take refuge in that." Goodman points out that Rather fails to level some of the blame at the media itself, which actively and enthusiastically cooperates with the Pentagon's rules of "journalistic engagement." "They actively helped to limit our perspective on what was happening in Iraq," she writes. (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- March 19: The French minister of foreign affairs, Dominique de Villepin, speaks eloquently of the war at the United Nations, saying in part,
Iraq war and occupation
"Make no mistake about it: the choice is indeed between two visions of the world. To those who choose to use force and think they can resolve the world's complexity through swift and preventative action, we offer in contrast determined action over time. For today, to ensure our security, all the dimensions of the problem must be taken into account: both the manifold crises and their many facets, including cultural and religious. Nothing lasting in international relations can be built therefore without dialogue and respect for the other, without exigency and abiding by principles, especially for the democracies that must set the example. To ignore this is to run the risk of misunderstanding, radicalization, and spiraling violence. This is even more true in the Middle East, an area of fractures and ancient conflicts where stability must be a major objective for us." (United Nations/Michael Moore)
- March 19-on: The journalists reporting from Iraq have varying experiences with censorship, including the self-censorship of the press, and what some call "sanitization" of the news.
Conservative media slant
Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson document several journalists' take on this issue. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte says of the US television coverage of the 1991 invasion of Iraq: "The television networks made that first Gulf War look like highlights for the eleven o'clock news or a baseball game. Every single swing is a home run -- WHAM! Missiles never missed. Coming back to the Gulf, I talked to a guy on an airplane about that. ...He was involved in the missile program. He said that the Patriots were not designed to shoot down missiles in the air, like bullets shooting at a boat. You wanted to knock the warhead or the engine off, so the warhead goes off on its own self. Now, he said, they're really pretty good." CBS news cameraman Mario DeCavalho has a tremendous amount of experience in the battlefields of the world, having covered conflicts in Israel, Central America, Colombia, Haiti, and others, and was one of the few embedded journalists involved in the 1991 Gulf War. He says, "I went to Saudi Arabia, and was one of the very few 'embedded guys' with the military, when the air war started -- January 1991...and they put us in a pool. It was absolute bullsh*t. All the censorship, man, was ridiculous! Terrible! We could do nothing but what they wanted us to do: 'Look how great we are!' ...That is wrong! I do not want that. The hell with that. Am I with the Soviet Army?"
- The coverage in 2003 is much less controlled by the Pentagon, but the US government isn't the only ones scrutinizing the reports from the front. CBS correspondent John Roberts writes of the images he and his colleagues couldn't show on US television: "We saw plenty of those, so you had to sanitize your coverage to some degree. I couldn't walk up to a bus that had been hit by 25mm cannon fire and see all the dead Iraqis lying around, blown into bits and pieces, headless bodies or whatever -- I can report on that -- but I certainly can't show those pictures on television. You have to sanitize your coverage somewhat for American sensibilities, but really it's just the pictures that were sanitized. It certainly wasn't the words." CNN correspondent Martin Savidge says that every single aspect of the war must be shown, "because otherwise you give people the misimpression that war is a very sanitary, very clean, relatively painless type of campaign, and it's not. I mean, you see the smart bombs in the Pentagon video. What you never see is what happens after the nose camera goes to hash. What was the explosion like afterwards? What was the suffering of the people on the ground? Did they linger for hours, maybe days? You don't know any of that. We didn't allow human suffering to be seen in America. There is a tendency on the part of domestic networks not to show that, because they know that the American public is revolted by it, and they don't want to make the American public uncomfortable. It's censorship, and I've seen it many times before, so I'm not surprised by it. ...You have to realize that people die in war. I'm not saying all wars are bad -- I am saying all wars are awful. ...War can be justified. There could be reasons why, as a last resort, you go to war. You must know that once it starts, it's a horrible, terrible thing. People die gruesome, terrible deaths. But in America we'll edit that down." The Washington Post's Peter Baker says of the US coverage of the Iraqi invasion, "That is the problem with a high-tech war. In some ways it may seem more bloodless than it really is. In the end what we saw was a flash on the screen. We didn't see a broken body or an incinerated corpse."
- Ron Martz, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says, "I gave people a picture of modern warfare from the perspective of the soldiers for the first time since Vietnam. There were a number of people who didn't like that picture, based on a number of e-mails that I got. They did not want to hear that the war did not go as it apparently came across on TV. Rumsfeld apparently said that it was meticulously planned and flawlessly executed -- but it wasn't that way at all. The unit that I was with had specific missions all mapped and planned out, but one of the axioms of warfare is that plans and strategies don't survive the first contact, and that was very much the case here. Once they got that first contact about 24 hours into the war, everything changed. The unit did a lot of things that it was not supposed to do. They were changing things on the fly and many people didn't want to hear it. The public didn't want to hear that there was chaos, that civilians were killed. They wanted t hear that it was going according to plan and that apparently is what appeared on TV." (One viewer e-mailed Martz to inform him that he should watch more Fox News coverage of the war to learn what was really happening. Martz was the first print journalist into Baghdad, embedded with Task Force 164, the first Americans into Baghdad.) Martz, a former Marine with extensive experience covering wars, was the focus of criticism as well as praise when he decided to become involved in the action by helping treat an injured soldier. He says, "Witnessing life-and-death situations while covering war does have a purpose. It de-glamorizes war. When you see it up close, when you see people around you get shot and get horribly wounded, it convinces you that war should be the absolute last option. Political negotiations and diplomacy should take precedence over warfare every time because war does horrible things to people. Some journalists thought that the stated reasons for the war were just a pretext, but that it was worth it overall because Saddam Hussein has killed so many of his own people. I think there's some merit to that argument. But I'm not entirely convinced that he couldn't have been gotten rid of in another form or fashion. Exactly what that is, I don't know. But the situation that you run into now is that even dictators, and tyrants, and despots provide people a certain security level. For the most part, the majority of Iraqis had learned how to survive within that very despotic regime. Now you've got total chaos and people do not know how to manage their affairs. It's going to be very difficult for us -- or anyone else -- to help Iraqis adjust to this chaotic post-Saddam period."
- Abu Dhabi TV, a satellite broadcaster that started up in 2000, decided early on that they would not just be dependent on feeds from the BBC and CNN, and earned a reputation for fearless, sometimes reckless, coverage. Ali al-Ahmed, the head of ADTV, said, "We are addressing Arab viewers. Yes, people in the Arab world are more sympathetic to the Iraqi people That also puts more responsibility on us. We're not going to show horrific pictures just for the sake of attraction. Some people would say that the West is watching a different war on TV than the Arabs. I think they are watching a different war because there is a different perspective. We try to maintain that balance. It's like standing on top of a basketball." ADTV correspondent Amir al-Mounaiery says of the various coverage, "some critics say the Pentagon was using the media as a tool, and I believe them. With full respect for BBC and full respect for CNN, they didn't do a good job in this war. I really respect them. They are my ideal, but not this time, definitely not. ...You can see CNN showed only part of the war -- their favorite part. They didn't show any of those anti-American rallies, or the civilian casualties. They just showed crowds welcoming American soldiers and clapping hands. It is selective journalism -- like Saddam did. ...As for al-Jazeera, they are professional, definitely, without a doubt. But the propaganda they show weakens their case." He continues, "After this war, I realized we in the media are the soldiers of politics. Not the military soldiers. We are the soldiers." (Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson)
Because the news media are "ginning up patriotic feelings" in the war coverage, "I feel that we do have an obligation to remind people in the most graphic way that war is a dreadful thing. ...The fact of the matter is young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are dying. And I think to turn our faces away from that is a mistake.... To sanitize it too much is a dreadful mistake." -- ABC's Ted Koppel, quoted by Frank Rich p.76
- Unembedded journalists are often treated very differently than the embedded journalists brought on board by the US military.
Conservative media slant
David Scemama, an Israeli journalist, is one of five accredited but independent journalists arrested by American soldiers who decided they were spying for Iraq. The five are detained for almost two days in their Jeep without food or water, and one Portuguese journalist who asks to call his family is beaten and kicked by the soldiers. The soldiers' leader, a Lieutenant Scholl, tells the journalists, "Don't mess with my soldiers. Don't mess with them because they are trained like dogs to kill. And they will kill you if you try again." The five are then flown to Kuwait and escorted out of the country. Reporters from the Arab media network al-Jazeera are treated far worse. In late March, US warplanes drop four bombs on the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, where al-Jazeera reporters are the lone guests. Al-Jazeera had previously informed the Pentagon of their reporters' presence at the hotel. An al-Jazeera reporter in Nasiriyah is threatened at gunpoint by an Iraqi collateral attached to a US Marine unit; the Marine commander refuses to intervene, and orders the reporter to stop filing reports. An al-Jazeera reporter is fired upon after showing his ID and being waved through a checkpoint; the reporter, who was miraculously unhurt, says he believes the shooting "was meant to send a message." (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- Interestingly, while some major news networks leap to cover the opening salvos of the invasion, ABC fails to cut away from its programming for the first half-hour, choosing instead to complete its broadcast of The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? The Washington Post's TV columnist, Lisa de Moraes, ingenuously observes: "The war has already claimed its first victim: ABC News." (ABC's Peter Jennings will be reprimanded by government officials when, days into the war, he objects to Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of "the humanity" of American weaponry pinpointing only non-civilian targets; Jennings retorts, "No offense to the secretary, but at this moment we simply do not know whether that is the case." Jennings will be castigated by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch as one of what he calls "American-bashing, pessimis[tic]...anti-war agitat[ors]." On Murdoch's Fox, the drumbeat for victory and lauding the Bush administration is relentless; one Fox commentator, Bush apparatchik Fred Barnes, calls the other networks "weenies" for dwelling on coverage of casualties.) The fact that ABC chose to delay its coverage for a half hour is, in the long run, inconsequential.
- As documented elsewhere on this page, the media's coverage is anything but inconsequential. The New York Times's Frank Rich calls it, in his 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, "exciting" but "misleading." The broadcasts are aflame with stories about "decapitation strikes" against, in Rich's words, "a location where Saddam Hussein and his top brass had conveniently gathered for the Americans to take them all out at once on the very first night of the war." The Times's Judith Miller says on CNN that, according to her sources, over 1,400 WMD sites will be "overrun" by American forces within hours. "It is hard to believe things could go much more successfully," gushes a Fox News anchor. (Fox will flog a statement by General Richard Myers that "reporters just have to be fair and balanced, that's all" to promote its own "fair and balanced" slogan.) The overriding theme is the now-ubiquitous "Shock and Awe," accompanied by video-game graphics with any pictures of slain or injured Iraqis prominently sanitized from the broadcasts. "If you had hired actors, you could not have gotten better coverage," says former Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon.
- It will be left to Arabic broadcasters like Al-Jazeera to show footage of American and Iraqi casualties, though the Pentagon will protest American airing of footage of US troops captured as POWs, complaining that such coverage violated "the principles of the Geneva Convention."
- "What more defined the war on cable TV was the networks' insistence on letting their scorched-earth campaigns for brand supremach run roughshod over the real action in Iraq," Rich writes. "The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks' mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war's antagonists, the leading players in the drama. ...TV viewers were on more intimate terms with Aaron Brown's and Shep Smith's perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated 'Iraqi people,' whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best-seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering." (Frank Rich p.72-8)
Dissent against war labeled treasonous
- Any Democratic dissent, no matter how polite, will be attacked as treasonous by Republicans.
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When Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a moderate Democrat known for his cooperation with Republicans, dares to suggest that the administration's rush to war might be an extension of its domestic policy ambitions, Majority Leader Trent Lott will ask in response, "Who is the enemy here? The president of the United States or Saddam Hussein?" (Lewis Lapham says that Lott borrows his response from Reichsmarschall Herman Goering, who said during the Nuremberg trials that "All you have to do is tell them that they're being attacked, denouce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.") It will not be long before GOP House leader Tom DeLay smears the entire Democratic Party with allegations of treason: "They don't want to protect the American people," he accused. "They will do anything, spend all the time and resources they can, to avoid confronting evil." (Lewis Lapham)
- Lewis Lapham observes that instead of arguing the pros and cons of the administration's invasion of Iraq, instead of debating the moral, economic, social, and diplomatic context of the upcoming invasion, the American media unanimously agreed to forego such analyses and become mere cheerleaders.
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The media focused almost exclusively on the debate over logistics and tactics -- should the US invade Iraq in an all-out blitzkrieg designed to decimate Iraq's ability to resist, or should the US use a more sophisticated, post-modern approach with parachutes, light infantry, and Turkish auxiliaries?
- Lapham writes, "Against every precedent of international law, in violation of the United Nations Charter, and without consent of the American Congress, the Bush administration was preparing to sack a heathen city that had done it no demonstrable harm, but the news media were content to forego any moral or legal question in favor of their obsession with the logistics. Competing television networks scheduled different time slots for the forthcoming fireworks display -- before and after November's scheduled congressional election; in early January when the weather around Baghdad improved; in April 2003 because the Air Force needed six months to replenish the inventory of precision-guided bombs consumed by the retail markets in Afghanistan. Competing newspaper columnists advanced competing adjectives to describe the 'extreme danger' presented to 'the entire civilized world,' but none of them offered evidence proving that Saddam possessed weapons likely to harm anybody who didn't happen to be living in Iraq; important military authorities appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to endorse policies of forward deterrence and anticipatory self-defense ('America will act against emerging threats before they are fully formed'), but none of them could think of a good reason why Saddam would make the mistake of attacking the United States. ...[I]n its lead editorial for August 3 , the Economist summed up in two sentences the consensus of approved opinion: 'The honest choices now are to give up and give in, or to remove Mr. Hussein before he gets his bomb. Painful as it is, our vote is for war.' Give up to whom? Give in to what? The questions were neither asked nor answered. The government didn't stoop to simpleminded explanations, and the emissaries from the print and broadcast media were content to accept the purpose of a policy apparently directed at nothing else than the fear of the future, that always dark and dangerous place where, in five years or maybe ten, something bad is bound to happen." (Lewis Lapham)
- Amy Goodman writes, "Why does the corporate media cheerlead for war?
Conservative media slant
One answer lies in the corporations themselves -- the ones that own the major news outlets. At the time of the first Persian Gulf War, CBS was owned by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks. Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that most of the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware show. We see reporters in the cockpits of war planes, interviewing pilots about how it feels to be at the controls. We almost never see journalists at the target end, asking people huddled in their homes what it feels like not to know what the next moment will bring. The media have a responsibility to show the true face of war. It is bloody. It is brutal. Real people die. Women and children are killed. Families are wiped out; villages are razed." She quotes veteran war reporter Chris Hedges: "The coverage of war by the press has one consistent and pernicious theme -- the worship of our weapons and our military might. Retired officers, breathless reporters, somber news anchors, can barely hold back their excitement, which is perverse and -- frankly, to those who do not delight in watching us obliterate other human beings -- disgusting. We are folding in on ourselves, losing touch with the outside world, shredding our own humanity and turning war into entertainment and a way to empower ourselves as a nation and individuals. None of us are untainted. It is the dirty thrill people used to get from watching a public execution. We are hangmen. And the excitement we feel is in direct proportion to the rage and anger we generate around the globe. We will pay for every bomb we drop on Iraq."
- As of the current invasion, the corporate ownership of the US news media has gotten even more powerful. Six major corporations own virtually all of the major US news outlets: conservative Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation owns Fox Broadcasting, HarperCollins, the New York Post, DirecTV, and 34 television stations. General Electric owns NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, and 13 TV stations. TimeWarner owns AOL, CNN, Warner Brothers, Time, and 130 magazines. Disney owns ABC, the Disney Channel, ESPN, Hyperion, 10 TV, and 29 radio stations. Viacom owns CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, and 185 radio stations. Bertelsmann owns Random House and its over 100 imprints, along with Gruner & Jahr and its 80 imprints. The corporate stranglehold on the American media directed the coverage of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath. Case in point: in 2001, the three major networks' choices of who would appear on their evening broadcasts were analyzed by the watchdog group FAIR. 92% of all US sources interviewed were white, 85% were male, and where party affiliation was available, 75% were Republican. And radio is even worse: the dominant owner of American radio stations is Clear Channel Communications, a San Antonio-based corporation with deep ties to the Bush family and the Texas Republican Party. The company co-chair is Tom Hicks, who bought George W. Bush's shares of the Texas Rangers and made Bush a multimillionaire. During the Iraqi invasion, Clear Channel sponsors prowar "Rallies for America" around the country; after the rallies, Clear Channel news broadcasts report on the rallies as if they were spontaneous outpourings of support for the Bush administration, without revealing Clear Channel's involvement. One South Carolina broadcaster, a recipient of a Broadcaster of the Year award, is fired after being forced to attend one rally and making antiwar statements during her broadcast. After the 9/11 attacks, Clear Channel sent a list of 150 songs that it was forbidding its stations to play, including "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Peace Train," and John Lennon's "Imagine." The corporation also forbid its stations to play any songs by the rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine.
- Not surprisingly, Fox News is the most egregrious example of corporate suppression of dissent over its airwaves. According to former news producer Charlie Reina, every morning the Fox reporters and news anchors receive their copy of "The Memo." Reina says, "The Memo is the Bible. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it." Reina says that The Memo was born shortly after the election of George W. Bush as president, and is intended to ensure that the Bush administration's point of view is what is broadcast on Fox News. The Memo was especially active in regards to the Iraq invasion. One day shortly after the invasion, The Memo warned Fox reporters and anchors that, according to Reina, "antiwar protesters would be 'whining' about US bombs killing Iraqi civilians, and suggested they could tell that to the families of American soldiers dying there. Editing copy that morning, I was not surprised when an eager young producer killed a correspondant's report on the day's fighting -- simply because it included a brief shot of children in an Iraqi hospital."
- Reina says that "[v]irtually no one of authority in the newsroom makes a move unmeasured against management's politics, actual or perceived. As the Fair and Balanced network, everyone knows management's point of view, and in case they're not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is there to remind them." Reina, a six-year veteran of Fox with a long resume of work at the AP, CBS, and ABC, says that "[t]he fact is, daily life at FNC is all about management politics. ...Not once in the 20+ years I had worked in broadcast journalism prior to Fox...did I feel any pressure to toe a management line. But at Fox, if my boss wasn't warning me to 'be careful' how I handled the writing of a special about Ronald Reagan ('You know how Roger [Fox News Chairman Ailes] feels about him'), he was telling me how the environmental special I was to produce should lean ('You can give both sides, but make sure the pro-environmentalists don't get the last word). Editorially, the FNC newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of management. The pressure ranges from subtle to direct. First of all, it's a news network run by one of the most high-profile political operatives of recent times. Everyone there understands that FNC is, to a large extent, 'Roger's Revenge' -- against what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too young to have come up through the ranks of objective journalism, and all of whom are non-union, with no protections regarding what they can be made to do, there is undue motivation to please the big boss. Sometimes, this eagerness to serve Fox's ideological interests goes even beyond what management expects. For example, in June of last year, when a California judge ruled the Pledge of Allegiance's 'Under God' wording unconstitutional, FNC's newsroom chief ordered the judge's mailing address and phone number put on the screen. The anchor, reading from the Teleprompter, found himself explaining that Fox was taking this unusual step so viewers could go directly to the judge and get 'as much information as possible' about his decision. To their credit, the big bosses recognized that their underling's transparent attempt to serve their political interests might well threaten the judge's physical safety and ordered the offending information removed from the screen as soon as they saw it. A few months later, this same eager-to-please newsroom chief ordered the removal of a graphic quoting UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as saying his team had not yet found WMDs in Iraq. Fortunately, the electronic equipment was quicker on the uptake (and less susceptible to office politics) than the toady and displayed the graphic before his order could be obeyed."
- Reina has more to say about "the Memo." He writes, "The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes across on FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a constant subject of The Memo. But along with the obvious -- information on who is where and what they'll be covering -- there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors' copy. For instance, from the March 20th memo: 'There is something utterly incomprehensible about Kofi Annan's remarks in which he allows that his thoughts are "with the Iraqi people." One could ask where those thoughts were during the 23 years Saddam Hussein was brutalizing those same Iraqis. Food for thought.' Can there be any doubt that the memo was offering not only 'food for thought,' but a direction for the FNC writers and anchors to go? Especially after describing the UN Secretary General's remarks as 'utterly incomprehensible?' The sad truth is, such subtlety is often all it takes to send Fox's newsroom personnel into action -- or inaction, as the case may be. One day this past spring, just after the US invaded Iraq, The Memo warned us that anti-war protesters would be 'whining' about U.S. bombs killing Iraqi civilians, and suggested they could tell that to the families of American soldiers dying there. Editing copy that morning, I was not surprised when an eager young producer killed a correspondent's report on the day's fighting -- simply because it included a brief shot of children in an Iraqi hospital. These are not isolated incidents at Fox News Channel, where virtually no one of authority in the newsroom makes a move unmeasured against management's politics, actual or perceived. At the Fair and Balanced network, everyone knows management's point of view, and, in case they're not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is there to remind them." (Amy and David Goodman, Poynter Online)
- March 20: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld warns the American people,
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"We have a serious task before us, and it is to remove that regime and find the weapons of mass destruction, and replace it with a government that does not want those weapons." The next day he will repeat the statement, and add that the task includes "the liberation of the Iraqi people." He promises that US forces will "identify, isolate, and eventually eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, production capabilities, and distribution networks...we will...ensure their weapons of mass destruction will not fall into the hands of terrorists." (David Corn)
- March 20: Australian prime minister John Howard addresses his citizenry to explain Australia's partnership with the US in invading Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
Howard's address focuses solely on the issue of Iraqi WMDs and the putative links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda; he does not mention at all the issue of securing human rights and freedoms for the Iraqi people. This is because Howard is taking his talking points from the Bush administration; only later, when the failure to find WMDs and provable links between Hussein and Islamic terrorists, does the rationale of "freedom for the Iraqi people" become a talking point. (Sydney Morning Herald/Information Clearinghouse)
- March 20: The Washington Post reports that Republican senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on March 19 that "what we call human intelligence...indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad." Such a public statement is a potential breach of intelligence sources. Many intelligence officials are stunned by the comments, which appeared within minutes in the broadcast media; the officials worry that Roberts's loose lip may have jeopardized CIA sources in Baghdad. "People flipped out," says one intelligence official of the reaction to Roberts's statement.
(Washington Post/Iraq Foundation)
- March 20 - April 10: The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
Conservative media slant
begins analyzing the coverage of the six major network news broadcasts for three weeks, beginning on March 20, about their presentation of the Iraqi invasion. Their findings are illuminating:
FAIR also reports on numerous statements of allegiance and support for the war from on-air anchors and reporters, who are supposed to remain impartial. The examples range from the supposedly liberal Dan Rather, who tells CNN's Larry King that "when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of 'win may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that, I am prejudiced," to Fox's Neil Cavuto, who argues down a war critic by saying in part, "There is nothing wrong with taking sides here." (FAIR/Michael Moore)
- Viewers are 25 times more likely to see a pro-war US source than someone with an anti-war point of view.
- Military sources are featured twice as often as civilian sources.
- Only 4% of sources appearing during the three weeks are affiliated with universities, think tanks, or non-governmental organizations.
- Of a total of 840 US sources who are current or former government officials, only four are identified as opposing the war. The vast majority of governmental sources are from Republican administrations.
- The few appearances by people with anti-war viewpoints are consistently limited to one-sentence sound bites, usually from unidentified participants in on-the-street interviews. Not one of the six major broadcasters ever does an interview with anyone who opposes the war.
- March 21: British and US forces capture Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port.
Iraq war and occupation
The "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad begins. Ari Fleischer says, "Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly...all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." (Note that the term "shock and awe" has its origin in a 1996 book published by two military strategists working for the Department of Defense. Titled Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, the book describes shock and awe as a strategy "aimed at influencing the will, perception, and understanding of an adversary rather than simply destroying military capability." It cites several successful examples, including the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Nazi blitzkrieg strategy of World War II. In January 2003, as the Bush administration moved toward war with Iraq, one of the authors explained the concept to CBS News: "You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes. You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted." The term was used with quite different connotations in the American media, where a "shock and awe" assault was depicted as a decapitation of the Iraqi military with minimal damage to the infrastructure and few civilian losses. Similar claims during the 1991 Persian Gulf war proved, of course, to be specious. In the words of authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "Like other examples of doublespeak, the concept of 'shock and awe' enables its users to symbolically reconcile two contradictory ideas. On the one hand, its theorists use the term to plan massive uses of deadly force. On the other hand, its focus on the psychological effect of that force makes it possible to use the term while distancing audiences from direct contemplation of the human suffering that force creates. (Wikipedia, White House, Democratic Underground, Rampton & Stauber/AlterNet)
US soldier in Iraq
Body of an Iraqi child in the rubble
- March 21: Oil engineers from Halliburton enter the country, prepared to begin
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rebuilding Iraq's decrepit and war-ravaged oil industry. (T. Christian Miller)
- March 21: Ali Hassan al-Majid, known to US intelligence as "Chemical Ali," is reportedly killed in the US "decapitation attack" on Baghdad.
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Al-Majid is said to have been the architect of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program, and may have been the one to authorize the use of cyanide gas in the village of Halabja in 1988. Al-Majid was not killed in the raid; in late August, he will be taken into custody by US forces. In 1992, Democratic congressman Henry Waxman detailed the deep connections between al-Majid and various American right-wing corporations, organizations, and politicians. (WorldNetDaily, NewsMax, MSNBC, Buzzflash)
- March 21: The group of CIA-trained Iraqi commandos known as the "Scorpions" was not allowed to seize a targeted Iraqi air base as planned in hopes of provoking a reaction from Hussein's armed forces;
Iraq war and occupation
the CIA's Operation Anabasis, of which the Scorpions are a part, conducted few of the sabotage missions it had envisioned. (One of the missions undertaken by Anabasis personnel was the destruction of four Iraqi power pylons; the mission was compromised, and only one was destroyed.) Anabasis saboteurs did manage, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters, to assassinate several Iraqi military and Ba'ath Party security officers in drive-by shootings.) The Scorpions instead enter Iraq at the same time as American forces, and successfully cut roads in the south, assist US commanders as their forces take southern Iraqi cities, and establish some ties with local mullahs. (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- March 21: Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, writes an article for the Guardian entitled "Thank God for the Death of the UN."
In it he says, "Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The 'good works' part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions." In a book with former Bush speechwriter David Frum, Perle later calls for attacks on North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. (Guardian, Frances Fox Piven)