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WHAT WE THINK
Bush's public-relations offensive to sell the Iraq occupation
New packaging for a disaster

December 9, 2005 | Page 3

THE BUSH administration has launched a new offensive to recapture the initiative in Iraq. And the target is you.

The White House's latest p.r. assault to sell the occupation of Iraq began with George Bush's November 30 speech trumpeting his new "strategy for victory."

Fittingly, the chief author of the speech was a political science professor whose "research" concludes that the American public will happily tolerate significant casualties in a foreign war, so long as they believe the war is likely to be successful. That's why Bush's speech used the word "victory" 15 times.

In reality, there is no new strategy, just new packaging for the old one--bomb, shoot and kill resistance fighters; shift Iraqi military and police units into shouldering even more of the casualties; and deny, distort or lie to conceal any bad news. The price continues to be paid by ordinary Iraqis--facing continuing violence, wretched conditions and the constant humiliations of living under occupation.

The centerpiece of Bush's speech was the claim that the U.S. is rapidly training Iraqi troops to replace U.S. soldiers. But Army Gen. George Casey lowered the Pentagon's estimate of battle-ready Iraqi military and police battalions from three to one in September. Of a total of 120 battalions, half or more are considered by U.S. military officials to be worthless or heavily dependent on U.S. planning and support.

Bush claimed that Baghdad's Haifa Street--once notorious for attacks on coalition troops--had been pacified. "Iraqi forces took responsibility for this dangerous neighborhood--and attacks are now down," said Bush.

But according to CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, Haifa Street is quieter because U.S. and Iraqi forces have conceded it to the Iraqi resistance. "It's widely acknowledged here and has even been reported publicly that a deal was made and that insurgents who were attacking on Haifa Street are now using that as a command base and attacking elsewhere in Baghdad," Logan reported November 29.

Bush's speech denounced "Sunni rejectionists" and Saddam supporters as "terrorists." It didn't, however, mention the horrific violence carried out by Shiite militias that are now a dominant part of some official Iraqi police units.

The standard Washington establishment line is that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq to prevent the outbreak of sectarian and ethnic violence. But U.S. forces are training and backing the very units carrying out this violence today.

"Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces," the Los Angeles Times wrote in an editorial. "Iraqi Interior Ministry commando and police units have been infiltrated by two Shiite militias, which have been conducting ethnic cleansing and rounding up Sunnis suspected of supporting the insurgency. Hundreds of bodies have been appearing along roadsides and in garbage dumps, some with acid burns or with holes drilled in them."

With Bush's case for war crumbling and members of his own party increasingly skeptical, you'd think that the Democrats would be able to seize the initiative. Instead, they're bickering among themselves over how far to go in criticizing the details of Bush's "war on terror"--and how best to continue promoting its central aims.

A case in point last month was Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pa.) call for "redeployment" in Iraq. Many Democratic leaders with more liberal reputations than the conservative Murtha criticized the proposal as "hasty" and "too extreme."

In reality, Murtha is hardly the raving peacenik that the Republicans have claimed him to be--or those in the antiwar movement who want to claim him as one of our own. He represents a section of the Pentagon that fears the Bush administration is pushing the military toward a debilitating defeat in Iraq. His proposal isn't for withdrawal, but "redeployment," with a rapid reaction force stationed "over the horizon," relying heavily on air power, rather than ground forces.

Actually, this dovetails nicely with the Bush administration's plans. "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the president's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower," wrote investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. "The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the overall level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase, unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what."

Indeed, this part of the Bush plan seems to be following the Vietnam War script closely. Following the Tet Offensive in 1968, Washington came to the conclusion that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable.

But salvaging U.S. "credibility" meant that the U.S. would carry out even more intensive bombing attacks on North Vietnam--and ultimately spread the war to Laos and Cambodia to try to force a truce on more favorable terms. The number of Southeast Asians who paid the price with their lives numbered in the millions.

Unless Bush and the Democrats are faced with a mass antiwar movement demanding immediate withdrawal, they will continue to seek ways to impose their will--whatever the human cost--on Iraq and the Middle East.

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