Iraq: Rhetoric versus reality

"SELDOM HAS the official Iraqi and American perception of what is happening in Iraq felt so different from the reality." Those were the words of journalist Patrick Cockburn in an article published on the CounterPunch Web site.

"Baghdad is 'better' than it was," Cockburn says, "but the improvement is only in comparison to the bloodbath of 2006 when 3,000 people were being killed every month.

"People stay inside their own Sunni or Shia ghettoes. I drove one night through west Baghdad at 8 p.m....Though I was driving in the heart of the capital, I saw only three civilian cars during a three- or four-mile journey through a maze of military checkpoints and fortifications."

Cockburn's description of the reality of Iraq under the occupation is a stark contrast to the sunny reports that appear continually in the U.S. press. Since last summer, the mainstream media have repeated almost word for word the Pentagon's propaganda that George Bush's "surge" of troops into Iraq stabilized the country and reduced violence.

Incredibly, John McCain, who locked up the Republican nomination this month, feels confident to go on the offensive with his message that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq--and just might stay for "100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years."

Compared to this madness, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sound positively radical, promising that they would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq soon after becoming president. But both have plenty of strings attached that would keep an American military presence in Iraq indefinitely.

The way the media and political establishment have gone about reselling the Iraq war has had an impact on public opinion. Polls show a rebound of people who think the U.S. is "making progress." But in spite of all the deceptive happy talk, a majority of people still thinks the war was a mistake and wants to see U.S. troops out.

Exit polls from the primary elections show Iraq is still a top concern of voters, surpassed by the economy only when it became clear that the Bush administration's other dismal failure was also going to have a catastrophic effect on millions of lives.

The disaster of the Iraq war has turned the Bush presidency into a joke, shifted the balance of power in Washington between the two mainstream parties, and permanently changed millions of people's understanding of the U.S. political system and whose interests it serves.

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IT'S IMPORTANT to remember these facts not only because the media coverage of the occupation forgets them, but because the most visible representatives of the antiwar movement often act as if their side is the unpopular one.

The fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq will take place this month without a national mobilization to challenge the new lies being spread about the occupation's alleged success, or to build on the sentiment for U.S. withdrawal.
This is primarily the fault of United for Peace and Justice, the largest U.S. antiwar coalition, which dismissed initiatives for a national show of antiwar strength in favor of a call for protests in all 435 congressional districts over the coming year--a sure recipe for small and isolated actions in some cities, and nothing at all elsewhere.

The clear sentiment for a different course can be seen in the excitement built up at support events for the one national initiative that will take place on the anniversary--the Winter Soldier Investigation in Washington, D.C., organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the model of the dramatic event during Vietnam featuring the testimony of antiwar veterans.

Unfortunately, even the IVAW is reflecting the movement's sense of embattlement with its concentration on having a good media event, rather than seeing the opportunity to galvanize the antiwar movement and draw in new forces.

The implosion of the Bush presidency and the high level of enthusiasm displayed in the Democratic primaries is feeding a sense that there is nothing for opponents of the war to do now but wait for the next occupant of the White House to take over.

But that means the antiwar movement remaining in a state of suspended animation for yet another year, while waiting on a Democratic president who isn't committed to ending the war at all--but explicitly hopes to repackage the U.S. military presence in the Middle East in a way that safeguards Washington's strategic goals.

Those who oppose the U.S. war machine have work ahead of us right now--finding opportunities, such as the local events organized in solidarity with Winter Soldier or campus forums and actions planned for this and coming months, to build a stronger basis for the antiwar movement to go ahead in the future.