Possibly you remember “Shock and Awe.” No, that’s not the title of a Rolling Stones concert tour, but of the United States’ bombs-over-Baghdad campaign that began exactly 10 years ago. American soldiers went pounding into Iraq accompanied by scores of “embedded” journalists seemingly eager to prove their patriotism and courage.
A skeptic couldn’t help but be reminded of spectators who rode from Washington in horse-drawn carriages to witness the battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. They too expected a short, decisive conflict. Even on NPR, invading Iraq was treated like the world’s largest Boy Scout Jamboree, instead of what it turned into: arguably the worst military and foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.
Skepticism, however, was in short supply. Spooked by 9/11 and intimidated by the intellectual bullies of the Bush administration, American journalists largely abandoned that professional virtue in favor of propaganda and groupthink.
Among scores of examples, the one that’s stuck in my craw was allegedly liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Reacting to Gen. Colin Powell’s anti-Saddam speech to the United Nations General Assembly—since repudiated by its author—Cohen wrote that “Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.”
“War fever, catch it,” this fool wrote.
I added that to anybody capable of remembering past intelligence hoaxes, it wasn’t clear that Powell’s presentation answered any of the objections put forward by doubters like George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor, Gen. Brent Scowcroft.
“To any skeptic with a computer modem, moreover, it became quite clear why Powell’s speech failed to convert many at the UN,” my Feb. 5, 2003 column continued.
“Key parts of [his] presentation were dubious on their face. That alleged al Qaeda base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq? If it’s what Powell says, why hasn’t it been bombed to smithereens? British and U.S. jets have been conducting sorties in the no-fly zone for months. Because it’s a dusty outpost not worth bombing, reporters for The Observer who visited the place quickly saw.
“The mobile bio-war death labs? Please. Even if [UN inspector] Hans Blix hadn’t told The Guardian that U.S. tips had guided inspectors to mobile food inspection facilities, anybody who’s dodged herds of camels, goats and sheep and maniacal drivers on bumpy Middle Eastern highways had to laugh. Bio-war experts told Newsweek the idea was preposterous. ‘U.S. intelligence,’ it reported ‘after years of looking for them, has never found even one.’
“Then there was the embarrassing fact that key elements of a British intelligence document cited by Powell turned out to have been plagiarized from magazine articles and a California grad student’s M.A. thesis based upon 12-year-old evidence.”
I could go on. In fact, I did.
“This isn’t conservatism,” I concluded. “It’s utopian folly and a prescription for endless war.” Although the short-term outcome wasn’t in doubt and Americans could be counted upon to rally around the troops, it struck me as almost mad to imagine that the U.S. could convert Iraq into a Middle Eastern Switzerland by force of arms.
That was basically the Frenchman’s conclusion too. Conservative Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that although “we all share the same priority—that of fighting terrorism mercilessly,” invading Iraq without just cause would likely “exacerbate the divisions between societies, cultures and peoples, divisions that nurture terrorism.”
If it were up to me, the Post columnist’s byline would read like a prizefighter’s robe: Richard “Only a Fool or a Frenchman” Cohen. However, there are no penalties in Washington journalism for being proven dramatically wrong.
The safest place during a stampede is always the middle of the herd.
My own reward was getting Dixie Chicked out of a part-time teaching job halfway through a series of columns about Iraq. Supposedly, Hendrix College ran out of money to pay me. My most popular offering had been a course about George Orwell. Oh well.
But the purpose here isn’t to blow my own horn. (OK, maybe a little.) It’s to point out that not everybody got buffaloed. Many thousands of American and European citizens took to the streets to protest what they saw as imperialist folly.
I was also very far from being the only journalist to notice that the Bush administration’s case for Saddam Hussein’s imaginary “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t add up. Anybody reading the astringent dispatches of Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, John Walcott and Joe Galloway couldn’t help but know the score.
But the prediction I’m proudest of was a cynical observation I made after morons began smashing Dixie Chicks CDs and renaming fried potatoes “Freedom Fries.”
A former Hendrix student emailed me proof: a photo of a vending machine in a rural Arkansas truckstop.
Sold only for the prevention of disease: “Freedom Ticklers.”
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 20, 2013
David Corn at Mother Jones offers a preview of some of the new information coming Monday night in Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, an MSNBC documentary based on the book of a similar name by Corn and Michael Isikoff.
Narrated by Rachel Maddow, the film, like the book, will detail the inside story of how America and the world were knowingly scammed by the Bush administration into invading Iraq 10 years ago next month, leading to, as Corn describes it, “a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 servicemembers wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.”
“The tab for the war topped $3 trillion,” he adds, even though “it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true.”
The facts of how the nation was conned into going to war, Maddow has argued over the past week while promoting and previewing the new film, are important to understand in order to avoid the same thing happening again. “If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation — if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it — then history says we are doomed to repeat it,” she warns.
Maddow says the documentary will likely ruffle many political feathers, and Corn offers a few of the nuggets of new information on the scam that have been revealed since the publication of his and Isikoff’s 2007 book, and that will be presented in the MSNBC film. Among them…
—Retired general Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, explains his reaction to then-VP Dick Cheney’s infamous declaration that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Zinni, who was sitting on the stage with Cheney during that 2002 speech to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, says,”It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”
—A November 2001 briefing memo declassified two years ago and used by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a meeting with General Tommy Franks, details how the administration hoped to trigger a justification for going to war in Iraq. One of those triggers, the memo suggests, was to be a “dispute over WMD inspections,” akin to the one which was eventually, and very publicly, manufactured to help fuel the phony case for war.
—According to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell was skeptical of the entire case for war, but hid that from the public, even as he was used by the administration to sell the war to the UN Security Council and the American public. “Powell walked into my office,” on the day Congress passed its resolution giving authority to Bush to attack Iraq, Wilkerson explains in the film, “and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, ‘I wonder what’ll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?’ And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I — I wrote that down on my calendar — as close…to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.”
Wilkerson goes on to add that, in truth, Powell — who now regards his UN speech as a “painful” “blot” on his career — had no clue whether the intelligence he cited to the UN was actually legitimate. “Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied,” says Wilkerson, “we did participate in a hoax.”
By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, February 18, 2013
On Sunday, during an appearance on Meet The Press, Colin Powell condemned the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance” and the party’s repeated use of racial code words to oppose President Obama and rally white conservative voters.
Without mentioning names, Powell singled out former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy” and Sarah Palin, who, Powell charged, used slavery-era terms to describe Obama:
POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?
When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?
Powell added that the Republican Party is “having an identity problem,” noting that its significant shift to the right has produced “two losing presidential campaigns.” “I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is a very hard look at itself and understand that the country is changed,” he said. “If the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they a going to be in trouble.”
Powell also called on Republicans to focus on a more equitable and progressive economic policies that help middle and lower income Americans, as well as immigration reform. “Everybody wants to talk about who is going to be the candidate,” Powell said. “You better think first about what’s the party actually going to represent.”
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, January 13, 2013
“A Man Is Known By The Company He Keeps”: John Sununu And Mitt Romney Are Not So “Strange Bedfellows”
The saying goes: A man is known by the company he keeps.
If that is true, what does the company Mitt Romney keeps say about him?
This week Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama again, as he did in 2008. That apparently set John Sununu, a co-chairman of the Romney campaign, on edge. Powell’s endorsement couldn’t possibly be the product of purposeful deliberation over the candidates’ policies. In Sununu’s world of racial reductionism, Powell’s endorsement had a more base explanation: it was a black thing.
On Thursday, Sununu said on CNN:“When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.” He continued: “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
Talk about damning with faint praise. In other words, Sununu was basically saying that he was applauding Powell’s inability to see past the color of his own eyelids.
Sununu is the same man who said that the president performed poorly in the first debate because “he’s lazy and disengaged.” He is also the same man who said of the president in July, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”
Could Sununu be unaware that many would register such comments as coded racism? Or was that the intent?
To understand Sununu, it is important to understand his political history.
For starters, he is no stranger to racism controversies. When George H.W. Bush selected him as chief of staff in 1988, The New York Times reported:
“Mr. Sununu’s selection was shadowed by concern among some key Jewish leaders. The 49-year-old New Hampshire Governor, whose father is Lebanese and who takes pride in his Arab ancestry, was the only governor to refuse to sign a June 1987 statement denouncing a 1975 United Nations resolution that equated Zionism with racism.”
But that wasn’t his undoing. It was his actions. In 1991, Sununu became enmeshed in a scandal over using government planes for personal trips.
After the embarrassment of the incident, Bush ordered Sununu to clear all future flights in advance. What happened later you must read for yourself, and it is best stated by Time Magazine in a July 1, 1991, article:
“If Sununu hadn’t exactly been grounded, he had certainly been sent to his room. But Bush underestimated the depth of Sununu’s ethical obtuseness and his zeal at finding a way around the rules. Like a rebellious adolescent, Sununu sneaked down the stairs, grabbed the car keys and slipped out of the White House. After all, the old man had only said, ‘Don’t take the plane.’ He didn’t say anything about the car.”
The piece continued:
“Overcome by a sudden urge two weeks ago to buy rare stamps, Sununu ordered the driver of his government-paid limousine to drive him 225 miles to New York City. He spent the day — and nearly $5,000 — at an auction room at Christie’s. Then he dismissed the driver, who motored back to Washington with no passengers. Sununu returned on a private jet owned by Beneficial Corp.”
By the end of 1991, amid sagging poll numbers, Bush began to see Sununu as a drag and unceremoniously relieved him of his post. As The Times reported then, Sununu was made to plead for his job before he was pushed out anyway:
“Mr. Sununu and the White House portrayed the departure as voluntary. But it followed meetings in which Mr. Bush listened to Mr. Sununu’s arguments that he should stay on and then decided to follow the advice of top-level Republicans who urged the removal of his chief of staff.”
R. W. Apple Jr. wrote in The Times after the move that Bush’s “indirectly soliciting and then promptly accepting” Sununu’s resignation had made it abundantly clear what actually happened.
Sununu has apologized, somewhat, for his racial attack on Powell’s motives. But what should we make of all this?
We have a very racially divided electorate. As The Washington Post reported Thursday, “Obama has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll.”
The report pointed out that nearly 80 percent of nonwhites support Obama, while 91 percent of Romney’s supporters are white.
I worry that Sununu’s statements intentionally go beyond recognizing racial disparities and seek to exploit them.
What does that say about Romney, and what does it say about his campaign’s tactics?
Remember: A man is known by the company he keeps.
By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 26, 2012
Perhaps it was too optimistic to think that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 meant that we were in, or at least entering, a post-racial society. Whatever racial elements were at play in the last presidential election, the tension and even anger now seems even more pronounced.
An ABC/Washington Post poll shows greater racial polarization among the electorate this year than in 2008, the first year an African-American became a credible presidential candidate, let alone the president. The tracking poll shows the president lagging behind Republican Mitt Romney among white voters by 23 percentage points—far more dramatic than the seven percentage points by which Obama was behind in the white vote in 2008, and even the 12 points by which he eventually lost the white vote that year.
Meanwhile, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, apparently piqued at former (Republican) Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, suggested that the respected general was making a decision based on some sort of racial solidarity. Said Sununu on CNN:
When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to look at whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or he’s got a slightly different reason for endorsing President Obama. I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.
Sununu walked back the statement later, but it’s still disturbing. This is not some random angry person making anonymous comments on the Internet. This is a former senior White House adviser and a former governor, someone who is now advising Romney’s campaign.
Whites aren’t required to back a black candidate to prove they are not racist, any more than Powell and other African-Americans have to vote for a nonblack candidate to prove they are taking into account issues other than race. There is an argument to be made that really hating Obama because you don’t like his healthcare or economic policy represents an advancement in race relations. But the numbers suggest something deeper is still at play. African-Americans, for example, have been even harder hit by unemployment than whites, and have similar American concerns about foreign policy and education. If race were truly not an issue, the numbers would be a little more closely aligned among racial and ethnic groups.
Nor has the attack on Obama as “other” dissipated in the slightest since his election. Sununu himself has commented that Obama needs to be more of “an American,” and absurd rumors persist about Obama’s place of birth or religion. The tragic irony is that Obama, aside from the sheer example of his status as president, is hamstrung when it comes to actually talking about race, since on a political level, it’s more threatening coming from an African-American than a white candidate or official. Bill Clinton could talk about race in a way that sounded more palatable to white America. And yet Obama, if he were to engage in a frank discussion of race, would surely be castigated as divisive.
It’s common, historically, for social advances to be met with an immediate pushback before things start to settle in for the better. The abolition of slavery was followed by Jim Crow laws. The civil rights movement of the ’60s also was met with a backlash, though the fundamentals endured. There’s been a lot of social and demographic change in this country over the last 50 years, even over the last 25 years, and it’s perhaps a lot for some people to absorb. When the Tea Party candidates proclaimed they wanted to “take our country back”—and carried signs featuring the female former House Speaker, the gay former committee chairman, and the mixed-race president, that was no accident.
It does appear that some of the pushback is generational, and not necessarily coming from a position of pure bigotry. If you’re much older, it may be difficult just to get your head around all the changes that have occurred in your lifetime. A white man who is now 70 grew up with a different example—guys like him ran the country, and his country pretty much ran the world. Neither of those things is true anymore, and neither is likely to change. And while it’s not a defense of racism or xenophobia or unilateralism, it is an explanation of why it might be hard for some older people to adjust.
I have two young brothers, both of whom are mixed-race. One of them plays soccer at his school, and our father recently told me of watching Matty join in a pre-game huddle with his teammates. There they were—black, white, mixed-race, Cambodian—and they were all yelling, “Uno! Dos! Tres! Quatro!” to psych themselves up for the contest ahead. It was a lovely hybrid of the metaphorical melting pot and what former New York City Mayor David Dinkins used to call the “gorgeous mosaic” that makes up our country. We may end up taking one step back on race relations for every two we take forward. And eventually, maybe we just grow out of it.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 26, 2012