As a million Shiite pilgrims streamed toward Karbala shouting, “No to America, no to Saddam, no to tyranny, no to Israel!” can’t you just imagine the plash of complacent I Told Him So’s from the lips of George Bush Sr., on the phone to Brent Scowcroft and other members of the old gang? Bush Sr.’s Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger recently took audible pleasure in telling the BBC that “if George Bush [Jr.] decided he was going to turn the troops loose on Syria and Iran after that he would last in office for about fifteen minutes. In fact if President Bush were to try that now even I would think that he ought to be impeached. You can’t get away with that sort of thing in this democracy.”
Until Judith Miller’s piece showed up on the front page of the New York Times on April 21, I’d thought the distillation of disingenuous US press coverage of the invasion came with the images of Iraqis cheering US troops in the Baghdad square in front of the Palestine Hotel on April 9 as they hauled down Saddam’s statue.
Remember, the photos of the statue going down, the flag on Saddam’s face, the cheering Iraqis, were billed as the images that showed It Was All Worthwhile, up there in the pantheon with Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima and the news film of the Berlin wall going down.
Obviously, there were plenty of Iraqis delighted at the realization that the Age of Saddam was drawing to a close (though it turns out Baghdad will probably be run by the same cops, the same bureaucrats, the same torturers, all now proclaiming their fealty to the free market). And probably there were some Iraqis prepared to wave at Saddam’s conquerors riding in on their tanks.
All the same, the clamorous masses in the square never existed. I’ve yet to see the full image reproduced in any mainstream US newspaper, but I have seen photographs on the web of the entire square when that statue was being pulled down.
In one small portion of the square, itself sealed off by three US tanks, there’s a knot of maybe 150 people. Close-up photographs suggest that the active non-US participants were associates of Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group that rode in on the back of those US tanks. (Go to www.counterpunch.org/statue.html and see for yourself.)
So here, concocted by Pentagon or CIA news managers, we had a virtual demo in front of the Palestine Hotel, where the international press was housed. The “event” was obviously a huge political plus for the Bush Administration and gave Americans back home the false tidings that their troops were being greeted as liberators. Predictably, the media were somewhat coy in offering the news, soon thereafter, that US troops had shot at least ten in a crowd in Mosul that shook their fists instead of offering flowers. Promote a lie, and soon enough that lie comes home to roost.
The days passed, and each excited bellow of discovery of WMD caches on the road north from Kuwait yielded to disappointment. Then came Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times. The smoking gun at last!