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As Combat Brigades Leave Iraq, NBC News Corporation Helps Pentagon Manufacture Support for Withdrawal

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Soldiers from the 17th Fires Brigade and 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Taken in August 2009. by The U.S. Army

On the same night that the NBC news corporation had the "inside scoop" on America's withdrawal of combat brigades from Iraq to Kuwait, Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University and a retired career officer in the U.S. Army, discussed his new book Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Chicago.

During the discussion, Bacevich explained to a room packed with standing room only that the Obama Administration's movement of troops from Iraq is part of a plan to make Americans (and others in the world) think of this as some end point. But, the fact is that the Iraq War will continue, violence will continue, and the insurgency will still exist.

Bacevich added the officers likely believe this outcome is as good as it will get. The troops will now move into an "advise-and-assist" role not much different from a role troops had during part of the Vietnam War. And, this is because much of the military establishment and foreign policymakers no longer believe in "military solutions." The "officer corps" have resigned themselves to the fact that true victory, in the sense that Americans understand it, is impossible; they accept the fact wars from this point on will be protracted, dirty, costly, and will from now on end in an ambiguous way if they end at all.

Cue Richard Engel, who, embedded with the combat brigades that were leaving Iraq and claiming "victory," reported live for NBC. Cue Rachel Maddow who had been in hiding the past few days because she didn't want anyone to know the "withdrawal" was going to begin Thursday night and she'd be reporting from the scene. And, cue MSNBC's special coverage of the "end" of the Iraq War, which featured the all-star panel that many know from MSNBC's Election Coverage.

The exit of brigades was heavily orchestrated. NBC had the express permission from the Pentagon to give the "official announcement" that war was "over"(although the Pentagon now claims nobody said the war was over) and troops were coming home (well, some of them; some are going to Afghanistan). The Associated Press reported "NBC Executive Phil Griffin said "Given the access, a decision to devote the entire evening to the story was a "no-brainer," Griffin said. "We've got something unique and it's an important story. We said, 'Let's go for it.'"

It was an opportunity to manufacture support for the withdrawal and help the Pentagon sell this as victory. It was an opportunity to convince those watching that soldiers had done a good deed for humanity and that, despite fears, Iraqis will be able to secure the country.

Little time was spent trying to argue this was a complete withdrawal, however, NBC News Chief Correspondent Richard Engel reported "50,000 troops remaining, noncombat troops would stay behind and will have a "mandate" to be "trainers." Here, Engel essentially helped the Pentagon re-brand the war by explaining troops would not to be called into "direct combat operations." If there were incidents and the U.S. wished to respond, he said, they would have to file a "formal request for troops."

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U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said "there's a worry that Iraqis may continue to fail to gain political traction and put together a government that can properly run Iraq." Hill also made clear "Iraq is important" to "American interests." He called it a "major league country" and expressed the belief that the U.S. must have a presence and mentioned America's "impressive" embassy.

The all-star panel did not focus on whether it was right or wrong to fight the war. Criticisms were limited to tactical mistakes the military had made in the war.

Lawrence O'Donnell contended, initially, there was "no comprehension of the rebuilding required." O'Donnell noted how Coalition Provisional Authority leader Paul Bremer decided to completely disband the Iraqi military, the Iraqi police force and the bureaucracy of the government, "the people who knew how to deliver electricity, water, things like that throughout the country."

Chris Matthews argued Iraq was always an "ideological war" and talked of the "neocons and those who drank the Kool-Aid like Rumsfeld" and thought "the government in Iraq would topple the minute we went in there." Matthews suggested the neocons thought, "it wouldn't take a long, protracted struggle to subdue the country because we would be liberators -- we were liberators. They really believed that ideology that we're going in there to free those people from the scourge of Baathism and then it proceeded to get rid of the Baathist army, get rid of the Baath Party politically throughout the agency."

Interestingly, Col. Jacobs stated he couldn't remember a "single" country that America ever fought an unconventional war or limited war in and left better than when America went in. In contrast, O'Donnell directed attention to the fact that Vietnam is now a "vacation spot for American tourists" as if to suggest things could work out after all a Middle East Disneyland and other resorts could potentially stabilize this country.

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Engel spoke on the issue of Iran and its influence on Iraq and how the war had helped increase Iran's influence in Iraq. And, finally, there was attention paid to the Iraqis. Engel said:

I've been listening not only to what the soldiers say but some of your guests and we're hearing this mantra building over and over again that the U.S. won the war in Iraq and then the Iraqis lost it or are potentially losing it. And I think that is true to a degree. But you also have to be cautious with that argument.

The United States in these last several years made quite a few mistakes in this country. And not to blame the people who are in these trucks, these sergeants and privates and first sergeants, they didn't. But there were policy errors -- there was the dissolving of the Iraqi army, which forced them to rebuild an army. There was the outbreak of civil war in this country which troops were then called in to try and pacify. But for many reasons, that civil war broke up because there were never enough troops here to begin with.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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