The Bush administration is turning Iraq into a test tube for modern techniques of repression, from sophisticated biometrics that track populations to devastating weapons systems that combine night-vision optics from drone aircraft, heat resonance imaging and deadly firepower from the sky to kill suspected insurgents.
These high-tech capabilities, when mixed with loose rules of engagement that allow U.S. troops to kill Iraqis at the slightest sign of hostility, have contributed to what U.S. generals and a growing number of American journalists are hailing as an improving security situation.
Or, as President George W. Bush reportedly told Australia’s deputy prime minister in September, “We’re kicking ass.”
U.S. forces have reported some success, too, in working with Iraqi paramilitary groups allied with Sunni sheiks, a strategy similar to operations used in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s to eradicate leftist guerrillas and their political backers.
Amid these developments and the more favorable U.S. news coverage of the war, some neoconservatives are giddy at the prospect of claiming some measure of victory in Iraq, especially after years of facing hostility from Americans over the worsening carnage, including the deaths of more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers.
With renewed confidence, neocons are back to baiting Democratic war critics for failing to appreciate Bush’s courage and foresight in dispatching more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops for a “surge” under Gen. David Petraeus.
“Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus' new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a neoconservative Independent from Connecticut, in a Nov. 8 speech.
Growing exhaustion with the war among Iraqis is viewed by Bush strategists as another positive indicator.
According to various estimates, the war has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and left some four million – roughly one in six – displaced. Those numbers explain why many Iraqis are desperate for a restoration of some semblance of normal life, even if it is under a U.S.-led occupation that is nearing its fifth anniversary.
While U.S. generals in Iraq have stressed the gentler aspects of their latest "surge" successes – and the American press has gone along by publishing front-page articles about new signs of normalcy in Baghdad – the darker side of the counterinsurgency has generally been shoved into brief stories deep inside the newspapers.
On Nov. 20, for instance, the New York Times stressed the upside by leading the newspaper with photos of happy Iraqis in a feature article entitled, “Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves.”
If one reads the story to the jump, however, you find that the positive news was that some 20,000 Iraqis – or one-half of one percent of those four million displaced persons – had returned to their abandoned homes and had begun to get their lives back in order.
(Ironically, when the documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” showed similar footage of Iraqis enjoying normal lives in the days before Bush’s “shock and awe” bombing in 2003, director Michael Moore was denounced as a pro-Saddam propagandist. The truth appears to be that even in difficult circumstances, people still get married and try to find some small pleasures.)
Clearly, too, the major U.S. news organizations remain under intense pressure to play up the positive aspects of the American occupation, much as they did during the early days when they broadcast footage of smiling Iraqi children waving at U.S. soldiers and touted how many schoolrooms had received fresh coats of paint. [For details, see our new book, Neck Deep.]
The harsh repression surrounding the “surge” has drawn far less U.S. press attention. The grim reality, however, is that an increasingly desperate American military has stepped up its indiscriminate killing and jailing of Iraqis, especially “military-age males” or MAMS.