March 28, 2008
With the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War and the grim milestone of 4,000 U.S. dead, the nation has been awash with news retrospectives on the war and speeches by politicians, mostly offering sanitized versions of what's transpired.
With a few exceptions, these media/political reflections have had the feel of self-rationalizations, more than self-criticisms. They've conveyed a sense that the U.S. system is doing just fine, thank you, although a few mistakes were made.
So, you have President George W. Bush, the chief author of this catastrophic war, declaring that "normalcy is returning back to Iraq" even as fighting rages across much of the country and rockets rain down on the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
Bush's comment invited comparisons to the acronym coined by U.S. Army soldiers during World War II: SNAFU for "situation normal, all fucked up."
In the news media, there were specials, including a much-touted PBS Frontline two-parter on "Bush's War" which followed the mainstream line of mostly accepting the Bush administration's good intentions while blaming the disaster on policy execution – a lack of planning, bureaucratic rivalries, rash decisions and wishful thinking.
The chief interviews for the program were with former Bush administration officials and with journalists – such as Michael Gordon and John Burns of the New York Times whose influential reporting helped set the stage for the war – and with Bob Woodward, whose Bush at War was a generally flattering account of Bush's decision-making.
Remaining outside the frame of mainstream U.S. debate was any serious examination of the war's fundamental illegality.
During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Yet, Frontline and other mainstream U.S. news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people "the accumulated evil of the whole" – and committed the "supreme" war crime.
An obvious reason why the mainstream U.S. press can't handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other U.S. officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.
To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing U.S. power structure, which hasn't changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.
Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.
Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post's editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.
The same is true for the New York Times's op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won't hail Bush's courageous war leadership.