President Barack Obama's instruction to "turn the page" on the Iraq War has set off a new wave of frustration on the American Left, which believes that the architects of this war of aggression should face some accountability for the death and destruction.
But Obama's non-partisan olive branch hailing all sides as "patriots" and praising the troops for carrying out a difficult assignment may reflect his realistic assessment that the balance of national political/media power still tilts sharply to the neocon and right-wing side.
Indeed, the biggest controversy around Obama's speech Tuesday night was not whether the United States should acknowledge war crimes in Iraq but whether Obama should praise former President George W. Bush for supposedly salvaging the war effort by ordering a "surge" of 30,000 more troops in 2007.
In coverage of the speech, every major U.S. news outlets repeated the now-enshrined conventional wisdom that the "surge" turned the tide of the war. For instance, the Washington Post noted that Obama had called Bush before the speech but added that Obama's aides wouldn't comment on whether "Obama gave Bush credit for his decision " to order the 2007 troop surge that led to a reduction in violence."
Though the U.S. press did carry some critical commentary about the overall consequences of the Iraq invasion, particularly its death toll and trillion-dollar price tag, there were no suggestions in the mainstream media that Bush and his neocon aides deserved a long visit with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
In practical terms, the conventional wisdom on the "successful surge" has meant that there will be no meaningful accountability of any sort against the neocons who used "stove-piped intelligence" on WMD to create a false casus belli, the Bush administration officials who carried out the unprovoked invasion, or the mainstream U.S. journalists who played along with the deceptions to protect their careers.
Rather than any accountability, the neocons and other hawks have retained positions of influence in Washington. Their jobs at prominent think tanks and their access to influential op-ed pages also ensured that when the level of violence in Iraqi violence began declining in late 2007 and early 2008 from catastrophic to simply horrific they could quickly give credit to the "surge."
Although other military factors were of equal or greater importance in this decline, anyone who pointed out the more complex reality was shouted down and made to admit that Bush's supporters had been "right" about the "surge."
During Campaign 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Obama was one of the few politicians who tried to make the more nuanced case, placing the "surge" among a number of developments, including some key ones like the Sunni Awakening that pre-dated or were unrelated to the "surge."
However, Obama was browbeaten by mainstream "journalists." In separate interviews, CBS anchor Katie Couric and ABC's George Stephanopoulos demanded to know why Obama wouldn't just admit that his rival, Sen. John McCain, had been "right" about the "surge."
Finally, Obama chose to surrender to this conventional wisdom, however misguided. He confessed to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that the surge "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."
Obama's cave-in allowed the neocons and their sympathizers to further ridicule anyone who wouldn't go along. But it also demonstrated the real power of the media machine that the Right and the neocons have built over the past several decades. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
A Deformed Conventional Wisdom
To fit with the prevailing conventional wisdom, even the New York Times altered the chronology of events to give the "surge" primacy as the key factor in the declining violence. Although the Sunni Awakening, in which Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda and received U.S. payments, took root in 2006, the Times routinely began to cite the "surge" of 2007 first and the Sunni shift second, as if that were the real order of events.
Still, some military analysts continued to insist that Bush's "surge" was at best a minor factor in improving Iraq's security climate. For his book, The War Within, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward interviewed a number of military officials and concluded:
"In Washington, conventional wisdom translated these events into a simple view: The surge had worked. But the full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge."
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