I’ve said more than once that America’s most profound strategic casualty in the woebegone war on terror has been its information environment. The recent military operation in Iraq against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s organization once again illustrates how we have entered a post-modern Orwellian (Rovewellian) age of dissonant dystopia.
The Horse’s Mouthpiece
General David Petraeus, George W. Bush’s “main man” in Iraq, reacted to the March 23 shelling of the Green Zone in Baghdad by doing what he does best: he blamed the Iranians. Petraeus trying to make Iran responsible for his own failures has become so commonplace it’s barely worth noting; but the manner in which the media portrayed his accusation warrants further scrutiny.
The BBC, Fox News, ABC News, Voice of America and other major news outlets reported that Petraeus said he has “evidence” that the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind the Green Zone attack. None of those outlets, however, mentioned what that evidence consisted of, or if Petraeus mentioned what it might be, or whether any of them bothered to ask him about it. In fact, it’s hard to find evidence in any of the reports that Petraeus actually said he had any evidence.
None of the many news sources I found that talked about Petraeus’s evidence actually quoted him as saying he had evidence. They just paraphrased; they said that he said he had evidence. And as best I can tell, all the other paraphrasers were paraphrasing the paraphrase in the BBC story, which read, “The most senior US general in Iraq has said he has evidence that Iran was behind Sunday's bombardment of Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.”
(Please note that in order to illustrate how the media told this cockamamie story, I had to make a verbatim quote of a paraphrase. Yeah. I know. Crazy.)
So all the other reporters got their reportage from the BBC report. From reading the BBC report, it looks like the BBC reporter who wrote it got his reportage from an interview of Petraeus by another BBC reporter named John Simpson.
I grappled with Google for two hours trying to find a transcript of the interview. All I could dig up was the March 24 BBC News story where I originally read about the interview between Simpson and Petraeus and a video of the interview. I watched the three and a half minute video three times. Toward the end, Petraeus makes the accusations about the Quds Force being behind the attacks, but he doesn’t mention anything about having “evidence” to back up his accusations, and rather than ask him for any, Simpson changes the subject to the British pull out from Basra.
My running gag of late has been that the proof the administration has provided that Iran is behind attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq consists of a handful of photographs in a PowerPoint presentation that for we know could have been taken in a) Joe Lieberman’s attic, b) Lindsey Graham’s closet, c) John McCain’s belfry or d) the vault where John Bolton hides his porno collection.
When the administration made Iran its pet scapegoat—around January 2007, the same time they announced the surge strategy—all they had to do was say they had evidence to back up their claims to keep them in the news cycle. Now, the administration doesn’t even have to say it has proof. It just makes the claims.
I really, really wanted to track down the writer of the BBC article and ask him where in blue blazes he came up with the “evidence” line, but I couldn’t, because there was no byline on the BBC story. How about them horse apples?
Six days after the BBC and everybody else echo chambered Petraeus’s accusations about the Quds force starting the al-Sadr uprising, Leila Fadel of the McClatchy Newspapers ran a story saying a Quds Force one-star was responsible for getting al-Sadr to call for his followers to stop fighting.
Fadel’s story was a literary shell game, seemingly infested with a cast of named and unnamed high-level sources who said that a group of yahooligans from Iraq’s parliament went to Iran and talked Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani of the Quds into talking al-Sadr into talking his Mahdi Army into laying down its weapons. The article also blamed the Quds for inciting the Mahdi uprising in the first place, and helped make Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki look like a bigger dolt than he already did.
After about an hour’s research, I figured out that the parliament yahooligans were four guys from the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite dominated coalition that sports a raging tumescence for al-Sadr, would probably like to scrape off al-Maliki like a fat blind date, and seems to have picked up a dose of the of jilted girlfriend flu because Iran pays more attention to al-Sadr’s crowd than it does to the United Iraqi Alliance.
With the McClatchy article, these four guys managed to pull off one of Dick Cheney’s favorite shenanigans: they talked to the press about themselves off the record, and the press cooperated by attributing what they said to anonymous third parties, making their propaganda sound like proven fact. Here’s the article’s piece of resistance:
Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.
Tell everybody we asked them to quit doing something we never proved they were doing in the first place, but don’t mention that second part, and don’t tell anyone you heard any of this from us, okay? Man, that’s cold. That’s diabolical. It’s outrageous. It’s like your wife’s divorce attorney standing you in front of the judge and asking you when you stopped beating her, and when you turn to the judge for help the judge says, “Just answer the question.” Heck, it’s even better than that. It’s like the lawyer getting your kid to ask the question.
We have no way to form an accurate map of reality given the distorted information presented to us. The notional leader of the free world blithely lies to support his agenda without regard to known fact or fear of potential censure. Witness his March 20 pronouncement on Voice of America that Iranian leaders have “declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people.” Iranian leadership has declared no such thing, of course. As proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says, "That's as uninformed as [Senator John] McCain's statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda. Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It's just not true."
The brainwash cascades from the top down. The right wing media beat the neocon war drum relentlessly. We’ve caught the so-called liberal media carrying water for Bush and the Cheney Gang so often (think Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times) that we can’t trust anyone in the American press. The administration conducts unlimited information warfare with foreign news services, and no imaginable firewall can bar disinformation planted overseas from spreading to the domestic market.
Despotic regimes use cognitive chaos to reduce the populace to a childlike state. We can’t understand anything because nothing makes sense, and we are so small, and the world is so enormous, and we have no choice but to trust our masters, and hope that they have our best interests at heart even though, in what’s left of our rational minds, we know damn good and well that they don’t. We effectively become the Dickensian waif who stays in the orphanage where the sadistic nun beats him after dinner and the pedophile priest molests him after evening mass because he doesn’t know where else to go.
Go ahead, scoff and tell yourself and your friends there’s no way things could get that extreme in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But please consider this: GOP crown prince John McCain has promised us more of exactly what George W. Bush gave us for two terms, and in a March 20 Fox News poll, he was neck and neck with his competition for the presidency.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword.
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