Iraq: Spin One for the Gipper

by Jeff Huber

I have to say it again: If the Bush administration put a fraction of the effort it spends on spinning its wars into winning them, it wouldn’t need to spin them.

The current clash between Iraqi Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s security forces took root last year when Sadr told his forces to take an operational pause for resupply and recuperation. That reduced violence levels enough to allow U.S. commander David Petraeus to claim his surge strategy was working even though it didn’t accomplish its intended political objectives. One might have expected a supposedly smart guy like Petraeus to leave well enough alone, but no. George Bush’s “main man” had to poke his pistol into the hornet’s nest, raiding selected elements of the Mahdi Army in Baghdad’s Sadr City and Shiite population centers in southern Iraq.

The Sadrists warned for months that they would retaliate if the harassment didn’t stop. Petraeus must have been too busy escorting John McCain and Lindsey Graham on shopping sprees in Baghdad to listen, because he kept at it, using both U.S. forces and elements of the Badr organization, one of Sadr’s rival Shiite political groups whose members dominate Iraq’s security forces.

It was not too long after Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad on March 17 that Maliki launched his offensive against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra. The big media were strangely silent about the implications of the timing of the two events. Sadr’s people responded to Maliki’s push with a rocket and mortar attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Petraeus blamed the Mahdis’ retaliation on Iran, but said nothing about why he and the best-trained, best-equipped military in history were powerless to defend the Green Zone well over a year into his “successful” surge, and nobody in the press asked him about it.

The BBC, Fox News and umpteen other major news outlets reported that Pertaeus said he had evidence to back up his claim about Iran, but none of them actually quoted Petraeus as saying he had evidence, nor is there any evidence that Petraeus actually said he had any. But the major media gave up trying to hold Petraeus accountable for anything he says so long ago that it probably doesn’t matter.

On a propaganda whistle stop in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Bush waxed ecstatic about Maliki’s offensive, calling it a “bold decision” and saying that it demonstrated “the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge.”

Maliki went to Basra to personally oversee the operation. On March 26, he boldly gave the Sadrists 72 hours to lay down their arms or face, as the Washington Post put it, “severe penalties.” Then he boldly extended the deadline by, like, more than a week. (If I have to count to a billion, someone’s going to be in big trouble!)

Then we started hearing reports that almost a thousand of Maliki’s troops had deserted rather than keep fighting. The Bush administration changed its tune, and unrestricted information warfare broke out.

A Horse of a Different Feather

Al-Maliki said he would fight the Mahdi Army “to the end,” warned the Saqdrists to “drop their weapons and turn themselves in,” and vowed he would never negotiate.

On March 30 Sadr offered a deal: he would tell his followers to lay down their arms if the Iraqi government granted certain concessions, including amnesty for his fighters. (Not noted by the media was the fact that Maliki proposed amnesty for militiamen as far back as September 2006. It’s too bad the U.S. didn’t support the proposal back then. Think of all the time, money and lives we would have saved. Oh, well. No use crying over spilled, uh, milk.)

Along with the news of Sadr’s peace offer came the tale of how it came about. McClatchy Newspapers reported that a cornucopia of named and unnamed sources said that “Iraqi lawmakers” had secretly traveled to Iran and had talked a Quds Force commander into talking Sadr into talking his followers into a ceasefire. The story also reported that the Quds had been behind starting the trouble as well, and a bunch of other contentious stuff. A variation of the Vulcan mind meld with the rest of the media’s coverage of this event revealed that four members of Maliki’s Dawa Party and the Badr group with a hard heart for Sadr, the Quds and probably Maliki too went to Iran, did God only knows what, and spun the story to McClatchy using techniques they picked up from Dick Cheney.

Cheney is the master of using off-the-record statements to make his disinformation placement sound like fact being reported by multiple sources. The gaggle of reporters who cover him, ever so grateful for the access they have to the Dark One, write stories that quote a senior government official and a high level White House source and a leading member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle and so forth, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they’re all Dick Cheney.

The same kind of thing happened when Maliki flipped from “turn in your weapons, I’ll never negotiate” to “Sell me your weapons and let’s talk.”

The Snow of Yesteryear

With Maliki’s keister shining like a harvest moon, Bush administration spin merchants stated leaking word to journalists that he had launched “Operation Knight’s Assault” without consulting Washington. Among the reporters who played echo chamberlain in this con operation was Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times, Judith Miller’s partner in crime from Nigergate days.

Gordon was head writer of an April 3 Times story that read “Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker first learned of the Iraqi plan on Friday, March 21.” Crocker was clueless? So what? We’ve known he was clueless since he first became Petraeus’s Sancho Panza in March 2007. Crocker, by the way, praised Maliki for his decision to attack the Mahdi Army in the Gordon piece, but allowed as how the operation ran into "a boatload of problems." Yeah, that Crocker guy. He’s a boatload of something himself.

Interviews by Gordon and his little helpers with a “wide variety” of anonymous pimps, wimps, simps and gimps “suggested” that “Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance.” Who needs to remain anonymous over a statement like that? People in the witness protection program?

The claim that Maliki launched a major offensive on his own was laughable at face value. Only one of the dorks in the Pentagon’s J5 planning shop would have come up with a name like “Operation Knight’s Assault.” No wonder so many Iraqi troops didn’t want to fight in it.

But great Caesar’s ghost, only the bull goose right wing lunatics at National Review Online could believe that “the Iraqis independently massed 30,000 troops” in Basra. The Iraqi forces couldn’t take a successful potty break without direct supervision of their American advisers. They couldn’t possibly have conducted an operation of that size without planning and logistic support from Petraeus’s people from the get go. That means Petraeus knew about it all along, and that means Defense Secretary Robert Gates and young Mr. Bush and Lord Cheney knew about it too.

Now we all know that Maliki got his can kicked from Baghdad to eternity and back. Well, all of us except the Bush administration’s favorite former chief bull plucker. While guest hosting Bill O’Reilly’s Radio Factor on April 4, Tony Snowoffered his uniquely styled interpretation of how and why al-Sadr had proposed a truce: “What happened was the bad guys backed down because they were getting crushed!”

Crushed? My very God! Do you reckon that Tony Snow creature is internally conflicted or what?

It’s going to be like Buffalo Bill and the Indians rode into town when Petraeus and Crocker take the stand on Capitol Hill this week.

Kids at Christmas got nothing on me. I cannot wait.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword.

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