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Media’s new spin on Iraq



Midway through July, the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” announced a series of interviews with selected experts on a question that the PBS program worded this way: “What will become of Iraq when U.S. troops pull out?”

A week later, Time magazine echoed that theme with a cover story titled “Iraq: What will happen when we leave.”

But it turns out, what will happen when we leave is that we won’t leave.

Inside, the Time story pointblank advocates for a course that’s being urged by “the best strategic minds in both parties” – “an orderly withdrawal of about half the 160,000 troops currently in Iraq by the middle of 2008. A force of 50,000 to 100,000 troops would dig in for a longer stay to protect America’s most vital interests … ”

Scratch the surface of surging media accounts of a U.S. pullout from Iraq on the horizon, and you’re left with little more than speculation – fueled by giant dollops of political manipulation. In fact, strategic leaks and un-attributed claims about U.S. plans for withdrawal have emerged periodically to release some steam from domestic antiwar pressures.

Nearly three years ago – with discontent over the war threatening to undermine President Bush’s prospects for a second term – the White House ally Robert Novak floated a rosy scenario in his nationally syndicated column that appeared on Sept. 20, 2004. “Inside the Bush administration policy-making apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year,” he wrote. “This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.”

Novak’s column went on to tell readers: “Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush’s decision will be to get out.” Those well-placed sources were, of course, unnamed.

For good measure, Novak followed up a month before the November 2004 election with a piece that chortled: “Nobody from the administration has officially rejected my column.”

This is all relevant history today as news media are spinning out umpteen scenarios for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The game involves dangling illusionary plans for “withdrawal” in front of the public.

But realities on the ground – and in the air – are quite different. Recently, in mid-July, a news dispatch from an air base in Iraq (by Charles J. Hanley of The Associated Press) provided a rare look at the high-tech escalation underway. “Away from the headlines and debate over the ‘surge’ in U.S. ground troops,” AP reported, “the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.”

In contrast to the spun speculation so popular with U.S. media outlets like Time and the PBS “NewsHour,” the AP dispatch cited key information: “Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.”

The presence of large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq during the next years is a likelihood fogged up by fanciful media stories that assert – without tangible evidence – that American troops will “pull out” and the U.S. military will “leave” Iraq. The spin routinely glides past such matters as the massive fortified U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the numerous permanent-mode U.S. bases in that country, and the vast array of private-and-often paramilitary contractors at work in Iraq courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. And, of course, there’s the rarely mentioned prize of huge oil reserves that top officials in Washington keep their eyes on.

While media tall tales are telling us that the U.S. government is developing serious plans to “leave” Iraq, we would be foolish to believe any such stories.

Norman Solomon’s latest book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” is now available in paperback.

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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