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Pox Americana
Games and deception: The war-year in review



I KNEW YEARS AGO when Civil War re-enactors came along that such carnage-worshipping hobbyists were setting us up for something bad. In 2003, under the tutelage of Donald Rumsfeld, a man with a chip on his shoulder the size of the DMZ, we once again found ourselves in an intractable war. Our country was in the hands of Vietnam War re-enactors.

Consequently, my usually comprehensive approach to the annual task of recapping as many of the closing year’s comment-worthy news events as is humanely possible doesn’t work for 2003, which was dominated by one all-terrible story: Gulf War II and the corporations that waged it.

Surely I don’t have time to do anything but make a brief on-record remark to John Kerry: what’s truly fucked is that he expects us to believe that his stupid vote in favor of George W. Bush’s war was based on anything more than advice from Democratic Leadership Council–type hack spin-doctors. Last winter, millions of people took to the world’s streets because they knew an ensuing needless tragedy when they saw one. A person aspiring to be elected president should be able to do as much.

Likewise, the expected railings against that genuine media junkie Rush Limbaugh (said to be working on a selfish-help book titled When Bad Things Happen to Bad People), Michael " Tickle Me " Jackson (whose new release, Number Ones, is deservedly selling like number two), and the shame of the AARP (the American Association of Republicans’ Patsies) will have to wait until they cease to pale by comparison to our war without end ... Amen.

— BC

IT WAS THE worst of times, and it was the worst of times. The 12 months labeled, stored, and referenced as "2003" will be forever remembered as a "war year." And wars are the worst of things upon which to waste years.

In January, the nation passed the halfway mark of the court-appointed Bush administration. A hardy lot, Americans had survived two years and a day of excruciating corruption, skullduggery, and embarrassment. It was about to get worse. All the best halftime shows took place at peace rallies. The media’s electronic war drumbeat was providing George W. Bush with the kind of cacophonous distraction he needed to defy logic, decency, public opinion, and constitutional law.

All winter, Bush considered exactly zero outside opinions as he stuck his head in the sand about his war in the desert. No matter how much bottled water it took, he was hell-bent on quagmire. On January 15, the littlest prez said, in full cowboy bluster, "Time is running out on Saddam Hussein — he must disarm. I’m sick and tired of games and deception."

Driven by distractions

Saddam was a lightweight compared to Bush when it came to deceptive gamesmanship. Each alleged Iraqi smoking gun turned into licorice. So many intelligence documents were fudged that Cuba feared it would be invaded next, if only for its sugar. Supposed proof of Iraq/Al Qaeda connections screamed on the front page one day, only to be refuted on page 38 the following week. Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (a term Bush expanded to include anything more lethal than a whoopee cushion) were everywhere, but, remarkably, nowhere. Niger nukes, anyone? Whenever any of the administration’s "misspeaks" were exposed, Fatherland Security czar Tom Rigid would take to the air and publicly change the Colorform on the Alibi for Authoritarianism Rainbow to a bolder shade.

Duct and cover

Much of the cost of Bush’s latest war was to be tacked on in addition to the already obscene $400 billion Pentagon budget. Nevertheless, during one of the Fatherland Security briefings, we were advised to go out and buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect our homes. Four-hundred-billion-dollars-plus per year for alleged defense plus the cost of a gargantuan homeland-security apparatus, and we were supposed to run down to True Value to buy duct tape to ensure our safety? Unfortunately, a very effective countermeasure to duct tape and plastic sheeting is a box cutter, bringing us back to square one via a quite expensive route.

The people’s voice

Dubyahoo responded to millions of anti-war protesters by saying that to allow them to influence him would be akin to "saying I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group." Focus groups, no! Special-interest groups, yes!

In time, Bush’s relentless croaks for a "regime change" seemed likely to happen — in Britain, where Tony Blair’s refusal to listen to the will of his people lowered his approval ratings to the point where his next job might entail asking, "You want Freedom Fries with that?"

Pay pals

Bush tried to make it seem as if most of the world supported his war by bribing several nations to nominally endorse his efforts. The Dubster called this collection of nations the Coalition of the Willing. Considering how much fiscal inducement was employed to gain signatories, Coalition of the Billing was more like it. Some of the fixes didn’t even remain "in." Turkey was supposed to welcome US troops, but its legislature rejected the idea. A gigantic bribe for the Turks remained in a brown paper body bag at the State Department.


In a memorable performance, White House prevarication chief Ari Fleischer criticized Saddam Hussein’s lying. It was an E.F. Hutton moment. When Fleischer left his press-secretary job in the summer of ’03, it was an indication that not even he could handle the massive task of keeping all Bush’s stories straight.

Another big-time joke was W.’s scripted press conference before the embedded White House press corps just before the war. Bush looked as if someone had loosed a clip from an automatic tranquilizer gun into his torso. The court-appointed prez had all the questions and answers in advance, but that didn’t stop Republican flacks and most corporate media analysts from discussing his performance as if it were a nimble tour de force. He mentioned 9/11 roughly 911 times. Aaron Copland appeared at less-orchestrated events.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s second show-and-tell at the UN, in which he supposedly presented "devastating evidence" of why the time for inspections had passed, was equally laughable. It turns out that the evidence that wasn’t made up of whole cloth was plagiarized from the graduate-school equivalent of Homework.com. At a time when the court-appointed Bush administration was claiming Iraqi spies were everywhere, Powell walked into the UN and sat with CIA chief George Tenet, who corroborated the veracity of all Powell’s claims. Oh yeah, nothing placates the doubts of the international community like the soothing presence of the CIA chief.

Media blitzed

Finally, George W. Bush did as we all knew he would and discarded reason, world opinion, and the growing awareness that if truth is the first casualty of war, we had already sustained massive losses. He began his attack with what was called a "decapitation strike" on Baghdad on Tuesday, March 20. It was a so-called strategic strike meant to kill Saddam Hussein. Leave it to the Pentagon to use "decapitation" as a sanitized term.

Immediately, the corporate media grew giddy over their fluency in military hardware. CNN actually went so far as to create video "baseball cards" of the various tools of death. "This is a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, it can carry enough soldiers, munitions, and firepower to destroy a midsize urban neighborhood!" Their idolatry of these horrific devices was almost sexual. The anchors regularly chimed in with breathless remarks, gasping in awe at the weapons, which inevitably exhibited lethally phallic projections from every angle.

Even worse was how the corporate media seized upon each new story as proof positive that this unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation had been vindicated.

One of the most consistently sickening elements of the month-long GWII media blitz was watching decommissioned brass hold court in little on-air war rooms while civilian anchors and reporters competed to see who could crawl the furthest up the retired officers’ asses. At times CNN’s Paula Zahn would have been completely off-camera had she not been wearing high heels.

Among the first soldiers killed was Marine Staff Sergeant Kendall Waters-Bey, 29, of Baltimore, who died in a helicopter crash. He left behind a devastated family, including his wife, 10-year-old son, four sisters, and father.

Waters-Bey’s father, Michael, held up a photo of his deceased child before a video crew and said, "I want President Bush to get a good look at this, [a] really good look here. This is the only son I had, only son." He then walked away in tears, with his family behind him. I didn’t catch any follow-up interviews with them.

Quiet down, now

As soon as the assault on Iraq began, many people made calls for temperance — from the peace movement! Most of these clowns prefaced their remarks by discussing how devoted they were to our sacred right to protest, but "now that our troops are in battle, dissent is no longer appropriate." We were supposed to forget that the same reactionary elements promoting this bunk weren’t exactly up for awards from the ACLU for their unswerving support of protesters’ rights during the months leading up to the war. Truth told, these people would use any excuse to quash dissent. "With potatoes unharvested in both Idaho and Maine, it seems to me that this is a very dangerous time to allow anti-war protest..."

Lynch party

The most expensive commodity required to fuel the war machine — blood — was heavily infused with salt of the earth not commonly found running through the veins of network executives or political spin-doctors. The majority of casualties suffered by Bush’s so-called coalition were inflicted upon poor and middle-class kids. Private Jessica Lynch wasn’t particularly heroic in Iraq, but her refusal to corroborate propaganda about her war experiences demonstrated she was quite capable of heroism. Lynch and her military comrades will live with this war long after the rest of us think it has ended. It’s not Bechtel execs or Heritage Foundation fellows who have to man lonely checkpoints in the desert, where, if they guess wrong, a suicide bomber will take them out, or they will mistakenly exterminate entire carloads of innocent people and then have to live with their horrible blunder. These kids will know the true horror of war firsthand. Their families and friends will receive secondary exposure.

Killing with kindness

During the invasion, the American command made much of how many civilians it spared through its use of precision bombing. In fairness, the death toll reached nowhere near the hundreds of thousands of fatalities many of us feared might occur during a US-led invasion. The Pentagon’s sudden concern for innocent life may have had a little something to do with the peace activists who repeatedly spoke out against any military action that claimed unoffending souls. Nevertheless, the restraint was noticeable, although anything but completely successful. Errant (at least we hope they were errant) warheads massacred many people. Malicious or simply panicked troops chopped down dozens more. As the war became an occupation, this situation only worsened.

A child named Ali Ismail Abbas put a tortured and very human face on the horror of this war. A piece excised from World Link TV’s Middle East news digest Mosaic showed the starkest possible footage of the boy, who lost his arms and was severely burned in an American missile attack. If you saw only the video of the child that turned up on the American networks, you have no idea of the ghastly extent of his injuries. Little Ali said, "A mountain couldn’t withstand my pain." One look at his armless, skinless, charred, and eviscerated torso substantiated his statement. He lost his family in the attack as well.

Those who speak of "the price of war" rarely mention that children too often foot the bill. Everyone who ever uses the term collateral damage should be forced to watch footage of this child again and again. Were he to survive and grow up to become a terrorist, who would dare ask "why?"

Just loot me

Baghdad fell and fell hard. The United States had plenty of troops to protect every oil well in the country, along with the offices of the oil ministry and information ministry (secret police), with enough left over to handle other high-priority tasks such as establishing US military hegemony over the nation’s many statues and murals depicting Saddam Hussein.

Unfortunately, an urgent plea for the United States to safeguard priceless antiquities in the former Mesopotamia, made to the court-appointed Bush administration in January by a committee of scholars, must have gotten lost under a stack of doctored documents. While the corporate media focused quite happily on the looting of government buildings and Saddam’s and his collaborators’ swanky homes, a two-day pillaging of the Iraq National Museum went undetected.

When questioned about the looting, an impatient Doomsday Don Rumsfeld asked rhetorically, "My goodness, were there that many vases?" Items looted from museums on the banks of the Tigris River are understandably of little interest to Rummy, since the only history he respects is Genghis Khan’s foreign policy.

Rumsfeld deepened the pit by summarizing the anarchy thusly, "It’s untidy. And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." With this remark he unintentionally disclosed that some of the freest people in the world are now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Click here for the Talking Politics archives
Issue Date: December 26, 2003 - January 1, 2004
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