Terrorism pure and simple

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Three versions of the news:

I turned on CNN briefly this afternoon and caught their military expert, General Barry McCaffrey (US Army, ret.) answering questions about war strategy from a CNN anchor in a distinctly belligerent tone to interspersed clips of convoys and American foot soldiers moving through blowing sand. Here are a few phrases I managed to jot down: When asked about “the battle for Baghdad,” he said, “We gotta get into town, bust their chops, and get outta there.” And a little later he asked rhetorically, “Do you bust in there, take them down, or do you end up in a 90-day stand-off?” On the subject of sand storms grounding planes, he commented, “But thank God for the US artillery without that we’d be in trouble out there” And so on and so forth, his face perched on a red (and orange lettered) “operation IRAQI FREEDOM.”

Here, on the other hand, is a telegraphic private note to a friend of mine from a Brit reporter, which in a few well-chosen words offers a distinctly more realistic vision of this war as it’s unfolding: “had a hairy weekend in southern iraq since last i messaged. the south which was supposed to hate saddam has turned out not to be very welcoming. terry lloyd was killed just along the road from me on Saturday. horrible stuff. and all the iraqis we met were asking for water because their supply had been cut.”

To read a more formal version of this, try James Meek’s grim account in today’s Guardian, Marines losing the battle for hearts and minds, proof that you can be both “embedded” and clear-eyed. (“The marines are aggrieved: aggrieved that the Iraqis aren’t more grateful, aggrieved that the Iraqis are shooting at them, aggrieved that the US army’s spearhead 3rd Infantry Division tore through Nassiriya earlier in the invasion without making it safe.”)

And now, as the humanitarian disaster that UN officials and relief workers have long predicted, lurches into view in Southern Iraq, the decision has evidently been made that the British should fight their way into Basra, a city of over a million with no water and little food, to deliver the promised humanitarian aid. (No suggestions of truces and food or water deliveries, of course.) No one can be happy with this, though from our President on down, those “in charge” continue to assure us that there have been “no surprises” and everything is “on schedule.” (It won’t be long, it seems, before their various news conferences start to look to Americans as well like the Saigon “follies” of another press era.)

On the information wars now raging, take a look, for instance, at Newsday‘s James Pinkerton (This Real-Time War Is Getting All Too Real), an interesting conservative columnist I find posted on

“[A]dministration forecasts have been devalued. On FridayRichard Perledeclared, ‘There are more demonstrators in the streets of San Francisco than there are people prepared to die for Saddam.’

“[A]dministration forecasts have been devalued. On FridayRichard Perledeclared, ‘There are more demonstrators in the streets of San Francisco than there are people prepared to die for Saddam.’

“Precise estimates are impossible, especially when government reports keep changing. Did the Iraqi 51st Division surrender? At first the Pentagon claimed, yes, then it admitted, no. Those with memories of Vietnam will recall the phrase ‘credibility gap.’ It’s one thing when bureaucrats get their facts gapped about crop subsidies, it’s another when lives are at stake. Indeed, the biggest danger is that Pentagon planners will believe their own propaganda, which is that Operation Iraqi Freedom will be a ‘cakewalk,’ thus sending lightly armored helicopters and troops too far ahead of protective tanks.

“Indeed, this looks like a real war. American TV reporters now routinely refer to the Iraqis as ‘the enemy.’ There goes the idea that they were just waiting to be ‘liberated.'”

Finally, a third version of the news, this time from China, a small passage from a piece (for which I have no web address) by freelance reporter Joshua Samuel Brown in Guangxi Province

“And unlike American broadcasts.Chinese broadcasts are anything but sanitized. While viewers in America may have missed the video showing a three year old boy swaddled in dirty bandages crying in an Iraqi hospital after being caught in an American missile attack, tens of millions of CCTV International News viewers didn’t. It was replayed several times over an hour broadcast, along with the cries of the boy’s father screaming “America, where is your humanity?”

” If the American media is trying to get the world to buy into the image of Iraq as a helpless, near-decapitated nation, the Chinese media is going in the opposite direction, broadcasting a clearly relaxed Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf proved that rumors of the regime’s demise had been exaggerated by cheerfully stating in English ‘It is the aggressors who are shocked and awed. To use their own language, which I would rather not.'”

Below, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll writes the most powerful piece I’ve seen on the American way of war and the illusions that go with it. (“If our nation, in other words, were on its receiving end, illusions would lift and we would see ”shock and awe” for exactly what it is — terrorism pure and simple.”) It is a must read. George Monbiot, columnist for the Guardian, picks up on Donald Rumsfeld’s sudden invocation of the Geneva Convention and revisits Guantanamo. Paul Belden of Asia Times offers a vivid sense of a world glued to the television set, but no longer simply watching CNN. And Robert Fisk of The Independent, who is in Baghdad right now, asks: with an Iraqi Stalin-loving dictator already at hand, via a potent brew of invasion, destruction, and slaughter, are we managing to create our own modern Stalingrad?

You do get the sense that the men in Washington who have planned this war for a decade and now loosed it on an unwilling, increasingly horrified world, have been living in a cocoon. They love themselves so much that they can’t imagine being unloved, and they so appreciate the overwhelming nature of military power that they can’t begin to imagine how or why the army of a “fourth-rate country” (one of those dismissive Vietnam-era phrases) might resist when the only end in sight is slaughter and defeat. So much for the pride of empire. Now for the sand storms. Tom

America the destroyer
By James Carroll
The Boston Globe
March 25, 2003

Look at what America has become. We are moving on steel treads across a harsh landscape as a creature of destruction, kicking up clouds of unreality through which we see illusions of our efficiency and virtue.

The prodigality of our nation’s claims for itself is staggering. We can decide alone when the use of overwhelming violence is justified. Before the onslaught of our weapons, enemy resistance will be nil. The display of ”shock and awe,” an unprecedented bombardment aimed less at human beings and buildings than at the human imagination, will bend the world to our will. Unlike all previous powers in history, we can wage war humanely. Our success will be so complete that no other nation will challenge us — or imitate us. The time for complexity is past: You are for us or against us.

To read more Carroll click here

One rule for them
By George Monbiot
The Guardian
March 25, 2003

Suddenly, the government of the United States has discovered the virtues of international law. It may be waging an illegal war against a sovereign state; it may be seeking to destroy every treaty which impedes its attempts to run the world, but when five of its captured soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, immediately complained that “it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them”.

He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning the treatment of prisoners, insists that they “must at all times be protected… against insults and public curiosity”. This may number among the less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable.

To read more Monbiot click here

Free press and the face of war
By Paul Belden
Asia Times
March 24, 2003

AMMAN – Suddenly, on Sunday, the war seemed a lot less like a video game than it had the day before.

At least, in the Arab world it did.

While Western television coverage continued to be dominated by a numbing rotation of embedded reporters, armchair generals and video special effects, Arab media was showing some of the most astonishing images of war ever broadcast.

An example of the Western approach: Sunday morning’s coverage on CNN was anchored by an hours-long live broadcast by a camera crew embedded with a US Marine unit in southern Iraq. The unit had taken fire from a nearby building, and stopped behind a road to deal with it, the reporter explained. US forces had fired two rockets at the house, one of which had struck home.

To read more Belden click here

Saddam starts to sound more like his hero, Uncle Joe
By Robert Fisk
The Independent
March 25, 2003

Let us now praise famous men. Saddam Hussein was keen on doing just that yesterday. And he proceeded to list the Iraqi army and navy officers who are leading the resistance against the Anglo-American army in Umm Qasr, Basra and Nasariyah.

Major-General Mustapha Mahmoud Umran, commanding officer of the 11th Division, Brigadier Bashir Ahmed Othman, commander of the Iraqi 45th Brigade, Brigadier-Colonel Ali Kalil Ibrahim, commander of the 11th Battalion of the 45th Brigade, Colonel Mohamed Khallaf al-Jabawi, commander of the 45th Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Fathi Rani Majid of the Iraqi army’s III Corps … And so it went on.

“Be patient,” President Saddam kept saying. Be patient. Fourteen times in all, he told the army and the people of Iraq to be patient. “We will win … we will be victorious against Evil.” Patient but confident in victory. Fighting evil.

To read more Fisk click here