The Best War Ever

By David Swanson

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber have a new book, which is always a good thing; but this one is especially good. It’s called “The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq.” It’s 206 pages and you’ll read it in one sitting, because it’s more entertaining than the corporate media whose infotainment is the book’s focus. While this book is every bit as well researched as Congressman John Conyers’ 350-page report “The Constitution in Crisis,” it’s written as a compelling narrative rather than a list of evidence or a draft indictment. I recommend reading these two works together.

Rampton and Stauber present a case not only that Bush, Cheney, and gang lied us into a war, but that the lies fooled the liars themselves at least as much as anyone else, and that the lies impeded the planning. According to this analysis, the reason the occupation of Iraq was not planned was primarily that the undertaking of such planning, had it become known, would have conflicted with the lies about Americans being welcomed as liberators. The authors also make a case that the viciousness of the Bushies’ attacks and retribution against whistleblowers significantly helped to expose the lies the Administration had been telling.

Rampton and Stauber recount the twists and turns in this war’s narrative from the point of view of careful consumers of media. Because the media has repeatedly erased old storylines and begun anew, a review of where we’ve actually been is helpful. One of the first major stops on this chronicle of media wonders is the effusive praise bestowed on Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation by the U.S. corporate media. Here was a list of blatant and in some cases quite obvious lies, lies that Powell’s own staff had warned him would not even seem plausible. And yet, corporate U.S. media outlets universally decreed that the case for war was made undeniable by this speech. Tellingly, however, U.S. newspapers stated that Powell had told the truth because he couldn’t possibly have done otherwise, not because the newspapers had checked out any of the claims.

Rampton and Stauber quote, to refresh our memories, what several newspapers and pundits had to say about Powell’s performance, including these gems and others like them:

“It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” – The Washington Post

“Powerful and irrefutable.” – Democratic Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.

By irrefutable, Biden may have meant simply that no refutation could be printed in U.S. newspapers, because Powell’s lies had been refuted almost as well before he made them as they have since. Powell cited descriptions of weapons by Hussein Kamel without adding that Kamel had said the weapons no longer existed. The CIA and Powell’s own staff had refuted many of the claims. Many commentators (generally shunned from the corporate media) maintained that there were no weapons. Over half of the Democrats in Congress voted against the war. No war was needed to determine whether the scary weapons were really there (not that such an investigatory war, or even a war based on real weapons known to exist, would be legal or justifiable).

And, as Rampton and Stauber remind us, Bush and Cheney and their co-conspirators didn’t claim to think there might be weapons; they claimed to know it with absolute certainty. They did so repeatedly on our television sets, even if the same television sets now seem to have forgotten that fact.

Moreover, during the early days and weeks of this war, the U.S. media reported numerous possible discoveries of WMD, and reported them as probabilities or near certainties, and reported as an absolute certainty that if this latest find wasn’t the big one the big one would come soon. When each new find later turned out to be bogus, that fact did not receive the same intensity of reporting. Thus we ended up with 34 percent of Americans believing WMD had been found, and 22 percent for similar reasons believing WMD had been used by Iraq in the war. (I don’t know of any polls reporting what percentage of Americans know that the United States has been using WMD.)

When all the claims fell apart, the Busheviks proposed a new narrative: Saddam Hussein had intentionally fooled them into thinking he had WMD, Saddam Hussein had – as Rampton and Stauber put it — “suckered the United States into overthrowing his government, killing his sons, and putting him on trial….” The absurdity of this did not stop the corporate U.S. media from reporting it with a straight face. This was one of the whoppers that came and went as the bizarre and incoherent telling of this war wound on and on.

Rampton and Stauber’s book focuses in useful detail on three aspects of this sorry saga. First, they examine the role played by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC). While most nations didn’t believe the hype and opposed the war, while the presidents of Russia and France denounced the lies, while U.S. experts outside and within the Bush Administration warned against a fraudulent war, and while no other nation made the same wild claims about vast quantities of WMD with the same certainty that Bush and Cheney did, it is still true that the Bushies were able to point to “intelligence” services in other countries who shared some of their beliefs. However, as Rampton and Stauber point out, these countries were all being fed the same lies by the INC, which was being paid by U.S. taxpayers to spread them.

Second, Rampton and Stauber examine the White House’s shifting of arguments for the war to completely new arguments. The authors dissect each new argument one-by-one. Third, they examine the question of counting the dead and the seriously injured and take a look at the near total absence of news reporting on the killing and injuring of Iraqis.

While the authors do not conclude with any recommendations, they do warn against falling for similar lies in a buildup to another war against Iran or another nation. And Rampton has committed to coming to Camp Democracy to speak and sign books at this gathering of activists pressing for change in Washington, D.C., in September.

Other speakers at Camp Democracy will include: Cindy Sheehan, Antonia Juhasz, Gael Murphy, Raed Jarrar, Anne Feeney, Lennox Yearwood, Ann Wright, John Kim, Kevin Fagan, Ryan McAllister, Regina Miranda, Mike Gravel, Elizabeth Holtzman, John Nichols, Marcus Raskin, Elizabeth de la Vega, Michael Avery, Ray McGovern, Dave Lindorff, Barbara Olshansky, Jennifer Van Bergen, Geoff King, David Waldman, Dan DeWalt, Steve Cobble, Anthony Arnove, Howard Zinn, and many others.

Among those invited to speak at Camp Democracy and not yet scheduled is Jeff Cohen, whom I mention because his forthcoming book will make an ideal follow-up to “The Best War Ever.” While Rampton and Stauber viewed the media with keen eyes, Cohen was the media. He was a talking head on Fox News, MCNBC, and CNN, and a producer for the Phil Donahue Show when that show was MSNBC’s most popular and that network canceled it because Donahue was insufficiently supportive of the coming war. Cohen’s forthcoming book, “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media,” reveals in entertaining detail the disturbing fact that television news, hideous as it may be for viewers, is even uglier from the inside.

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