That’s the new watchword.
When does the situation facing American troops in Iraq deteriorate to the point that public sentiment “tips” against further U.S. involvement and against the Bush administration’s policy of occupation and “nation building”?
The signs, for American GI’s and for George Bush’s reelection hopes, are getting grimmer.
Already 70 American soldiers have died in Iraq since virtual fly-boy Bush prematurely declared the war to be “over” in a staged victory rally aboard an aircraft carrier off San Diego harbor.
A search for the terms “guerrilla war” and “Iraq” turns up hundreds of citations, most dating from about the middle of June onward. Some, like an article on June 18 in the Detroit Free Press, simply use the term “guerrilla war” in news reports as an unremarkable and most apt characterization of the current military situation in Iraq. Others, like an article on June 23 in the Christian Science Monitor, use the term in editorials warning that the situation threatens to become a “quagmire,” (another Vietnam-era term that’s returning to currency). Still others use the term in articles warning that the current crisis is heading towards a Vietnam-like situation.
Any way you look at it, there is a growing acceptance in the media that the U.S. is not in control of events in Iraq, is not being viewed as a liberator by Iraqi people, and is facing mounting military threats.
The mounting alarm at this shift in coverage seems to be greater at the Pentagon and the White House than concerns about the actual attacks on American troops themselves, though if those attacks continue to increase in frequency and severity, that could change. For now, though, the Bush administration’s panic at the spreading popularity of the term “guerrilla war” in the formerly worshipful national media is understandable.
If the American media continue to increasingly portray Iraq as a dangerous hell hole for American soldiers, and continue to play up the American body count each day, the American public will quickly start to view this Bush military adventure they way they came to view President Johnson’s military adventure in Indochina–as a disaster.
This shift in public attitude in Johnson’s case took several years to develop. But Johnson had several advantages not available to Bush. First of all, he began as a hugely popular president, having won election in a landslide. Second, most Americans believed that America had been attacked in Vietnam. Few knew or believed until years later that the alleged attack on an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin was a sham). Johnson also had the advantage that he was sending American soldiers into a war that he hadn’t started (the Indochina conflict dated back to the 1950s, when the Eisenhower administration took over the battle against Ho Chi Minh’s anti-colonial revolutionaries from France). In Bush’s case, on the other hand, the blame for any military disaster in Iraq belongs unambiguously with him and his advisers. This was a war quite publicly started by Bush, and it is widely understood already that he started it based upon lies made to the American public. It is his war to lose.
Why the sudden shift in the U.S. media, from unabashed war boosterism to increasing skepticism?
The answer is simple: the continued killing of American troops.
For the first time since at least 9/11, the dynamic of the corporate media business is working against Bush’s interests. Top management at the media conglomerates may still have a strong political affinity for the Bush administration, with its anti-regulation ideology and its general pro-business, pro-rich policies, but dead soldiers make great news, and the news business lives and dies on ratings and circulation.
Viewers and readers eat up stories about innocent, dedicated young soldiers getting killed in the line of duty, particularly by nefarious guerrillas who shoot and run instead of standing and fighting so they can be wasted for their crimes. We are hooked on these stories because they get us angry–first of course at those who are doing the killing, but before too long, also at those in power who are putting our “boys” in harm’s way.
Add to that the growing awareness that the reasons for sending American troops into Iraq were bogus in the first place, and you quickly shift to a broad opposition to administration policy.
All this could happen–indeed is happening–very rapidly. First the media has to tip from support for the war to opposition. That appears to be happening already. Then the public will begin to tip, from support for the war and for the Bush administration, to public sentiment in favor of bringing the troops home and for punishing Bush for sending them there in the first place.
Already, Iraq is at a point like Vietnam in the late 1960s, where the government realizes that it can’t just declare victory and leave, because it’s clear that when U.S. troops leave, a new regime will take power that will be strongly anti-American. The more American troops get slain in Iraq, the less forgiving Americans would be if the U.S. pulled out only to see those lives wasted.
That’s where the term “quagmire” comes in. Clearly the U.S. could have quit Vietnam any time, but to do so the administration in power, whether Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon, would have had to admit to defeat–as Nixon ultimately had to do when Vietnamese troops stormed Saigon and the U.S. Embassy. The same is now increasingly true with Iraq. The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the more American soldiers die at the hands of Iraqi fighters, the harder it will be for Bush and his advisers to call it quits.
Hence the talk of sending more troops to Iraq, in hopes of quelling the insurrection.
A president running for election during a popular war, or a war for the nation’s survival, can be hard to beat.
A president running for election during an unpopular war, and a war that the American public doesn’t even see as having anything to do with the nation’s security, is another thing entirely.
This could turn out to be a very interesting presidential election campaign.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html