The Words of War

George W. Bush’s malapropism (the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one that sounds similar) no longer makes me laugh. On November 2, Iraqis fired a surface to air missile into a US helicopter, killing 15 and wounding 21 servicemen. Other military helicopters went down in the following days. The GI death toll by November 7 had reached 32. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” slogan was about as funny as his taunting of the Iraqi resistance, “bring ’em on.”

Then Bush declared that we should see growing resistance to US occupation as a sign of success. This White House verbiage came in response to the October 27 bombing of several Baghdad police stations and Red Cross headquarters in which 40 people died.

“The more successful we are on the ground,” W lectured, “the more these killers will react.” Bush as a dialectical thinker?

“The more progress we make on the ground,” he repeated, “the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity is available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become, because they can’t stand the thought of a free society.”

Taking him literally, I envisioned a brightly lit Baghdad, with air conditioners humming, computers, TV sets and microwaves all in full use and kids happily going to school, while underground Islamic killers receive orders from Saddam Hussein’s guerrilla chief.

Such flights of fancy derive from the metaphors and symbols offered by men who have newly emerged as wordsters. The unheralded haiku poet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld illustrates the complexity incoherence? of Administration policy.

“My impression,” Rummy mused on the war on terrorism in an October 16 memo, “is that we have not yet made truly bold moves.”

Were bombing, invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq not acts of boldness? Would boldness mean reinstating the draft and then invading and occupying North Africa, Syria, Iran and Indonesia?

Rummy admits that “It is not possible to change DoD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror.” So, he concludes, “an alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution either within DoD or elsewhere.”

Designing a US style French foreign legion by hiring mercenaries?

“Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas [Muslim religious schools] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” Is this a beautiful mind at work? “Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists’ costs of millions.” A poetic CPA?

“How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools? Is our current situation such that the harder we work, the behinder we get’? … Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?” The Ford Foundation opens new program offices in Kabul?

Rummy might defer to the media muses who aid and abet the war policy without having to raise their proverbial rifles. NY Times liberal columnist Thomas Friedman regularly advises Administration heavies on proper methods of occupying a country. Friedman believes it imperative “to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.” Indeed, the Bushies will blow an historic opportunity if they screw up the occupation.

“Has the president’s audacity in waging such a revolutionary war outrun his ability to articulate what it’s about and to summon Americans for the sacrifices victory will require?” asks Friedman. “Can the president really be a successful radical liberal on Iraq, while being such a radical conservative everywhere else refusing to dismiss one of his own generals [reference to William Boykin’s public comments] who insults Islam, turning a deaf ear to hints of corruption infecting the new Baghdad government as it’s showered with aid dollars, calling on reservists and their families to bear all the burdens of war while slashing taxes for the rich, and undertaking the world’s biggest nation-building project with few real allies?”

Friedman raises doubts about Bush’s ability to fulfill the liberal imperial mission, after serving as the equivalent of a public relations warmonger, he who advocates or attempts to stir up war. Unlike Bush, who stressed US and regional security concerns arising from Saddam’s alleged WMDs and ties to Al-Qaeda, Friedman argued that Saddam’s brutality toward his own people justified armed intervention, that the Middle East in general needs democracy and that the United States should pursue active and armed humanitarianism any and everywhere in the world.

But Bush used the humanitarian argument as window dressing for war in Iraq! He focused on security: WMD and links to Al-Qaeda until US forces failed to discover either the fabled weapons or the terrorist links.

Friedman shares with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other wordy hawks, the distinction of not having fought in a war. They all excel in the art of exhorting others to fight and in lecturing Iraqis and other unenlightened people on the virtues of western democracy and law (which Bush, Blair and the lesser partners violated by invading Iraq and about which the liberal missionaries care not a fig). More important than the opinionated advocates who seek others to fight their just causes were the lies that masqueraded as news stories in the daily media. Apart from “the Bush fan club posing as journalists squad” at Fox, one NY Times reporter played a vital role in buttressing the big lie.

The Times gave front page to Judith Miller’s repeated stories (before, during and after the war), which assured the readers of America’s newspaper of record that Saddam Hussein had serious programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Times editors seemed un-phased by Miller’s repeated references to unnamed Iraqi scientists and Pentagon sources.

Indeed, the NY Times has yet to confess its reporter’s role in helping to start the war with Iraq and then justifying the carnage. I discussed this with Alexander Cockburn, co-editor of Counterpunch and long-time Nation columnist. In his words Judith Miller was less of a reporter and more of “a witting cheer-leader for war.”

Instead, the Times continued to run Miller’s “we’ve found the weapons at last” stories before, during and after the war, despite the facts that other journalists had uncovered. Miller neither offered sources, places or specific details about the supposed weapons, but she did present a sense of certainty.

On September 8, 2002, following a Vice President Dick Cheney offensive to promote the notion that Saddam had nuclear weapons he might use against us, Miller wrote: “More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”

Miller cited an unnamed government source. Then, she declared that Saddam had attempted to buy “specially designed aluminum tubes.” Unnamed experts said that these pipes might serve as centrifuges to enrich uranium. Miller referred to “hardliners” in the national security apparatus who wanted action against Iraq because if we waited for definitive proof of Saddam’s nuclear program “the first sign of a smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud.”

One of Miller’s key informants, Ahmad Chalabi, an exiled Iraqi who heads the <U.S.-financed> Iraqi National Congress and now is a key figure in Iraq’s Governing Council, had gained the confidence of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Chalabi mouthed democracy in his fund-raising appeals to the Pentagon. Neither Wolfy, his boss Rummy nor his other supporter Cheney seemed concerned that in 1992 Jordanian courts had convicted Chalabi of bank fraud in absentia and sentenced him to 22 years in prison. Indeed, some US intelligence officials saw him as beyond self-serving and less than reliable as a source.

But Judy Miller ran with him and the NY Times ran Miller. Cockburn, writing in the August 18, 2003 Counterpunch characterized “Miller’s major stories between late 2001 and early summer, 2003,” as a promotion for “disingenuous lies. There were no secret biolabs under Saddam’s palaces; no nuclear factories across Iraq secretly working at full tilt. A huge percentage of what Miller wrote was garbage, garbage that powered the Bush administration’s propaganda drive towards invasion.”

Unlike the President’s graceless words, Miller in the Times made convincing arguments because readers trust this establishment mainstay. Better a malapropist than a wordsmith when it comes to leading the country into imperial war! Or, does going to war require both kinds of demagogues?

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.