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‘Tis The Season For Selling War

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From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.

– Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, 2002

The best time to introduce a new product, as Andrew Card well understood, comes just after Labor Day. And when it comes to a new “product” to be marketed to the American public, there’s never been anything quite like a new war — that most prolific of American exports.

For the Bush neocons, the public campaign to sell the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the American public was thus strategically launched in September 2002; an astute adherence to the same schedule long used by television executives looking to premiere a hit new show. And why should the selling of war be any different? After all, as Sheldon Wolin observes in his book Democracy Inc., “For Americans, the greatest triumph of virtual reality is war, the great unexperienced reality.” It is all, Wolin continues, but “a spectacle on a screen.”

The Bush administration ultimately settled on the one year commemoration of the September 11 attacks as the official launch date of their Iraq war sales job. As the New York Times reported at the time, the administration’s autumn PR offensive was all part of a “meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein.” As Karl Rove elaborated on the timing of the administration’s 9/11 “product” release date, the goal was “to seize the moment to make clear what lies ahead.” And what lied ahead was to be a new, cruise missile-imposed reality in the Middle East. Naked U.S. imperialism was to be set loose courtesy of a cunningly executed propaganda war waged against public opinion.

Consider this all to be another neocon lesson to have been keenly absorbed by the Obama White House.

Indeed, it was two years ago this month, one will recall, that the Obama administration seized upon the supposed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government — a breaching of Obama’s “red line” – -as a pretext to sell a campaign of “limited airstrikes” against Damascus. Or, as Secretary of State John Kerry, ever so attuned to public opinion, put it at the time, an “unbelievable small, limited kind of effort.” Confronted with widespread public opposition, a wavering Congress, and stiff opposition from within the intelligence and military apparatus, Obama ultimately came to back down. Taking a Russian diplomatic overture calling for to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as a political lifeline, Obama managed to save a bit of face, while an overt U.S. war on Syria was postponed, much to the chagrin of Washington’s resident hawks.

The September 2013 war scare turns out to have been far more dangerous than widely assumed even at the time. As Seymour Hersh was to report in 2014, the “limited” U.S. campaign discussed publicly had in reality ballooned into a “monster strike” in the Pentagon’s own planning, complete with a target list comprised of Syrian “electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all know logistical weapons, all known command and control facilities, and all know military and intelligence buildings.” “Limited strikes” evidently being the Obama branding of Bush’s “Shock and Awe.”

Come one year later, however, and the Obama administration was once again endeavoring to ready the American public for an escalation of its, until then, mostly covert war on Syria.

Using the August 2014 videotaped beheading of American James Foley by Islamic State militants as their latest casus belli, this time the administration was indeed able to successfully leverage public outrage into the steadily increasing deployment of “military advisors” to Iraq, as well as an air campaign against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria — a war that continues on with limited success to this very day.

The present troubled state of the U.S. anti-ISIS air campaign now going on one year is affirmed by the recent resurfacing of that notorious leaker of state secrets, one David Petraeus. As the Dr. Frankenstein to the ISIS monster has purportedly been floating to Washington’s higher circles, the U.S. ought to consider formally allying with and eventually arming al-Qaeda militants in Syria. As the Daily Beast reported, Petraeus “has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate [sic] members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria.”

The “war on terror,” we see, has come full circle, as our old friends the Mujaheddin appear to be edging ever closer to their return to official “freedom fighter” status.

Coming upon Labor Day 2015, then, as official angst continues to mount over the state of the anti-ISIS campaign, the question becomes, will Washington seek to once again introduce and market yet another new Syrian “product”?

As a flurry of Western media reports this past week would have it, it is in fact Moscow that is preparing to more fully step into the Syrian inferno with an air war of its own, complete with the potential deployment of Russian “boots on the ground.” Perhaps Russian “products” are best suited for September debuts as well.

Using such reports (all, it must be said, originating from a lone Israeli publication), Secretary Kerry phoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday to express Washington’s “concerns about reports of an imminent enhanced Russian military buildup” in Syria. One wonders if Lavrov was permitted the opportunity to express his own concerns about the U.S. jets already cross-crossing Syrian skies, or the presence of U.S. boots already known to have been on the ground. Not that any of this would likely have gotten through to Kerry. The secretary, one will recall, is the same man so taken aback by Russia’s annexation of Crimea that he publicly shrieked, with no apparent shame, that invading foreign countries on trumped up pretexts is simply not something one does in the 21st century. It’s a wonder more Democrats fretting over the listing Hillary campaign aren’t calling for their failed 2004 nominee to jump back in the presidential waters. There’s no question he has demonstrated beyond doubt the integrity and moral fortitude befitting a commander-in-chief.

It’s worth noting that Kerry’s “concerns” over an “imminent” Russian military build-up in Syria come despite his own spokesperson’s inability earlier in the week to publicly confirm said build-up. As the department’s spokesperson admitted, Washington isn’t even sure “whether this [i.e., the Russian build-up] is actually happening.” But as the Cold War 2.0 dictates, no opportunity is to be lost to call out the “bad actors” residing in the Kremlin.

The latest “the-Russians-are-coming, the-Russians-are-coming” propaganda campaign comes amid reports that Paris will soon seek to capitalize on the ongoing refugee crisis gripping Europe to roll out plans for its own air campaign over Syria, which will inevitably then fall under the guidance of the “good guys” in U.S. CENTCOM. All of which hearkens back to the U.S. surge days in Iraq, when the mainstream media was gripped with hysteria over Iranian “meddling” in Iraq. Always most troubling, one does have to admit, when a “rogue state” so recklessly seeks to stir instability in a nation under the military occupation of over 100,000 non-meddling U.S. troops.

Of course, if reports of a further Russian incursion into Syria do indeed prove to be true, a hitherto bloody proxy war between a “regime change” coalition comprised of the U.S., its various regional clients, and their al-Qaeda foot soldiers on the one hand, and Russia, Iran, and their own patronized cabal of criminals in Damascus on the other, could very well threaten to escalate into a precarious confrontation pitting two nuclear powers in a position of direct military conflict.

Such a scenario (mirrored to a dangerously similar degree in Ukraine) portends an imperial barbarism far surpassing that which has already ravaged both Iraq and Syria. But as we come upon the launch of the new American TV season, it’s worth remembering, ’tis the season for the marketing of such madness.

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Ben Schreiner is the author of A People’s Dictionary to the ‘Exceptional Nation’.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his blog.

CounterPunch Magazine

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