Last night, as I was watching CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage of Barack Obama’s historic win in the Iowa caucuses, the comments of CNN’s political reporter Candy Crowley caught my attention. Crowley was asked how important a factor opposition to the Iraq War was in how Iowa Democrats voted.
Following a mantra echoed across the mainstream media, and repeated on CNN’s Politics.com website, the war has faded as the major issue in this campaign because of the decline in violence in Iraq and the drop in American casualties. As a story on CNN’s website, “Democrats voted for change, GOP for faith and values,” posted today (January 4, 2008) puts it, “The apparent decrease in violence in Iraq due to a surge in U.S. troops last year may have contributed to the war diminishing in importance among Iowans. The U.S. military death toll for December was the second-lowest month death toll of the Iraq war.”
Before I go back to presidential politics, let me say three things about the drop in casualties and the “success” of the surge. There are fewer casualties because insurgents have decided to wait out the surge, and to resume their full-scale rebellion once the American troop presence drops. Secondly, it appears that the Iraqi puppet government will be unable to forge a workable plan for power sharing and for dividing oil revenues among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Once their efforts collapse, as they most certainly will, expect the violence to ramp up again.
Finally, much of the reduction in violence has been a result not of the surge but of ethnic cleansing. Through murder and intimidation, Shiites have chased Sunnis out of their neighborhoods, Sunnis have returned the favor, and both Sunnis and Shiites have taken steps to make sure a Kurd doesn’t live next door. Iraq is now de facto three separate nations. Unfortunately for the Sunnis, most of the oil lies underneath their Shiite and Kurd neighbors. The Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, will seek to regain control of that lucrative resource by any means necessary, even if it means resuming a full-scale civil war.
To get back to how the war affected the Iowa caucuses, contrary to what CNN and other media outlets imply, the war was a very important issue to voters. Overall, the economy and the war tied, at 35 percent each, as top concerns among all Iowa Democratic caucus goers, according to the entrance poll results on CNN’s website. Meanwhile, 36 percent of voters who considered the economy as the most important issue picked Obama, while 35 percent of those choosing the war as the top concern backed the senator from Illinois. That basically means that the war and the economy were equally important to Obama’s constituents. Obama was considered the best candidate to end the war by a clear plurality of caucus attendees.
Of course, the media has a long and disturbing record of blowing off or belittling the Iraq War opposition. There are several well-known examples, such as Clear Channel’s suppression of the Dixie Chicks after their anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War comments. Then there’s Tom Freidman’s pro-war cheerleading and scoffing at those who doubted tales of Saddam’s WMDs. Finally, there was Bob Woodward’s craven awe over the president’s purported leadership in the buildup to the war, at least until we began to lose.
Here’s a personal experience: on February 12, 2003, just before the Iraq invasion, students spent almost an entire day protesting against the impending invasion of Iraq. Austin police underestimated the protestors as numbering 2,000. The event lasted several hours, however, and students came and went. The total number of students participating in the course of a day probably reached at least 5,000. Nevertheless, the Austin corporate media, including the “Austin American Statesman” dutifully repeated police crowd estimates with no caveats.
I was working as an adjunct professor and I was teaching one of those 300-student American History survey courses I refer to as the UT version of “distance learning.” I gave my students a walk so they could participate in the protest or take part in a pro-war rally, for that matter. There was no question that a very large percentage of UT students showed up and that they opposed George W. Bush’s empire building.
Imagine my surprise that night when I watched coverage of the protest on the Austin NBC affiliate KXAN. KXAN had a record of right-wing bias. At the beginning of the 2000 presidential race they did a profile of Bush in which they interviewed family friends, business associates and public school teachers. No a syllable of criticism was heard. In other words, the station pissed away valuable news time with a big, fat pro-Bush valentine. I never saw a similar profile on Al Gore on the KXAN 6 and 10 p.m. news.
The coverage of the anti-war rally had a similar slant. Like her peers, the KXAN reporter covering the anti-war rally unquestioningly used Austin police estimates and then snidely noted that those in attendance represented about 1/25th of the UT student body. Even if one accepts the police numbers, this is a stupid argument. Two-thousand students is a large demonstration and many UT students didn’t have kind professors like me who let them participate in the rally, many were not on campus that day, and many were buried in academic work. To add insult to injury, the reporter spent more time covering the 20 or so conservative counter-demonstrators than the anti-war students who outnumbered them by at least 100-1.
I called KXAN the next day and I charged them with journalism malpractice. The head of the news department insisted that the report was fair. I asked her to tell me how much time in the report was devoted to the pro-war and anti-war protestors. The airtime for the tiny group of pro-war demonstrators amounted to 35 seconds. The coverage of the much larger anti-war rally came to only 30 seconds. The balance was taken up with reporter face time.
“That’s balanced,” the news director said. “It’s balanced to give more time to a group of 20 pro-war students than to at least 2,000 anti-war students?” I asked. “They got almost exactly the same time,” she said. “That’s balanced.” I’m sure she meant “fair and balanced, in the style of the Fox Noise Channel.
The worst case of media condescension towards peace activists I found in the past five years was the story “Give Peace a Dishtowel: Think Peace Protestors Are Lame? What Are You Doing with Your Life?” by Andrea Grimes in the August 24, 2006 issue of the “Dallas Observer.” Unembarrassed by her breathtaking shallowness, Grimes at one point wanders into yuppified self-indulgence. Grimes writes:
“Most of us also don't spend a lot of time really thinking about what's going on in the Middle East. Who's got time to worry about civilian casualties when Grey's Anatomy is on? I've shed more tears over Meredith Grey's relationship with Dr. McDreamy than I have over the fact that thousands have died overseas. Does that make me a bad person?”
To be perfectly blunt, yes.
I wish that kind of media dimwittery was rare. Yet networks like CNN, the “most reliable source for news” according to them, portrayed Obama’s success as completely disconnected from his anti-war stance. In fact, Obama has made his wisdom in being against the war from the beginning, opposing the surge, and refusing to endorse the Bush saber rattling against Iran, a centerpiece of his argument against Hillary Clinton. Hillary, he has successfully argued, showed a complete lack of judgment regarding the Iraq War and a possible military strike against Iran. (Why lose just two wars when you can hit a triple?)
Hillary lost for one reason. Her defense of her Iraq war votes insults our intelligence. Let’s leave aside the obvious fact that Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9-11 and was therefore irrelevant to our security needs. Clinton contends that she was hoodwinked by faulty CIA intelligence claiming Iraq had a nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program.
Hillary is older than me and she should remember how the CIA spent years clownishly failing to assassinate Fidel Castro (or at least take away his charisma by making his beard fall out through specially-treated cigars), totally misread the strength of the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies during the Vietnam War, were caught completely by surprise by the fall of the Shah in Iran, and didn’t see either the anti-Gorbachev coup or the collapse of the Soviet Union coming in 1991.
Why would Hillary, if she’s so smart, so gullibly accept the intelligence of the Keystone Cops at the CIA when the UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and American experts like Scott Ritter raised serious doubts about the Bush administration’s claims? Back to a personal story: when I was an adjunct at UT in 2003, I made several predictions about the war to my students. Somehow, I was smarter than the experienced senator from New York. Normally I am a lousy prophet, but in this case I batted the cycle.
Not having access to the intelligence briefs I assume Hillary read, I predicted that no weapons of mass destruction would be found once Iraq was occupied. The reason – the last time Saddam Hussein was in danger for his life, after the coalition had crossed the Iraqi border during the original Gulf War in 1991 and it was uncertain whether they would drive on to Baghdad and oust him or possibly kill him in the effort, Saddam used no WMD, even against Israel – an act that might have peeled important Arab allies from the coalition if the Israelis responded in kind.
Secondly, Hussein’s regime had consistently proved itself utterly inept, in the earlier Iran war, in the misreading of how the U.S. would respond to a Kuwaiti invasion, and so on. How would these clowns have successfully developed a nuclear weapons program without the world conclusively detecting it? Why were the boneheads who proved so strategically hopeless against the army of teenagers they faced in Iran suddenly assumed to be geniuses when it came to the extremely difficult task of building a nuclear weapons program and leaving no indisputable evidence in the process? In any case, American planes had bombed the shit out of Iraq for about a decade. That should have suggested to Clinton that Saddam’s military capability would be severely diminished. Otherwise, Hillary’s husband Bill wasted a whole lot of money, and Iraqi lives, with all those bombs.
Furthermore, I predicted that the invasion would be the easy part and that the occupation would prove extremely difficult and could stretch indefinitely into the future. Also, I observed the likelihood that Iraq had held together in spite of bitter sectarian divisions only because of a series of dictatorships culminating in Saddam’s iron rule. I suggested that removing the autocracy would centrifugally shatter the nation, which was an artificial colonial invention anyway.
If I knew this, why didn’t someone bright and fully briefed like Hillary? I suspect it’s because she didn’t swallow all of these Bush administration lies. She made a cynical, bloody calculation.
She knew that as a woman running for president, she would face sexist questions about her toughness and her ability to be a decisive commander-in-chief. She thought that her enthusiastic, almost Joe Lieberman-like support for the war would silence those doubts. She probably kept her fingers crossed that Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t completely clueless. In short, she supported a war I’m sure she had grave misgivings about because she thought it would serve her political interest. And 3,908 Americans (as of January 3) have died for that piece of realpolitik. Hillary has blood on her hands.
Even worse, she has been incapable of admitting a mistake. Edwards voted for the war, but at least he had the decency to publicly repent. What trust can we have for a president who makes a mistaken decision regarding war who won't accept reality? Isn't that what we have now?
This is a double tragedy because Hillary’s calculations have come to bitter failure. In Iowa, she lost to a man (Obama) who was against the war from the beginning and not just when it became politically expedient. She also lost to a badly underfunded candidate who has intentionally cut himself off from the lifeline of corporate PAC money (John Edwards.) Edwards has called for removal of troops from Iraq even more quickly and completely than Obama.
The war is the chief issue in this presidential election. When voters flock to Obama because they want “change,” one of the chief changes they hope for is a rapid end to a bloody, futile, and expensive war. The Democratic Congress has seen its popularity dramatically drop because of its cowardice on de-funding our Middle Eastern colonial adventure (though the Democrats will probably keep control of the House and Senate because the alternative is pro-war Republicans.)
The media is embarrassed by its sheepish support of the war in 2003 and it is trying to put that behind them by pretending people don’t care about Iraq anymore. Quoting Joseph N. Welch’s famous question from the McCarthy Army hearings in 1954, we should ask the press, “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.