The Official Story Begins

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It’s a well-trod cliche that the truth is the first casualty of war, but it’s probably more accurate to say that language is the first thing to get twisted and quietly manipulated to create that truth.

You can already see it beginning, now that the invasion of Baghdad is officially underway. For months, we’ve heard endless talk about the “unilateral action” “pre-emptive strikes,” “U.S.-led attack” and such. Yet now that the “war” is a reality, there’s been a subtle shift in describing what’s happening: suddenly “U.S.-led” has morphed into “coalition forces.” The word cropped up shortly after air strikes began, and subsequent news broadcasts have made strict use of the word “coalition.” And for the first time, at the beginning of the weekend, ABC News offered up the word “allied” to describe military action.

Why all the fuss? These are just words, naturally, and words never killed anyone. Except that constant use of the words “coalition" and “allied” conjure up a sense that the invasion of Baghdad is a multi-national effort, akin to the first Gulf War. And that’s what the intention is, to obfuscate the reality of whose war this really is. Even the Pentagon has been adding to this perception that it’s the World vs. Saddam Hussein, not America, by constantly inflating the numbers of the coalition. First we started with 30 countries, and within a week, it’s risen to 52 nations. An impressive feat, and by itself, it certainly brings a measure of confidence and righteousness to the red states (those who voted for Bush in the 2000 “election”) who welcome armed conflict to get rid of the imminent threat that is Iraq.

It’s ultimately disingenuous, however, to describe this invasion as an allied effort. On paper, sure: the State Department listed 30 countries that backed the invasion, not including the 15 that did not want to be publicly identified. Yet when you look at the number of troops actually going into the Iraq, then it becomes an overwhelming coalition of three: the United States (with approximately 250,000); Great Britain (45,000) and Australia (2,000). Some countries such as Poland have pledged troops (200), but the bulk of the force will be fighting under the Star Spangled banner and no one else. Spain, which has pushed itself politically into the limelight by backing the invasion and co-sponsoring the never-presented second resolution, initially said it would not send troops, but recently backed off that statement and sent 900 personnel who will be acting as medical relief and support. But not one Spanish trooper will set foot on Iraqi soil.

So what, you say? What’s the big deal or where is the harm? There’s no harm to you and I, comfortably watching the war as a new reality show here at home. And certainly it doesn’t matter to troops on the ground because they’re undoubtedly more concerned with logistics than who comes from what country. No, the actual harm is how this war has been presented and sold to the public, that remains (deliberately?) oblivious to how much this is America’s war alone. Many in the public voiced concern about a unilateral invasion: insisting that “allied” forces are advancing on Baghdad makes everyone breathe easier, and creates a sense of a multinational effort. There is comfort in numbers and voters need to be re-assured that we do have friends in many places.

Only time will tell if the media’s unblinking role in imparting the official story will start to crack with some hard questions. It’s difficult even know to gauge what Americans really think this invasion is about: regime change, the forceful disarmament of Iraq or spreading democracy? The Bush Administration has made daily switches about what the goal of the conflict is, but General Tommy Franks (who will undoubtedly be the ruler of Baghdad once the blood-letting is over) has already committed himself to finding weapons of mass destruction. So now that he’s staked the legitimacy of this invasion on that principle, it will be interesting to see how quickly that focus will morph into something bigger or different. Perhaps it’s already started: he did not offer to have any discovery of WMD independently verified (as the world should demand), but stated that such weapons would be destroyed.

That will make it difficult to believe in the existence of WMD from the get go, but such discoveries will be trumpeted in the media as a victory, and the Bush Administration will publicize that fact as political vindication. If it could be found earlier, so much the better, as the 2004 campaign was quietly rolled out a couple weeks ago. You’ll see phrases such as “Making America Safe” unfurled and a presentation of Mr. Bush as a warrior, fighting for America’s safety. It’s unlike the media will see anything otherwise.