“Things are almost back to normal here. We have teachers and books. Things are getting better.”
-- New York Times,
“Vital Signs of a Ruined City Grow stronger in Falluja,” March 26, 2005
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”
-- Rev. Martin Luther King
Cameras aren’t allowed in Falluja. Neither are journalists. If they were then we would have first-hand proof of America’s greatest war crime in the last 30 years: the Dresden-like bombardment of an entire city of 250,000. Instead, we have to rely on eyewitness accounts that appear on the internet or the spurious reports that sporadically surface in the New York Times and Associated Press. For the most part, the Times and AP have shown themselves to be undependable, limiting their coverage to the details that support the overall goals of the occupation. For example, in the last few weeks both the NYT and the AP ran stories on the alleged progress being made in Falluja. The AP outrageously referred to the battered city as “the safest place in Iraq,” a cynical appraisal of what most independent journalists have called nearly total destruction. One can only wonder if the editors at the AP would approve of similar security measures if they were taken in their own neighborhoods.
The NYT also ran a lengthy story, “Vital Signs of a Ruined City Grow stronger in Falluja”, which portrayed Falluja as a city ‘on the mend’ after a healthy dose of imperial medicine: “Classes have started again two months ago and the cheerful shrieks of children can be heard in the hallways.” This was just one of the more contemptuous quotes lifted from the NYT story of “rebirth” from the epicenter of American devastation. The quote was accompanied by a picture of a Marine in full combat gear bending over to tie the shoe of a seven or eight year old Iraqi boy; a threatening image used to convey the spirit of American generosity.
The truth about Falluja is far different than the bogus reports in the AP and Times. The fact that even now, a full 6 months after the siege, camera crews and journalists are banned from the city, tells us a great deal about the extent of America’s war crimes. Just two weeks ago, a photographer from Al Aribiyya news was arrested while leaving Falluja and his equipment and film were confiscated. To date, he is still being held without explanation and there is no indication when he will be released. This illustrates the fear among the military brass that the truth about Falluja will leech out and destroy whatever modest support still exists for the occupation. Journalists should realize that Falluja may turn out to be the administration’s Achilles heel; a My Lai-type atrocity that turns the public decisively against Bush’s war.
The fairytales in the Times and AP are typical wartime propaganda; no different from the fabrications about Jessica Lynch’s heroics or the Dear Leader larking about in Baghdad with a plastic turkey in tow (Bush’s “surprise” Thanksgiving day visit). The articles suggest that the administration has settled on a strategy for concealing the unpleasant facts about the obliteration of the city. Along with an active disinformation campaign featured in the nation’s leading newspapers, the administration has put together a PR operation to shape public perceptions. This explains why the State Department’s number two official, Robert Zoellick, popped up in Falluja last week for a photo-op at a bread making factory and a water pumping station. Zoellick’s visit was supposed to draw attention to the progress being made in Falluja’s restoration. Instead, his plans were disrupted by threats to his personal safety and he was hustled off to a fortified military compound in the center of town. There he was beset by the city’s tribal leaders’ complaining about the dismal pace of reconstruction.
Zoellick’s appearance was intended to highlight the alleged return of 90,000 Fallujans to the city and the reparations that have been made to the city’s water system. In fact, there’s no way to verify the administration’s claims about the numbers of returning residents, and its doubtful that there have been any measurable improvements to the water treatment plants, sewage facilities, electrical grid or hospital, all of which were intentionally bombed during the siege.
Zoellick’s “confidence-building” trip turned out to be just another in a long list of bungled public relations gambits. If anything, it only further proved that the US still has no control over the security situation on the ground, and that the majority of Iraqis were better off under Saddam.
The Bush administration claims that the military is slowly providing compensation to the people whose homes were destroyed during the Falluja offensive but, again, there’s no independent source that can verify those claims and it seems inconsistent with the existing policy. Zoellick summarized the Bush policy succinctly in his remarks to the Fallujan leaders, “I know it won’t be easy. There will be many days of frustration, even threats. We can help, but YOU have to make it happen.”
Zoellick’s comments are little more than a distillation of the Bush ethos, “You’re on your own,” the underlying theme of “compassionate conservatism.”
It’s doubtful that anyone in Falluja is so naïve that they believe the administration will actually help out with the reconstruction. Two years have passed since the initial invasion and Baghdad is still limited to three or four hours of electricity per day. The problems with water and sewage systems are equally grave. Only one in five Iraqis has access to clean water and there are still many places in Baghdad where raw sewage can be seen on the city streets. As a result there have been reports of outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea and other more obscure water-borne illnesses.
Falluja is undoubtedly doomed to the same fate as Afghanistan. The media will create the illusion of improvement for the American public, celebrating the meaningless trappings of democracy (sham elections, claims of sovereignty, and the writing of a constitution) while the nation remains fractured and under the brutal rule of the regional warlords. Afghanistan is a lawless, drug colony run by gangsters and narco smugglers. By any standard of measurement, our involvement there has been a complete failure.
The real Afghanistan bears no resemblance to the flourishing democratic republic that graces the pages of American newspapers.
Falluja and the rest of Iraq can expect the very same treatment. There is no Plan B; the Bush strategy for toppling regimes and replacing them with the Neoliberal model is a cookie cutter approach to governance, a one-size-fits-all formula for global rule.
In Naomi Klein’s article “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Klein points out that there really is no intention on the part of the US to rebuild Iraq or anywhere else for that matter. When the State Department gets involved, through its Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “the mandate is not to rebuild any old states, but to create ‘democratic and market-oriented’ ones.” That entails selling off “state owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy” and, thereby, “changing the very social fabric of a nation.”
There it is! Deregulation, privatization and control of resources, the same model applied over and over again. The real goal is a radical, fundamental change to the system; “shock therapy,” the all-purpose antidote prescribed by the global banking and financial establishment. These changes are facilitated through their political surrogates in the Bush administration, and executed by their own private security apparatus (a.k.a. the US Military). After Iraq has passed through this vicious transition from semi-socialist government to deregulated capitalist colony, it will be entered into the new world order of American protectorates, stripped of its resources and subjected to the tyranny of foreign rule. All government properties and services will be controlled by multinational corporations and all assets will be held by the foreign lending institutions that own the majority shares of the Iraqi National Bank.
The NY Times: “Our business is selling war; and business is good.”
The real story of Falluja will never appear in the pages of the New York Times; the banned weapons, the bloated corpses, the thousands of dead animals killed by illicit chemicals, the wasteland of rubble and ruined lives. The magnitude of the crime simply won’t fit within the paper’s glib account of benign intervention. Rather, the Times is focused on promoting a credible story of “rebirth amid the ruins,” of lives patched together by a kindhearted father in Washington and his heavily armed disciples.
They’re wasting their time. The cruelty of the siege and the vastness of devastation will eventually be brought to light and the Time’s feeble apologetics will amount to nothing.
The Times remains the command center of the imperial chronicle, the indispensable shaper of the colonial digest. Its pages furnish the muddled logic for the invasion of defenseless nations, the rationale for continued repression, the requisite smokescreen for American war crimes, and the dubious justification for the ongoing occupation. Their work in Falluja is just one of many services they carry out as the information annex of the defense establishment. They perform subtler assignments others as well. They continue to be an invaluable cog in the machinery of state terror, executing their function with extraordinary skill.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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* Screw You, Paul