Monday, October 30, 2006

Tomgram: Playing the Numbers Game with Death in Iraq

[Note for Tomdispatch readers: In my recent post, George Bush's War of the Words, while highlighting the virtues of the new Tomdispatch book Mission Unaccomplished, Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters, I wrote about what the Bush administration had done to our language. Now, in this first of a two-parter on our Iraq disaster, I consider how imagery became part of the President's war to pacify the home front. Let me take this opportunity again to urge all readers who, in the winter evenings to come, would like a little splendid company and freewheeling conversation with eleven of our more provocative thinkers to pick up a copy of the new book and, if you're in the mood to give this site a special vote of confidence, perhaps an extra copy or two as prospective presents for the holiday season. Tom! ]

Losing the Home Front (Part 1)

The Bush Administration's War of the Images
By Tom Engelhardt

Recently, speaking of his war in Iraq, George Bush put the Vietnam analogy back in the public eye. He was asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos if New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was on the mark in suggesting that what "we might be seeing now is the Iraqi equivalent of the Tet Offensive."

The President's reply: "Mm-hmm. He could be right. There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence. And we're heading into an election."

The nationwide Tet Offensive has, of course, long been seen as the turning point in the Vietnam War, the moment when the American political establishment lost both the media and the American public in its Vietnam venture. That's what the President is certainly alluding to, though the present chaos in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq hardly qualifies as a "Tet Offensive" and, as the polls indicate, the American public had already been lost to his war.

Nonetheless, for Bush, who (like the rest of his administration) had previously avoided Vietnam-analogy admissions like the plague, it was certainly a sign that he feared the loss of the war he had fought most fiercely since September 12, 2001 -- the war to pacify the American public and the media. No administration in memory has devoted more time to thinking out and polishing its language, its signature phrases and images, in the pursuit of that war; so, for instance, the announcement that the President is now "cutting and running" from his own signature phrase "stay the course" -- one-half of the linguistic duo (the other being, of course, "cut and run") on which he and Karl Rove had clearly planned drive the Democrats into retreat in the midterm election period -- is no small matter. (White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow: "[Stay the course] left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is, when, in fact, it's just the opposite.")

If this is, in any sense, a turning-point moment, then it's important to take another look at aspects of the war on the home front that this administration has fought so relentlessly these last years and is now losing -- the first being its image wars in regard to Iraq and the second, the numbers games it's played when it came to deaths in that country.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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