The deluded emporer

From Patrick cockburn, who's been reporting from Iraq since the war started:

During the Opium Wars between Britain and China in the 19th century, eunuchs at the court of the Chinese emperor had the problem of informing him of the repeated and humiliating defeat of his armies. They dealt with their delicate task by simply telling the emperor that his forces had already won or were about to win victories on all fronts.

For three and a half years White House officials have dealt with bad news from Iraq in similar fashion. Journalists were repeatedly accused by the US administration of not reporting political and military progress on the ground. Information about the failure of the US venture was ignored or suppressed.

Manipulation of facts was often very crude. As an example of the systematic distortion, the Iraq Study Group revealed last week that on one day last July US officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. In reality, it added, "a careful review of the reports ... brought to light 1,100 acts of violence".

The 10-fold reduction in the number of acts of violence officially noted was achieved by not reporting the murder of an Iraqi, or roadside bomb, rocket or mortar attacks aimed at US troops that failed to inflict casualties. I remember visiting a unit of US combat engineers camped outside Fallujah in January 2004 who told me that they had stopped reporting insurgent attacks on themselves unless they suffered losses as commanders wanted to hear only that the number of attacks was going down. As I was drove away, a sergeant begged us not to attribute what he had said: "If you do I am in real trouble."

Few Chinese emperors can have been as impervious to bad news from the front as President George W Bush. His officials were as assiduous as those eunuchs in Beijing 170 years ago in shielding him from bad news. But even when officials familiar with the real situation in Iraq did break through the bureaucratic cordon sanitaire around the Oval Office they got short shrift from Mr Bush. In December 2004 the CIA station chief in Baghdad said that the insurgency was expanding and was "largely unchallenged" in Sunni provinces. Mr Bush's response was: "What is he, some kind of a defeatist?" A week later the station chief was reassigned.

The only response to that last bit is a bitter horse laugh.


Nadir said...

If ignorance is bliss, the president is a euphoric fool.

Paul Hue said...

Last night I read the devastating neocon article in Esquire. The neocons now say that their plan would have worked if only Bush had implemented it correctly. They now charge him with epochal incompetence and mismanagement. Their case makes sense to me, and they are persuading me of their stance at least somewhat. Do they really believe that the balance of Iraqi Arabs would utilize a US-awarded shot at freedom? How do they account for the successful embrace in the Kurdish area? Was Bush only incompetent in the Arabian areas? These questions don't get addressed.

Today I spoke with my two close friends working for KBR in Iraq: childhood chum Vassar, who lives less than a mile from Sadr City, and FAMU buddy and former Detroit co-worker and roommate Joe Dennis, who lives 20 minutes from Takrit. They both take the neocon view, that Bush's intentions were marvelous, and that if the Iraqis would just give it a chance they would have a safe, wonderful, and prosperous country. They both look to Kurdistan in support of this view.

They both also cite one example of massive incompetence: they say that for almost two years now the US military has stopped "fighting back." They credit this behavior with accounting for the massive increase in anti-democratic, pro-tyranny violence. And they both blame US domestic critics for mischaractorizing the US troops there as anti-Iraqi civilian-killers for this new hold-back strategy. They name "Murtha" and "Polosi" as culprits in this. Count Vassar and Joe as members of the growing black republican voters.