Spinning the Past 

Are administration policies really striking against terrorism or fueling terrorist cycles?

Political aphorisms don't get any more cogent: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

George Orwell's famous observation goes a long way toward explaining why -- a full year after the invasion of Iraq -- the media battles over prewar lies are so ferocious in the United States. Top administration officials are going all out to airbrush yesterday's deceptions on behalf of today's. And tomorrow's.

The future they want most to control starts on Election Day. And with scarcely seven months to go in the presidential campaign, the past that Bush officials are most eager to obscure is their own record. In late 2002 and early last year, whenever the drive to war hit a bump, they maneuvered carefully to keep the war caravan moving steadily forward.

There is no doubt they were a hard-driving bunch. The most powerful squad of the Bush foreign-policy team ran on the fuel of certitude at such a prodigious rate that even their momentum had momentum -- maybe, in part, because their lives' trajectories seemed to demand it: War had been declared first within themselves.

Such steeliness has been almost boilerplate in history. Excuses for aggressive war have never been hard to come by. In this case, media pundits, academics, and other commentators could do little more than shed light on the fact that the people in charge had had war in mind from the outset.

Civic engagement -- or demonstrations -- against the war scenario were, in effect, attempts to impede leaders who had already gone around the bend. A very big bend. But it was taboo for American mass media to suggest the possibility that the lot of them -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and, yes, Powell -- were in their pursuit of war on Iraq significantly deranged.

Working from their initial conclusion of war's necessity, top Bush administration officials -- with assistance from many reporters and pundits -- were hell-bent on getting the invasion under way well before the extreme heat of summer.

There was also political weather to be navigated. The electoral storms would soon be starting for the 2004 presidential contest, and a secured victory over Iraq well in advance seemed advisable.

In the months before the invasion, journalists kept writing and talking about the "chances" of war, as though President Bush hadn't already made up his mind to order it. Yet, what Bush said in public was exactly opposite to reality -- a "one-eighty." As he talked about preferring to find an acceptable alternative to war, he and his advisers were actively seeking to bypass and discredit every such alternative.

Despite the obstacles, which included vital activism and protests for peace, the chief executive easily got his war -- the best kind, to be fought and endured only by others.

Eighteen months ago, looking out at Baghdad from an upper story of a hotel, I thought of something Albert Camus once wrote: "And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions." Later, any and all words were to be vastly outmatched by the big guns trained on Iraq.

One afternoon, 14 months ago, inside a little shop in Baghdad's crowded souk, a young boy sat behind an old desk, brown eyes wide, quietly watching his father unfurl carpets for potential customers. I wondered: Will my country's missiles kill you?

Nearly 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died because of the war during the past year.

Key questions of the past are also crucial for the future. Can the United States credibly wage a "war on terrorism" by engaging in warfare that terrorizes civilians? Does the mix of mendacity and deadly violence from the Oval Office really strike against terrorism or does it fuel terrorist cycles?

And, in the realm of news media, how many journalists are willing and able to go beyond reliance on official sources to bring us the truth about lies that result in death?

Norman Solomon is co-author with Reese Erlich of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You.

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