WASHINGTON - September 15 is the deadline
for the George W Bush administration to submit a
report to the US Congress defending its Iraq
"surge" strategy, an escalation of more than
30,000 US troops designed to increase security in
the war-torn nation.
Amid the gruesome
attacks that continue to plague Iraqis - the
casualty toll of the bombing in a poor rural area
near the Syrian border two weeks ago has soared to
more than 500, making it the
bloodiest coordinated attack
since the US-led invasion in 2003 - and the
crumbling political alliances and Sunni defections
within Nuri al-Maliki's floundering government,
the White House is hoping to bookend the latest
chapter in the Iraq war debacle with some good
As usual, the Bush administration
has been getting by with a little help - perhaps
unwittingly - from its friends in the US
The most recent
"information surge" to pulsate through US
broadcast news outlets originated from the pens of
Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two
so-called "critics" of the administration's
"miserable handling of Iraq", who, in a July 30
New York Times op-ed titled "A war we just might
win", wrote that US forces "are finally getting
somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms".
O'Hanlon and Pollack, who also work as
fellows at the Brookings Institution's Saban
Center for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based
think-tank, were careful not to acknowledge the
possibility of "victory in Iraq" - an oft-used
phrase that, along with "stay the course", has
been recently omitted from President Bush's
rhetoric. But they wrote that they were heartened
by the morale of US troops, surprised at the gains
made by the "surge", and confident in its
potential to produce a "sustainable stability that
both we and the Iraqis could live with".
"There is enough good happening on the
battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should
plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008,"
they concluded. In doing so, O'Hanlon and Pollack
jump-started an information surge that would end
up providing political cover for the
administration's war policy.
outlets - perhaps more out of complacence than
collusion - jumped on the bandwagon, reporting
that two longtime critics of the Iraq war were
conceding military progress, while ignoring the
fact that both O'Hanlon and Pollack had initially
been very vocal supporters of the war effort.
During a July 30 interview on CNN
Newsroom, anchor Heidi Collins painted Pollack
as an opponent of the war who, based on his
eight-day visit to Iraq, had ostensibly changed
his mind and was becoming more supportive.
"You are a self-proclaimed critic of the
way the Bush administration has handled this war,
you wrote a book about the situation in Iraq, you
shared your thoughts all over TV and in some
newspapers, but yet it seems like the tune is
changing a bit," she said.
to mentioned the content of Pollack's 2002 book -
The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading
Iraq - whose title speaks for itself, or that
he heavily promoted the invasion of Iraq on The
Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002.
and Pollack were similarly introduced over the
next few days in interviews on major US news
channels. As noted by Media Matters, a
media-monitoring organization based in Washington,
on the July 30 edition of the CBS Evening
News, national-security correspondent David
Martin incorrectly described O'Hanlon as "a
critic" of the Iraq war "who used to think the
'surge' was too little too late, [but] now
believes it should be continued".
fact," Media Matters wrote, "while O'Hanlon has
been critical of the Bush administration's
handling of the Iraq war, he supported the
invasion and argued in a January 2007 column that
President Bush's troop increase was 'the right
thing to try'."
One day after the op-ed
was published, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared
on CNN's Larry King Live and extolled
O'Hanlon's and Pollack's views, and attempted to
add more credibility to the administration policy
when he quipped that the op-ed had appeared in the
New York Times, "not exactly a friendly
"They have both been strong
critics of the war, both worked in the prior
administration, but now [are] saying that they
think there's a possibility, indeed, that we could
be successful," Cheney told King.
Curiously, in 2002, the Bush
administration fed false intelligence to the New
York Times about nuclear weapons in Iraq, and
Cheney quoted the story in an interview on Jim
Russert's Meet the Press, part of a similar
strategy to place the burden of proof on a news
source, not the administration.
all the complacence exhibited by CNN, Fox, the
American Broadcasting Co, the Columbia
Broadcasting System and other news outlets, the
contradictions associated with O'Hanlon's and
Pollack's analysis were not lost on media
"For sheer deceit and
propaganda, it is difficult to remember something
quite this audacious and transparently false,"
wrote Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. "Witnessing
these two war lovers - supporters of the invasion,
advocates of the 'surge', comrades of Fred Kagan -
mindlessly depicted all day yesterday [July 30] by
media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are
was really quite startling."
Kagan, one of
the architects of the "surge" strategy,
accompanied neo-conservative polemicist Bill
Kristol on his own tour of Iraq, which resulted in
a laudatory evaluation of recent US military
In an interview with Greenwald,
O'Hanlon acknowledged that he was not exactly the
Bush administration critic he was described as in
numerous broadcast-news interviews.
I'm being held up as a 'critic of the war', for
example by Vice President Cheney, it's certainly
fair to ask if that is a proper characterization
of me. And in fact I would not even use that
characterization of myself," O'Hanlon told
Greenwald. "As you rightly reported, I was not a
critic of this war. In the final analysis, I was a
Perhaps the most stinging
rebuke of O'Hanlon's and Pollack's tacit promotion
of the "surge" strategy came in another New York
Times op-ed published on August 19.
"The war as we see it", seven non-commissioned
officers with the 82nd Airborne Division at the
tail-end of a 15-month deployment to Iraq wrote
that "the claim that we are increasingly in
control of the battlefields in Iraq is an
assessment arrived at through a flawed,
explicitly referring to the O'Hanlon-Pollack
op-ed, the seven authors echoed its language and
challenged some of its claims.
skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the
conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it
has neglected the mounting civil, political and
social unrest we see today," they wrote.
Yet the US mainstream media did not give
it the same attention, even though it was, in many
ways, a direct response to O'Hanlon's and
Pollack's assertions. In an August 21 analysis
piece published by the Associated Press, Charles
Babington wrote that Democrats were "wearily
anticipating" the upcoming mid-September report,
"realizing that opponents will use any upbeat
assessment to portray them as defeatists just as
glimmers of hope appear".
of hope have been provided by O'Hanlon and
Pollack, but the words of the seven US servicemen
appear to have gone under the radar. They were
nowhere to be found in Babington's report.