Newsweek's Iraq cover 'looks mighty like' propaganda

I saw Newsweek’s latest cover today, subtly headlined: “VICTORY AT LAST.”  My first reaction was to grab the nearest taser, jam it down my throat, pull the trigger, and hope that my bodily fluids would conduct the 10,000 volts of electricity to instantly fry my brain so I wouldn’t have to read the accompanying story. Sadly, I couldn’t find a taser.

Alternative headline: "Maybe it wasn't such a f***ing catastrophe after all?"

Alternative headline: "Maybe it wasn't such a f***ing catastrophe after all?"

I cautioned in my piece yesterday that the coming debate in Iraq won’t be over policy, it will be over the narrative of how the war ended for America. The Newsweek cover, using the March 7th election as its news peg, is the most striking example of this process so far. It’s a pretty blatant piece of propaganda–and I don’t use that word lightly–meant to mislead the public on what’s actually occurred.

It’s the word victory that I take issue with. What, exactly, did we win again? The editors didn’t even have the decency to use the old news magazine trick of ending any wannabe provocative headline with a question mark. (Which would have looked like this:VICTORY AT LAST?)

Thankfully, the story itself–written by journalists who I have a great deal of respect for–isn’t as bad as the cover would suggest. Basically, it says what’s happening in Iraq “looks mighty like” a democracy. Sure, that’s an argument that can be made, especially with a creative interpretation of the facts. (Like spinning Salih Mutlaq’s ban as a good thing because after it other Sunni politicians were “conspicuous in their low profile.” Maybe because they live in fear of the Shiite Islamist government and didn’t want to get banned as well? And really, the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra? C’mon.)  But there are enough caveats and to-be-sure grafs to take it a few notches below the realm of Weekly Standard/National Review ideologically driven b.s.

Like this one:

The word skeptics like to fall back on is “fragile.” No one can say for sure whether the Iraqis’ political experiment is sustainable. Many U.S. officials see themselves as the key players who hold everything together, massaging egos and nudging adversaries closer together. Some are already talking about revising the schedule whereby all U.S. troops would leave the country in 2011.

(Yes, those crazy skeptics! And true, if we’re being honest, nobody knows what’s gonna happen–which is why you should have put that question mark in the headline!)

So back to the headline. It’s worth remembering that Newsweek recently ran a story hinting we could have won the Vietnam War(a pressing question among young college Republicans circa ’72) and just last week a cover asking itself: What would the Republicans do if they ran the country? (See the entry in U.S. history from January 2001 to January 20,2009 to find out.)We know then that recent cover choices are as much about “generating buzz” and “stimulating debate”  as anything else, so at least with me, consider the debate stimulated.

We’re talking here about shaping the narrative of the Iraq War. This is a big part of the “lessons learned” discussion we like to have. We draw our lessons from the historical narrative that gets formed in our nation’s collective memory. The media plays a crucial role in in this process.

So I think we should try to remember this simple series of sentences: the lesson of Vietnam was not to get involved in Vietnam-like situations… the lesson of the Iraq War is not get involved in Vietnam/Iraq-like situations…the lesson of Afghanistan is not to get involved in Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan-like situations…And so on. (This was once called the Powell Doctrine, before Powell was put on the cover of Newsweek pre-Iraq War holding up a fake vial of non-existent WMD’s.) If we convince ourselves we achieved some sort of “victory” those lessons–which we appear to have trouble learning  anyway–have even less of a chance of sinking in.

It’s the V word in this particular headline that brings it up to the level of delusional, Goebbels-esque, myth-making. I think you can clearly make the case that since 2008 the U.S. military has had success in Iraq, but victory is a word that even U.S. government officials are smart enough not to use. (And even the war’s most loyal supporters shy away from, as this AFP story details.) After a cost of 3 trillion dollars, over 4,000 U.S. lives, and over 150,000 Iraqi lives, we’ve managed to prop up a “fragile” Shiite-Islamist Iranian backed government, whose democratic future is clearly in question. (There’s also the 2 million or so refugees, and they’re not exactly flocking back.) But, it’s a hell of lot better than it was when it was really, really, really bad from 2004-2007, so that’s a success.

Here’s the metaphor I like to use to describe our time in Iraq. We dug a gaping hole in the middle of the desert. We have managed to fill that hole back in, barely and at great cost. Filling in a hole you dug yourself doesn’t qualify as a big victory in my book. It qualifies as a success–congrats, you finished filling in that hole!–but it’s not the kind of occasion that merits a parade, or for that matter, a Newsweek cover.

Advertisements

About michaelhastings

Journalist
This entry was posted in Journalism, Politics, World and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Newsweek's Iraq cover 'looks mighty like' propaganda

  1. rbrander says:

    Early in 1980, I remember having a sharp exchange with an instructor at my university over the question, “Did the US ‘lose’ the Vietnam War”. Her position was something about ‘having achieved many of their goals there if not all’.

    Mine was more along the lines of “Saigon is now called ‘Ho Chi Minh City'” which struck me as fairly definitive.

    Just as “it’s hard to get a man to understand something if his living depends on not understanding it”, I think its hardest of all to get somebody to admit something if their pride (national, personal…) depends on their not understanding it.

    A serviceman writing a blog post last week said that the Colbert producers assumed that the “defining moment” of his performances there would be his haircut. Turned out it was his declaration, “by the power vested in me by basic cable” that “we won the Iraq war”. Wrote the soldier, “the place went wild”.

    It’s what everybody wants to believe, and unless their noses are rubbed in it (and renaming Baghdad to “Saddam Hussein City” would presumably not be enough to do that) you might as well accept it.

  2. Pingback: Colorado jail bans all newspapers and magazines — except USA Today - Matt Stroud - The Prison Dilemma - True/Slant

  3. Michael Peck says:

    “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill

  4. Pingback: About that Newsweek Cover « afterbirthnation

  5. jcalton says:

    Is this article about Iraq, or about Newsweek?

    If it’s about Iraq (or anything of relevance) you shouldn’t be reading Newsweek.

    If it’s about Newsweek, read last year’s cover stories about Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin…and you would known to never look at Newsweek again. For verifiable, fiscal evidence that they have (literally) sold out, try this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/11/05/05greenwire-apis-partnership-with-inewsweeki-raises-ad-cas-65754.html

    At this point all I’m trying to figure out is whether Newsweek is dead, or journalism.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      It’s about both Iraq and the magazine, and how the media(filled up of folks complicit in cheerleading the war) is trying to put a rosy spin on our withdrawal.

      I certainly don’t think journalism is dead, though the tendency to move towards publishing opinion only is very strong because it’s a lot cheaper than reporting.

  6. hey mike,

    I enjoyed discussing this article with you on the flight into baghdad. I’m glad to see there are true journalists out there that are willing to call something B.S. when it is warranted. Words like Victory are dangerous! I also have to laugh at the fact that Iraqi Democracy is a “political experiment” Lets just call it what it is for once, a freaking mess! Stay safe during the election man.

  7. Pingback: PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Explosions on Election Day in Iraq

  8. Pingback: NYT columnist pedals ‘post-modern illusions’ and ‘propaganda’ to varnish Bush legacy – Dark Politricks

  9. Pingback: NYT columnist peddles ‘post-modern illusions’ and ‘propaganda’ to varnish Bush legacy – Dark Politricks

  10. Pingback: March 10, 2010 « Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

  11. mikenavarro says:

    Now that “mainstream” media is nearly wholly owned and controlled by a handful of mega-corporations, meaning our “news” and “journalism” is now largely controlled by corporate overlords, we are in great danger of becoming a permanently misinformed and misguided citizenry. I take some solace in the Internet on this count. By taking the time to seek out some of the still independent voices that are available on the Web — and at the library, somehow book publishing has also retained its independence — one can still find some propaganda-free information in this country.

  12. Pingback: Official Dogma: Iraq War a Success « Dr Nasir Khan

  13. It’s hilarious watching the Left try and rationalize what’s going on in Iraq. You’ve got some whom are actually trying to give credit to Obama and his administration and then you’ve got others who are trying to obfuscate or distort what’s going on which is what this article is doing. It just pains libtards to no end that the net result of all this might actually be positive and that there version of reality will put them on the losing side of history when people look back 20, 50 or 100 years from now. I guess the Evil Chimp Genius might not have been wrong after all no matter how many juvenile caricatures you draw or how many bumper stickers you plaster on your Prius. (How smart can someone be when their perspective on life is best articulated on a SNALL piece of paper on the tail end of car?)

    I can see it now…”Yeah, but what did we win?” coming to the bumper of a pseudo-intellectual defeatist near you!

    • Michael Hastings says:

      I suggest that you take a closer look at ‘what’s going on in Iraq.’ 300 dead still each month, 1.5 million internal refugees, 2 million in exile, heavy influence from Iran, a government that’s just as likely to be semi-autocratic as democratic. It’s ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the hundreds of billions we’ve spent in reconstruction have had very little impact. But I invite you to come to Baghdad and enjoy the fruits of our supposed victory.

  14. Pingback: Mike’s Blog Roundup

  15. Pingback: Good Morning Mission – Mission Loc@l -- San Francisco Mission District's News, Food, Art and Events

  16. Pingback: Et Tu Brute! – Mission Loc@l -- San Francisco Mission District's News, Food, Art and Events

  17. Pingback: Buenos Días Distrito de la Misión 12.03.10 | MissionLocal: Spanish Language Version

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s