Call it NewSpeech or euphemisms or propaganda, the pronouncements and plans mouthed by Bush and his minions are basically repackaged versions of tactics that have already failed in Iraq and elsewhere (Vietnam, Algeria, etc.). Tom Engelhardt takes on this question today, and his thoughts on “non-words” are especially penetrating. From TomDispatch:
Calling Names by Their Things in Iraq
Among the stranger aspects of the war is this: At least three foundational pieces of the American occupation of Iraq have essentially gone nameless. Yet, without them, the last years can make little sense. Amid the endless interviews, news conferences, press briefings, radio addresses, speeches, and talk radio and television interviews that come out of this administration in weekly, if not daily, surges — the tens upon tens of thousands of words that pour from Washington and the Green Zone of Baghdad — these three subjects remain largely unmentioned, largely uncovered in a media that has relied so heavily on the administration’s framing of the issues. Where there is no language, of course, things exist in consciousness in, at best, the most shadowy of forms, leaving Americans tongue-tied on matters of genuine import.
Here they are in brief order:
Air Power: Consider a recent exchange between a reporter and Secretary of Defense Gates
“Q Can you talk a little bit about the bombing today in Iraq? “SEC. GATES: I don’t know much more about it than you all do.”
Even if you know nothing about the actual subject of this question, you should automatically know one thing: It wasn’t about American air power. In fact, the reporter was bringing up the recent suicide bombing inside a cafeteria in the Iraqi parliament building. But in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a simple rule of these last years: They bomb, we don’t. If you Google the words “bombing” and “Iraq,” you’ll see what I mean.
Air power has long been the American way of war. In fact, the use of air power with all its indiscriminate terror has, in the last year, ratcheted up strikingly in Afghanistan and may now be in the process of doing the same in Iraq. (It’s hard to tell without the necessary reporting.) Journalists in Baghdad evidently do not look up — and military press briefers don’t point to the skies. We have, in fact, been bombing and missiling in heavily populated urban areas of Iraq throughout the occupation years. But no descriptive language has been developed that would capture in any significant way the loosing of the U.S. Air Force on either country; and so, in a sense, the regular (if, in Iraq, still limited) use of air power has next to no reality for Americans, even though Iraq’s skies are filled with attack helicopters, jets, and drones.
Permanent Bases: Every now and then some political figure mentions the possibility of, at some future moment, withdrawing American troops into the vast, multi-billion-dollar permanent bases that have been (and are still being) constructed in Iraq. Some of these are large enough to be small American towns (with their own multiple bus routes). Balad Air Base, for example, along with its 20,000 troops and its contractors, has air traffic that rivals Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. At least four such mega-bases were planned before the invasion began. Early on, they were called “enduring camps” by the Pentagon, which had charm as well as a certain rudimentary accuracy. But over these years, the bases have rarely been mentioned by the administration and seldom attended to by the media. They remain a major fact-on-the-ground in Iraq — and in Bush administration plans for that country — but we have next to no real language for taking in their massive reality, so they remain a non-issue, nearly nonexistent in American debate about Iraq.
Most “withdrawal” plans now being offered by our Congressional representatives, for instance, only account for the withdrawal of “combat brigades,” not troops guarding the bases, which means, of course, that after most imagined “withdrawals,” these vast bases are to remain well staffed. Little wonder Iraqis of just about every stripe are suspicious of us and our intentions in their country. And what descriptive language is there for what Washington Post on-line columnist William Arkin calls “a Pentagon-like military headquarters in the Green Zone” or the “largest Embassy in the universe,” also being built in that massively fortified citadel in the heart of the Iraqi capital. When an embassy is to have a “staff” of many thousands, along with its own water and electricity systems, and its own anti-missile defenses, the very word “embassy” no longer has much meaning. We have no word for such a symbol of (attempted) permanent domination of a country and so, most of the time, nothing much is said.
Mercenaries: When the mainstream media speaks of the approximately 170,000 troops that will be in Iraq after the surge or “plus-up” is theoretically complete, they are perpetrating a fiction. As a start, just about no one counts the support troops in Kuwait, on ships off the coast, or in the region generally, which would certainly bring the figure up closer to 250,000. And it’s rare to see anyone discussing the hordes of mercenaries, known politely as “private contractors,” on the ground in Iraq working for rent-a-cop corporations. These range in numbers from the Pentagon’s division-sized estimate of 20,000 up to 100,000, depending on how (and who) you decide to count. As part of the privatizing of the American military, they are undertaking various military and semi-military duties and have, as a group, recently been classified, according to Jeremy Scahill, as “an official part of the U.S. war machine.”
They are a force (or a rabble) beyond control, beyond the law. (Not a single hired gun has yet been brought up on charges for any of their lawless acts in Iraq.) Their numbers, like their casualties, are essentially unknown; their tasks, largely unexplored; and, as “private contractor” indicates, there is no suitable descriptive language for them either. As a result, there is little way for Americans to grasp the essential lawlessness of the American occupation of Iraq, the real numbers involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or just how far our former citizen military has gone down the path to becoming a mercenary military.
With these key aspects of the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq — for which language has failed us so badly — missing in action, much in the situation remains hidden, mysterious, even incomprehensible to us, though not necessarily to the Iraqis or, in many cases, to readers and viewers elsewhere on the planet.