April 16th, 2006 04:36 EST
Beware the authorized version
Running stories—the ones you have to follow day after day, like Watergate—have a way of running away from you. They tend to become authorized versions in which you find yourself trying to fit new facts into an old mold. You don’t notice that the shape of the story has completely changed or that it was defective from the start. For example, the Whitewater scandal during the Clinton Administration was inflated from the beginning because the media failed to frame it in a context that would have allowed audiences to understand that such scandals are common across the land.
The media allowed the fact that a president and first lady were involved to demonize a third-rate land scam. It was certainly important to report Whitewater, but it was just as important to provide a measured context. There were reasons for this failure. The conservative press was hostile to the Clintons. The liberal press did not wish to seem partial to them. And the righteous pronunciamentos of the prosecutors made it difficult to keep the picture in perspective.
In this commentary by Greg Palast, an investigative reporter with a good deal of Washington experience, you will see a journalist stepping back from the authorized version of the story of retired generals speaking out against the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and giving us an alternate reality just as compelling as the authorized version, if not more so. The authorized version entered the canon when the New York Times on April 14th made its lead story the generals’ criticism of Rumsfeld’s direction of the Iraq war. Once the Times runs a story its prior life is pretty much cast in concrete, for better or worse. (Remember that in the case of Judith Miller’s coverage of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction it was clearly for the worse). But on the same day Palast wrote this contrarian view in which he says,
Hey guys, you shot the wrong target—President Bush and his gunslinger, Dick Cheney, are running this war. But this is an editorial comment, so how could the reporters covering the story of the generals’ revolt have offered their readers this alternate view? Well, they could have asked the generals if they were taking their commander-in-chief off the hook by shooting at Rumsfeld. They could have asked the same question of historians of the presidency. There are always ways to serve more food for thought. Palast is the sort of journalist I wish I had been.
I habitually got caught up in the excitement of running stories and failed to step back and ask myself what was wrong with this picture. That’s what you have to do, you have to ask yourself if there is an entirely different way of looking at the same facts. There usually is. That’s what Palast is doing here. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to give him credit for giving his readers some options for forming their own take on the events involved. Notice that Palast is not only saying these soldiers have chosen the wrong target, he’s saying they’re a day late and dollar short.
However, what if they had spoken out when they were on active duty? What if they had raised these issues when they first started worrying about them? How would that have squared with their sworn duty to carry out the orders of their political superiors? That’s a big issue? How far can and should military officers go in expressing their views when they disagree with superiors’ decision? Do they owe it to us to do so, or do they owe it to us to keep silent? And how can a reporter explore these questions? The answer has got to be that there are experts on just about everything, so in this case the reporters might have asked military ethicists, historians and political scientists for their views.
This is not a new issue. Field commanders throughout history have disagreed with politicians and monarchs. But in a republican democracy, such as ours, where is the line? If the generals and admirals keep silent, how will the people know that their best military minds disagree with Washington’s policies? The current administration would probably argue that it’s best for the people not to know, but democracies don’t work like that, and if they do, they stop being democracies. So you can see the generals are faced with a sore dilemma.
They want to do their duty. They want to respect their sworn duty to carry out the decisions of our elected leaders, but they also know that the public needs information to determine if military action has been properly executed and pursued. It’s likely that only the press can bridge the gap between the generals’ duty and the generals’ equally important role as concerned citizens.
But to do this the press is going to have to be at least as perceptive as Greg Palast in this column. And since we’re putting food for thought on the table, consider that most of the journalists we’re depending on to perform this difficult task work for only five media companies.
Here’s Palast’s think-piece
Desert Rats Leave The Sinking Ship
Why Rumsfeld Should Not Resign The Guardian
Comment Friday, April 14, 2006
By Greg Palast
Well, here they come: the wannabe Rommels, the gaggle of generals, safely retired, to lay siege to Donald Rumsfeld. This week, six of them have called for the Secretary of Defense's resignation. Well, according to my watch, they're about four years too late -- and they still don't get it.
I know that most of my readers will be tickled pink that the bemedalled boys in crew cuts are finally ready to kick Rummy in the rump, in public. But to me, it just shows me that these boys still can't shoot straight. It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who stood up in front of the UN and identified two mobile latrines as biological weapons labs, was it, General Powell?
It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who told us our next warning from Saddam could be a mushroom cloud, was it Condoleezza? It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who declared that Al Qaeda and Saddam were going steady, was it, Mr. Cheney? Yes, Rumsfeld is a swaggering bag of mendacious arrogance, a duplicitous chicken-hawk, yellow-bellied bully-boy and Tinker-Toy Napoleon -- but he didn't appoint himself Secretary of Defense.
Let me tell you a story about the Secretary of Defense you didn't read in the New York Times, related to me by General Jay Garner, the man our president placed in Baghdad as the US' first post-invasion viceroy. Garner arrived in Kuwait City in March 2003 working under the mistaken notion that when George Bush called for democracy in Iraq, the President meant the Iraqis could choose their own government.
Misunderstanding the President's true mission, General Garner called for Iraqis to hold elections within 90 days and for the U.S. to quickly pull troops out of the cities to a desert base. "It's their country," the General told me of the Iraqis. "And," he added, most ominously, "their oil." Let's not forget: it's all about the oil.
I showed Garner a 101-page plan for Iraq's economy drafted secretly by neo-cons at the State Department, Treasury and the Pentagon, calling for "privatization" (i.e. the sale) of "all state assets ... especially in the oil and oil-supporting industries." The General knew of the plans and he intended to shove it where the Iraqi sun don't shine. Garner planned what he called a "Big Tent" meeting of Iraqi tribal leaders to plan elections.
By helping Iraqis establish their own multi-ethnic government -- and this was back when Sunnis, Shias and Kurds were on talking terms -- knew he could get the nation on its feet peacefully before a welcomed "liberation" turned into a hated "occupation." But, Garner knew, a freely chosen coalition government would mean the death-knell for the neo-con oil-and-assets privatization grab.
On April 21, 2003, three years ago this month, the very night General Garner arrived in Baghdad, he got a call from Washington. It was Rumsfeld on the line. He told Garner, in so many words, "Don't unpack, Jack, you're fired." Rummy replaced Garner, a man with years of on-the-ground experience in Iraq, with green-boots Paul Bremer, the Managing Director of Kissinger Associates. Bremer cancelled the Big Tent meeting of Iraqis and postponed elections for a year; then he issued 100 orders, like some tin-pot pasha, selling off Iraq's economy to U.S. and foreign operators, just as Rumsfeld's neo-con clique had desired. Reading this, it sounds like I should applaud the six generals' call for Rumfeld's ouster.
Forget it. For a bunch of military hotshots, they sure can't shoot straight. They're wasting all their bullets on the decoy. They've gunned down the puppet instead of the puppeteers. There's no way that Rumsfeld could have yanked General Garner from Baghdad without the word from The Bunker. Nothing moves or breathes or spits in the Bush Administration without Darth Cheney's growl of approval. And ultimately, it's the Commander-in-Chief who's chiefly in command. Even the generals' complaint -- that Rumsfeld didn't give them enough troops -- was ultimately a decision of the cowboy from Crawford. (And by the way, the problem was not that we lacked troops -- the problem was that we lacked moral authority to occupy this nation.
A million troops would not be enough -- the insurgents would just have more targets.) President Bush is one lucky fella. I can imagine him today on the intercom with Cheney: "Well, pardner, looks like the game's up." And Cheney replies, "Hey, just hang the Rumsfeld dummy out the window until he's taken all their ammo." When Bush and Cheney read about the call for Rumsfeld's resignation today, I can just hear George saying to Dick, "Mission Accomplished." Generals, let me give you a bit of advice about choosing a target: It's the President, stupid.
********** Read more about the untold story of General Garner and the secret war plans in ARMED MADHOUSE, by Greg Palast, to be released June 6 (US) and July 6 (UK).
View Palast's interview with Garner for BBC Television at www.GregPalast.com.