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Iraq

Former President George W. Bush

Photo by Marion Doss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

A media chorus of excited critics has been relentless this week, denouncing President Joe Biden for the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and warning that his entire presidency is now "stained." Tightly adhering to Republican talking points, the pundit class is sure Biden has stumbled into a historic crisis as the Taliban seizes Kabul.

The U.S. has spent trillions in Afghanistan stretching back 20 years, yet Biden, who has been in office for seven months and who campaigned on bringing the troops home, is being tagged as an architect for the Taliban's inevitable rise to power there.

A convenient, gaping hole in the coverage and commentary? The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was unalterably damaged when President George W. Bush hijacked that post-9/11 military mission and foolishly turned the Pentagon's time, attention, and resources to a doomed invasion of Iraq.

Much of the mainstream media cheered that utterly failed war. Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war -- timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking -- came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest.

Today the media's role in marketing the Iraq War has been flushed down the memory hole, even though Iraq should be central to any discussion about the U.S.'s running failure in Afghanistan. "Remarkably, the word "Bush" was not mentioned once on any of theSunday shows" this weekend as they focused nonstop on Afghanistan, noted Jon Allsop, at the Columbia Journalism Review.

You cannot discuss the rise of the Taliban in 2021 without talking about the U.S.'s doomed Iraq War in 2003. But the press today wants to try.

It's another example of how pro-Iraq War cheerleaders in the media not only have paid no price for being spectacularly wrong, but they're still allowed to dictate the parameters of our foreign policy discussion.

"For those of us who remember well how the mainstream media enthusiasm for war helped fuel not just this ill-advised war in Afghanistan twenty years ago, but the even bigger debacle in Iraq, the current media narrative is both bewildering and exhausting," writes Amanda Marcotte at Salon. "This larger media outrage over the withdrawal is a dark reminder of the pro-war bias in the press that helped create this mess in the first place, luring the American public into thinking a war in Afghanistan could ever end in any other way."

It's especially jarring to see the Washington Post and the New York Times lead the way this week with finger-pointing Afghanistan coverage, considering those two outlets played essential roles in supporting the Iraq invasion, which became a turning point for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Why a turning point? Bush drained U.S. resources by launching an unprecedented, preemptive invasion based on the lie that Saddam Hussein was sitting on a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Overnight, Afghanistan lost its focus as the U.S.'s military response to the terrorist attack on 9/11. (Under Bush, the U.S. had 10,000-20,000 troops in Afghanistan, compared to roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq during his second term. )

In truth, Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq -- never could have sold the idea at home -- if it weren't for the help he received from the mainstream media, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone editorialized in favor of war nine times.

As the Post's independent ombudsman Michael Getler later wrote, the media's performance in 2002 and 2003 likely represented their most crucial newsroom failing in nearly half a century. "How did a country on the leading edge of the information age get this so wrong and express so little skepticism and challenge?" asked Getler.

Against that backdrop of helping stage the Iraq War, it was the Post that recently admonished Biden regarding Afghanistan, claiming his "precipitous withdrawal, as well as his refusal to offer more meaningful assistance to Afghanistan's government, risks disaster."

The New York Times also raced ahead of the pack in 2002 and 2003 to cheerlead Bush's war.

"According to half a dozen sources within the Times, [executive editor Howell] Raines wanted to prove once and for all that he wasn't editing the paper in a way that betrayed his liberal beliefs," wrote Seth Mnookin in his 2004 Times expose, Hard News. Mnookin quoted Doug Frantz, the former investigative editor of the Times, who recalled that "Howell Raines was eager to have articles that supported the war-mongering out of Washington. He discouraged pieces that were at odds with the administration's position on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged links of al-Qaeda."

The New York Observer later reported, "One senior Washington bureau staffer said that as the Bush administration edged closer to invasion, the editorial climate inside the Times shifted from questioning the rationale for military action to putting the paper on a proper war footing. 'Everyone could see the war coming. The Times wanted to be out front on the biggest story,' the staffer said. 'It became the plan of attack.'"

The United States' two-decade failure in Afghanistan is inexorably tied to Bush's catastrophic Iraq invasion. Not surprisingly, news outlets that promoted the failed war aren't anxious to address it today.

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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Just as his critics had been predicting, President Donald Trump granted a long list of pardons and commutations this week — from his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort to former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter of California to Charles Kushner (father of White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner) to four former Blackwater security guards. Some of the sharp criticism that Trump has received for the Blackwater pardons has been coming from people in national security or law enforcement, and former FBI special agent Thomas O'Connor slams those pardons in an op-ed published on CNN's website on Christmas Eve Day.

The four security guards, who worked for the private security firm Blackwater during the George W. Bush era, were serving time in prison for their involvement in the slaughter of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is a far-right Trump supporter and the brother of Betsy DeVos, secretary of education in the outgoing Trump Administration.

O'Connor, who spent 23 years as an FBI special agent before retiring in 2019, explains, "I know that these men were undeserving of pardons because I was a member of the FBI evidence response team that traveled to Iraq and investigated the site of these killings."

O'Connor goes on to describe the events that occurred in Baghdad 13 years ago during Bush's second term as president.

"On September 16, 2007, Baghdad, Iraq was a dangerous place," the former FBI special agent recalls. "No one will dispute that fact. On that day, a bombing took place a few miles from a busy traffic circle called Al Nisour Square, which is used by Iraqis to access major roadways across Baghdad. A security detail from the private government contractor Blackwater was protecting a U.S. official attending a meeting at a government building when the bomb was detonated."

O'Connor notes that "the Blackwater Raven 23 defendants claimed that they responded to gunfire aimed at them while stopping traffic in Nisour Square that day." But after an "FBI team made four trips to Iraq to investigate this shooting," O'Connor writes, the evidence "was introduced into several U.S. court hearings.

"A jury heard the evidence and found four Blackwater guards guilty of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges," O'Connor notes. "The system worked, and justice was brought to the deceased, the injured victims and their families. The families of those killed and wounded at Nisour Square will now watch those responsible for this tragedy go free thanks to a pardon by the president of the United States. This simply makes me sad and angry."

O'Connor wraps up his op-ed by emphasizing that the four Blackwater guards were not acting in self-defense in Nisour Square.

"There is no forensic evidence of anyone shooting at the Blackwater team," according to O'Connor. "How do I know? The evidence told me that."