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William Rivers Pitt: A Major Event

A Major Event

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 20 October 2006

A lot of smart people have been saying for several years now that the number one tactic deployed by the GOP during moments of political stress is simple and straightforward: they aim to scare the almighty Hell out of the American people. Trumped up terrorism warnings, plastic sheeting and duct tape, mushroom clouds as proof ... the list is all too long, and varied only in the depths of coldly calculated depravity displayed by those who would sow fear to maintain power.

A new low, it seems, is about to be reached. Staring down the barrel of potentially historic losses in the looming midterm elections, the Republicans have chosen to fall back on their tried and true method: state-sponsored psychological terrorism. In this case, the terrorism came in the form of a commercial released on Thursday that all but guarantees the spilling of oceans of American blood should the Democrats find their way to victory at the polls.

"Five years ago," reported the Boston Globe, "shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the White House admonished television networks against using video messages from Osama bin Laden. Nonetheless, the new RNC ad shows video of bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatening the United States with phrases such as 'kill the Americans' and saying that attacks so far are 'nothing compared to what you will see next.' The ad concludes with the words: 'These are the stakes. Vote Nov. 7.'"

The desperation within the GOP ranks is difficult to miss when commercials like this hit the airwaves. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen. "Americans need to ask themselves if they can trust the GOP leadership," said DNC Press Secretary Stacie Paxton, "which has failed to keep us safe, when Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, and North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. People are looking for leadership, not fear-mongering."

The desperation is difficult to miss, yes, but sometimes it is astonishingly obvious. Take the following statement from Fred Barnes, executive editor for the right-wing whacko factory The Weekly Standard. Barnes, ever the optimist when it comes to permanent Republican control, warned the faithful in this week's edition to prepare for a total wipeout at the polls.

"Of course there's little time left for a major event to occur," wrote Barnes towards the end of his article, titled "How Bad Will It Be?" "The North Korean bomb test wasn't big enough to change the course of the campaign. So Republicans may have to rely on their two remaining assets: They have more money than the Democrats and a voter turnout operation second to none."

There it is, right there in black and white. "There's little time left for a major event to occur," wrote Barnes, who went on to lament that the GOP must fall back on their "two remaining assets." Ergo, a massive terrorist attack with huge casualties and the rise of total fear among the populace is an "asset" in the mind of Barnes, one that, sadly for Barnes, does not seem about to come to pass. After, all there is "little time left" for a bloodbath to come along and rescue the Republicans.

The worst part? Simple. The worst part is that few find it surprising anymore to see a Republican cheerleading for a devastating attack so as to maintain power in Congress. This from the "We Keep You Safe" party. Yes, the desperation is indeed there for all to see.

Not to be the bearer of bad tidings for Mr. Barnes and the GOP, but a "major event" has already taken place. Several of them, actually.

A UK Guardian article titled "We've Lost Battle for Baghdad, US Admits," reports as follows: "A day after George Bush conceded for the first time that America may have reached the equivalent of a Tet offensive in Iraq, the Pentagon yesterday admitted defeat in its strategy of securing Baghdad. The admission from President Bush that the US may have arrived at a turning point in this war - the Tet offensive led to a massive loss of confidence in the American presence in Vietnam - comes during one of the deadliest months for US forces since the invasion."

Baghdad is lost and the president is comparing Iraq to Vietnam. Yes, that's a pretty major event.

"The Shiite militia run by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr seized total control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday," reported the New York Times on Friday morning, "in one of the boldest acts of defiance yet by one of the country's powerful, unofficial armies. The Mahdi Army fighters stormed three main police stations Friday morning, planting explosives that flattened the buildings. The events in the city highlight the threat of wider violence between rival Shiite factions, who have entrenched themselves among the majority Shiite population and are blamed for killings of rival Sunnis."

Another Iraqi city is lost, and the civil war between Shia and Sunni has now spread to civil war between Shia and Shia. That, one would say, is also a major event.

Beyond that, of course, are the casualties. Much has been made in the media of late about the number of American soldiers who have been killed recently. 2,787 troops have been killed since the invasion was undertaken, with 74 of those deaths coming in the month of October alone. As bad as this is, these numbers do not accurately reflect the calamity this war has visited upon our armed forces.

The Department of Defense's own reports tell the broader tale. A report from the Defense Manpower Data Center lays it out in stark detail: the total number of "non-mortal" casualties among American soldiers stands at 44,799. Add this to the 2,787 soldiers killed, and we reach 47,586.

A typical military division has between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers, which means the casualties suffered by our troops in Iraq to date amount to between two and four full divisions that have been damaged or ultimately erased. The Army and Marine Corps have thirteen active divisions, so at the worst end of the measurement, the Iraq occupation has sapped a full third of the fighting strength of the US military.

It is difficult in the extreme to avoid calling this a major event. Unfortunately for Mr. Barnes and the GOP, these aren't the kinds of events that will serve to help them at the polls. The wretched irony, of course, is that this occupation has been used to bolster the GOP in the last two elections. The fact that Iraq has now become a catastrophe for the Republicans is, in the end, perhaps the most major event of them all.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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