Sunday, June 11, 2006

Zarqawi: A Case Study in How
U.S. War Propaganda Unfolds

When you hear arguments about how independent-minded the media is, and how it's all over the Bush Administration, covering it aggressively, just think about Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

Nearly every newspaper and electronic report in recent days has splashed major attention on the terrorist's death from an American bombing raid. And while most carried the obligatory caution, that his death probably didn't mean much in terms of stopping terrorism, the basic story line still took the lead from the Bush Administration's version, that this was a major figure in the terrorist network, rivaling even Bin Laden. And that his death constitutes a major victory for us in a grinding war that hasn't given our side much cause for celebration lately.

Only, what if the central figure was mostly an American concoction?
This piece from The Atlantic, rushed onto the web shortly after his death, wonderfully describes how this one-time Jordanian street thug is hardly a terrorist mastermind. He achieved that role, only symbolically, largely as a result of U.S. propaganda, beginning with Colin Powell's ushering him onto the world stage in his infamous presentation before the U.N.

The author quotes one Jordanian intelligence official as saying this: “'The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now.' He paused for a moment, then said, 'Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.'” But he's perhaps short-sighted. No, this strategy won't help the U.S. win the larger conflict, but it does help the administration escape blame and look less inept, which is always what it's about for this bumbling crowd. By focusing all the attention on this lesser figure, the administration gets to shift attention away from its ongoing inability to capture the real mastermind. How kind of the media to help them achieve that strategic goal.


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