The US government is waging an air war in Iraq. "In recent months,
the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased," Seymour Hersh reported
in the December 5 edition of The New Yorker. "Most of the targets appear
to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and
along the Syrian border."
Hersh added: "As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in
a significant discussion or debate about the air war."
Here's a big reason why: Major US news outlets are dodging the extent
of the Pentagon's bombardment from the air, an avoidance all the more egregious
because any drawdown of US troop levels in Iraq is very likely to be accompanied
by a step-up of the air war.
So, according to the LexisNexis media database, how often has the phrase "air
war" appeared in The New York Times this year with reference to the current
US military effort in Iraq?
As of early December, the answer is: Zero.
And how often has the phrase "air war" appeared in The Washington
Post in 2005?
The answer: Zero.
And how often has "air war" been printed in Time, the nation's largest-circulation
news magazine, this year?
This extreme media avoidance needs to change. Now. Especially because all
the recent talk in Washington about withdrawing some US troops from Iraq is
setting the stage for the American military to do more of its killing in that
country from the air.
The last few weeks have brought a dramatic shift in the national debate over
Iraq war policies. On Capitol Hill and in major news outlets, the option of
swiftly withdrawing US troops - previously treated as unthinkable by most partisan
leaders and media pundits - became part of serious mainstream media conversation.
At least implicitly, news coverage has viewed the number of boots on the ground
as the measure of the US war effort in Iraq. And as a consequence, public discussion
assumes - incorrectly - that a reduction of American troop levels there will
mean a drop in the Pentagon's participation in the carnage.
In fact, beneath the surface of mass-media discourse, there are strong indications
that the US military command will intensify its bombardment of Iraq while reducing
the presence of American occupying troops before the US congressional elections
next fall. With the White House eager to show progress toward US disengagement
from Iraq, we should expect enormous media spin to accompany any pullout of
troops in 2006.
"The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant
- and underreported - aspect of the fight against the insurgency," Hersh's
New Yorker article observed. The magnitude of the US bombing is a mystery in
American media coverage relying on what's spoon-fed by the Pentagon. "The
military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with
a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or
of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War."
Surely the media spinners in the White House are keenly aware that the air
war in Iraq has been flying largely beneath the US media's radar - inattention
that augurs well for a scenario of reducing US troop levels while stepping up
the air war. Hersh's reporting suggests that's in the offing: "A key element
of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the president's public statements, is
that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick,
deadly strikes by US warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the
combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."
Mainstream news outlets in the United States haven't yet acknowledged a possibility
that is both counterintuitive and probable: The US military could end up killing
more Iraqi people when there are fewer Americans in Iraq. "Lowering the
number of US troops in conjunction with a more violent air war and creation
of an Iraqi client military, as some are suggesting, will likely increase the
number of Iraqis killed," says Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service
Committee. "This would in effect be 'changing the color of the corpses'
in order to make the continuing war more palatable to the US public."
There is a strong precedent for such a politically driven strategy. Midway
through 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the start of a "Vietnamization"
policy that cut the number of US troops in Vietnam by nearly half a million
over a three-year period. But during that time, the tonnage rate of US bombs
dropped on Vietnam actually increased.
A similar sequence of events is apt to get underway next year, before the
November elections determine which party will control the House and Senate through
2008. Caught between the desire to prevent a military defeat in Iraq and the
need to shore up Republican prospects at home in the face of an unpopular war,
President Bush is very likely to keep escalating the US air war in Iraq while
reducing US troop levels there. And he has good reason to hope that the American
news media will continue to evade the air war's horrendous consequences for
Norman Solomon is the author of the new book War Made
Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information,
go to: WarMadeEasy.com.