Let it be noted that the morning after George W. Bush announced an open-ended – possibly permanent – military occupation of Iraq the premier U.S. newspapers ran headlines about the President ordering “troop cuts,” itself a troubling reminder of how the American people got into this mess.

The New York Times’ lead headline read: “Bush Says Success Allows Gradual Troop Cuts.” The Washington Post went with: “Bush Tells Nation He Will Begin to Roll Back ‘Surge.’”

In a subhead, the Post highlighted a tidbit from its own interview with Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq: that he projected “sustainable security” in that country by mid-2009 (which would fall shortly after the sixth anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech).

Granted, the news stories did include some reasons for skepticism about Bush’s latest happy talk, including references to the assassination of the U.S.-allied Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha earlier in the day in Anbar Province and the apparent collapse of Iraqi negotiations over how to divvy up the country’s oil revenues.

Yet, despite Bush’s long history of wishful thinking – or delusions – about Iraq, the major newspapers still gave Bush the headlines he wanted.

So, Americans bustling past newsstands on their way to work would get the superficial impression that Bush was finally moving toward the Iraq exit door when he really was doing all he could to paint the country, and his presidential successor, into a corner.

While the newspapers played up Bush’s relatively modest troop cuts – 5,700 by year’s end and another 20,000 or so by July 2008 – the more significant point was that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq would still exceed the 130,000 or so who were in Iraq last November when anti-war sentiment led to the defeat of Republicans in Congress.

In his televised address, Bush also made clear that he foresaw an indefinite U.S. military commitment to Iraq reaching “beyond my presidency,” with any possible future de-escalation tied to Bush’s new slogan, “return on success.”

So, the headlines after the Sept. 13 speech could have read: “Bush Vows Indefinite U.S. Military Occupation of Iraq.” Indeed, if Bush’s speech is remembered historically, it will almost surely be for that reason, the clearest indication yet of his imperial impulse in the Middle East.

But the major U.S. news outlets still fear diverging from the message that Bush and his right-wing allies want delivered to the American people.

More Propaganda

That was the case in 2002-03 when the same newspapers trumpeted Bush’s Iraq-WMD propaganda and in early 2005 when Bush’s “freedom agenda” was conveyed with almost no skepticism, even as Bush was eliminating the classic American principle of inalienable rights, including the habeas corpus guarantee against arbitrary imprisonment, protection against “cruel and unusual punishment, “ and prohibitions against unreasonable searches.

The news media’s timidity and/or complicity in relation to Bush and his “war on terror” policies remain a fact of life today.

When the President asserts that up is down, readers of American newspapers have to search somewhere in the jump for a carefully hedged suggestion that perhaps up is really sideways. After six years of this behavior, it’s clear that the U.S. press corps has proven no match for Bush’s cognitive dissonance.

By focusing on “troop cuts” after Bush’s endless-war speech, the newspaper headlines represent just the latest example of why large segments of the American people have lost confidence in the U.S. news media.

The public intuitively understands that national-level journalists are looking out for their careers first, way more than the public’s right to know. With a few exceptions, these well-paid media stars fear that their livelihoods would be endangered if they got on the wrong side of the administration and its brass-knuckled allies.

So the beat goes on. By jacking up the number of troops and then letting some go home, Bush gets to play an escalation of the war into a troop cut. He also gets to sell the Iraq War again as a battle necessary to thwart al-Qaeda terrorists, even though U.S. intelligence has long ago concluded that Bush’s strategy is playing into al-Qaeda’s hands.

Almost one year ago, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center posted a captured al-Qaeda communiqué from a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, a Libyan identified as Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, to the now-deceased Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which stated in black-and-white al-Qaeda’s view of the Iraq War.

“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” the al-Qaeda letter read. Yet, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has ever mentioned this remarkable fact. Nor have Democrats cited the “Atiyah” comment as a counterpoint to Bush’s claims that al-Qaeda wants to “drive us out” of Iraq.

The reality – as many U.S. intelligence analysts know – is that al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan see their personal survival and their movement's growth tied to the tying down of American forces in Iraq and to the outrage that an indefinite U.S. occupation of Iraq continues to stir up in the Islamic world.

[To view the “prolonging the war” excerpt in a translation published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, click here. To read the entire letter, click here. ]

Meanwhile, President Bush keeps pointing the way forward in Iraq from one mirage to another, as the United States staggers deeper into a neoconservative dreamscape of delusions.

[For more on how this political crisis came to pass and what it means for the future of the American Republic, see our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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