If they fight back, they must be Al Qaeda

Glenn Greenwald has written a powerful piece on the bait and switch the Bush administration has pulled with regard to labeling anyone who doesn’t stand still while US troops shoot at them as a member of Al Qaeda.   

Josh Marshall publishes an e-mail from a reader who identifies what is one of the most astonishing instances of mindless, pro-government “reporting” yet:

It’s a curious thing that, over the past 10 – 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as “al-Qaida” fighters. When did that happen?

Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were “insurgents” or they were referred to as “Sunni” or “Shia’a” fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as “al-Qaida”.

Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.

As Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday, even David Patraeus acts like the whole issue in Iraq now is just al Qaeda and Iranian arming of, I guess, al Qaeda. Otherwise things would be great.

That the Bush administration, and specifically its military commanders, decided to begin using the term “Al Qaeda” to designate “anyone and everyone we fight against or kill in Iraq” is obvious. All of a sudden, every time one of the top military commanders describes our latest operations or quantifies how many we killed, the enemy is referred to, almost exclusively now, as “Al Qaeda.”

The reasons for this are all too obvious.  All the rationales for the Iraq invasion and occupation have turned to dust, so the Bush gang is responding in the only way it knows how.

This is entirely predictable given the unpopularity of the Iraq war.  Support for the war is at an all-time low and war supporters are truly desperate to find a way to stay in Iraq. So the administration has thrown any remnants of rhetorical caution to the wind, overtly calling everyone we are fighting “Al Qaeda.” This strategy was first unveiled by Joe Lieberman when he went on Meet the Press in January and claimed that the U.S. was “attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy that we’re fighting in Iraq today”. Though Lieberman was widely mocked at the time for his incomparable willingness to spew even the most patent falsehoods to justify the occupation, our intrepid political press corps now dutifully follows right along.

As is usually the case, the Bush administration has become caught in its own lies.

But after his 2004 re-election was secure, even the President acknowledged that “Al Qaeda” was the smallest component of the “enemies” we are fighting in Iraq:

A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein — and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group. . . .

The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller, but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein — people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. These hard-core Saddamists are trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. . . .

The third group is the smallest, but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda.

And note that even for the “smallest” group among those we are fighting in Iraq, the president described them not as “Al Qaeda,” but as those “affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda.” Claiming that our enemy in Iraq was comprised primarily or largely of “Al Qaeda” was too patently false even for the President to invoke in defense of his war.

What is most disturbing however, is that not only have the so called “liberal” media not woken up to this latest cycle of cynical propaganda, but they have again demonstrated their willingness to play along.

But what is even more notable is that the establishment press has followed right along, just as enthusiastically. I don’t think the New York Times has published a story about Iraq in the last two weeks without stating that we are killing “Al Qaeda fighters,” capturing “Al Qaeda leaders,” and every new operation is against “Al Qaeda.”

This time however, the media doesn’t have the luxury of playing dumb.

And in January of this year, the Cato Institute published a detailed analysis — entitled “The Myth of an al Qaeda Takeover of Iraq” — by Ted Galen Carpenter, its vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, documenting that claims of “Al Qaeda in Iraq” is “a canard that the perpetrators of the current catastrophe use to frighten people into supporting a fatally flawed, and seemingly endless, nation-building debacle.”

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