NEW YORK -- We wanted it to be true. It wasn't.
The stirring image of Saddam's statue being toppled on April 9th turns out to be fake, the product of a cheesy media op staged by the U.S. military for the benefit of cameramen staying across the street at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. This shouldn't be a big surprise. Two of the most stirring photographs of World War II -- the flag raising at Iwo Jima and General MacArthur's stroll through the Filipino surf -- were just as phony.
Anyone who has seen a TV taping knows that tight camera angles exaggerate crowd sizes, but even a cursory examination of last week's statue-toppling propaganda tape reveals that no more than 150 Iraqis gathered in Farbus Square to watch American Marines -- not Iraqis -- pull down the dictator's statue. Hailing "all the demonstrations in the streets," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld waxed rhapsodically: "Watching them," he told reporters, "one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain."
Hundreds of thousands of cheering Berliners filled the streets when their divided city was reunited in 1989. Close to a million Yugoslavs crowded Belgrade at the end of Slobodan Milosevic's rule in 2000. While some individual Iraqis have welcomed U.S. troops, there haven't been similar outpourings of approval for our "liberation." Most of the crowds are too busy carrying off Uday's sofas to say thanks, and law-abiding citizens are at home putting out fires or fending off their rapacious neighbors with AK-47s. Yet Americans wanted to see their troops greeted as liberators, so that's what they saw on TV. Perhaps Francis Fukuyama was correct -- if it only takes 150 happy looters to make history, maybe history is over.
Actually, they were 150 imported art critics. The statue bashers were militiamen of the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Saddam outfit led by one Ahmed Chalabi. The INC was flown into Iraq by the Pentagon over CIA and State Department protests. Chalabi is Rumsfeld's choice to become Iraq's next puppet president.
Photos at the indispensable Information Clearing House website place one of Chalabi's aides at the supposedly spontaneous outpouring of pro-American Saddam bashing at Firdus Square.
"When you are moving through this country there is [sic] not a lot of people out there and you are not sure they want us here," Sgt. Lee Buttrill gushed to ABC News. "You finally get here and see people in the street feeling so excited, feeling so happy, tearing down the statue of Saddam. It feels really good." That rah-rah BS is what Americans will remember about the fall of Baghdad -- not the probability that Buttrill, part of the armed force that cordoned off the square to protect the Iraqi National Congress' actors, was merely telling war correspondents what they wanted to hear. In his critically acclaimed book "Jarhead," Gulf War vet Anthony Swofford writes that Marines routinely lie to gullible reporters.
ABC further reported: "A Marine at first draped an American flag over the statue's face, despite military orders to avoid symbols that would portray the United States as an occupying -- instead of a liberating -- force." Yet another lie. As anyone with eyes could plainly see, American tanks are festooned with more red, white and blue than a Fourth of July parade. And that particular flag was flying over the Pentagon at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Defense Department gave it to the Marines in order to perpetuate Bush's lie that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Patriotic iconography is a funny thing. I've known that the Iwo Jima photo was fake for years, but it nonetheless stirs me every time I see it. Firdus Square's footage will retain its power long after the last American learns the truth.
The Phony War Ends, the Phony Liberation Begins
It was a fitting end for a war waged under false pretexts by a fictional coalition led by an ersatz president. Bush never spent much time thinking about liberation, and even his exploitation is being done with as little concern as possible for the dignity of our new colonial subjects.
What a difference a half-century makes! American leaders devoted massive manpower and money to plan for the occupation of the countries they invaded during World War II. What good would it do, they asked, to liberate Europe if criminals and tyrants filled the power vacuum created by the fleeing Nazis? Thousands of officers from a newly-established Civil Affairs division of the U.S. Army were parachuted into France on the day after D-Day, while bullets were still flying, with orders to stop looting, establish law and order and restore essential services.
GWB is no FDR. Three weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Civil Affairs was still stuck in Kuwait. Rumsfeld's war plan didn't allow for protecting museums and public buildings from looters, or innocent Iraqi women from roving gangs of marauding rapists. At the same time thousands of irreplaceable archeological treasures from the National Museum of Iraq were being sacked by thousands of looters, dozens of American troops were hanging around the Saddam statue videotaping, trying to be quotable.
As priceless ancient Sumerian jewelry and Assyrian sculptures were being carried away on donkeys and carts, archeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad tried to convince Marines manning a nearby Abrams tank to stop the looters. "I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds," he told The New York Times. "But they refused and left."
"Stuff happens," Rummy said. "Freedom's untidy." He has the same taste in art as the Taliban.
This Administration's policy of perpetual war has become a case study in entropy, the distinctly pessimistic notion that no matter how bad things get we can figure out a way to make them worse. Entropy triumphed in Afghanistan, as the world's worst regime was replaced by dozens of thuggish warlords. The end of Saddam Hussein comes as welcome news, even if it's merely the accidental byproduct of a barely-disguised oil grab. But as Iraq's cities burn and its patrimony is hustled off into the black market and its women wail and the rape gangs rule the night, it's hard to escape the conclusion that we've lost this war as well.
Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan," an analysis of the underreported Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project and the real motivations behind the war on terrorism.