Whose Fault?

Accountability According to the GOP

American combat deaths in Iraq have climbed over 1000. The biggest barrier to President George W. Bush's reelection is the unnecessary war and botched occupation in Iraq. No convention acceptance speech, however eloquent, can change that reality.

Yet the President and his supporters have never accepted his responsibility. Rather, their mantra states, "It's the media's fault."

For instance, columnist David Limbaugh complains that " Democrats and the media have successfully created the perception that Iraq has been a disaster." Which, naturally, is the reason popular backing for the war is waning.

Move America Forward, created by former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, is seeking to counter criticism of Bush. In an email fund-raising solicitation, Move America Forward's vice-chairwoman Melanie Morgan declared: "Recent national polls show that only 37%-42% of Americans now support the War in Iraq. It's not hard to figure out why. Every day we are bombarded with negatively biased reports from the news media."

Indeed, for more than a year Bush acolytes have circulated emails reporting "the good news that you aren't hearing" about Iraq, which cited the dredging of harbors, creation of regulatory agencies, and opening of schools. Never mind the deaths of one or more Americans every day; there were more important things happening over there, explained Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA).

The failure to understand why the American people have turned against the war demonstrates that the administration and its allies are simultaneously arrogant and tone-deaf. While conservatives routinely denounced President Bill Clinton for failing to accept responsibility for his actions, the GOP now is taking the cult of the victim to new heights.

Why does the majority of Americans, many of them conservative in temperament and tending to vote Republican, now criticize the war? Start with the fact the war was based on a falsehood.

It was not a media creation that the administration painted Saddam Hussein as a modern Hitler, ready and able to devastate the U.S. Officials from the President on down spoke of mushroom clouds, millions at risk from bioterrorism, unmanned aerial vehicles that could hit America, and so on. "If we know that Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today—and we do," then we shouldn't wait to attack, stated the President.

None of those charges were true. The administration's failure to back up its lurid claims was not due to the media.

Despite the most disastrous intelligence failure in decades, the President took no action: he accepted no responsibility, held no official accountable, announced no review of intelligence procedures. Instead, Vice President Richard Cheney continued to suggest that Hussein was involved in 9/11, a charge for which there never was any evidence.

Once having conquered Iraq, the administration proceeded to bungle virtually every major decision. It was not the media's fault that officials falsely promised that Iraqis would shower U.S. troops with rose petals, the occupation would pay for itself, the garrison would fall to 30,000 by last summer, and the allies would fall over themselves to join the victorious bandwagon.

"Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools," said Cheney. Not quite. And don't blame the media.

Journalists understandably concentrated on how Iraq's problems affected the U.S. There was positive news, of course. But far more important was the negative fact that a majority of Iraqis disliked Washington, wanted Americans to go home, and even justified attacks on U.S. forces.

It would be nice if Iraqis were grateful to America for their liberation. But the majority aren't. And that's not a media creation.

Nor can journalists be blamed for the fact that the administration's optimistic predictions of future progress always went unfulfilled. First the death of Hussein's sons would be the turning point.

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