The Propaganda of Imperialism Introduction

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Iraq, the Next Colonial War
The new war on Iraq began on March 20th of 2003, among much international controversy. As with the war in Vietnam that had begun nearly 40 years beforehand, there existed multiple justifications for the initiation of the war. And just like before, the majority of these justifications were simply a facade created by the Pentagon and media to gain public support. But as in Vietnam, Iraq was in reality the result of the imperialistic stance of America towards the rest of the world.

Iraq was not a random victim of American imperialism. The conflict in 2003 was just that latest incident in a long history of colonialism in Iraq. After WWI, Britain occupied Iraq for more than 30 years and established a government framework easily influenced by imperialist foreign powers. After WWII, the US stepped into the role. The occupation of Iraq and subsequent capture of Saddam Hussein was the end to a particular chapter of the US influence in Iraq that had begun more than 30 years previously.

Iraq 1914-1958

Following WWI and the break up of the Ottoman Empire, control of Iraq was conceded to Britain in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 which arbitrarily drew national borders in the Middle East. Britain promptly invaded Mesmopotamia the following year, and began occupation of Baghdad, thus beginning the recent history of colonialism in Iraq.

Britain received official control of Iraq through the League of Nations Mandate in 1920, and proceeded to impose a Hashimite monarchy to govern the colony. When disputes arose, Britain would side with the marginal tribal groups, such as the shaykhs, instead of the growing urban nationalist movements, perhaps in attempt to maintain a controllable political climate. Whenever Britain's interests were directly threatened, however, it turned to its military to settle the conflict.

Britain maintained control of Iraq through 1958 despite a rash of government coups and political turnover. But the effects of British occupation extended far beyond the date or Iraq's sovereignty, as the framework for a political system susceptible to foreign imperialism had been thoroughly entrenched by this time.

Hussein and The CIA

The period following the exit of Britain from Iraq saw the rise of a new political party, the Ba'athists, and the parties eventual leader, Sadaam Hussein. The period also marked the start of US involvement in Iraq through the networking of the CIA. The instability established by Britain indeed led to an avenue for US imperialism.

In 1958, a popular revolution led by Abd al-Kassem Quassim overthrew British-installed king of Iraq, ending British occupation. The following year, the Ba'thist party staged a failed coup on Quassim, who was injured but not killed. Sadamm Hussein was among the conspirators.

In the years that followed, the CIA began secretly corresponding with the Ba'ath party, and eventually began to fund them. In 1963, the Ba'ath party finished the job on Quassim, and temporarily took control of Iraq. The coup could not have been a success without the support of the CIA, who regarded the overthrow as a great victory. According to US diplomat James Akins, "The CIA were definitely involved in that coup. We saw the rise of the Ba'athists as a way of replacing a pro-Soviet government with a pro-American one and you don't get that chance very often." After a counter-coup later the same year that temporarily removed the party, the Ba'athists gained permanent control of Iraq on July 17, 1968. The new government was headed by a 15-member Revolutionary Command Council. Hussein, who had spent the previous 4 years in jail for supporting the Ba'athists, was appointed as deputy chair of the council. He would gain full power over Iraq less than 11 years later in 1979, when the former leader al-Bakr resigned.

Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)

The origins of the Iran-Iraq war lay in a cultural struggle more than 1300 years old. The Levant correspondent for The Economist observed:

This is one of the world's oldest conflicts across a primarily racial divide...The origins of the present hostilities between Iraq and Iran can be traced all the way back to the battle of Qadisiya in Southern Iraq in 637 AD, when an army of Muslim Arabs put paid to a bigger army of Zoroastrian Persians and to the decadent Sassanian empire. (Simons, 160)

Clearly, there was a historical precedent for what would occur in 1980.

The Iraq-Iran relations had been strained even before the start of the physical conflict. The shah had funneled arms into the northern Kurds in Iraq in attempt help the removal of the Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist party. The tension heightened when Iran begin to openly encourage the Iraqi Shi'ites to spurn the Baghdad dictatorship. Tehran radio preached the use of violence to resist Hussein, if necessary. Later, a series of attacks against the Ba'athist party was attributed to Iranian agitation. Then in April 1980, an Iranian threw a hand grenade that injured Tariq Aziz, a high ranking member of Saddam's cabinet. (Simons, 161)

Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran during the period, continued to instigate the conflict by calling the Iraqi people to arms against the oppressive Sunni-dominate Ba'athist party. Saddam Hussein responded with threats of his own made against Iran, saying "Anyone who tries to put his hand on Iraq will have his hand cut off without hesitation."

In Future Iraq, Geoff Simons goes describes the theological nature of the battle between the two nations:
The scene was set for a war that would take a huge toll in human casualties, and Khomeini must be judged a principal instiagtor. Soon after taking power he had said to a Tehran newspaper: 'The Ummayad rule was based on Arabism, the principle of promoting Arabs over all other people, which was an aim fundamentally opposed to Islam and its desire to abolish nationality and unite all mankind in a single community, under the aegis of a state indifferent to the matter of race and colour.' The Ummayads, Khomeini claimed, were aiming to distort Islam completely by 'reviving the Arabism of the pre-Islamic age of ignorance, and the same aim is still pursued by the leaders of certain Arab countries who declare openly their their desire to revive the Arabism of the Ummayads'. There is no doubt that by 'leaders of certain Arab countires' Khomeini had Saddam in mind. In a Paris interview in late-1978 Khomeini as his enemies: "First, the Shah; then the American Satan; then Saddam Hussein and his infidel Ba'ath party."(Simons, 162)
Simons goes on to describe the inevitable tension between the Iranian ayatollahs and the Iraqi Ba'athists, eventually leading to the war beginning in 1980.

Soon border skirmishes broke out at a high rate. In Iran, a pro-shah coup was attempted against the Khomein regime. It failed, and less than a month later in July of 1980, the last shah of Iran perished. Preying on the disarray of the country and its army, Hussein moved his troops into Iran in September. Saddam did not want to let the US or any other imperialist power intervene in Iran, as he did not feel they would be a sympathetic occupier of his neighbor country.

The war would last for nearly a decade. In 1982, Washington removed Iraq from the list of terrorist states, and proceeded to provide Saddam with intelligence, and military support. In 1984, official relations with Iraq were restored. In December 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, then an executive at a large pharmaceutical company, was sent to Iraq as a special presidential envoy. He met with Saddam to discuss the shared enmity towards Iran as well as the war-time logistics of the oil trade.

At the same time, it became known to the international community that Iraq had been using chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers. Despite a UN resolution condemning Iraq for the use of the agents, and despite the official US policy of neutrality at the time, the US continued to secretly back Iraq against Iran, and continued to openly expand relations with Baghdad. When asked if the chemical warfare would affect the relations, a US spokesman replied: "No. I'm not aware of any change in our position. We're interested in being involved in a closer with Iraq."(Simons, 166)

The backing of Iraq by Washington would have later consequences on the conflict in 2003. According to Simons , "The Iranian experience of the war with Saddam Hussein left a legacy of bitterness and suspicion, not only with regard to the Iraqi dictator but also regarding the realpoltik duplicity of the United States. The Iranian position in the post-Saddam world can only be understood in this context."(Simons, 167)

The Iran-Iraq war an ultra-costly clash between two Arab nations that could scarcely afford to lose neither the billions of dollars spent nor the hundreds of thousands of troops lost. In the end, little was changed by the war. But the instability created by the war, and the inevitable transition of US stance from pro-Iraq to "regime change" in the years after the conflict paved the way for the Gulf War, and later the conflict in 2003.

The Propaganda War

The war in Iraq was justified to the American public through an overwhelming proclivity of information. While bombs rained down in Baghdad according to General Franks' plan of "shock an awe", the Pentagon and media conspired to shock an awe those watching the war in their living rooms. Armed with an arsenal of facts, rumors, catch phrases, and sound bytes, the government won the war of public opinion (at least to the extent it needed to) by creating a web of justifications for the invasion in Iraq. They included the fear that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction, the claim that they supported terrorism, the ideal that Iraqi people must be saved from the oppression of the Hussein regime, and that the feeling that the world was completely unsafe with Hussein in power. Taken alone, each of these justifications were not very compelling. But when presented together as a unified bulk of evidence condemning Iraq, it was more than sufficient to confuse and scare the American sentiment in favor of the war. (Rutherford, 5-6; 25)

The campaign to gain support for the war began long before the war and is still being carried out today. The majority of the justifications for the war were obviously presented before the war via direct communication on the part if the government leaders, mainly President Bush, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld.

In Weapons of Mass Persuasion; Marketing the War Against Iraq, Paul Rutherford attributes the propaganda of the Second Iraqi War as the united marketing strategy of the Pentagon and the US media. Rutherford compares the techniques and devices of the strategy to that of any major corporation. The goal: representing the war in Iraq as the heroic attempt of the US military to save the world from the evil designs of the Iraqi regime. Rutherford describes in detail the various ways the media tilted the true nature of the war and distracted the public from the loss of life and destruction created by the war.

The propaganda war began on September 11th, 2001, the day of the most devastating act of terrorism ever experienced by the American homeland. The initial public responses of fear, sadness and uncertainty were quickly over come by a wave of patriotism and anger. All that needed to be determined was an enemy. Naturally, "terrorism" was the culprit. So Bush led off on a war against terrorism, channeling the anger of the American public into support for a new war abroad.

This new-found principle of anti-terrorism was as close as the Bush administration would come to finding an actual ideological purpose for invading Iraq. The idea that there were terrorists hiding in Arab countries became a kind of justification for anything the US would decide to do in the aftermath of 9/11. And it would later provide one of the clearest examples of the fallacious argumentation presented to American public as well as the rest of the world for entry into Iraq. The US was "thirsty for the blood of terrorists" and "the war in Afghanistan did satiate the American desire for revenge". (Rutherford, 79;80) In this manner, the US "marketers of war" merged the war on terrorism into a war on Iraq. Whether Iraq harbored terrorists or not was never the key issue; all the American public needed was a new place upon which exact its revenge.

The next piece in the web of propaganda used on the American public were WMD. In October of 2002, President Bush addressed the nation and made the claim that "Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction." Bush cited intelligence that suggested that not only was Saddam planning to build WMD, but that he already had them. "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today, and we do, does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" (Address to the Nation, October 7th, 2002)

Later, in February of 2003, Colin Powell re-iterated Bush's claims to the UN in attempt to gain international support for the attacks. Citing satellite photos and conversations of Iraqi military officials, Powell claimed ""Our conservative estimate is that Iraq has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agents. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets." He continued, "Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. And Saddam Hussein has no compunction about using them again — against his neighbors and against his own people. And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn't be passing out the orders if he didn't have the weapons or the intent to use them." (Transcript: Powell)

The last piece of the propaganda web was the general portrayal of Saddam Hussein as an evil dictator that was oppressing his own people. While some of the claims made about Saddam were true, it is clear the the Western media machine went overboard in characterizing Saddam as a tyrant. According to President Bush, "There's no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people. We know he's been developing weapons of mass destruction." The demonization of Saddam by Washington and especially Bush is ironic given the friendly relations once shared between the two, as was seen during the Iran-Iraq affair. Bush himself was once a personal friend of Saddam. But that was before the US had colonial interests in Iraq, before 9/11 had given the appropriate political impetus, and long before Bush was in charge of the country.

But the hypocrisy of the propaganda is not the focus. The main idea is that the US conspired to sell the war to the American public through a campaign of false argumentation involving truths and half truths. Perhaps the greatest element of deception was how the claims were combined, not their specific truthfulness or validity. It is not hard to imagine how the public would react to an overwhelming web of evidence for war, especially in the wake of 9/11. In the end, the selling of the Iraq invasion speaks both to the power of the media and government and to the naivety of the American public. The propaganda machine is just as unlikely to change as the blatant imperialism that necessitates it.

The Future in Iraq

The bleak situation in Iraq creates more questions than answers. It would be naive to suggest that anyone knows exactly what will happen next. George Simons suggests that America will stay there as long as necessary to preside over the reconstruction of oil production and the handing out of reconstruction contracts to various corporations. Because the contracts are so lucrative, Simons argues, the US stands to gain a significant political advantage though having the right to determine which contracts receive contracts and which do not.

At some point, however, the situation must be resolved in the international community, as the concern will eventually focus on the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Coming into play will be the members of the so-called quartet; the US, European Union, United Nations, and Russia. According to, the future of Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict will depend on the "road map" being worked on by the quartet:

Paradoxically Israel seems to be the country poised to play the determining role in the future of Iraq. It is no accident that the “road map” prepared by the Quartet is going to be delivered to the Israelis and Palestinians in the coming days.  The way the Palestinian problem will be handled in the coming months will have its impact on the modalities of state building in Iraq. A fair treatment of the Palestinians and a light at the end of the tunnel will help the establishment of a moderate Iraqi regime. Conversely, in case the road map suffers setbacks the Iraqi people would be tempted to vent their feelings rather than using their logic while deciding on a new government. For these reasons Iraq and Palestine seem to be interconnected. Solution to the Palestine problem will help Iraq. A solution to Iraq as described above may help the Palestinian problem.

By the nature of the talks involving the quartet, it does not seem that all four of the countries must agree to the plan, but rather simply a majority. Thus, it seems that the fate of Iraq will be controlled by some sort of agreement among at least three of the members of the quartet, with the US likely one of them.
Iraq and Vietnam: Patterns of Imperialism
The war in Vietnam was a clear failure of American imperialism. None of the objectives of the war, whether the true motives of Washington or part of the propaganda, were accomplished. Instead, tens of thousands of lives were lost and billions were spent. The campaign into Iraq appears to have become a failure as well, although the final outcome has not been decided. With more than 300 billion dollars in war debt, and an estimated 500 billion required to fix oil production, it looks doubtful that America will ever turn a profit in Iraq. And although the US has made a step towards hegemony in the region by planting a military footstep right in the middle of the Arab League, it remains to be seen if any benefit will be served. What is known is that a large portion of the international community are becoming staunch anti-Americans. So the question now becomes: what is the future of the imperialistic strategy?

Works Cited

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Iraq Websites

"Iraq Crisis Timeline"

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