March 25, 2003 edition

Iraqis capture and detain U.S. soldiers;
fratricide at the O.K. Corral; and
ratchet up or propaganda?

If you are still looking for the March 18, 2003 edition of Trifocal Rearview Mirror, you can stop the search now. You see, it doesn’t exist, at least not in any presentable form, and to hang the “work in progress” sign on it would be stretching the truth. There are some lame notes, fragments of sentences and that’s about it. I’m going to blame it on last week’s multitude of diversions. Last week was a mess! At least in my world it was, and that’s the only excuse I have for not meeting the Tuesday, 5 P.M. deadline for “Trifocal.” Besides some unexpected work that took me out of town for two days, news was breaking fast and furious, most of which was coverage of the devolution in the middle east. If pressed to pick three stories for the column, all three would have been war related. So the absence of last week’s Trifocal can’t be attributed to a lack of news.

No sooner had the week started when (p)Resident Dubya threw down the gauntlet, giving Saddam Hussein 48-hours to get out of Dodge. The Iraqi leader’s response, or lack thereof, was predictable. Hussein was also quoted as saying that “it’s Bush that should step down from power.” Paranoid constitutional loyalists in America silently agreed with Hussein, though feared voicing their opinions would cause John Ashcroft to unleash his Hounds From Hell on them. The Trix rabbit raised the terror alert status from lemon-yellow to orange-orange. Then there was that tenuous, nervous wait for the clock to tick down to Zero Hour. As the world watched video playbacks of the “surgical strikes” on Baghdad, Shock and Awe became new buzz words for the masses, replacing the now former au courant acronym WMD. With TV sets running 24/7 and popcorn, soda and beer sales blasting off the charts, it was like the Super Bowl of the middle east. Early play-by-plays made it look like coalition forces were all going to be sporting flashy new Operation Iraqi Freedom rings after the big game.

That is, it looked that way up until this past weekend.

Iraquis capture and detain U.S. soldiers

Inevitable. It had to happen sooner or later. In the mad rush to get to Baghdad, a group of American soldiers have been captured and are being held as prisoners of war by Iraq. This is nothing new to warfare. Ask anyone who has been in combat or has seriously studied war. What the American government is kicking and crying about is how the Iraqis have been broadcasting video and pictures of these POWs, supposedly in violation of the Geneva Convention, the default rule book for such situations. The majority of the public has expectedly fallen in step with the coalition leaders crying “FOUL!” A minority have not.

This minority remembers the parade of Taliban POWs on the television and in print media pictures. It wasn’t that long ago we were fighting a war on terrorism in Afghanistan and searching for Osama bin Laden . . . remember? Remember the images, either stills or moving, of Taliban POWs? Then weren’t American and allied forces guilty of violating the Geneva Convention’s rule book? Apparently the rule book only applies to enemies of the United States.

By the way, the capture of these soldiers in southern Iraq was due in large part to a military SNAFU. In a mad rush to get to Baghdad, military leaders seemed to have forgotten that without a thorough search for enemy forces along the way, they may as well have invited a rear assault by the enemy – which is exactly what happened. It’s one thing to keep your eye on the prize – in this case, Baghdad. However, either dismissing, ignoring or minimizing basic strategic truths can have disastrous results. This past weekend is proof of that. Period.

fratricide at the O.K. Corral?

Weird things happen during times of war, which makes perfect sense inasmuch as war itself is a weird thing. And this war is not immune to weirdness. On Sunday there was a grenade and small arms attack on the command tents of the 101st Airborne Division in Kuwait, leaving one soldier dead and 15 others injured. Sounds like war, right? Right! Now enter weirdness ...

An American soldier is being held as an apparent suspect in the case. The suspect, formerly known as Mark Fidel Kools, now goes by Asan Akbar, and is a U.S. Army sergeant. News reports vary regarding exactly when Akbar changed his name. A military source at Akbar’s stateside division headquarters didn’t even know of any name change. Akbar’s mother said she changed his name when he was a boy. And a television report said the name change was a mere two years ago. Akbar also converted to the Islamic faith. Other reports indicated that he had become a bit of a problem child for the military and was troubled by having to fight against fellow Muslims. The New York Times reported a military official saying Akbar had “an attitude problem.” I’ll say! And one television network’s news mentioned that Akbar was even going to be left behind on the push ahead to Baghdad the following morning – a direct result of his increasing unmanageability. That came to pass, but only after someone tossed a grenade into a tent and started shooting off a gun.

As the story of this soldier unfolded, this sometimes humble observer, critic and journalist had some questions of his own. Why didn’t a series of red flags pop up and alarms sound off in the Army as well as U.S. intelligence agencies when Akbar started becoming a behavioral problem? With a name like Asan Akbar, didn’t at least someone wonder if Akbar just might become a liability in a combat environment that would put him in a situation where he very well may have to kill fellow Muslims?

We’ve seen it all before. Remember Cassius Clay? He started practicing the Islamic religion and dodged the draft back in the Vietnam War era. If you’re too young to remember news from the 1960s, then perhaps you know him as boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Then there’s the Beltway Sniper case that’s still fresh in our minds. Well, it just so happens that in April, 2001, John Allen Williams filed an application in the Tacoma, Washington, District Court to change his name to John Allen Muhammad. Do you see a pattern here?

ratchet up or propaganda?

At around 11:30 P.M. tonight (Monday, March 24, 2003), the Fox News on cable TV had an ominous news line on the bottom of their multi-image broadcast screen that said “War Alert: Iraqi forces given orders to use chemical weapons.” In the way the military and government are shuffling and dealing out news to various media, it’s impossible to say whether this “war alert” is the real thing.

The United States government are experts in the world of propaganda. The military has a specific branch that manufactures propaganda in all manners of media, most recently dumping tons of printed pamphlets over Iraq and Afghanistan. Radio and television transmitters beam signals into war zones from terrestrial and airborne broadcasting facilities. Propaganda is serious business for the Lords of War.

The first paragraph under the “RATCHET UP OR PROPAGANDA?” heading was written last night, and this paragraph is being furiously typed into the computer just prior to 5 P.M. deadline on Tuesday afternoon. It’s interesting to note that I haven’t seen any follow up to that television new screen marquee “War Alert”, making me feel more firm in my belief that the news we’re watching, listening to and reading is heavily massaged by the military and/or other government agencies. And no, I am not paranoid.

turning things around

So here we go again, fellow citizens - another Bush in the White House, another war in the middle east. Just over a decade ago, George senior was waging his own war against Saddam Hussein and didn’t succeed in taking out the chief. This failure was followed by moaning from the Bush Faithful, bleating things like “we weren’t allowed to take out Saddam back in 1991” or “our hands were tied by Congress.” Now it’s Sonny Boy’s turn at the helm.

They’re a vindictive lot, those Bush – plotting and planning their revenge over the years, not at all unlike the infamous Hatfield-McCoy hillbilly feud. I can almost hear Dubya’s old man consoling his trigger happy son with things like: “We’ll get him, Sonny Boy, I promise you that. Just keep a tight reign on those daughters of yours and for goodness sake, don’t go sticking your nose back into a pile of cocaine!”

Time and a stolen election have delivered another Bush to the White House. It will be interesting to see if this time around whether the current Bush Machine can drive Hussein out of power or if there will be another decade or so of diplomatic volley ball over a net set up on he floor of the United Nations.

Copyright © 2003 by Jeff Bauer

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