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June 21, 2006

Military Tragedy Vs. Bush Bounce




Let’s me state, without qualification, that the grisly murder near Yusifiyah of the two American soldiers,  Kristian Menchaca (above right) and Thomas Tucker, was a heinous and despicable act.  Deep condolence is due their families and friends for the grief they are only beginning to endure.

Unfortunately, as much as this is a personal tragedy, it is also a strategic political event.

Last week, we witnessed a major offensive on the part of the Bush administration in presuming a turnaround in the Iraq war.  A large part of that effort involved the reinforcement of Al Qaeda in Iraq as the primary player in the insurgency.  With the killing of al-Zarqawi, we saw the military visually crown Zarqawi’s supposed successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri (even though Bush’s national security advisor admitted not being sure who this man was, let alone what his role is).

Although The BAG will probably be castigated for “politicizing” a “human tragedy,” I recommend serious  circumspection in the face of the media tornado building around these killings.  Specifically, notice how a large cross section of the MSM swallowed last week’s administration propaganda and is now using it as “lining paper” to neatly package the story of these murders.


In a representative example, the headline in Tuesday’s San Jose Mercury News reads: “New al-Qaida leader killed two U.S. soldiers, according to claim.”  The article not only suggests that the soldiers were killed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, but intimates that the (allegedly) new al-Qaida leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer (above right, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri) killed the two U.S. soldiers personally.  (This story line, by the way — which is currently ricocheting through the echo chamber — stands in marked contrast to the latest WAPO article, which emphasizes that no specific person or group can yet be connected to the killings.)

Certainly, these murders are a tragedy.  As much or more so, however, is the fact the media has already (and, in terms of public opinion, irreversibly) linked the deaths of Mr. Menchaca and Mr. Tucker to Mr. al-Muhajer and al-Qaeda.  (And then, that’s not even raising the issue — also largely ignored by the press — of the significant difference between “al Qaeda in Iraq” and the “al Qaeda” responsible for 9/11.)

With last week’s administration spin deflating so quickly, its no surprise these murders would so gamely be politicized.

(images:  European Pressphoto Agency.  June 20, 2006.  image 2: U.S. Military/A.P.  June 15, 2006.  Via YahooNews.)

  • Nezua-Limón Xoloquinta-Jonez

    Yeah, it’s clear these people think that the World of War is their own greasy-floored theater, and that us, the fat-ass popcorn chomping money-payers need a villain, in order to continue shoving our coins to the front. It’s not enough to say “oh, well, we love occupying the land so that we can abuse one more indigenous population to steal their fuel.” That just doesn’t have enough zazz. Give us some bastard in a black hat, or a white headdress who can be blamed for deaths that never should have happened because we NEVER SHOULD HAVE INVADED—a juicy fact that has slipped out of the public dialogue.
    We grew up on TV, and the government knows it. We’re still there, and we still haven’t grown up.

  • Marysz

    The mainstream media and the White House are becoming increasingly desperate as they try to sell their Administration talking points about a war most Americans realize now is complete folly. Last night’s Frontline on PBS, appropriately titled The Dark Side, shows the ugliness behind the White House’s war machinations (not as if we didn’t know it was there already).

  • black dog barking

    Three years ago: Mission Accomplished™.
    Six months ago: Plan For Victory™.
    Next: It’s Not A Mistake If The President Doesn’t Admit It™.
    Support our civilian leadership.

  • lytom

    The selective use of the word “murder” in MSM makes it look like the unlawfulness is happening only toward innocent soldiers of the US and to other nationalities involved in Iraq.
    It sounds to me like a hypocrisy, to label lives that were lost on the coalition (US) side as lost for just cause and on the other side not to write “murder” every time an Iraqi civilian is killed. It seems that if the nationality is other than Iraqi, the “respect” suddenly is increased and expectation of innocence, and “just in a wrong place at a wrong time” is thought of.
    US military has been involved in Iraq, has been directly involved in bombing civilian houses, torturing Iraqis who were arrested for whatever reason, and has completely “free” hand to pursue such acts without these acts being labeled deliberate murder and punished appropriately. These acts are hidden behind the screen of “national security” and the decider’s right that blocks transparency.
    The fogginess of the situation in Iraq is not going to change until the occupation has ended. Labels such as Operation Iraqi Freedom and other lofty slogans are used for one purpose only – to promote the blind patriotic support for the war.

  • boxcar

    Bag Man
    Great work, as usual. I have always appreciated your gift at simply shining a light on the perception and manipulation of imagery and media. This post reflects your natural desire to allow others to form their own opinions based upon your investigations without much added personal opinion.
    The time is now, however and we need such great voices as yours to push even further. The couching of language so as not to offend and be labeled a nutcase dissident is almost pointless now. Perhaps that is a post to consider: How “automatic” the necessary caveats of “how tragic” and “in no way denegrates the loss of American life” has completely lost it’s meaning and is simply a political tool to try and remind readers that we are all still flag loving American patriots.
    The opposite effect is often the case. The flag waving disclosure serves more to diffuse the message. Too often the voices of such conscientous progressives as yourself are simply speaking to the choir.
    We can be inciteful, informed, inflammatory and riveting without the obligatory wink to the jackals waiting to label us. This requires us all to work harder at the message.
    Thanks for all the great work.
    Let us amplify our efforts.

  • Lightkeeper

    I agree with boxcar that the pre-emptive apologies should not be necessary. But, unfortunately, the world in which we live demands these pre-emptions whether we like it or not.
    This US soldier thing has reminded me of the Canadian MSM’s obedience to the official story of the 17 suspected terrorists. Instead of repeating received information like it was gospel, journalists are supposed to be questioning that official story every step of the way. Instead we have a culture of uniformity in which even the tiniest bit of dissent needs to come with a bout of pre-emptive patriotism.

  • PTate in MN

    Interesting deconstruction of the spin. Bushco and the MSM keep struggling to keep the narrative as B-film plot of our good guys vs VAST EVIL. But the confusion is great: Zarqawi is killed and things don’t get better. Now we have a NEW evil sinister enemy. So, how just incompetent is Bushco?
    Andrew Sullivan has taken the position that the US lost its moral bearings when GWB authorized the use of torture and tossed aside the Geneva conventions. Faced with the brutal death by torture of these two Americans, people are horrified. But it is hard to take an unequivocal stand on the moral high ground because our side has also tortured innocent people, and we have also killed people by torture.
    The right wing has to convince Americans that what was done to these two soldiers was significantly worse than anything our side has done. At the same time, they want to use this horror to build enthusiasm for our invasion of Iraq.
    In this context I am struck by the layout of the story on the front page of the liberal LA Times. The headline is fairly large–the words, “barbaric slayings” leap out. But the pictures of the two dead soldiers are quite small, and my attention was captured by the huge picture of the surfer wiping out in the huge crashing surf. The other headlines reinforce a gestalt of being out of control: “he’s not on their side now”, “limbo”. The non-verbals suggest that the US, like the surfer, is wiping out. We are up against huge forces that will dash us against the rocks.
    The NYTimes, however, consistent with its more conservative bent, has published large static portraits of the dead soldiers, front and center, under a fairly conventional picture of warfare. We are in a blinkered conservative moment. This is the only thing to fix our attention: Everything else on the page is insignificant. We are at war, we are under attack, people have died. Don’t think of anything else: We are at war. We are under attack. People have died. Bodies were brutalized. We are at war.

  • The BAG


    I really appreciate your comment, and I’ve been thinking about it. 

    Paired with Lightkeeper’s follow-up, you each articulate very different tendencies (or tensions) that present themselves in doing this commentary. There is a specific — and significant — reason why this post is less “inflammatory,” however.  For one, I’ve had my consciousness raised (and even, adjusted for me at times) to recognize the military as simultaneously a political entity and the tool of a badly misguided government as well as a collective of individual and heterogeneous Americans.

    As The BAG’s has grown, I’ve also developed more readers who are present or former military.  The more familiar I become with these readers, the more I appreciate how many possess a combination of liberal and conservative tendencies, or serve for more personal economic or vocational reasons (often, in spite of their politics), or are in the process of conceptualizing a more worldly or political self.  I think these are the individuals I imagine I’m speaking to when I offer this deference. 

    Also, The BAG receives more links now from military-related sites.  This post, for example, was featured this morning on the home page of  It’s for this reason — appreciating that many visitors know nothing about The BAG — that I  offer respect, hopefully without pulling any punches.

    Outside of this specific subject matter, cutting close to the bone for this specific audience, I like to think, however, that I’m also getting more “down to it” — as is the rest of the ’sphere.


    What’s particularly interesting to me about The Times cover is not just the scale of the two soldiers, but the large top photo.  Why is it included?  In the print edition, the caption tell us that these are soldiers belonging to Menchaca and Tucker’s division, the 101st Airborne, in Ramadi. Is this to engender empathy?

    In contrast, here is the story link to the on-line version.  Notice that the Ramadi pic runs alone (at a very large and wide size for the web edition).  Also in the on-line edition, the caption does not identify the photo as having any connection to the dead soldiers (as it does in print).  In that way, it seems more connative — to me, at least — of retaliation or revenge.

  • boxcar

    Bag Man
    I understand completely. Can you believe i have a brother who is a grad of Annapolis? Yikes! The conversatioins around the dinner table.
    After many of my shows, it is former military people and families of military people that are most interested in talking with me. Concerned, interested and very informed individuals who – in my case,a nyway- express great thanks that there are voices such as yours, mine and the many many others that are shouting to shake the mist from people’s eyes. The soldiers are not, nor ever have been the problem. They simple do what they are told to do. I am not as vigilant at clearly defining my animosity for the govt, the war and the people involved in it as i need to be.
    So the respect you show in your postings is indeed appropriate and admirable.

  • itwasntme

    Geez looka that AWESOME WAVE, dude!!!!!!!
    Two more guys killed in Iraq or Iran or someplace. Yawn.

  • boloBert

    Boxcar, I’m sure like most of us here, you don’t listen to the Big Dittohead everyday. However, yesterday on his program, he apparently said that all liberals were rejoicing that the two soldiers were found tortured and dead. He apparently amplified this drivel for some minutes. That is one thing that has all the lefties upset, and tip-toeing thru the minefields. And to think that Armed Forces Radio carries that garbage head and exposes our troops to such hatred.

  • PTate in MN

    BAG man,
    Wow, excellent catch on the military action shot on the NYT front page! What purpose DOES it serve???
    What struck me was the ordinariness of the image. There has been some brilliant photo-journalism in this war, but this image is not one of those. It is the sort of snapshot I take, a moment after something interesting happens. But in his portrait, Menchaca is dressed in camouflage like the soldier in the foreground, the one with the gun, and my subconscious linked the two. I was aware only of fear and concern for the soldiers in the top photo. The soldiers were in danger.
    In the on-line version, the picture has been cropped, and is now more focused and tight. I agree that the image now suggests power and retaliation.

  • putnam

    The military broadcast Rush Limbaugh for the troops, and Rush Limbaugh is inventing a non-existent liberal hostility toward the troops … Rush Limbaugh is hurting the troops very directly.
    That f’in drug addict liar.

  • readytoblowagasket

    What bounce? No bounce:
    I think ordinary people may actually comprehend that Iraq has reached the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye level of fighting. Especially when stories about Marines being charged with murder keep cropping up:
    “Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted. . . .
    “The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November. . . .”
    Pictures of more dead Americans in the MSM won’t produce a bounce for Bush.

  • ummabdulla

    I wonder why this photo is so popular; it’s used to illustrate this CBS News article about the insurgency thriving after Zarqawi, too:
    I wonder whether there’s a family in this house whose roof, at least, has been taken over by soldiers. According to Dahr Jamail, Ramadi is suffering much the same fate as Fallujah did.

  • David McCarthy

    Eurasia today, Oceania tomorrow.
    “The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city.. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.”
    “It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.”
    this is 1984.

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