'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, May 16, 2005

Goodbye, Operation Matador, Have a Pleasant Trip Down the Memory Hole 

Operation Matador ended today, but you wouldn't know that from reading the New York Times ... Actually, in a sense you wouldn't have known that it ever took place because although the Times ran the weird much-discussed story last week about the killing of an oddly round number of "rebels", the Times never printed the phrase "Operation Matador."

The Post faired a little better with an anecdotal grunts-eye-view account of the offensive. The Post article paints the picture of a major operation that, to put it bluntly, was a violent immoral farce. Here's what we know about Matador from various sources:

1.) Its purpose was to pacify a region of Iraq near the Syrian border that was thought to be a haven for "foreign fighters"

2.) It was the biggest offensive since Fallujah, involving on the order of 1000 marines, and it was similar in character to the second Fallujah assault.

3.) A total of 125 insurgents were killed. Nine US troops were lost and forty were wounded.

The Post piece implies that the US wanted to play a game of Fallujah but that the insurgents chose not to. It describes restless marines driving their column of Humvees through town after town, raiding homes in the manner that we have all become so accustomed to reading about that it is no longer shocking, and each night commandeering a house, that is, kicking a family out and sleeping in their home -- I guess Iraq's new government hasn't instituted the equivalent of the 3rd Amendment yet ... but don't worry the Post assures us it was all very friendly:

Sometimes, the Marines busted up wooden furniture belonging to poor farm families and threw their polyester blankets and clothes in a jumble on the floor. A handful of the hundreds of Marines involved in Operation Matador walked out of homes with a pillow or blanket to cushion the ride in the Amtrac. Sometimes, Marines agreed at one commandeered house as they drank a rousted family's tea, they beat up suspicious-looking men if that was what it took to get information that could save lives.

At the end of a day of searches, Marines generally commandeer houses for the night, shooing the families out in case the Americans' presence makes the homes targets for attack.

When not commandeering houses or beating up suspicious looking men, the marines apparently spent their time getting picked off slowly by IED's left behind by insurgents who were long gone.

This grand exercise in bloody pointlessness was, of course, roundly described as a great success by military spokespeople. Has there ever been any operation in the history of codenamed operations that wasn't described as a great success by Pentagon spokespeople? But if it was such a success where are all the foreign fighters? And why is the ratio of US casualties per insurgent casualty almost twice as great as Fallujah? Also why didn't our Iraqi proxy army participate in Matador? -- I'm assuming that it didn't because, lord knows, if it did we would have heard about it.

Maybe I'm overreacting but to me it's shocking how poorly this offensive was covered. The three points I listed above are literally the only facts contained in many articles about Matador. There are a few exceptions here and there: the AP's Mohammed Barakat tells us about civilians fleeing al-Qaim, for example. But Barakat's work is really the exception that proves the rule.

When Fallujah happened I posted quite a bit about it: the targeting of hospitals, the use of white phosphorous, the nonexistence of the hordes of foreign fighters, etc. There were things to write about because the press covered the story in a professional manner. In a very real sense, Matador simply wasn't covered at all. One can chalk this up to the insecurity of Iraq, the fact that reporters are locked in their hotel rooms in the Green Zone, and such an explanation is certainly a factor but it was a factor during Fallujah as well -- I think there's something else going on here.

Forget everything that's happened in the past five years, forget this war, forget Bush, forget 9/11, forget it all, and imagine what you would have thought if someone told you that in five years there would be a major American military operation in the Muslim world in which scores and scores of people would be killed, towns evacuated, Americans would kick families out of their homes, etc., and that the New York Times would not even mention the operation's name. That is where we are.

Chomsky often talks about the fact that when the US started bombing Vietnam in 1962 there was no protest; people hardly even knew about it. I have a hard time imagining what that was like. I know it was a more conservative culture, that people trusted the government, trusted the military, trusted their employer, and that we often take for granted the extent to which our culture has opened up since the fifties and early sixties -- Cockburn actually has a column related to this very subject in the current Nation, about the extent to which no one trusts the New York Times anymore. I wonder if the atrociousness of the coverage of Operation Matador is similar to the atrociousness of the coverage of the early bombing of Vietnam. I wonder if half a decade of Bush is starting to take its toll on our culture.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?