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There's another thing that Greenwald doesn't mention.  When it comes to starting wars, the history is fairly consistent.  The Mexican-American War was launched after President Polk invaded Mexico.  Here is how he explained it to the American people.

His message to Congress on May 11, 1846 stated that “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”

Abraham Lincoln, who was the Dennis Kucinich of his day (and a freshman Whig Congressman from Illinois), offered the Spot Resolutions:

The "spot" resolutions were offered in the United States House of Representatives on 22 December 1847 by Abraham Lincoln, Whig representative from Illinois. The resolutions requested President James K. Polk to provide Congress with the exact location (the "spot") upon which blood was spilt on American soil, as Polk had claimed in 1846 when asking Congress to declare war on Mexico. So persistent was Lincoln in pushing his "spot resolutions" that some began referring to him as "spotty Lincoln." Lincoln's resolutions were a direct challenge to the validity of the president's words, and representative of an ongoing political power struggle between Whigs and Democrats.

For his temerity in questioning the casus belli for war, Honest Abe was voted out of office.  

The Spanish-American War began after the Rupert Murdoch of the day (William Randolph Heart) used his string of newspapers to blame Spain for the internal explosion on the USS Maine that occurred in the Havana harbor.  

The Spanish inquiry, conducted by Del Peral and De Salas, collected evidence from officers of naval artillery who had examined the remains of the Maine. Additional observations included that 1) had a mine been the cause of the explosion a column of water would have been observed; 2) the wind and the waters were calm on that date and hence a mine could not have been detonated by contact but using electricity, but no cables had been found; 3) no dead fish were found in the harbour as would be expected following an explosion in the water; and, 4) munition bunkers usually do not explode when mines sink ships. Del Peral and De Salas identified the spontaneous combustion of the coal bunker that was located adjacent to the munition stores in the Maine as the likely cause of the explosion. The conclusions of the report were silenced by the American press...

The resulting conflict cost the lives of over a quarter million civilians in the Philippines alone.  

I think everyone is familiar with Hitler's claim that Poland instigated the hostilities than began the Second World War.  And I don't think most people believe the Nazi government's explanation for the Reichstag fire.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident, that was used as the casus belli for war in Vietnam, never happened.  

The Kuwaiti incubator story that roused our nation to war with Iraq, was a fabrication concocted by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton.  

Fifteen-year old Nayirah, who gave testimony anonymously, testified before the Human Rights Caucus of the United States Congress in October 1990 that she was a refugee volunteering in the maternity ward of Al Adan hospital in Kuwait City, and that during the Iraqi occupation she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti infants in an incubator room: “They took the babies out of the incubator, took the incubators, and left the babies to die on the cold floor,” she testified.[3]

The testimony came at a crucial time for the Bush administration, which was pressing for military action to eject Iraq from Kuwait. Nayirah's story was widely publicized, and Amnesty International at first seemed to corroborate the report. The story helped build domestic support for the Persian Gulf War.[1]

Nayirah was later disclosed to be Nayirah al-Sabah, daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA. She was demonstrated to have connections to the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which was at that time working for Citizens for a Free Kuwait.[1] The latter activist group was organized by the exiled Kuwaiti government, to gain support for the Kuwaiti cause.[1]

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, of which Congressman Tom Lantos was co-chairman, had been responsible for hosting Nurse Nayirah, and thereby popularizing her allegations. When the girl's account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors,[4] Lantos replied, "The notion that any of the witnesses brought to the caucus through the Kuwaiti Embassy would not be credible did not cross my mind... I have no basis for assuming that her story is not true, but the point goes beyond that. If one hypothesizes that the woman's story is fictitious from A to Z, that in no way diminishes the avalanche of human rights violations."[4] Nevertheless, the senior Republican on the Human Rights Caucus, John Edward Porter, responded to the revelations "by saying that if he had known the girl was the ambassador's daughter, he would not have allowed her to testify."[5]

And that leaves out the role of Ambassador April Glaspie, who basically gave Saddam Hussein the blessing of Secretary of State Jim Baker to annex part of Kuwait.

"But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late '60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi (Chedli Klibi, Secretary General of the Arab League) or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly."

It turned out that we did have an opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts.  Quite strong ones, actually.  

And then we have the lead up to the second war with Iraq in which decades old containers of mustard gas were defined as Weapons of Mass Destruction, Iraq was accused with no evidence of having a nuclear program, and high-ranking officials accused the Iraqi government of having met with and trained one of the 9/11 hijackers.  An anthrax attack on our mail system that originated in our own military labs was blamed on Saddam Hussein.  

So, the record is fairly clear that when war breaks out, it more often than not breaks out based on a membrane of lies.  False charges are levied against a foreign country, nationalism is whipped up, and the press stops asking for 'spot resolutions.'  Brave politicians like Abraham Lincoln who ask questions are at risk of being voted out of office.

That is why we are being so critical of Mark Ambinder, who wrote:

"Information asymmetry is always going to exist, and, living as we do in a Democratic [sic] system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit" -- The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, today, reacting to Tom Ridge's confession that the Bush administration heightened terror alerts for political gain, and justifying why journalists such as himself "were very skeptical when anti-Bush liberals insisted that what Ridge now says is true, was true."

We don't want most journalists to give the government the benefit of some doubt.  Based on the historical record, when it comes to war, we should assume they are lying.  

Originally posted to on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 09:31 AM PDT.

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