America Betrayed: Will Progressives Take the Fall?
by Joe Brewer, Scott Parkinson
The story of Iraq will be told as a story of betrayal. But
which version of that story prevails – who is cast as the
betrayer – will have profound and lasting consequences for
the future of our country.
As we enter this crucial election year, progressives need to
be wary that our greatest strength – our long-standing opposition
to the debacle in Iraq – could become our greatest weakness.
A trap has been set to clamp down on progressives when the apparent
progress from the 'surge' inevitably unravels into a new round
of intense violence.
Are we going to sit idly by while right-wing millionaires and
billionaires fund campaigns like Freedom's Watch, with its plans
to spend $250 million this year to smear progressive leaders as
betrayers? We need to set the terms of the debate before the barrage
of deceptions issue forth. At this critical time in our nation's
history, the consequences of inaction and complacency could not
be more dire.
The truth is that we have been betrayed by an extremist right-wing
ideology that currently goes by the name 'conservative.' Its well-funded
message machine lulled the public into a false confidence that
led to the most devastating abuse of our military for private
gain in this country's history. Contrary to the arguments of many
critics, this is not simply a botched policy or misguided approach.
An Exceptional Story
A trap has been set for progressives, and it comes in the form
of a story. The betrayal has been made possible by the conservative
take on the Myth of American Exceptionalism. This belief that
we are the Great Nation, whose military endeavors always side
with the Good, has set in motion a vicious cycle. It is the belief
that our country is inherently good and our military strength
is unrivaled. Consistency requires that our 'enemy' must be evil
– and is always the lesser foe. Failure is impossible in
a fair contest. If we lose, it must be a failure from within.
We must have been betrayed.
Kevin Baker, in a Harper's article published in 2006, distilled
this tale of betrayal into a political formula used by conservatives:
1. Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy.
2. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous
(and remain steadfast even when it becomes unpopular).
3. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America.
4. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal
(The betrayal story is also discussed on Alternet and Atlantic
The stage has been set for laying the blame on us. In the run-up
to the escalation these phrases were repeated far and wide by
* "embolden the enemy"
* "not supporting the troops"
* "break the will of the American people"
* "lack of resolve"
* "demoralizing the troops"
* "the party of appeasement"
Often innocently quoted from interviews with conservatives, these
phrases reinforce associations in people's brains between peace
activists and the disaster in Iraq.
The debate has been framed against us. Our brains have been conditioned
through repetitive accusations that opponents of the Iraq occupation
are "emboldening the enemy" with their "defeatism"
until the only thing that makes sense is the betrayal of America
by war-hating peace mongers.
Talk about a twisted role reversal.
Tell a Different Story
Conservatives have spread a virus, incubating their ideas in
our brains with the hope that they would replicate across the
country. They have planted seeds of conservative thought to be
born by a media that doesn't realize it is complicit in propagating
the Betrayal Myth. Our responsibility as citizens is to get the
truth out there ahead of the next round of lies. We can take away
its capacity to influence our thinking by becoming sensitized
to the hidden meaning of these words.
Presenting the facts without changing the story will not be enough.
Flesh-and-blood human beings just don't all reason to rational
conclusions. We have to pre-empt the trap by revealing the true
betrayal of America – the deceptive conservative agenda
and its anti-democratic goals.
Simply pointing out the Betrayal Myth is not enough. Repetition
will only make the associations stronger. A major finding of the
cognitive sciences – the array of disciplines devoted to
the study of brain, mind, and thought – is that the majority
of human thought is structured outside conscious awareness. A
key strategic goal for progressives must be to make conscious
the trap and the real betrayal.
The Framing of Betrayal
In order to be a betrayal, the lies must be done consciously,
willfully, and callously.
The Iraq betrayal was orchestrated from the beginning. In 1994,
nearly a decade before the invasion, Dick Cheney himself predicted
the quagmire we have found ourselves in. He clearly articulated
how such an invasion would destabilize the entire region, result
in huge casualties, and lead to a costly and endless occupation.
Eight years later, during the build-up to war in 2002, he told
a different story about easy victory and a warm welcome that contradicted
his previous statements.
Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld were among the signers of
a public statement released in 1998 that laid out their plans
to control the Middle East as members of the Project for a New
In his first National Security Council meeting, a mere ten days
after being inaugurated, Bush informed Secretary of Treasury Paul
O'Neill that he was focused on invading Iraq. They plotted the
invasion of Iraq willfully and consciously years before Bush entered
the oval office, knowing its deadly consequences.
They were motivated by the desire to control the Middle East
militarily and economically, expand presidential powers, and move
our country in a conservative – and militaristic –
direction and away from societal needs. Many of these objectives
have been achieved. They have built permanent military bases,
moved toward their vision of a 'unitary executive' at home, and
shifted trillions of dollars away from schools, roads, and health
care for our people.
Cheney's 1994 interview shows that they knew full well the consequences
of their actions. Their claim in 2003 that we would be greeted
as liberators was a boldface lie. They just didn't care about
the massive death, maiming and destruction in Iraq or the crippled
economy we would experience at home. Every reason given for the
invasion was a lie – no WMDs, no link between Iraq's government
and Al Qaeda, and no real democracy or respect for human rights.
Moreover, they have privatized Iraq's economy with conservative
Proponents of the invasion and occupation do not acknowledge
the violence in Iraq grew directly from the invasion itself and
was sustained by a foreign occupation during the instability that
followed. Throughout the entire affair, they insisted on calling
it a war rather than the more honest description of occupation,
which it became in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.
The war metaphor allowed them to repeatedly frame our options
as "win" vs. "surrender."
And a new BIG LIE has been crafted and spread. We have been told
repeatedly that the so-called surge is working. This is simply
false. Through a combination of offering arms and bribes to Sunni
fighters, temporary cease-fires as militias regroup, ethnic cleansing,
and surrendering territories to militias, there is a shift in
violence statistics that has no direct bearing on the increased
number of U.S. troops in Iraq. And of course there is no violence
in places where there are no people. Estimates for refugees who
have fled the country range from three to four million people.
The 'surge' has failed to serve its stated purpose – the
government is as dysfunctional as ever and the living conditions
Worst of all, those who profit from the conflict are not paying
for it. While the conservative elite benefit from tax cuts, the
rest of us will be paying the debt for decades. Nobel-prize winning
economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the conflict will cost
American tax-payers $3 trillion. Along the way, we have been left
to struggle with a declining value of the dollar, diminished education,
and an aging infrastructure that is falling apart.
And let's not forget what Alan Greenspan said, "The Iraq
war is largely about oil." This is where a particular kind
of lie, the deception by omission, has been instigated. Conservatives
take care to avoid mention of the 30 year oil contracts to U.S.
companies or the permanent military bases. Obsessively focused
on the occurrence of violent outbreaks, these developments have
gone largely undiscussed by the press.
This is the story we need to tell and repeat:
The Betrayal of Trust
At the time of the invasion, there were four BIG LIES. We were
told that (1) we were threatened with weapons of mass destruction,
(2) Saddam Hussein's government was responsible for 9/1, (3) we
were going to spread democracy, and (4) the conflict would be
short and easy with minimal damage at a total cost of about $100
billion. Every reason given for the invasion was a lie –
no WMDs, no link between Iraq's government and terrorists, and
no true democracy, and all the horrors that Cheney knew in advance
Now we have another betrayal, the BIG LIE – that the so-called
'surge' is working. With this Big Lie in place, occupation hawks
will be especially well-positioned to blame the inevitable rise
in violence and discord in Iraq on those patriotic Americans who
are working to end the occupation. It has been accompanied by
a key deception-by-omission where the 30 year oil contracts to
U.S. companies and construction of permanent military bases are
ignored by politicians and the mainstream media.
All the while, hundreds of thousands have been killed and maimed.
Destruction is widespread. Conservative elites benefit from tax
cuts and sky-rocketing profits while we get stuck with the $3
trillion bill, lost opportunities at home, and a crippled economy.
Most of it was known in advance, planned, and carried out. A colossal
This is the real betrayal story. We must head off their Myth
of Betrayal. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.
What Needs to Be Done
First and foremost, we must reframe the debate. This needs to
happen on several fronts:
The invasion of Iraq was a betrayal of trust, not a mistake.
It is an occupation, not a war.
The escalation has failed, because it has not delivered meaningful
Congress is the decider, not the president
Getting the language right is only part of the solution. We also
need to get the message out far and wide to counter the swift-boaters.
And we need to act before they do. It is essential that we synergize
the netroots, grassroots, independent media, and progressive organizations
to counter the decades old conservative infrastructure.
It is vital that we tell the truth with a powerful narrative
and preempt their betrayal narrative before it becomes established.
People are ready for the truth.