Saddam Sideshow Obscures Reality

Finally, nine long months after the onset of America's war on Iraq, there he was being paraded for all to see: Saddam Hussein. Looking somewhat more like a refugee than a deposed tyrant, Hussein was poked, prodded and probed by an American doctor in full view of tens of millions in America and around the world Sunday morning, just in time to pre-empt the Sunday political talk shows.

As CBS surrounded its repetitive presentation of the tape snippet with Rather-blather about this being "game, set, and match" for George Bush in next year's elections, the media factories generating "American Pride(tm)" swung into overdrive. The swirling, animated eagle-and-flag graphics, the breathless commentary about this meaning "a new respect" for America in the Mideast and around the world, and the militaristic musical fanfares heralding the impending commercial breaks all conspired to convince the public that this was the most significant event since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

It's worth wondering what we all might be paying attention to this particular Sunday morning were it not for this "triumph of American intelligence." Most of us, of course, would be going about the course of our normal daily lives -- holiday shopping, hangover nursing, child-minding, church, work. But at least some would have been riveted by a lower-profile but no less interesting news item, one that surely would have been a hot topic on "Meet The Press": the Halliburton overcharges.

Just a day or two earlier, Halliburton, the company whose former leader just happens to be Vice President Cheney and which had the good fortune to get a fat billion-dollar no-bid Iraq reconstruction contract, was being excoriated by the Pentagon for some $60 million worth of inflated invoices. The malodorous stench of corruption was beginning to seep out of the hermetically sealed Bush bubble, and things were beginning to look a bit bleak for the administration on the homeland propaganda front. There would be tough questions asked, inquiries launched, and baying for blood from a newly emboldened field of Democratic contenders for Bush's throne.

Assistance came from that most unlikely of sources, Saddam Hussein; replete with appropriately bedraggled appearance and whipped-cur onscreen manner, just in time to deflect all eyes from a good hard look at the character of the man serving as their Commander In Chief.

It was as if the final scenes of a John Wayne western had been deconstructed and had their "bad guy" replaced by a computer-enhanced, media-tailored uber-villain. America's vile scourge had finally been reduced to his animalistic, elemental form; good had vanquished evil in a single memetic swoop. We got our bad guy; therefore, America has a magnificent leader. Away with all of those tough questions about fraud and sweetheart insider deals. The photo-ops and soundbites from this one may go a long way toward overcoming that "mission accomplished" gaffe.

A telling detail, somewhat glossed over in the television coverage, is the underwhelming response to Saddam's capture from the Iraqis themselves. Aside from the bought-and-paid-for Iraqi "experts" who were promptly plunked into studio chairs for cheerleading sessions, few seemed all that thrilled. For them, the issue stopped being Saddam months ago. For the Iraqi people, the issue is now American occupation and the incontrovertible fact of America's failure to bring peace, stability and democracy to the country it destroyed -- not to mention its failure to justify doing so in the first place.

Besides the tough questions surrounding Halliburton that may go unasked in the tide of Saddamania, there are other compelling issues which this glorious victory seems destined to sweep under the carpet. Where are those WMDs, anyway? How many civilians have we actually killed? Why are American service personnel still coming home in body bags, or with limbs missing?

And given that the pre-war justifications for an attack have been systematically dismantled and discredited ad nauseum -- no ties to 9/11, no nuclear program, no chemical weapons, no anything -- why have we sacrificed our global credibility, the goodwill of much of the world, and hundreds of U.S. soldiers in the hellhole that Iraq has become? If the Bush administration has its way, the world may never know.

David B. Livingstone is a Detroit-based writer and one of the founders of

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