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News media is ignoring important questions about war with Iraq

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More Americans get their news from giant corporations than from any other source. Because the major corporations that provide news are and have been entertainment businesses, they tend to provide news which is entertaining and which will draw the largest possible audience. That audience doesn't seem to want much in the way of details. Increasingly, people can get the news from sources that are committed to a point of view. The Fox News network is unabashedly conservative. CNN tends to be a bit more liberal. Al-Jazeera sometimes appeals to radical conservatives. And people tend to tune in to the point of view they agree with, which means not only do they get entertainment-spun news, they get it in the flavor they like best.

For years there were complaints that the news media consciously omitted coverage of horrific events overseas when they were perpetrated by U.S. allies. Linguistics professor and commentator Noam Chomsky was justifiably irate that when Indonesia attacked East Timor and led years of human rights abuses verging on genocide there, coverage in both print and electronic media was minimal. Although it is not popular to make this suggestion, it is possible that the American people often practice a kind of willful ignorance. The public doesn't want to know what it doesn't want to know and since there is little demand for such information, the news media doesn't invest resources covering it.

In the fall of 2002, this tendency has become increasingly alarming. As the drums of war grow ever louder, there seems less interest in finding and disseminating answers to some of the most important questions about whether the proposed war is a good idea. Where did the idea of war with Iraq originate? Clearly it began in the White House with Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Richard Cheney, two hawks who were cohorts back in the Reagan administration. The two were forever proclaiming the sky is falling, and when the Soviet Union actually did fall, they were caught off guard and slow to adjust to the new realities. They were like the people who, during the Vietnam War, proposed the Domino Theory as gospel, but Vietnam fell and the other countries supposedly in line did not.

Since a significant rationale for the war which cost over 50,000 American lives (and many times that many Vietnamese lives) turned out to be completely wrong, do we think anyone responsible for this thinking was driven in disgrace from the halls of government? Far from it. Policy analysts who are dead wrong are never fired. But where are the news stories about the track records of Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Cheney, two who have made many predictions in the past? Like a fortune teller who predicts an earthquake, a policy maker who gets it right once is immediately forgiven for the hundred times he or she got it wrong, but are these kinds of odds good enough to take the world to war?

The next question that has received too little attention is what a post-Saddam Iraq will look like in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. Turkey has a special interest in all things Kurdish because her plans of being a dominant power in the region include controlling the water supplies, much of which arise in areas of Turkey which are part of Kurdistan. If the Iraqi Kurds seem on the brink of freedom from Saddam and the possibility looms they may want a state of their own, Turkey could well mount a preemptive invasion to throttle Kurdish hopes for freedom and at the same time secure the water resources for Turkey. An investigative news report would have been nice.

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And in the south, Shiites can be expected to celebrate the attack on Saddam with the kind of uprising that produces barbarities of its own, including murders and rapes and other unpleasantries. And they will be predisposed to alliances with Iran, a member state of Mr. Bush's Axis of Evil. This is an important consideration, but there are no news reporters in sight to help us understand the possibilities.

Although I think that unprovoked attacks by anyone against anyone are never justifiable, I am more negatively inclined by the way things are being proposed than by what is proposed. The United States in the Bush II era is retreating from the rule of law. I would have preferred that a great country like the U.S. take the initiative of accusing Mr. Hussein of violations of international human rights laws (such as genocide against Kurds) and obtain an indictment and make a demand for his arrest and delivery at some court of justice in Europe. Of course, Iraq would refuse, but the action now would be a police action to arrest a criminal, and that would be likely to find much more support. And when foot dragging was clear, an attack on Iraq would be for a purpose the world could understand and has been moving toward accepting. Doing things that way would have my enthusiastic support with the full expectation it would produce the same war we are lurching toward now.

But the U.S. can't do things that way. The New York Times recently reported that when Saddam was gassing Iranian troops, the U.S. knew and held his hat while he went about it. Bring him alive to The Hague and he will be bellowing out a list of U.S. violations of international laws long enough to make a school-marm blush. Rather than chance such an outcome, U.S. government policy is to act without the color of law, without allies, and without a plan with a probable chance of success to move beyond the law of the jungle wherein the biggest gorilla gets to do whatever he wants.

There are about five news markets in the United States which regularly carry news which reflects problematic choices by arms of government: New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. People in other parts of the country have little access to information which may explain why Bush people are choosing to act in a way which will bring no honor to the United States.

John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York at Buffalo.