Camera... Regime Change!
By Ian Watson
Whether it's covering "Made in China" labels with fake boxes
marked "Made in U.S.A." for a speech backdrop, forcing people
at a Bush rally to take off their ties to look more like common
folk, or spicing up the set of Iraq War Central Command headquarters
in Qatar, Karl Rove Productions knows that image is everything.
So when it comes to Iraq, why give the public a war when
you can give them a blockbuster action movie instead? So far,
we've been on the edge of our seats with stories of daring
rescues and victorious heroes (although ill-mannered moviegoers
like Joseph Wilson, Paul O'Neill, or Richard Clarke will occasionally
start moving around or talking during the movie before many
in the audience tell them to sit down and shut up).
At a cost of over a billion dollars per week and a worldwide
audience of millions, Iraq War II: The Regime Change
is the most ambitious and successful production ever. But
how will it end?
Act I: A Fierce Battle and a Brave, Young Soldier
April 1, 2003: Move over Stephen Spielberg, you ain't got
nothin' on the Pentagon! On April Fools Day 2003, Special
Forces retrieved a wounded soldier, Private First Class Jessica
Lynch, from an Iraqi hospital a week after her convoy was
ambushed by Iraqi military forces. With U.S. military and
Pentagon sources as their guide, the press told a made-for-Hollywood
story of a young, attractive female soldier from Smalltown,
USA who was ambushed by the enemy, shot, stabbed, who fired
until her weapon was empty, endured sexual assault, was spirited
away by dark forces to be interrogated, slapped around, and
even tortured. And then, like guardian angels, in swoop Special
Forces with guns blaring, blowing down doors, taking fire
from the enemy, and stealing her away to safety. The action!
The drama! And oh, the ratings!
Imagine the disappointment of movie producers everywhere
when, much to the resistance of the American media, the true
story began to emerge. Lynch received all of her injuries
when her vehicle wrecked during the ambush. She was never
shot or stabbed. She did not fire on the enemy as her gun
jammed. She was never sexually assaulted, interrogated, slapped
around, or tortured. In fact, the Iraqi hospital staff that
received Lynch gave her commendable care - even special treatment
that prompted thanks from U.S. military personnel. In one
instance, her caretakers tried to return her to U.S. forces
but were fired upon. When Special Forces barged into the hospital
with guns blaring (and cameras rolling), Iraqi forces were
nowhere in the area. There was never anyone firing on the
A recovering Jessica Lynch, star of what would become known
as Saving Private Lynch, refused to play along, acknowledging
that she had been wrongly used as PR by the Pentagon. John
Kampfner of the BBC called it "one of the most stunning pieces
of news management ever conceived."
Act II: Freedom Prevails and Evil Falls
April 9, 2003: Said Fox News Anchor David Asman, "If
you don't have goose bumps now, you will never have them in
your life." Well, I sure had goose bumps that day as
I watched thousands of Iraqis take to the streets in an impromptu
celebration of freedom and raze one of Saddam's many statues
- this one in Baghdad's Firdos Square.
Only later would the reality of that event present itself
as the facts became clear. There wasn't exactly a jubilant,
random outpouring of Iraqi citizens. The people cheering at
the statue's fall were a few dozen members of the Iraqi National
Congress, an Iraqi opposition group slated by the Bush Administration
to replace Saddam and flown in for the occasion. The square
was populated far more by U.S. military personnel and reporters
than local citizens. The statue was not pulled down by newly
freed Iraqis, but by a U.S. mechanized infantry vehicle. This
particular statue of Saddam was conveniently located across
the street from a hotel housing several journalists. And the
square containing the statue was actually cordoned off by
U.S. forces - perhaps to keep the photo-op under control.
Television news ran the stirring image of Saddam's toppling
statue constantly as media pundits high-kicked and shook their
pompoms. The broadcasted camera shots were all very tight
and close to hide the reality of the crowd size, the attendees,
and any other images which might have disappointed patriotic
news consumers. Normon Solomon, coauthor of Target Iraq:
What the News Media Didn't Tell You, called it "the mother
of all photo-ops."
Act III: Our Hero Stands Victorious
May 1, 2003: Surely this was the greatest entrance ever
made by a U.S. president. As if from Heaven, an S-3B Viking
jet descends from the sky and touches down on the aircraft
carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The label under the cockpit window
- where "Maverick" would have been if this were Top Gun -
read "George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief". To the cheering
of sailors, Bush hopped onto the carrier deck in a flight
suit, helmet in hand, thumb in the air, and declared victory.
All over the country, the U.S. media gyrated with multiple
orgasms. "George W. was a hottie in his flight suit. He was
the victorious commander, " wrote Suzanne Fields of the Washington
Times. "And there was the president, landing on the deck
of the USS Abraham Lincoln, stepping out of a fighter jet
in that amazing uniform, looking - how to put it? - really
hot," wrote Lisa Schiffren of the Wall Street Journal.
"Well, let's go to the president again because he's been so
successful leading the war, and he looks great in that uniform,"
said Chris Matthews on MSNBC. "Bush strolled the carrier deck
in his flight suit with a confident swagger, wind-tossed hair
and movie star good looks," wrote Joan Marie Nagy of Newsmax.
This is certainly one of the most successful PR stunts in
the history of television - and also one of the most expensive,
requiring an additional day of operation for an aircraft carrier
as it delayed the USS Abraham Lincoln from putting into port.
Bush could have landed in a helicopter wearing a suit and
tie - the carrier was certainly within range. But it's doubtful
a traditional helicopter landing and snappy suit would cause
as much soiling of journalistic undergarments as the roar
of a navy jet and the tightness of a flight suit around the
crotch. Bush's stage managers meticulously assembled and even
color coordinated the crewmembers. A banner with the words
"Mission Accomplished" emblazoned on stars and stripes was
placed behind him. And his speech was timed to take place
during the "magic hour" - known to Hollywood as that precious
time of late afternoon when the sun casts a warm, flattering
glow upon its subjects.
Unfortunately, as much as Director Karl Rove had expected
a three-act production, Act III wasn't the final victory he
and Bush would have liked. Those under-paid extras the Iraqis
were hitting the streets in protest against the occupation.
Power losses, food shortages, and mis-targeted U.S. attacks
on civilians were driving Iraqis to arms. Soldiers were dying
on a daily basis. Terrorist bombings inside Iraq were becoming
frequent. An increasing number of administration and intelligence
personnel were coming forward to publicly or anonymously criticize
Bush's intelligence handling that led the country to war.
Ewoks refused to sing, and the credits never rolled. Unexpectedly,
Rove Productions was forced to continue the show, despite
already airing the inspiring conclusion.
Act IV: The Popular Commander Joins His Warriors In Celebration
November 27, 2003: To the complete surprise of U.S. troops
and the world's media, President Bush appeared at Baghdad's
airport on Thanksgiving Day to join some of the soldiers for
dinner and express gratitude for their service in the war.
Secrecy was of utmost importance. Only a handful of White
House officials and Secret Service knew of the event and reporters
were even deceived into believing Bush would be at his Crawford,
Texas ranch for the holiday. The White House also told an
account of a British Airways pilot that spotted the president's
plane en route and asked if it was Air Force One when the
president's pilot cleverly told him that it was Gulfstream
Hailed as a great public relations coup, Bush was on television
and front pages all over America holding a huge golden-brown
turkey with all the trimmings, wearing an Army jumpsuit, and
beaming to U.S. troops mingling around him. Norman Rockwell
would have been hard-pressed to create a more feel-good image
of simple Americana.
This could have been considered a genuine event of presidential
camaraderie and gratitude, but was unfortunately tainted by
the now famous reputation of Bush's image-makers and two uncomfortable
facts about the trip. The turkey, as delicious as it looked,
was for consumption only by cameras and news viewers, not
the troops. Yes - it was a prop, roasted by a contractor as
a table decoration. And that sneaky Air Force One pulling
a fast one on that British pilot? Never happened. After changing
its version of the instance more than once, the White House
admitted the story was told as an anecdote to illustrate the
secrecy and danger of the trip.
Act V: Coming Summer or Fall 2004
So, what's in store for us now? Another attack that calls
on our hero to protect us from evil? With the increased terrorist
bombings worldwide, we could certainly be in store for a sequel
featuring the original cast and crew (except those who have
died, of course). But before a sequel can be made, Rove Productions
needs a fifth and final act.
Could it be Act V: Hero's Vindication? The discovery of
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction would be a great final chapter.
Iranian news outlet Mehr News reported that, according to
an Iraqi Governing Council official, U.S. and British forces
were secretly importing WMD to locations in southern Iraq.
Imagine the checkmate on Bush's critics when unsuspecting
weapons inspectors open a hidden warehouse to find nuclear
components or caches of biological weapons.
Or could it be Act V: The Evil Mastermind is Brought to
Justice? The capture of Osama Bin Laden would be a prize like
none other for President Bush. Iranian State News reported
that either Bin Laden's location was known and he could be
arrested anytime, or that he is already in custody and being
held until a politically opportune time for the White House.
The accuracy of these reports is a legitimate concern, and
they may eventually prove false. But Iranian News can be credited
with being the first to report on the capture of Saddam Hussein,
and also how Kurdish forces played a role in that event at
least equal to the Americans, a fact omitted by initial American
No matter what Act V brings, we can be sure the grand finale
is in production as we speak - perhaps under final edit. I
don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how it ends.
Ian Watson is a working stiff and creator of the satirical
A version of this article with links to sources can be found