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Lights... Camera... Regime Change!
March 31, 2004
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 rescue team.

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 5.

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 reports.

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 website A version of this article with links to sources can be found here.

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