NPR, the Pentagon, and U.S. Foreign Policy

After-Action Journalism Review Required for NPR’s Coverage of Pentagon’s After-Action Iraq War Review

If NPR’s title for the interview only hinted at Iran as a target for violent regime change, Sobchak joined in the propaganda effort to demonize the country, a necessary step in forging belligerent public opinion and paving the way for war.

By Mike Madden  February 8, 2019

Photo: johnpilger.com

In a January 22, 2019 piece entitled “U.S. Army War College Says ‘Iran the Only Winner’ in Study of Iraq War,All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly took NPR’s long tradition of soft-pedaling America’s foreign interventions a step further by teaming up with retired Col. Frank Sobchak to use a study of the Iraq War to pave the way for more war.

While of dubious value, it is common practice at NPR to seek perspective on wrongdoing from the wrongdoers themselves. When the issue of torture was front and center, NPR regularly turned to CIA veterans who would invariably defend the agency (if not the act of torture itself), and lavish praise on torturers like Gina Haspel to enable their promotion. In this case, NPR turned to Sobchak, a co-editor of the recently released U.S. Army War College after-action review of the Iraq War, without the benefit of any voice critical of the study.

In the NPR style of faux hard-hitting interviews, Kelly asked vague open-ended questions, and accepted platitudes as answers. She noted that division commander General Ray Odierno has been criticized for not getting “the whole hearts-and-minds thing.” She then asked if it was a challenge to investigate him as he was the man who commissioned the report. Sobchak answered in the negative, and went on to say that the report gives guidance that “if you have to kill sacred cows, you kill some sacred cows because we have to learn from this.”

Reading between the lines, it appears that Odierno’s status has fallen to that of a former sacred cow.

In a commendable moment of journalistic follow-up, Kelly asked if the report directly criticized Odierno and other senior army officers. Sobchak did not answer the question directly, but noted that every author of the report had served in Iraq, himself included, and said “We all made mistakes, and we all have things we can learn from them.” Returning to form, Kelly did not press the issue further, allowing individual accountability to slip through the fingers of collective guilt, and perpetuating the characterization of the Iraq War as a “mistake.”

A mistake is something that happens when you forget to add yeast to the bread dough. What we’re talking about here is a jus cogens violation of international law: the invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States, did not have the approval of the United Nations, and was based on lies. Perhaps we should be grateful that the American military is still subservient to civilian leadership and is willing to fall upon its sword to protect Bush, Cheney, et al. A broader view would consider that it may be the world that is in need of protection, and that one function of a military after-action review is to examine the initiation of the war in the light of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the U.N. Charter, and the Nuremberg Principles.

The entire world, outside the beltway, now knows that the U.S. committed a grievous offense against the nation of Iraq, a criminal act of military aggression. NPR and the Pentagon team up here to pretend that criticism of tactics will be a palatable substitute for outright condemnation of the American invasion. Kelly cites the claim contained in the report that the U.S. failed to adequately train Iraqi forces. She goes on to insinuate that the 2011 pullout was premature, citing findings in the report of heightened sectarian tensions and the rise of ISIS. Sobchak responds by describing after-action reviews as routine and academic. “It’s the military reviewing itself to try to make sure that, if this happens again, that we are better prepared,” he said.

Well that’s reassuring. The Pentagon will be better prepared to wage the next war of aggression.

If NPR’s title for the interview only hinted at Iran as a target for violent regime change, Sobchak joined in the propaganda effort to demonize the country, a necessary step in forging belligerent public opinion and paving the way for war. “Iran is clearly in a much stronger position just strategically,” he said “and I think we see that playing out through its expansionism and kind of adventurism occurring in Syria, Yemen, and other locations.”

Setting aside the questionable claim that Iran’s involvement in Syria and Yemen is a result of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, one wonders if a spokesperson for the Pentagon would ever characterize U.S. involvement in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere as “expansionism and adventurism.” That question apparently didn’t occur to Mary Louise Kelly. It simply falls outside the bounds of acceptable debate. To label America an aggressor nation, or to challenge the Washington orthodoxy that America stands for democracy and freedom in the world, even when the weight of history and current evidence point unmistakably to the contrary, would be apostasy for radio’s guardian of American exceptionalism.

Michael Madden is a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27 in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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