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Manufacturing Public Opinion


Last July, the highly respected Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland reported that slightly more than one-in-two Americans (56%) believed that “genocide” either had or was in the process of occurring in the Darfur states of the western Sudan. The same survey found that seven-in-ten Americans (69%) believed that, “If the UN were to determine that genocide is occurring in Darfur,…then the UN, including the US, should…decide to act to stop the genocide even if it requires military force.” (See the corresponding July 9-15, 2004 Questionnaire, specifically questions No. 34 and No. 35.)


Virtually alone in the English-language media, Jim Lobe, the very fine Inter Press Service reporter, wrote at the time that those respondents “who were more knowledgeable about the situation in Darfur tended to support taking stronger action”—stronger action here meaning intervention by an outside power, leaving open the question of which power or powers, of course, as well as what kind of action, humanitarian or military.

“The survey found,” Lobe continued (July 20, 2004),

that respondents were inclined to believe that genocide was indeed taking place. Presented with two positions to describe what is happening in Darfur, only 25 percent endorsed the view that it was “just a civil war between the government and people in a resistant region that happen to be of a different ethnic group”.

A majority of 56 percent took the position that what is taking place in the area, where “a million black African Darfuris have been driven into the desert by Arab militias who have destroyed their farms and prevented them from receiving relief”, is genocide.

Along these same lines, Lobe also noted that PIPA’s survey was released amid reports that “Sudan has directed the recruitment and arming of Arab militias waging a ‘scorched-earth’ campaign against African tribes in the province of Darfur….”

The poll comes one day after international human rights groups released reports that detailed atrocities that have forced more than one million black Africans from their homes, and linked Khartoum to the Arab ‘Janjaweed’ (“men on horseback”).

According to Amnesty International, the Janjaweed are using rape “as a weapon of war” against their female victims.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released government documents it said came from civilian authorities in Darfur, and show the government and Janjaweed working hand in hand to expel the area’s African tribes.

“It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias — they are one,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW’s Africa division. “These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.”

The reports come amid indications the U.S. electorate may be more inclined to support military intervention than generally assumed.

This question that Jim Lobe made so much to do about last summer—What kind of support might there be among the American public for military intervention in the Sudan?—really ought to be re-cast. Instead of asking whether the American public supports military intervention, and under what circumstances, we ought to ask under what kind of pretexts the American public will support military interventions?

In late January, PIPA released the results of a follow-up survey to the one conducted last July. Astonishingly, this time around PIPA ceased asking respondents whether or not they thought “genocide” was occurring in the western Sudan. Instead, PIPA simply took at face value the assertion that genocide was occurring, and asked respondents their beliefs about the situation, given this fact.

Thus in PIPA’s last survey on the Sudan, Questions No. 20 and No. 21 asked (Questionnaire, Dec. 21-26, 2004):

Q20: Do you think the members of the UN should or should not step in with military force and stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan?

Should step in…………………………………………………………..74%
Republicans………………………………………………………………83
Democrats……………………………………………………………….71
Independents……………………………………………………………70

Should not step in………………………………………………………17
Republicans………………………………………………………………13
Democrats………………………………………………………………..17
Independents…………………………………………………………….21

(No answer)………………………………………………………………10

Q21: If other members of the UN are willing to contribute troops to a military operation to stop the genocide in Darfur, do you think the US should or should not be willing to contribute some troops as well?

Should be willing……………………………………………………….60%
Republicans……………………………………………………………..62
Democrats……………………………………………………………….64
Independents……………………………………………………………58

Should not be willing…………………………………………………..33
Republicans………………………………………………………………34
Democrats……………………………………………………………….26
Independents……………………………………………………………35

(No answer)……………………………………………………………….7

And so on. And so on. For the entirety of the questions asked. (Some of the questions having been withheld from publication.)

Now. When I first came across this particular PIPA survey back in late January, the immediate question that came to my mind was: Why on earth would PIPA stack the deck so heavily on the question of “genocide” and the Sudan? Not do you think a power or powers should or should not step in with military force and stop a lot of killing and unnecessary dying? Not do you think a power or powers should or should not step in with military force and stop the ongoing rampage than includes war crimes and crimes against humanity? But do you think a power or powers should or should not step in with military force and stop the genocide that is being committed by the Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed militias?

Was PIPA’s reason for framing its late December, 2004 Questionnaire according to the ‘G‘-word because the American Department of State had proclaimed as far back as September, 2004, that “genocide” was occurring in the western Sudan? Was it because the UN Commission of Inquiry by all appearances was coming pretty damned close to proclaiming likewise? Or was it because the UN agencies and their representatives that have been dealing with the crisis ever since late 2003, when UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland baptized it “one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” either have explicitly stated or in the very least tacitly been implying as much over the course of the past 15 months or longer?

(Quick aside. In point of fact, the UN Commission of Inquiry determined that genocide has not been committed in the western Sudan, whether by the government in Khartoum or by anyone else. However, the UN report certainly is a massive compendium of grisly atrocities perpetrated in the western Sudan. Precisely the kind of report the world can only wish that an independent commission of inquiry one day will undertake into American atrocities, beginning with the current American occupation of Iraq and working backwards.)

My hunch is that it’s a combination of all of these factors: That self- and power-serving politicos and propagandists have worked so hard to force the conflicts in the western Sudan into the only kind of procrustean moral bed they are capable of understanding, and have been so genocide-crazy for so long, PIPA decided to construct its late December Questionnaire less with an interest in discovering what the American public thinks, than in leading the public to say what PIPA wanted to hear.

The net result is that PIPA acted as the propagator of a particular narrative (i.e., “genocide” orchestrated by the political leadership in Khartoum), and as an advocate for a particular cause (i.e., military intervention in the Sudan). PIPA therefore is guilty of leading its respondents to express certain opinions in compliance with this narrative and this cause, rather than trying to determine what its respondents really believe.

In its handling of the Sudan 2004-2005, the Program on International Policy Attitudes at minimum has been guilty of leading public opinion. Maximally, PIPA has been guilty of manufacturing “public opinion,” and of trying to use its quite-compromised results to influence state policy.

Genocide as artefact. Genocide as manipulation.

All in all, a contemptible showing.

Postscript. To excerpt three paragraphs from the UN Commission of Inquiry’s report (“Do the Crimes Perpetrated in Darfur Constitute Acts of Genocide?” pp. 160-161):

640. The Commission concluded that the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of
genocide. Arguably, two elements of genocide might be deduced from the gross violations of human
rights perpetrated by Government forces and the militias under their control. These two elements are,
first, the actus reus consisting of killing, or causing serious bodily or mental harm, or deliberately
inflicting conditions of life likely to bring about physical destruction; and, second, on the basis of a
subjective standard, the existence of a protected group being targeted by the authors of criminal conduct.
Recent developments have led members of African and Arab tribes to perceive themselves and others as
two distinct ethnic groups. The rift between tribes, and the political polarization around the rebel
opposition to the central authorities has extended itself to the issues of identity. The tribes in Darfur
supporting rebels have increasingly come to be identified as “African” and those supporting the
Government as “Arabs”. However, the crucial element of genocidal intent appears to be missing, at least
as far as the central Government authorities are concerned. Generally speaking the policy of attacking,
killing and forcibly displacing members of some tribes does not evince a specific intent to annihilate, in
whole or in part, a group distinguished on racial, ethnic, national or religious grounds. Rather, it would seem that those who planned and organized attacks on villages pursued the intent to drive the victims
from their homes, primarily for purposes of counter-insurgency warfare.

641. The Commission does recognize that in some instances, individuals, including Government
officials, may commit acts with genocidal intent. Whether this was the case in Darfur, however, is a
determination that only a competent court can make on a case-by-case basis.

642. The conclusion that no genocidal policy has been pursued and implemented in Darfur by the
Government authorities, directly or through the militias under their control, should not be taken as in any
way detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in that region. Depending upon the
circumstances, such international offences as crimes against humanity or large scale war crimes may be
no less serious and heinous than genocide. This is exactly what happened in Darfur, where massive
atrocities were perpetrated on a very large scale, and have so far gone unpunished.

Postscript II. A short excerpt from an editorial in this morning’s Washington Post (“Increments That Kill,” March 10):

Polling by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland suggests that 60 percent of Americans support a U.S. contribution to a U.N. military intervention when they are asked about the subject. But this majority is mostly silent, prompting a group called the Save Darfur Coalition (www.savedarfur.org) to organize a letter-writing campaign starting next Thursday.
It shouldn’t take letters to make President Bush do the right thing on Darfur. A leader who prides himself on a bold and morally grounded foreign policy should have no patience for the incrementalism that enables mass killing.

The CCFR-PIPA poll to which the Post refers was cited in the original draft of this blog (about which, more another time—though my response to this poll remains the same as my response to PIPA’s previous two: Its purpose is to influence policymaking in the direction of American state violence, justified in terms of nabbing the Sudanese political leadership and shipping them off to the ICC):

Large Bipartisan Majority of Americans Favors Referring Darfur War Crime Cases to International Criminal Court, Steven Kull et al., Chicago Council on Foreign Relations-Program on International Policy Attitudes, March 1, 2005
Questionnaire, February 18-25, 2005

As NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander James L. Jones said in an interview with the American Forces Press Service (“Africa Integral to U.S. European Command, General Says,” March 9):

“Africa is an important part of our theater, and has been neglected for too long,” Jones said. “Africa is everybody’s problem and everybody’s responsibility.”
…………
Jones said NATO needs to focus more attention on Africa. “NATO will have to quit being such an eastward-focused alliance and will have to react to some of the compelling realities of the southern flank,” he said.

Postscript III (March 12). Question: Why do you suppose there even could be such a body as the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (SG/A/890, Oct. 8, 2004), empowered at the highest level of the United Nations (i.e., Res. 1564) to “investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Darfur by all parties, to determine also whether or not acts of genocide have occurred, and to identify the perpetrators of such violations with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable” (Par. 12)—but nothing comparable with respect to (for starters) violations of treaty and customary international law in Iraq by the parties which initiated the March, 2003 war there?

Res. 1564 even invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But when was the last time you heard the Security Council invoke Chapter VII in relation to a bona fide war of foreign aggression? (It happens, of course, as when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.) And when was the last time you heard somebody invoke Chapter I prohibitions against the use of force in international affairs?

Everyone needs to ask why the responsibility of the leadership in Khartoum for the events in the western states of the Sudan became an issue of grave international concern and inquiry and much professional hand-wringing during the exact same period of time that the responsibility of the leadership in other capitals around the world for the war over Iraq did not. (About which, take a look at How America Gets Away with Murder, Michael Mandel, Pluto Press, 2004. And the superb review of this book by Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, June, 2004.)

Presumably, no one outside the highly corrupt concentric rings of American Power agrees with the modus operandi of Human Rights Watch (“Human Rights Watch Policy on Iraq,” ca. early 2003), that

We care deeply about the humanitarian consequences of war, but we avoid judgments on the legality of war itself….Human Rights Watch thus does not support or oppose the threatened war with Iraq. We do not opine on whether the dangers to civilians in Iraq and neighboring countries of launching a war are greater or lesser than the dangers to U.S. or allied civilians – or, ultimately, the Iraqi people – of not launching one. We make no comment on the intense debate surrounding the legality of President George Bush’s proposed doctrine of “pre-emptive self-defense” or the need for U.N. Security Council approval of a war.

Though in case anyone does—please explain.

Americans on the Crisis in Sudan, Steven Kull et al., Program on International Policy Attitudes, July 20, 2004 (And the accompanying Media Release.)
Questionnaire, PIPA, July 9-15, 2004

Three Out of Four Americans Favor UN Military Intervention in Darfur, Steven Kull et al., Program on International Policy Attitudes, January 24, 2005
Questionnaire, PIPA, December 21-26, 2004

Large Bipartisan Majority of Americans Favors Referring Darfur War Crime Cases to International Criminal Court, Steven Kull et al., Chicago Council on Foreign Relations-Program on International Policy Attitudes, March 1, 2005
Questionnaire, February 18-25, 2005

Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Cassese et al., January 25, 2005

Humanitarian and security situations in western Sudan reach new lows, UN agency says,” UN News Center, December 5, 2003
U.S. Calls Killings In Sudan Genocide,” Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, September 10, 2004
Sudan,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2004, U.S. Department of State, February, 2005

Many in U.S. Back UN on Use of Force to Halt Sudan Genocide,” Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, July 20, 2004
U.S. Congressional Leaders Seek Urgent Moves on Darfur,” Jim Lobe, March 2, 2005

Naming the Darfur Crisis,” Mahmood Mamdani, ZNet, November 18, 2004
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim – An African Perspective,” Mahmood Mamdani, Social Science Research Council, (Date?)

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