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Naked Power: How ‘benign’ Western Politicians And ‘objective’ Media Lead Whole Nations Into War


Never before have our leaders been so naked in all their Machiavellian lust for power and destruction. And growing numbers of the public are beginning to see it. With no ‘smoking gun’ detected after extensive UN investigations, even using intelligence supplied by Washington and London, the US and UK governments have been forced to escalate their propaganda campaign in a desperate measure to ensure that war will go ahead.

Of course, disarming Iraq of its alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has always been a smokescreen for the dirty reality of US hegemony. And with zero evidence of WMD, the Blair regime is now revisiting its discredited claims to link Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. But the majority of Britons remain opposed to war. This scepticism could be crucial in delaying or even, at this late stage, avoiding a conflict that could kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, spawn a million refugees, and destroy what is left of a once vibrant country’s crumbling infrastructure.

According to a recent front-page report in The Independent, “Tony Blair conceded yesterday that the inspectors needed more time but said it should only amount to weeks, rather than months.” In the United States, Bush “is under pressure at home to slow the momentum towards war. New polls showed a clear majority of Americans favoured winning multinational backing before engaging Iraq.” There is still time for the British public to force Blair to remove crucial UK support for a US-led war that could destabilise the whole of the Middle East and increase the risk of future terrorist attacks.

But we must act immediately. According to The Independent, “Washington now calculates that to allow extra time may help both the case for a second resolution authorising force, as well as the American military build-up in the Gulf.” (‘Powell tells allies: US will not shrink from war’, Jeremy Warner, David Usborne and Nigel Morris, The Independent, 27 January, 2003).

The context missing from all mainstream news reports, which would boost public understanding of the crisis and thus undermine the fraudulent pretext for war, is that the impending massive assault on Iraq is part of a decades-old US strategy of “maintaining credibility” and generating fear. As Noam Chomsky reminds us in his reissued classic ‘Pirates and Emperors’ (Pluto Press, London, 2002), President Ronald Reagan warned Europe over twenty years ago that if they did not join Washington’s “war on terror” with proper enthusiasm, “the crazy Americans” might “take matters into their own hands.”

Around ten years later, President Bill Clinton’s Strategic Command (STRATCOM) advised that “part of the national persona we project” should be as an “irrational and vindictive” power, with some elements “potentially ‘out of control’.” The threat to use nuclear weapons in Iraq, raised by Donald Rumsfeld recently, is certainly part of the US’s useful projection of an ‘out of control’ persona. A recent report in The Independent claimed that a six-page “doctrine” (sic), called the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, calls for “pre-emptive action against potential enemies” including a “readiness to launch a nuclear strike against a foe threatening to use weapons of mass destruction against America or its forces” (‘US warns Iraq it will get nuclear response’, Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, 12 December, 2002, page 15).

In re-declaring a neverending “war against terror”, with Afghanistan torn and bleeding in phase one and the sights set on Iraq in phase two, Bush Jr. is maintaining a long and dishonourable tradition. Here in Britain, the challenge to the public is to impress upon Tony Blair that to support the Bush administration in an unpopular and immoral war against an already devastated Iraq will incur unacceptable political costs to the Labour government. It is at moments like these that the idolatry of benign leadership can begin to crumble. The self-projection of Blair as a “reasonable guy” thinly conceals a Machiavellian intent of destructive power to be unleashed on an already suffering nation of twenty-three million Iraqis. The British public can see through the façade. The question is, will people act now to save lives?

A central element in portraying to the British public the illusion of Blair as a benevolent figure of moral and political authority, struggling to do ‘the right thing’, is the British media. “Putting the world to rights: a busy day in Downing Street”, proclaimed a headline in the liberal Independent (10 January, 2003, page 15). Blair, we are told, “spent much of yesterday advancing the cause of world peace with a series of high-profile Downing Street guests.” That the British prime minister ought to be tried for war crimes in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq is unmentionable. Leading British politicians are shielded from such uncomfortable truths by a faithful retinue of mainstream journalists and commentators, and, for the most part, an educated elite in academic circles for whom any deviation from the guiding principle of basic British decency and goodwill is inconceivable.

But there are brave and welcome exceptions to the norm. Historian Mark Curtis is unafraid to note that: “The concept of Britain’s basic benevolence is, however, unsustainable in view of the historical and contemporary facts of the real world.” Curtis continues: “the basic political and economic priorities of the leading Western states – especially Britain and the United States, the two leading Western powers of the postwar period – are fundamentally in contradiction with the grand principles assumed to be generally consistent with foreign policy.” (Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power’, Zed Books, London, 1995, page 3). The conventional viewpoint, and unchallenged in respectable circles, is that Britain acts to uphold democracy, freedom and universal human rights throughout the world.

But as Curtis rightly observes: “Since 1945, rather than occasionally deviating from the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and economic development in the Third World, British (and US) foreign policy has been systematically opposed to them, whether the Conservatives or Labour (or Republicans or Democrats) have been in power. This has had grave consequences for those on the receiving end of Western policies abroad.” (ibid., page 3). As journalist John Pilger observes: “An accounting of the sheer scale and continuity and consequences of American imperial violence is our élite’s most enduring taboo.” (Beyond September 11: An Anthology of Dissent, edited by Phil Scraton, Pluto Press, London, 2002, p. 21)

This is a truism that is not permitted to upset the standard framework of mainstream news agendas. At best, uncomfortable facts can only be hinted at, such as when a recent BBC report referred to Henry Kissinger as “one of the United States’ best known statesmen [who] was seen by some as tainted not only by his business dealings, but also by his involvement in murky periods of the country’s history.” (BBC news online, 14 December, 2002, ). Ordering the “secret bombings” of Cambodia, with 600,000 civilians killed according to CIA estimates, counts as no more than “involvement” in a “murky period” of history.

BBC managers do not have to be told to support the government’s most crucial agenda items; it comes naturally to them, otherwise they would never have been filtered into their comfortable, elevated, establishment-friendly positions. Hence, the Today programme could give top billing recently (24 January, 2003) to a dubious story regarding an unsubstantiated claim that Iraq is preparing to use chemical weapons against invading US/UK troops in an impending war. Unsigned hand-written “documents”, presented to the BBC by the Iraqi National Coalition, an opposition group supposedly with extensive ties to Iraqi armed forces, formed the basis for this ‘news story’.

Predictably, the documents “were seized on by Downing Street as showing that President Saddam was preparing to use chemical weapons in the event of war and that he was not complying with UN resolutions.” (‘Scepticism over papers detailing chemical warfare preparations’, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 25 January, 2003). Later in the day, the BBC appeared to have backed off a little, with diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall noting in an online news report that the group that had “provided these documents has vested interests in seeing Saddam Hussein undermined, so it is very difficult to assess whether we should believe the documents.” She added “that the timing of their release is significant at a time when the United States and the UK are trying to win over opinion to their approach to the Iraq crisis.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2690163.stm)

But the desired effect had already been conveyed by the extensive airtime devoted to the initial story by the agenda-setting Today programme: maintaining the level of fear amongst the domestic population and thus facilitating a war on Iraq that has nothing to do with disarming the country of alleged weapons of mass destruction, and everything to do with control and access to oil resources and oil profits, strengthening western control in the region, and demonstrating to the world at large that the US will not tolerate any threats to its power.

Meanwhile, news developments that might seriously expose this agenda may be quietly noted, but rarely receive the extensive coverage that establishment-friendly ‘news’ constantly demands. Witness the burying of the revelations that UN teams have investigated the sites of Blair’s infamous dossier of Iraq’s WMD and discovered nothing untoward. One looks in vain for the headline news reports on the BBC, The Guardian and elsewhere that instead greeted Blair’s dossier last September.

One tiny passage at the end of an article by Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian dealt with the investigated sites in the dossier: “The government, meanwhile, said yesterday that UN inspectors had visited all the sites mentioned in its intelligence-backed dossier but had not found ‘any signs’ of weapons of mass destruction. Nor were there any signs of ‘programmes for their production at the sites,’ Mike O’Brien, the Foreign Office minister, told the Labour MP Harry Cohen.” The last word is given to the government interpretation of this exposure of its utterly fraudulent dossier: namely, the ludicrous suggestion given by O’Brien “that, given the advance publicity the government gave to the sites, ‘it is not entirely surprising that the inspectors failed to uncover any evidence’.” (‘Scepticism over papers detailing chemical warfare preparations’, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 25 January, 2003). This fits a pattern of deception and lies that has been going on for years. Media Lens encourages you to consult an excellent well-researched briefing on this topic by one of our readers, Zaid Al-Ali, available at: http://distraction.free.fr/iraq-blair-dossier/

When confronted with its systematic failure to help the British licence payer make sense of the real world, BBC news managers reply gravely that “it is absolutely the BBC’s role to be the objective and calm voice, reporting what we know to be fact and exploring the various viewpoints involved.” (email from Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news to a Media Lens reader, 10 January, 2003) and that the BBC will “air a full range of views” (email from Sambrook to Media Lens, 23 January, 2003). The BBC’s relentless mirroring of government statements about the supposed threat of Iraq is, presumably, “reporting what we know to be fact.” The very few dissident words broadcast by Tony Benn, George Galloway or the occasional peace activist, are all but drowned out in the vast amounts of air-time devoted to the warmongering deceptions of Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld or Jack Straw. This gross imbalance constitutes “air[ing] a full range of views.” Broadcasting a tiny handful of ‘debates’, or news ‘analysis’ programmes such as Panorama, represents “exploring the various viewpoints involved.”

As Robert Fisk observes in a recent comment piece: “Does [Blair] think Britons are stupid? A quarter of the British Army is sent to fight in a war that 80 per cent of Britons oppose. How soon before we see real people power – 500,000 protesters or more in London, Manchester and other cities to oppose this folly?” (‘The wartime deceptions: Saddam is Hitler and it’s not about oil, The Independent, 27 January, 2003, page 5). If BBC coverage, indeed mainstream coverage in general, reflected this public perception of war and our warmongering politicians, the news would look very different indeed. But here in the real world, BBC news managers, together with their colleagues in other sectors of the media industry, are complicit in promoting the Bush-Blair ‘war on terror’. History will surely judge them appropriately.


David Cromwell is the Co-Editor of www.MediaLens.org(sign up for free media alerts). He is the author of ‘Private Planet: Corporate Plunder and the Fight Back’, available in North America (IPG Books) and in the UK (Jon Carpenter Publishing). See www.private-planet.com for details.

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