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“With All Due Respect”: Alan Grayson v. “P”BS on Obama and Syria


A friend who shares my alienation from U.S. major party electoral politics and imperial foreign policy likes to remind me that some of the nation’s self-proclaimed liberals in elected office do occasionally behave in decent ways. I don’t know how right he is, but I do want to mention one current example of what he means: the civil-libertarian U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson’s (D-FL, 5tth District) response to the Obama administration’s mendacious rush to war on Syria. 

Speaking last night on the “Public” Broadcasting System’ nationalistic and militarist Newshour, Grayson forthrightly rejected White House’s arguments for attacking Syria. Perhaps I should also say “the mainstream war media’s arguments for attacking Syria.” 

Functioning as an aggressive stand-in for the imperial presidency of Barack Obama, “P”BS news host Jeffrey Brown pressed Grayson on: the United States’ supposed responsibility to “send a message” to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (and “to Iran”) about the use of chemical and other terrible weapons of mass destruction; the United States’ duty to behave like a “leader in the globe” in response to a “humanitarian crisis”; the United States’ need to maintain its global prestige and “credibility” by backing up the president’s “red line” rhetoric on chemical weapons; “the international community’s” need to maintain its “credibility” against a gross human rights violator (Assad); the president’s own global and domestic need to maintain his personal political “credibility.”

 

“The International Community Has Spoken” 

Grayson didn’t flinch in the face of Brown’s onslaught. After noting that “it's not our responsibility to act unilaterally,” Grayson said that “The international community has spoken. We are the only ones who are contemplating anything like this. If we don't do this attack, no one else will. The British, on exactly the same evidence, decided against doing exactly this specific thing. The international community has decided that, when it works, it works multilaterally, and not simply by lobbing missiles and bombs into a war zone, with effects we cannot even possibly anticipate.” 

Grayson added that Obama’s planned attack is “not going to do any good. It's not going to change the regime. It's not going to end the civil war. It's not even going prevent a new strike and use of chemical warfare. Third, it's expensive, and, fourth, it's dangerous. It could easily spin out of control.”

 

Responsibility to the Jobless and Uninsured at Home 

Grayson argued that the U.S. government has a more pressing “responsibility… to 20 million Americans who are looking for full-time work [and to]… 40 million Americans who can't see a doctor when they're sick. When my constituents in Central Florida hear that we might spend a billion dollars on this strike, they're appalled.” Grayson told Brown that the letters, e-mails, and phone calls to the House of Representatives’ members were running “100 to 1” against authorizing Obama to attack Syria. 

“We don't earn credibility by doing things that are stupid and counterproductive,” Grayson added. “We have to get over that whole idea. We cannot go to war for the sake of anybody's, how shall I say this, credibility.”

 

“That’s Irrelevant”

 

But “what happens to the president from your own party,” Brown pressed on, “if he loses this vote? What are the implications for him, for his stature, for his ability to get things done in the rest of his term?” 

Grayson looked disgusted at the question and then gathered his senses to respond as follows: “With all due respect, that's irrelevant. We cannot decide whether to go to war on the basis of those kind of considerations. It simply doesn't matter….It's appalling to me to me, that we spend two or three or four weeks debating whether to create a whole new category of war called humanitarian war, rather than dealing with our own problems and trying to solve them.”[1]

 

More to Say, Of Course 

A serious Left antiwar progressive would have said more – a lot more – than Grayson can be expected to say, of course. That anti-imperialist would note the utter hypocrisy of Kill List Obama’s and Washington’s claim to hold humanitarian concerns for the suffering people of Syria and anywhere else in the Middle East and the Muslim World. I have provided in an earlier publication[2] a short history of Washington’s recent record of mass murder in that world – a record that has claimed millions of lives. Obama’s depressing, sociopathic record of killing innocent civilians in the Muslim world began four days into his presidency, with drone strikes that produced major “collateral damage” in South Waziristan. The rest, as they say, is history, resulting in many thousands of innocent dead and maimed and including Obama authorizing more deadly, civilian-killing drone strikes in ten months than George W. Bush had signed off in eight years.[3] 

A real anti-imperialist would call into question the validity of Obama’s claim that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people. She would demand that the White House make the evidence of Assad’s latest alleged chemical attack fully available to the American people. She would also note that the most effective counter to imperial policy comes from an aroused citizenry organized in a militant grassroots social movement for peace and justice, not from politicians. She would add that Obama’s record of “getting things done” always seems to tilt towards the nation’s wealthy Few, in brazen defiance of his thoroughly mendacious promises to serve the nation’s working and middle-class majority over and against the greed and power of the super-rich. 

But it does not seem remotely realistic to hope for such commentary from a Congressman who wants to keep his job in central Florida. And I will add that Grayson says the following in the following statement he wants citizens to sign on his Web site “Don’t Attack Syria:” "The Administration is considering intervening in the Syrian civil war. We oppose this. There's no vital national security involved. We are not the world’s policeman, nor its judge and jury. Our own needs in America are great, and they come first…Notably, defense contractor Raytheon's stock is up 20% in the last 60 days. It seems that nobody wants US intervention in Syria except the military-industrial complex. [4]

 

The Real “P” in PBS 

Perhaps the most instructive aspect of the Grayson “Newshour” interview is what it says about the extent to which “P”BS repeats warmongering White House rhetoric and fans the flames of fake-humanitarian imperialism in brazen defiance of the “public” whose name it bears. Jeffery Brown’s performance was consistent with my longstanding suspicion (richly validated by the “independent” network’s power-worshipping, militaristic performances in the lead-ups to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and to Obama’s bombing of Libya) that the “P” in “PBS” really stands for “Presidential” or “Pentagon,” not “Public.” 

Just the previous evening, “P”BS’s Newshour mentioned significant (majority, actually) “public opposition” to attacking Syria in the U.S. only briefly at the end of breathless war-readiness coverage – as in "oh, by the way." The citizenry's view was referenced as an almost wholly irrelevant afterthought in the “public” network’s coverage. It was quite Orwellian. 

But then, under a standard historical pattern, the Presidential/Pentagon Broadcasting System is joined with the major corporate network and cable news and commentary outlets not just in under-reporting public opposition to war but in undermining it. It’s called “manufacturing consent”: the collaboration of media and political elites in the creation and dissemination of propagandistic narratives that build support for imperial foreign policies.[5]. Thinking that “P”BS is any less involved and invested than CNN or NBC in that timeworn pattern of thought control is pretty much on par with believing in the tooth fairy or that “P”BS News[peak] reader Gwenn Ifill knows what she’s talking about when she tells viewers (in a frequently run “P”BS advertisement) that her job involves asking “not only all of my questions but also and more importantly all of your questions.” 

Paul Street is the author of many books. His next, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm Publishers) will be released next January.

 

Notes 

1. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/july-dec13/grayson_09-05.html 

2. Paul Street, “The War Train to Syria,” ZNet (August 29, 2013), http://www.zcomm.org/the-war-train-to-syria-by-paul-street.htm 

3. Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars The War is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013), 248-49. Obama enters Scahill’s meticulously researched “dirty war” narrative on p. 243 and stays there for the rest of the book. For an especially ugly U.S. mass killing of Muslim civilians under Obama (one of many such episodes), see the story of the Bola Boluk massacre (May 2009), see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010), 59-60. 

4 http://dontattacksyria.com/ 

5. Anthony DiMaggio, “Manufacturing Consent on Syria,” Counterpunch (September 6, 2013), http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/06/manufacturing-consent-on-syria/. DiMaggio nicely describes the basic presidential game that “P”BS and other mainstream mass media outlets play along with: “The 2011 intervention in Libya provides a template for the administration’s plan: defend an intervention via humanitarian rhetoric that lambastes a dictator for serious human rights abuses; deliver a number of public speeches in an effort to build support for war; and once troops begin to enter harm’s way, sit back and enjoy increased support as Americans ‘rally around the flag’ in support of the conflict. This formula was enough to gain support for intervention from between 50 to 60 percent of Americans in the case of Libya, and is likely to do the same in Syria once Congress goes along.” DiMaggio might also have mentioned similarities with Clinton’s bombing of Serbia and the arch-criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq. 

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