We are more or less leaving Iraq because our “mission” there has been more or less “accomplished.” Given the realities of the genuine invasion-occupation, and the more or less exit, it has been a challenge to the mainstream media (MSM) to put this in a neutral or positive light. But they have done so. I believe the U.S. mainstream media can put in a good light and normalize anything their state does (at the worst we may have made “tragic errors,” but are never guilty of vicious, insane, criminal, grossly illegal or intentionally malicious actions).
The MSM may even want more of a test of their patriotic ardor and gullibility. Nineteenth century lecturer Robert Green Ingersoll used to chide his religious audiences with a story of a man seeking entry into heaven. Tested for credibility and faith by the recording secretary with the question of whether or not he believed the story of God’s use of Adam’s rib to create Eve, the seeker of entry replied that he was “sorry there weren’t harder stories in the Bible so that I could show what my faith could do.” The angel said “Give him a harp.”
The so-called Free Press shows what it can do to prove its faith on a daily basis and should have a full house of harp equivalents. They couldn’t wait for their apologies for gullibility on Iraq’s WMD to fade before jumping on the Iran nuclear weapons effort bandwagon.
In fact, we can construct an updated Ingersoll story in which David Sanger and William Broad of the New York Times must pass muster before an internal NYT award committee, whose recording angel (RA) asks them: “Did you take it as self-evident that Iran sought nuclear weapons?” S&B: “Absolutely.” RA: “Did you avoid any mention of Israel’s nuclear weapons and threats?” S&B: “Carefully.” RA: “Did you steer clear of analogies with Iraq?” S&B: “Yes, indeed.” RA: “Did you avoid mention of the Wikileaks documents that showed IAEA head Yukiya Amano expressing eagerness at cooperating with the U.S. plans for Iran?” S&B: “Yes, we carefully walked past that one, which was typical anti-U.S. and pro-Iran propaganda.” RA: “Give these men copies of the Judy Miller Brass Check, signed by both Judy and Bill Keller.”
As regards Iraq, there is no question but this was a case of aggression in violation of the UN Charter, built on a lie or set of lies. Furthermore, the “mission” alleged by Bush just weeks before the invasion was to deal with Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” and consequent dire threat to the United States and the civilized world. “The world needs him to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed, as required by Resolution 1441, or has it not?” (George W. Bush, Press Conference of March 6, 2003).
In this press conference, among other lies, Bush said that “our intelligence” finds that he continues “to hide chemical and biological agents to avoid detection by inspectors.” But the UN weapons inspectors of UNMOVIC, and shortly thereafter (post-invasion) U.S. officially-appointed searchers, found no evidence of the existence of such weapons. Well before March 6, 2003, Hussein Kamel, a high-level Iraqi defector who had headed their CB weapons program, told the CIA that all such weapons had been destroyed in 1991. Just two years earlier, in February 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that, “He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors” (State Department Press Release, February 24, 2001). But once the decision was made to oust Saddam and invade Iraq, the WMD claim was thought to be the most saleable rationale for attack, so, despite its falsity, surely known, it was used. And it was swallowed by the mainstream media with gusto, notoriously so, following Colin Powell’s lying and silly “proof” before the UN (which greatly impressed the NYT and Washington Post editorial boards and major pundits).
When Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished” from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, an honest media would have pointed out that the mission was a fraud from the beginning, built on a lie, and that this country should have withdrawn all of its forces and paid reparations once the lie was definitively exposed. But they didn’t do this. The media, like the politicians, just premised the U.S. right to occupy that distant and violated country. They allowed a new set of “missions” to be brought in, including getting rid of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and bringing “freedom and democracy” to the people of Iraq. This was quickly swallowed by liberals like George Packer, who asserted in the New Yorker (“Invasion versus Persuasion, “ December 20, 2004) that: “By now, though, it’s clear that, however clumsy and selective the execution, Bush wants democratization to be his legacy. So when his critics, here and abroad, claim that his rhetoric merely provides cynical cover for an American power grab, they misjudge his sincerity and tend to sound like defenders of the status quo… This is not a good position for the opposition to be in, either morally or politically. The best role for critics in the President’s second term will be not to scoff at the idea of spreading freedom, but to take it seriously—to hold him to his own talk. The hard question isn’t whether America should try to enlarge the democratic order but how.”
This is imperial and war-supportive apologetics at its most grotesque. Bush and company committed aggression based on a lie, but no punishment should follow for either the major UN Charter violation or the massive loss of lives from mere “clumsiness” in execution. For Packer, no doubt about Bush’s intentions flows from the proven lies or from the “selectivity” in choice of place for promoting democracy. Packer recognizes sincerity when he hears a claim by his very own president. And there is no question but that the aggressor-killer has the right to stay on in his killing fields to “spread freedom.” This reaches the limits of intellectual and moral contemptibility.
Gaining access to Iraqi oil reserves and helping Israel by attacking a nearby rival were not included in the establishment list of possible U.S. objectives. Neither then nor now do the establishment media dwell on the long support for dictator Mubarak and the Saudi monarchy and ask why these could be actively supported while huge resources would be spent in bringing democracy to Iraq. And now this country is allegedly deeply concerned about possible “instability” in Iraq, after we had done so much for democracy and stability. In the real world, we engaged in a huge destabilization operation in Iraq and transformed what had been a relatively prosperous Arab country into a genuinely failed state. In the process of this great destabilization triumph, between the “sanctions of mass destruction” and invasion-occupation, the U.S. attack created perhaps five million refugees and caused the deaths of well over a million civilians. It takes a first class propaganda system to make this into a benevolent enterprise for which this country and its leadership deserve praise. Give them all harps and brass checks.
Sanctions are only to be carried out against U.S. targets. This country can do its thing to Iraq, in gross violation of the UN Charter, among many other illegalities and crimes, but the idea of sanctions against this aggressor is obviously off-the-wall. Sanctions against its client Israel are also unthinkable, even as that country invades and re-invades Lebanon, attacks helpless Gaza, killing large numbers of civilians, snubs its nose at the International Court on its apartheid wall, and ethnically cleanses Palestine over many years in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN rulings, and Western “enlightenment values.” By U.S. decision not even UN monitors would be permitted in occupied Palestine, in contrast with their being forced on Yugoslavia in Kosovo in 1998-1999 where they were used to prepare for the bombing war of 1999. Sanctions for Cuba, Yugoslavia, Iran, Kadaffi’s Libya, and Syria, but not Bahrain, Egypt, or Honduras. The system works with its built-in double standard that makes the UN and the International Criminal Court political arms of the United States.
The Russian Election
The recent Russian election has taken a beating in the U.S. The mainstream media has featured the street protests in Moscow and elsewhere and the fall in voter numbers for Putin’s party. There is no doubt that there were problematic features of this latest election and very serious ones regarding the quality of Russian democracy, as Putin’s popularity has fallen somewhat. But, ignoring the gigantic motes in our own sagging-democracy eye, there are several features of Russian election coverage that reflect chronic MSM bias and service to the State. For one thing, this focus on Russian protests and electoral flaws correlates nicely with the growing hostility of the U.S. political-military establishment to Russia and Putin (and China as well). After the collapse of the Soviet Union and rise of Yeltsin, the U.S. establishment was very happy with the Russian leadership, as Yeltsin was a virtual U.S. puppet and cooperated with the U.S., EU, and IMF in dismantling the Soviet state, restructuring the economy with “shock therapy,” a corrupt privatization program that benefited a tiny minority and caused a 50 percent fall in GDP and mass impoverishment, along with the virtual destruction of the welfare state.
The oligarchic political economy erected in the Yeltsin era also militated against the emergence of real democracy in the post-Yeltsin years. Yeltsin also undermined constitutional government directly with his coup of 1993 and the associated legal changes, here also with Western approval.
Yeltsin won reelection in 1996 by means of large-scale fraud, but given his devoted service to foreign and local elite interests, this joke of an election was actually lauded by the Western media as “A Victory for Russian Democracy” (NYT ed., July 4, 1996; see further “Russian Election Fraud,” Z Magazine, October 1996. On Western support for the entire devastating counter-revolution in the Yeltsin years, see Stephen Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia).
Vladimir Putin was Yeltsin’s heir, inheriting a devastated country in 2000 where the new robbery-based oligarchy, mass poverty, and shattered welfare structure, as well as other disruptions and traditions, ensured limitations on the democratic quality of the new political order. Putin was welcomed and well treated in the West, even as he consolidated and enlarged a business oligarchic-governmental system of control, till he began to take a more nationalist stance in response to Western bullying and threats.
The United States and NATO have run roughshod over basic Russian national interests, moving NATO up against the Russian border, supporting color revolutions in former Soviet states abutting Russia, arming and training security forces in all the Baltic and Eastern European states, and threatening the placement of anti-missile facilities on Russia’s borders. Putin’s criticisms of and policy reactions to these developments clearly show a lack of recognition of U.S. security needs, just as China’s acquisition of arms and raising questions about U.S. military activity on its borders does the same. One thing that follows is that Russia’s election defects must become a matter of concern, its protesters worthy of close attention, and that country once again greatly in need of change and “reform.”
Edward S. Herman is an economist, media critic, and author of numerous articles and books. His latest is The Politics of Genocide (with David Peterson).