DAVID BARSAMIAN is the director of Alternative Radio, based in Boulder, Colo., and author of The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting. He talked to Socialist Worker about Washingtonâ€™s propaganda campaign for a new war on Iraq–and the corporate mediaâ€™s complicity.
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ARE YOU surprised by the intensity of the propaganda offensive coming out of Washington and in the mainstream media?
ON A scale of past subordination and servility to state power, this current episode is truly breathtaking. The uniformity and the clamor of the chorus for war is very disturbing.
Most of the censorship occurs by omission, not commission. The simple questions arenâ€™t asked. Like when Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush constantly refer to one of the reasons that Iraq needs to be targeted for a major invasion is that itâ€™s threatening its neighbors. This is repeated ad nauseum.
However, if you just go around the neighbors of Iraq–Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria–every single one of those countries is against an invasion. Including Kuwait and Iran, two countries that were attacked by Iraq.
Another lie that goes unchallenged is the claim that the United States is enforcing United Nations (UN) resolutions in patrolling the no-fly zones over parts of Iraq. The no-fly zones are not part of any UN resolution. They have no juridical or legal standing in international law. They are simply imposed by the U.S. and carried out by the U.S. and its chief lackey and lapdog, the United Kingdom.
Those are just two of many, many examples. Bush and the rest of them are in high dudgeon about the fact that Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction in the past. Yes, thatâ€™s true–and the United States supported Iraq in its use of weapons of mass destruction against Iran and also against Iraqi Kurds.
As late as May 1990, a Senate delegation led by two Republicans, Bob Dole of Kansas and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, went and coddled up to Saddam–and told him that his main problem was that he had to do a better job managing the media in the West. So he had a PR problem. He didnâ€™t have a human rights problem, according to them.
The lack of any kind of institutional memory here on the part of the media is very unsettling. Thereâ€™s no history, thereâ€™s no context. Things just happen, like that well-known four-letter word, and people are left bewildered–understandably so.
In that circumstance, itâ€™s easy to organize a drumbeat, an echo effect, a juggernaut toward wider war. And I have to say wider war, because people–even on the left–have not been talking enough about the ongoing bombing campaign.
We have to be careful about saying that the U.S. is going to attack Iraq. The U.S. has been attacking Iraq nonstop since mid-January 1991. It hasnâ€™t stopped. The sanctions campaign has also had a devastating effect on the Iraqi civilian population. Thatâ€™s just an ongoing human rights catastrophe–which the UN is essentially supporting in contradiction to its own charter. And it has created a kind of welfare program to correct the very problem that itâ€™s causing.
Itâ€™s quite an extraordinary situation. The UN sets up the sanctions regime–of course, under pressure from the U.S. and the UK–which is in violation of its own charter, and then sets up a humanitarian program in order to rectify the problem that it has created.
WHATâ€™S THE purpose of the propaganda campaign?
THEYâ€™RE LOOKING for a casus belli [justification for war] right now to launch a major attack on Iraq. Nothing that Iraq can do will satisfy the whack-Iraq war posse.
Youâ€™ll notice that with every concession Iraq makes, immediately thereafter, the Bush administration denounces it as a ploy–and then they move the goalposts. So theyâ€™re constantly changing the conditions.
Why? Because they want a major war with Iraq. Why do they want a major war? O-I-L. And also to establish a kind of unchallenged hegemony in the region. The geopolitical goal is to redraw the map of the Middle East.
Itâ€™s also about the fact that after dealing with Iraq, theyâ€™re going to move on to Syria and Palestine and the rest of the region. So weâ€™re looking at a major projection of U.S. imperial power here. Theyâ€™re looking for a major excuse.
In the fall of 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, there was a sham congressional hearing held in Washington. A young woman was brought forward to testify, saying that she was an eyewitness to Iraqi troops coming into a Kuwaiti hospital.
This young woman was supposedly a nurse and said she saw the Iraqi troops take the babies out of the incubators in the maternity ward, throw them on the floor and loot the hospital of all the incubators. This caused a tremendous uproar in the U.S. It was regarded as a major atrocity and whipped up an enormous amount of war fever against Iraq.
Well, later it was revealed that the whole incident was fabricated–completely concocted. The young girl who was supposedly a nurse in the Kuwaiti hospital where this incident occurred turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.
And the whole thing was set up by Hill and Knowlton, a major Washington, D.C., PR firm, which was in the employ of the Kuwaiti government. Talk about an example of propaganda. There are few examples in recent memory of something as bald as this. And it was very effective.
WHY IS it that the media always seems to go along with the establishment opinion?
THERE ARE two explanations. One is that theyâ€™re truly ignorant and even more moronic than we think they are. Or they know, and theyâ€™re covering up. I think itâ€™s a combination of the two.
I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a terribly sophisticated press “corpse,” as I call them, out there. What we have now instead of watchdogs is lapdogs with laptops. Thatâ€™s their societal function.
Itâ€™s not too mysterious as to why they align themselves with the state. They benefit greatly from state support and from the existing system of power and privilege. Theyâ€™re part of that.
WHAT CAN we do to get the truth out and stand up to the war drive?
RESISTANCE AT this time is absolutely critical. And media plays a central role in that resistance–through meetings, e-mails, events and reaching out. Itâ€™s extremely critical in this pre-major war stage–because once the war starts, the chorus will start up about we support our troops, rally around the flag. Itâ€™ll be very difficult to put a leash back on the dogs of war once theyâ€™re let loose by the Bushites.
Whatâ€™s important is sharing information, connecting with kindred spirits, finding allies–and not adopting any kind of holier-than-thou stance, but trying to find common ground with others who you may not see eye to eye with on every issue, but who on this particular issue are right on.
We need to build an international movement. We really need to connect with allies in the developing world, as well as the developed world–and get outside our cocoon here. Because there is a tremendous amount of organization and resistance outside the United States–much more so than here. There have been massive demonstrations around the world.