Gibson v. Palin

I confess to having little interest in Sarah Palin’s responses to a recent interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.  Palin is a political nothing in the grand scheme of American politics, especially when considering her knowledge of major foreign policy issues.  Her answers to Gibson’s questions were nothing more than predictable drivel – which, sadly, we’ve come to expect from political candidates who promise to promote democracy abroad while actually furthering America‘s global military dominance.  Palin is a small fish in regards to the Iraq war.  She had nothing to do with planning the Iraq invasion or occupation – she’s merely a political outsider who’s eager to join the inner policy planning circle of the American war machine.  I’ve always been more interested in the enablers of American empire though – the major news media which is supposed to be holding our leaders accountable, exposing lies, and informing the public about crucial issues.  Sadly, the mass media has been nearly as cavalier as our political leaders in disseminating propaganda and beating the drums of war.

Gibson’s laments against Palin, challenging her lack of "experience" in foreign policy making and her "hubris" in accepting McCain’s VP spot without second guessing herself, are hardly the stuff of tough, investigative journalism.  Of far more interest are Gibson’s militaristic assumptions regarding the need for endless war.  Such assumptions are based more on a commitment to militarism and jingoism than on actual evidence.  A few examples are clearly in order:


1. Gibson’s discussion with Palin of the "Bush doctrine," which allegedly states that "we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us."  The problem is, Bush’s doctrine has nothing to do with self-defense.  As senior aides in the Bush administration themselves admitted immediately following the 2003 invasion: the attack was intended as a "first test," although "not the last," in establishing a "demonstration effect" whereby the U.S. would "never allow American military supremacy to be challenged in the way it was during the Cold War."


Imperial concern with military power was expressed time and time again by senior officials as well.  Prior to the 2003 invasion, Iraq war architect and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expressed concern over the "sea of oil" located under Iraq, while Vice President Dick Cheney summarized that: "with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest costs [the Middle East] is still where the prize ultimately lies."  Cheney’s Energy Task Force announced its intent to make the Middle East "a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy," and to "open up areas of their [oil rich Middle East countries'] energy sectors to foreign investment."  President Bush himself has warned against withdrawing from Iraq, arguing that to do so would allow radical terrorists, rather than the United States, to exercise control over the country’s oil. 


2. Gibson’s claim that Iran constitutes an imminent threat to the U.S. and its allies.  In grilling Palin, Gibson asked the VP candidate whether she "consider[s] a nuclear Iran to be an existential threat to Israel…what if Israel decided it felt threatened and needed to take out nuclear facilities…if it felt necessary to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be alright?"  Palin’s militant response, that Israel should be allowed to do whatever it wants when it comes to Iran, may not be surprising in the least. But journalists are supposed to cut through the distortions and manipulations of political elites, not encourage them as Gibson has done.


As Gibson knows perfectly well, Iran constitutes no threat to Israel or the United States.  The International Atomic Energy Agency and U.S. intelligence agencies (through the National Intelligence Estimate) have concluded that Iran is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and that it ended its nuclear program in 2003.  However, what makes Gibson’s propaganda so effective (and devious) is that he never officially comes out and says Iran is definitively developing nuclear weapons – it is an assumption that’s left unspoken.  The adoption of this new propaganda term: "a nuclear Iran" has been so successful precisely because of its ambiguity.  Simply equate Iran with nuclear technology, talk about it as a potential threat, and let readers connect the dots.  Iran is assumed to constitute a major threat to the U.S. and its allies, with journalists free in clear in the process, never explicitly stating that the country is seeking weapons or pursuing a weapons program.  Of course, this shrewd approach should be recognized for what it is: a backdoor effort by the media to construct a supportive political climate for going to war.


To the uncritical eye, Gibson’s exchange with Palin may appear to include all the necessary components of a critical interview.  Gibson’s questioning of whether Palin was fit to run America’s war machine, however, represents more a challenge of style than one of substance.  Questioning the ability of a candidate to effectively lead an illegal war in Iraq (and initiate another one in Iran) hardly constitutes an anti-war bias.  We should keep this in mind when we encounter media assessments of which candidate will best manage the American imperium. 




Anthony DiMaggio teaches American Government and Politics of the Developing World at Illinois State University.  He is the author of: Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the "War on Terror."  He may be reached at: [email protected]

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