Beyond Chutzpah

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama gravely and indignantly warned Syria that its use of chemical weapons would be “totally unacceptable” (Obama), that it would “cross a red line and those responsible would be held accountable” (Clinton), and the New York Times and the Western establishment repeat this without comment, one marvels at the mind-boggling hypocrisy. After all, the United States has been the champion user of chemical weapons in modern times, has opposed international agreements to curb their use, and now regularly employs depleted uranium in its wars—a nuclear as well as chemical weapon that affects many people beyond the immediate targets. The U.S. use of Agent Orange on a massive scale in the Vietnam War is well- known, as is its deployment of white phosphorus munitions in Iraq. Could it be that Clinton, Obama, and mainstream media (MSM) journalists don’t know this? Or is it once again the simple arrogance of power and internalized belief that only when an enemy does something ugly does morality and international law begin to apply?

It may be a combination, as the power of self-deception along with internalized double standards is frequently remarkable. Possibly the classic case was that of the “yellow rain” of chemical poisons allegedly dropped by the Soviets on Laos in the early 1980s, based on extremely tenuous evidence, but effectively used by the Reagan administration to vilify the “evil empire.” The claims were eventually shown to be false by U.S. scientist Matthew Meselson (the yellow rain was actually bee feces), but they did their work well with the assistance of the Wall Street Journal and the MSM more broadly. Long after the campaign had been exposed as a fraud, WSJ publisher Peter Kann cited the “poisoned fields of Laos” to show “who were the good guys and who were the bad guys” in the world (“Clinton Ignores History’s Lessons In Vietnam,” WSJ, September 9, 1992). In other words, Kann completely blacked out the real, large-scale chemical warfare carried out by the United States in Vietnam while still putting forward the long discredited lies about Soviet yellow rain villainy. How is that for dishonesty or self-deception or the two combined? Interestingly, it was Kann’s own newspaper that reported in 1997 that some 500,000 Vietnamese children suffered abnormalities based on the policies of Kann’s “good guys.” (Peter Waldman, “Body Count: In Vietnam, the Agony Of Birth Defects Calls An Old War to Mind,” WSJ, December 12, 1997. )

Today’s apologists for U.S.-centered imperialism also play dumb on chemical warfare in Vietnam and elsewhere, as well as the use of depleted uranium. In his recent and establishment-loved classic of this vintage, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011), Steven Pinker implicitly lies about the subject, telling his readers that one of the proofs of the new morality in the world and decline of violence, flowing outward from the great Democracies of the West, is their outlawing and non-use of chemical and biological weapons. But, while devoting several pages to violence in the Vietnam War, Pinker never once mentions the massive use of such weapons in Operation Ranch Hand and other U.S. programs in that country.

As regards Syria, the official propagandists haven’t claimed that the Syrian government has actually used such weapons, but merely that the West has “intelligence” that Syria may be making preparations to do so and may use them out of desperation. “Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons, or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria” (Hillary Clinton). Only belatedly have officials and the MSM started mentioning and expressing concern over the Al Qaeda presence among the “many groups” of “freedom fighters” helped by the U.S. and its allies.

This may turn out to be the beginning of another round of blowback from the opportunistic support of Al Qaeda, as in Afghanistan and possibly in Libya, with the U.S. once again supporting folks who will, in due course, be called “the worst of the worst”—transformed from lavishly armed freedom fighters to candidates for rendition, torture, and assassination.

Besides the threat of chemical weapons by Syria, Western officials and the media are deeply moved by the claims that the Syrian government is using cluster bombs against civilians in that conflict (C.J. Chivers), “In Syria, Cluster Munitions Takes Its Toll,” New York Times, December 21, 2012). The sequence here is familiar and droll as the MSM cooperate once again in a factually problematic, selective, hypocritical, but indignant, target demonization process.

The Serbs were featured with “ethnic cleansing,” stripped of the context of a NATO-encouraged civil war; but the phrase is not used for the long-standing and large-scale ethnic-cleansing process by Israel in Palestine. Gaddafi was allegedly threatening a blood bath in Benghazi, so with MSM and UN approval, the United States, its NATO allies, and local rebels and imported mercenaries carried out a real bloodbath there that culminated in the sodomization-murder of Gaddafi (crowed over by Clinton, who said, with a laugh, “We came, we fought, he died”).

Saddam Hussein’s mythical WMD threat was the basis for the U.S. war of aggression there, with another destroyed country, mass killing, and execution of the ruling villain. Syria is in play now. The villainous Iran, threatening the world with its determination to advance its nuclear program, would appear to be next on the manufacturing-failed-state program of the Great Democracies (Pinker’s term for these violence-averse governments).

But getting back to cluster bombs: they were used on a vast scale by the United States in Vietnam and Laos, then in its air war against Serbia in 1999 (among other wars). Israel used them lavishly in its assault on Lebanon in 2006, notoriously in the final days of that conflict when peace was at hand, leaving its gift of death and pain throughout the Lebanese countryside. An estimated half million bomblets were left on the ground after this assault on Lebanon. One IDF rocket unit commander stated, “What we did was insane, and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs” (Meron Rappaport, “IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon,” Haaretz, Sept- ember 12, 2006). But officials of the United States and the MSM had no critical comments on these operations, let alone warnings or threats. These were some of the “birth pangs”—or was it “death pangs”—of the new Middle East.

The New York Times never found or cited the IDF rocket commander who denounced the Israeli use of cluster bombs as “monstrous.” Its single editorial on the subject gave no numbers of bombs or information on their timing or placement or effects or any direct criticism of Israel for their use; certainly no designation of their use as criminal or monstrous. It is antiseptic in the paper’s great ethnic-cleansing- apologetic tradition (ed., “No Place For Cluster Bombs,” August 26, 2006). It is notable also that their news articles on the war never headline civilian or civilian area targeting or damage, as the paper did so explicitly in the cases of Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria. For Israel in Lebanon, the closest we can get is something like “Lebanese and Aid Groups Find Danger in Rubble” (August 25, 2006), although the paper did run a news article on Human Rights Watch’s characterization of Israel’s policy as war criminality (Kifner, August 24) and another news article did provide some details on the anti-civilian savagery and destructiveness of Israel’s war (Worth and Kifner, August 25).

 The United States refused to sign on to the cluster bomb convention of 2008, which prohibited their use, as did Israel (but also Russia, China, and some others). According to Richard Norton-Taylor, “Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Article 36, a group which co-ordinates opposition to such weapons systems, said humanitarian concerns were being ignored at the UN-sponsored talks and that they will on Wednesday call on Britain to resist U.S. attempts to sanction what they described as a ‘license to kill’ with cluster bombs” (“US pushing UN to lift ban on cluster bombs, say campaigners,” Guardian, November 22, 2011). But the United States argues that new model CBUs are very discriminating and have a low failure rate. Presumably, any that Syria might own are old and bad model CBUs, or could it be that only the good guys (us and our allies and clients) can own and use cluster bombs?

An important feature of cluster bombs and their use is the high toll they impose on children—and aren’t U.S. officials and MSM journalists very protective of children? Didn’t President Obama weep over the dead children in Newtown, Connecticut and weren’t the MSM shaken by this tragedy? But then, on the other hand, we have those 500,000 deformed children of Vietnam, a place where hundreds of thousands more children were killed, injured or traumatized, with miniscule attention or expressions of regret and no post-conflict assistance or compensation to the victims (in fact, an 18-year punitive boycott).

We have the classic Madeleine Albright response of 1996 to the reported 500,000 Iraqi children—casualties of the “sanctions of mass destruction”—“it was worth it,” with no critical response from anywhere in the MSM and no loss of status for Albright. And there is the current stream of drone killings of “militants”—and collateral damaged children—managed by the same tearful Obama and eliciting no serious criticism in the MSM. There is also the recent report on an “extraordinary” rise in deformities and still-born children in Fallujah, attributed to the lavish U.S. weaponry deployed there and constituting a “public health crisis” (Sarah Morrison, “Huge Rise in Iraq Birth Defects Linked to US Cluster Bombing,” Independent [UK], 15 October 2012).

The MSM have never been interested in these dead and damaged children in distant lands, even as our leaders proclaim every human life to be valuable. They aren’t even very interested in the life and welfare of local American children, many slaughtered in the streets of the ghettoes and growing numbers struggling to survive in a world of increasing inequality and a welfare state under attack.

The hypocrisy level in establishment discussions of chemical warfare, cluster bombs, and the welfare of children is exceedingly  high. It is also beyond chutzpah, as in their pontifications and warnings on Syria’s chemical weapons and cluster bombs, Obama and Clinton don’t  seem to recognize their arrogance and brazen double standard. They seem to believe that their moral messages are pure and apolitical, and the MSM reinforce this beyond chutzpah vision.


Edward S. Herman is an economist, media critic, and author of numerous books, including The Politics of Genocide (with David Petersen).