Why Are The Media Playing Lapdog And Not Watchdog -- Again -- On War In Iraq?
October 14, 2014
Medea Benjamin / Code Pink & Eric Draitser / New Eastern Outlook
A war-weary American public that a year ago resoundingly rejected US military intervention in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime now is rallying behind the use of force to destroy the so-called Islamic State. How did such an astounding turnabout occur? The credit for selling Obama's war on Isis must go to the mainstream American media.
Fear Sells, Violence Sells, War Sells.
The Mainstream Press Just Sold another American War
Medea Benjamin / Code Pink & The Information Clearinghouse
(October 11, 2014) -- A war-weary American public that a year ago resoundingly rejected US military intervention in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime now is rallying behind the use of force to destroy the so-called Islamic State (Isis). In just three months, from June to September, support for US airstrikes in Iraq soared from 45% percent to 71%, and to 65% for airstrikes in Syria.
How did such an astounding turnabout occur? Certainly it wasn't due to the persuasive powers of President Obama, who seems to have been reluctantly dragged into a conflict that he once acknowledged has no military solution.
The credit for selling Obama's war on Isis must go to the mainstream American media.
Day after day, night after night, the press relied on propaganda from both Isis and the US government to whip up fear and a thirst for revenge in the American public. Gruesome beheading videos distributed by Isis were played over and over. The media not only regurgitated official US messages but packaged them better than the government itself ever could.
And then, as if Isis wasn't enough to whip up public fear itself, the Khorasan Group suddenly appeared as the US media compliantly latched onto the new script leaked by anonymous officials, just a few days before Syrian air strikes were set to begin. Khorasan, they told the public on the administration's behalf, is a group of hardened terrorists more dangerous than Isis because it plans to attack commercial planes using flammable clothing or exploding toothpaste.
The imminent Khorasan attack justified the ensuing U.S. bombing. However, it was later reported that Khorasan -- if it even exists -- is just a handful of militants whose plans were not so imminent. Few media bothered to follow up on that aspect of the story.
Why has the media pushed the Obama administration's war frame instead of playing the role of skeptic by questioning official assertions, insisting for corroboration on "anonymous leaks" and seeking alternative points of view? After years of government lies -- from claims of WMDs in Iraq to zero civilian casualties in drone strikes -- you'd think the members of the fourth estate would have learned a lesson.
But the mainstream US media plays the role of government lapdog more than watchdog.
They sensationalized the supposed threat from Isis even as intelligence agencies insisted that the group poses no immediate threat to the United States. A chorus of fearmongers, Republicans and Democrats alike, appeared on TV to insist that the American way of life is at stake. The hysterical Senator Lindsey Graham claimed that Isis is out to murder each and every one of us.
Senator Bill Nelson advocated cutting off the "head of the snake" before Isis could fly its black flag over the White House. Former CIA and Pentagon chief Leon Panetta warned Americans to brace for a 30-year crusade. The media even trotted out "experts" on war -- or at least war-mongering -- like John McCain, Dick Cheney and even former presidential envoy to Iraq, Paul Bremer.
Obsessed with maintaining access to power, the mainstream media just keeps handing their megaphone to the powerful and self-interested. Rarely do we hear from people who opposed the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq or rightly predicted the chaos that would result from NATO intervention in Libya. The few anti-war voices who manage to slip into the dialogue are marginalized and later silenced.
Let's face it: fear sells, violence sells, war sells. The vicious Isis beheadings, discussed ad infinitum, attracted large audiences. So did talk about exploding toothpaste. People whipped into a state of fear always want to know more.
Sadly, the public is not getting what it deserves: a well-rounded debate about the pros and cons of military action. Why has a decade of support for the Iraqi army and years of covert CIA support for the Syrian opposition been so fruitless? How much might this intervention cost? (So far, the bill has been more than $1bn.) How will Middle East monarchies that funded extremists suddenly become exemplars of democratic values? What is the endgame in Syria? Will Bashar Assad still be in power? What are the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East? (The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the US bombings already have attracted 6,000 more recruits to Isis.)
And most important of all: what are the alternatives to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians? The voices of people proposing political solutions other than slaughter are the voices the public deserves to hear.
Wars usually start with overwhelming public approval once the White House and the national security apparatus get the media to beat the war drums. It's only after people tire of war that the media really begin to seek answers to questions that should have been asked before the bombs were launched.
But instead, once again, the US government and the US media establishment is embracing a military policy of airstrikes to strengthen local capacity despite a regional landscape -- from Yemen to Libya -- littered with the wreckage of this approach. Smoldering in the detritus of war is also the fourth estate.
The Arrogance of Empire
ISIS, Turkey, and the Propaganda of Intervention
Eric Draitser / New Eastern Outlook
(October 11, 2014) -- Today's headlines are filled with reports of the imminent fall of the Syrian city of Kobani to forces of the Islamic State (ISIS). There are terrifying descriptions of an imminent massacre and the looming threat to Turkey as Islamic State forces move ever closer to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish President Erdogan waxes poetic about how he "warned the West" about the threat IS would pose and the dangers of inaction. It seems that everyone, including security experts and pundits, agree that the situation is critical and that US bombardment alone is powerless to protect the town or halt IS.
And yet, somehow lost amid the din of cries for intervention is the simple fact that it is US policy and the actions of the aforementioned Erdogan along with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Israel that created ISIS, nurtured it in its infancy, promoted its development, and unleashed it on Iraq and Syria. And now, for those same leaders, along with a chorus of interventionist voices in the media establishment, to sound the alarm is not only cynical and utterly disingenuous, it is a shining example of the arrogance of empire.
Kobani and the Story Not Being Told
As fighters of the Islamic State (IS) continue their charge towards the mostly Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border, deep cracks in the edifice of the US-led coalition against IS have begun to emerge. Diplomatic infighting has shattered the illusion of a cohesive and unified coalition cobbled together by Washington.
Not only have a number of countries been apprehensive about getting deeply involved in yet another unwinnable war in the Middle East led by the US, some ostensible allies have used the crisis as an opportunity to achieve political objectives.
Perhaps the world leader in cynical opportunism this week is Turkish President Erdogan who has thus far refused to involve his forces in the war on Syria unless that war has as its ultimate aim the toppling of Syrian President Assad.
On October 7th, the NY Times ran a story with the headline "Turkish Inaction on ISIS Advance Dismays the US" which quoted a senior Obama administration official saying, "There's growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border . . . After all the fulminating about Syria's humanitarian catastrophe, they're inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe . . . This isn't how a NATO ally acts."
While the obvious implication is that Erdogan could cost the US the chance at a successful anti-terror operation, there is a subtle subtext that has gone almost entirely unnoticed; Turkey sees in ISIS an opportunity, not a threat.
And this is precisely the point. IS is in fact a creation of NATO intelligence agencies (including Turkey), and it is achieving by force and propaganda what Washington, London, Riyadh, Doha, Tel Aviv, and Ankara never could -- the expansion of the war in Syria.
Since at least late 2011, US intelligence has been working diligently along the Turkish-Syrian border to funnel arms and fighters into Syria in hopes of bringing down the Assad regime. As the NY Times reported in June 2012:
CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government . . . The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar . . . The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria's neighbors would do so.
It should be emphasized and repeated from the mountaintops that Erdogan's government, according even to senior Obama administration officials, has been intimately involved in hosting, arming, financing, and providing safe haven to precisely the same terrorists who today are regarded as the greatest threat in the region.
The notion that "Syria's neighbors" are providing arms is a not so thinly veiled reference to the key role of Turkish intelligence in coordinating the attempted regime change inside Syria. And so, when Erdogan demands a No Fly Zone in Syrian airspace as a precondition for Turkish boots on the ground, he does so knowing that Syria would rightly interpret a Turkish invasion as, well, a Turkish invasion.
The notion that Turkey, the country perhaps most directly responsible for the rise of ISIS, is somehow failing NATO and the Kurds by not taking action is a complete inversion of reality. It is the equivalent of publicly reprimanding an arsonist for not actively helping fight the fire he started. If the so called "international community" were serious about demanding action from Ankara, perhaps it could start by asking the following questions:
• What is the relationship between Turkish intelligence, its secret base/training center at Adana, and the terror groups now subsumed into the group known as ISIS or the Islamic State? Does the Turkish government deny the countless media reports, including those by mainstream news outlets such as Reuters, alleging direct coordination of the terror elements inside Syria dating back to 2012?
• To what extent is Turkey using the rise of ISIS as leverage over both its "Kurdish problem" and its perceived regional rival in Iran?
• Why does Turkey reserve the right to use military force against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which it regards as "terrorists," while refusing to use military force to protect Kurds against actual terrorists? (Note: this is not to imply that Turkish military force inside Syria is acceptable)
• Does Turkey truly believe that it can effect regime change in Syria through ISIS proxies and still contain the threat to itself and its citizens?
Naturally, such questions are unlikely to be asked, but positing them is critical if we are to cut through the propaganda now emanating both from Ankara and Washington. Each interested party responsible for the destabilization of Syria (US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, et al) is busy trying to scapegoat the other in vain attempts to distance themselves from this crisis of their own making.
Kobani and Interventionist Propaganda
Recent days have seen a flood of stories describing the imminent massacre about to unleashed in Kobani by ISIS. Much of what has been written has noted the obvious hypocrisy of intervention -- that it is never applied equally, but only when politically expedient for the intervening country. In particular, focus has been placed on US intervention on behalf of Iraqi Kurds, and the conspicuous refusal to intervene on behalf of Kurds in Syria.
Naturally, such a comparison begs the question as to the morality, not to mention political and military practicality, of such interventions. The implication is that "If it was good enough for Iraq, why shouldn't it be good enough for Syria?" Never mind the fact that the US war in Iraq is one of the great crimes against humanity in recent decades, a nakedly imperialist war fought not for the Kurds, but for profit and geopolitical and strategic aims.
Never mind the fact that Obama's recent strikes inside Iraq had little to do with the Yazidi minority, and much to do with effecting regime change against Maliki and reasserting US influence in a country that had been moving rapidly into Iran's sphere of influence.
The Guardian published a particularly well-written op-ed which made just such a parallel.
The author poses the following question: "Why did the United States rush to protect Kurds in Iraq -- when Isis fighters started advancing toward Irbil and embarking on a genocidal rampage against the Kurdish-speaking religious minority Yazidis -- but do little to save Syrian Kurds in Kobani from the same threat?"
There is a deception, or at the very least a clearly dishonest equivalence made between the two, implicit in this question. Namely, that intervention in either case is actually intended to achieve the publicly stated objective. It is not. Quite the contrary, such humanitarian concern is merely the pretext by which US-NATO-GCC is able to carry out its military option for effecting regime change in a country that has steadfastly resisted it for three and a half years.
The piece in the Guardian, like nearly every pro-intervention article written about Syria and ISIS betrays either an ignorance of, or more likely, tacit approval of, military aggression against Syria.
Those who have been following the Syria conflict since 2011 know perfectly well that what we are witnessing is not a new development, but rather a realignment of propaganda strategy, a reframing of the issue from "down with the brutal dictator" to "down with ISIS."
This is the new false narrative with which the world is being presented. Either you must support military incursion into Syria without any coordination with the legally recognized government in Damascus, or you support ISIS and the slaughter of Syrian Kurds. This is a clever use of propaganda, not an honest examination of the material reality on the ground.
The responsibility for what happens in Kobani must be laid at the feet of the real perpetrators: ISIS and its patrons and sponsors in Ankara, Riyadh, Doha, and Washington. Those who posture as if there is simply no solution to the situation other than more American bombs would do well to actually investigate the causes of this cancer in the region, rather than proclaiming their commitment to eradicating the symptoms.
Perhaps their investigation could start with a few real questions for Turkey and the United States?
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".
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