This is the third time that I’ve sat down to write about the situation in Syria. The third time there’s been an unexplained chemical attack that, after the hype has died down and the media stopped reporting, turns out to have very little evidence substantiating it.
Once again the media and both the political left and right are calling for military intervention to stop this “atrocity” – an atrocity that the US government cannot confirm at this time had anything to do with Syrian government forces. But, of course that hasn’t stopped the “herd” from joining the cacophony calling for intervention, saying “it’s time dictatorship gave way to democracy, and it will take our bombs to bring that democracy.”
With logic like that how can anyone disagree or call for patience until further evidence is produced; after all, “you support democracy in the Middle East, don’t you?”
Even the team at CBS News seems to lack the ability to differentiate Syria from Iran on a map, and most of the people I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the Syria issue with have yet to speak with a single person from the region; yet all are experts when it comes to what should be done with one of the last secular governments in the region.
It worked out well for us in Iraq, right? There was no long drawn-out attempt to rebuild, at the cost of trillions of dollars, that was almost thwarted completely because of a premature withdrawal by US military personnel, leading to the rise of ISIS in the region (arguably the most brutal enemy of humanity since Nazi Germany).
How about in Libya? “We came, we saw, he died…” said a gleeful Hillary Clinton (under whose direction the US support of “moderate” rebels in Syria began). Hurrah! Three cheers for the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s State Department. One less brutal dictator and finally those poor people of Libya can experience the American Dream – except, for them, it quickly became the American Nightmare.
It was a nightmare in which the US did nothing to help guide the people of Libya into a more prosperous future. Rather, they funded and armed the very jihadists that up until that point had been kept at bay by a key US counter-terrorism ally – the Gaddafi regime!
Andrew McCarthy wrote for the National Review that:
“The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, had touted Qaddafi as a key counterterrorism ally against rabidly anti-American jihadists in eastern Libya. Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton led the policy shift in which our government changed sides in Libya — shifting support to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, just as Mrs. Clinton had urged shifting U.S. support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Libya, this included arming “rebels,” who naturally included a heavy concentration of jihadists.”
“But… you support democracy in the Middle East, don’t you”?
I guess we can tell the Africans currently being sold in open slave markets in Libya how it’s their fault that the democracy, that we created a vacuum for, never materialized.
Democracy is a good thing; freedom and individual liberty (as anyone who has read any of my previous work or who follows this publication will know) are invaluably good things.
We can only hope that the people of Syria will be able to experience that same freedom and support them in their struggle for it and if democracy is truly our goal, we would support their education in classical liberal – Western – values.
We would support their understanding of (as Professor Niall Ferguson so adequately stated it in his book Civilization: the West and the Rest) the “6 killer apps” that caused the dominance of the West over the rest for the last 500 or so years.
We would check our own example (See “Why Arabs Don’t Trust America”) and ensure we, in our respective nations, are adhering to our own values; that we are living the examples of free speech, individual liberty, and tolerance that would provide the “city on a hill” example for others to follow.
But that’s not why we want the Assad government out. If only that was the real reason.
If only we were as noble as we actually believe ourselves to be, risking life and treasure for the good of mankind. If spreading democracy really were our aim, why stop with Libya or Syria?
Why did we not liberate Zimbabwe during the decades that it endured the brutal Mugabe Regime?
Why not remove Teodoro Obiang Nguema from power in Equatorial Guinea?
Or how about freeing the people of Eritrea from the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki? After all, Eritrea has a worse record of human rights abuses than North Korea. Where are the calls from media and concerned citizens to remove these dictators?
The reason there is no mass movement for the removal of any of these other dictators, as brutal as they may be, is because no one told us we should.
Had you heard of Bashar al-Assad before the media began its regime change narrative?
No.The reason for regime change in Syria is geopolitical. It is not about democracy; rather, it is about positioning.
It is about the weakening of enemies in the region in the form of Russia and Iran, and the bolstering of allies like Israel and the Gulf States.
Award winning investigative journalist, Phillip Knightly, wrote in The Guardian in 2001 about the “depressingly familiar formula” that Western media follow when preparing a nation for conflict, saying there are four stages taken when preparing a nation for war:
1. The crisis.
2. The demonization of the enemy’s leader
3. The demonization of the enemy as individuals
Knightly explains the stages further:
“Stage one, the reporting of a crisis, which negotiations appear unable to resolve. Politicians, while calling for diplomacy, warn of military retaliation. The media reports this as “We’re on the brink of war,” or “War is inevitable”.
News coverage concentrates on the buildup of military force, and prominent columnists and newspaper editorials urge war. But there are usually sizable minorities of citizens concerned that all avenues for peace have not been fully explored and although the mainstream media ignores or plays down their protests, these have to be dampened down unless they gain strength.
We now enter stage two of the pattern – the demonization of the enemy’s leader. Comparing the leader with Hitler is a good start because of the instant images that Hitler’s name provokes. So when George Bush Sr. likened Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait with the Nazi blitzkrieg in Europe in the 1930s, the media quickly took up the theme. Saddam Hussein was painted as a second Hitler, hated by his own people and despised in the Arab world.
Equally, in the Kosovo conflict, the Serbs were portrayed as Nazi thugs intent on genocide and words like “Auschwitz-style furnaces” and “Holocaust” were used.
The crudest approach is to suggest that the leader is insane. Saddam Hussein was “a deranged psychopath”, Milosevic was mad, and the Spectator recently headlined an article on Osama bin Laden: “Inside the mind of the maniac”. Those who publicly question any of this can expect an even stronger burst of abuse.
In the Gulf war they were labeled “friends of terrorists, ranters, nutty, hypocrites, animals, barbarians, mad, traitors, unhinged, appeasers and apologists”. The Mirror called peace demonstrators “misguided, twisted individuals always eager to comfort and support any country but their own. They are a danger to all us – the enemy within.” Columnist Christopher Hitchens, in last week’s Spectator article, Damn the doves, says that intellectuals who seek to understand the new enemy are no friends of peace, democracy or human life.
The third stage in the pattern is the demonization not only of the leader but of his people.
The simplest way of doing this is the atrocity story. The problem is that although many atrocity stories are true – after all, war itself is an atrocity – many are not.
Take the Kuwaiti babies story. Its origins go back to the First World War when British propaganda accused the Germans of tossing Belgian babies into the air and catching them on their bayonets. Dusted off and updated for the Gulf war, this version had Iraqi soldiers bursting into a modern Kuwaiti hospital, finding the premature babies ward and then tossing the babies out of incubators so that the incubators could be sent back to Iraq.
The story, improbable from the start, was first reported by the Daily Telegraph in London on September 5 1990. But the story lacked the human element; it was an unverified report, there were no pictures for television and no interviews with mothers grieving over dead babies.
That was soon rectified.
An organization calling itself Citizens for a Free Kuwait (financed by the Kuwaiti government in exile) had signed a $10m contract with the giant American public relations company, Hill & Knowlton, to campaign for American military intervention to oust Iraq from Kuwait.
The Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress was meeting in October and Hill & Knowlton arranged for a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl to tell the babies’ story before the congressmen. She did it brilliantly, choking with tears at the right moment, her voice breaking as she struggled to continue. The congressional committee knew her only as “Nayirah” and the television segment of her testimony showed anger and resolution on the faces of the congressmen listening to her. President Bush referred to the story six times in the next five weeks as an example of the evil of Saddam’s regime.
In the Senate debate whether to approve military action to force Saddam out of Kuwait, seven senators specifically mentioned the incubator babies atrocity and the final margin in favour of war was just five votes. John R. Macarthur’s study of propaganda in the war says that the babies atrocity was a definitive moment in the campaign to prepare the American public for the need to go to war.
It was not until nearly two years later that the truth emerged. The story was a fabrication and a myth, and Nayirah, the teenage Kuwaiti girl, coached and rehearsed by Hill & Knowlton for her appearance before the Congressional Committee, was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. By the time Macarthur revealed this, the war was won and over and it did not matter any more.
So what should we make of the stories in the British press this week about torture in Afghanistan? A defector from the Taliban’s secret police told a reporter in Quetta, Pakistan, that he was commanded to “find new ways of torture so terrible that the screams will frighten crows from their nests”. The defector then listed a series of chilling forms of torture that he said he and his fellow officers developed. “Nowhere else in the world has such barbarity and cruelty as Afghanistan.”
The story rings false and defectors of all kinds are well-known for telling interviewers what they think they want to hear. On the other hand, it might be true. The trouble is, how can we tell? The media demands that we trust it but too often that trust has been betrayed.”
How can we tell, indeed.
From the Gulf of Tonkin incident that catalyzed the Vietnam War (and was only recently outed as a false flag attack after the release of previously classified documents) to the “Dead Baby Story” (which, though initially corroborated by Amnesty International, when it was later discovered to be false, caused Jack Healey, then Executive Director of Amnesty International, to accuse the Bush administration of the “opportunistic manipulation of the international human rights movement”) we’ve allowed our emotions to be manipulated, allowed ourselves to become “useful idiots” in the machinations of the “elites.”
We all know the story of the next Iraq War. Colin Powell presented the intelligence images of weapons of mass destruction sites in front of the UN General Assembly; a key moment in the buildup to, and eventual declaration of, war in Iraq.
Is our memory so incapacitated that we will fall for this same routine again?
As Herman Goering said during the Nuremberg trials:
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
In this case all that was needed were reports of attacks, and with each successive wave of propaganda the public has become more and more convinced of the opinion told to them of what the fate of a nation they can’t even find on a map should be. By the time the facts of these attacks come to light, it will, like in so many cases before this, be too late to go back and undo the damage.
In their fixation to depose al-Assad, Western powers presented the Syrian people with a horrific alternative – the only viable opposition in the region – fundamentalist groups like al-Nusra (with large contingents of al-Qaeda fighters, many of whom were fresh off the battlefields of Iraq where they were fighting US military personnel) and ISIS.
One thing is certain in my mind: When the option is replacing dictatorship with democracy one can sympathize with the cause, but when the option our intervention provides is between dictatorship and an exponentially more brutal dictatorship, we (Western nations) must stop to reevaluate before we (through our intervention) subject numerous innocents to the barbarism of fundamentalists or, if history is any indicator, anarchic tribalism as was unleashed in Libya.