What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis March 3, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Russia, Ukraine.
Tags: crimea, douglas feith, foreign policy, frederick kagan, hillary clinton, iran nuclear, kerry, ned, neocons, netanyahuy, Petraeus, president obama, putin, regime change, richard perle, robert parry, robet gagtes, roger hollander, syrain civil war, ukraine, ukraine crisis, victoria nuland, washington post, Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk
Roger’s note: This article lays out in detail the overall geopolitical strategy of the most reactionary hawkish elements within the Obama government, including Hillary Clinton; and puts the Ukraine crisis in a broader perspective. This situation is complex and has historical roots that get ignored in the main stream media which, for analysis, substitutes cheer leading for U.S. interests, which have absolutely nothing to do with democracy, not to mention the best interests of the Ukrainian, Russian or American people.
President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.
The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a regionin southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.
Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.
Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.
If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.
The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.
U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]
So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”
Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.
The Rise of Obama
The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.
Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.
Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.
So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.
From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.
Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.
Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.
In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).
Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.
Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.
For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]
Unorthodox Foreign Policy
Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.
Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.
But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.
Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.
Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.
NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]
State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.
Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.
But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.
Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.
By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.
“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.
As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.
With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.
With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.
Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]
Separating Obama from Putin
The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.
It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.
But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”
The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.
Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”
The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.
But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.
By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.
“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”
The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.
Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.
The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.
Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.
As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.
That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.
US Media Yet Again Conceals Newsworthy Government Secrets February 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in War on Terror.
Tags: american press, counterterrorism, drone missiles, glenn greenwald, guardian, john brennan, journalism, Media, new york times, obama kill list, roger hollander, saudi arabia drones, state secrecy, washington post, whistleblower
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The collective self-censorship over a US drone base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest act of government-subservient ‘journalism’
The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.
The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an “informal arrangement” to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy
One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered – thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower – that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper’s publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The “national security” excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.
The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret “black sites” where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: “the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.”
In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not – as President Obama falsely claimed – “our diplomat”, but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis’ status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis – that he was a CIA agent – did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure “pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA“.
The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming “at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk”. But as the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, “Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence” and “disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk”.
And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.
But the Post admitted that it – along with multiple other US media outlets – had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:
“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”
The “other news organization” which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT – in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen – reported that Brennan “work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes”. As the paper’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which “had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA”, but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.
The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT’s disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):
“Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.”
As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted, “the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates.” Gawker’s Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:
“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce.”
In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:
“The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”
The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts – once they were finally reported – ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.
There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”
As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.
Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: “Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: ‘What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,’ and you get clearance, then?” Keller’s admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: “It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government.”
After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times’ concealment of it by hailing what he called “the patriotism of the American press“. He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that “American journalists display ‘a willingness to work with us’ . . . but with the foreign press ‘it’s very, very difficult’”. Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by “expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to ‘patriotism’ or ‘jingoism’ or to being American citizens or working for American publications.”
That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Herding Americans to War with Iran January 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, War.
Tags: carter begin, Iran, iran nuclear, iran sanctions, iran scientist, iran war, israel iran, israeli terrorism, leon panetta, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, neocon propaganda, netanyahu, nuclear scientist, robert parry, roger hollander, war, washington post
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For many Americans the progression toward war with Iran has the feel of cattle being herded from the stockyard into the slaughterhouse, pressed steadily forward with no turning back, until some guy shoots a bolt into your head.
Any suggestion of give-and-take negotiations with Iran is mocked, while alarmist propaganda, a ratcheting up of sanctions, and provocative actions – like Wednesday’s assassination of yet another Iranian scientist – push Americans closer to what seems like an inevitable bloodletting.Cattle, mechanically immobilized before being stunned and slaughtered.
Even the New York Times now acknowledges that Israel, with some help from the United States, appears to be conducting a covert war of sabotage and assassination inside Iran. “The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour,” Times reporter Scott Shane wrote in Thursday’s editions.
Though U.S. officials emphatically denied any role in the murder, Israeli officials did little to discourage rumors of an Israeli hand in the bombing. Some even expressed approval. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said he didn’t know who killed the scientist but added: “I am definitely not shedding a tear.”
The latest victim, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was the fifth scientist associated with Iran’s nuclear program to be killed in the past four years, with a sixth scientist narrowly escaping death in 2010, Fereydoon Abbasi, who is now head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
As might be expected, Iran has denounced the murders as acts of terrorism. They have been accompanied by cyber-attacks on Iranian centrifuges and an explosion at a missile facility late last year killing a senior general and 16 others.
While this campaign has slowed Iran’s nuclear progress, it also appears to have hardened its resolve to continue work on a nuclear capability, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes only. Iranian authorities also have responded to tightening economic sanctions from Europe and the United States with threats of their own, such as warnings about closing the oil routes through the Strait of Hormuz and thus damaging the West’s economies.
Another front in Israel’s cold war against Iran appears to be the propaganda war being fought inside the United States, where the still-influential neoconservatives are deploying their extensive political and media resources to shut off possible routes toward a peaceful settlement, while building support for future military strikes against Iran.
Fitting with that propaganda strategy, the Washington Post’s editorial page, which is essentially the neocons’ media flagship, published a lead editorial on Wednesday urging harsher and harsher sanctions against Iran and ridiculing anyone who favored reduced tensions.
Noting Iran’s announcement that it had opened a better-protected uranium enrichment plant near Qom, the Post wrote: “In short, the new Fordow operation crosses another important line in Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapons capability.
“Was it a red line for Israel or the United States? Apparently not, for the Obama administration at least. In a television interview Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: ‘Our red line to Iran is: do not develop a nuclear weapon.’ He asserted that Tehran was not trying to develop a weapon now, only ‘a nuclear capability.’ The Revolutionary Guard, which controls the nuclear program, might well take that as a green light for the new enrichment operation.”
While portraying Panetta as an Iranian tool, the Post suggested that anyone who wanted to turn back from an Iran confrontation was an Iranian useful fool. The Post wrote:
“The recent flurry of Iranian threats has had the intended effect of prompting a new chorus of demands in Washington that the United States and its allies stop tightening sanctions and instead make another attempt at ‘engagement’ with the regime. The Ahmadinejad government itself reportedly has proposed new negotiations, and Turkey has stepped forward as a host.
“Almost certainly, any talks will reveal that Iran is unwilling to stop its nuclear activities or even to make significant concessions. But they may serve to stop or greatly delay a European oil embargo or the implementation of sanctions on the [Iranian] central bank — and buy time for the Fordow centrifuges to do their work.”
The Post’s recommended instead “that every effort must be made to intensify sanctions” and to stop Iranian sale of oil anywhere in the world. In other words, continue to ratchet up the tensions and cut off hopes for genuine negotiations.
A Vulnerable Obama
The escalating neocon demands for an ever-harder U.S. line against Iran — and Israel’s apparent campaign of killings and sabotage inside Iran — come at a time when President Barack Obama and some of his inner circle appear to be looking again for ways to defuse tensions. But the Post’s editorial – and similar neocon propaganda – have made clear that any move toward reconciliation will come with a high political price tag.
Already, a recurring Republican talking point is that Obama’s earlier efforts to open channels of negotiation with Iran and other foreign adversaries proved his naivete and amounted to “apologizing” for America. Obama also has faced resistance within his own administration, especially from neocon-lites such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
For instance, in spring 2010, a promising effort – led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil’s then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – got Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to relinquish Iranian control of nearly half the country’s supply of low-enriched uranium in exchange for isotopes for medical research.
The Turkish-Brazilian initiative revived a plan first advanced by Obama in 2009 – and the effort had the President’s private encouragement. But after Ahmadinejad accepted the deal, Secretary Clinton and other U.S. hardliners switched into overdrive to kill the swap and insist instead on imposing harsher sanctions against Iran.
At the time, Clinton’s position was endorsed by editors at the Washington Post and the New York Times, who mocked Erdogan and Lula da Silva as inept understudies on the international stage. If anything, the Post and Times argued, the United States should take an even more belligerent approach toward Iran, i.e. seeking “regime change.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “WPost, NYT Show Tough-Guy Swagger.”]
As Clinton undercut the uranium swap and pushed instead for a new round of United Nations’ sanctions, Lula da Silva released a private letter from Obama who had urged the Brazilians to press forward with the swap arrangement. However, with Washington’s political momentum favoring another confrontation with a Muslim adversary, Obama retreated and lined up behind the sanctions.
Over the next nearly two years, the sanctions have failed to stop Iran’s work on enriched uranium which it claims is needed for medical research. Israel, the neocons and other American hardliners have responded by demanding still more draconian sanctions, while promoting anti-Iran propaganda inside the United States and winking at the murder of Iranian scientists inside Iran.
In this U.S. election year, Israel and the neocons may understand that their political leverage on Obama is at its apex. So, if he again searches for openings to negotiate with Iran, he can expect the same kind of nasty disdain that the Washington Post heaped on Panetta on Wednesday.
The Carter-Begin Precedent
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud leaders appear to fear a second Obama term – when he’d be freed from the need to seek reelection – much as their predecessors feared a second term for President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Then, Prime Minister Menachem Begin thought that Carter in a second term would team up with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian state.
Begin’s alarm about that prospect was described by Israeli intelligence and foreign affairs official David Kimche in his 1991 book, The Last Option. Kimche wrote that Begin’s government believed that Carter was overly sympathetic to the Palestinians.
“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Extensive evidence now exists that Begin’s preference for Ronald Reagan led Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back and delay release of the 52 American hostages then being held in Iran until after Reagan defeated Carter in November 1980. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “The Back Story on Iran’s Clashes.”]
Today, Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu seems as strained as Carter’s relationship with Begin was three decades ago. And already many American neocons have signed up with Obama’s Republican rivals, including with GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney whose foreign policy white paper was written by prominent neocons.
So the question now is: Will the President of the United States take his place amid the herd of cattle getting steered into the slaughterhouse of another war?
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.
On Lousy Coverage and the Police Riot Kitten Meme October 28, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy, Humor, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Uncategorized.
Tags: abby zimet, journalism, Media, oakland, oakland california, oakland police, occupy oakland, occupy wall street, police brutality, police repression, police riot, police state, police violence, roger hollander, Wall Street, wapo, washington post, yellow journalism
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by Abby Zimet
The Washington Post is rightly taking heat for their print coverage of the Oakland police riots, which consisted of a bewilderingly irrelevant photo of a nice wittle cop petting a nice wittle kittie – Look Ma, no tear gas! – over the headline, “Protesters Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide.” Ok, we don’t expect much from them, but whoah. Meanwhile, online wise-acres are having a fine old time with it. A reminder on the media: Be wary of your source.
“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” – Noam Chomsky.
oakland riot cat
WashPost: criminal law is not for political elites June 4, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Media.
Tags: abdullah al-kidd, ashcroft, cap weinberger, Casper Weinberger, Criminal Justice, Criminal law, david broder, glenn greenwald, Goldman Sachs, john edwards, journalism, journalist, lewis libby, Media, mubarak, nixon pardon, roger hollander, tom delay, torture prosecutions, Wall Street, wall street crimes, washington post
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Saturday, Jun 4, 2011 08:05 ET
(updated below – Update II)
The Washington Post Editors work in a city and live in a nation in which huge numbers of poor and minority residents are consigned to cages for petty and trivial transgressions of the criminal law — typically involving drugs — and pursuant to processes that are extremely tilted toward the State. Post Editors virtually never speak out against that, if they ever have. But that all changes — that indifference disappears — when political elites are targeted for prosecution, even for serious crimes:
IN COMMUTING I. Lewis Libby’s prison sentence yesterday, President Bush took the advice of, among others, William Otis, a former federal prosecutor who wrote on the opposite page last month that Mr. Libby should neither be pardoned nor sent to prison. We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. . . . Add to that Mr. Libby’s long and distinguished record of public service, and we sympathize with Mr. Bush’s conclusion “that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.”
The biggest sticking point [in agreeing to a new FISA bill] concerns the question of retroactive immunity from lawsuits for communications providers that cooperated with the administration’s warrantless surveillance program. As we have said, we do not believe that these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.
[T]his is also a nation where two political parties compete civilly and alternate power peacefully. Regimes do not seek vengeance, through the courts or otherwise, as they succeed each other. Were Obama to criminally investigate his predecessor for what George W. Bush believed to be decisions made in the national interest, it could trigger a debilitating, unending cycle. . . . There is a better, though not perfect, solution, one that the administration reportedly considered, rejected and should consider again: a high-level, respected commission to examine the choices made in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, and their consequences. . . . The alternative, for Obama, is a series of debilitating revelations, prosecutions and arguments that could drip-drip-drip through the full length of his presidency.
THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) schemed to get around a Texas law prohibiting corporate contributions to political campaigns . . . .Mr. DeLay’s conduct was wrong. It was typical of his no-holds-barred approach to political combat. But when Mr. DeLay, following the conviction, assailed “the criminalization of politics,” he had a fair point.
LET’S STIPULATE: There are very likely good grounds to prosecute deposed Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. . . . The decision by Egypt’s ruling military council and state prosecutors to begin a trial of the former strongman on Aug. 3 — before the country holds its first democratic elections — is nevertheless a mistake.
[W]e would not be particularly troubled by the effort to impose a fine [on John Edwards]. But a criminal case based on this novel application of the law goes too far. . . . Mr. Edwards is a cad, to put it mildly. His deplorable conduct would appear to have ended a once promising political career. It is troubling that the Justice Department would choose to devote its scarce resources to pursuing this questionable case.
In some of these cases (Libby, Mubarak), the Post couches its defense of political elites in terms of concerns about the process while claiming they’re receptive to the possibility of punishment. In others (Edwards), the concerns they raise are not invalid. But whatever else is true, Post Editors are deeply and almost invariably disturbed when political elites are subjected to criminal accountability for their wrongful acts, but wholly indifferent — if not supportive — when ordinary Americans are mercilessly prosecuted for far less serious wrongdoing.
And it’s not just Post Editors, but their stable of Op-Ed columnists, who reflexively defend political elites when they break the law. The late Dean of the Washington Press Corps, David Broder, was one of the first and most vocal advocates of one of the earliest expressions of elite immunity: Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, and Broder repeated that defense in 2006 upon Ford’s death (“I thought and wrote at the time that he was well justified to spare the country further struggling with the Nixon legacy”). The Post‘s Broder also vigorously defended President Obama’s decision to oppose prosecution of Bush officials: “he was just as right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.”
The Post‘s current roster of columnists is equally devoted to defending political elites who get caught breaking the law. See, for instance: David Ignatius (opposing torture prosecutions as the provenance of “liberal score-settlers”); Ruth Marcus (defending Reagan’s pardon of FBI agents who engaged in illegal domestic spying and opposing torture and eavesdropping prosecutions for Bush officials); and Richard Cohen (defending Bush 41 pardon of Casper Weinberger ["Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me"], opposing Lewis Libby’s conviction ["neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off"], and opposing torture prosecutions ["we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives -- and maybe were -- and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted"].
The political satirist Finley Peter Dunne famously said that the most valuable role of journalism is that it “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” The Post — speaking on behalf of the establishment political culture it represents — has perfected the art of doing exactly the opposite.
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I believe I recall — though cannot find and thus cannot say with certainty — that the Post Editorial Page and/or one of its business columnists also opposed criminal investigations of Wall Street for its role in the 2008 financial crisis and the mortgage fraud scheme. If someone finds and posts the link to that in the comment section (or emails me), I’ll add it.
UPDATE: I omitted numerous relevant examples, which was necessary because elite immunity is basically the guiding religion of The Washington Post and D.C. political culture. The very first commenter, Ahzeld, adds this recent example, from the Post Editors on May 31:
AGENTS FROM the FBI arrested Abdullah al-Kidd at Dulles International Airport in 2003. Mr. Kidd, who was headed to Saudi Arabia to study, was wanted as a material witness in an ongoing terrorism investigation.
Mr. Kidd, a U.S. citizen whose parents and wife, also U.S. citizens, all resided in the United States, was held for 16 days in three different facilities and kept in cells that were lighted 24 hours a day; he was strip-searched multiple times. After his release, he was subjected to domestic travel restrictions for two years, forced to report his whereabouts and submit to in-home visits from a probation officer.
Mr. Kidd sued former attorney general John D. Ashcroft after the government neither charged him nor called him as a witness, arguing that Mr. Ashcroft had violated his constitutional rights by knowingly misusing the material witness warrant to detain him.On Tuesday, a unanimous Supreme Court handed federal law enforcement a victory by ruling that Mr. Kidd was barred from suing Mr. Ashcroft. It is the right decision . . . In 2003, at the time of Mr. Kidd’s arrest, no court had squarely addressed the issue of whether a material witness warrant could be used to hold an individual suspected of terrorist activity. As such, there was no way for Mr. Ashcroft to know conclusively whether such an action contravened the Constitution.
If there’s a powerful political (or financial) elite being subjected to the criminal process — a process that is meant only for the low-level rabble selling drugs on the corner — The Washington Post will be there contriving excuses and justifications for what they’ve done, or at least spouting reasons they should not be punished.
UPDATE II: In comments, rollotomasi points to this April 28, 2010 Post Editorial which supports the recollection I had: in it, Post Editors defend Goldman Sachs from what it derisively calls “the blame game” and argues that the effort to ascribe culpability to the investment bank for the 2008 financial crisis “does not strike us as a terribly useful or even accurate analysis of the crisis.” Leave Goldman Sachs alone!, cry the servants of power masquerading as “journalists.”
- More: Glenn Greenwald
The Bad PR of Dead Civilians May 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: afghan airstrikes, afghanistan atrocities, Afghanistan civilian casualties, afghanistan civilian deaths, afghanistan occuption, Afghanistan War, cnn, corporate media, dead civilians, farah, journalism, new york times, obama administration, public relations, reporting, Robert Gates, roger hollander, Taliban, taliban militants, wall street journal, washington post
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Published on Monday, May 11, 2009 by FAIR
Afghan airstrikes and the corporate media
Early reports of a massive U.S. attack on civilians in western Afghanistan last week (5/5/09) hewed to a familiar corporate media formula, stressing official U.S. denials and framing the scores of dead civilians as a PR setback for the White House’s war effort.
Scanning the headlines gave a sense of the media’s view of the tragedy: “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War” (New York Times, 5/7/09), “Claim of Afghan Civilian Deaths Clouds U.S. Talks” (Wall Street Journal, 5/7/09), “Afghan Civilian Deaths Present U.S. With Strategic Problem” (Washington Post, 5/8/09).
As is frequently the case with such incidents (Extra! Update, 8/07), the primary fallout would seem to be the damage done to U.S. goals. The New York Times reported that civilian deaths “have been a decisive factor in souring many Afghans on the war.” As CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric put it (5/6/09), “Reports of these civilian casualties could not have come at a worse time, as the Obama administration launches its new strategy to eradicate the Taliban and convince the Afghan people to support those efforts.” Other outlets used very similar language to explain why the timing was “particularly sensitive” (Washington Post, 5/7/09) or “awkward” (Associated Press, 5/7/09) for the Obama administration.
While it is important to be cautious about early reports of such atrocities, many accounts played up U.S. denials. Some anonymous U.S. military officials vigorously denied that they were responsible, instead blaming the deaths on Taliban grenades and use of “human shields.”
The New York Times reported (5/7/09):
“Defense Department officials said late Wednesday that investigators were looking into witnesses’ reports that the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, and that the militants then drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike.
“The initial examination of the site and of some of the bodies suggested the use of armaments more like grenades than the much larger bombs used by attack planes, said the military official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.”
It is troubling to see an anonymous source given so much space to make such an elaborate case, seemingly based on little evidence. By the next day’s edition of the Times (5/8/09), military sources appeared to be backtracking: “Initial American military reports that some of the casualties might have been caused by Taliban grenades, not American airstrikes, were ‘thinly sourced,’ a Pentagon official in Washington said Thursday, indicating that he was uncertain of their accuracy.” That “thin” sourcing was good enough for most of the press, though, and similar instances continued.
On CNN’s American Morning (5/8/09), anchor Kiran Chetry announced, “CNN is learning that the Taliban may have been using women, children and men as human shields during U.S. air strikes earlier this week.” That would stretch the meaning of “learning” quite a bit, since CNN’s reporter from Afghanistan, Stan Grant, had little to report beyond vague official assertions (“We’re still waiting for a formal statement, a formal report to come down from the U.S. military here in Kabul”). CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr had already (5/6/09) floated the “much grimmer scenario” coming from U.S. officials–that the Taliban had killed civilians and then paraded them around the area.
On May 8, the Washington Post was stressing the notion that, whatever the truth, Afghans are going to believe what they want: “The truth of what happened in Farah may be less important than what the Afghan people believe took place in the remote western region. [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said that a cornerstone of the Taliban campaign is to blame civilian deaths on U.S. troops.”
CBS’s Couric (5/6/09) likewise posited to U.S. Army General David McKiernan: “Whatever the outcome, rumors alone that many civilians were killed by U.S. airstrikes–that is very problematic, particularly at this moment in time.” Couric closed her report by paraphrasing McKiernan’s assessment: “The general added, because it takes time to uncover the truth, the U.S. is at a distinct disadvantage in the propaganda war with the Taliban, who often blame the United States for any civilian deaths.”
It is difficult to see the corporate media’s credulous, cursory coverage of these killings as evidence of a U.S. public relations “disadvantage.”
Media Behavior and the Torture ‘Debate’ April 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Media, Torture.
Tags: 9/11, abc news, Abu Ghraib, adam serwer, anthony taguba, bagram, Barack Obama, barry mccafrey, barton gellman, beltway, charles kaiser, chris matthews, cliff may, dana priest, david gregory, david ignatius, democratic party, doj, eric holder, firedoglake, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, greg sargent, Guantanamo, International law, jane mayer, journalism, justice department, Karl Rove, mainstream media, marcy wheeler, Media, media superstars, new york times, office of legal counsel, olc, peggy nonan, political journalism, republicans, robert baer, roger cohen, roger hollander, rule of law, sheperd smith, special prosecutor, ta-nehisi coates, torture, torture memos, torture prosecutions, torture techniques, wall street journal, War Crimes, washington post, waterboarding, wsj
We could use more like I.F. (Izzy) Stone now; thank the goddess for Glenn Greenwald et. al.
Published on Friday, April 24, 2009 by Salon.com
Three Key Rules of Media Behavior Shape Their Discussions
of “the ‘Torture’ Debate”
It is now clear that the Obama White House didn’t think before it tried to appease the hard left of the Democratic Party.
When Rove speaks, the political class pays attention — usually with good reason.
There does seem to be a little bit of a reaction to how this was received on the left. . . frankly this feels like a political food fight now. . .. The hard left, the hard right, fighting over this in the blogosphere.
This whole torture debate is likely to tell us a lot about the kind of president Barack Obama intends to be. Will he buckle to the left, the netroots, and pursue an investigation into torture having said he didn’t want to? Or will he go post-partisan and leave the past to the historians?
What [Obama officials] got on their hands is a highly politicized and very partisan issue about the treatment of 9/11 prisoners. . . . At a time when the administration and the President will already be under scrutiny for being tough enough, is this a fight they really want to have? I would also point you to, if you haven’t see this already, the Wall St. Journal Editorial Page today, which I think raises some really tough points about not only what signal you’re sending to the rest of the world, but also to potential Terrorists out there, about just what it is that U.S. interrogators would do and not do, but also the point that’s raised there is: did the Bush administration go out of its way to make sure they were adhering to the law and not crossing over that bridge when it came to getting into torture?
(By the way: can someone tell me what a “9/11 prisoner” is?; and is there anything less surprising than the fact that Gregory looks to The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page for guidance on such questions?)
* * * * *
For years, media stars ignored the fact that our Government was chronically breaking the law and systematically torturing detainees (look at this extremely detailed exposé by The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and Barton Gellman from December, 2002 to get a sense for how much we’ve known about all of this and for how long we’ve known it). Now that the sheer criminality of this conduct, really for the first time, has exploded into mainstream political debates as a result of the OLC memos, media stars are forced to address it. Exactly as one would expect, they are closing ranks, demanding (as always) that their big powerful political-official-friends and their elite institutions not be subject to the dirty instruments that are meant only for the masses — things like the rule of law, investigations, prosecutions, and accountability when they abuse their power.
The rules for how media stars behave are vividly evident as they finally take part in what they are calling The ‘Torture’ Debate. Here are three key rules for Beltway media behavior that, as always, are shaping what they say and do:
(1) Any policy that Beltway elites dislike is demonized as coming from “the Left” or — in this case (following Karl Rove) – the “hard Left.” Media stars recite that claim regardless of how widely accepted the belief is in American public opinion and regardless of whether there is anything “leftist” about the view in question. For years, withdrawing from Iraq was demonized as the view of the “left” even though large majorities of Americans favored it.
Identically, roughly 40% of Americans favor criminal prosecutions for Bush officials — even before release of the OLC memos — and large majorities favor investigations generally. The premise of those who advocate prosecutions is the definitively non-ideological view that political elites should be treated exactly like ordinary Americans when they break the law and commit serious crimes. Individuals such as Gen. Antonio Taguba, Gen. Barry McCaffrey and former CIA officer Robert Baer advocate investigations and/or prosecutions of Bush officials. But no matter: the Beltway opposes the idea, and it is therefore dismissed by media stars as coming from the “Hard Left.”
(2) Nobody is more opposed to transparency and disclosure of government secrets than establishment “journalists.” Richard Cohen wrote of the Lewis Libby prosecution: “it is often best to keep the lights off.” ABC News’ Peggy Noonan said this week of torture investigations: ”Some things in life need to be mysterious. Sometimes you need to just keep walking.” The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, condemning Obama for releasing the OLC memos, warned: ”the country is fighting a war, and it needs to take care that the sunlight of exposure doesn’t blind its shadow warriors.” And the favorite mantra of media stars and Beltway mavens everywhere — Look Forward, Not Backwards — is nothing but a plea that extreme government crimes remain concealed and unexamined.
This remains the single most notable and revealing fact of American political life: that (with some very important exceptions) those most devoted to maintaining and advocating government secrecy is our journalist class, of all people. It would be as if the leading proponents of cigarette smoking were physicians, or those most vocally touting the virtues of illiteracy were school teachers. Nothing proves the true function of these media stars as government spokespeople more than their eagerness to shield government actions from examination and demand that government criminality not be punished.
(3) The single most sacred Beltway belief is that elites are exempt from the rule of law. Amidst all the talk about how prosecutions would destroy post-partisan harmony and whether torture “works,” it is virtually impossible to find any media star discussions about the fact that torture is illegal and that those who order, authorize or engage in torture are committing felonies. That is because — other than for fun sex scandals and other Blagojevich-like sensationalistic acts — the overriding belief of the political class is that elites (such as themselves) have the right to break the law and not be held accountable.
Amazingly, when it comes to crimes by ordinary Americans, being ”tough on crime” is a virtually nonnegotiable prerequisite to being Serious, but when it comes to political officials who commit crimes in the exercise of their power, absolute leniency is the mandated belief upon pain of being dismissed as “shrill” and extremist. Can anyone find an establishment media pundit anywhere — just one — who is advocating that Bush officials who broke the law be held accountable under our laws? That view seems actively excluded from establishment media discussions.
The OLC memos that were released last week reflect a deeply corrupted, criminal and morally depraved political class (see this video clip for a strangely affecting demonstration of that fact – linked fixed), but our media stars are a vital reason why that has happened. It cannot be overstated the extent to which they are nothing but appendages of, servants to, political power (as one Twitter commentator said today about this painfully vapid video from the painfully vapid David Gregory: when media stars say “my reporting,” what they usually mean is: “this is what I was told to repeat”). These three media rules repeatedly shape how they talk about government actions, and these rules are particularly pronounced as the establishment media now is finally forced to discuss what to do about the fact that our highest political leaders repeatedly broke our most serious laws.
* * * * *
As a testament to the positive effect media criticisms can have, Columbia Journalism Review‘s Charles Kaiser has been tenaciously criticizing The New York Times for failing to challenge — and instead mindlessly adopting — the claim of Bush officials that torture ”worked” by producing valuable intelligence. Yesterday, a NYT Editor told Kaiser that he agreed that more attention needed to be paid to this issue, and today, the NYT published a very potent Op-Ed from an FBI interrogator at Guantanamo who aggressively disputes the claim that torture “worked.”
Also: I’ll be on Warren Onley’s To the Point program today at 2:10 p.m. EST (along with The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer and National Review‘s Cliff May) to debate the question of investigations and prosecutions. Local listings and live audio feed can be found here (the segment will be posted to their website later today).
* * * * *
UPDATE: As the recent debate-changing discovery of Marcy Wheeler demonstrated, one extremely important way to improve media coverage of these issues is to have independent journalists able to work on them. Marcy has long been one of the hardest-working and most important writers on these matters, yet has been doing it all for free, as a side hobby before and after her full-time job. FireDogLake is now attempting to raise funds to hire Marcy to enable her to work on her investigative journalism full-time. For those able to do so, contributing to that fund is something I’d highly recommend. That can be done here.
UPDATE II: The link to the video I referenced above was wrong; the correct link is here. In addition to Generals Taguba and McCaffrey, the Hard Left has another new member: Sheperd Smith (here and here). And Greg Sargent makes a key point: whether torture “worked” is, among other things, entirely irrelevant. As I pointed out more times than I can count during discussions of the warrantless eavesdropping debates, we don’t have a country where political leaders are free to commit crimes and then, afterwards, claim that their doing so produced good outcomes.
UPDATE III: The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates posts video of the Peggy Noonan comments and writes:
The job of journalists is to challenge the government and to challenge their readers and viewers. What sort of journalist tells his readers that some things must be mysterious? What sort of writer tells her readers, and viewers, essentially, to not ask too many questions? We have a fine era, when otherwise respected, intelligent, and well-read people step on a national stage and endorse national ignorance.
There’s nothing unusual about Noonan’s mentality; it’s the dominant mindset of our political and media class. The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer notes a column from The New York Times‘ Roger Cohen today arguing against prosecutions (of course) and observes:
Cohen’s argument simply reflects the consensus among certain journalistic and political elites that the powerful simply shouldn’t be held accountable when they make mistakes, because, after all, we all make mistakes. This compassionate attitude naturally doesn’t extend beyond this small group. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, fully 1 percent of the population. I’m sure there are millions of people currently incarcerated who would like it if Cohen’s policy of absolution for crimes was extended to them.
That elite-protecting consensus is the central affliction of America’s political culture. It explains not only how we continuously shield our elites from the consequences of their crimes, but also explains the reason such crimes keep happening. If you constantly announce to a small group of people that they will be able to break the law with impunity, you are rendering inevitable future rampant criminality. That’s just obvious.