Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Let them view cake - media normalizing of warmongers and the arms trade

How do warmongering politicians and the corporate arms industry they so readily promote manage to evade serious indictment? Largely, because our media grant them privileged status and effective protection.

David Cameron's 'legacy' has now been officially stained by a Foreign Affairs Select Report damning his actions on Libya. But he won't be going to The Hague any time soon for his leading part in that murderous calamity. Nor will you hear any of our major media campaigning for him to be made fully accountable.

557 MPs voted for the motion to attack Libya in March 2011. Only 13 voted against, among them Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

The Guardian ran a major story detailing the parliamentary report. Yet, as Media Lens remind them, it contained no reference to the paper's own backing of that 'intervention' at the time. A Guardian editorial has since pleaded in hand-wringing mitigation that the UK acted in 'good, if flawed', faith, failing to mention the illegality of regime change.

Likewise, the BBC's token reporting of the committee findings contained no mention of mass media support at the time for the bombing.

A wide array of political and media notables supported the assault on Libya. Among them, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland now offers only cringing distance and consoling words for Cameron.

Even now, after the mass death and criminality inflicted on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and others on the 'R2P' list, our liberal media just can't bring itself to shine a real critical light on UK War Inc.

The UK is now the second largest arms provider in the world. This should have been headline, even breaking, BBC news. Yet, it's a story barely acknowledged, never mind pursued, by our leading media.

For issue-placing editors, none of that has been deemed as much of a topical public story as 'major developments' in The Great British Bake Off. All of which brings a new propaganda twist to that infamous invocation, 'Let them eat cake'.

What kind of serious media can emote so many headlines about the 'loss' of a baking show, while virtually ignoring Britain's elevation as a top merchant of death?

In a world of relentless conflict, we all need a little light escapism. But when media-hyped bake-offs are deemed more newsworthy than state sanctioned arms trade-offs, we've really reached a point of entertainment as mass diversion and political dulling.

The dark truth of Britain's insatiable corporate arms dealing can be found in a fine piece of investigative journalism by Mark Curtis.  Here we see the real mercenary extent of Britain's arms and oil dealings with Egypt's el-Sissi regime, and how our most favoured dictators are given an easy ride by establishment media.

Britain has been 'in the news' recently over its supply of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. But, again, where is the really damning headline commentary? Why don't the BBC have, say, Campaign Against the Arms Trade or Stop the War on to explain and denounce the UK's vile trade? Why isn't this a leading media issue?

Instead, we must turn to alternative outlets such as Media Lens, lamenting the failure of key media to report on UK arms to the Saudi regime for the merciless bombing of Yemen, and the dark collusion of British intelligence.

Meanwhile, British state media continues to serve up more magazine features on the 'benign' nature of UK militarism, foreign bombing and weapons technology. Consider this fetishistic BBC appraisal of the Tornado fighter plane:
The cockpit of a supersonic Tornado attack bomber is a much more peaceful place than you might expect. "It's incredibly quiet," says Jas Hawker, a former RAF wing commander who flew the aircraft over Iraq and Kosovo. "The pilot and the navigator could drop their oxygen masks and talk to each other. It's not silent but it's a lot quieter than people think." It also has a rather retro feel, as befits a four-decade-old model approaching the end of its time in service.
Style and aesthetics, quiet performance, but no mention of the explosive purpose and brutal effect on humanity below.

While Britain acts as junior arms fixer to the world, it has as its parental model a US state obsessed with the business of war and killing, all duly assisted by the UK, including secret British complicity in Obama's drone wars.

Obama has overseen more arms sales than any post-WW2 administration, yet, as William D Hartung notes, there's virtual media silence over America's weapons industry:
When American firms dominate a global market worth more than $70 billion dollars a year, you'd expect to hear about it. Not so with the global arms trade. It's good for one or two stories a year in the mainstream media, usually when the annual state of the business come out. It’s not that no one writes about aspects of the arms trade. There are occasional pieces that, for example, take note of the impact of US weapons transfers, including cluster bombs, to Saudi Arabia, or of the disastrous dispensation of weaponry to US allies in Syria, or of foreign sales of the costly, controversial F-35 combat aircraft. And once in a while, if a foreign leader meets with the president, US arms sales to his or her country might generate an article or two. But the sheer size of the American arms trade, the politics that drive it, the companies that profit from it, and its devastating global impacts are rarely discussed, much less analyzed in any depth.
Nor will a corporate media make the connection here on why American society is also a gun-toting, police-rampaging War Zone.

In a parting gift from Obama, the US has just signed an 'aid' deal with Israel worth $38 billion over 10 years. That's $3.8 billion per year, up from $3.1 billion. While a slavish media gush over Hillary, turning a blind-eye to her hawk agenda and neo-con backers, how much attention has that obscene statistic received?

As 'Bibi' and Obama exchange their cringing homilies and farewells, where is the critical examination of that ugly incentive to mass killing and destabilisation?

Any sane and rational media would be asking how and why such major politicians remain effectively immune from prosecution over their executive wars and elimination of mass populations.

But it's the very media normalization of militarism, warmongering and its elite exponents that provides the most vital cover.

On Question Time recently, David Dimbleby goaded Labour's John McDonnell over being "a Marxist", followed by Tory MP Anna Soubry calling him a "nasty piece of work." Meanwhile, on the same panel sat Alastair Campbell, a political knave par excellence, deeply complicit in the likely loss of 1 million Iraqi lives. Even after Chilcot damned Blair, Campbell still defended him, and remains one of the key players in the whole Iraq deceit. What kind of moral media do he have when Campbell's presence on such shows is deemed more respectable than people like McDonnell?

Campbell has been doing many other studio rounds, such as the BBC Jeremy Vine Show - Vine was also a VIP guest at a major arms dealers dinner - promoting his book, Winners: And How They Succeed. For our power-fascinated media, the concept of 'successful' human endeavour, it seems, involves spinning, tricking a country into war, and then having the front to write a text on 'winning psychology'.

Another grovelling interview with Campbell can be heard on Radio New Zealand (hat tip to 'Morrissey' at the Media Lens message board, past).

The token extent of any 'critical' mainstream piece on Campbell and his media appearances can be summed up by the Telegraph headline, 'Spinner in chief now settles for an occasional turn'.

But those who executed, supported and still refuse to acknowledge the crimes of Iraq also enjoy a wider political reception. Campbell recently interviewed Nicola Sturgeon for Q8 Magazine. And George Galloway has hosted unrepentant Blair war apologist John McTernan on Sputnik. Despite Galloway's film, The Killings of Tony Blair, and other noble efforts to indict Blair's war circle, he retains a strong degree of 'political admiration' for McTernan.

It's just basic manners, some may say. Fair intellectual engagement. Open, adversarial debate. Yet, even where key political differences exist, as they plainly do in these cases, it seems that 'our' war cheerleaders are still to be granted respected status.

In another such nod to what counts as 'elite achievement', the recent BBC programme Sir Alex Ferguson - Secrets of Success invokes Blair's 'leadership qualities'. As tweeted in response:
A million plus souls lost to Blair's Iraq carnage, and he's treated as some honoured manager by #SirAlexFerguson and BBC #SecretsOfSuccess
And, of course, the Guardian just can't stop running to Blair for his lofty dispensations.

How did it come to pass? How did people directly responsible for mass killing come to enjoy such celebrity profiles? What is it with villains like Blair, Brown, Campbell and McTernan that they're all still so feted and embraced by politicians and journalists? Imagine real journalists like John Pilger conducting such interviews and failing to question their leading roles in great crimes.

Again, it's all part of a default media culture which just can't contemplate the dark actions of 'ours'. This needn't involve full exoneration. Rather, it's a process of easy acceptance and familiarity, whether it's the Guardian asking Tony for another opinion, or Alastair doing another 'turn' on Question Time. They may be deemed 'controversial' - and sought even more so for 'ratings appeal' - but never considered criminal or beyond the pale in the sense reserved for official foreign enemies.

As figures like Blair, Campbell and Cameron enjoy the financial rewards, patronage and sinecures of post-political office, the human devastation they've caused gets treated as some kind of 'past issue' - it's 'all just politics'.

It's not that such people should be personally hated, hounded or even denied compassion. It's a question of justice, of a media bearing true witness to elite criminality, of insisting that no one, however senior, however famous, can escape responsibility for their part in the taking of mass human life. The same must apply to corporate elites engaged in arms production and the economy of death.

When might the BBC pitch and defend that kind of programming? When might we see a Great British Media Off between channels and editors competing to reveal what's really being cooked up by warmongering profiteers in the kitchens of power?    

Thursday, 1 September 2016

'Critical liberal' media are only mitigating Obama's Syria crimes as 'regrettable mistakes'

As Barack Obama's term comes to a close, a faux 'critical-reflective' media has taken to pronouncing on his foreign policy 'successes' and 'mistakes'. While struggling to prove instances of the former, prominent within the latter is the repeated trope that Obama and the US have 'missed a vital opportunity to intervene in Syria'.

Across the political-media 'spectrum' - and in special reference to The Obama DoctrineJeffrey Goldberg's major interview-based piece on the president - a bombs-away commentariat have been lamenting 'Obama the ineffectual'. It includes familiar neo-con malcontents, now aligned with the Clintonites for an all-out assault on Assad. But there's also been much 'this happened on your watch, Mr Obama' recrimination from 'mainstream' cruise-missile 'humanitarians'. 

This more influential version of the lament finds 'moderate', Guardian-styled liberals perturbed by Obama's apparent 'passivity' when he really ought to be wielding 'legitimate Western violence' in the name of 'R2P', the all-moral-missile-guiding mantra 'responsibility to protect'. It's saying, in essence: 'a tad too much Mr Nice Guy, when you really just have to go smash The Bad Guy.' 

Thus, for the Observer, Obama has avoided the 'all-too-reasonable' case for liberal bombing:
Like the Chicago college professor he once was, Obama intellectualises his decision, making it seem a matter of principle and strategy. The problem with this mental exercise is that the “good reasons” that are its premise ignore the real story. Obama took fright over Syria because he realised there was little appetite in the US for an adventure akin to Iraq.
And the 'lamentable outcome' of this "real story" for the Observer:
the US national interest – and that of its allies – has been seriously affected by his Syrian equivocation...Obama’s shabby intellectual glasshouse is a bad place from which to throw stones.  
Likewise, for Ann Applebaum at the Washington Post, Obama's 'reticence' over Syria has been nothing less than a "disastrous nonintervention."  

One might be forgiven for thinking that many of Obama's 'natural liberal backers' have lost their own 'liberal compass'. But such 'criticism' helps illustrate the true, hawkish extent of our liberal war media, while misrepresenting, in their craving for intervention, Obama's own duplicitous 'case for restraint'.       

The proper framing of these tensions and truths are conveniently clouded because they sit within a broader liberal narrative which still understands Washington as the 'reluctant, but facilitating, outsider' - think, classically, Israel-Palestine - faithfully 'arbitrating for peace'. 

A constant media motif throughout the Syria conflict has been the 'tireless efforts' of John Kerry in seeking a 'diplomatic resolution'. And with this comes the embedded fiction that, even after its mass, murderous assault on an entire region, and relentless protection of Israel, the US has, instead, opted to play a 'relatively hands-off' game in Syria.    

In a highly-informed article, independent journalist Gareth Porter reveals the damning extent to which Obama's administration has, in fact, led, fed, fostered and encouraged a disastrous proxy war:
The Obama administration bears responsibility for this atrocity, because it could have prevented Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia from launching their foolishly adventurous war in Syria.  None of them did so out of desperate need; it was a war of choice in every case.  And each of the three states is part of the US security system in the Middle East, providing military bases to NATO or to the United States and depending on US support for its security. But instead of insisting that those three Sunni allies reconsider their options, the Obama administration gave the green light at a conference in Riyadh at the end of March 2012 for proceeding with arming those who wanted to replace the regime, leaving the United States ostensibly free to be a peacemaker. As Hillary Clinton put it at the Riyadh conference: “Some will be able to do certain things, and others will do other things.”
Knowing, in particular, the deep sectarian history and volatile forces it would unleash. Porter asks:
Could senior Obama administration officials have been unaware that a war to overthrow Assad would inevitably become an enormous sectarian bloodbath? By August 2012 a US Defense Intelligence Agency report intelligence warned that “events are taking a clear sectarian direction,” and that the “the “Salafist[s], Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]” were “the major forces driving the insurgency”. Furthermore, the Obama administration already knew by then that the external Sunni sponsors of the war against Assad were channeling their money and arms to the most sectarian groups in the field. But the administration did nothing to pressure its allies to stop it. In fact, it actually wove its own Syria policy around the externally fuelled war by overwhelmingly sectarian forces. And no one in the US political-media elite raised the issue.
In similar vein, a recent Media Lens alert article, again featuring some sharp analysis by Porter, exposes such media evasion and distortion, in this case taking apart the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, 'Obama's battle against so-called Islamic State'. The very title is self-revealing.

Listen to the BBC's leading editors Nick Robinson and John Simpson, alongside former Senior State Department official Karin Von Hippel, lament Obama's apparent 'failure' to 'intervene decisively'.

Hear Obama and the US presented by the BBC and their sole-selected guest as an effectively 'neutral and benign', yet still 'reticent', force trying to 'resolve' conflict and 'break' Islamic State, rather than as a principal creator and promoter of the regional carnage which has allowed IS to emerge and grow.

And consider, in the course of this 'moderate' discussion, just what a vital role our 'liberal-probing' media play in the encouragement and mitigation of Western warmongering.   

As Obama readies the handover baton, there's also been a virtual media blackout on Hillary Clinton's dark and deadly part in the calamity of Syria and the region. Think of this as a voluble silence of liberal encouragement, another nodding green light to even more heinous acts of 'R2P' aggression. 

Nor will they be able to say they didn't know what was still to come. Clinton aide, former Pentagon chief of staff Jeremy Bas, has duly confirmed that, if elected, she will intensify Obama's war on Assad.

It's an inauguration that doesn't augur well for war-afflicted Syrians and others suffering the calamitous effects of America's perpetual 'mistakes', and the liberal media's unmistakable misrepresentation of them.