This is not what democracy looks like

The more I read the newspapers in the US the more despairing I am about Americans ever being able to sort out the terrible dilemmas their corporate government has gotten them into. The extent of the misinformation, lies and sheer journalistic incompetence is overwhelming and when the media is consciously complicit in the government’s lies and overtly supportive of its imperial ambitions, the chances of democracy working approaches zero.

An American Press story (posted on MSNBC) is a case in point. You would think that after all the lies about the invasion of Iraq and nature of al Qaeda had been exposed that the mainstream media would finally get it right and tell the truth.

No such luck.

Here’s what the AP story had to say about the planning of the 9-11 attacks on the US:

“The 19 al-Qaida members behind the hijackings that sent planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside plotted their attacks from Taliban-protected safe havens in Afghanistan.”

This is just out and out wrong – whether it is a lie or just incompetence only the reporter knows (there was no by-line on the story). Within a few weeks of the attacks it was known that the plot was actually hatched over kitchen tables in German cities – quite a distance from the desert camps in Afghanistan. The al Qaeda camps were independent of the Taliban and needed no “protection” but the spin is intended to implicate the Taliban, however indirectly, in 9-11.

You can see the motivation for lying, however, as Obama struggles with what to do with the unwinnable war he inherited. He has taken the line before and since his election that al Qaeda must be prevented from planning another attack – and this must be swept from their havens in Pakistan and prevented from returning in numbers to Afghanistan. If the political elite, including media owners, remind people that the attacks were planned from Germany the whole rationale for the continued presence in the region starts to crumble.

For Obama’s political stance to be taken seriously requires citizens to voluntarily abandon any semblance of intelligence and critical thinking – which the vast majority of Americans obligingly do. The notion that al Qaeda has to be in a tent in the desert to plan an attack is absurd on the face of it – planning can take place anywhere and clearly it is safer to do so in a Western, democratic country than from a place vulnerable to rocket attacks from US drones. If there a terrorist plan afoot you can be almost certain it is not being hatched in a Madrasa in Pakistan.

In the service of remaining in Afghanistan for a generation the AP story added this bit of gratuitous analysis:

“United in Islamic ideology, they sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida followers. Al-Qaida terrorist training camps flourished openly in the 1990s and the two groups shared weapons, financing and tactics.”

It would be too much to expect AP to remind its readers that the US created al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Bin laden was a hero in that country for the role he played in that war and that is why his organization was allowed to stay. And just what does “sharing weapons” mean?  And financing? It is a nonsensical declaration but one easily absorbed by Americans whose brains have addled by reams of this kind of propaganda. Al Qaeda was and is a relatively small group funded largely by its ideological soul-mates in Saudi Arabia (which of course was not invaded); the Taliban was a government with its own sources of revenue.

Shared tactics? There is no explanation here, either, but even a cursory examination of the two entities shows any similarity to be fleeting and shallow. Al Qaeda has declared war on the West – but the Taliban have never indicated any interest in exporting their Islamic radicalism beyond their borders. They were one of the most inward-looking, deliberately isolated regimes in the world.

The casual sloppiness of the AP story is shocking in itself – it repeatedly attributes sweeping and often false generalizations to unnamed sources: “…according to several analysts…”;  “According to U.S. officials and analysts…”; “…the analysts said…”. In the whole story only one analyst – from the West Point military academy, an aggressive pro-war source – is actually named. As for the rest we have no evidence the unnamed reporter actually talked to anyone.

Re-framing Iran

In a Washington Post story, there is a deliberate attempt to undermine the recent optimism that the Iranian nuclear question might be resolved. The headline read: “Iranian site prompts U.S. to rethink assessment” and the story was aimed at questioning the unanimous view of US intelligence agencies that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. As evidence, the story states:

“Intercepted communications revealed a key piece of data: Iranian plans to place only 3,000 centrifuge machines in the plant. That number is too small to furnish fuel for a civilian power plant, but just big enough to supply Iran annually with up to three bombs’ worth of weapons-grade fuel, the former officials said.”

Again, there were no names or even any reference to just what kind of expertise the “official” had. Intercepted by who? When? Between which bodies? In addition, the statement itself is meaningless: the consensus has long been that the Iranians have not mastered the process of enriching uranium to bomb-grade material – regardless of how many centrifuges they have in sequence. This was the view of “former officials” – maybe they got fired for incompetence.

The story goes on to sew further doubts about possible progress:  “..the view that Iran has suspended research on nuclear-warhead design, are also being reevaluated in light of new evidence, the two former officials said.”  No names and no explanation of what the new evidence is or where it came from.

When I despair over Obama’s apparent weakness on several major policy fronts I remind myself that the citizens he has to count on for support are being fed this appalling diet of lies and agit-prop everyday. No wonder he’s cautious.

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