Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
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Life & Debt in Jamaica
W. michael byrd and linda a. Clayton
Law & Order
Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism
Native Challenges to Mining and â€¦
Iraqi Sanctions: Myth and Fact
Nuggets From A Nuthouse
Race and Class
You Can Beat the Privatizers
Consequences Of Empire
An Interview With Miriam Ching â€¦
The War In Afghanistan: 40 â€¦
Stephen R. Shalom
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Nuggets From A Nuthouse
Edward S. Herman
Left criticisms of the media have always drawn the accusation of conspiracy theory, because media personnel and defenders of the media establishment are either too lazy to examine closely the case made by left analysts, can't understand it, or are pleased to resort to a smear tactic. They can get away with this because they are largely protected from challenge and can take their cheap shots without fear. In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and I, recognizing the likelihood of accusations of conspiracy theory, went to the trouble of explicitly denying this and showing that our model was much closer to a “free market” model, with any censorship largely self-censorship, with biased media choices coming about naturally by the “pre-selection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptations of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power.” This effort, and our showing of how the filters work to cause the media to follow party lines, made no difference: we were conspiracy theorists, by establishment definition.
I was inspired to bring this up again after seeing that David Rieff had played this theme in reviewing Chomsky's “A New Generation Draws the Line” in the Los Angeles Times of June 3, 2001. Rieff, a long-time aggressive advocate of, and apologist for, “humanitarian bombing,” quickly dismissed Chomsky as a “radical conspiracy theorist,” who in his “latest effusion...of arrogant fantasy-mongering” claims to “see in the human rights movement some new disguise for American imperial hegemony.” The closest Rieff comes to making a testable claim, as opposed to pure name-calling, is his sentence, “an unfortunate reader will discover that because the United States behaved badly in East Timor and supported the Turkish government's war against the Kurds, its actions in Kosovo can't possibly have been anything other than in the service of the nefarious interests of the military industrial complex [MIC].”
Chomsky, of course, never says that the U.S. performance in East Timor and Turkey shows the impossibility of non-service to the MIC or concern for human rights, but he presents such information to raise questions about the likelihood of a mainly benevolent motive. Rieff fails here (and elsewhere) to explain why the “bad behavior” happened—which, as Rieff fails to mention, included active multi-year U.S. assistance to ethnic cleansings in Turkey and East Timor that were far more extensive than in pre-bombing Kosovo—and how that behavior is to be reconciled with the benevolent motive dominating in Kosovo. The childish phrasing about “nefarious interests of the military-industrial complex” obscures the fact that Chomsky is suggesting that the “national interest” as seen by the dominant elements in the U.S. political economy may have been pursuing a non-benevolent agenda in the Balkans, consistent with their non-benevolent agenda in Turkey and Indonesia.
There is also the question of why Chomsky's view should be called a “conspiracy theory,” even if he is arguing that the “nefarious” MIC can explain the NATO war better than benevolence. If one argues that the policy makers decided to attack Yugoslavia for geopolitical reasons, that is apparently a conspiracy theory; the war managers “conspire” to this cynical end. On the other hand, the belief that they do it because of Clinton's and Blair's “exasperation” at Milosevic's evil, as Rieff would have it, is not conspiracy theory—you can't conspire to do something of which Rieff approves. We are clearly dealing here with comic book level analysis, but acceptable in the mainstream.
Frank Kofsky made the trenchant observation in his book Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948, that the charge of conspiracy theory is generally offered by “those who wish to discredit the author's thesis but—and this point is absolutely crucial—have been unable to find factual evidence to refute the interpretation they detest.” How perfectly applicable to David Rieff, who prefers assertions and sneers to finding factual evidence and discussing the issues honestly.
In his review of Chomsky's Deterring Democracy in 1991 (The Independent [London], August 4, 1991), Rieff described Chomsky as “so far out on the lunatic fringe that even the sensible things he has to say are lost....” The review is again comprised almost entirely of sneers and smears with minimal address to issues (a “weak book,” “incantory,” his “bugbears,” “grim, disheartening quality...”). In the rare case where he does touch on an issue Rieff's remarks are mere rhetoric and also misleading. Thus in referring to Chomsky's analysis of the Cold War, Rieff says that “he has in mind an epoch whose tragedies and crimes were largely ‘made in the USA',” but he doesn't discuss Chomsky's evidence or case and distorts his position as Chomsky gives weight to the reciprocity and two-sided character of the Cold War.
Rieff also can not refrain from dredging up the Faurisson case, although it has no relevance to the book under review. He refers to Faurisson's “obscene denials” of the existence of Nazi extermination camps, and goes on to say that Chomsky was, by all accounts, defending free speech, not Faurisson's beliefs. “But Chom- sky's unwillingness to make this distinction publicly is a florid example of the way he has always courted misunderstanding.” Rieff's statement here is a brazen lie: Chomsky not only made public statements of the distinction in hundreds of letters, speeches, and to anybody in the media asking him about the point, he had a prominent article in the Nation that made the point repeatedly and was even featured in the article's title (“His right to say it,” the Nation, February 28, 1981).
Earlier in 1991, Rieff had reviewed Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, a key work in the rightwing attack on the academy in the “political correctness” campaign of 1990-1991 (“A War Of Ideology On The Campus,” Newsday, March 31, 1991). He found nothing grim or incantory or obscene about this sleazy rightwing diatribe—for Rieff it was a “remarkable new account of the ideological wars now wracking American college campuses,” but not a part of that war, which it surely was. For Rieff, D'Souza's book was “important,” “a fine book,” and “perhaps the best account of the multicultural follies we have had so far.”
Rieff, not Chomsky, was the man the Nation mobilized to write on “humanitarian intervention” on May 8, 2000, where he offered Nation readers the remarkable insight that humanitarian intervention, called by its right name, “is war.” For purposes of this liberal magazine he explained further, “however understandable the motivations, and however good the intentions of those who advocate it, humanitarian intervention is not, cannot be and should not be presented as a species of crime-stopping. It is war-making” and nothing can change this reality. Kofi Annan's call for a systematic regime of humanitarian war “is wrong.” Nowhere in this stream of bullshit does Rieff mention that he was a passionate supporter of the NATO war in Kosovo and its violent efforts earlier. As usual, he found that rhetoric and dishonesty is the best policy.
In the prelude to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the New York Times steered clear of featuring polls on what the public thought of that legislation. It was surely not a coincidence that the paper's editors and pundits favored the agreement, whereas the polls showed the public hostile. Now, with the Bush administration about to beat up another small country, and the Times's editors and pundits in favor, the paper has twice given front page coverage to polls that suggest that the public is gung-ho for war.
The propaganda service of the paper in stoking war fever runs deep and its use and misuse of polls is a facet of its overall pro-war slant. Focusing here only on its use of polls, first of all, featuring polls on whether people want to go to war in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks and in the midst of an obvious wave of public anger and fear is deeply irresponsible, feeding a war hysteria that might dissipate in more normal conditions.
Furthermore, there is serious bias in the structure of the poll taken by the paper and in its reporting of the results. The latest front-page report on the poll features the positive 92 percent sample response to the question: “Do you think the United States should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks?” (Richard Berke and Janet Elder, “Poll Finds Support for War and Fear on Economy,” September 25, 2001.) But the text indicates that the public thinks the country should “wait until it is certain who is reponsible for the acts,” and on the back page continuation of the article it appears that 78 percent think the country should wait and only 17 percent call for an immediate military response. Given that the Bush administration was displaying a strong inclination to act quickly, the featuring of the 92 percent and muting of the 78 percent figure is irresponsible and war- mongering bias.
It is also noteworthy that in its questions the paper never offers the public options to military action, such as whether the United States should first seek remedies via extradition measures, supported by diplomacy; whether it shouldn't first go through UN channels to pressure any country found to harbor those who organized the terrorist actions; or whether it should not seek redress via an international tribunal. The questions also never ask the public whether the United States should act militarily if this would violate international law. The questions also do not ask whether the United States should engage in military action if this would kill large numbers of innocent civilians in the target country.
These are all matters that the paper had already slighted in its news and editorials—it had given miniscule attention to the non- military possibilities or to the requirements of international law, and in discussing the possible military action its focus was on the difficulty of finding useful targets and possible hazards to the U.S. attackers. So, having featured with overwhelming intensity the hurt received by this country in the attacks, and portrayed the world as one of U.S. innocence betrayed by the forces of evil, the paper had once again pushed the country toward war, with an efficiency that Pravda could not have surpassed.
This great country sure takes on formidable enemies—Iraq, Panama, Serbia, Grenada, and now Afghanistan, another enemy state in the Grenada size class (economically, not in population). Afghanistan's GDP is reportedly about $21 billion; ours is approaching 10 trillion, a 500 to 1 differential. They have two old war planes—which may even be jets—and millions of starving people. So here is the United States assembling a vast armada, surrounding this pathetic enemy with an overkill that gives the word “bully” a new meaning. In the nuthouse, where the establishment and populace are looking everywhere for terrorists, this buildup and threat to beat up the tiny victim arouses no anger or repulsion in the mainstream. The pitiful giant's bullying is now not only a just cause, it is an infinitely just cause.
George W. Bush had described the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as “cowardly,” although the 19 active participants sacrificed their lives in this enterprise. The comedian Bill Maher got into trouble on his “Politically Incorrect” program by suggesting that the U.S. “zero casualties” war strategy of dropping missiles on people from 2,000 miles away was possibly less brave than being willing to die in a kamikaze attack. Maher was quickly under attack and was forced to apologize for his politically incorrect thought, but the crime was so serious that his program on ABC is reportedly in jeopardy. How can a person dare to say such a thing in a free and open society? He not only expected to have freedom but actually to put it to use.
Taking Out States
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Bush, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, with a happy echo from right-wing pundits, vowed to “take out” and “end” states providing a safe harbor for terrorists. Of course, some of the terrorists seem to have received training in Florida, so I guess its lucky George W.'s brother is governor down there. But Florida and Washington, DC have also for decades provided a safe harbor to a Cuban terror network and they still protect Class 1 terrorists like Orlando Bosch and Carlos Posada. On Bush's taking out criteria, Florida would be gone.
And Washington, DC, as well. My God, where was the safe harbor for the Nicaragua contras in the 1980s? Who supported the El Salvador terror state and who has provided a safe harbor to the Savadoran generals who oversaw the rape-murder of five U.S. religious women in 1980, along with the slaughter of maybe 30,000 Salvadoran civilians? (And Bush has now made John Negraponte, one of the onsite and hands-on managers of Central American terrorism in the 1980s into the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, to help in the Administration's campaign against terrorism.) Who aided the terrorist Jonas Savimbi and “constructively engaged” (i.e., gave steady support to) apartheid South Africa, one of the great terrorist states of the past half century? This is just for starters.
You will not see the slightest hint in the mainstream media that taking out safe harbors for terrorists, if done across the board, would result in the “ending” of this great country. This is inconceivable for the establishment media, just as they have never admitted that the real terror network of the 1970s and 1980s was U.S.— rather than Soviet-sponsored. If you pressed them on a specific case, like supporting Savimbi and the contras, and helping put in place a terrorist government such as that which ruled Guatemala for decades after our 1954 sponsored invasion, they would perhaps acknowledge that maybe in some sense we were once a safe harbor. But that was in the past, and supporting the butcher of Sabra and Shatila in Israel and the occupied territories right now they would not admit to be providing a safe harbor for terrorists. Right now we do not support terrorists—we only did it by a sad mischance in the past.
New Evil Empire
The security establishment took a heavy hit with the WTC and Pentagon attacks. With a national defense budget of over $300 billion and intelligence outlays of $30 billion, our protectors were unable to prevent a long-planned terrorist operation that had worked largely within the United States and involved the seizure of planes at two different airports. Once the action got under way, the security system failed even to stop an attack on the Pentagon.
But with the help of the mainstream media and loyal opposition Democrats, the military-industrial complex has turned defeat into a spectacular triumph. Instead of criticizing the performance of the security establishment and demanding some radical restructuring and firings, it was quickly decided that this was all the fault of Senator Frank Church's overzealous investigation of the CIA and its abuses and failures, along with the work of the other pacifists and false economizers who had limited the funding and ability of the CIA and FBI to subvert the Constitution in the search for subversion. So what we needed was more money and legal rights for official subversion.
Still more important, after the initial shock of their humiliation and failure, the MIC and right wing realized that this event was a godsend. They had been searching desperately since the collapse of the Soviet Union for a new national security threat that would justify a gigantic military establishment and provide a basis for an internal repressive apparatus and limits on dissent.
Global terrorism fits the bill beautifully— even better than the Soviet threat because this one is diffuse, hard to identify, with an enemy possibly anywhere. The threat is therefore open-ended and paranoia-inducing. They might send missiles or the guy next door might be about to terminate you with extreme prejudice. Perfect. Our material welfare may suffer, our infrastructure may decay, the environment may continue its downward course, vast numbers may die of disease, starvation, and war, but we will have lots of National Defense and we are in for exciting times. Z