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Thugs of the Near and Middle East

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By Stephen Gowans

He has cracked down harshly on protestors who object to his autocratic style. He calls his opponents terrorists and says there’s a foreign plot to topple his government. He says the opposition is infiltrated with foreigners from all parts of the world.


No. This is Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to The New York Times. [1]

The Times fails to mention that Erdogan has killed his own people, both Kurds, whose struggle for autonomy the Turkish state has waged war to annihilate, and demonstrators, who have protested without arms against the Turkish prime minister’s autocratic ways.

Which makes one wonder why the United States, and its satellites, the UK and France, justify their support for the head-barbecuing, organ-eating religious fanatics who are trying to topple the anti-sectarian, secular Arab nationalist state in Damascus by pointing to the same behavior on Assad’s part that they’re perfectly willing to tolerate on Erdogan’s.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that “The Central Intelligence Agency has been training rebels in Jordan under a covert program.” [2]

So why isn’t the CIA training rebels to bring down the popular uprising-crushing, kill-his-own-people Erdogan, or to topple the brutal, royal dictators in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE? These monarchical tyrants have no more patience for demonstrators than Erdogan has—indeed, considerably less. Bahrain’s crowned dictator crushed a popular uprising in blood with the help of tanks dispatched by the misogynistic, democracy-abominating, Saudi family dictatorship next door.

But Assad is different. He has used chemical weapons. At least, that’s what my local newspaper tells me. Accepting the White House at its word, Ottawa Citizen reporters Jason Fekete and Jordan Press, write that “chemical weapons have been used by the Assad regime.” [3] Not are alleged to have been used. Not the White House claims they have been used. But, they have been used. Period.

Parenthetically, on the same day the Citizen reporters were playing Charlie McCarthy to the White House’s Edgar Bergen, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline that read: “West to Press Iran on Nukes.” [4] Iran doesn’t have nukes, but the Western media every once in a while like to tell us they do, presumably to keep the fear-level high enough to justify the United States and European Union carrying out their sub-critical anti-Iran war of economy-crippling sanctions, cyberattacks, and assassinations. After all, who wants a mad Ayatollah running around with nukes? On the other hand, Israel’s estimated 400 nukes, its nuke-launching submarines, nuke-delivering long-range bombers, and nuke-tipped long-range missiles, are rarely mentioned, if ever. “West to Press Israel on Nukes” is a headline you’ll never see—except in a really good alternative history where the world turns out as it should. Who wants crazed Zionists running around with nukes?

One might have thought that after the Bush administration’s phony Iraq weapons of mass destruction frame-up, that the two Ottawa Citizen reporters would have exercised a good deal more caution when reporting on Washington’s self-declared reasons for intervening in the affairs of other countries. At minimum, they might have noted that the White House chemical weapons claim is just that—a claim. And that Washington’s record on these matters is not what you’d call confidence-inspiring.

What’s more, if the Iraq WMD deception wasn’t enough to galvanize Fekete and Press to greet the White House’s announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism, the text accompanying US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’ announcement that the US intelligence community had assessed that Syrian forces had used chemical agents should surely have set alarm bells ringing. Rhodes said that the evidence does not “tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible.” [5] In other words, we’ve assessed that Assad did it, but our evidence doesn’t tell us he did it.

Even if Washington, itself, had not qualified its own claim, the reporters’ unqualified assertion that chemical weapons have been used by Syrian forces would have been unwarranted, and hardly up to the standards of journalism that journalists are supposed to practice, but rarely do. It’s doubly unwarranted given that Washington acknowledges that its own evidence is, well, not really evidence at all, but “shreds and shards of information that could be possibly linked to chemical weapons,” [6] but used by whom, we’re not really sure.

Given all this, could one really be blamed for arriving at the conclusion that Fekete and Press are not journalists at all, but Western chauvinist stenographers, whose total absence of scepticism about the motives of Western states, serves well the cause of duping the public into going along with Western interventions to topple official enemies?

Back to Erdogan. As part of the alliance of US lackeys seeking to topple the non-lackey Syrian government by giving arms and training to Islamist fanatics with a taste for human liver, Erdogan can be assured that Washington won’t be coming after him, no matter how autocratic or deadly his behaviour. As for what the press will report about him, well, that largely depends on what the White House will have to say about its ally.

1. Tim Arango, Sebnem Arsu and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Turkey expands violent reaction to street unrest,” The New York Times, June 16, 2013.
2. Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker, “U.S. to keep warplanes in Jordan, pressing Syria”, The New York Times, June 15, 2013.
3. Jason Fekete and Jordan Press, “PM won’t arm Syrian rebels”, The Ottawa Citizen, June 17, 2013.
4. Jay Solomon and Farnaz Fassihi, “West to press Iran on nukes”, The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2013.
5. Statement by Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on chemical weapons. The Guardian (UK), June 13, 2013.
6. This is how US officials described the evidence two months ago, before the rebels suffered a major military set-back, and when Washington was resisting pressure to step up its intervention. Jay Solomon, “Obama cools opposition’s hopes in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2013.

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June 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Media, Syria, Turkey

“Non”-State Actors Construct a Case for War on Iran

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By Stephen Gowans

“There have been,” write Julian E. Barnes and Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2012), “a series of provocations by Iran in recent years. US officials say Iran has been responsible for a series of cyberattacks this year on US banks. There have also been incidents in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian fast boats have threatened US and British warships.”

Barnes and Solomon make no mention of the more frequent and menacing provocations aimed at Iran by the United States and its Middle East partner in aggression, Israel:

• Washington virtually declaring war on Iran when it designated the country a member of an “axis of evil.”
• Cyberattacks on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
• Assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
• Penetration of Iranian airspace by US drones.
• Massing of US and British warships in the Persian Gulf.
• US deployment of anti-missile systems to its Gulf allies (what an aggressor preparing for an attack does to protect its allies from retaliation.)
• Innumerable threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
• Economic warfare of crippling trade sanctions and financial isolation which is destroying Iran’s economy and its ability to provide medical care to its population.

The United States bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, only 150 miles from Iran. It has an aircraft carrier-led battle group in the Persian Gulf. Its warplanes and thousands of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Qatar. In terms of provocation, this is roughly equivalent to the Chinese basing a naval fleet in Havana, a battle group in the Caribbean, warplanes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and troops in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We needn’t ask whether Washington would denounce China’s massive deployment of military force close to US borders as provocative, doubly so were this accompanied by Beijing branding the United States part of an axis of evil and declaring that in its dealings with Washington all options are on the table.

And this tells only part of the story. China is no match militarily for the United States, but US military capabilities overwhelmingly outclass Iran’s. The hypothetical aggressive deployment of Chinese military force to US borders isn’t a tenth as provocative as Washington’s actual deployment of massive military force to the Persian Gulf.

So it is that no one with a rudimentary grasp of current international relations could possibly conceive of the relationship between the United States and Iran as one of Iran provoking the former, rather than the other way around. Since it’s fair to assume that the journalists Barnes and Solomon are not without a rudimentary grasp of the subject, it can only be concluded that they write propaganda for the US state despite working for a private organization—and that the propaganda is every bit as much chauvinist and congenial to US foreign policy goals as the bilge pumped out of Washington’s official propaganda agency, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

So how does the Journal reporters’ selective-references to provocation aid US foreign policy? In this way: There is a pattern of aggressive powers—from imperial Britain to Nazi Germany to the United States—justifying their military interventions as necessary responses to “provocation.” If cruise missiles are to smash into Iran, it will be helpful to justify Washington’s unleashing of its military force as a response to Iranian provocations, since a legitimate casus belli doesn’t exist. Even a case for war that public relations specialists could falsely invest with the appearance of legitimacy—namely, eliminating an Iranian nuclear weapons program—has become impossible ever since the US intelligence community declared that there is no credible evidence Iran has one. This led George W. Bush to lament in his memoirs, “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons?”(1)—a question that doubtlessly troubles his successor. Iranian “provocations,” then, become a useful pretext for the use of military force in the absence of a legitimate case for war.

That Barnes and Solomon should act as imperialist-friendly propagandists is hardly surprising, since any dispassionate analysis of the mass media’s multiple linkages to the state through the corporate ruling class inevitably leads to the conclusion that the mainstream media’s take on foreign affairs will portray US foreign policy as admirable, virtuous and right, while the intended victims of the profit-driven quest to extend US hegemony will be depicted as democracy-hating, terrorist-promoting, economy-mismanaging, human rights-abusing, provocateurs (which, come to think of it, is a fairly apt description of the US government itself.)

(1) David Morrison, “George Bush was ‘angry’ when US intelligence said Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/iran-bush-on-nie.htm . Morrison has written a number of trenchant and beautifully crafted analyses, available on his website http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/.

Written by what's left

November 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Posted in Iran, Media

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

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By Stephen Gowans

An article by reporter Rory Carroll in last Sunday’s Observer titled “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” has set off a storm of controversy among Chomsky and Chavez supporters.

Some, angry at the leftist intellectual for criticizing the Venezuelan president, demanded an explanation. Chomsky replied that Carroll’s article was “dishonest” and “deceptive.”

But a transcript of the interview—which Chomsky told one blogger did not exist—suggests it is Chomsky, not Carroll, who is dishonest and deceptive.

“Let’s begin with the headline: complete deception,” Chomsky replies to one blogger.


Here’s what Chomsky told the Observer reporter.

Carroll. Finally, professor, the concerns about the concentration of executive power in Venezuela: to what extent might that be undermining democracy in Venezuela?

Chomsky: Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary, and for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two, it’s an assault on democracy (my emphasis).

Carroll: And so in the case of Venezuela is that what’s happening or at risk of happening?

Chomsky: As I said you can debate whether circumstances require it—both internal circumstances and the external threat of attack and so on, so that’s a legitimate debate—but my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.

Earlier in the interview Chomsky told Carroll that, “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure but I think perhaps it is” (my emphasis).

So, Chomsky tells Carroll that concentration of executive power is an assault on democracy, that there’s a tendency toward concentration in Venezuela, and that in his judgment the circumstances don’t require it.

So how is it that the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” is deceptive and dishonest? Granted, Chavez might not be an old friend, at least not in the literal sense, but the Observer headline hardly seems to misrepresent Chomsky’s words.

Now, we can go around in circles about whether Carroll fairly or dishonestly recounted his conversation with Chomsky (though it looks like the dishonesty here isn’t Carroll’s), but anyone who insists that Chomsky didn’t criticize Chavez is going to have to do a fair amount of straw clutching. Yes, the leftist intellectual did criticize Washington in his interview with Carroll, and he did point out all the good that has happened in Venezuela (which Carroll acknowledges in his article.) But so what? That doesn’t negate Chomsky’s open criticism of Chavez — which is what a number of Chavez partisans are agitated about.

The occasion for the interview was Chomsky’s open letter criticizing the detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Affiuni. Affiuni had freed banker Eligio Cedeno in 2009. Cedeno, who had faced corruption charges, immediately fled the country. Chavez denounced the judge as a criminal and demanded that she be jailed for 30 years.

We can debate whether Chavez’s treatment of Affiuni is heavy-handed, but it doesn’t take a high-profile intellectual of Chomsky’s caliber to figure out that the establishment press will use all the ammunition it can lay its hands on to vilify Chavez, and the best ammunition of all is that which comes from the Left. It’s one thing for a US state official to raise concerns about Chavez. You expect it. It’s quite another for a leftist intellectual to do the same.

It might be said that Chomsky didn’t know the Observer would use his criticism to blacken Chavez’s reputation, but that would be dishonest and deceptive.  It’s hard to swallow the canard that poor old Noam–whose understanding of the media is second to none–blindly stumbled into an ambush. “I should know by now that I should insist on a transcript with the Guardian, unless it’s a writer I know and trust,” Chomsky lamented.

Yeah, right.

Media Lens, springing to Chomsky’s defense, noted perspicaciously that ‘the Guardian (the Observer’s sister newspaper) is normally happy to ignore (Chomsky) and his views. But when Chomsky expresses criticism of an official enemy of the West, he suddenly does exist and matter for the Guardian.”

But hadn’t the co-author of Manufacturing Consent figured this out long ago?

I think it would be fair to suppose he has. That he went ahead anyway, and allowed the press to add his criticisms of Chavez to what he himself calls the “vicious, unremitting attack by the United States and the west generally” on Venezuela, could mean one of two things.

Either Chomsky is a press-hound.

Or he’s not as much of a friend of Chavez as Carroll–and a good number of leftists-think.

Or both.

Written by what's left

July 6, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Media, Venezuela

NATO’s PR Firm: Washington Branch

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By Stephen Gowans

The NATO bombing mission in Libya is so obviously about bringing another oil-rich country under Western domination that in attempting to cover up its true aim the mainstream media simply clarify the alliance’s objectives.

Consider Michael Birnbaum’s and Joby Warrick’s ham-handed attempt to sanitize the bombing campaign in the May 10 Washington Post. The reporters write: “NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths.”

The first casualty of the Libya war...truth.

Except they preceded that sentence with this one: “Several alliance members…have been pushing NATO to be more aggressive in striking Gaddafi’s center of power, despite concerns about possible civilian casualties.”

So what appeared was: “Several alliance members…have been pushing NATO to be more aggressive in striking Gaddafi’s center of power, despite concerns about possible civilian casualties. NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths.”

We could quibble with the duo failing to point out that NATO only says its mission is to prevent civilian deaths, contrary to the standard Western media practice of treating all Libyan government statements as possibly untrue.

For example, we might be told that a Libya government spokesman said NATO air strikes killed three civilians, rather than: NATO air strikes killed three civilians. The “said” part implies that maybe the civilians weren’t killed and that the Libyans are making it up. There’s nothing wrong with this. The Libyans could be making it up.

But the standard is applied unevenly. Apparently, Birnbaum and Warrick never considered that NATO could be making it up too. Or perhaps they did, but chose not to acknowledge it.

Whatever the mechanism that produces this double standard, the double standard exists, and that it exists helps to make the case for NATO’s bombing mission. NATO is protecting civilians. Civilians may have been killed, or not. We only know what the Libyans are telling us.

But there is a bigger problem than double standards. The obvious inconsistency in NATO’s claim that it is protecting civilians while killing them isn’t even remarked upon by the two journalists, even though they’ve made the inconsistency clear enough.

It’s as if the pair wrote: Several members of the medical team have been pushing for a more aggressive intervention, despite concerns it could possibly block blood flow to the patient’s left leg that would require its amputation. The team’s goal is to save the patient’s right leg.

And we can speculate that had the two journalists been around at the time they may have felt no unease at Japan’s justification for its East Asian wars of aggression during the first half of the 20th century. They may have written: Several top members of the government pushed for more invasions, followed by occupations to bring all of East Asia under Japanese control. Japan’s mission is to liberate the region from Western imperialism.

It’s strange that The Washington Post should promote the fiction that NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths, considering the newspaper and other media have offered ample coverage of the unapologetic acknowledgements of NATO leaders that their mission is to drive Gaddafi from power.

Obama, March 29: “We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gadhafi leaves power.”

The New York Times, March 28: “The strategy for White House officials …is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.”

Hilary Clinton, April 11: “There needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Qaddafi from power and from Libya.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, April 11: “The future of Libya should include the departure of Qaddafi.”

More could be added, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s and British prime minister David Cameron’s admissions that a NATO objective is to topple Gaddafi.

It’s clear then that the goal of NATO countries is to oust the Libyan leader. In fact, as Richard Lance Keeble pointed out in a Media Lens piece, they’ve been at it for some time. But with the desired goal still distant, some alliance members are prepared to step up the attacks, even if it means more civilian casualties. The lie that the bombing campaign is somehow divorced from the larger goal of regime change, and is limited to protecting civilians, is punctured.

By any measure, except that of sanitizing the naked pursuit of regime change in Libya on behalf of the investor interests The Washington Post represents, the newspaper follows a curious standard of logic and evidence in declaring as fact that NATO’s mission is humanitarian.

The standard is, however, one any employee of a top-flight PR firm understands implicitly.

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May 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Libya, Media

Sanitizing the Bahraini Crackdown

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By Stephen Gowans

One of the many ways in which establishment media bias is evidenced is in the selection of the perspectives journalists adopt to relate the events they’re reporting on. This shouldn’t be surprising. As Canadian journalist and author Linda McQuaig points out, we would expect a newspaper owned by environmentalists to have an environmentalist point of view. We would expect a labor newspaper to report on the world from the perspective of labor. For the same reason, we should expect newspapers owned by US corporations with connections to the US foreign policy elite to present the world from perspectives congenial to corporate and US foreign policy interests.

In major US media, US foreign affairs are always presented from Washington’s perspective. This happens because the least expensive and most “patriotic” way to cover US foreign affairs is to assign reporters to the White House, State Department and Pentagon to record what US state officials say. In this way, what happens outside the United States is presented through the prism of official US state interests. Corporate-funded think-tanks make their “impartial experts” readily available to major media to hold forth on a variety of foreign policy topics. Accordingly, corporate perspectives—which almost always align with official US state perspectives-help define media coverage of foreign events.

In establishment media, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is overwhelmingly presented from the perspective of Israel (a US client and key apparatus of US foreign policy in Western Asia and North Africa.) Many people in the West sympathize with Israel’s point of view, because it’s the one they’re exposed to most often.

Coverage of the conflict in Libya between loyalist Tripoli (not a US client) and rebel Benghazi (on whose behalf the United States, France, Britain, Canada and Qatar have provided an air force) is presented from the rebel’s vantage point. Rarely are the motivations, thinking, and perceptions of the Libyan government explored in any kind of non-judgmental way, although government pronouncements, especially those of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, are presented if they serve the purpose of backing up Washington’s claim that he is insane, brutal and “a creature”. And depiction of Gaddafi in unfavorable terms, offers a popular justification for military intervention in the country.

On the other hand, Libyan rebels are presented in a favorable light. This is true too of Islamists who have fought against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now taking part in the rebellion against Tripoli. That Islamic fighters can be demonized in one instance, and lionized in another, shows that what counts in major media coverage is whether Islamists fight for, or against, the United States. When they’re fighting against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan they’re insurgents, illegal combatants and terrorists. When they’re fighting on the US side in Afghanistan against the Soviets, in Bosnia against the Serbs, and now in Libya against Gaddafi, they’re freedom fighters, rebels, and pro-democracy activists.

With questions being raised about Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on its own pro-democracy movement, and Washington’s silence, the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner has weighed in on Washington’s side with an article from the Khalifa regime’s perspective: “Crackdown Was Only Option, Bahrain Sunnis Say” (March 20, 2011). As far as I know neither the New York Times, nor any other Western newspaper, has run an article with a headline like “Crackdown Was Only Option, Libyan Government Says”.

Lest anyone get it into their head that Bahrain’s deadly Saudi and UAE-assisted suppression of the Gulf state’s pro-democracy movement is deplorable, Bronner — acting as de facto PR representative of the Khalifa monarchy — explains:

“To many around the world, the events of the past week — the arrival of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other neighbors, the declaration of martial law, the forceful clearing out of Pearl Square, the military takeover of the main hospital and then the spiteful tearing down of the Pearl monument itself — seem like the brutal work of a desperate autocracy.

“But for Sunnis, who make up about a third of the country’s citizenry but hold the main levers of power, it was the only choice of a country facing a rising tide of chaos that imperiled its livelihood and future.”

Bronner personalizes the story through Atif Abdulmalik, a US-educated investment banker who was initially supportive of the pro-democracy movement, but changed his mind when the “mainly Shiite demonstrators moved beyond Pearl Square, taking over areas leading to the financial and diplomatic districts of the capital.” Abdulmalik said he sympathized “with many of the demands of the demonstrators. But no country would allow the takeover of its financial district. The economic future of the country was at stake.”

Bronner allows Abdulmalik to conclude with the article’s apparent take-away message: “What happened this week, as sad as it is, is good.”

To be sure, Bronner’s article isn’t a blatant pro-Bahraini puff piece. There’s a lot in it that is critical of the Bahraini government. But that it provides some evidence of balance is what makes it effective. A Bahraini supportive of his government’s position is allowed to tell his story in a way that treats his views as legitimate and rational. In Bronner’s hands, the views of Atif Abdulmalik—which are really the views of the Khalifa family–are easy to sympathize with.

A former TV journalist once told me that the way to present your own views under the guise of impartially reporting the facts is to find someone who agrees with you, and then build a story around that person’s point of view. That way you can craft a story to meet your own agenda, while maintaining the illusion that you don’t have one.

Bronner’s defenders will say the reporter is only presenting the facts. But there is always an infinitude of facts a reporter can present, and only a very limited space in which to present them. Distortion, which self-respecting journalists rarely do, isn’t half as important as selection, which self-respecting journalists always do. The facts that Bronner chooses to relate, and the ones he chooses to ignore, speak volumes about his political position and that of the newspaper he writes for. It is a bias the newspaper’s ownership structure, and its connections to the US foreign policy elite, mandate.

It is little wonder, then, that Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, and source of considerable wealth for the US corporate and financial elite, should get more favorable treatment in the United States’ newspaper of record than Libya, which is neither a site for the US military nor particularly accommodating to US bankers and corporate interests.

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March 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Loving the destabilizers, hating the destabilized

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By Stephen Gowans

Only days after South Korea and the United States destabilized the Korean peninsula by holding military exercises in the Yellow Sea (and for the first time ever, in North Korea’s territorial waters) and soon after South Korea further destabilized the region by touching off a firefight between the two Koreas after lobbing artillery shells into waters Pyongyang claims as it own, the North Koreans began their own military drills.

South Korea—whose defense budget towers over that of the North—regularly holds drills by itself, and also with contingents drawn from the 28,000 US soldiers stationed on its soil and 40,000 stationed in nearby Japan. By contrast, there are no foreign troops in North Korea, and the North conducts its exercises alone.

To be sure, the North’s military drills do nothing to bring down the temperature, but they hardly compare in their destabilizing impact to the US and South Korean provocations of the last two weeks. A flyweight stepping up his sparring practice is hardly a threat to the middleweight who only goes into the ring with his super-heavyweight ally. And it’s clear that Washington and South Korea’s Lee government aren’t particularly interested in temperature-reduction anyway.

And yet, this headline appeared today in The Guardian:

North Korea military drills are destabilizing region, says US

It takes a lot of chutzpah to pick someone’s pocket and shout, “Stop thief!” but Washington has chutzpah aplenty, and in the Western media’s recounting of world events, Washington’s chutzpah is carefully concealed. And so it really does seem like North Korea is destabilizing South Korea, rather than the other way around.

What puts Washington’s complaint about North Korea’s military drills completely over the top is this: “South Korea is holding a nationwide set of artillery drills this week. And the United States and Japan are currently staging their largest-ever war games, including, for the the first time, South Korean observers.” And that’s not destabilizing?

Had I come across anything like the following headlines last week—which would have been a fair description of the situation from the North Korean side–I wouldn’t complain as bitterly.

Joint US-South Korea military drills are destabilizing region, says North Korea

US-South Korea wargames rehearsal for invasion, Pyongyang says

But I didn’t. Instead, I was bombarded by headlines about North Korean aggression.

And I still am.

It seems that no matter what the North Koreans do—or how destabilizing the actions of its southern neighbor and the United States are–the North Koreans will always be portrayed as the aggressors, the South Koreans as the victims, and the United States as the tough but fair peace-keeper.

If the ganging up on North Korea by the United States and South Korea–to say nothing of the Western media–weren’t enough, Washington has reminded Korea’s former colonial master, Japan, that it too has “a stake”. “We have to get to a place where there’s much more trilateral cooperation (among the US, South Korea and Japan against North Korea) than there has been in the past,” says chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who is in Japan for discussions on creating “a truly historic trilateral” alliance–a kind of anti-North Korea three-power axis.

I guess Malcolm X was right. If you substitute “destabilize” for his original “oppress”, the following epigram pretty well sums up the dangers of newspaper reading: “If you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are destabilized, and loving the people who are doing the destabilizing.”

It could also be pointed out that whether military drills are destabilizing or a way of containing “a rapidly evolving threat” depends on whose side you’re on: the side of the freedom of independent peoples to pursue their own peaceful development or the side of a military behemoth seeking to bring down another independent state.

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December 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Ignoring the Untermensch

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By Stephen Gowans

There are many ways in which the press is biased. One way is that it tends to be chauvinist. On foreign affairs, the press of the United States consistently reflects the view of the US State Department, while the Chinese press reflects the perspective of the Chinese state, the Russian press the point of view of the Russian state, and so on. Since the major press in each country is invariably owned by the class that holds state power, this is inevitable.

A national press also reflects the viewpoint of its government’s key foreign allies.

In the US press, for example, Israeli positions tend to dominate coverage of affairs in former mandate Palestine, consistent with Israel’s status as an instrument of US Mideast foreign policy. US news stories tend to be written from the perspective of Israelis, with Palestinian viewpoints largely ignored.

A blatant example of this is provided by a November 15 New York Times story reported by Ethan Bronner (whose son, at least as of earlier this year, was a solider in the Israeli armed forces) and Mark Landler (A 90-Day Bet on Mideast Talks).

Bronner and Landler write that: ”The West Bank, although inhabited by millions of Palestinians, is the heartland of much ancient Jewish history, so for many Israelis, giving it up is a painful prospect…”

What the New York Times reporters neglect to mention is that for millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank, the prospect of being driven from their homes by the steady expansion of illegal Jewish settlements is surely a good deal more painful. And yet it is the Zionists’ metaphorical pain of failing to consolidate their goal of ethnically cleansing all of mandate Palestine that figures in Bronner’s and Landler’s reporting and not the very real Palestinian pain of being ethnically cleansed.

It’s as if denied conquest of all of Europe, reporters had written that for many Nazis, giving up the dream of Lebensraum was a painful prospect, saying not a word about the devastation wrought by the Nazi’s Lebensraum policy.

The US media accord Arab Palestinians as much importance as the Nazis accorded their Untermenschen, the Slavs. Arab Palestinians—who have consistently been denied the right of self-determination by great powers—have long been treated as Untermensch, whose lives and rights matter not a fig, and whose lives and rights these days are subordinate to the interests of US foreign policy, and inasmuch as US foreign policy depends on a Western imperialist presence in the Middle East, are in turn subordinate to the interests of Zionist Jews. Accordingly, in the US newspaper of record, the metaphorical pain of Israeli religious fanatics matters; the real-life pain of Palestinians merits not even a passing mention.

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November 15, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Posted in Israel, Media, Palestine

Washington Post: North Korean, Iranian nuclear capability threatens US imperialism

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By Stephen Gowans

Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus has put his finger on what’s wrong with north Korea and Iran developing nuclear weapons, or having the capability to do so.

The problem is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means that if either country possesses a credible nuclear arsenal and the means of delivering warheads, their conquest by US forces isn’t in the cards. And that is something Pincus seems to regard as regrettable.

In his March 30 column Pincus points to General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command.

Chilton reminded US legislators that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest, nor has the world witnessed the globe-consuming conflicts of earlier history.” [1]

Pincus regarded this as a warning, “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability.” [2]

Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus thinks north Korea and Iran should be conquered before their pursuit of nuclear capability makes them unconquerable.

In other words, the implication of Chilton’s view, as Pincus interprets it, is that there is little chance that a nuclear-armed north Korea or Iran could be conquered or even put at risk of conquest, a prospect so alarming to him, that he urges government officials to think through what would happen if Tehran and Pyongyang developed a credible threat of self-defense.

Pincus’s circularity (we ought to conquer these countries before they’re no longer conquerable) invites the question: Why conquer them at all? The standard answer, that both countries are threats to their neighbors, doesn’t work, for two reasons.

First, the real threat, as Pincus implicitly acknowledges, isn’t one of north Korea endangering south Korea or Iran wiping Israel off the map, but of both countries acquiring the means to make themselves effectively unconquerable.

Second, other countries have acquired large nuclear arsenals, and far from being treated as threats that must be pressed to relinquish their nuclear arms, are aided by the United States in acquiring more of them.

Consider India. The very same issue of The Washington Post that found Picus worrying about north Korea and Iran becoming unconquerable carried an article on negotiations between the United States and India, the outcome of which is that the latter will soon import spent nuclear fuel from the former. [3]

India will be able to extract plutonium from the fuel it imports to make nuclear weapons. Although India has pledged not to do so, “it diverted civilian nuclear fuel to build its first nuclear weapons three decades ago.” [4] Already India has manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for an estimated 100 warheads and has “has built weapons with yields of up to 200 kilotons.” [5]

Washington portrays the nuclear programs of north Korea and Iran as threats, while preparing to export spent fuel to India, a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty.

What’s more, the country is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, portrayed by Pincus’s colleagues as a looming nuclear threat is a treaty signatory, while north Korea was, until Chilton’s predecessors at Strategic Command announced in 1993 that the DPRK would be targeted with strategic nuclear missiles.

Strange that Pincus wasn’t warning government officials to ponder Chilton’s words about nuclear powers avoiding the risk of conquest as they watch India strengthen its nuclear capability, with US assistance.

But then India is already part of Washington’s informal empire. Plus, exporting nuclear fuel to India promises to fatten the bottom line of the US nuclear industry.

It’s not so curious to discover that north Korea, a country Pincus seems to think really should be conquered before it’s too late, comes in dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, a ranking of how congenial countries are to the profit-making interests of banks, corporations and wealthy investors. Countries that have low tax rates, welcome foreign investment and trade, and spend little on government programs are considered economically free, while countries whose governments intervene in the economy to achieve public policy goals, or to prohibit exploitation, are relegated to the basement of the list.

Generally speaking, where a country appears on the list, offers a pretty good gauge of whether a country is in or out of favor with Washington, whose foreign policy since the Bolshevik Revolution and before has been guided by how open other countries are to US investment and exports. US policy leans toward prying open closed economies and rhapsodizing about open ones.

The places of selected countries on the Heritage Foundation 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, are shown below. (The index ranks 179 countries.)

• North Korea, 179
• Zimbabwe, 178
• Cuba, 177
• Myanmar (Burma), 175
• Venezuela, 174
• Iran, 168

Notice that the bottom dwelling countries are the objects of various Western efforts of regime change, some involving the threat of military intervention and all involving destabilization carried out, in most cases, with the participation of “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” groups that profess to be progressive and anti-imperialist but are in reality lieutenants of the US foreign policy estblishment. No surprise that their major funding comes from such wealthy individuals as Peter Ackerman and George Soros, who play prominent roles in US ruling class circles. Ackerman is a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations and was head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. Soros is a veteran anti-communist warrior.

It’s no accident that the countries that are on Washington’s regime change hit list also happen to be on the Heritage Foundation’s list of countries that are least accommodating to business interests, no accident because US corporations, investors and banks dominate the formulation of US foreign policy. It makes sense that they would go after “closed economies” (i.e., closed to export of capital and commodities on favorable terms) since these economies represent an unrealized potential for profit-making, and also the threat of a bad example if they’re allowed to get away with shaping economic policy to serve local interests rather than those of foreign capital.

While not among the Index of Economic Freedom stars, India ranks much higher on the list (124) and has been praised for moving “forward with market-oriented economic reforms” and opening its trade regime.

North Korea, Cuba and Zimbabwe: Dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s index of countries that offer themselves up as profitable investment opportunities for US capital. Iran is also among the basement-dwellers. It’s no accident that the same countries are on Washington’s regime change hit list.

We might ask why anyone would create an index of economic freedom in the first place. It is safe to say that the only people interested in creating a map of favourable opportunities for the export of capital and commodities are those with capital and commodities to export. You won’t find north Koreans, Cubans or Zimbabweans surveying the world to find out whose policies are geared toward promoting attractive returns for investors, largely because they haven’t surplus capital to export. In these countries, the development of internal productive forces is the top priority. And north Korea and Cuba haven’t structural compulsions to export capital. But imperialist countries have plenty of surplus capital, which is why “economic freedom” and rolling over governments that oppose it, is an obsession in Washington and other major capitals.

Pincus strays from the script in calling for north Korea and Iran to be conquered before they can make themselves unconquerable, rather than repeating the accustomed nonsense about the dangers of first strikes launched against neighbors, Europe or even the United States. At the same time, his employer makes US hypocrisy plain by running a story about the United States preparing to export spent nuclear fuel to a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty and has amassed a substantial nuclear arsenal. Finally, the failure of north Korea and Iran to serve themselves up as profitable fields for US investment, while India displays a greater willingness to cater to the profit-making requirements of US corporations, offers a glimpse into the real reasons behind Washington’s double-standard.

1. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
2. Ibid.
3. Rama Lakshmi and Steven Mufson, “US, India reach agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
4. Ibid.
5. James Lamont and James Blitz, ‘India raises nuclear stakes,’ Financial Times, September 27, 2009.

Written by what's left

April 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Iran, Media, north Korea

Guilty as charged: North Korea’s conviction of US journalists Ling and Lee

with 4 comments

By Stephen Gowans

There are probably four reasons why Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the US journalists arrested, convicted and jailed by north Korean authorities, received harsh sentences: They entered north Korea illegally, and not inadvertently and innocently as US officials and the Ling and Lee families maintain; they intended to produce video footage that would add to the Western campaign of demonizing north Korea; Pyongyang wants to deter others from sneaking across its borders and a harsh sentence was seen as a way of delivering a warning; Ling and Lee were working with a right-wing evangelist who is trying to destabilize north Korea. It didn’t help, either, that the pair snuck across the Chinese-DPRK border at a time of high tension between Washington and Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee were arrested on March 17, after setting off from Tuman, a town in northeast China near the Chinese-DPRK border. [1] They were on assignment for Current TV, a cable and Internet TV company founded by former US vice-president Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt. Ling, a Chinese-American, is a correspondent, while Lee, a Korean-American, is a film editor. Ling is also vice president of Current’s Vanguard journalism department. Her more widely known older sister, Lisa, is also a TV correspondent, who was co-host of ABC’s The View, host of National Geographic Explorer, and a correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN. [2]

Sometime that morning Ling, Lee, their cameraman, Mitch Koss, along with their Chinese guide, crossed the Tuman river, which forms one-third of north Korea’s border with China, into north Korea. The river is about 20 to 30 yards wide, [3] and on the north Korean side, there are guard posts every couple of hundred yards. [4] The river bed is shallow and would have been frozen that morning. [5]

US officials refer to Lee and Ling as “inadvertently” crossing the north Korea border. Their families talk of the pair “wandering” across the border, as if it were all quite accidental and innocent. [6] And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismisses the charges against the pair as “baseless.” [7] But there are a few reasons to believe that Lee and Ling knew exactly where the border was and deliberately crossed it.

First, Ling had a model. Three years earlier, her sister, Lisa, had snuck across the Chinese border into north Korea to secretly film a documentary for National Geographic. Unlike her younger sister, she didn’t get caught. [8]

Second, it’s difficult to stumble across a border, when the border is a river, and there are guard posts every couple of hundreds yards on the opposite shore. To believe Ling and Lee innocently wandered across the border is a bit like believing Mexicans inadvertently wander across the Rio Grande into the United States.

Third, Chun Ki-won, a south Korean evangelist who helped arrange the journalists’ trip (and about whom more later) suggested they may have become too ambitious, hazarding a trip across the border, rather than staying on the Chinese side. [9]

Fourth, and most damaging to the notion that the border crossing was accidental and innocent, Lee, Ling and Koss were accompanied by an ethnic Korean Chinese guide. [10] Any guide worth his salt would have been familiar with the terrain and know exactly where the border is.

Moreover, there’s reason to believe the guide was hired precisely to help the three journalists sneak into north Korea. Chun operates an “underground railroad” that smuggles people in and out of north Korea. [11] Since he helped arrange the trip, it’s likely he selected the guide. The guide may have been selected because he had experience in unauthorized border crossings.

Fifth, on June 16, the north Korea official news agency, KCNA, said north Korean officials had confiscated videotape in which someone (presumably Ling) could be heard saying “We have just entered north Korean territory without permission.” [12]

One doesn’t set off with a guide and cross a river that acts as border without knowing precisely what one is doing. The idea that Ling and Lee innocently stumbled into north Korea is implausible.

Here’s what seems to have happened next. The journalists and their guide were discovered by north Korean border guards. When the four failed to produce documentation authorizing their presence on north Korean soil, the guards tried to arrest them. Koss and the guide fled, crossing the Tuman back into China. As Koss stepped onto Chinese soil, he was arrested by Chinese border guards, and detained for two days, before being released. [13]

Koss knows exactly what happened that morning, but has provided no account I can find. Indeed, it is rarely mentioned in Western press reports that Ling and Lee had company on their trip, and that a third American journalist, Koss, escaped. One would think there would be an enormous interest in his story. Instead, silence.

So, what of Chun Ki-won? Chun is founder of an organization named Durihana. Durihana means “one from two”, a reference to the organization’s goal of building one Korea from its current two parts, north and south. But Chun’s idea of unification is hardly one north Koreans would endorse. What he means by unification is annexation – specifically, a Christian (and Buddhist) south absorbing a godless north. [14]

Chun aims to Christianize north Korea. He works to achieve this by smuggling economic migrants out of north Korea, converting them to Christianity, and sending them back to convert others. The goal: to bring down the north Korean government from inside, so the gospel of Christ can be spread throughout the length and breadth of the Korean peninsula. [15]

National Geographic described Chun as belonging “to a diverse group of activists, humanitarians, traffickers and fellow missionaries who operate an Asian underground railway. Some hope to precipitate the collapse of North Korea; others want to convert North Koreans to Christianity.” [16] Chun, it seems, wants to do both. We can be sure that anyone associated with him – including US journalists on a mission to produce a documentary whose content would almost certainly have been unfriendly to north Korea – are likely to be regarded with intense hostility and suspicion by Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee, then, had three strikes against them.

1. They entered north Korea illegally.
2. They were on a mission that could only be regarded by Pyongyang as hostile, for their documentary, had it been completed, would inevitably have demonized north Korea.
3. They were aided by an anti-DPRK evangelist whose aim is to bring down the north Korean government by training and deploying an evangelical Christian fifth column.

For these reasons Ling and Lee were convicted of illegal entry and committing a hostile act. They were sentenced to 12 years hard labor. [17]

The US media, US state officials and ordinary US citizens have reacted to the arrest, conviction and sentencing of the two journalists with outrage. This is partly due to the State Department and US media portraying Ling and Lee as innocents who either mistakenly stumbled across the border or were abducted on Chinese soil by north Korean border guards. Acknowledging that the pair deliberately crossed the border illegally might reduce the outpouring of sympathy.

The arrest, conviction and sentencing of Ling and Lee have played into the hands of propagandists who cite the event as an example of north Korea’s disdain for press freedom. This is partly a red herring. Part of their sentence was related to their unlawful intrusion into north Korea. This has nothing whatever to do with press freedom. Press freedom does not give journalists carte blanche to cross international borders without authorization.

The other part of their sentence relates to a hostile act. This is closer to the idea of repressing press freedom, for it appears the hostile act the pair was convicted of pertains to the collection of documentary footage, while on north Korean soil, that would be used to vilify the country. Demonization is standard operating procedure for Western journalists covering north Korea. What Western press report on north Korea hasn’t begun with the assumption the country is belligerent, provocative, mismanaged, and repressive? While vilifying north Korea may be standard operating procedure, this doesn’t make it acceptable or any less intolerable to north Koreans. Vilification provides Western ruling class forces with openings to mobilize public opinion at home to justify economic warfare against, and military confrontation with, north Korea. While we may think of the words and ideas journalists wield as innocuous, their words and ideas have very real – and potentially devastating – consequences for the lives, safety, and well-being of north Koreans.

Denunciations of north Korea by US sources for arresting, trying and jailing the journalists are hypocritical. While it appears otherwise on the surface, Washington’s tolerance of press freedom is no greater than that of Pyongyang. Both countries deny advocacy rights to hostile media. North Korea punishes journalists whose intentions are to smear its reputation. For its part, the United States denies press freedom to organizations that may, through their control of mass media, mobilize people against what Washington deems to be its interests. For example, Washington bans the Hezbollah TV station, Al Manar, on the ground that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.[18] Let’s suppose it is. Is there a reason why a terrorist organization (and I don’t accept the designation) should be denied press freedom? The answer, from Washington’s point of view, is yes. Press freedom should only be extended to those whose advocacy is within what Washington defines as acceptable bounds. Hezbollah is considered out of bounds because it advocates the use of violence against a US ally (Israel) to achieve a political goal (self-defense) deemed by Washington to be hostile to its interests. Likewise, Pyongyang takes a dim view of press freedom used to advocate positions deemed hostile to its interests. The critical question is not whether press freedom is an absolute value to be fought for, but whose interests are at stake when press freedoms are abridged? Press freedoms are abridged in Western countries when imperialist or capitalist interests are seriously threatened; in anti-imperialist countries, when values of sovereignty are threatened. Since anti-imperialist countries are under constant threat, the need to abridge press freedom is unremitting. Since serious threats to imperialist countries are weaker and only occasional, press freedom in the West, and advocacy rights generally, are abridged less often.

Shouldn’t ideas rise and fall on their own intrinsic merit? If ideas rose and fell on their own intrinsic merits, perhaps, yes. But they don’t. Ideas rise and fall on more than intrinsic merit alone. They also rise and fall depending on how persuasively they’re communicated, and, importantly, how loudly, how often and how widely. It’s easy to accept a communist or anti-capitalist press, if it is small, under-funded, and marginal. The ideas it communicates, no matter their merit, will pose little threat, and will be overwhelmed by a cascade of competing ideas that are so ubiquitous they seem to constitute the common sense. What’s more, the very fact a communist press exists can be pointed to as evidence a society is free and open. And the notion that ideas rise and fall on their own merit can be invoked to explain why the communist press is marginal and why its ideas are not widely embraced. Press freedom, then, is an easy concept to accept, if you own the only truly visible, ubiquitous, press, and competing presses are small, under-funded and marginal.

Another question is whether the intrinsic merits of an idea are universal, or only particular to a specific group. Free trade may have intrinsic merit to the owners of an industrialized country, but not to the residents of an underdeveloped country. Slavery has intrinsic merit to slave-owners, but not to slaves. Occupying Iraq militarily has merit to decision-makers in Washington, but not to Iraqis on the ground. There are few ideas that have an intrinsic merit for all people at all times. Slavery as an idea was dominant in slave-owning societies, both because it had intrinsic merit (for slave-owners) and also because slave-owners had the means to propagate and justify the idea. Slavery has no legitimacy in a capitalist society because it has no intrinsic merits to the capitalist class, and because the capitalist class has the means to propagate and justify competing ideas until they achieve the status of common sense.

What’s more, there are abridgements of advocacy rights that most everyone accepts as desirable. Many countries prohibit advocacy of Nazism and hate-speech. Would we accept advocacy of slavery, the legal distribution of child pornography, or the hunting of racial minorities for sport? Some might, if they could be assured the advocates of these ideas would be marginalized by lack of access to platforms to mobilize support for their ideas on a mass scale. It’s doubtful, however, that their commitment to advocacy rights in the absolute would stand the test of these vile views being broadcast widely. Commitment to advocacy rights in the absolute is, except in the case of a tiny group of rights fanatics, conditional on the exercise of these rights making no meaningful challenge to one’s cherished views.

It’s instructive to consider the consequences of absolute press freedom being achieved at a time when titanic corporations in imperialist countries control vast media monopolies. These media reach far and wide, penetrating even those countries in which working class or national liberation forces (or both) have control of the state. On a world scale, in these times, absolute press freedom offers imperialism a means to perpetuate its domination by controlling most of the levers by which public opinion and people’s perceptions and values are shaped. What hope have anti-imperialist countries to survive, if the vile ideas the imperialist mass media propagate are given free rein?

The parallel is free trade. Free trade benefits dominant industrial powers, which have, as a consequence, always favored free trade as a universal principle (until they lose their dominance.) Britain, once the workshop of the world, promoted free trade as an absolute, until its industrial monopoly was eclipsed by the United States, Germany and Japan. These countries rejected free trade as inimical to their own development. They used state ownership, tariffs, subsidies, and other forms of preferential treatment of domestic industry, to develop industrially. Had they accepted Britain’s favored principle of free trade, their development would have stalled and Britain would have continued in its dominant position. Once it lost its status as workshop of the world, Britain rejected free trade and embraced imperial tariffs.

In the same way, imperialism promotes advocacy rights as an absolute. Because capitalist forces in the imperialist countries control the bulk of the world’s mass media, and therefore are able to shape public opinion, perceptions and values on a world scale, they are generally in favour of a free press. A free press means their version of reality holds sway. It is only when opposing forces begin to challenge their monopoly by developing their own mass media that the principle of advocacy rights as an absolute is abandoned. Just as the United States, Germany and Japan challenged Britain’s industrial monopoly by rejecting free trade as a universal principle, so must anti-imperialist and working class forces challenge capitalist and imperialist domination by disrupting advocacy of reactionary positions.

There are other limits on press freedom in the United States. Al Jazeera’s English-language broadcasting can be seen in over 100 countries, but the network faces a virtual ban in the United States, where it is only available from cable providers in Burlington, Vermont, Toledo, Ohio, and Washington. D.C. [19]

In Canada, the British politician George Galloway, who is an effective and passionate advocate of the rights of Palestinians, was denied entry to the country in order to disrupt a planned speaking tour. Canadian officials feared Galloway would mobilize support for Palestinians and against a Canadian ally, Israel. While the ban had little practical effect, since Galloway was able to speak to Canadian audiences through remote broadcasts, this demonstrates that Canada is prepared to limit advocacy rights when faced with very minor challenges to the dominant ideology. How much damage could Galloway, alone, do to the monolithic depiction of Israel as a tiny but plucky country besieged by anti-Jewish Arabs bent on carrying out the Final Solution? By contrast, such countries as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and north Korea are bombarded daily with persuasive communications from Western media challenging these countries’ anti-imperialist direction. The provocations they face are a hundred-fold greater than the provocations the dominant class in Western societies face, and yet Western governments are quick to impose limits on advocacy rights, while at the same time condemning anti-imperialist countries for taking defensive measures against bombardment by pro-imperialist propaganda.

The Pentagon also prohibits press freedom by barring the media from covering the return to the United States of soldiers killed overseas. [20] The purpose is plain: to keep US citizens acquiescent so they don’t press more vigorously for a meaningful withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as the punishment meted out to Ling and Lee reflects Pyongyang’s political interests, Washington and other Western countries restrict press freedom and advocacy rights for their own political purposes.

In Iraq, the US military has detained dozens of journalists since 2001. While Ling and Lee faced formal charges and were afforded a trial, the journalists the US military lock up are held without charge and denied access to the courts. [21] Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer, who won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, was imprisoned by the US military for over two years without charge or trial. [22] While rallies have been held in support of Ling and Lee, few US citizens are aware of the Iraqi journalists held by the US military.

While Washington is prepared to limit advocacy rights and press freedoms that provide openings to mobilize people against capitalist or imperialist interests, it’s equally prepared to declare advocacy rights to be sacrosanct when efforts are made to impose limits on advocacy of reactionary positions. For example, in November 2008, a resolution sponsored by Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan and three other countries was put before the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution sought a ban on the glorification of Nazism and the description of Nazi collaborators as national liberation forces. The United States voted against the resolution, citing the need to uphold advocacy rights. A US official explained that “in a free society hateful ideas fail on account of their own intrinsic lack of merit,” and that is was therefore unnecessary – and an affront to the idea of free speech — to impose a ban. [23] Yet the United States has officially banned Al Manar, virtually bans Al Jazeera, and won’t allow the media to cover the return of fallen soldiers to the United States.

Washington’s client regime on the Korean peninsula, the ROK, imposes even stricter limits on freedom of expression. Citing threats to south Korea’s national security, the military bans all “pro-North Korea, antigovernment, anti-American and anticapitalism works” from its barracks, including books by Noam Chomsky. [24] For years, photos of north Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, were cut out of the international edition of Time Magazine by south Korean censors. And south Korea’s notorious national security law criminalizes communism and recognition of north Korea. While it is obligatory for Western journalists to denigrate north Korea’s human rights record in every report they file, rarely, if ever, is south Korea’s severe curtailment of advocacy rights for leftist political forces ever mentioned. In the world of Western journalism, the denial of rights to communists and militant anti-imperialists is glossed over, even accepted as desirable. It is only the denial of rights to pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist forces that is considered intolerable and worthy of mention.

Whether one ought to be for or against the arrest, convictions and imprisonment of Ling and Lee depends on answers to the following questions:

Did they deliberately enter north Korea without authorization, thereby knowingly committing a crime? The weight of evidence says they did.

Were they aware of the risk they were taking when they intruded upon north Korean territory with intentions the north Korean government could only regard as unfriendly — and at a time of high tension between their country and the DPRK? Ling and Lee are veteran journalists, not hapless tourists with a shaky grasp of public affairs. It’s fairly certain they were aware of the risks they were taking, but took them anyway, because risk-takers who defy the odds to bring back the story are highly rewarded in Western journalism. Ling’s older sister, Lisa, took a similar risk three years earlier. The risk paid off, and helped build her reputation.

Are Ling and Lee politically neutral? No journalist, no matter how hard she strives to be impartial, is free from class or national allegiances. As journalists employed by capitalists based in the dominant imperialist power, it is inevitable their reporting on north Korea would have had a decidedly pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist tilt, at odds with north Korea’s interests. Ling and Lee are every bit as much warriors in the struggle between Washington and Pyongyang over the question of whether the whole of the Korean peninsula will be dominated by US geopolitical interests as US military and intelligence personnel and Washington decision-makers are. Their battlefield, while it may not be one of missiles and artillery, is people’s minds, and is every bit as important. Ling and Lee are not innocent, politically neutrally journalists, who accidentally stumbled across the north Korean border. They are promoters of an imperialist ideology who almost certainly intruded illegally on north Korea with unfriendly intentions. The evidence suggests they are guilty as charged.


“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said (July 10, 2009) that the United States was now seeking ‘amnesty’ for two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea, a remark that suggests that the Obama administration was admitting the women’s culpability in a bid to secure their freedom. [...] Ms. Ling reportedly called her sister, Lisa Ling, also a journalist, this week and said in the course of a 20-minute conversation that (she and Euna Lee) had broken North Korean law…” Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Clinton seems ‘amnesty’ for 2 held by North Korea,” The New York Times, July 11, 2009.

Laura Ling’s sister, Lisa “revealed that (Ling and Lee) did apparently cross into North Korea from China.” Anahad O’Connor, “Journalists entered N. Korea, sister says,” The New York times, August 7, 2009.

“The full statement by former president Bill Clinton reads: ‘The young women had acknowledged that they did go into North Korea briefly, a few steps, and that they shouldn’t have done it. And the secretary of state had previously said that the United States regretted that.'” Charisse Van Horn, “Bill Clinton speaks about Laura Ling Euna Lee and trip to North Korea,” examiner.com, August 9, 2009.

“According to Durihana, the Current TV crew met (Chun Ki-won)…in Seoul on March 13, asking for help covering the plight of North Korean refugees in China. Mr. Chun said he put them in touch with (Lee Chun-woo, a south Korean evangelist living in China) and a Korean guide in China. [...] The activists, missionaries and smugglers who help shuttle people out of North Korea have moved about 20,000 North Korean refugees through China, mostly to South Korea. Some operate with a political agenda to undermine the North Korean government…” Choe Sang-Hun, “In South Korea, Freed U.S. jounralists come under harsh criticism,” The New York Times, August 22, 2009.

1. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009; “Detailed report on truth about crimes committed by American journalists,” KCNA, June 16, 2009.
2. Raja Abdulrahim and Jessica Garrison, “Friends speak up for LA journalists held by N Korea,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2009.
3. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
4. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
5. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
6. David E. Sanger and Choe Sang Hun, “US protests N Korea’s treatment of journalists,” New York Times, June 9, 2009.
7. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea says journalists admitted crimes,” New York Times, June 17, 2009.
8. Raja Abdulrahim and Jessica Garrison, “Friends speak up for LA journalists held by N Korea,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2009; Robert Mackey, “Vigils held for American reporters on trial in North Korea,” New York Times, June 3, 2009.
9. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea said to detain US reporters,” New York Times, March 20, 2009.
10. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea said to detain US reporters,” New York Times, March 20, 2009; Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009.
11. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
12. Blaine Harden, “North Korea says two convicted journalists admitted ‘criminal acts’”, The Washington Post, June 17, 2009.
13. Choe Sang-Hun, “N. Korea says it is holding reporters,” New York Times, March 22, 2009; Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Al Gore’s Current, suspected spies,” AP, May 24, 2009; IFEX Alert, March 29, 2009.
14. PBS News Hour, “Evangelical movement spreads throughout South Korea,” February 28, 2007; Interview with Chun Ki-won, http://www.hrwh.org.
15. Norimitsu Onishi, “Letter from South Korea: Campaign for human rights and fishing for souls,” New York Times, February 24, 2006.
16. Tom O’Neil, “Escape from North Korea,” National Geographic, February, 2009.
17. “Detailed report on truth about crimes committed by American journalists,” KCNA, June 16, 2009.
18. Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2008.
19. “Few in US see Jazeera’s coverage of Gaza war,” New York Times, January 12, 2009.
20. Liz Sly, “US holds journalist in Iraq without charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2009.
21. Ibid.
22. AP, August 23, 2008.
23. US Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman, Questions taken from the February 25, 2009 daily press briefing.
24. Choe Sang-Hun, “Textbooks on Past Offend South Korea’s Conservatives,” New York Times, November 18, 2008.

Written by what's left

June 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Posted in Media, north Korea

The Politics of The New York Times

with 4 comments

By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times’ and The Washington Post’s promotion of a chauvinist understanding of foreign policy is evidenced in their recent treatment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and their non-treatment of criminal proceedings in Spain against six senior Bush administration officials for torture.

Al-Bashir is sought by the ICC in connection with war crimes charges related to the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Like the United States and Israel, Sudan is not a signatory to the treaty establishing the court. Neither country is willing to submit to the ICC for fear, they say, that their officials will face politically-motivated prosecutions, a fear they unjustifiably suppose is unique to their own nationals. State officials of other countries are as likely to become targets of politically-motivated indictments, all the more so if they preside over land, labor and resources coveted by powerful countries able to exercise influence over the court through their permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). But the refusal of the United States and Israel to sign the ICC treaty is more likely motivated by fear that their frequent resort to military campaigns will open their officials to the risk of prosecution for war crimes by an international tribunal. While Sudan has not agreed to be bound by the court, the UNSC — three of whose members refuse to recognize the court — ordered the ICC to investigate al-Bashir.

The New York Times: Propagating chauvinist politics behind a façade of independent analysis and journalistic neutrality.

The New York Times: Propagating chauvinist politics behind a façade of independent analysis and journalistic neutrality.

Meanwhile, the Spanish counter-terrorism judge who prosecuted former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has initiated an investigation of six Bush administration officials for their role in writing the US policy that justified the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay. The officials are: former White House counsel and attorney general Alberto Gonzales; former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; former US Justice Department senior advisers John Yoo and Jay Bybee; and Douglas Freith, who was undersecretary of defense.

The six are said to have,

“participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention center at Guantánamo”. (1)

If the Spanish judge decides to issue arrest warrants, the six US officials could be detained and extradited if they travel outside the United States. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in Britain after the same Spanish judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The Observer, a British newspaper which covered the Spanish court’s investigation of the six former US officials, approached the story as a “political problem” for the Obama administration, rather than in the high moral tones reserved for the leaders of countries the United States opposes, like al-Bashir. Western newspapers can work themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s “thugs” allegedly torturing political opponents, while calmly deliberating on the political difficulties attempts to hold US officials accountable for torture present to the Obama administration. There is an implicit assumption in Western media coverage of US crimes that US officials won’t be prosecuted, and that anyone who thinks they ought to be has stepped outside the bounds of acceptable thought. Obama, as unctuous as any other ambitious, exhibitionist, lawyer whose charm, intelligence and acceptable politics recommends him to the role of ruling class political representative, covered all his bases. He denounced the former administration’s torture policies, while disguising his craven refusal to prosecute the perpetrators as an admirable focus on the future. “Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices, and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” Obama said in January. “But my orientation’s going to be forward-looking.” (2)

Al-Bashir finds himself in the same situation Freith et al. could soon be in, running the risk when travelling abroad of detention and extradition. Despite this, the Sudanese president recently travelled to an Arab League summit in Qatar, in what The Washington Post denounced as a “brazen act of defiance.” (3) (If Gonzales and his band of torture advocates face arrest warrants from the Spanish court but travel abroad anyway, will The Washington Post comment in disapproving tones on their brazenly defiant act?) Rather than being arrested, al-Bashir was welcomed by the heads of Arab states, many of whom denounced the court for its double standards. The leaders pointed out that the warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest was issued soon after Israel brazenly defied the rules of war to carry out a massacre in the Gaza Strip. Despite the Zionist army’s amply documented use of disproportional force against Gazan resistance fighters, its indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, its bombing of civilian infrastructure and targets, and its use of human shields, no indictments of Israeli leaders or soldiers have been forthcoming, or ever will be under the current global order dominated by Israel’s patron, the United States. Israel isn’t a party to the ICC and, with the United States wielding a Security Council veto, the UNSC won’t order the court to investigate Israeli war crimes.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad denounced the court and its indictment against al-Bashir, saying that the ICC’s “weak pretexts about fabricated crimes committed by Sudan” should only be discussed after “those who committed the atrocities and massacres in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq,” face the judgment of the court. (4)

While it’s hard to argue with al-Assad’s point, The New York Times did, trying to discredit it by citing the critical comments of a representative of what the newspaper deceptively dubbed as an independent NGO, the Doha Center for Media Freedom. The group’s spokesperson branded al-Assad as a hypocrite for wanting Israel to be investigated while complaining about al-Bashir’s indictment. That’s not exactly what al-Assad said. He criticized the ICC for its double standards, suggesting that its operation has far more to do with politics, than the pursuit of justice.

While presented as independent by The New York Times, The Doha Center is no more independent than The New York Times itself is. In fact, they are both beholden to the same class interests. Mia Farrow sits on the center’s advisory council and Reporters sans Frontiers’ (RSF’s) Robert Menard runs it. Farrow is an outspoken proponent of Western intervention in Sudan, while Menard is well known for his pro-Western chauvinism and hostility to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions.

The Doha Center is a regional satellite of RSF. RSF receives much of its funding from the French government, the US Congress (through the CIA offshoot, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)), the Soros Foundation (notorious for putting up the financial backing for color revolutions), and the Center for a Free Cuba. The Center for a Free Cuba, whose mission is to help overthrow Cuba’s socialist system, is run by Frank Calzon, who spent 11 years with the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. The Center relies on funding from the US State Department (through USAID) and the US Congress (through the NED.)

The New York Times use of the Doha Center to provide ostensibly independent commentary is emblematic of the Western media practice of drawing on experts offered up by ruling class think-tanks and foundation-funded-NGOs to propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent analysis. This practice has been especially evident in Western media coverage of events in Zimbabwe, where news stories have relied heavily on interviews with opposition figures and so-called independent experts, all of whom are generously funded by Western governments and foundations interested in regime change. Having a stable of NGO representatives and opposition politicians the media can turn to for a ready quote, who sing from the same songbook, creates the impression of unanimity born of common experience, rather than a common source of funding.

Another practice of the US media is to ignore or minimize events that challenge the doctrinal view that the United States and its allies do not commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, or carry out gross violations of human rights. Abuses may be duly noted, but the basic tenet that the West’s intentions are well-meaning remains sacrosanct. There could hardly be a better example of this than an April 4, 2009 New York Times paean to Nato, an organization established well before the Warsaw Pact, and which arose as the successor to the anti-Comintern Pact of Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, (in which Nato pressure played no small role), and presumably now without a raison d’etre, the alliance launched an illegal and aggressive terror bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, deliberately disdaining to secure UN approval for its actions, knowing it would be turned down. This gave rise to a whole industry aimed at supplying Nato with a legal figleaf to justify its aggressions. The alliance has since been pressed into service in the attempted conquest of Afghanistan. Its incessant expansion up to the borders of Russia is viewed as a hostile act by the Russian government, spurring Moscow to initiate a defensive military build-up. And yet, despite its aggressive and hostile nature, The New York Times celebrates Nato as “an alliance that deterred the Soviet Union, opened the door to emerging democracies (and) battled ethnic cleansing.” (5) In this, threatening the Soviet Union becomes deterrence, building a ring of military bases around Russia becomes opening the door to emerging democracies, and state terrorism against Yugoslav civilians carried out in contempt of international law becomes battling ethnic cleansing. If Nato truly battled ethnic cleansing, it would be locked in battle with the Israeli military, whose 61-year long effort to cleanse historic Palestine of Arabs, marks it as an ethnic cleansing organization par excellence. Instead, Nato countries are putting up the money that allows Israel to bomb, bulldoze and terrorize Palestinians.

Another example of The New York Times’ implicit commitment to the view that US foreign policy is at root guided by admirable values, is the newspaper’s reaction to the Obama administration announcing it will seek a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council because “it believed working from within was the most effective means of altering the council’s habit of ignoring poor human rights records of member states.” (6) Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention, and whose function isn’t to act as a public relations hack for the US government, will greet this with stunned amazement. After Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the humanitarian catastrophes of immense scale sparked by the wars of conquest against Iraq and Afghanistan – and this on top of a blood-soaked history of military intervention, destabilization, and mass murder around the world – the United States has the gall to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council in order to rescue it from failing to admonish others more energetically over their human rights records. Rather than being gobsmacked by this stunning chutzpah, The New York Times blithely carries on as if Quasimodo hadn’t announced it’s time for everyone to sit up straight. We’re assured that “human rights organizations generally applauded the move,” including the “nonprofit organization Human Rights First,” inviting the question: What legitimate human rights organization could possibly welcome the equivalent of Nazi Germany seeking to join the anti-imperialist league to exercise a self-proclaimed anti-colonialist leadership?

In light of the above, we might expect Human Rights First to be a ruling class vehicle, lurking behind the disarming label “nonprofit.” And, indeed, it is. Previously known as The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights First is a corporate law firm-dominated organization funded by the Ford Foundation, Soros (again), arms manufacturer Lockheed-Martin, and Mitsubishi. The organization’s job is to attack US foreign policy betes noire over human rights abuses. According to its website, it acts to “strengthen systems of accountability in countries where human rights violations occur,” though a look at where the organization’s attentions are focussed would lead one to believe that Human Rights First regards human rights violations to occur only “in places like Guatemala, Russia, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia” but not in places under United States or Israeli control. The landing page of its website on April 4, 2009 featured reports on Russia, Colombia, Guatemala, hate crime laws, Cuba, and Thailand and a paper arguing that “terrorism” suspects should be prosecuted in federal courts, but nothing on Israel’s unending human rights violations or US abuses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Small wonder then that an organization that believes all the big human rights problems occur under the purview of countries the United States opposes should applaud Washington’s intention to join the UN Human Rights Council.

Mainstream newspapers and the human rights organizations, NGOs and think-tanks they rely on for expert commentary, propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent and neutral analyses. Their analyses implicitly accept certain values and assumptions: that the military strategy and foreign policies of the United States and its allies are guided by defensive and humanitarian considerations; that the countries and movements the United States opposes are hostile, threatening, despotic, contemptuous of human rights, and are best subordinated to US leadership and moral guidance; that tribunals, international courts and international law must be pressed into service to prosecute and punish others, but the United States must not be prevented by international law from exercising its moral authority and leadership. This doctrine has a political purpose: to engineer the consent of 9/10ths of humanity for their exploitation and oppression by a US state acting on behalf of the corporations and hereditary capitalist families that recruit and sponsor its personnel, formulate its policy through a network of think-tanks, and structure its decision-making.

1. Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs, “Spanish judge accuses six top Bush officials of torture,” The Observer (UK), March 29, 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Brian Murphy, “Sudan’s leader arrives in Qatar,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2009.
4. Michael Slackman and Robert F. Worth, “Often Split, Arab Leaders Unite for Sudan’s Chief, The New York Times, March 31, 2009.
5. Steven Erlanger and Thom Shanker, “Nato leaders debate Afghan strains at summit,” The New York Times, April 4, 2009.
6. Neil MacFarquhar, “In reversal, US seeks election to UN human rights council,” The New York Times, April 1, 2009.

Written by what's left

April 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm


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