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Cuba: Still Making It Tough To Screw Others

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By Stephen Gowans

New York Times reporter Damien Cave has written an article about changes that will allow Cubans to buy and sell their homes.

Cave seems to criticize the plans because they’ll likely outlaw real-estate-related social parasitism, limit “opportunities for profits and loans,” and prohibit foreign ownership.

Havana, 2011. Stephen Gowans.

“The plan outlined by the state media,” he writes, “would suppress the market by limiting Cubans to one home or apartment and requiring full-time residency.”

Gasp!

Cave seems ruefully pessimistic that budding entrepreneurs—both Cuban and foreign—will have much chance to get rich flipping Cuban properties. “Some Cubans expect rules forcing buyers to hold properties for five or 10 years,” he writes.

“Others say the government will make it hard to take profits off the island, through exorbitant taxes or limits on currency exchange.”

And Cave points to one Cuban who “cannot imagine a real open market,” anticipating, instead, that the government will set a per square foot price.

Finally, there’s a “thorny” issue that threatens to dampen the zeal of even the most ambitious social parasite: Evictions are outlawed.

How’s anyone to get rich on the backs of others under this plan?

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August 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm

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

Getting Perilously Close to Truth about US Foreign Policy

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By Stephen Gowans

It started off promisingly enough. Over the weekend, the New York Times’ Scott Shane wondered why “the drama unfolding in Cairo” seems “so familiar” if “the United States, as so many presidents have said in so many speeches [is] the world’s pre-eminent champion of democracy.”

Shane never arrived at the obvious explanation: that the United States isn’t the world’s pre-eminent champion of democracy. But he came close.

He touched on some of the more egregious examples of Washington’s dictator-backing: Batista in Cuba; Mahammed Reza Pahlavi in Iran; Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (whose “adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process” then US vice president George H. W. Bush conjured out of a vacuum and then shamelessly praised.)

“The list could be extended,” Shane admitted, to “at least a couple of dozen despots” since World War II alone.

Rarely does the New York Times acknowledge that the United States has a long record of backing dictators, all right-wing and not a few fascist (though the Times brushed over the political character of the dictatorships the US favors.) On the contrary, the newspaper’s accustomed practice is to reinforce what “so many presidents have said in so many speeches”: that the country’s foreign policy is guided by the core US value of spreading democracy.

The reason may be that there is no way the United States can plausibly continue to back its three-decade-long paladin in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak – and the continuation of Mubarak’s regime by his heir apparent Omar Suleiman – and still invoke pro-democracy rhetoric to justify its support (though secretary of state Hilary Clinton, who talks of Suleiman overseeing a transition to democracy, is game to try.)

With US hypocrisy laid bare, the follow-the-flag New York Times has had to make a concession – to truth, at least a partial one.

What Shane concedes is that the United States has values and interests, and that circumstances often conspire to keep the two from intersecting. But that’s as far as he’ll go. Admitting that the United States has “interests” which don’t always align with its “values” comes dangerously close to the truth. But if you follow what Shane has acknowledged to its limit, and ask a key question, dangerously close becomes dangerously there.

Go where Shane fears to tread. US values and interests sometimes conflict. Okay, fine. But when they do – and here are the dots Shane fails to connect — US values take a back seat. In other words, what’s important in US foreign policy are not the country’s values, but its interests.

Okay, but what are its interests? R. Palme Dutt once observed that the idea that countries have interests in other countries was an abomination of geography and democracy. How could the United States have interests in Egypt? Do Egyptians have interests in the United States, to be enforced by shipping billions of dollars to a dictator to hold the interests of US citizens in check, subordinate to their own? If so Americans would surely call this imperialism, rather than failure of values and interests to align. If Egyptians said that they really valued democracy, but that other considerations were senior, Americans would say that Egypt’s commitment to democracy was rhetorical. It’s the other considerations that really matter.

According to Shane, Mubarak has served US interests as “a staunch ally against Soviet expansionism,” by maintaining “a critical peace with Israel,” as “a bulwark against Islamic radicalism” and in promoting “a trade- and tourist-friendly Egypt.” Shane’s New York Times colleague Mark Landler sums it up this way: Mubarak’s regime protects US strategic and commercial interests.

Commercial interests are, of course, business interests, and more specifically, big business interests. They aren’t directly the interests of the bulk of US citizens, nor in many cases do they represent their indirect interests either. An investment by US investors in an existing Egyptian business profits the investors, not other US citizens. A call center set up by a US firm in Egypt to take advantage of low-wage labor benefits the US firm’s wealthy shareholders – many of whom are not even US citizens — while putting downward pressure on US wages and exporting jobs abroad.

In other words, the business interests that Mubarak and other US-backed autocrats protect on behalf of the United States are not the interests of most US citizens, but of an upper stratum of investors, bankers and wealthy shareholders whose sole loyalty is to their bottom lines. The interests of average Americans hardly matter. Indeed, in many cases, their interests are diametrically opposed to those of the investors and shareholders US foreign policy represents (as in the export of jobs).

And who’s footing the bill for the billions of dollars in military aid Mubarak’s regime receives? Given the low corporate tax policies the US government pursues, and the corporations’ skill at minimizing the taxes they pay, the answer is average Americans, not the direct beneficiaries of US foreign policy.

It’s worse. While it might seem that big business interests aren’t the only interests guiding US foreign policy – after all, there are strategic interests too — strategic interests really boil down to the interests of big business. US foreign policy makers weren’t opposed to what they called “Soviet expansionism” because they valued “democracy” but because they valued nearly limitless exploitation of labor, which expanding Soviet influence would have pared back. The problem with Islamic radicalism isn’t that it offends Western values (even if it does), but that it inspires regimes that place national interests above those of US oil companies. Arab peace with Israel is desirable because Israel is beholden to Washington to act on its behalf to prevent an Arab pan-nationalism that might see oil-rich countries balk at domination by US oil interests.

So what of US values? We’re supposed to believe that US policy-makers value liberal democracy, even if they’re willing to place profit-making interests first. But if big business interests win out over liberal democracy when the two collide, what Washington really values – if value is to have any meaning at all – is profit.

It’s like this: I say I value literature, but I always toss my books aside whenever someone turns on the TV. And I never miss an episode of Cribs. So, where do my values really lie?

The significance of this might seem all the greater if it is realized that none of this is bounded by foreign policy. Embracing liberal democracy where it doesn’t conflict with the naked pursuit of profit applies equally in the domestic sphere as well. The readiness of US policy-makers to trash civil liberties in the Red Scare years following the Bolshevik Revolution — when capitalists cowered at the thought of socialist revolution spreading around the world (with little justification it turned out) — attests to this. Civil and political liberties also took a beating later on when fears of spreading Soviet influence also seemed to threaten the capitalist system and the wealth and position of those at the top of it.

As for the democracy Washington is prepared to embrace, it looks good on paper, but comes up short in practice. Washington-friendly democracy is not democracy in its original sense as the rule of a previously oppressed class (the rabble), but democracy of the currently dominant class, the capitalist rich. True, democracy of the kind cabinet secretaries and editorial writers rhapsodize about appears to provide equal opportunity to all to influence the political process, but the reality is that the wealthy use their money to dominate the process through lobbying, funding of political parties and candidates, ownership of the media and placement of their representatives in key positions in the state.

How many cabinet secretaries in Obama’s administration held top corporate jobs and will return to them when their sojourn in Washington ends, replaced by other corporate luminaries who travel in the same circles, sit on the same boards of directors, and whose children go to the same schools and intermarry? The art of politics in capitalist democracy, to paraphrase a key Labour politician of the past, is to enable the wealthy to persuade the rest of us to use our votes to keep the wealthy in power.

Democracy, then, is not a core US value – and it is not, on two counts. First, the democracy Washington embraces isn’t democracy in any substantial sense, but is more aptly termed a plutocracy with democratic trappings. Second, the real core US value is profits. Even Washington’s preferred democracy of the rich gets pushed aside when, for whatever reasons, big business interests cannot be accommodated adequately — that is, whenever real expressions of democracy threaten to break through the restraints the system provides to hold it in check.

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February 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

North Korea attacks South Korea…or is it the other way around?

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By Stephen Gowans

If you read Mark McDonald’s article in The New York Times, “‘Crisis Status’ in South Korea After North Shells Island”, the answer depends on whether you paid attention to the headline, the expert commentary, and the tone of the article, or whether you paid attention to the facts.

If you paid attention to the former then North Korea attacked South Korea.

If you paid attention to the latter, the opposite is true.

Here are the facts McDonald reported.

o 70,000 South Korean troops were beginning a military drill…sharply criticized by Pyongyang as “simulating an invasion of the North” and “a means to provoke a war.”

o ROK artillery units fired toward the DPRK from a battery close to the North Korean coast. The South acknowledges firing the shots.

o The DPRK replied.

Shouldn’t the headline read: ‘Crisis Status’ in North Korea after South Korea Mobilizes 70,000 Troops and Shells the North’?

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November 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Obama and New York Times Working to Give Solidity to Groundless Iran Nuclear Weapons Charge

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By Stephen Gowans

I have no idea whether Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, and neither does the Obama administration, but that hasn’t stopped Obama’s advisers from claiming that Iran remains determined to develop nuclear weapons. Nor has it stopped The New York Times from working with the Obama administration to create the impression that Iran has a covert nuclear arms program, despite the country’s insistence it hasn’t, and absent any compelling evidence it has.

In a January 3 article (“U.S. sees an opportunity to press Iran on nuclear fuel”) New York Times’ reporters Steven Erlanger and William Broad cite the views of U.S. and other Western officials that dispute Tehran’s claim that Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian use only. Erlanger and Broad note that:

o Obama’s strategists believe that “Iran’s top political and military leaders [remain] determined to develop nuclear weapons.”
o “Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only is roundly rejected by Western officials and, in internal reports, by international nuclear inspectors.”
o “After reviewing new documents that have leaked out of Iran and debriefing defectors lured to the West, Mr. Obama’s advisers say they believe the work on weapons design is continuing on a smaller scale — the same assessment reached by Britain, France, Germany and Israel.”
o “In early September, the American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Glyn Davies, warned that Iran had ‘possible breakout capacity.’”
o “Mr. Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, published a year before President George W. Bush left office, which said that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003.”

In these five paragraphs Erlanger and Broad manage to reveal nothing that isn’t already known: that Iran says it isn’t seeking nuclear weapons and that U.S and Israeli politicians say it is. But they’ve written the article in a way that creates the impression that the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran is almost beyond dispute.

At no point do The New York Times’ reporters cite contradictory evidence, except to acknowledge that Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons. However, they immediately counter Iran’s denial, noting that it is rejected by Western officials.

It is, however, untrue that Iran’s denials are uniformly rejected. The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, says there is no solid evidence that Iran has ever had a nuclear arms program. Erlanger and Broad themselves reported this on October 4, 2009. “In September, the IAEA issued a ‘statement cautioning it ‘has no concrete proof’ that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms, much less to perfect a warhead.’” [1] Added Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief nuclear watchdog at the time: “We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program… But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world. In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped.” [2]

While the U.S. intelligence community hasn’t gone so far as to say there is no concrete proof that Tehran ever had a nuclear weapons program, in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) it did say that Iran hasn’t had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

In a September 10, 2009 article, Erlanger reported that “new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that [Iran] has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb,” and “The new intelligence information collected by the Obama administration finds no convincing evidence that the design work has resumed.” [3]

It could be that new evidence compiled since September has led the Obama administration to adopt a revised view. Certainly, Obama’s advisers say they no longer believe the NIE, but they’ve been saying that since February. Back then, they acknowledged that “no new evidence (had) surfaced to undercut the findings of the (NIE)” but that they didn’t believe it, all the same. [4]

Significantly, Erlanger and Broad report that, “The administration’s (current) review of Iran’s program … (does) not amount to a new formal intelligence assessment.” In other words, the new intelligence, information from allies, and analyses that have led Obama’s advisers to conclude that Iran remains determined to develop nuclear weapons, isn’t of sufficient weight or credibility to revise the NIE. Just as was true in February.

Sanger and Broad reported as recently as December 16 that the “Institute for Science and International Security, a group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation” urged “caution and further assessment” of some of the evidence Obama advisers say has led them to reject the NIE, because “we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build” nuclear weapons. [5]

The Obama administration’s recent actions smack of the former Bush administration’s practice of glomming on to any evidence, no matter how dubious, to make the case that Iraq had banned weapons. Bush may have been replaced by Obama, but the practice of sexing up intelligence to fabricate a case for war, or in this case, more sanctions in the short term — and of The New York Times playing a role in uncritically circulating pretexts for U.S. aggression — continue.

It would appear that while there is no credible evidence to revise the NIE, it is convenient for the Obama administration to claim that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear arms. So it simply says it has new evidence that Iran is secretly working on building nuclear weapons. The New York Times, frequently complicit in U.S. foreign policy deceptions, plays along.

One other matter: Would an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability be a threat that warrants a pre-emptive strike?

Any nuclear arms capability Iran developed would be rudimentary and pose what U.S. foreign policy critic Edward Herman has called the threat of self-defense. Nuclear weapons would offer Iran a way of making the United States and Israel, both with vastly larger arsenals than Iran could ever develop in decades, and track records of attacking countries that threaten to disturb the balance of power in the Middle East (i.e., that threaten to challenge U.S. domination of the region), to think twice about overt aggression. A few nuclear weapons wouldn’t turn Iran into the new bully on the block, capable of throwing its weight around, and getting its way. Israel, with its estimated 200 nuclear warheads, is the region’s biggest bully, and, backed by the bully extraordinaire, the United States, will continue to be for some time. Iran, even a nuclear-armed one, is a military pipsqueak, by comparison.

As Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, reminds us: Iran “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational … They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” [6] The United States, on the other hand, wants to rule the world, and will resort to whatever baseless charges are necessary to justify its actions.

1. “Report says Iran has data to make a nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, October 4, 2009.
2. http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/09/02/un_nuclear_watchdog_says_iran_threat_hyped/
3. “US says Iran could expedite nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2009.
4. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.
5. “Nuclear memo in Persian puzzles spy agencies,” The New York Times, December 16, 2009.
6. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.

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January 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

The bootstrap theory of propaganda

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By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times and U.S. politicians are, through assertion and repetition, attempting to create as common knowledge the idea that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that the last presidential election in Iran was fraudulent, even though there is no evidence to back either claim.

In today’s (November 23, 2009) New York Times, reporter Alexei Barrionuevo writes that “Brazil’s ambitions to be a more important player on the global diplomatic stage are crashing headlong into the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to rein in Iran’s nuclear arms program” (my emphasis.)

This treats the existence of a nuclear arms program in Iran as an established finding.

Yet, Tehran denies it has a nuclear weapons program and the U.N nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says it “‘has no concrete proof’ that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms…” [1] The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate disagrees, in part, claiming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003, but says that Iran has since disbanded it. In February, “US officials said that…no new evidence has surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 (estimate).” [3]

According to the head of the I.A.E.A, Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency has

“not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program… But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world… In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and the international community… But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.” [3]

Barrionuevo isn’t alone in asserting, without evidence, that Iran is building nuclear arms. U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, told Barrionuevo that “the world is trying to figure out how to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons,” assuming, as a given, that Iran is trying to have nuclear weapons.

Engel also says that Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “is illegitimate with his own people,” a reference to the disputed presidential election Iran’s opposition claims Ahmadinejad won through fraud. Barrionuevo points to critics who worry that a planned visit to Brazil by Ahmadinejad will “legitimize” the Iranian president “just five months after what most of the world sees as his fraudulent re-election.”

Yet there is no evidence the election was stolen. All that backs the allegation is the assertion of the opposition that the election was fraudulent and “what most of the world” believes, this being based on the Western media treating opposition claims as legitimate.

This is a circular process. Most of the world believes the election was fraudulent because that’s what the principal source of information on this matter, the media, led it to believe. Now the New York Times offers the fact that the assertion is widely believed as evidence it is true. This might be called the bootstrap theory of propaganda: legitimize an assertion by treating it as true, and when most of the world believes it’s true, offer the reality that everyone believes it to be true as evidence it is.

The only relevant evidence that would allow us to determine whether the outcome of the election was crooked or fair is provided by the sole methodologically rigorous poll conducted prior to the election. It was sponsored by the international arm of the U.S. Republican Party, the International Republican Institute, hardly a booster of Ahmadinejad. Carried out three weeks prior to the election, the poll “showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – greater than his actual apparent margin of victory”. [4] The pollsters, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, concluded that “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want.”

The process of creating commonly held beliefs that have no evidentiary basis, and doing so through assertion and repetition, is not new. To justify an illegal war on Yugoslavia, Western politicians, and the Western media in train, asserted without evidence that a genocide was in progress in Kosovo in 1999. Tens of thousands of corpses were expected to be found littering the “killing fields” of the then-Serb province. But when forensic investigators were dispatched to Kosovo after the war to document the genocide, the bodies never turned up. By frequently repeating unsubstantiated claims, people were led to believe that systematic killings on a mass scale were being carried out, and that the West had a moral obligation to intervene. The public was duped.

Similarly, Western politicians “sexed up” intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Western media went along, acknowledging only after public support for the war had been engineered by the media’s propagation of U.S. and British government lies, that it got it wrong. The politicians said they had been misled by the C.I.A. The C.I.A said it was pressured by the politicians. All that mattered was that many people believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding banned weapons. When none were found, a new pretext for dominating Iraq militarily was trotted out, and acceptance of the pretext was aided by the repetition of more unsubstantiated assertions.

The bootstrap theory of propaganda is at work again, this time in connection with Iran.

1. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Report says Iran has data to make a nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, October 4, 2009.

2. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” The Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.

3. William J. Cole, “UN nuclear watchdog says Iran threat hyped,” The Boston Globe, September 2, 2009.

4. Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want,” The Guardian (UK), June 15, 2009.

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November 23, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Iran’s acknowledged nuclear fuel plant and Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant

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By Stephen Gowans

Western press accounts of the existence of an unfinished Iranian nuclear fuel plant near Qum have subtly changed, drawing closer to a view more compatible with Washington’s aim of marshalling support for stepped up sanctions against Iran.

While early press reports acknowledged that Iran had on Monday, September 22 notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of the plant’s existence [1] (that is, days before the Obama administration drew attention to it) stories in major dailies now omit any mention of the Iranian notification. Instead, the reporting on the issue now creates the impression that the existence of the facility was unknown outside of Iran until US officials revealed it on Friday, September 26. For example, New York Times reporters David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write of “the revelation Friday of the secret facility at a military base near the holy city of Qum.” [2] The facility could hardly be secret, since it existence had been revealed by Iran itself five days earlier.

U.S. media have also omitted any mention of a secret nuclear weapons plant in another West Asian country, Israel.

Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant, long in existence, is located in the Negev desert near Dimona. [3] I.A.E.A inspectors have never visited it and never will unless Israel becomes a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a treaty Iran has voluntarily submitted to. (While the United States is a nominal signatory, it acts as if it’s not bound by the treaty’s provisions, and therefore is effectively no more a member than Israel is.)

Neither are Israel and the United States members of the International Criminal Court (sharing non-membership with Russia and China.) I.C.C. non-membership, however, doesn’t mean the court can’t pursue prosecutions in connection with non-member states. It can, if ordered to by the U.N. Security Council (i.e., by the United States, Russia and China, the same countries that won’t join the court themselves.) The Security Council ordered the I.C.C. to investigate crimes committed in connection with fighting in Darfur. That’s why the president of Sudan is wanted by the I.C.C., even though Sudan isn’t a member of the court. Washington’s de jure and de facto power to veto the Security Council (the overwhelming strength of the U.S. military pretty much allows the United States to operate by its own rules) are ultimately the reasons why the former president of the United States, George W. Bush, isn’t wanted by the court and not because Bush is free of the taint of massive war crimes. It only matters that you commit crimes if you aren’t the United States or don’t have its backing. And even then not having Washington’s backing is frequently all that matters. After all, Iraq was attacked, invaded, and occupied even though it wasn’t concealing the banned weapons Washington said it was failing to come clean on.

When the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s fact-finding mission on war crimes committed in Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 said Israel should carry out serious, independent investigations, and if it didn’t, the Security Council should refer the matter to the I.C.C., [4] Israel immediately rejected the demand. Not widely reported was that the United States said there was no chance it would allow the Security Council to refer the matter to the I.C.C., arguing the U.N. report was “unbalanced.” U.S. officials noted that 85 percent of the commission’s report detailed Israeli war crimes, and only 15 percent those committed by Hamas. [5] But the “imbalance” reflected the imbalance in the struggle, with Israel using its formidable war machine to cause considerable civilian death, injury and destruction, while Hamas fired crude, home-made rockets whose effect was hardly registered. If the report was mostly about Israeli war crimes, it was because Israel committed most the war crimes.

Owing to the protection it receives from Washington, Israel won’t be answering to the I.C.C., and nor will it be sanctioned for failing to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty or for having a secret nuclear weapons program. These penalties are solely reserved for countries that are resisting U.S. domination, not facilitating its extension, the role Israel plays as U.S. attack dog in West Asia and northern Africa.

Israel already has an attack on another country’s nuclear facilities under its belt (the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor.) Over the last year it has issued a series of military threats against Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. That is, a nuclear weapons state has repeatedly threatened a non-nuclear weapons state. And yet Iran not Israel is presented in the Western media as dangerous and aggressive.

Israel has always relied on the deception that it is under existential threat to justify its numerous aggressions, when always it has had at its command military force in excess of that its opponents can marshal. This is true even going back to its founding in 1948, when it faced off against ragtag Arab volunteers, and then a disorganized agglomeration of Arab armies, while claiming it was defending itself against a second holocaust.

While it’s true that the government of Iran is hostile to the Zionist occupation of Palestine, Iran poses no serious military threat to Israel, and wouldn’t, even if it were capable of quickly producing nuclear weapons. The best it could do is present a threat of self-defense. It would take years for Iran to match Israel’s current nuclear arsenal, and in the intervening period, Israel could vastly expand its own. Plus, Israel, already possessing a formidable military – it receives $3 billion in U.S. military aid every year — is backed by history’s most formidable military power, the United States. Iran, even with the rudimentary arsenal of nuclear weapons it may have the capability (though perhaps never the intention) of producing at some point, is no match for Israel – and this its leaders know well. The country, remarked Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational. They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” [6]

1. David E. Sanger, “U.S. to accuse Iran of having secret nuclear fuel facility,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.
2. See for example David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “U.S. to demand inspection of new Iran plan ‘within weeks’”, The New York Times, September 27, 2009.
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negev_Nuclear_Research_Center
4. Neil MacFarquhar, “Inquiry finds Gaza war crimes from both sides,” The New York Times, September 16, 2009.
5. Colum Lynch, “U.S. faces doubts about leadership on human rights,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2009.
6. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.

Written by what's left

September 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm

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