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.”
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.
By Stephen Gowans
“The narrative we want to come out of this is that the Libyan people overthrew a dictator, not that we came in and toppled a despot,” said Stephen J. Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
“And that’s the problem with going after command and control if it results in the death of Qaddafi, because what we really want him to do is for him to leave or to die at a Libyan hand, not an American hand,” said Mr. Hadley, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” (1)
To explain the 2000 overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict promotes the very same narrative Hadley wants for Libya.
Through its video, Bringing Down A Dictator, and articles written by scholars on its academic advisory board–at least one of whom has met with the CIA and RAND Corporation–the organization brazenly rewrites history to put forward the narrative that an indigenous pro-democracy movement overthrew a dictator, not that NATO intervened massively to topple an elected president.
At least three facts are at odds with the ICNC narrative:
• NATO carried out a 78-day terror bombing campaign whose purpose was to induce “Milosevic’s own people…to turn on him,” according to the commander of US Air Force units in Europe at the time, General John P. Jumper. (2). In 1999, US General Michael Short told The New York Times that the bombing campaign was based on “hopes that the distress of the Yugoslav public will undermine support for the authorities in Belgrade.” (3)
• The West engineered a sanctions campaign that uniquely targeted areas in which Milosevic had strong support. This added to pressure on Milosevic’s own supporters to oust their president.
• Washington spent $10 million in 1999 and $31 million in 2000 to train, equip and advise an overthrow movement to destabilize the former Yugoslavia and oust Milosevic.  It is this movement that the ICNC celebrates as a largely indigenous pro-democracy movement.
Wherever Washington is trying to topple an independent government, the ICNC’s scholars can be counted on to help build a narrative that says the people overthrew a dictator, not that Washington allied with part of the population to sweep the old government from office. Invariably the replacement governments have aligned themselves closely with US financial, commercial and military interests.
Of the ICNC founder and chairman Peter Ackerman, Edward Herman and David Peterson note: He “was a board member and eventual chairman of Freedom House (September 2005 – January 2009), an institution that has been as clear an instrument of U.S. foreign policy as has the CIA itself.” (5) Ackerman is also a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, equally as clear an instrument of US foreign policy.
On Stephen Zunes, the organization’s chief scholar, the pair add: “It is disturbing to watch Zunes repeatedly downplay the role of foreign money, knowledge, and power at work behind regime-change campaigns, and hype the democratic credentials of the opposition to targeted regimes.” (6)
This, indeed, is another way of saying that Zunes works to make the narrative of US regime change operations come out the way Hadley wants it to come out in Libya – with a targeted leader’s fall seen to come at the hands of his own people with US complicity erased from history.
Herman and Peterson condemn this narrative-setting as “an especially powerful cocktail for sowing confusion among leftists and progressives, whose minds tell them to oppose imperial causes, but whose hearts warm to emotionally manipulative rhetoric about the ‘homegrown’ nature of ‘pro-democracy’ movements.” (7)
Zunes and other ICNC scholars claim to be on the left. Some even anti-imperialist. If so, what’s left?
1. Kareem Fahim and Mark Mazzetti, “Allies defending actions in Libya after airstrike”, The New York Times, May 1, 2011.
2. Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, “Nato says it is stepping up attacks on Libya targets”, The New York Times, April 26, 2011.
3. New York Times, May 13, 1999. Cited in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower.
4. Dobbs, Michael, “US advice guided Milosevic opposition,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2000.
5. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Reply to Stephen Zunes”, December 30, 2010. http://www.zcommunications.org/reply-to-stephen-zunes-by-edward-herman
6. Herman and Peterson.
7. Herman and Peterson.