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.
“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.”
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?
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.
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.
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’?
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.’”  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.” 
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.” 
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. 
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. 
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.”  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.
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.
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…”  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).” 
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.” 
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”.  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.
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  (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.”  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.  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.,  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.  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.” 
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.
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.
“Turning the threatened into the aggressor: Media distortions in coverage of north Korea’s nuclear test,” posted here on May 31, 2009, was published by the Zimbabwe newspaper The Herald in two installments a few days later. In a reference to the article, a June 12, 2009 New York Times report by Celia W. Dugger notes that “The Herald published a two-part defense of North Korea’s nuclear tests.” Dugger cites this as an example of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe flaunting “his affinity for autocrats.” Mugabe, Dugger writes, “still controls” the Herald, which is state-owned. Dugger also points to Mugabe’s welcoming “Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, to a summit meeting attended by African heads of state” as a further example of Mugabe’s “affinity for autocrats.”
“Turning the threatened into the aggressor” points out that the behavior of the north Korean government can be understood as a response to the United States, Japan and south Korea taking a more confrontational approach to their dealings with Pyongyang, and not to an inherent belligerence on the part of north Korea or a desire to extort rewards. Confrontation has been Washington’s standard operating procedure from the moment the Workers’ Party – the governing party in north Korea — was formed in 1948, but the degree of confrontation has varied with the circumstances. In the early 1990s, with the Soviet Union’s collapse depriving the Pentagon of its principal bogeyman, then top general Colin Powell complained he was down to just two targets: Fidel Castro and north Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, who, at the time, was still alive. With the Soviet Union being succeeded by a prostrate Russia returned to capitalism, the United States retargeted some of its strategic nuclear weapons on a then non-nuclear north Korea. When north Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in protest, signaling its intention to build its own nuclear weapons if it was going to face the threat of nuclear annihilation by the United States, Washington was forced to try to arrive at an accommodation. This it did when the Clinton administration negotiated the Agreed Framework, which saw north Korea shut down its plutonium reactor, which could be readily used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, in exchange for fuel oil to tide it over until two light water reactors could be built to supply its energy needs. Pyongyang stuck to its end of the deal – despite the US delaying promised fuel oil shipments and tarrying on building the light-water reactors – until the Bush administration ripped up the agreement, accusing north Korea of operating a secret uranium enrichment program. A subsequent deal worked out during the so-called six party talks collapsed, largely because the Bush administration was divided over whether to work toward an accommodation or to pressure north Korea through threats and sanctions into collapse. North Korea eventually gave up on the deal when Washington signaled its refusal to normalize relations and demanded an intrusive verification protocol.
Bullying north Korea, the strategy that eventually gained the upper hand under Bush, and continues to be the favored strategy under Obama, was bound to produce only two outcomes: either the government in Pyongyang would capitulate or north Korea would restart its nuclear program. The north Korean government didn’t collapse, and missile launches and a nuclear test were carried out instead.
The magazine Foreign Policy, which reflects the position of the US foreign policy establishment, echoes the point. Asking whether the next north Korean leadership will give up the country’s nuclear weapons, Jennifer Lind, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, provides the answer by inviting readers to perform a thought experiment. Put yourself in the north Korean leadership’s shoes.
“Bristling enemies surround you. To the south is a country with double your population and 20 times your GDP. The southern neighbor has spent the past six decades preparing its large army to annihilate yours. In stark contrast to your army, its healthy young men and women train regularly. (Your hungry soldiers can’t train for want of fuel; they spend all of their time fixing roads or bribing officials for smuggling opportunities.) The enemy boasts state-of-the-art weapons technology. (You can’t find spare parts for your 1950s relics.)
“Oh, and that country has a friend. It’s the global superpower, a country of such vast economic might that your GDP is just a rounding error in comparison. Your people never go a day without thinking about how that country, 60 years ago, burned yours to the ground in an incendiary bombing campaign. Its people have absently labeled that episode “the forgotten war.” Today, that country has more military power than the rest of the world combined, and a large nuclear arsenal trained on your palace.
“The superpower recently overran not one but two countries (that lacked nuclear weapons) and is batting around the idea of attacking another (that lacks nuclear weapons). You watched when the superpower conquered Iraq without breaking a sweat and briskly put bullet holes through the leaders’ sons. Your eyes widened when the superpower dragged a grizzled Saddam Hussein blinking out of a rat-hole, put him in an orange jumpsuit, and then hung him brokenly from a gallows.” (1)
My article may not have painted US foreign policy as the expression of benign intent The New York Times painstakingly constructs every day in the pages of its newspaper, but exploring the surrounding events that have conditioned north Korea’s nuclear tests hardly amounts to expressing an affinity for autocrats. It does, however, signal an affinity for national independence and those willing to fight to protect it.
At the same time, Mugabe’s welcoming Sudan’s president to a summit meeting of African heads of state is not an expression of affinity for autocrats, either. It is, more likely, an expression of solidarity with a leader who has been targeted by an illegitimate court. While Dugger may regard the court as valid, even though her own country does not (it refuses to sign on to it), it has little legitimacy elsewhere, and even less in Africa, where it is seen correctly as a tool for bullying weaker countries by superpowers who will never be targeted by the court’s prosecutors, not because they haven’t committed grave crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction, but because they exercise enormous influence over the court and can block its investigations. For the ICC, justice is a spiderweb: the weak get caught in it and the great powers, which created and preside over it, lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on prized delicacies that stumble into it.
“By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had received 2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” (2)
The court, which is supposed to deal with four groups of crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression (and not just in Africa) – has been conspicuously silent on Israel’s January assault on the Gaza Strip, and on the humanitarian crisis touched off by Washington’s and London’s war of aggression on Iraq. No surprise. As Robin Cook, then British foreign secretary, explained, “If I may say so, this is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States.” (3) It is, on the contrary, a court to target Africans who refuse to be controlled and dominated by the West. As author John Laughland summed it up, the ICC is “just another excuse for superpower bullying.” (4)
The Herald’s publishing of my article tracing Pyongyang’s nuclear tests to north Korea’s fierce commitment to independence, and Mugabe’s welcoming of Bashir, are not expressions of an affinity for autocrats, but for the fight for national independence. It is fitting that Zimbabwe, whose heroes took up arms to achieve independence from white colonial rule, and which has struggled to invest its political independence with substantive economic content, would express an affinity with fraternal countries whose peoples continue to fight for meaningful national independence in the face of Western military threats, sanctions and politically-inspired international courts.
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.
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.
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.