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Neocolonial dementia, psy-warfare and media complicity
The Libyan and Syrian wars have demonstrated categorically the very clear commitment of the progressive Western intellectual managerial class to the fundamental neocolonial premises of their NATO governments. In that context, Patrick Cockburn’s article constitutes a masterpiece of evasion. Its publication in numerous progressive alternative media outlets indicates the insidious osmosis between those media and the corporate mainstream, one which has almost entirely destroyed politically effective Western anti-imperialist consciousness.
Neocolonial Dementia, Psy-warfare and Media Complicity
tortilla con sal, Libya 360°, 15 October 2013
Watching someone degenerate and die from dementia reminds us of the complex mystery of the human mind and its heart-breaking physical frailty. The stops and starts in the steady advance of the physical degenerative process lead inevitably to the humiliating breakdown of vital capacities, for example, appetite or the ability to swallow. Once thus destroyed, the person we once knew falls quickly into implacable death, separated from the rest of us by a stark barrier of incoherence, bewilderment and forgetting.
Reading Western intellectual production justifying or evading the barbaric evil of NATO country terror and aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya, Syria and elsewhere provokes that same sensation. Western false beliefs seem to have advanced to the point where its whole degenerate system of corporate consumer-capitalist oligarchy is breaking down into irretrievable incoherence. When observing Western crimes against humanity, a key question is what kinds of self-deception make it possible for Western intellectuals to promote the false beliefs necessary to justify their governments’ crimes.
On one level, very little has changed since the days of decolonization after 1945. The former imperial Western powers destabilize politically and economically governments refusing to do what the Western powers want. Those recalcitrant governments and their leaders are systematically demonized in the Western media. If they still hold out, the United States and its allies instigate violent subversion, provoking human rights abuses and general misery, aimed at overthrowing the target government.
The Western powers have regularly abused the UN system so as to apply genocidal sanctions and justify military aggression. Should even that corrupt UN system fail to get the results they want, the Western powers then resort to unilateral military attack, either directly or via proxies. Currently, around the world this modus operandi is most obviously being applied to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. In recent years it has been successfully applied, with variations, to Somalia, Haiti, Honduras, Ivory Coast and Libya.
On Libya and Syria, the Western corporate media have been joined by their alternative media counterparts and their corresponding NGO sector. They all collaborate actively as the psy-warfare arm of their governments’ neocolonial aggression. A recent article by the Irish writer Patrick Cockburn offers a rare chance to see how one of the more accomplished Western liberal neocolonial apologists defends what the Western media intellectual-managerial class has facilitated in recent years.
It would be hard to find a clearer example of the disingenuous premises and perspectives on which that class bases its intellectual production. Addressing the failings of Western media coverage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syira, Patrick Cockburn neglects to draw self-evident conclusions about the psychological warfare role of Western media workers and intellectuals. His article is an elaborate evasion of those workers’ and his own very clear ideologically motivated falsity.
He begins by observing in relation to recent Western neocolonial wars , “Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.” But Cockburn refrains from drawing the obvious conclusion, namely, that those opposition movements did not enjoy sufficient widespread popular support to overthrow the government. This is in marked contrast to successful genuine revolutions in countries like Cuba and Nicaragua where over 70% of the population in each country supported their revolutionary triumphs, only to be immediately attacked by the United States.
Cockburn’s implicit assumption seems to be that the Western powers hoped to set up stable States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But he offers no support for such a benign assumption. He notes, disarmingly, “More than most armed struggles, the conflicts have been propaganda wars in which newspaper, television and radio journalists played a central role.” It is worth examining what this means. Western media are deliberately organized so as to selectively filter the huge amount of input material they receive, excluding contradictory majority world perspectives.
This involves a handful of heavily concentrated NATO country and allied media outlets and news agencies. The internet has made it possible for smaller news outfits to begin to have an impact. But even so, global media news in European languages remains largely controlled and dictated by carefully filtered inputs from a handful of Western news agencies. One almost never finds news stories appearing in NATO and allied country media, like Al Jazeera, sourced from non-Western agencies contradicting the fundamental policy rationale of Western governments.
By narrowing his focus to countries he has himself reported, without reference to the wider global pattern of NATO country aggression, Cockburn commits the same sin of omission he rightly identifies in the coverage of his media peers. The remit he consigns himself, addressing media reporting failures, is bogus because he deliberately refrains from exploring their very clear role as psychological warfare. He writes of Aghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, “during these four campaigns the outside world has been left with misconceptions even about the identity of the victors and the defeated.”
Explaining why this should be so, Cockburn makes the trite observation that dramatic reportage grabs attention and headlines. In so doing, he partially shifts the blame for false and misleading reporting onto the reporters’ editors. That in itself leaves out another broad question, relating to what kinds of people get recruited to the NATO country psy-warfare media organizations in the first place. Self-evidently, they will be people prepared to frame their reporting within the dominant pro-NATO Western ideology.
Cockburn alludes to that conclusion, again without making it explicit, when he writes that “oversimplifications were more than usually gross and deceptive in Afghanistan and Iraq, when they dovetailed with political propaganda”. He then proceeds to rehash the events of the failed revolts in Egypt and Bahrain, implicitly linking them to events in Syria, as if all were in some way homogeneous just because similar means of repression were applied by the governments facing popular unrest. That suggestion contradicts his own admonitions against facile explanations of complex events.
On Syria, Cockburn omits mentioning the relevance of very important political developments like the Syrian parliamentary elections and the constitutional referendum. This omission renders somewhat insincere his own comment that “irregular or guerrilla wars are always intensely political, and none more so than the strange stop-go conflicts that followed from 9/11.” He gives the impression of looking in from the outside but he is in fact also talking about himself. Indeed, it is the omissions in Cockburn’s opinion piece that define the essentially ideological nature of his argument . He remarks critically, “History – including the histories of their own countries – had nothing to teach this generation of radicals and would-be revolutionaries.”
One might reasonably expect here some reference to 1980s Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Mozambique and Angola. Likewise clearly relevant contemporary conflicts have been Ivory Coast, Somalia and the African Great Lakes countries. Similarly, NATO countries in recent years have engaged in the same kind of low intensity aggression against Haiti and Venezuela that they applied for decades to a greater or lesser degree against Iraq, Libya, Syria. In fact, Cockburn skips all this obviously relevant history, of which he is well aware, to cite the relevance of…….the European uprisings of 1848.
Cockburn distracts his readers by using engaging references to his own direct experiences in Iraq, Libya and Syria, warning against manichaean oversimplification. But some things are in fact very simple, as Cockburn himself remarks on Libya, “Media focus on colourful skirmishes diverted attention from the central fact that Gaddafi was overthrown by military intervention by the US, Britain and France.”. Cockburn’s own affable first hand vignettes distract readers from the obvious conclusion that the Libyan government enjoyed greater legitimacy than its violent minority opposition. The same is true in Syria.
On Libya, Cockburn mentions a couple of examples of false propaganda, but omits that every main Western accusation by governments, NGOs and media were baseless from the very start. For example, the first incidents in Benghazi in February 2011 far from being mostly peaceful demonstrations, included well-planned and well-armed attacks on the bases of Libya’s security forces by rebels supported by numerous foreign terrorists. It was completely untrue that “Gaddhafi” had massacred peaceful demonstrators. Nor were there any African mercenaries in the Libyan government army.
But both these lies were included in the disgraceful UN Security Resolution 1973, shamefully let pass by the diplomats of Russia’s President Medvedev and China’s President Hu Jintao. Through February and March, racist lynchings by the Libyan opposition were commonplace in and around Benghazi, but hardly any Western media reported them or what they meant in terms of the calibre of the fake “revolution”. The UNSC Resolution called for all parties to work for a peaceful solution. But around March 19th, when Resolution 1973 came into effect, it was the Western-armed Benghazi rebels who deliberately rejected peace talks because they knew the NATO powers were going to give them direct military support.
Similarly, no Western media commented fairly on the total humiliation of the African Union countries’ urgent efforts to promote peace talks. From the start, facts were fixed around policy and everything, media editorial policy included, was geared to all out war against the Libyan government. The cynical moral failure of the West was never ever more evident, across the board, including the cream of the West’s neocolonial, progressive or liberal intellectual managerial classes. Hardly a single well known Western intellectual or writer spoke out against the attack on Libya, including Patrick Cockburn.
Cockburn arrived in Tripoli, Libya, after it had fallen to the combined forces of Qatar and its NATO allies that allowed the otherwise hapless “rebels” to pretend it was they who had captured the city. At the time, the alternative Counterpunch website, published several articles by various writers, including Patrick Cockburn. But none of those writers reported faithfully the genocidal criminality perpetrated against Libyans faithful to their Jamahiriya after the fall of Tripoli.
The vicious NATO bombing of Bani Walid and Sirte or the complexity of resistance activity in the rest of the country was never fairly covered in their reporting. For example, one puzzling Counterpunch report by Patrick Cockburn retailed a rumour he had picked up in Tripoli that forces loyal to Gaddhafi had fled south into the province of Fezzan and were sabotaging Libya’s water suppply. That false report subsequently seemed to disappear from the Counterpunch site with no explanation at all.
But it indicates the frivolous complicity of Patrick Cockburn and Counterpunch in the demonization of Muammar al Gaddhafi. At that time, the Libyan leader accompanied his army in Sirte, prior to his murder. So it comes as no surprise, when Cockburn details yet another example of false anti-Jamahiriya propaganda during that war, that he again fails to broach a wider condemnation of Western media duplicity. Instead, he elaborates a weak self-contradictory alibi exculpating reporters for coverage that is invariably geared to reinforcing the mainstream NATO government propaganda line, either directly or by default.
Patrick Cockburn’s article demonstrates that ignoring the obvious can be even more pernicious than holding absurd false beliefs. Cockburn’s foreign affairs reports would not be published in mainstream corporate media if he did not accept the rules of a Western media system geared to psychological warfare against its governments’ perceived enemies. That fact is self evident in the attacks by those media on Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, on the Cuban revolution, on Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in Nicaragua, or on other progressive Latin American leaders.
The barbaric evil of the NATO countries’ destruction of Libya and Syria, two very successful secular Arab countries, is matched by the deep moral failure of its intellectuals to acknowledge their complicity in their countries’ crimes. Individuals who achieved unquestionable positive transformational change in their countries like Nelson Mandela or Hugo Chávez treated Muammar al Gaddhafi as a heroic anti-imperialist figure. Whether or not the NATO barbarians can be held at bay, Bashar al-Assad’s historical stature eventually will be very similar.