Under the cover of battling “fake news,” the mainstream U.S. news media and officialdom are taking aim at journalistic skepticism when it is directed at the pronouncements of the U.S. government and its allies.
One might have hoped that the alarm about “fake news” would remind major U.S. news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, about the value of journalistic skepticism. However, instead, it seems to have done the opposite.
The idea of questioning the claims by the West’s officialdom now brings calumny down upon the heads of those who dare do it. “Truth” is being redefined as whatever the U.S. government, NATO and other Western interests say is true. Disagreement with the West’s “group thinks,” no matter how fact-based the dissent is, becomes “fake news.”
So, we have the case of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius having a starry-eyed interview with Richard Stengel, the State Department’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, the principal arm of U.S. government propaganda.
Entitled “The truth is losing,” the column laments that the official narratives as deigned by the State Department and The Washington Post are losing traction with Americans and the world’s public.
Stengel, a former managing editor at Time magazine, seems to take aim at Russia’s RT network’s slogan, “question more,” as some sinister message seeking to inject cynicism toward the West’s official narratives.
“They’re not trying to say that their version of events is the true one. They’re saying: ‘Everybody’s lying! Nobody’s telling you the truth!’,” Stengel said. “They don’t have a candidate, per se. But they want to undermine faith in democracy, faith in the West.”
Typical of these recent mainstream tirades about this vague Russian menace, Ignatius’s column doesn’t provide any specifics regarding how RT and other Russian media outlets are carrying out this assault on the purity of Western information. It’s enough to just toss around pejorative phrases supporting an Orwellian solution, which is to stamp out or marginalize alternative and independent journalism, not just Russian.
Ignatius writes: “Stengel poses an urgent question for journalists, technologists and, more broadly, everyone living in free societies or aspiring to do so. How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?
“Stengel argues that the U.S. government should sometimes protect citizens by exposing ‘weaponized information, false information’ that is polluting the ecosystem. But ultimately, the defense of truth must be independent of a government that many people mistrust. ‘There are inherent dangers in having the government be the verifier of last resort,’ he argues.”
By the way, Stengel is not the fount of truth-telling, as he and Ignatius like to pretend. Early in the Ukraine crisis, Stengel delivered a rant against RT that was full of inaccuracies or what you might call “fake news.”
Yet, what Stengel and various mainstream media outlets appear to be arguing for is the creation of a “Ministry of Truth” managed by mainstream U.S. media outlets and enforced by Google, Facebook and other technology platforms.
In other words, once these supposedly responsible outlets decide what the “truth” is, then questioning that narrative will earn you “virtual” expulsion from the marketplace of ideas, possibly eliminated via algorithms of major search engines or marked with a special app to warn readers not to believe what you say, a sort of yellow Star of David for the Internet age.
And then there’s the possibility of more direct (and old-fashioned) government enforcement by launching FBI investigations into media outlets that won’t toe the official line. (All of these “solutions” have been advocated in recent weeks.)
On the other hand, if you do toe the official line that comes from Stengel’s public diplomacy shop, you stand to get rewarded with government financial support. Stengel disclosed in his interview with Ignatius that his office funds “investigative” journalism projects.
“How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth?” Ignatius asks, adding: “Stengel has approved State Department programs that teach investigative reporting and empower truth-tellers.”
After reading Ignatius’s column on Wednesday, I submitted a question to the State Department asking for details on this “journalism” and “truth-telling” funding that is coming from the U.S. government’s top propaganda shop, but I have not received an answer.
But we do know that the U.S. government has been investing tens of millions of dollars in various media programs to undergird Washington’s desired narratives.
For instance, in May 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) issued a fact sheet summarizing its work financing friendly journalists around the world, including “journalism education, media business development, capacity building for supportive institutions, and strengthening legal-regulatory environments for free media.”
USAID estimated its budget for “media strengthening programs in over 30 countries” at $40 million annually, including aiding “independent media organizations and bloggers in over a dozen countries,” In Ukraine before the 2014 coup ousting elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing a fiercely anti-Russian and U.S.-backed regime, USAID offered training in “mobile phone and website security,” skills that would have been quite helpful to the coup plotters.
USAID, working with currency speculator George Soros’s Open Society, also has funded the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which engages in “investigative journalism” that usually goes after governments that have fallen into disfavor with the United States and then are singled out for accusations of corruption. The USAID-funded OCCRP collaborates with Bellingcat, an online investigative website founded by blogger Eliot Higgins.
Higgins has spread misinformation on the Internet, including discredited claims implicating the Syrian government in the sarin attack in 2013 and directing an Australian TV news crew to what appeared to be the wrong location for a video of a BUK anti-aircraft battery as it supposedly made its getaway to Russia after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
Despite his dubious record of accuracy, Higgins has gained mainstream acclaim, in part, because his “findings” always match up with the propaganda theme that the U.S. government and its Western allies are peddling. Higgins is now associated with the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO think tank which is partially funded by the U.S. State Department.
Beyond funding from the State Department and USAID, tens of millions of dollars more are flowing through the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which was started in 1983 under the guiding hand of CIA Director William Casey.
NED became a slush fund to help finance what became known, inside the Reagan administration, as “perception management,” the art of controlling the perceptions of domestic and foreign populations.
The Emergence of StratCom
Last year, as the New Cold War heated up, NATO created the Strategic Communications Command in Latvia to further wage information warfare against Russia and individuals who were contesting the West’s narratives.
As veteran war correspondent Don North reported in 2015 regarding this new StratCom, “the U.S. government has come to view the control and manipulation of information as a ‘soft power’ weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase ‘strategic communications.’
“This attitude has led to treating psy-ops — manipulative techniques for influencing a target population’s state of mind and surreptitiously shaping people’s perceptions — as just a normal part of U.S. and NATO’s information policy.”
Now, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress are moving to up the ante, passing new legislation to escalate “information warfare.”
On Wednesday, U.S. congressional negotiators approved $160 million to combat what they deem foreign propaganda and the alleged Russian campaign to spread “fake news.” The measure is part of the National Defense Authorization Act and gives the State Department the power to identify “propaganda” and counter it.
This bipartisan stampede into an Orwellian future for the American people and the world’s population follows a shoddily sourced Washington Post article that relied on a new anonymous group that identified some 200 Internet sites, including some of the most prominent American independent sources of news, as part of a Russian propaganda network.
Typical of this new McCarthyism, the report lacked evidence that any such network actually exists but instead targeted cases where American journalists expressed skepticism about claims from Western officialdom.
Consortiumnews.com was included on the list apparently because we have critically analyzed some of the claims and allegations regarding the crises in Syria and Ukraine, rather than simply accept the dominant Western “group thinks.”
Also on the “black list” were such quality journalism sites as Counterpunch, Truth-out, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism and ZeroHedge along with many political sites ranging across the ideological spectrum.
The Fake-News Express
Normally such an unfounded conspiracy theory would be ignored, but – because The Washington Post treated the incredible allegations as credible – the smear has taken on a life of its own, reprised by cable networks and republished by major newspapers.
But the unpleasant truth is that the mainstream U.S. news media is now engaged in its own fake-news campaign about “fake news.” It’s publishing bogus claims invented by a disreputable and secretive outfit that just recently popped up on the Internet. If that isn’t “fake news,” I don’t know what is.
Yet, despite the Post’s clear violations of normal journalistic practices, surely, no one there will pay a price, anymore than there was accountability for the Post reporting as flat fact that Iraq was hiding WMD in 2002-2003. Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor most responsible for that catastrophic “group think,” is still in the same job today.
Two nights ago, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews featured the spurious Washington Post article in a segment that – like similar rehashes –didn’t bother to get responses from the journalists being slandered.
I found that ironic since Matthews repeatedly scolds journalists for their failure to look skeptically at U.S. government claims about Iraq possessing WMD as justification for the disastrous Iraq War. However, now Matthews joins in smearing journalists who have applied skepticism to U.S. and Western propaganda claims about Syria and/or Ukraine.
While the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament begin to take action to shut down or isolate dissident sources of information – all in the name of “democracy” – a potentially greater danger is that mainstream U.S. news outlets are already teaming up with technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, to impose their own determinations about “truth” on the Internet.
Or, as Ignatius puts it in his column reflecting Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Stengel’s thinking, “The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms.
“‘They see this information war as an existential threat,’ says Stengel. … The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” [presumably a reference to algorithms] can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a ‘global ombudsman for information.’”
Ministry of Truth
An organization of some 30 mainstream media companies already exists, including not only The Washington Post and The New York Times but also the Atlantic Council-connected Bellingcat, as the emerging arbiters – or ombudsmen – for truth, something Orwell described less flatteringly as a “Ministry of Truth.”
The New York Times has even editorialized in support of Internet censorship, using the hysteria over “fake news” to justify the marginalization or disappearance of dissident news sites.
It now appears that this 1984-ish “MiniTrue” will especially target journalistic skepticism when applied to U.S. government and mainstream media “group thinks.”
Yet, in my four decades-plus in professional journalism, I always understood that skepticism was a universal journalistic principle, one that should be applied in all cases, whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House or whether some foreign leader is popular or demonized.
As we have seen in recent years, failure to ask tough questions and to challenge dubious claims from government officials and mainstream media outlets can get lots of people killed, both U.S. soldiers and citizens of countries invaded or destabilized by outsiders.
To show skepticism is not the threat to democracy that Undersecretary Stengel and columnist Ignatius appear to think it is.
Whether you like or dislike RT’s broadcasts – or more likely have never seen one – a journalist really can’t question its slogan: “question more.” Questioning is the essence of journalism and, for that matter, democracy.
[In protest of the Post’s smearing of independent journalists, RootsAction has undertaken a petition drive, which can be found here.]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
Reading Dennis Ross and David Ignatius is a good reminder that the neocons live in a different world than the rest of us. They do not conform their analysis to reality, but rather they conform reality to their view of the world. Where most people would be encouraged to read that Aleppo in Syria was about to be liberated from its 3.5 year occupation by al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the neocons see a disaster.
On the brink of al-Qaeda’s defeat in Aleppo, the Washington Post’s Ignatius is furious that, “President Obama won’t approve military tactics that could actually shift the balance.” Yes, he wants to shift the balance toward al-Qaeda because like the other neocons he is so invested in the idea of regime change in Syria that he would even prefer turning the country into another Libya than to see government forces defeat his jihadist insurgents. Failing to “shift the balance” toward al-Qaeda fighters in Aleppo only brings “greater misery for the Syrian people,” in the world of Ignatius.
Ignatius’s Washington Post, which has never seen a potential war it did not want to see turned into an actual war, thinks it a tragedy that the Syrian army’s advance on al-Qaeda occupied Aleppo has “cut off all vital routes of supply from Turkey to the rebel-held areas of the city.” Those would be Turkish supplies in support of al-Qaeda and ISIS rebels, but the Post is too deceptive to mention that fact.
It is as dishonest an inversion of reality as anything printed in Pravda of old.
In the same vein as Ignatius, former Bush/Clinton/Obama Administration Middle East “expert” Dennis Ross writes to tell us, “what Putin is really up to in Syria.” In the above-linked article, The Los Angeles Times does not reveal that Ross is hardly an objective observer of the situation. As one of the founders of AIPAC‘s Washington Institute for Near East Policy — and a current counselor to that organization — Ross strongly supports AIPAC’s position in favor of regime change in Syria and Israel’s active role in assisting jihadist rebels from al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in their efforts to overthrow the Assad government.
So what does regime change neocon Dennis Ross want us to believe is happening in Syria? The Russians, he asserts, are playing a dirty game by stepping up their bombing campaign against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and affiliated rebels instead of pushing for a ceasefire. How funny that when the US/Turk/Saudi/Israeli-back jihadists were on the verge of taking over all of Syria not that long ago there was no talk from neocon quarters about a ceasefire or a negotiated political solution. Only now that al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Aleppo is on the verge of liberation by government forces are the neocons screaming that diplomacy should be given a chance.
Russian operations are “designed to strengthen the Assad regime and weaken the non-Islamic State Sunni opposition in different parts of the country,” writes Ross. He doesn’t mention that particularly when it comes to Aleppo, the “non-Islamic State Sunni opposition” means al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and affiliated forces.
By relentlessly bombing Islamic State and other jihadist groups seeking to introduce Sharia law into secular Syria, “Putin is… undercutting our aim of isolating Islamic State and having Sunnis lead the fight against it.” Read that again. By attacking ISIS he is preventing the US from isolating ISIS. Doublespeak.
What is Putin really up to in the world of Dennis Ross? He is not sincere about defeating Islamist extremism in Syria or even helping Assad’s forces win the war. No, Putin “aims to demonstrate that Russia, and not America, is the main power broker in the region and increasingly elsewhere.” Ah yes, the old argument about Russian expansionism. Baltic invasion, restoration of the USSR. All the neocon tripe.
Ah but here is where Ross plants his seed, whispers in the Administration’s neocon power brokers’ ears:
“Certainly, were Russia’s costs to increase, Putin might look for a way out.”
Hmm, now we see what he’s getting at:
… it is time we make it clear to the Russians that unless they impose a cease-fire on Assad and Hezbollah and insist that humanitarian corridors are open, we will have no choice but to act with our partners to create a haven in Syria — for refugees and for the organization of the Syrian opposition.
In other words, tell Russia if you do not stop fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria we will face-off in a WWIII-threatening stance to establish a “jihadistan” in part of Syria from where the hundredth or so version of a rebel fighting force can be re-assembled.
Ross’s plan is not for the weak of heart. “[W]e cannot threaten to create a haven without following through if Putin refused to alter his course,” he writes. Meaning of course that we must be willing to actually go through with WWIII if Putin does not blink, back down, and pull out of Syria just as Russia’s intervention is meeting its objective. Surrender when on the verge of victory in Syria or face a nuclear war with the United States.
No one ever accused the neocons of thinking small. But with much of the Middle East a smoldering ruin due to the disastrous interventions they lied us into, no one should count out even their most insane-sounding plan being seriously considered somewhere in Washington.
There is a madness in how the mainstream U.S. media presents the world to the American people, a delusional perspective that arguably creates an existential threat to humanity’s survival. We have seen this pattern in the biased depiction of the Ukraine crisis and now in how Official Washington is framing the debate over the Iranian nuclear agreement.
In this American land of make-believe, Iran is assailed as the chief instigator of instability in the Middle East. Yet, any sane and informed person would dispute that assessment, noting the far greater contributions made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the United States.
Israel’s belligerence, including frequently attacking its Arab neighbors and brutally repressing the Palestinians, has roiled the region for almost 70 years. Not to mention that Israel is a rogue nuclear state that has been hiding a sophisticated atomic-bomb arsenal.
An objective observer also would note that Saudi Arabia has been investing its oil wealth for generations to advance the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, which has inspired terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were identified as Saudis and the U.S. government is still concealing those 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 inquiry regarding Saudi financing of Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Saudis also have participated directly and indirectly in regional wars, including encouragement of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, support for Al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front’s subversion of Syria, and the current Saudi bombardment of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians, touching off a humanitarian crisis and helping Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate expand its territory.
Then there’s the United States, which has been meddling in the Middle East overtly and covertly for a very long time, including one of the CIA’s first covert operations, the overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953, and one of U.S. foreign policy’s biggest overt blunders, President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Iran coup engendered a deep-seated hatred and suspicion of the U.S. government among Iranians that extends to the present day. And, the Iraq invasion not only spread death and destruction across Iraq but has spilled over into Syria, where U.S. “allies” – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel – have been seeking another “regime change” that is being spearheaded by Sunni terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State.
The U.S. government has further aided in the destabilization of the region by flooding U.S. “allies” with powerful military equipment, including aircraft that both Israel and Saudi Arabia have used to bomb neighboring countries.
Yet, in the fantasy land that is Official Washington, the politicians and pundits decry “Iranian aggression,” parroting the propaganda theme dictated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke before an adoring audience of senators and congressmen at a joint session of Congress on March 3.
This Iranian “bad behavior” includes helping the Iraqi government withstand brutal attacks by the Islamic State and assisting the Syrian government in blocking a major victory for Islamic terrorism that would follow the fall of Damascus. Iran is also being blamed for the Houthi uprising in Yemen although most informed observers believe the Iranian influence and assistance are minimal.
In other words, the neoconservatives who dominate Official Washington’s “group think” may detest Iran’s regional activities since they are not in line with Israeli (and Saudi) desires, but less ideological analysts might conclude that – on balance – Iran is contributing to the stability of the region or at least helping to avert the worst outcomes.
A Lost Mind
The question becomes: Has Official Washington so lost its collective mind that it actually favors Al Qaeda or the Islamic State raising the black flag of Islamic terrorism over Damascus and even Baghdad? Is Iranian assistance in averting such a calamity such a terrible thing?
Apparently yes. Here’s how The Washington Post’s foreign affairs honcho David Ignatius – in a column entitled “Will Tehran Behave?” – describes the geopolitical situation following Tuesday’s signing of a deal to tightly constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions:
“The problem isn’t the agreement but Iran itself. Its behavior remains defiantly belligerent, even as it signs an accord pledging to be peaceful. Its operatives subvert neighboring regimes, even as their front companies are about to be removed from the sanctions lists. The agreement welcomes Iran to the community of nations, even though its leader proclaims that Iran is a revolutionary cause.
“Obama argues that dealing with a menacing Iran will be easier if the nuclear issue is off the table for the next 10 years. He’s probably right, but the Iran problem won’t vanish with this accord. Iranian behavior in the region becomes the core issue. Having played the dealmaker, Obama must now press Iran to become a more responsible neighbor.”
By the way, I always thought that the United States proclaimed itself “a revolutionary cause.” But here is Ignatius, who is regarded as a “big thinker,” setting the parameters of the acceptable debate about the Iran nuclear deal. It’s all about Iran’s “behavior.”
Ignatius even quotes Netanyahu decrying the danger that, after 10 years, the agreement will give Iran “a sure path to nuclear weapons.” Of course, Ignatius doesn’t bother to note that Israel already has taken its own path to nuclear weapons. That context is almost never mentioned.
Nor does Ignatius admit how he and many of his fellow pundits supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which in a normal, parallel universe would disqualify Ignatius and his friends from lecturing anyone about how to “behave.” But in today’s Official Washington, a pre-war endorsement of the Iraq disaster is not a disqualifier but a prerequisite for being taken seriously.
Similarly, The Washington Post’s editorial page, which in 2002-03 eagerly backed Bush’s invasion and routinely asserted as flat fact that Iraq possessed hidden WMD stockpiles, now says the real risk in the Iran deal is, you guessed it, “Iranian behavior.”
The Post says the deal could unleash “a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.” And, the Post warns that Iran’s “leaders will probably use” the money from the sanctions relief “to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.”
Step into Crazy Land
Again, to appreciate the Post’s thinking, you have to step into crazy land. In the real Iraq and the real Syria, the Iranians are supporting internationally recognized governments battling against terrorist groups, Al Qaeda’s affiliate and the Islamic State.
In Yemen, Iranian involvement is probably minor at most. Plus, the Houthis are not a terrorist group, but rather an indigenous popular movement that has been fighting Al Qaeda’s terrorist affiliate in Yemen.
While it’s not clear what the Post thinks that Iran is doing in the Gaza Strip, which is under a tight Israeli military blockade, only fully committed neocons would think that the long-suffering people of the Gaza Strip don’t deserve some outside help.
Still, the larger issue for the American people is what to do with this insane political-media system that dominates Official Washington. Either these powers-that-be are detached from reality or they are deceitful propagandists who think they can manipulate us with lies and distortions.
Yet, by creating a false reality, whether from madness or cynicism, this system guides the nation into terrible decision-making. And, given the immense military power of the United States, this long national detour into a dark psychosis of delusion must be addressed or the future of humankind will be put into serious jeopardy.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
If you were concerned that the Syria WMD stories didn’t already feel enough like the Iraq WMD reports, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius had one just for you (12/19/12). Ignatius reports that according to a Syrian defector, the Assad government’s chemical weapons are indeed on the move. Ignatius tells readers that, according to his source,
technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that appeared, from the outside, to be similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.
The defector estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed. An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs.
Now it’s not that Ignatius doesn’t know that this story sounds, well, familiar. He places that giant caveat right near the beginning of his piece:
For some historical context, readers should recall the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who made allegations about Iraqi chemical weapons a decade ago that bolstered the case for war–but turned out to be fabrications.
So there’s reason to be skeptical. But evidently not too skeptical. Ignatius goes on:
Seeking corroboration for the Syrian report, I checked it with knowledgeable, independent sources, who confirmed some of the details. With that support, I want to share it with readers.
Ignatius has confidence in at least some of this story, as evinced by his lead:
Reports from inside two Syrian chemical weapons facilities offer chilling new evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime developed special vehicles last year for moving and mixing the weapons–and an unconfirmed allegation that Lebanese allies of the regime, presumably in Hezbollah, may have been trained 11 months ago in the weapons’ use.
What he’s saying, in other words, is that the mobile labs exist; the more frightening allegation–that the labs might be headed to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah–is “unconfirmed.” How solid is the sourcing? He writes:
A Syrian source provided a detailed account in a telephone conversation over the weekend, drawing on intelligence provided to him by a Syrian defector who worked inside the chemical weapons network.
So we have what would appear to be a secondhand account, delivered by phone, thanks to arrangements made by a Syrian opposition group. And how do we know the weapons were headed for Hezbollah? Ignatius tells us that his source says, “The officers placed the chemicals in a civilian vehicle and were seen driving across a bridge in the direction of the highway toward Lebanon.”
What does all of this mean? That’s impossible to say–though the idea that mobile chemical weapons labs were put together last year, after the revolt started, in order to coordinate transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah is, on its face, a little far-fetched.
Ignatius gives the Iraq stories all but one paragraph, but it’s important to recall more of the journalism from that period. As Seth Ackerman wrote in Extra! (7-8/03), one of the most embarrassing–and largely forgotten–episodes of the Iraq War came when NBC breathlessly reported the discovery of Iraq’s feared mobile bio-weapons labs:
On May 12, NBC News correspondent Jim Avila, reporting from Baghdad, declared that the labs “may be the most significant WMD findings of the war.” Joining him was hawkish former U.N. nuclear inspector David Kay (now an “NBC News analyst”), who was flown to Iraq to perform an impromptu inspection for the cameras. Armed with a pointer, he rattled off the trailer ‘s parts: “This is a compressor. You want to keep the fermentation process under pressure so it goes faster. This vessel is the fermenter….”
Kay’s explanation–”think of it as sort of the chicken soup for biological weapons. You mixed it with the seed stock, which came from this gravity flow tank up here into the fermenter. And under pressure with heat, it fermented”–was convincing enough for television news. Kay stated: “Literally, there’s nothing else you would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.”
Well, except for one problem: What they found was actually equipment to make hydrogen for weather balloons. But what they were looking for was what defectors told various officials they would find–and part of what Colin Powell told the world about Iraq’s WMD program on February 5, 2003. The old saying that when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail comes to mind.
Is “intelligence” on Syria any better? It’s unclear why we should think so. But for columnists like Ignatius, what someone told him on the phone based on what someone else may have seen is apparently good enough. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. As Ignatius once explained (Washington Post, 4/25/03):
Personally, I don’t much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein’s regime was still right.
Does he care this time whether or not the WMD stories he’s reporting as fact are imaginary or not? Or would toppling Assad’s regime be right no matter what?
- Obama’s War on Syria and its Implications (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In the latest example of mainstream media warmongering, in today’s Washington Post David Ignatius writes,
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months.
Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.
When reading reports like the one Ignatius has filed here, it should always be remembered that what is being so nonchalantly discussed as a point of perturbation for a beleaguered Leon Panetta is, without doubt, the willful and active commission of a war crime. Not only that, but – in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal – initiating a war of aggression, as Israel would undoubtedly be doing by unilaterally and illegally bombing Iran, is “the supreme international crime.”
Ignatius, despite his clear intent of beating war drums under the guise of disinterested journalism, acknowledges repeatedly that Iran is not building nuclear weapons and has no nuclear weapons program. While the bogus Israeli claim of Iran reaching a “zone of immunity” (the new Barakian term for what until recently was ominously called the “point of no return“) is noted by Ignatius, it’s followed by the claim that this spooky “zone” would enable Iran to “commence building a nuclear bomb.” Which means it’s not currently doing that. Ignatius even reiterates the fact that – per U.S. (and Israeli and IAEA) intelligence – Iran is not building a bomb. Which means this is all speculative. Which means any potential attack would be “preventative” and not based on any immediate threat. Which means it would be totally illegal under any possible reading of international law.
Ignatius writes that “Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action.” There’s that “existential threat” again! Y’know, the one that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo say doesn’t actually exist. Just today, Ynet reported that former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz also repeated the assessment that Iran poses no such threat to Israel. “The use of this terminology is misleading. If it is intended to encourage a strike on Iran, it’s a mistake,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ignatius repeats this absurdity as if it’s an uncontroversial fact. It appears that, for Beltway reportage, “If Netanyahu says it, it must be true!”
Ignatius goes on, “Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.”
Does that refer to an aggressive, first-strike on Israel by Iran? If so, this is a fabricated premise that no one actually considers to be a danger (Iran’s “defensive military doctrine” is well-documented and consistently reaffirmed by U.S. intelligence) and is an action Iran has repeatedly said it would never commit. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s head of state and commander-in-chief, has stated unequivocally that “the Islamic Republic has never threatened and will never threaten any country.” Meanwhile, just the mere threat of military attack by Israel is a clear violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter.
So, essentially, Ignatius is crafting a strawman in order to beat the American warrior chest much like Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when she declared that, if Iran attacked Israel and she were president, she would order the U.S. military to “totally obliterate” Iran. How’s that for a genocidal, “wipe off the map” fantasy?
Ignatius also suggests there are currently only two ways out of the current crisis: Iran could “finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the United States could step up its covert actions.”
Anyone familiar with the 2007 Work Plan that Iran and the IAEA agreed to, knows that this has already happened and that the IAEA consistently confirms that Iran’s nuclear program is not militarized. The “verifiable guarantee” is the presence of IAEA cameras and inspectors at Iran’s safeguarded facilities. What would make Iran’s program even more “verifiably” civilian in nature would be for the international community – including the U.S. – to accept Iran’s numerous offers to invest in and partner with its program, thereby making it virtually impossible for Iran to weaponize. These overtures have been consistently rebuffed or ignored.
The other option, of course, is more “covert actions” – in other words: drone surveillance and industrial sabotage. Those pesky little murders and explosions that leave widows and orphans and which, in any other context – if any other country’s citizens were the victims of such summary executions – would be unconditionally and unequivocally condemned as terrorism.
Sure, Ignatius ends with the off-hand comment that Netanyahu is vacillating and that “top Israeli intelligence officials remain skeptical of the project” – the “project” of course being shorthand for an act of aggressive war (again, “the supreme international crime”).
Concluding with requisite Beltway fear-mongering, Ignatius warns that “senior Americans doubt that the Israelis are bluffing” and are “worrying about the guns of spring — and the unintended consequences.”
At this point, with three decades of war threats, devastating sanctions that amount to the collective punishment of the Iranian people for the crime of overthrowing the Shah, and propaganda about Iran’s ever-imminent hell-bending drive for atomic weaponry with which to evaporate poor little (nuclear-armed and super-power funded) Israel, how can any of the “consequences” honestly be referred to as “unintended”?
I suppose it would be lovely for Israel (and its many cheerleaders here in Congress and the media) if it were able to bomb whomever they want whenever they want, killing thousands upon thousands, with impunity and without any repercussions – that’s what it’s been doing in Gaza and Lebanon for years. But Iran is not ghettoized and occupied, demilitarized and defenseless, blockaded and besieged. Iran, unlike the usual victims of Israeli and American bullets and bombs, can actually fight back if it’s attacked.
That’s what frustrates warmongers from Foggy Bottom to Herzliya so much.