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Saturday, February 06, 2016

Narratives -- or: Why neutrality would be immoral

The good guys are finally winning in Aleppo, where the jihadis have been running the show. Unsurprisingly, the BBC wants to convince its audience that the wrong side is prevailing.
Nato has accused Russia of "undermining" Syrian peace efforts through its strikes, which it says are mainly aimed at opposition groups. Russia insists it only targets what it calls terrorists.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Russia of being engaged in an "invasion" of Syria, saying it was trying to create a "boutique state" for ally President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Erdogan said Russia and the Syrian government were together responsible for 400,000 deaths in Syria.
What propagandistic bunk!

The people running the BBC can, of course, argue that they have told no lies -- technically. They have simply quoted the leader of Turkey. Well, I say that journalists become complicit in a falsehood if they routinely cite a man like Erdogan without offering any context.

The BBC could have exposed Erdogan's whopper by mentioning these two facts:

Fact 1: Neither Bashar Assad nor Vladimir Putin caused 400,000 deaths in Syria. That gruesome number is entirely the responsibility of ISIS, Nusra (Al Qaeda), and other jihadist groups.

Fact 2: The Erdogan family reaps immense profits from the sale of ISIS-brand oil, stolen from the Syrian people. Does anyone expect honesty from the business partner of ISIS?

Not long ago, a writer named Ira Chernus wrote a piece which appeared in various progressive journals. Flawed as his analysis is, it deserves to be read in conjunction with the BBC's exercise in neocon agit-prop.

Chernus argues that the problem we face is one of competing narratives. He's right -- but also, in part, wrong:
It was half a century ago, but I still remember it vividly. “We have to help South Vietnam,” I explained. “It’s a sovereign nation being invaded by another nation, North Vietnam.”

“No, no,” my friend protested. “There’s just one Vietnam, from north to south, divided artificially. It’s a civil war. And we have no business getting involved. We’re just making things worse for everyone.”

At the time, I hadn’t heard anyone describe the Vietnam War that way. Looking back, I see it as my first lesson in a basic truth of political life—that politics is always a contest between competing narratives. Accept a different story and you’re going to see the issue differently, which might leave you open to supporting a very different policy.
So far, so good. But then Chernus veers off course...
Right now, as Americans keep a wary eye on the Islamic State (IS), there are only two competing stories out there about the devolving situation in the Middle East: think of them as the mission-creep and the make-the-desert-glow stories. The Obama administration suggests that we have to “defend” America by gradually ratcheting up our efforts, from air strikes to advisers to special operations raids against the Islamic State. Administration critics, especially the Republican candidates for president, urge us to “defend” ourselves by bombing IS to smithereens, sending in sizeable contingents of American troops, and rapidly upping the military ante. Despite the fact that the Obama administration and Congress continue to dance around the word “war,” both versions are obviously war stories. There’s no genuine peace story in sight.
Chernus argues that peace activists should frame this conflict as a civil war in which America can play no useful role.
The Muslim civil war story leads directly to a radical change in policy: stop trying to impose a made-in-America order on dar al-Islam. Give up the dubious gratification of yet another war against “the evildoers.” Instead, offer genuinely humanitarian aid, with no hidden political agenda, to the victims of the civil war, especially those fleeing a stunning level of violence in Syria that the U.S. has helped to sustain. But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war. Become, as we have in other civil wars, a genuine neutral.

The problem with Chernus' argument comes down to this: His "civil war in progress" framework has the same adversarial relationship with reality that we've come to expect from the BBC or the NYT.

What's happening in Syria is not a civil war. Syria and Iraq were invaded by a foreign army.

As we've seen in many (many) previous posts, the Syrian "rebels" are actually a coalition of proxy forces created by the United States, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. This proxy army has the blessing and encouragement of the Israelis, who demand the removal of Bashar Assad.

The neocon Establishment -- both Republican and Democrat -- hopes to make war on Assad under the pretext of battling ISIS. The outrages perpetrated by ISIS are a gimmick designed to justify our involvement. The neocons have no real intention of getting rid of the jihadists -- in fact, the plan is to bring the jihadists to power.

Of course, our leaders will tell the public that we are helping "the moderates" -- another false narrative. There are no anti-Assad moderates.

Most of the jihadists in Syria were not born there: They flew there. Most of them should have been (and probably once were) placed on "no fly" lists. That fact alone tells you everything you need to know about the complicity of the United States and its allies in this unprovoked attack on peaceful Syria. ISIS is our monster baby. These European and North African maniacs, brainwashed by Islamist propaganda, decided that God gave them the right to govern the Levant -- and that the Shi'ites, Alawites and secular Sunnis who have lived there for centuries deserve no rights whatsoever.

That's the "competing narrative" you're looking for, Ira.

This narrative probably will not please Ira Chernus because it offers little to peaceniks.  But my "proxy army" construct has the virtue of being demonstrably true, while the "civil war" storyline is fictional.

Older progressives may prefer the fictional version of history because they came of age during the Vietnam conflict, and Vietnam really did experience a civil war. But Syria is different.

Once one has understood that neocons in "The West" and their Sunni allies subjected Syria to a foreign invasion -- not a civil war -- then one can see the immorality of neutrality.

I do not call for peace. I call for war. Perhaps not a war in which our troops personally participate, but a war in which we choose better allies. 

I call for a war in which we ally ourselves with the heroic peoples of Russia, Syria and Iran.

I call for a war to rectify the great wrong we did to the government of Bashar Assad, who (unlike our "friends" in Saudi Arabia and Qatar) won a democratic election which was certified by impartial international observers. Even though most of Assad's natural supporters (Christians, Alawites and other religious minorities) have fled for their lives, Assad is still more popular in his country than Obama, Trump, Rubio and Hillary are in this country.

Once ISIS, Nusra and the other jihadis have been destroyed, morality demands that we pay reparations to Syria. Morality also demands that we officially apologize to the Syrians for the great injustice we did to them.

Beyond that: We should contemplate ridding the world of the consummately evil family now running Saudi Arabia. They funded ISIS and Al Qaeda, and their hideous attack on Yemen is a greater obscenity than was Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. What more casus belli do we need? Of course, it should be understand that the effort to free Arabia may require the direct participation of American troops.

Beyond that: We should also contemplate military action against Qatar, which is run by Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani -- one of the most obnoxious dictators the world has ever seen.

Beyond that: We should contemplate military action against the Erdogan regime in Turkey. (Always recall that the Erdogan crime family came to power via election fraud).

Beyond that: We should help the heroic Russians dismantle the vile neo-Nazi regime we installed in Ukraine.

Beyond that: For neither the first nor the last time, I call for the military conquest of Israel, in order to save the lives of millions of Palestinians. An international tribunal, following the Nuremberg model, should determine the fate of the oppressors.

Leftists like Ira Chernus mean well, but they are misleading. They insist on framing the Syrian problem purely in terms of peace and war. I say that we should frame the issue in terms of choosing the correct side. We have brought the world closer to a third World War because we have allied ourselves with the bad guys: Fascists, jihadists, extremists, dictators.

Neutrality? Too late for that.

Peace? Yes, but only after we have put right the wrongs we have committed.

Today -- as in 1941 -- it is necessary to fight. If we cannot intervene directly, then we should aid those who battle for secularism, anti-fascism, religious tolerance and democracy. First and foremost, we must choose the right allies.

How's that for a competing narrative?
Who is the consummately evil family running Saudi Arabia?
The Saudis. They named the country after the family.
Vietnam was no more a civil war than this is. The south was set up and entirely supported by America.

There's also nothing America can do militarily against Turkey. Obviously you'd win an all out war, but even putting aside NATO and Incirlik, Turkey has some hundreds of American-built post-Cold-War fighter jets, American-built and with state of the art missiles. No cost-free Serbia-style massacre of the natives.
The Syrian city of Aleppo has been under the control of the al-Qaeda branch known as al-Nusra. In recent days, the Syrian Army assisted by Russian airstrikes has made major progress in liberating the city from the terrorists (foreign mercenaries). Virtually all of the Western mainstream (or corporate) media, not just the BBC, have been reporting this story as a "siege" on the civilian population by indiscriminate and murderous Syrian and Russian forces. The terms "al-Qaeda" or "al-Nusra" have not appeared in a single story. The tone of these stories is invariably some shade of hysterical.

I remember when an analysis of "manufacturing consent" - how these narratives are shaped by the media - would require books of several hundred pages (i.e. Chomsky and Hermann) to parse through subtle phrasing and minute omissions. Nowadays it is full on hysteria and astonishing Orwellian inversions of obvious realities. I don't know if reporting -across the board in the MSM - has ever been this bad and uniform. It became obvious in the summer of 2014, with the full on hate fest directed at Putin over MH17, and it hasn't stopped since. Was there a wholesale change of editors that summer? Is there some sort of secret massive crisis undermining the Western countries such that the overlords have decided the masses must be fooled into a global war? The past 36 hours or so, with the hysteria over a defeat for jihadi terrorists coupled with the sneering dismissal of the UN panel on Assange, is demonstrating a media environment which is simply not healthy, and which is propping up a consensus reality, at least in the Western countries, which is unsustainable due to its lack of reality.
A competing narrative, sure, but not a compelling one. IMHO. Just because people with dubious values (and sadly actions) take your position does not mean you stand with them or you are in the wrong spot. Sure you should detest them but you are probably already occupied enough by the enemy-enemies, you can deal with the friendly-enemies after. I dislike the politics of reality but can't yet see how to deny them. You can be contrary and flip things but you'll still end up with the same symmetrical faults.
Obviously you are condemning the entire American Political Class here for there is no candidate of either major party who would enact any of your measures. That being the case
any force or candidate whose policies would stand the best chance of destabilizing the system would be the best hope for the world and freeing the American people from the System's shackles.
Leading public and private institutions in the UK and the US have been captured by the hard Right. They believe -- and they are supported by a captured media in this -- that you don't need facts when you can just repeat the lie. Everything is marketing to them and popular discontent is just sign of poorly designed marketing. It's a vicious, empty vision that can only result in domestic police states and foreign wars.

The problem with the progressives and the Left is that they mistakenly believe that if they name the process and call it out then public clamor will force a return to sanity. (I'm sure many in 1930s Germany felt the same way). We are past that stage now and new war/police state policies are being announced almost daily. Here are two disturbing examples:

The former ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, is now Director of Cyber Security inside the UK Cabinet Office.

The IMF has endorsed Ukraine's decision to default on Russian government loans. This dismantling of global financial infrastructure invites US-approved nations to repudiate Russian and Chinese debts at will. It's a declaration that the ongoing basis of global relations is to be a state of war.
anon 2:55 -- I corrected my text re: Aleppo. Apologies. My memory is still pretty good, but occasionally facts get misfiled.

You are absolutely right about our unhealthy "media environment." I've never seen it so bad.
'military conquest of israel' etc.
how would that work exactly? have you posted about that before, in detail?
i'm sure you have a better rationale than 'exterminate the ZOG before they sacrifice our babies for tasty matso's' blahblah /s. (like subverting US interests, getting us into fights that end up w dead GI's, USS Liberty, etc.), but how would that even be possible? they have nukes, subs, samson option, half of US congress, mossad, hollywood, etc.
Fu****g A right Joe!
I don't know if sillybill is a hasbara troll or someone who doesn't like Jews or some unclassifiable amalgam of the two.
Joseph, neither one. i was genuinely confused about how one would go about attaining that military and political goal against all odds. i had also been drinking, and have only now remembered the stinker i left in your comment section. i hereby vow not to make dumb remarks online while drinking.
but seriously, the question remains - despite my earlier intemperance and horrible recipe suggestions.
I agree that the Assad side is the lesser evil, and the USA should quit its de facto sponsorship of ISIS.

I would like to end all military and financial aid to the odious regimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

I would like to make peace with Russia; I think Putin--while he's hardly a saint--just wants to look out for his country.

But actually jump in, with troops, on the other sides? Oh hell to the no!

I hope this is a "Modest Proposal" sort of ironic column, or else it sounds like Cannon has finally gone off the deep end. :o
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