If Thomas Friedman Weren’t a Propagandist Looking at the “Arab-Muslim Sea”

iran israel deal
That President Obama’s recent agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear enrichment capabilities stands as a diplomatic victory remains largely undisputed in the most prestigious circles of academic and journalistic discourse. Without this deal Iranians, much like their Iraqi and Afghan neighbors, would have suffered the wrath of the US armed forces the argument goes. Disregarding the fact that Iran, as a signatory the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a legal right to enrich uranium and evidenced no intention to develop a nuclear weapon, the world is justified in breathing a sigh of relief knowing that “the greatest threat to world peace” is exercising its power less belligerently.

Nonetheless, this pause in international violence and aggression is unlikely to survive if some of the media’s most dedicated servants to power have their way. Enter New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In an article that can only be described as a toxic brew of anti-Arab racism, blatant falsehoods, and borderline criminal incitement we are provided a graphic illustration of the resilience of imperial doctrines in the American press and the psychological ease with which its most ardent enthusiasts petition its demands.

Headlined If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal Friedman begins by stating if he were an “Israeli grocer” he would “hate [the nuclear deal] for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium, since Iran regularly cheated its way to expanding that capability, even though it had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Notice Iran is “cheating” by disobeying US demands to restrict its capabilities, a capability legally protected under the NPT, but Israel (a non-signatory to the NPT) is not “cheating” in its casual disregard for every conceivable norm of non-proliferation.

Furthermore, it is not the nuclear deal that’s responsible for “enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium,” but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not only has this been repeatedly declared by Iranian government officials but in 2012 the Non-Aligned Movement affirmed Iran’s “inalienable right to develop research, production and uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Only under the assumption that the majority of the world and established international law should be subordinated to US rules of Good Behavior can we take Friedman’s contention seriously.
nonproliferationThe same can be said of his condemnation of “Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah.” Hezbollah, according to Friedman, “started an unprovoked war with Israel,” in 2006 “and when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets all across Israel.” Here we have a total inversion of the historical record. That the 2006 war was a war of aggression by Israel (Washington’s proxy), and not Hezbollah, is so well documented that any argument otherwise can only be interpreted as a deliberate evasion of the facts if not apologetics for Israeli violence.

As scholar and activist Steven Salaita observed in his 2008 collection of essays Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, “the immorality of Israel’s wanton destruction [of Lebanon] does not present much of a political or ethical debate for those who would distinguish between military targets and civilian ones, or between terrorists and ordinary people. The problem is that American media repeatedly omitted either distinction, thereby transforming Israel’s aggression into an act of self-defense.” Hence, Friedman can write about how Israel “retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets (my emphasis)”, the implicit assumption being Lebanese civilians were just as culpable in their deaths as Hezbollah fighters.

And the easy resort to dehumanization did not end here. Friedman proceeds to inhabit the mind of an Israeli general, proud and confident in the assertion that “No enemy will ever out-crazy us into leaving this region”, a sentiment with a great deal of merit in lieu of recent history. Yet we gain the most insight into the unadulterated racism that influences commentators like Friedman when he lays out Israel’s war strategy:

“Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ — war without mercy. The Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas. It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia. The Jewish state has survived in an Arab-Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied. It will play by local rules.”

Israel, a nation with a first world military and nuclear weapons, unleashes an aerial assault on densely populated strip of land, 50% of whose inhabitants are children. Over 2,100 people are killed, the majority Palestinian civilians. Hamas, a military faction under foreign occupation without a navy, air force, tanks, or a hegemonic military superpower bankrolling its soldiers, fires low-grade rockets into Israel killing 73 people, the majority Israeli soldiers (66). That anyone can be aware of this disparity in power and designate Hamas as the exemplar of “war without mercy” defies rational explanation, as does the ludicrous claim that “the Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets.”
palestineIt takes little effort to see that a vulgar racism underlies these conclusions. Nightmarish scenarios of the Jewish state being swept away by the turbulent “Arab-Muslim sea,” compels this island of western civilization and “Western mores” to “play by local rules”, namely the rules of “savages.” Inherent in this characterization is a sharp distinction between enlightened, restrained, white, Europeanized (“this is not Scandinavia”) Jews and crazy, impulsive, uncivilized Arabs so maniacal in their desire to kill Israelis that they would readily sacrifice the lives of their children to achieve this end (this human shield myth has also been thoroughly refuted).

Perhaps the greatest irony of Thomas Friedman’s latest contribution to the booming industry of anti-Arab racism is that he embodies perfectly the mindless bloodlust and impulsive thinking that he so baselessly directs at the people of Gaza and Lebanon. Informing readers on what he’d do as Israeli Prime Minister to diffuse any suspicions about Iranian misbehavior, Friedman states the following:

“So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the U.S. to increase what really matters — its deterrence capability — by having Congress authorize this and any future president to use any means necessary to destroy any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. I don’t trust U.N. inspectors; I trust deterrence. And to enhance that I’d ask the U.S. to position in the Middle East the U.S. Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a precision-guided, 30,000-pound ‘bunker buster’ bomb that could take out any Iranian reactor hidden in any mountain. The Iranians would get the message.”

Essentially, Friedman is proposing that President Obama hold together a diplomatic agreement by threatening to drop a 30,000 lb. bomb on a sovereign country (a blatant violation of the UN prohibition against the threat of force in international affairs) citing the Mafioso doctrine that such an exercise in “deterrence” would force Iranians to “get the message.” Apparently, the “local rules” of military savagery expands beyond the provinces of ultra-violent, ethno-supremacist occupier states. These rules also must be advanced by their ideological courtiers in the American press lest the menacing unpeople of the “Arab-Muslim sea” get the impression that they can’t be “out-crazied.”

Any student of history will immediately recognize that Friedman is not the first and will by no means be the last to espouse this imperialist, orientalist, and racist worldview. Indeed, the perceptions put forth in his article permeate our academic, political, and intellectual culture so deeply that it would not be an exaggeration to describe them as foundational to the American national self-image. Nevertheless, the regularity of its expression does little to diminish its insidious influence in how we, as citizens of declining empire, think of the world around us and the solutions available to solve its many crises. So while Friedman peers out at the world through the eyes of Israeli generals and prime ministers we should dare to look at the world from the perspective of those who are victimized by their decisions. Hesitation in this regard would only prolong the needless suffering that only a genuine culture of solidarity with the oppressed can combat.

Source:

The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/thomas-friedman-if-i-were-an-israeli-looking-at-the-iran-dealhtml.html?ref=international&_r=0

http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom12/documents/WP24.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/gaza-israel_b_5624401.html

Reflections on the US Destruction of Fallujah & American Sniper

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For anyone interested, there’s a wealth of reporting and commentary on Clint Eastwood’s latest and widely celebrated film American Sniper. Responses to the war drama range from effusive praise of the “genius” of Chris Kyle to more critical condemnations of Kyle’s enthusiastic embrace of violence and the broader societal maladies that his behavior emblematized. While this discussion is definitely worth having, there is a risk that confining the conversation to the criminality or heroism of Kyle distracts from a larger issue, namely what the US bombing of Fallujah looked like from the perspective of Iraqis. After all, the setting for the many kills carried out by “The Legend”, Kyle’s wartime moniker, was this city in Iraq, also known as the City of Mosques. Unlike debate over whether or not Kyle’s actions were justified, there really isn’t much to speculate about in this regard as the deeds of the US military have been voluminously documented by some of the most respected investigative journalists and scholars of the “western” world.

Take for example the work of the unembedded journalist Dahr Jamail. In his book on the US occupation of Iraq Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq he documents, in excruciating detail, the humiliating and devastating human toll that the Iraqi people were made to endure under the onslaught of US weaponry. He opens his chapter on the Second Battle of Fallujah, the assault in which Kyle took part, with a photograph of an exasperated Iraqi. Beneath the photo is a caption that reads “Fallujan refugees at a mosque on Baghdad University campus told of the white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and other weaponry used by the US military in their city. November 2004.”
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And this wasn’t the only fact excised from the Hollywood version of the military assault. On the topic of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a person who was explicitly named in the film as a threat to US soldiers, Jamail observes “in the United States, most corporate media outlets were busy spreading the misinformation that Fallujah had fallen under the control of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” Jamail went on to add “There was no available evidence that Zarqawi had ever set foot inside the city. It was amply evident that the resistance of the city was composed primarily of people from Fallujah itself.” Given this “amply evident” fact that the media ignored one would think that ten years after the implementation of this war crime a more intellectually honest portrait of the siege would prevail. Yet, in the film there’s a scene where this myth is repeated without a shred of skepticism or caution. Neither was there any attention paid to the fact that the US deliberately punished the Iraqi population by blocking access to vital medical aid or as Jamail notes “the humanitarian disaster in Fallujah worsened as the US military continued to refuse entry to Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) convoys of relief supplies.” The pretext for the blockage was that aid was unnecessary since there were no civilians in the city, an absurd claim immediately debunked after “officials acknowledged that thirty thousand to fifty thousand residents remained in the city.”

Incidentally, it would be instructive to compare the response to this war crime carried out by the US military to a more recent war crime carried out by Syrian forces in their ongoing civil war. After it was discovered that Syrian forces were blocking Red Cross aid to rebel territory in Baba Amr the Australian based Sydney Morning Herald ran an article headlined Outrage as Syria Keeps Up Blockade on Red Cross. “Syria faced world condemnation as it continued to block the Red Cross from delivering desperately needed aid to the vanquished rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in the city of Homs.” No such outrage was perceptible when the US engaged in similar atrocities under comparably dire circumstances during the murderous bombardment of Fallujah. Instead, the moment was characterized by a severe climate of media repression which included an order circulated by a US-backed media commission that all news outlets “stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.” Meanwhile, US forces escalated the assault by attacking and occupying the city’s hospital.

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None of this made it into Eastwood’s film, which completely glosses over the fact that this was a vicious military assault on a civilian population in a brief scene where a soldier refers to the “military aged males” in the area who were out to kill US soldiers. A radically different picture is presented in Jamail’s text, where he concludes his chapter on Fallujah with a historical analogue that must, for understandable reasons, be filtered out of any commentary heralding the military assault as valorous and brave, predictable clichés that pass for informed analysis in establishment quarters:

“The second assault on Fallujah was a monument to brutality and atrocity made in the United States of America. Like the Spanish city of Guernica during the 1930s, and Grozny in the 1990s, Fallujah is a monument to excess and overkill.”

Empirical data gathered in the aftermath of the attack conformed to this assessment. “Iraqi medical personnel in Fallujah estimated that of all the bodies they had logged in their database, at least 60 percent were women and children.” If one considers the documentation of the “first medical teams” on the scene, who “collected more than 700 bodies”, the percentage of women and children killed stands at “nearly 80 percent.” Recall this was the second time the US attacked the civilian population of Fallujah, the first time being in April 2004. In the Spring attack an estimated 736 Iraqis were killed with “60 percent of those killed [being] women, children, and elderly.” The film’s omission of any reference to the first attack on Fallujah in April is quite significant as this attack helps to explain the historical context in which the Iraqi resistance developed.

The exclusion of this highly relevant information, as many of the film’s enthusiasts contend, was not intentional. Rather, critics are reading too much into a movie that was not intended to be “political” but a “case study” on the tormented soul of an American soldier. Perhaps this argument could be taken seriously if it were not for other creative flourishes, which call into question this apolitical stance. Are we to believe that it’s a mere coincidence that Eastwood erased many of the morally repugnant realities from Kyle’s life, much of it discussed in his autobiography, while at the same time concocting, out of pure imagination, demeaning and stereotypical caricatures of Iraqis (“The Butcher” never existed)? This is highly doubtful, just as it likely was not coincidental that he dispensed with historical context entirely in his failure to mention the April assault on Fallujah as a prelude to the November assault but somehow managed to imply, in an amazingly brazen propaganda move, that the terrorist attacks of September 11 had anything to do with the Iraq war. Furthermore, neither of these distortions (the dehumanization of Iraqis and the fallacious 9/11-Iraq linkage), were they excluded from the movie, would have undermined Eastwood’s argument that the film was primarily a “case study” of Kyle. In fact, a more historically accurate depiction of the events  probably would have enhanced the film’s impact as a case study. So why the glaring misrepresentations of the historical record?

Presumably, these directorial decisions were made because it was not enough for Eastwood to revise the factual record. He had to invert it. Iraqis weren’t the victims in his portrayal. They were the aggressors. The US military wasn’t engaged in the “supreme crime” of “military aggression” in violation of every conceivable standard of international law. To borrow the language of Chris Kyle’s father, the US military invaded Iraq as “sheepdogs” with the objective to protect the world’s “sheep” from the Iraqi “wolves.” The gap between this jingoistic worldview and reality is vast and will likely grow without a concerted effort on the part of the American public to inform themselves about the war crimes that the US military committed, as a matter of policy, in the city of Fallujah. Outside the most chauvinistic of circles, condemning Chris Kyle is quite easy. It’s alot more difficult to indict the society that produced him and laid the ideological basis for his crimes.

The Reluctant Imperialist: Obama Gets A Boost From the Servants’ Quarters

HeadlinesSuppose some world leader who the US establishment considers “evil”—Vladimir Putin for example—held a closed door meeting with a group of prominent Russian journalists before his invasion of the Ukraine. And imagine in this meeting he informed this group of Russian journalists about his goals in this illegal invasion, which was then circulated in Russian newspapers as Vladimir Putin, The Reluctant Warrior Intervenes in the Ukraine. What would we think of such a display? Without carrying this thought experiment any further, we can safely assume that this would be condemned as an outrageous attack on principles of a “free press” and another sign of “Kremlin” authoritarianism. Well, this scenario doesn’t have to be imagined because it actually happened, but not in Russia or any other “enemy” state. It happened in the United States.

It has now been reported that the Obama administration held a closed door meeting with a group of high profile journalists prior to his speech on how he would “degrade and destroy” ISIS through aerial bombing. While many details of this secret meeting are unknown, the mere fact that this can occur in a purportedly free society should be alarming to anyone with a genuine concern for democracy and adversarial journalism. Furthermore, a thorough review of the reports published by the journalists in attendance at this meeting reveals commentary effusive in praise for Obama’s “caution”, “reluctance”, and “sensible” decision-making skills. None of these characterizations hold up under the most minimal level of scrutiny.

Take for example, New York Times columnist David Brooks. In an embarrassing exhibition of absolute subordination, (the kind of servility that would make Kim Il-sung blush) Brooks compares Obama to leaders from his Holy Book:

“The Bible is filled with reluctant leaders, people who did not choose power but were chosen for it — from David to Paul. The Bible makes it clear that leadership is unpredictable: That the most powerful people often don’t get to choose what they themselves will do. Circumstances thrust certain responsibilities upon them, and they have no choice but to take up their assignment. History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent.”

Since Brooks is white and he is defending the violence of a military superpower (and not a “terrorist” organization), he can be spared accusations of being indoctrinated into a “fundamentalist” ideology with an “end of days strategic vision.” One can imagine a different response in the US if he were brown and was making references to the Quran.

And this is only a sample. Other attendees made sure to add their voice to this chorus of apologetics. Washington Post journalist, Ruth Marcus—a reporter who Glenn Greenwald accurately described as someone who “exemplifies everything that’s horrible about the DC media”—observed “However you assess the blame for the menacing disaster that is the Islamic State, Obama’s plan is the most sensible one under the difficult circumstances.”
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So “sensible” is the Obama administration’s strategy that he has sought neither Congressional nor UN authorization for his bombing campaign. Incidentally, the question of international law does not arise in a single article among the many attendees at this closed door meeting. This suggests a faith in executive power that, if not interrogated, can lead to disastrous consequences. The possibility that aerial bombing could escalate terrorism has been pointed out by a number of analysts yet this very real danger goes unacknowledged in these reports. In fact, the justification for the war is presumed to be so transparently beneficent that all criticism is confined to how efficacious, and not how legal, the assault will be.

This position was best summed up by New Yorker journalist Steve Coll, who stated rather straightforwardly “the question about President Obama’s resumption of war in Iraq is not whether it can be justified but where it will lead.” Eugene Robinson echoes this pragmatic stance in his article headlined What If This Doesn’t Work Against the Islamic State? Meanwhile, Daily Beast journalist Mike Tomasky goes beyond mere dismissal of any discussion about the justness of Obama’s war, and derides as “ridiculous” those who compare Obama’s use of military force to that of George W. Bush:

“So, another war in Iraq. On this superficial basis, some are saying that Barack Obama is somehow becoming George W. Bush, or that Bush is somehow vindicated. In a town where one frequently hears ridiculous things, I’ve rarely heard anything more ridiculous than this. What Obama laid out in his Oval Office address Wednesday is, within the context of war-waging, pretty much the polar opposite of what Bush did, the antithesis of shock and awe.”

Unmentioned in this criticism is the verifiable fact that the Obama administration is basing his decision to bomb Iraq on farcical legal doctrines concocted by George W. Bush’s lawyer (and author of the infamous Torture Memos) John Yoo. Tomasky’s remarks are designed to draw a sharp distinction between the “bellicose” foreign policies of Bush and the “reluctant” policies of Obama when, in actuality, such distinctions are tactical at best.

As FAIR reported in a recent article which thoroughly debunked this myth, “One clear message from corporate media has been that Barack Obama is unusually reticent about using military force.” David Ignatius of the Washington Post offers perhaps the most unambiguous example of this myth, describing Obama as a “reluctant warrior” whose “innate cautiousness” assures us that “he’ll fight this war sensibly, partnering with allies in the region in a way that doesn’t needlessly exacerbate the United States problems with the Muslim world.”
10494564_10152322484493093_2898375602888339896_nThat Obama’s “innate caution” can be seriously called into question by the fact that he has totally sidestepped the perfectly cautious action of seeking UN (or Congressional) authorization for his latest bombing campaign simply doesn’t occur to Ignatius nor does the fact that Obama greatly “exacerbated the United States problems with the Muslim world” when he resorted to diplomatic sabotage to prolong the civil war in Syria. But documentary evidence is of little relevance to these courtiers of power. What’s more important is that “it would not be tenable for the US and its allies to allow a group rejected by al-Qaeda as too extreme to control large swaths of territory in the heart of the Middle East,” and “our reluctant … president understands this.” (Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic).

Indeed, “our reluctant president” does “understand this.” He also understands that when he wants to carry out blatantly illegal policies in order to secure American hegemony in the Middle East he can rely on the loyal reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic to parrot the necessary myths to ensure the American public embraces them uncritically. Although there’s no proof that this was a coordinated attempt on the part of the commissar class to mold public opinion, the linguistic precision and ideological uniformity of the messaging certainly rivals the output of some of the most sophisticated propaganda agencies.  As journalist Matt Apuzzo stated in response to news of this meeting: “Let’s call it what it is: Using the power of the presidency to influence news coverage without the public ever knowing about it.” Unless these obvious truths are confronted and combated aggressively, the dangerous policies of the Obama administration will continue to inflict untold suffering on people across the world. An energetic and adversarial journalistic culture is needed to undermine these structures of domination, a culture without which all crimes will remain in the dark except as topics of discussion between “reluctant” imperialists and their servants behind closed doors.

UPDATE: In the hypothetical in the first paragraph I refer to Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with a group of Russian journalists “before his invasion of the Ukraine.” This phrase—“invasion of the Ukraine”—is problematic because according to the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity “accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence.” In simply referring to Putin’s “invasion”, but not this report or others like it which point out the “invasion” did not happen, I was swallowing propaganda.

Here is a link to the VIPS report:

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/01/warning-merkel-on-russian-invasion-intel/

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-obama-has-advantages-as-a-reluctant-warrior/2014/09/11/38c7416e-39e0-11e4-bdfb-de4104544a37_story.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/opinion/david-brooks-the-reluctant-leader.html?_r=0

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/10/obama-s-war-anything-but-shock-and-awe.html

http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/eugene-robinson/eugene-robinson-what-if-this-doesn-t-work/article_6cb81aa0-37b3-5e0e-9ce4-6d1f142b4996.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-dont-duck-an-islamic-state-vote-congress/2014/09/12/2ac3e706-3abd-11e4-bdfb-de4104544a37_story.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/09/obamas-realization-theres-no-way-out-of-the-middle-east/380009/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/gregorydjohnsen/obama-will-fight-isis-with-george-w-bushs-legal-theories#31jdyfb

http://fair.org/take-action/media-advisories/four-myths-about-obamas-war-on-isis/

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/08/return-war

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/glenn-greenwald-ruth-marcus-edward-snowden_n_4533126.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/13/obama-journalists-isis-speech_n_5816494.html?1410651263

A Myth Scratched Out of Rock: Friedman and Obama Whitewash the History of Palestine

friedmanandobamaA partial examination of the history of state formation and global conflict suggests that we can consider it an established truth that most, if not all, nation-states rely founding myths. The founding myth of the United States is that European “explorers” “discovered” a “vast wilderness” sparsely populated with “merciless Indian savages” who, over time, faded away under the march of “civilization.” Today we recognize this as a morally grotesque whitewash of the actual story, namely that the European “explorers” were really genocidal killers who plundered and pillaged their way across the continent under the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” As the late University of Texas professor William Newcomb Jr. observed in his 1974 study on the continent’s indigenous population North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective, “low population estimates” of the indigenous civilization that preceded the European invasion “had the effect of making the European conquest of North America more palatable to white Americans.” Moreover, anthropologists were of the view that “displacing a million or so Indians North of the Rio Grande and ultimately reducing their population to half that number is far easier to rationalize or ignore than is the extirpation of ten or fifteen times that number.”

The official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony captures this murderous ideology perfectly in the illustration of an indigenous man holding a downward pointed spear with a scroll flowing from his mouth bearing the inscription “come over and save us.” Rightly, this kind of imagery and brutality shocks the conscience of ordinary people, yet similar myths abound today about the founding of Israel in 1948. One illuminating example of this can be found in a recent Thomas Friedman interview with President Obama that appeared in the New York Times. Asked what he thinks about Israel, Obama responded “It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades … To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people.” As pleasant and unproblematic as this description sounds, it completely revises the actual events of Israel’s founding, which was not the emergence of a nation “scratched from rock” but the forceful imposition of a another nation atop the ruins of Palestinian villages evacuated in a campaign of ethnic cleansing known as the nakba.

Obama honors PeresThis traumatic confrontation with colonialism, an integral part of the Palestinian experience, is completely ignored in Obama’s response despite the fact that it’s accepted as uncontroversial among credible scholars. As Dr. Norman Finkelstein observes in his brilliant study on Israeli criminality Beyond Chutzpah “today there is a broad consensus among scholars that Palestinians suffered ethnic cleansing in 1948… ” Israeli journalist Amira Hass makes a similar observation. In her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she recognizes “the long history of dispossession that had begun in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians (of a population of some 1.3 million) became refugees, forced to leave their land as the Jewish national home came into being.” It’s therefore extremely disturbing to hear Obama ask “How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel.” If the actual historical record, and not the mythology concocted by propagandists, matters these “values” would certainly include massacres of civilians (re: Deir Yasin) and the mass expulsion of indigenous populations. A Times article that appeared in October of 1948 captured the horror of the ethnic cleansing in evocative terms:

“… in Beersheba itself, once a thriving center for camel trading, a few inhabitants remain, and at present members of the Israeli army are systematically looting the houses which survived the bombing. It is perhaps an ancient and tacitly accepted rule of war that troops should make themselves comfortable at the expense of the vanquished … “

How strikingly prescient these words were as Israel proceeded in its colonial project decades after this catastrophe, all “at the expense of the vanquished.” It is with this knowledge that Obama’s evasions of the historical record appear not only intellectually irresponsible but unambiguously immoral. And this immorality is reinforced when he showers the architects of this ongoing tragedy with praises and accolades. Take for example Ariel Sharon, a war criminal who participated in countless atrocities, for example the Qibya massacre and the killings at Sabra and Shatila. President Obama described him as someone who “dedicated his life to the State of Israel.” This is an awfully sanitized way to describe a man who in a 1953 attack on the El-Bureig refugee camp commanded a unit that threw bombs “through the windows of huts where refugees were sleeping.” Furthermore, as the refugees attempted to flee the terrorist assault “they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.” This massacre, which is credited for helping to “launch Sharon’s career”, left an estimated 50 refugees dead (Israeli figures). None of these inconvenient facts are highlighted in Obama’s glorification of a state struggling to maintain “its democratic and civic traditions.” Much like the character of Uncle Ruckus from Aaron McGruder’s critically acclaimed television series The Boondocks, President Obama continually goes out of his way to lavish racists and war criminals with praises, all the while perpetuating vulgar stereotypes about the Arab menace. In his interview with Friedman he recycles the racist cliche that Israel is a model of civilization marooned in an ocean of savagery, stating “others can cause Israel pain,” because Israel is in “a really bad neighborhood.”

Uncle Ruckus pays homage. Language of this kind dovetails perfectly with the ethnocentric and supremacist rhetoric of Israeli leaders repeatedly warning the Israeli public of the looming “demographic problem”, namely too many brown people in a Jewish state. Sentiments of this kind would delight Uncle Ruckus, who finds no shame in “thanking the white man for the sunrise, for the land [he] walks on, and the air [he] breathes.” Ruckus also maintains a shrine devoted to “special white people in his life” like John Wayne (“the great white man who didn’t take no shit from niggas, injuns nor Mexicans”), George Bush Sr., and Barry Manilow. Likewise, Obama maintains his “shrine” to the “special white people in his life.” This shrine is adorned with pictures of people like Shimon Peres, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who has lived a life “nothing short of extraordinary.” For instance, it was “nothing short of extraordinary” when Peres followed in the footsteps of Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin and upheld the idea that Israel had a “biblically endorsed right of possession” to the West Bank. On the territorial status of the West Bank Peres proclaimed “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel. The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land.” Perhaps if Peres was an extremist of the Islamic variety who insisted that the Holy Qur’an was the “decisive document in determining the fate our land,” he would have been exiled from President Obama’s hallowed pantheon of “special white people” but this isn’t the case, therefore Washington’s incarnation of Uncle Ruckus is free to hail him as a “true founding father,” to ample applause.

It’s therefore little wonder that Obama was able to boycott the Durban Conference Against Racism under the pretext that the UN was unfairly “singling out” Israel. Apparently, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv’s “great white man”, also must be protected.  Apart from Israeli criminals, another luminary in Obama’s sacred shrine is George W. Bush, who exercised “incredible strength and resolve … as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life.” Incidentally, Bush’s position in the shrine may be more elevated than that of Peres since Obama has not only honored him in word, but, more significantly, in deed, primarily through his continuation of the crimes for which his predecessor should have been punished, facts easy to perceive in the President’s recent colloquialism about violating the Geneva Conventions (“We tortured some folks”).

Underlying this enthusiastic embrace of empire and colonialism is a deeply dehumanizing portrait of those on the other side of the gun, in this case Palestinians. Unless these simplistic and racist conceptions are abandoned, these foundational myths will persist as will the intense efforts to excise from historical memory narratives which give voice to the profound suffering and loss of those living under occupation. The indignity and cruelty of occupation make necessary an honest reckoning with these imperial revisions of history and those who stubbornly ignore reality in favor of fairy tales, whether they come in the form of humanitarian killers dedicated to principles of “peace” or an ultra-violent terrorist state “scratched” into existence from a singular rock.

Sources:

The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective by William W. Newcomb, Jr.

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky

Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse and Abuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman G. Finkelstein

Drinking the Sea at Gaza by Amira Hass

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/opinion/president-obama-thomas-l-friedman-iraq-and-world-affairs.html?_r=0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiV22pJYG7M

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/06/14/president-obama-honors-israeli-president-shimon-peres

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/04/25/obama-heaps-praise-on-bush/

Why Won’t These “Terrorists” Renounce Violence?

Mandela ViolenceAnyone closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the Israeli massacres in Gaza will by now have noticed that Israeli officials and their apologists in the US press depend heavily on a restricted narrative to describe Palestinians. This narrative makes use of evocative imagery and buzzwords to steer public attitudes in desired directions. “Terror tunnels”, “human shields”, and “the Hamas Charter” are just a few of the phrases repeated ad nauseam to drill the right ideas into the public’s mind. Alongside these predictable attempts to de-legitimize Palestinian resistance is a more insidious doctrine that seeks to rob Palestinians of a right enshrined in international law, namely the right to resist foreign occupation by force. The typical form this doctrine takes is in the demand for Hamas to “renounce violence.” Underlying this demand is an understanding, unique to imperial societies, that those suffering under military occupation are the aggressors and not the victims. This notion can be discerned quite easily in mainstream commentary and the press generally.

In March of 2013 when President Obama visited Jerusalem, he made sure to reinforce this dogma. “Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself,” remarked Obama. He continued “And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Interestingly, there was no concomitant demand that Israel, the nuclear-armed and vastly more militarily advanced power, “renounce violence.” Unlike the rockets from Hamas, the F16s, tanks, and machine guns provided to Israel are interpreted to be for “defensive” operations.

Given the resilience of this ideology, it would be instructive to ask if there is any historical precedent that would help illuminate the thought pattern that might lay behind double standards of this kind. Fortunately, such a precedent does exist. In June of 1990 the New York Times, like the Obama administration, was also demanding that a certain “terrorist” renounce violence. This “terrorist” was, in President Obama’s words, “the last great liberator of the 20th century,” who was able to hold “his country together when it threatened to break apart.” The name of this violent “terrorist” was Nelson Mandela. Under the headline “Why Mandela Won’t Renounce Violence” David G. Sanders, a minority staff consultant at the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, perfectly anticipates the hasbara currently dominating the establishment press. “Who is the real Nelson Mandela?,” asks Sanders. “Before his supporters drape him in the garments of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., they should take a close look.” This “close look”, Sanders continues, requires that Mandela answer “one simple question”, namely “Why won’t he and the A.N.C. renounce violence?”

The “simple question” was not directed at the South African apartheid regime and its use of far more devastating violence but at the ANC. Consequently, Sanders embraces the very same ideology of today’s apologists for Israeli terror. Take for example Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times condemning “Palestinian militancy” for “[accomplishing] nothing but increasing the misery of the Palestinian people.” Kristof went on to say if Palestinians “turned more to huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns, the resulting videos would reverberate around the world and Palestine would achieve statehood and freedom.”

Perhaps Kristof was unaware, but he was basically regurgitating commentary that Sanders made in 1990 in reference to ANC resistance in apartheid South Africa. Back then, Sanders observed that Mandela’s “conflicting public statements on violence may be prolonging the suffering,” in South Africa, adding that “acts of A.N.C. violence and intimidation [called] into question the group’s commitment to political pluralism.” Furthermore, Sanders lectured that Mandela “would do far better to associate himself more closely with the words of Dr. King and Gandhi than those of [Vladimir] Lenin” (an ideological precursor to Kristof’s “huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns”).

Source: Chicago Tribune

And the New York Times wasn’t alone in these ludicrous demands. In the same month that Sander’s published his “peace” manifesto on Nelson Mandela and the ANC, the Chicago Tribune reported the following:

“President Bush and a chorus of voices as diverse as American Jewish leaders, Dr. King`s colleagues, Cuban Americans and members of Congress have called on Nelson Mandela to emulate Martin Luther King more closely. By this they mean he should renounce violence, embrace civil disobedience and distance himself from some of his old comrades-in-arms, such as Communists and the notorious human-rights violators Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro.”

Unmentioned in this passage was that Mandela’s “comrades-in-arms”, the Palestinians and Cubans, were victims of the same US subversion and complicity that landed him in prison. Similarly, unmentioned was that Fidel Castro played an integral role in deterring apartheid South Africa’s aggressive war in Angola, an aggressive war that the US supported. In this respect, Cuba assumed the role that Hezbollah and Iran play today, namely a country stigmatized by their decision to militarily assist a population of people resisting foreign domination, an unforgivable sin in imperial circles. This is to say nothing of the comical notion that George H.W. Bush cared at all about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Months before joining this diverse “chorus of voices” he was dropping bombs on Panama in a flagrant war of aggression after one of his clients, Manuel Noriega, committed the supreme crime of disobedience.

In all, there’s something grotesquely hypocritical about journalists, who are citizens of a imperial state that has generated more violence and militarism than any other country in the post-war period, lecturing significantly weaker “enemies” to “renounce violence” while refusing to make equal demands of their own government. Nonetheless, these glaring moral deficiencies have only worsened since the demise of South African apartheid, as has the historical amnesia necessary to ensure no one notices them. Therefore, it’s rarely, if ever, acknowledged that in 1987 the US and Israel rejected a UN Resolution, which endorsed as legitimate the use of armed force to secure “the right of self-determination, freedom, and independence … particularly [for] peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation.” The final vote on this resolution was 153 to 2, hence “the US and Israel were alone in the world in denying that such actions can be legitimate resistance, and declaring them to be terrorism.”

At bottom, this record illustrates fundamental flaws in elite conceptions of “violence.” Instead of demanding that those under occupation “renounce violence”, those genuinely interested in peace would focus on the source of armed resistance, which in the case of Israel-Palestine is clearly the multi-decade military occupation, preceded by many years of Israeli terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Here resides the “one simple question” that President Obama, David Sanders, Nick Kristof and innumerable others have not asked. Until this question is asked we can only expect more armed resistance, more hypocritical demands from oppressors to “emulate” Gandhi and less historically grounded understandings of liberation struggles. Rather than passively absorb these distortions as uncontroversial truths, they should be aggressively challenged. As the IDF continues its ruthless assault on the people of Gaza, its difficult to conceive of any intellectual or moral struggle more urgent.

Source:

Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18618/hrw-whitewashes-israel-the-law-supports-hamas_some

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/nelson-mandela-memorial-100930.html#ixzz39IhUlvg6″

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/21/opinion/why-won-t-mandela-renounce-violence.html

http://fair.org/take-action/media-advisories/cia-and-mandela-can-the-story-be-told-now/

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-06-30/news/9002220709_1_nelson-mandela-american-south-dr-king

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-whos-right-and-wrong-in-the-middle-east.html?referrer&_r=4

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/21/remarks-president-barack-obama-people-israel

Palestinians: The “Guilty Victims”

 

 

westwon
In his extensive review of the horrors American wars inflict on civilian populations The Death of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars MIT international relations scholar John Tirman articulates a concept of the “guilty victim” within the context of the European genocidal conquest of North America:

“An interesting question arises in how indifference rose with respect to the indigenous tribes in America …for the white indifference toward Native Americans could not be more apparent. [Native Americans] resisted but were defeated, and entire nations were victims. This however was the intention of frontier ideas–the Indians would be not merely defeated and subdued but annihilated: they were meant to be victims, guilty victims.”

The poignancy of these observations are of particular interest when examining the US-Israeli military assault on the civilian population of Gaza. Gazans, like the “Indians” of North America, have been relegated to the role of “guilty victims.” This reality is not only apparent in the discourse which surrounds the current mass slaughter–for example, the recurring cliche of Hamas “human shields”–but in the imagery as well. Cartoons have been published in the New York Times, The Australian, and online publications like the Legal Insurrection reinforcing this pernicious narrative. In The Australian cartoon (pictured above) a young Palestinian child with a stuffed animal tucked under his arm–presumably to amplify the “propaganda value” of the suicide mission–is encouraged by a masked Hamas fighter to “win the PR war for Daddy.” This notion, that Palestinians sacrifice their children to be murdered by US weaponry to elicit the sympathy of “westerners”, is not only racist in the extreme but completely dismisses the factual record. As scholars like Noura Erakat have astutely noted, “International human rights organizations”–Amnesty International for example–“have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true.” Yet this mythology of Palestinian human shields endures. One of the more repugnant illustrations of this myth surfaced on CBS Face the Nation where host Bob Schieffer intoned “In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause.”

Bt5ky4nCQAAXsHzElsewhere, Hamas is portrayed as a rabidly antisemitic terrorist group singularly focused on murdering all Jews. This trope was recently endorsed in the Legal Insurrection which featured a cartoon of a Hamas fighter at a table with John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu. Playing the role of the “honest broker”, Kerry asks Netanyahu “could you at least meet him half way?” Meanwhile, the Hamas fighter grimaces angrily with a dynamite strapped boy in his lap (reinforcing the human shield cliche) holding a sign that reads “Demands: Death to all Jews.” In addition to completely ignoring the demands that Hamas actually made of Israel in their ceasefire proposal–none of which included anything that would remotely suggest what this comic portrays, a ceasefire proposal Israeli journalist Gideon Levy deemed “just”–it completely inverts the situation on the ground. Far from incredibly weak arguments that Hamas is intent to eliminate Israel, Israel has actually been implementing these kinds of policies. In the words of Henry Siegman in a recent Democracy Now! interview, “Israel’s charter … is to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. And they have built up their army and their armaments to implement that policy.” Siegman continues “the difference between Hamas and the state of Israel is that the state of Israel is actually doing it. They’re actually implementing it, and they’re actually preventing a Palestinian state, which doesn’t exist.” This is to say nothing of the numerous videos of Israelis in the streets chanting “Death to Arabs” which, for inexplicable reasons, failed to make it into the creative universe of accomplished cartoon artists like A.F. Branco as an Israeli “demand.”

New York Times reprising the hospital as "refuge for insurgents" myth for Hamas.
New York Times reprising the hospital as “refuge for insurgents” myth for Hamas.

So the overarching question is why do these racist and slanderous accusations persist despite the lack of empirical evidence to support them? Tirman is informative on this count as well. Citing a psychological study on American attitudes about civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tirman writes “participants showed a strong ethnocentric valuation of lives, and, in particular, more indifference to the number of lives lost or saved for the outgroup.” Translation: brown corpses were less likely to elicit the sympathies of the American public than white ones. One graphic example of this was in the Bush administration’s war against Al Jazeera. A 2005 Washington Post article reported that “Bush administration officials have contended that through [Al-Jazeera’s] type of broadcasting the network often serves as a conduit for terrorist propaganda.” In addition to bombing Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad and Kabul, Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned Al Jazeera for “inciting anti-Americanism.” Al-Jazeera engaged in such “incitement” by “scooping the world with its tape of the US bombardments and Bin Laden’s televised statements.” Similar rationalizations were prevalent when the US laid siege to Fallujah General Hospital in November 2004, which incidentally bears striking similarities to the current Israeli massacres in Gaza. Writing for the New York Times, Richard Oppel Jr. soberly described the war crime: “At 10 p.m., Iraqi troops clambered off seven-ton trucks, sprinting with American Special Forces soldiers around the side of the main building of the hospital, considered a refuge for insurgents and a center of propaganda against allied forces, entering the complex to bewildered looks from patients and employees.” The idea that the hospitals served as a “refuge for insurgents and a center of propaganda” went unquestioned. In accord with their identity as “guilty victims”, Iraqis also aspired to elicit our sympathies with their “telegenic” suffering. However, victims on the ground in Fallujah gave a radically different picture. On the US bombing of Iraq’s Nazzal Emergency Hospital, Dr. Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi recalled the terrifying scene:

“I will always remember this. I was taking care of a woman who was giving birth and the baby was still connected to its mother through the umbilical cord. The US soldier asked the National Guardsman to arrest me, and the guard ties my hands with ropes … The two doctors who were with us on the road–there were people from the Red Cross and the Association of Muslim Scholars–were completely stripped of their clothes … They even inspected their hair, anything they could think of.”

Perhaps this is why “western leaders” are so chillingly silent about the civilian corpses piling up in Gaza. It’s essentially a repeat, in different scale, of US war crimes in Iraq. The ruthless attack on ambulances, hospitals, and journalistic agencies are simply symptoms of a population that has been declared by their imperial overlords to be “guilty victims.” So transparent are the similarities that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman virtually repeated Colin Powell’s condemnation of Al Jazeera in his description of the network as the “central pillar of the propaganda apparatus of Hamas.” According to Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid the Foreign Minister went on to say “just as Britain would not allow Der Sturmer (a notorious Nazi publication) in London or the United States would not permit al-Qaeda TV, Israel would seek to ban Al Jazeera.”

It is this deep sociocultural and historical record of state terrorism that helps to explain why Netanyahu can appear on television and ridicule Hamas’ use of “telegenically dead” Palestinians and no one in the media can bring themselves to describe him as a racist or someone who harbors genocidal ambitions. Quite apart from mere statements justifying mass killing, Netanyahu’s words and the establishment press in the United States that uncritically reproduces them are advancing the “frontier ideas” of their genocidal predecessors. So as Israel continues to “restore quiet” in the land of “guilty victims” we should remember that we are among the guilty victimizers.

Sources:

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman

http://www.thenation.com/article/180783/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza-debunked#
http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/07/28/cbs-host-palestinians-force-israel-to-kill-kids/

http://legalinsurrection.com/2014/07/branco-cartoon-crash-of-civilization/
http://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/31/us_jewish_leader_henry_siegman_to

http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/chanting-jerusalem-ethnicity.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/22/AR2005112201784.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/08/international/middleeast/08hospital.html?_r=0

http://inthesetimes.com/ittlist/entry/16978/israeli_foreign_minister_threatens_to_ban_al_jazeera

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/gaza-crisis-foreign-minister-avigdor-lieberman-will-work-prevent-al-jazeera-operating-israel-1457644

http://www.newsweek.com/israeli-foreign-minister-avigdor-lieberman-seeks-ban-al-jazeera-operating-260178

Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC

mediumblue.cover_5.06x7.81_EC-e1394643725270Shortly after news surfaced that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden provided Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras with secret documents detailing the massive crimes of the American surveillance state, beltway journalists wasted little time in denouncing Snowden as a “traitor” and “narcissist” who jeopardized US “national security.” Now, nearly a year later, journalism which would have been impossible without Snowden’s courageous act of conscience has earned praise from populations around the world, foreign parliamentarians, and even the creator of the world wide web, who called Snowden a “hero” for his actions. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have also received accolades for their fearless journalism, winning the prestigious George Polk award. The Washington Post and the Guardian has also been recognized by the Pulitzer board for their reports on NSA criminality. All of these changes highlight how Edward Snowden’s revelations not only provided the global public with vital information about the “likely unconstitutional” deeds of the US government but have reinvigorated a long overdue conversation about journalism and the role of journalists vis-a-vis power centers. Part of this conversation should include a sober examination of the most prominent media outlets, the interests they represent and the ideas they espouse. Michael Arria’s Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC offers a revealing glimpse into the prevailing values at a purportedly “liberal” network that former President Bill Clinton described as “our version of Fox.” In this incredibly sharp, and often humorous, critique of MSNBC Arria raises the question that probably seemed obvious in the immediate aftermath of the Snowden revelations, namely that an honest evaluation of American media is not compatible with the conservative-liberal dichotomy of elite discourse. Instead larger questions should be asked about the relation of the public to private power or as Arria states “the issue has never been whether the media is too liberal or conservative, the problem is who controls the media.” In this book this question is answered and the implications are ominous. Analyzing interviews, articles and the institutional structure of this GE-owned network, Arria exposes MSNBC for what it really represents: a team of deeply subservient mouthpieces for wealth and power, specifically the Obama administration.

Chris-Matthews-screenshot
Hardball host Chris Matthews, who admitted to feeling a pleasurable “thrill go up his leg” when President Obama spoke.

He begins his analysis with the climate of nationalism that dominated the country in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11th. While the overwhelming majority of network personalities were agitating to bomb Iraqis there was a rare exception. MSNBC host Phil Donahue invited anti-war voices on his program. This deviation was considered unacceptable at MSNBC headquarters and for this decision Donahue lost his job. Explaining his dismissal Donahue stated “we were the only antiwar voice that had a show, and that, I think, made them very nervous.” Donahue’s colleague and current host of Hardball Chris Matthews reserved a particular distaste for Donahue’s “advocacy journalism”, as sympathy for victims of US power is disparagingly described. “Matthews declared he would bring down the network if Donahue stuck around,” Arria notes citing a US News and World Report article. This institutional pressure to conform stood out as a dominant value in MSNBC’s corporate culture and Arria provides startling examples of its effectiveness. Take for example his critique of Rachel Maddow, a reporter who, despite her “liberal” leanings, parroted misinformation about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program”, defended NATO’s bombing of Libya–characterizing the aerial assault as an American effort to “stabilize Libya”–and asserted that “drones don’t change the politics of war that much.” When CODE Pink activist and fearless anti-drone campaigner Medea Benjamin disrupted President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University to highlight the humanity of drone war victims, Maddow responded with a condescending report, mocking Benjamin. “After anti-war activist Medea Benjamin interrupted an Obama speech on drones … Maddow ran a graphic reading, ‘Stop Agreeing With Me!’ the implication being that, if Benjamin just shut up and listened, she would quickly learn that Obama had many of the same reservations.” Obama’s “agreement” with Benjamin was recently reiterated in his administration’s decision to boycott a UN conference on drones, an inconvenient contradiction that likely can be resolved by asking, like a good “liberal” commissar, “would you prefer Mitt Romney to blow up Pakistani children?” Incidentally, this hypothetical may be too generous. MSNBC employee and co-host of The Cycle Toure distanced himself so far from the victims of drone warfare that when the murder of 16 year old Abdulrahman Awlaki was brought up on his show he didn’t even know who Awlaki was.

“… During an MSNBC panel discussing drone strikes Toure seemed completely unaware that Abdulrahman, had ever even existed: ‘What do you mean a 16 year old who is killed? I’m not talking about civilians’, he declared, when the subject came up. After fellow panelists, liberal Steve Kornacki and conservative S.E. Cupp, explained to Toure who Abdulrahman Awlaki was, he shrugged, ‘If people are working against America, then they need to die.'”

Other reporters covered in Arria’s critique are Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, Ezra Klein, Ed Schultz and Joy Reid. Of particular interest is the story of Chris Hayes, who Arria acknowledges as someone who is often seen as the “progressive” exception to the otherwise Democratic Party tribalists that have come to dominate MSNBC. After Hayes made an extremely mild and unoffensive statement questioning the heroism US soldiers the cultural managers in the elite press dropped the hammer on him. Richard DeNoyer, the National Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, condemned Hayes statement as “reprehensible and disgusting”, a grave insult to “our fallen service members.” Immediately Hayes backtracked on his statement and issued an apology, asking “who was I to say who is and who isn’t a hero?” and admitting that “he fell short in a crucial moment.” This incident causes Arria to make the compelling observation that “If every soldier storming into Afghanistan and Iraq is hero, merely by extension of being American, then logic dictates, soldiers on the opposing side should be viewed as heroes, by their fellow citizens,” and “these are the questions we must ask, and the kinds of discussions we must have, if we ever hope to live in a country that doesn’t possess an aggressive, and murderous, foreign policy.”

Melissa-Harris-Perry-EdwardSnowden-screenshot-13July2013
Melissa Harris Perry kindly encouraging Snowden to “face the music” (go to jail) in a televised open letter.

Logical exercises of this kind are alien to MSNBC journalists who operate under an intellectual and moral code of silence where any examination of imperial ideology, no matter how superficial, makes everyone “very nervous.” The nervousness that paralyzes MSNBC journalists when dealing with issues of imperial power was put on full display in Melissa Harris Perry’s appraisal of the Obama administration. In what Arria accurately describes as a “tremendously disrespectful version of history” Perry asserted that President Obama is “stunningly similar” to Dr. Martin Luther King. Meanwhile, serious critics like Dr. Cornel West attacked these illusions, pointing out that King “would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about the working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation.” Arria summed up the distinction more straightforwardly: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream; President Obama has a Kill List.”

A review of this excellent book would be incomplete without mention of the many humorous scenes Arria paints from Chris Matthews announcing that he got so excited listening to one of Obama’s speeches that he “felt a thrill going up [his] leg” to Joy Reid’s interrogation of Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, a tense exchange that forced Arria to conclude “the spirit of Joe McCarthy lives deep in the heart of Joy Reid.” He also satirizes a decision by Ed Schultz to do a report about televangelist Pat Robertson’s advice to a mother on “demon-sweaters” from Goodwill instead of covering the incomparably more consequential story of Chelsea Manning’s trial. In another comedic aside, Arria opens the chapter on Ezra Klein with the following observation: “It’s very possible that everything you need to know about the young Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein, can be deduced from the opening line of a New Republic profile on him: ‘The first time I interviewed Ezra Klein, the 28-year old prince of DC media, he brought me a sandwich: prosciutto on a poppy-seed baguette.'”

This injection of humor, in an otherwise serious book, makes Medium Blue a highly engaging read for anyone unimpressed by the easy, self-flattering denunciations of Fox News, which is certainly a highly jingoistic, racist and xenophobic network, but “undeserving of rigorous analysis.” As Arria states in the introduction “Liberals frequently bite on the trolling, bothering to waste time and words on superfluous tasks like fact-checking Ann Coulter books.” Perhaps this is the most significant contribution of his book, that he penetrates the simplistic tribalist paradigm of elite discourse, where the limits of thought are narrowly constrained by party affiliation, and lays down a devastating critique of American mass media. No one who reads this book can afterwards watch MSNBC and not be overcome with feelings of contempt, if not amusement. In a recent appearance on the network, award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill compared MSNBC’s editorial line to an “Obama for America meetup.” One can only imagine how many employees he made “very nervous.”