Media Lens grills UK press about its support for Afghanistan's invasion

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martin dufresne
Media Lens grills UK press about its support for Afghanistan's invasion

Afghanistan - "The Verbiage About 'Democracy's War'"

The latest manifestation of the media monopoly reinforcing a "parliamentary consensus" involves the US-UK war on Afghanistan. In an article entitled, 'Back our boys - they fight for your lives,' Sue Carroll asks in the Mirror:

"Enjoy your barbecue at the weekend? Sleep easy in your bed last night? Get to work without any problems? I trust you did because this is what liberty is all about. The right to live safely in a civilised community free from the oppression of thugs and fanatics who wouldn't think twice about crushing our democracy and slaughtering us as we sleep.

"It's hard-earned, this easy living. Millions of men have died for our freedom and more are losing their lives in Afghanistan to protect us. So less of the hand-wringing please about whether we should or should not be fighting a war against the Taliban. It's a no-brainer." ()

This is the approved propaganda view, not just of the current conflict, but of every war throughout history. The Telegraph comments:

"The conflict in Afghanistan is complex and difficult but it is, on balance, a war worth fighting to crush the camps which train terrorists for assaults on Western cities." (Leading article, 'Our troops in Afghanistan need the right tools for the job,' Daily Telegraph, July 10, 2009)

There are problems, in fact absurdities, but conveniently, the Telegraph reminds us, "The Obama surge is addressing all that." (Ibid) Indeed, the Telegraph did a good job of explaining Obama's utility and popularity right across the political spectrum:

"If this anti-Iraq war disciple of 'soft power' feels the need to put 20,000 more American troops in harm's way, there surely must be good reason for concern." (Irwin Stelzer, 'A lesson from history that goes unheeded; Great leaders can see the bigger picture; in times of conflict,' Daily Telegraph, July 15, 2009)

We can be sure Obama knows best. Curiously, the disciple of "soft power" has ("temporarily") increased the size of the US Army by 22,000 soldiers, raising the total number of active US soldiers from 547,000 to 569,000. (

In 2004, an Egyptian academic described how hatred of the US is rooted in its support for "every possible anti-democratic government in the Arab-Islamic world... When we hear American officials speaking of freedom, democracy and such values, they make terms like these sound obscene." (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Hegemony Or Survival, Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.215)

The Financial Times reported: "while only might can destroy al-Qaeda, its expanding support base can be eroded only by policies Arabs and Muslims see as just". Destroying al-Qaeda will therefore have little effect if "the underlying conditions that facilitated the group's emergence and popularity - political oppression and economic marginalisation - will persist". (Editorial, Financial Times, May 14, 2003)

Two political scientists commented:

"Delicate social and political problems cannot be bombed or 'missiled' out of existence... Violence can be likened to a virus; the more you bombard it, the more it spreads." (James Bill and Rebecca Bill Chavez, Middle East Journal, autumn 2002)

Ami Ayalon, the head of Israel's General Security Service (Shabak) from 1996 to 2000, has suggested that "those who want victory" against terror without addressing underlying grievances "want an unending war". (Quoted, Chomsky, op., cit, p.213)

This appeared to be obvious to the editors of the Guardian in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. On September 15, 2001, a Guardian editorial observed:

"But America's dilemma, once the verbiage about 'democracy's war' and 'freedom's brightest beacon' is cut away, is that its military options, to the extent that they are currently understood, are largely unsuited to the task in hand.

"Indeed, much of what appears to be under contemplation will just make matters worse. For consider: any major air and/or ground attack mounted against Afghanistan in pursuit of prime suspect Osama bin Laden will certainly produce civilian casualties. It may not produce Bin Laden (who may not even be there). Such an attack would inflame Muslim opinion and hand the terrorists a second triumph: following Manhattan, here would be the 'holy war' they have long sought to provoke." (Leading article: 'The penknife and the bomb: Brute force is not the way to defeat the terrorist threat,' The Guardian, September 15, 2001)

Consider how the ideological blinkers had fallen over the Guardian's eyes by 2006 in relation to "democracy's war", when it referred to "the foreigners helping steer this long-suffering country towards stability and democracy." (Leading article: 'Afghanistan: The forgotten war,' The Guardian, January 18, 2006)

More recently, the Guardian noted that the reality in Afghanistan "is a country where security is getting worse and advances - such as democracy, the return of refugees and universal education - are under threat." (Leading article: 'Afghanistan: Bravery may not be enough,' The Guardian, June 10, 2008)

Not only had "the verbiage about 'democracy's war'" been more than verbiage, it had resulted in actual democracy, which was now under threat.

By striking contrast, the war correspondent Reginald Thompson commented on attempts to bring "democracy" to the Korean peninsula by force of arms in the 1950s. In his superb book, Cry Korea, published in 1951, Thompson wrote:

"What a mockery it was to name this kind of thing democracy! What a Quixotic business - at best - to try to establish it, to imagine it possible to establish an evolutionary result without evolution." (Thompson, Cry Korea - The Korean War: A Reporter's Notebook, Reportage Press, 2009, p.175)

Thompson was even able to comprehend Chinese suspicions:

"But would the USA or the UN leave Korea? China might think not - it was already apparent to all observers that democracy is not a saleable commodity but an evolutionary growth in certain circumstances. It might take a long time to take root, even given the circumstances, in a peasant country like Korea, accustomed only to tyranny of one kind of another. So that the US and UN role might be reasonably that of conquerors and colonisers." (Ibid, p.222)

By contrast, an Independent leader comments:

"We need to be mentally prepared for the duration of this vital mission to secure Afghanistan's democratic future, as well as the likely human cost." (Leading article, 'The public mood is shifting, but the mission must push on,' The Independent, July 13, 2009)

Roger Alton, the pro-Iraq war editor of the Independent, remains onside:

"The Western mission in Afghanistan, though overshadowed by the foolish invasion of Iraq and often poorly carried out these past eight years, remains a worthy one... Nato troops, including Britain's contingent, are in Afghanistan at the invitation of the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai. And their purpose is to protect civilians from the depredations of the Taliban while the Afghan army builds up the capacity to take over the job.

"They are also fighting for the protection of British citizens. Some three-quarters of UK terror plots under surveillance by the authorities have links to militants based on the Afghan/ Pakistan border. The Taliban granted al-Qa'ida a base before 2001. There is no reason to suppose they would not do the same again if they returned to power. Our own security is bound up with the safety of the Afghan people." (Ibid)

In a rare departure from the propaganda norm, the Guardian published comments by former diplomat and deputy governor in occupied Iraq, Rory Stewart, now Ryan Family professor of the practice of human rights, Harvard University:

"Afghanistan's political and strategic significance has been grossly exaggerated. The idea that we are there so we don't have to fight terrorists in Britain is absurd. The terrorist cells and training camps are not in Afghanistan. The people the Americans and British are fighting in Afghanistan are mostly local tribesmen resisting foreign forces. Does al-Qaida still require large terrorist training camps to organise attacks?

"Could they not plan in Hamburg and train at flight schools in Florida; or meet in Bradford and build morale on an adventure training course in Wales? Those who argue that we have the right strategy provided we have enough troops and equipment were saying not long ago that if we had only had 7,000 troops in Helmand instead of 5,000, we could defeat the Taliban."

Impressively honest, but Stewart's views on Afghanistan have been mentioned in a total of four articles in the entire UK national press. As ever, opinion that falls outside the parliamentary consensus "has difficulty in finding expression".


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Good one: "The people the Americans and British are fighting in Afghanistan are mostly local tribesmen resisting foreign forces" - Rory Stewart.