After agreeing that the US attack upon a Syrian air force base constituted a violation of international law, a violation of Syrian sovereignty, an Ivy League law professor told NPR that he believes that the premeditated strike was justified nonetheless. The professor likened it to running a stop sign or a stop light in an emergency.
This is the level of tortured hypocrisy to which US intellectual elites have sunk.
Across the corporate media spectrum similar irresponsible “justifications” dominate the conversation, including from the center left. Some, like the once discredited, but still indulged, Brian Williams of MSNBC, border on the crazed, invoking songster Leonard Cohen to marvel at the “beautiful” cruise missile launches.
Within the two-party political circle, a similar consensus welcomes or approves the missile attack. The corporate Republican leadership, including Senate leader McConnell and House leader Ryan, join the corporate Democratic leaders, Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein, in their approval. Senate hawks McCain, Graham, and Rubio, who had earlier criticisms of Trump, hail the attack. McCain saw Trump’s leadership of the aggression as “presidential.”
This sounds eerily like the drumbeat accompanying previous US aggressions against countries that refuse to honor the imperial playbook. An equally ready consensus emerged with recent US military violations of sovereignty in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq, and in Libya, not to mention numerous uninvited covert actions throughout the world.
The Sales Effort
Sadly, the US establishment has succeeded in selling aggression as “humanitarian intervention,” the modern equivalent of nineteenth-century “civilizing the savages.” As this selling job has gotten more sophisticated and the perpetrators have grown more successful, the need for allies has declined. The US used the UN as a cover after the demise of the Soviet Union; it contrived a “coalition of the willing” to mask aggression in the Middle East; and it hid behind the NATO shield in recent years. Today, it acts unilaterally, brazenly.
Making full use of the compliant corporate media, naive human rights organizations, and corporate and government-funded NGOs, imperialism relies upon opportune “incidents” that cry out for sympathy and prompt a call for action.
Of course, provocation is not really a new ploy. It has been part of the imperialist tool box since the dawn of empire. The US introduction to contrived provocation coincided with its entry into imperialist competition: the sinking of the battleship Maine. With the help of Hearst and Pulitzer, icons of US journalism, the incident “justified” the US military embarking on a colonial mission against Spain.
More recently, the phony Tonkin Bay incident notoriously served to gather public opinion behind a massive escalation of the war against Vietnam.
And of course, there was the “weapons of mass destruction” hoax that, thanks to the media frenzy generated by Judith Miller, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, led to war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
In the post-Soviet era, “humanitarian intervention” replaced imperialism’s Cold War strategy of fighting national liberation under the banner of “anti-Communism.” Today, US imperialism uses a multi-faceted approach: subversion, covert support for discontented “democrats” and surrogate “freedom fighters,” and naked intervention.
The corporate media is only too happy to fan the flames, shamelessly turning national leaders into “brutal dictators” regardless of the frequency of elections or their apparent legitimacy. That same media instantly converts religious zealots into righteous democrats and neo-Nazis into human rights activists. Any country that strengthens its military against threats of imperialist intervention becomes a threat to its neighbors or dangerous aggressors. And imperialist military maneuvers or buildups are merely responses to belligerency. All that is needed beyond the propaganda campaign is a provocation to spark a policy shift or military adventure.
Strike the Match!
Two recent events--the death of Kim Jong-nam and the alleged gas attack on a Syrian village--have disrupted processes that had promised to lower international tensions, derail the prospects of further conflict, and disrupt imperialist plans. One process held out hope that US-DPRK relations would improve, opening the door to reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. The other offered an early end to the war devastating Syria and its people.
Both processes were interrupted in a manner that should generate doubt and suspicion on the part of any reasonable person. Both processes were thwarted by “incidents” or provocations that were instantly inflated and characterized by a corporate media that follow a line uncannily identical with that crafted by imperialism.
In February, Kim Jong-nam died under suspicious circumstances in an airport in Malaysia. Kim traveled on a DPRK passport and was purportedly the half-brother of Kim Jong-il, the leader of DPRK. Immediately, a narrative circulated in the Western press that attributed the death to agents of the DPRK. Because of the haste in reporting the conspiracy, parts of the narrative had to be replaced, patched, or modified as questions arose. No independent investigation was permitted; nor was the DPRK allowed access or possession of the body of its national until much later. Questions arose over why security agencies of the ROK were engaged at the onset of the incident. And clear indications of KCIA invention loomed over the most glaring discrepancies in the story.
But most telling were the circumstances. The President of the ROK, Park Geun-hye, an anti-DPRK hardliner and US puppet, was about to be removed from office because of corruption and massive demonstrations for her impeachment in response to that corruption. Waiting in the wings was the likely new leader, an opposition politician known for his commitment to steps toward reconciliation with the DPRK. Few US citizens knew of the large southern Korean reconciliation movement because of the veritable news blackout of anything placing DPRK in a favorable light.
At the same time, a hysterical media campaign was popularizing the “North Korean military threat” and the US was rushing its sophisticated THAAD missile system to the ROK, a direct provocation of the DPRK and the PRC. The US moved quickly to take advantage of Park’s waning days and the impolitic of removing the missiles once they were there. The Kim affair conveniently added to the argument that the DPRK could not be trusted, part of a blatant effort to thwart any attempt at North/South reconciliation.
More recently, the alleged gas attack in Syria occurred in the midst of considerable hope that the war would be coming to a close. Assad and his allies had turned the war against the US, Salafist, and Turkish-sponsored opposition as well as their mercenaries. The Trump administration made noises about accepting Assad’s continued governance in Syria. Peace talks were continuing amidst renewed hopes and there was an air of optimism about forthcoming talks between the Trump administration and the Russians.
But since the first of the year, a campaign had been waging against elements of the foreign policy of the Trump administration. Charges of unsavory contacts with Russia took on a relentless public life, spread by political foes and the media, and fueled by carefully placed leaks and innuendo by the security services. Despite little evidence of anything out of the ordinary or seriously compromising, the association of Trump with Russian machinations quickly reached hysterical proportions. What began as a diversion from the exposed chicanery and electoral failure of the Democratic Party gathered momentum and transformed into a broad attack on Trump’s deviations from the ruling class playbook. The Russia-baiting was served up to discredit Trump’s renegade isolationist, America First policy. Trump had drifted off the reservation with his hands-off foreign policy, his live-and-let-live approach to Russia, Syria, and the DPRK.
To get him back on the reservation a provocation was needed. It was found or contrived with the alleged Syrian government gas attack on civilians.
The Soft Coup
Whatever really happened in the village in Syria will likely never be known. Like the death of Kim in Malaysia, any hope of an objective investigation has passed with the politically charged rush to judgement on the part of Western leaders and their media shills. Truth was a victim of opportunity. Both events, as depicted in the Western media, were better seen as carefully crafted, politically useful theater than as part of the fabric of reality.
The last glimmer of truth-based journalism disappeared from the corporate media when the work of the US’s greatest investigative journalist was exiled. Since 2015, when Seymour Hersh’s article on Syria could find no US publisher inclined to publish it, US mainstream international reporting has been universally politically motivated, tainted by bias, and, frankly, ignorant. Hersh was celebrated when he exposed the crimes of My Lai or Abu Ghraib, but he is no longer wanted when he dares to question today’s foreign policy consensus. One finds more truth in celebrity gossip reporting than in international reporting datelined from a comfortable foreign city with a media-friendly US embassy available.
The upshot of a lapdog media is the readiness of media puppies to do their master’s bidding.
Since Trump’s election, the media has once again served loyally as the instrument of the US ruling class. It should be no secret that all of the candidates but Trump were carefully vetted by that same ruling class; while they all played different hands, they recognized the same rules. Trump did not always play by those rules, he didn’t play nice, and he had some outlier ideas. And the media has set out to punish him for his audacity.
With his victory, alarms went off. Plans were hatched to force Trump back in line. The security services and the corporate media collaborated to realize those plans. With ruling class fear of a measured position on Russia, a tale of intrigue and secret plotting was created out of whole cloth. The old Russian bear-baiting strategy was brought out of retirement and the game was on!
The war rages in the Trump administration between those who cling to the isolationist position promised in Trump’s campaign and those who urge him to return to the reservation and embrace the ruling class line of belligerence towards Russia and the stoking of aggression in the Middle East and Asia. Clearly, the purge of Flynn and the removal of Bannon from the National Security Council paved the way for the attack on Syria and the saber-rattling in and near the Korean peninsula. For the moment, the corporate, establishment faction has the upper hand. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, trusted military advisor H. R. McMaster, and reliable corporate boss, Gary Cohn, former president and COO of Goldman Sachs, appear to be steering Trump back to the ruling class mainstream and away from a sane foreign policy.
The retreat from sanity owes much to US liberal elites who shamefully stoked and continue to stoke the anti-Russia hysteria that presses Trump to attack Syria. As the PRC news service, Xinhua, noted, the attack on Syria was meant to send the message that Trump’s administration was not “pro-Russia”.
How the battle will conclude is unsure. Rumors abound that Trump will exile Bannon (and Priebus) and put Goldman Sach’s Cohn in charge at the White House. That would constitute a solid victory for the ruling class-- ironically, for the policies of Hillary Clinton. Given that businessman Trump has no principles-- only ambition-- that is not an unlikely outcome.
Through the turmoil of the last few months, a soft coup has been unleashed, a coup meant to bring Trump back in line with the ruling class foreign policy consensus, an imperialist game plan. In the waning days of his administration, Barack Obama acknowledged this game plan. He noted the intense pressures from the ”humanitarian interventionists” and their dominance among the foreign policy establishment. They don’t wear the badges “liberal” or “conservative.” Nor do they owe allegiance to “Republican” or “Democrat.” Rather they represent a ruling class consensus.
While some leeway in execution is permitted, the goals are non-negotiable. Trump threatened to modify those goals. He is being schooled in the rules.