Since the Sept. 11 attacks, a large portion of media coverage has been focused on issues of foreign policy. Unfortunately, the corporate media has shown a dangerous tendency toward narrowing the margins of debate in its coverage. Aside from choosing who is interviewed and what/how stories are covered, the margins of debate are established by adopting terms and phrases coined by politicos. These terms and phrases are usually left (purposely) ambiguous, and yet are used to justify highly consequential policies. As these terms and phrases become broader in usage, such as the “war on terrorism,” substance and clarity of coverage declines.
The framework of debate over issues of foreign policy is almost always a matter of a number of individuals debating tactics. The decisions of what goals are to be pursued and debate over the merit of current goals are lost in the rhetoric of “national security/interest,” “strategic importance,” and the like. Though this model of debate leaves much to be desired, it appears to have gotten worse.
The attacks, and later military action, have bred a new ambiguous description of what terrorism is. The apolitical definition of terrorism is the systematic use of violence and/or threats to achieve an end or maintain supremacy. In this sense, the label of terrorism applies to all people, groups, and governments that commit acts with such motives and methods. However, leaders of these bodies always justify organized violence in rhetoric draped with fairy tales of good and evil. As George Orwell put it in his Homage to Catalonia, “Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without bothering to examine the evidence.” And those who elevate above the level of disbelief and articulate “sensibly” that the contradictions of organized violence are inevitable are showered with praise and awards (i.e. Henry Kissinger).
But, the intellectual climate has pushed our country to a state more akin to Orwell’s claim. For example, in an Oct. 30 interview with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly criticized the Clinton administration for not fighting terrorism. Strangely enough, Albright cited the 1998 bombing of a “chemical plant in Sudan, which we knew to be connected with Osama bin Laden” as evidence of Clinton’s actions against terrorism. Oddly, O’Reilly ignored her and continued ranting against Clinton’s liberal timidity.
In a rational debate based on fact, O’Reilly would have jumped on Albright for lying. The Al-Shifa “chemical plant” in Sudan was really a pharmaceutical plant, supplying half of that poor country’s medicine supply. Up to the eve of the attacks, officials in the State Department told “the powers that be” that there was no credible evidence linking the factory to bin Laden. The factory was bombed anyway and the media and politicos cheered. The owner of the factory, one Saleh Idris, had his assets frozen by the Treasury Department while the government compiled its “case” against him. In May of 1999, Mr. Idris’ assets were unfrozen because there was no evidence linking his factory to bin Laden. The event was recorded with little fanfare here, with the media not even granting it significance, unlike overseas (see www.fair.org/extra/9906/sudan.html).
In a world of civilized people with uncivilized leaders, such events are to be expected. Instead of naively regarding the explanations of a moral dichotomy in the world, or sternly accepting current realities as “inevitable,” we ought to heed Orwell’s message.