The Anti-Empire Report #22
By William Blum – Published June 13th, 2005
Gee, how can we ever find out why they don’t like us?
The Pentagon awarded three contracts this past week, worth up to $300 million, to companies it hopes will inject more creativity into US psychological operations to improve foreign public opinion about the United States, particularly their opinion of the American military. “We would like to be able to use cutting-edge types of media,” said Col. James A. Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element.
Dan Kuehl, a specialist in information warfare at the National Defense University, added: “There are a billion-plus Muslims that are undecided. How do we move them over to being more supportive of us? If we can do that, we can make progress and improve security.” 1
And so it goes. And so it has gone since September 11, 2001. The world’s only superpower has felt misunderstood, although co-existing with this feeling at times, and expressed more than once by Bush administration officials, has been oderint dum metuant, a favorite phrase of Roman emperor Caligula, also used by Cicero – “let them hate so long as they fear”.
“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” asked George W. (aka jerkus maximus) a month after 9-11. “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am – like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.” 2
Psychological operations, information warfare, cutting-edge media … surely there’s a high-tech solution.
But what if it’s not a misunderstanding? What if the problem is that people in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world understand the Pentagon and US foreign policy only too well? In short, what if they simply don’t believe that we’re so good? What if they – in their foreign ignorance and al-Jazeera brainwashing – have come to the bizarre conclusion that saturation bombing, invasion, occupation, destruction of homes, torture, depleted uranium, killing a hundred thousand, and daily humiliation of men, women and children do not indicate good intentions?
Last week, as well, Zalmay Khalilzad, nominated to be US ambassador to Iraq, appeared before the Senate. “The degree of support for our policies, opinion polls indicate, is not very high,” he said. It has partly “to do with the perception that what we are about in Iraq is occupation, what we’re about is to gain control of Iraqi resources. I think what we need to do is a better job of explaining our goals, the goal of an Iraq that’s self-reliant, an Iraq that’s successful. We want Iraq for the Iraqis, an Iraq that works for the Iraqi people. It’s the insurgents who don’t care about the Iraqi people.” 3
Yes, it is remarkable indeed how misinformed some people can be.
The Cold War is dead. Long live the cold war.
In last month’s report, during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, I commented about three enduring tales which the West exploited to win Cold War points against the Soviet Union: the Soviets signing a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939; their occupation of the three Baltic nations in 1940; and their occupation of the rest of Eastern Europe after the war. My purpose was to show that there were ways of looking at these events radically different from the ways Americans are taught to look at them.
This greatly upset a number of my readers; not because what I wrote was historically incorrect, but because to them it seemed to excuse the crimes of the Soviet Union. The idea that the Russians could have legitimate reasons, self defense for one, for doing some of what they did is too painful to acknowledge for committed anti-communists. To them, any attempt to correct a myth concerning the Soviet Union is tantamount to ignoring – if not approving – Stalin’s crimes and the sufferings of the people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Progressives of my generation became anti-anti-communists because the powers-that-be in the United States, for decades and decades, used the sins – real and (often) fabricated – of the Soviet Union as a justification for US foreign policy. Thus, the horrors carried out by the US in Korea were justified because “we’re fighting communism”. Thus, the horrors carried out by the US in Vietnam were justified because “we’re fighting communism”. Ditto the horrors of Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, etc., etc., etc. (Now, of course, “we’re fighting terrorism”, but it’s for the exact same imperialist reasons.) It’s no wonder that people with a social conscience, who suffered over the horrors of US foreign policy, it’s no wonder that so many became anti-anti-communists. And still are. I’ve written a concise history of American anti-communism, which can be read online. 4
Another myth I should have added in last month’s report: The Yalta agreement of 1945, in planning for “the establishment of order in Europe”, affirmed “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” We’ve been told ever since that it was the evil commies that caused this noble agreement to fall apart. But, in fact, it was the United States and the United Kingdom who cynically violated this affirmation before Stalin did. In Greece. Before the war in Europe even ended! By grossly interfering in the civil war, taking the side of those who had supported the Nazis in the war (sic), thus enabling them to defeat those who had fought against the Nazis. The latter, you see, had amongst its number some who could be called (choke, gasp) “communists”. 5
Anti-communism still holds a death grip on the American psyche. Witness the screams of pain – from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the media – over Amnesty International’s recent characterization of US torture sites as “the gulag of our times”. Could anything be more infuriating and humiliating to an inveterate cold warrior than for the United States to be compared to Stalin’s Russia?
Yet another patriotic myth (sorry to burst so many bubbles)
August 6 and 9 will mark the 60th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. We can expect the usual speeches and editorials telling us how the use of the bombs obviated the need for a land invasion of Japan, thus saving a huge number of US servicemen’s lives.
“Omission,” wrote George Orwell, “is the most powerful form of lie.” The principal omissions from the a-bomb story is that Japan’s military capability had been hopelessly destroyed and the Japanese government had been frantically sending peace feelers to the United States for a long time before those fateful days of August; peace feelers which Washington completely ignored because they wanted to use the atomic bombs. The full story can be read online.
But to American government and media leaders, it doesn’t matter much if the official a-bomb story is only a legend. It’s a higher truth.
Why does NATO exist?
NATO is preparing an “ambitious” expansion into southern Afghanistan next year, announced its Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on June 1. Eventually, the alliance will take charge of foreign security in “the whole of the country”, he said. 6
NATO has been taking ambitious steps for years – bombing Yugoslavia; patrolling the Balkans like a Governor-General; training Iraqi security forces; putting itself into the war on terrorism; providing security for the 2004 Olympics in Greece; expanding its membership, which now stands at 26 nations plus 20 others brought into the NATO fold under the reassuring name of Partnership for Peace; and much more.
Time out. Where does NATO get all this authority? What body of citizens has ever voted for them to do any of this? Why does NATO routinely ignore the UN Security Council? Why, indeed, does NATO even exist?
We were told during the Cold War that NATO was needed to protect Western Europe from a Soviet invasion. As some may have noticed, the Soviet Union no longer exists,. (It’s been suggested, plausibly, that NATO was created originally to suppress the left in Italy if the Communist Party came to power through an election.)
We were also told that NATO was there to counter the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact folded its tent in 1991, calling upon NATO to do the same.
If NATO hadn’t begun to intervene outside of Europe it would have highlighted its uselessness and lack of mission. “Out of area or out of business” it was said.
If NATO had never existed, what argument could be given today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than being a very useful handmaiden of US foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with billions of dollars of guaranteed sales.
Reforming the Indonesian military, for 40 years
On May 25, President Bush stated that it makes sense for the United States to maintain close military ties with Indonesia, despite the objections of human rights activists who say such coordination should be withheld until Indonesia does more to address human rights abuses by its military. “We want young officers from Indonesia coming to the United States,” said Bush. “We want there to be exchanges between our military corps – that will help lead to better understandings.” Bush made his remarks after meeting with the Indonesian president, who, Bush added, “told me he’s in the process of reforming the military, and I believe him.” 7 (In May 2002, Indonesian Defense Minister Matori met with US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Matori said his government had begun to “reform the military”. Rumsfeld believed him enough to call for “military-to-military relations” to be “re-established”.) 8
Indonesian officials saying they’re going to reform the military is like officials in Nevada saying they’re going to crack down on gambling. For 40 years the Indonesian military has engaged in mass murder and other atrocities, in Jakarta, East Timor, Aceh, Papua, and elsewhere, taking the lives of well over a million people, including several Americans in recent years. For 40 years relations between the US and Indonesian militaries have been one of the very closest of such contacts in the third world for the United States, despite the occasional objections and prohibitions from Congress. For 40 years, American officials have been saying that they have to continue training and arming Indonesia’s military because the contact with the American military will have some kind of ennobling effect. For 40 years it has had no such effect at all. As Senator Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa) observed in 1999: “I have seen no evidence in my 24 years in Congress of one instance where because of American military involvement with another military that the Americans have stopped that foreign army from carrying out atrocities against their own people. No evidence, none.” 9
Yet the pretense continues, for what else can an American official say? Something like this? – “We don’t care how brutal the Indonesian military is because they got rid of Sukarno and his irritating nationalism for us, and for 40 years they’ve been killing people we call communists, killing people we call terrorists, and protecting our oil, natural gas, mining, and other corporate interests against Indonesian protestors. Now if that’s not freedom and democracy, I don’t know what is.”
Liberals: conservatives – How meaningful the distinction?
Kenneth Tomlinson, the dogmatically conservative chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, has been trying to remove what he sees as a liberal stain on the airwaves and replace it with what he calls “objectivity and balance”. This endeavor has been heating up of late, resulting in all the old discussions about liberal vs. conservative. As I’ve mentioned before in this report, these discussions are usually less than satisfying or enlightening due to a very common misunderstanding in the mainstream media and among the public – the idea that conservatives (far to the right on the political spectrum) and liberals (ever so slightly to the left of center) are ideological polar opposites. This is particularly not the case with the current, omnipresent breed of neo-conservatives. Thus, a radio or TV program with one of these conservatives and a liberal maintains that it is “balanced”, when in fact a more appropriate balance to a conservative is a left-wing radical, progressive or socialist. Liberals, at least those of the genus Americanum, are often closer to conservatives, especially on foreign policy, than they are to these groupings on the far left. In this light, the never-ending debate about whether the media has a conservative or a liberal bias takes on much less significance.
Tomlinson, it should be noted, was appointed to the corporation board by President Clinton. He was chosen as chairman by President Bush in September 2003.
The other Watergate mystery
The Watergate mystery has been solved, we’ve been told again and again in the wake of the exposure of Deep Throat. But I’m confused. Doesn’t the much more important mystery still remain? Why was the office of the Democratic National Committee burglarized in the first place? Did I somehow miss that piece of news? I’ve read a number of theories about the break-in over the years, but as far as I know nothing has been substantiated or settled upon as the official, correct explanation. I’d appreciate it if anyone could enlighten me.
- Washington Post, June 11, 2005, p.D1
- Boston Globe, October 12, 2001, p.28
- Federal News Service, June 7, 2005, Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
- Also see William Blum, “Freeing the World to Death”, chapter 12 (“Before there were terrorists there were communists and the wonderful world of anti-communism”)
- See Blum, “Killing Hope”, chapter 3, Greece
- Washington Post, June 2, 2005
- Washington Post, May 26, 2005, p.10
- Associated Press, May 14, 2002
- New York Times, September 20, 1999, p.6
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.