None other than the US Secretary of State herself, Hillary Clinton, paid fulsome tribute to Al Jazeera last Wednesday, March 2. Appearing before a US Foreign Policy Priorities committee, she was asked by Senator Richard Lugar to impart her views on how well the US was promoting its message across the world.
Clinton promptly volunteered that America is in an “information war and we are losing the war,” and furthermore, that “Al Jazeera is winning.”
“Let’s talk straight realpolitik,” Clinton went on. “We are in a huge competition” for global influence and global markets. China and Russia have started multi-language television networks, even as the US cuts back in this area. “We are paying a big price” for dismantling international communications networks after the end of the Cold War. “Our private media cannot fill that gap.”
As noted in this column across the past couple of weeks, there’s been a flourishing little internet industry claiming that the overthrow of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak came courtesy of US Twitter-Facebook Command. The New York Times runs numerous articles about the role of Twitter and Facebook while simultaneously ignoring or reviling Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
Of course, in any discussion of the role of the internet in fuelling the upsurges across the Middle East, WikiLeaks should be given major credit. But WikiLeaks, along with Twitter and Facebook, all pale into insignificance next to the role of Al Jazeera,
Millions of Arabs can’t tweet. Facebook is unfamiliar to them. But most watch TV, which means they all watch Al Jazeera. And of course it was Al Jazeera which detonated the IED exploding under the Palestinian Authority, namely the cache of documents known as the Palestine Papers.
There were huge ironies in Clinton’s confession to Senator Lugar and his colleagues. In the late 1970s, radicals in the United Nations were eagerly promoting the need for a 'New World Information Order' (NWIO) to counter the lock on world communications and hence propaganda by the advanced industrial countries, preeminently the United States.
Ronald Reagan, campaigning for the presidency in the late 1970s, issued almost daily denunciations of the prospective NWIO, making it sound like a particularly sinister arm of the international communist conspiracy. Battered by this assault, the UN abandoned the NWIO and instead went into the Global Warming business, investing heavily in the IPCC as a way of restoring UN heft worldwide. Information-wise, the world tuned into Ted Turner's CNN, founded in 1980, which swiftly became precisely the US worldwide propaganda vehicle the Third World countries had been complaining about in the UN.
Enter the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khaifa, founding patron and financier of Al Jazeera, in 1996. Broadcasters like CounterPunch.org contributor er Afshin Rattansi, ex-BBC, helped set up the new network. It was an immensely significant moment in the history of the Middle East. Its power has long been tacitly acknowledged by the US government which has pressured US cable companies not to carry it.
In the early days of the rebellion in Egypt, US TV viewers had the somewhat surreal experience of seeing Al Jazeera being broadcast on one of the two sets in Obama’s office, though Al Jazeera English is blacked out to cable viewers in the US, with the exception of those in Toledo, Ohio; Burlington, Vermont and Washington DC. (This did not prevent both Obama and Mrs. Clinton from decrying censorship in Iran.)
Poor Mrs. Clinton. She envisages a vast imperial communications network disseminating sophisticated propaganda for the American way. She hints that it should be financed out of public funds, a ramped up version of Voice of America, devotedly followed by audiences behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago. The propaganda model is the “Mighty Wurlitzer,” as the propaganda apparatus commanded by the CIA’s Frank Wisner Sr. was termed.
But the world has moved on. One has only to watch US TV for 10 minutes to conclude that America’s communicators no longer have the intellectual resources and political literacy to mount successful, well-informed propaganda. The Fox Channel is for home-turf idiots. And besides, what would the state-subsidized propagandists be able to boast about? Predator raids in Afghanistan? Guantanamo? Thirty million on part-time work or jobless in the Homeland? America is not the sell it once was, when the economic growth rate was headed upward and capitalism seemed capable of delivering on its promises.
March 2 was a busy day. The Army filed 22 new charges against PFC Bradley Manning, suspected of passing classified information to the WikiLeaks website. The charges include “aiding the enemy,” — a capital offense. These charges coincided with Gen. Petraeus apologizing, also on March 2, to Afghanistan’s puppet leader Karzai for the deaths, via machine-gun from Apache attack helicopters, of nine children, killed as they gathered firewood in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan. A tenth child was injured. The general said he was really, really sorry, and that it seemed that “regrettably, there appears to have been an error in the handoff between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations.”
Among the material that Manning is accused of handing on to Wikileaks is footage of Apache helicopter assaults in Baghdad. The worldwide web was transfixed on April 5, 2010, when Wikileaks put up on YouTube a 38-minute video , a 17-minute edited version, taken from a US Army Apache helicopter, one of two firing on a group of Iraqis in Baghdad at a street corner in July of 2007. Twelve civilians died, including a Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and a Reuters driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.
Two lethal helicopter assaults, two different outcomes for those divulging them. Petraeus gets a pat on the back for his swift effort at damage control; Manning gets charges that carry the death penalty.
One of my neighbors here in Petrolia is Dr. Dick Scheinman, who emailed to his address list Thursday thus:
“I recently read a horrifying article in the NY Times about Afghanistan and could not help writing my representatives. Maybe you can too. Tax time is coming up and tax resistance is an option.
“May I call your attention to an article from March 2 in the NY Times entitled ‘Nine Afghan boys collecting firewood killed by NATO Helicopters’.
“I live with my grandson, 12, and as part of our making a living we collect and sell firewood. Nathan gets paid $25 for loading and unloading a cord of wood from our truck. When I read this story I could not get out of my mind the pure chance that made Nathan a healthy American boy who could collect firewood and earn money, rather than a poor Afghan boy whose life was destroyed by NATO (American?) men (women?) in a helicopter thousands of miles from their homes. With rue my heart is laden.
“David Petreus has ‘apologized.’ Perhaps he has children and grandchildren. Perhaps he should send his children over to Afghanistan to collect firewood for these boys’ sisters for the rest of their lives to atone for this outrageous cold blooded murder. (‘They shot the boys one after the other,’ said the NY Times.) Maybe the men in the helicopter should do the same. Perhaps Barack Obama’s two daughters could help.
“Perhaps they should put on rags and kiss their feet and beg forgiveness.
“But the least, the very least that YOU can do is to never, ever vote to spend any more money to continue this war.”
As I said, it’s not so hard to figure out why America is losing the propaganda war.
The King’s Dick
The inhibitions that prompted the stutter extended to other regions of the King’s body, as Kitty Kelley narrates in her fine book The Royals . Sexual dysfunction plagued poor George VI. Elizabeth and Margaret were conceived (respectively in 1926 and 1930) with the help of artificial insemination, donor undisclosed. Actually, since the sisters did not resemble each other, we can assume two donors were involved.
My maternal grandfather, Jack Arbuthnot of the Scots Guards, could be a candidate as the mystery donor for the future Queen. In terms of physiognomy Margaret is less likely. When he was commanding the guard detail at Balmoral, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later George VI’s consort, would visit from Glamis castle, as a young girl. The high-spirited Elizabeth used to insist that Major Jack play “Horse” carrying her about on his shoulders. Perhaps in 1926 the Duchess, as she then was, remembered that early, fairly intimate proximity and sent him a royal request.
The popularity of the Royal family after the war should not be overestimated. In his excellent history Austerity Britain , David Kynaston quotes James Lees-Milne as recording in his Diary for November 18, 1947, apropos announcement of the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip of Greece, a disturbing dinner with Simon Mosley of the Coldstream Guards:
“Says that 50% of the guardsmen in his company refused to contribute towards a present for Princess Elizabeth. The dissentients came to him in a body and, quite pleasantly, gave him their reasons. One, the Royal Family did nothing for anybody, and two, the Royal Family would not contribute towards a present for their weddings.’ Moreover, ‘when Simon Mosley said that without the Royal Family the Brigade of Guards, with its privileges and traditions, would cease to exist, they replied, “Good! Let them both cease to exist.”
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at email@example.com.