Last Saturday's headline in the Wall Street Journal was: “Anti-U.S. Mobs on Rampage.”
The next day, a NATO airstrike killed eight women collecting firewood in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, an event that garnered virtually zero mainstream U.S. headlines.
Somewhere in the gap between these two phenomena — the overheated news about our violent, irrational enemies in the Middle East and the silence surrounding our war and occupation of the region — lies American politics, values, the presidential race, the national identity. Beyond that gap lies the truth about who we are, and only when we have access to it does the future turn into creative possibility and peace become possible.
The conventional wisdom we’re fed in the mainstream media takes into account only the fear — the hysteria — implicit in the Wall Street Journal headline. The story, by Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, goes on to tell us:
“The regional furor, coming just three days after an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other workers, underscored Washington’s diminished ability to influence a region where a number of governments newly elected during the so-called Arab Spring have minimal control over their restive populations.
“In many cases,” the story continues, “the political leaders and security forces within these new governments have proved unwilling, or incapable, of challenging the protesters and radical Islamist groups that have gained greater license to take to the streets.”
In other words, the Middle East is archaic, volatile, “restive,” a region full of religious fanatics easily manipulated by cynical leaders. Almost anything — an idiotic 13-minute film clip on YouTube for “Innocence of Muslims,” for instance — can set off their murderous fury. The new governments that replaced the old autocracies can’t control such people. And now, tragically, several Americans are dead.
As the story progresses, the thesis slowly hardens into fact. Finally, ka-boom:
“Republican nominee Mitt Romney, for one, has seized on the unrest to charge that the White House didn’t understand the forces being unleashed by the rebellions that have gripped the region since last year, and should have been much more aggressive to try and fashion regimes that were secular and pro-West in their orientation.”
And that’s how it works. Suddenly the “might makes right” position, however puerile and irrational — that U.S. foreign policy is all about forcibly shaping the world around its interests, that military intimidation only has consequences when it is not quickly and relentlessly employed — comes off as reasonable and logical. It may be debatable in a given circumstance, but it remains the option of choice in a dangerous world, where civilizations constantly clash, insurgents lurk and primitive, “tribal” fanatics hate us for our freedoms.
Thus Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post a few days ago, belittles the Obama administration for “leading from behind” because it was less aggressive last year than France in taking military action to remove Gaddafi from power in Libya. And now look where this naïve belief in diplomacy has gotten us:
“The notion that the United States can lead from behind,” Cohen writes, “is pitiful, the sorry concoction of an Obama administration that mistakes dulcet passivity for a foreign policy.”
Hoist the flag, praise the Lord, pass the ammo. This is American hysteria at its finest. Only unrelenting militarism can stop the rampaging mobs out there beyond our borders; dulcet passivity just won’t do it. And if you feel pushed and offended by this attitude, Barack Obama becomes the voice of reason in a troubled world, the good guy doing the best he can. Except . . . there’s that silence again.
As Peter Hart wrote recently in an article for FAIR: “Part of the corporate media’s job is to make sure real political grievances are mostly kept out of the discussion. It’s a lot easier to talk about angry mobs and their peculiar religion than it is to acknowledge that maybe some of the anger has little to do with religion at all.”
Whereas Arab violence generates adrenalin-pumping headlines and is mostly reported outside any serious context — e.g., the U.S. devastation of Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Koran burnings, the ongoing drone assassinations — the violence that emerges from U.S. policy is softened with so much context it’s often a struggle to figure out if anything happened at all.
For instance, the NATO airstrike last weekend that killed eight Afghan women and injured eight more, including young girls, was headlined thus in the New York Times: “Karzai Denounces Coalition Over Airstrikes.” The focus of the story, as Hart points out, is the tension the deaths caused “between Mr. Karzai and his American benefactors.” Meanwhile, “the killings of Afghan women are a secondary news event.”
The story of the deaths concludes: “Coalition forces were apparently unaware that village women sometimes go into the woods in the early hours of the morning to fetch wood for cooking fires they need to have going by breakfast time.”
This is the innocence of U.S. foreign policy. I feel far more horror — more fear about the future — in its pseudo-apology for the high-tech deaths of eight women than I do in the angry protests of aggrieved Arabs.