Patrick Cockburn’s recent article is one example of why I read CounterPunch less often than I used to. Or, at the least, why I have become more critical of their editorial stance. With this article, I have the impression I’m reading a Bernie Sanders speech, of being Judas-goated into the camp of what I consider a kind of useless caviar Left. While maybe not as bad as The Guardian (I prefer OffGuardian), there are too many weasel words, phrases, and statements that reek of Establishment consensus. That if you’re going to refer to the head-chopping proxies, armed and funded by the US and its good buddies, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and other assorted vassals, as “rebels” rather than the paid lieutenants of the criminal gang in DC, London, Riyadh or Paris, you’re basically saying it’s okay to murder at arm’s length, to somehow plausibly deny any real, true, strong connection to the crime or the perpetrators. Plausible Deniability being spook-speak for basically lying, when timidly asked, about any crime they’ve just committed.
Here’s one example:
Pundits are predictably sceptical about the agreement reached by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on Monday to head off an imminent offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces directed against rebels in Idlib province.
See what I mean? No qualifications or explanations of who these “rebels” are or why they are there. If they’re “rebels”, they must be the good guys, right? We all love a “rebel” when he’s creating mayhem in another country or in some movie theatre. That statement is also a subliminal reminder that if they’re “rebels”, they must be “rebelling” against something, and that “something” must be bad, hinting that Assad must be bad, even though words like “brutal dictator” or “thug” weren’t used. This time.
And speaking of “brutal dictators” or “thugs”, it’s pretty obvious that the US is now, as has been for quite a while, a dictatorship, and a brutal one, at that. As are most of its allies/vassals in the West and elsewhere to differing degrees. We’ve even got our own murderous “proxy army” right here in the “Homeland”. It’s called the Police, who go around murdering with impunity, armed with surplus military gear. How many homeless, uninsured, hungry, and dubiously incarcerated (modern day slaves, working in private prisons) do we have? Do you think that minuscule percentage of the people (or their paid hitmen/women in Congress – Oligarch money put them there in the first place) who actually run things give a rat’s ass about any of this? That’s what they do. All of them. They look around the entire planet to find (or create the necessary conditions for creating) the weakest possible “enemies”: People who just want to be left alone to figure out their own futures, on their own terms, who don’t have imperial aspirations or the military means of carrying them forward even if they wanted to, but, for most part, don’t. They’d rather spend what means they have on their own populations. Call that behaviour what you will, but it certainly doesn’t include a blind obedience to the diktats of the Money Men and their military enforcers.
But our “Left” editors at CP have a difficult time of saying that up front. The term “rebel” also supports the claim/point of view that the conflict in Syria is a “civil” war. It’s total nonsense, but here it is:
The Syrian civil war long ago ceased to be a struggle fought out by local participants. Syria has become an arena where foreign states confront each other, fight proxy wars and put their strength and influence to the test.
“Long ago”, Patrick? It was never a “civil” war. In fact, no wars are “civil”, but that’s kind of beside the point here. The conflict in Syria was aided and abetted, if not instigated, by the US and its local (and not so local, but closer to the scene, allies; i.e., France and the UK, the FUK of FUKUS) allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, two theocratic states who hate the idea of having a secular, tolerant, independent state in their neighbourhood, especially one friendly to/allied with other independent states like Russia and Iran.
Why can’t you say that? Why can’t anyone, except for belittled independent journalists (Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett come to mind) let us know what’s really going on? What really happened?
It’s a sad day when we we are pretty much denied by the MSM the reports of a couple of female journalists who apparently were really “there”, on the ground, as they say, and all the while tout the female #metoo movement. There’s no coherency in all this. But, yes, I’m giving too much credit to the #metoo movement, and all the cat fights that ensue. Still, it takes up too much space in whatever media space you choose.
On to other stuff.
Then we have the term “arena” used as a descriptor for an invasion. As if we’re sitting in the stands in the Colosseum watching an entertainment or in one of the corporate-sponsored arenas of the NBA. War has suddenly morphed into spectacle and sport. This kind of linguistic sleight of hand is clever and maybe downright deliberate. But maybe he couldn’t come up with a better way of stating it. Just goes to show how the whole idea of “otherness” and spectacle have come to invade the consciousness of much of the so-called Left.
There is a striking note of imperial self-confidence about the document in which all sides in the Syrian civil war are instructed to come to heel.
“Imperial self-confidence”? Do you see what I mean? It’s a ”document”. Not an invasion. There’s absolutely nothing “imperial” about it. It’s an open declaration of what they see as a solution to a problem. In other words, “Here’s what we’d like to do, given the circumstances.” It’s an invitation to dialog, not a pre-emptive invasion.
And then, here we go again:
Moscow helped Assad secure his rule after the popular uprising in 2011 and later ensured his ultimate victory by direct military intervention in 2015.
“Popular uprising”? Right, just like the vicious coup in Ukraine was a “popular uprising”? The US supposed, I guess, that the Syrians were just as venal as the Ukrainians. Or, if they had figured out that Syria would be a harder nut to crack, why not just simply create a reason to send money, arms, and the cooperation of its ideological opponents to do the dirty work? Not the same situation at all. But Cockburn would have us accept these fairy tales that anyone who hints that they might want to make an independent decision must be categorised as a dictator, a thug, someone who needs to be punished, not by his own people, but by the US. By proxy, of course. Can’t forget that.
And then there’s this “direct military intervention”. As if Russia simply decided, unilaterally, that enough was enough. Assad asked, invited, if not begged for Russia to help him out. They are allies, after all. Again, not quite the same thing. Cockburn may believe all his nonsense, or he’s being very careful not to upset too many “humanitarian intervention” Lefties who still believe that Assad is a “thug” or whatever, as probably a good many of his readers, and those of CounterPunch do.
… but politicians and commentators continue to blithely recommend isolating Russia and pretend that it can be safely ignored.
Again, “safely ignored”? Then what about all the Russophobia constantly hyped by the MSM? That’s not what I’d call ignoring something. The architects for total world dominance by the US and its vassals (or should I say Israeli-US dominance?) are probably shaking in their collective boots at the new geo-political reality staring them in the face. It’s not what I’d call “blithely recommending”, but it might pass for UK diplomatic-speak saying, “How did we get ourselves into this mess?” Or, on the other hand, it could mean, “We have to do something, quickly, anything (does the Skripal case come to mind?), to turn this thing around. Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, if it’s a total fabrication. We’ll use our tried and true method of simply repeating our version, ‘creating our own reality’ as the Yanks are so fond of doing.”
Plus, Russia doesn’t need to show the world it’s a power player. It has been since Mr Putin began turning Russia away from, in Matt Taibbi’s words, “the vampire squid”. Granted, he hasn’t quite succeeded completely, has had his setbacks, but without spending trillions, he has stymied the overthrow of yet another middle eastern nation. At least for the moment. Things could get nasty.
If you read the entire article carefully, you’ll find all kinds of these little hidden exits where the author can argue pretty much anything, if you were to put the question to him. It’s the intent, deliberate or not, that I have a hard time swallowing. Too much wiggle room.
I’d like to add that Jonathan Cook has just written, in my view, two excellent analyses of the interplay of media and socio-political consciousness. Must read. The articles to which I am referring are here and here.
My problem is, when reading an article like this, I have the impression of submitting to a lecture by someone conveniently “left”, and of a certain stature, who can be trotted out when necessary. Not a pleasant feeling (and yes, I admit that “feelings” are counter-productive, or not necessarily the best lens through which you can examine any particular phenomenon, in some sense, because marketing depends mostly on emotions) in that I sense a lack of empathy, a certain comfortable distance from what is actually happening. Some may call it “objective reporting”. But it affects me as a subtle sort of propaganda. It reinforces the “us against them” paradigm but in this “imperialistic” manner, if I may say. I refer to my “spectator” reference above. We’re invited to see this from afar, as if we were pushing around armies on a map. Cook’s argument, that we need to step back from the screen in order to see the big picture, does, in no way, contradict what I’m trying to say.
In other words, to use Cook’s analogy of being scrunched up against the IMAX screen so we can’t interpret the entire picture, we have to take the word of whoever is sitting at a comfortable distance as to what’s going on. What may seem contradictory is the fact that some journalists may actually be present at the scene about which they are reporting. Compare the reporting of Venessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett to Cockburn’s piece. That is to say, they are, in a sense, close to the screen. So do they have necessary perspective to provide us with an accurate view of what is going on? While we, the readers of the reporting, aren’t even in the theatre.
Cockburn works for a mainstream publication, part of the present power structure. What are we to make of that?
I’ve no personal beef with Mr Cockburn, nor is this really about him. He does what he does for his own personal reasons. I can choose to read his stuff or not, agree with him or not. That’s not my point. The only reason I’m writing this is that, given the present circumstances, I tend to carefully parse what I do read. Call me a nitpicker if you like. This particular article happened to make me grimace, contained an element of dissonance that made me stop and consider its possible effects. That, plus the fact that I saw this article on a self-proclaimed, left-leaning, “muckraking” web site. The writer is of less importance than the message conveyed. Language is important and, outside of personal intimacy, it’s the only means we have of communicating.
I think we do ourselves an intellectual favour by entering into that contradictory world of being up close and distant at the same time.
• Author’s Note: All bolds are mine.