On 23 July 2002, a number of senior British government, defence and intelligence figures met in secret to discuss the build-up to the war against Iraq. The minutes of the meeting were recorded in what became known as the Downing Street memo. The contents of the memo prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the goal of regime change in Iraq preceded the stated justifications which were retrofitted to an act of aggression.
Similarly, an investigation in September 2016, by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons into the 2011 destruction of Libya confirmed that the justifications used to attack the country was invented ‘facts’ fixed around policy. The report summarised:
“The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”
The rationale for ‘intervention’, was the alleged threat of a massacre by Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi which the report confirmed “was not supported by the available evidence.”
Related claims, that Gaddafi used African mercenaries, launched air strikes on civilians in Benghazi, and employed Viagra-fuelled mass rape as a weapon of war, were also invented.
In the same month as the Libya inquiry, members of the US Peace Council who had recently returned from a fact-finding mission in Syria, met at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss their findings. The Council members concluded that the key motivations underpinning the foreign policy objectives of Washington and its allies, was to foment sectarian divisions, ethnic strife and thus political instability as the prelude to initiating regime change in the country.
Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas confirmed in 2013 that Britain had been planning the war on Syria “two years before the Arab spring” which was to involve the organizing of an invasion of rebels into the country. “This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned”, he said.
And yet in all of these cases, the warmongering objectives of Western state power were barely considered worthy of a footnote on the pages of ‘liberal-progressive’ media outlets such as the Guardian or the New York Times.
In 2011, Time reporter, Rania Abouzeid, announced the March 4 and 5, “Day of Rage” which was intended as an invocation to the masses in Syria to rise up against their “brutal dictator”. However, the planned action ended up a complete failure.
The culmination of eight years of crippling U.S-led economic sanctions did not have their desired effect. On the contrary, tens of thousands of Syrians gathered at Central Bank Square in Damascus on March 29, 2011 in support of their president.
Nevertheless, the pro-government rally was inaccurately portrayed in the Western media as an anti-government demonstration. The Guardian, for instance, reported the rally, not as a celebration, but as a “military crackdown [by the state] against civilians.”
A year later, on March 27, 2012, president Assad accepted in good faith the six-point Annan peace plan which was ostensibly intended to secure a diplomatic solution to end the growing violence in the country that escalated on March 17, 2011, in the Syrian-Jordanian town of Daraa.
The mainstream corporate media collectively failed in their duty to report the fact that the imperial powers reneged on their obligations. To my knowledge, not a single prominent journalist brought to the public’s attention that the U.S and its allies broke their “crystal-cut commitment” to stop aiding rebel fighters which were an integral part of the agreement between the respective parties.
The jihadists continued to rain shells down on the cities of Hama and Homs despite Syria’s commitment that it would abide by the terms of the ceasefire on the condition that the West stop arming the rebels.
That the Western imperial powers have shown no intention of reaching a genuine peaceful outcome to the regional mess they instigated, has never been the preferred media narrative. In Iraq, for example, the evidence that NATO did everything they could to obstruct a peaceful resolution in the country is overwhelming but, to my knowledge, this fact has not been reported anywhere in the corporate media.
The same rationale can be applied in relation to the media’s treatment of Libya. According to the text of UNSCR 1973, for example, the aim was to facilitate dialogue between the various factions in the country. But this was rendered absurd by the subsequent rejection by the West of proposals put forward by the African Union.
A rare voice of dissent was Seumas Milne who observed:
“If stopping the killing had been the real aim, NATO states would have backed a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement, rather than repeatedly vetoing both.”
“This is not a theoretical point. NATO flatly rejected all ceasefire and peace proposals in Libya and demanded that Gaddafi “step down” in much the same way they demanded it of Assad in Syria. The media frequently characterize the motives of the imperial powers and their proxies in the middle east as benign. But what the examples above illustrate, is that this is an illusion.
The fomenting of war and chaos in Iraq and Libya by the U.S and its allies, from which spawned al-Qaida and ISIS, are the same forces that are tearing Syria and, at the time of writing, Iran apart. Recent reports of widespread protests throughout the latter are the consequence of U.S economic sanctions of the kind used against Iraq and Syria. As journalist Nafeez Ahmed reported, the said protests were fomented by the U.S State Department. Again, the public would not have arrived at this conclusion by observing the corporate mainstream media.
The BBC Panorama documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, Channel 4 News, Up Close With the Rebels and The Caesar Torture Photos are other examples of where the media has attempted to disorientate the public. The former, in particular, is arguably the greatest single piece of state-sanctioned propaganda to have been produced anywhere in the world.
By acting as echo chambers for Western imperial power, the role of the corporate journalist when reporting on foreign policy is akin to that of the stenographer. Examples include the Telegraph’s reaction to the Houla massacre of May 25, 2012 which cast Syria into the ‘civil war’ of the Wests making, and the widespread misrepresentation of the UN report into the Ghouta chemical attack of August 21, 2013.
One day after the Ghouta attack, a Guardian editorial claimed there was not “much doubt” who was to blame for the incident, as it simultaneously assailed its readers with commentary on the West’s “responsibility to protect”.
Journalist Jonathan Freedland’s reaction in the Guardian to the alleged chemical attack on April 4, 2017 in the Syrian town of Khan Seikhoun, was a virtual carbon copy of the paper’s reaction to Ghouta almost four years previously.
Freedland wrote a day after the incident:
“We almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
What these ‘signs’ were was not specified in the article.
Freedland’s rush to judgement was an approach similarly adopted by George Monbiot. On Twitter (April 7, 2017) the Guardian writer claimed without evidence:
“We can be 99% sure the chemical weapons attack came from Syrian govt.”
Corporate mainstream journalism is predicated on sustaining the illusion that it challenges power rather than acting as its ‘gatekeeper’. The reality is, if journalists in highly influential positions really posed a threat to establishment interests, they wouldn’t be in the positions they are in.
As Upton Sinclair famously remarked:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
One of the key signs of a healthy democracy is the extent to which both the state and corporate media encourage a genuine diversity of opinions and the conditions for alternative narratives to flourish. All the evidence would suggest that on both counts, the mainstream corporate media have failed, the people of the middle east.
The inability of corporate journalists to report truthfully is indicative of a structural and systematic media bias. Its highly concentrated nature has resulted in a sustained narrative of misinformation, deceptions and outright lies.