We don’t need to urgently debate how to defeat ISIS any more than “we” ever had to urgently debate how to depose Assad, Gadaffi, Hussein or any other former ally of the West.
The following passage is from George Orwell’s 1984:
“At one rally, the speaker is forced to change his speech halfway through to point out that Oceania is not, and has never been, at war with Eurasia. Rather, the speaker says, Oceania is, and always has been, at war with Eastasia. The people become embarrassed about carrying the anti-Eurasia signs and blame Emmanuel Goldstein’s agents for sabotaging them. Nevertheless, they exhibit full-fledged hatred for Eastasia.”
In Orwell’s novel, the way the Oceanian government regularly swaps allies for enemies highlights its power to control the thoughts of its citizens. The most brainwashed are those within the intellectual class who are responsible for rationalizing the government’s complete reversals to the general public.
For the past few years, Western pundits were fiercely debating how to bring down Assad’s dictatorship in Syria. Should “we” bomb Syria or merely ramp up military aid to the “moderate” rebels? The propaganda was so intense that even some supposedly “independent” outlets took to the task of labeling those who dissented, or simply expressed perfectly rational doubts, as “useful idiots” or apologists for Assad.
As Sharmine Narwani pointed out, the “moderate” rebels armed by the West were unnamed to maintain the fantasy that any militarily significant rebel faction was “moderate” by any sane notion of the word. Other key points were angrily dismissed or simply ignored as the propaganda campaign went into very high gear in 2013. For example, if “we” had Assad’s police torture people for us as part of the “war on terror” (see the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar) then how can “we” be morally superior to Assad? How can “we” possibly be trusted to liberate anyone? In fact, shouldn’t “we” be putting many of our own government leaders behind bars for being Assad’s former accomplices?
Such questions never arise when close allies are suddenly declared uniquely evil monsters. In 1987, Saddam Hussein was such a trusted Western ally that when his military accidentally killed 37 US soldiers aboard the USS Stark he simply apologized and moved on to perpetrate some of his worst atrocities while receiving western support. During the 1980s, Osama Bin Laden was fighting with Western backed “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan whom Ronald Reagan declared the “moral equivalents of our founding fathers.” Prosecuting western leaders for collaborating with such “monsters” is unthinkable. Negative career consequences aren’t even on the table.
As the Media Lens editors just reviewed in detail, the western media is now busily rationalizing the West’s change of position on Assad. Now “we” are supposed to debate how to defeat ISIS even if it helps Assad. The “rebels” in Syria are increasingly described as “jihadists”. Nonstop atrocity allegations made against Assad’s military have disappeared from the front pages. Last year it would have been unthinkable for anyone who hoped to get published in a prominent outlet to suggest any kind of alliance (actually renewed alliance) with Assad. Now the New York Times finds there is room for debate after all. Last years’ “useful idiocy” is this year’s hard headed pragmatism: “Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier,” explained the UK parliament’s head of Intelligence of Security just a few weeks ago.
The simple observation that Western leaders are among the nastiest and most dangerous people on the planet passes unnoticed in the corporate press. At least a half million dead in Iraq from a war of aggression based on lies should be more than enough to make that remark uncontroversial but one can easily offer other evidence – hundreds of thousands dead due to savage opposition to social reform in Latin America, lavish support for Israel’s barbarism.
But if we’re all huddling in fear over the latest official bad guy then the thought of holding our leaders accountable for their crimes will appear insane. The more irrational fear Western leaders can generate the more impunity they will have. As the emergence of ISIS from the devastation of the Iraq War illustrates, western violence will also supply the enemies our war-addicted leaders require.
We don’t need to urgently debate how to defeat ISIS any more than “we” ever had to urgently debate how to depose Assad, Gadaffi, Hussein or any other former ally of the West. Our political class is essentially a criminal class, and not just the “right wing” faction that would choose Fox News over the UK Guardian. What we really need is strong political movements committed to prosecuting western leaders, as well as defeating them electorally. Breaking the elite stranglehold on public debate is one of many key goals such movements must have. Unless we do that, “we” will continue to bear a striking resemblance to the Oceanians that Orwell imagined.