Number 549 March 6, 2014

This Week: Breaking the Media Code

"Quote" of the Week: "The Only Task We Can Reasonably Undertake"
Goals in Afghanistan Revealed
New Technology, Same Old Imperial Designs


Since I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks, I don't have anything to say about the Ukrainian crisis, which seems to be the big item in the news these days. Hope to have something about that in the near future. For now, my advice is the same as it always is: If you don't know anything about Ukraine (and I'll bet you don't), then DO NOT read or watch any mainstream media about that nation until you get some background. That's actually the first tip in my list of Concrete Tips for Media Propaganda Self-Defense, which I'll be publishing one of these days.

This week I'm offering a couple of pieces that I wrote before my vacation, which I think are still interesting and timely. Let me know what you think. This week, only the "Quote" of the Week deals with Ukraine, but I'll have other sources for context and background shortly.

OK, that's all I have room for right now. I look forward to hearing from you.



"Quote" of the Week: "Virtually Impossible to Solve"

This week's "Quote" comes from the twice-monthly email list of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras. I highly recommend this group's work, both for "news" of important issues and also for good thinking on strategy. They often help us, as this piece puts it, "keep our eyes on the tasks we can reasonably undertake." In this piece, "Venezuela and Ukraine: A Challenge to the US Left," which came out this past Sunday, writer Jan Adams helps shed some light on a couple of countries in the news these days: Ukraine and Venezuela. Ms. Adams said:

"We have to develop an ability to think honestly about conflicts in countries where our government is meddling—and then keep our eyes on the only task we can reasonably undertake: restraining our homegrown, ever-ambitious imperialists. . ."

"So how can leftists, anti-war liberals, and the peace movement respond to events in Ukraine? I would say that we need to place ourselves on the side of ordinary people who are going to be hurt, and that is just about all the people in the region. None of the powers are offering anything to support.

"As usual, the prime responsibility of US activists is to attempt to limit the damage that will be done by our own government. In this case, the task is somewhat clearer. For all President Obama's hand-waving about 'costs' to Russia and John Kerry's talk of Russian 'aggression,' the war party here is led by all the usual suspects: neocons and base-pandering Republicans, Dick Cheney and John McCain. The Democratic president has to try to resolve the domestic affairs of the US, which structurally places him as an ally of self-control.

"The popular left must amplify all voices against war fever, not because we have a side, but because de-escalation is in the interest of ordinary people everywhere."

You'll find the whole article, and more, on the War Times home page.


Goals in Afghanistan Revealed

On January 27th a front-page article in the New York Times was headlined: "Afghanistan Exit Is Seen as Peril to C.I.A. Drone Mission; Bases Target al-Qaeda; U.S. Departure Could Also Limit Response to Nuclear Crisis."

Here are three of the first four paragraphs of the article:

"The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

"Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country's long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials."

"A senior administration official...added that the administration was determined to find alternatives, if necessary. 'We will be forced to adapt,' the official said, 'and while perhaps less than most efficient, the United States will find ways necessary to protect our interests.'"

When the Times refers to "the debate here and in Kabul" which "had focused on that country's long-term security," they are talking about the official propaganda debate, which for public relations purposes was always portrayed as being a debate about how best to help the Afghan people. Listening to that debate is not the best way to understand what's going on here.

It's always true that the best way to understand what's really going on with someone, whether an individual, a corporation, or a government, is to try to get a look at what they do when they think no one is watching. And that's true in this case; it's best to tune out the official pronouncements about goals and intentions, and tune in to these "concerns inside the American intelligence agencies." Those concerns, as the Times lays them out, are: "air bases" and "responding" to threats to "our interests."

What are "our interests"? Well, it's difficult to know, but when I wrote about Afghanistan back in 2009 I came up with a few ideas about what might be motivating our extended occupation of that country. U.S. planners seem to have "an interest" in "containing China;" an interest in having a client state in the center of an oil-rich and strategically important region; an interest in encircling Iran; and an interest in justifying the existence of NATO and extending its reach to be a permanent military "coalition of the willing" in all corners of the world. Any interest in the welfare of the Afghan people is only expressed when officials think that someone is watching, which makes it appear to be pure Public Relations.

Interests of Empire, Interests of People

To understand the yawning chasm between "our interests" and the interests of the Afghan people we have only to travel back to January 5th of this year, when the Times published an article headlined "Afghanistan's Worsening, and Baffling, Hunger Crisis." The lead paragraph tells us that "Afghan hospitals ... have been registering significant increases in severe malnutrition among children. Countrywide, such cases have increased by 50 percent or more compared with 2012, according to United Nations figures."

The Times tells us that "Doctors report similar situations in Kandahar, Farah, Kunar, Paktia and Paktika Provinces—all places where warfare has disrupted people's lives and pushed many vulnerable poor over the nutritional edge."

[As an aside, it's interesting to note a revealing editing decision made by The Times of Central Asia, based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In their summary of the January 27th story in the Times of New York, the above sentence came out like this (I added the italics): "Severe cases [of malnutrition] have been reported in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Kunar, Farah, Paktia and Paktika—all places where the US-led war has wrecked people's lives and pushed the poor over the nutritional edge." In Bishkek, what they see is that the Afghan people's lives were not "disrupted," but "wrecked." And they were wrecked not by some abstract "warfare," but specifically by "the U.S.-led war". Things look a little different when seen from outside of the Empire, don't they?]

In the world of the Times of New York, "Reasons for the increase [in hunger] remain uncertain, or in dispute. Most doctors and aid workers agree that continuing war and refugee displacement are contributing. Some believe that the growing number of child patients may be at least partly a good sign, as more poor Afghans are hearing about treatment available to them."

In the realm of cause and effect, here's how the NY Times sees hunger in Afghanistan: "What is clear is that, despite years of Western involvement and billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, children's health is not only still a problem, but also worsening, and the doctors bearing the brunt of the crisis are worried."

So "what is clear" to the Times is that hunger is getting worse "despite years of Western involvement." The idea that hunger might be worsening because of that involvement is beyond the pale. And it might seem worth mentioning—although the Times does not mention—that a significant part of "Western involvement" has been a military occupation of a sovereign nation, an occupation that could be predicted to further destabilize an already-fragile nation, giving rise to resistance of all sorts and the disruption that comes with it.

Early in Obama's first term (April of 2009) I ran a story called "U.S. Goals in Afghanistan, Inside the Propaganda System and Out." In it I reported on "a poll of the Afghan people done by the Gallup organization... Gallup's report, released on February 27th, stated 'While stabilizing the security situation may be the primary objective of the Obama administration, Afghans are more focused on the economy.' And, sure enough, when asked 'What is the single most important problem your family faces?', 41 percent of Afghans said 'Bad economy,' 16 percent said 'Unemployment,' and only 12 percent said 'Security.' Yet 'security' appears to be the top goal of the U.S./NATO occupation forces."

Or, as we now read on the front page, the goal may not be "security," but rather the maintenance of the military infrastructure that is perceived by American intelligence agencies to be necessary for the ongoing projection of military power in the region. It's useful to keep in mind that Afghanistan shares a border not only with the much-discussed Pakistan, but also with Iran and three of the countries covered by The Times of Central Asia—Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, for a few miles, even shares a border with China.

Given its location and geo-strategic importance in relation to United States neo-imperial plans for South-Central Asia (I haven't even mentioned Russia), Afghanistan looms large in U.S. plans for the region. As the 21st Century unfolds and the U.S. scales back its use of uniformed troops engaging in conventional war, Afghanistan will continue to be important to U.S. planners. As Nick Turse reported in January, U.S. "Special Forces"—Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel—are now deployed in 134 nations around the world. The apparent plan is to establish and maintain the capability to wage war—using secret deployments of Special Operations forces or remote-control technology such as drone aircraft—literally anywhere on earth.

This is what is known as The New American Way of War, news of which sneaks out only occasionally, as the next article illustrates.


New Technology, Same Old Imperial Designs

I always advise people who get news from corporate media to read the entire article, or watch until the very end of the report, since that's often where the main point resides. The wisdom of this advice was illustrated on February 5th, when the New York Times ran an article about a high-level meeting at the White House. The meeting was held to discuss what to do about Afghanistan, a nation whose leadership seems to be increasingly reluctant to follow orders.

The headline was "Old Tensions Resurface in Debate Over U.S. Role in Post-2014 Afghanistan," and it was mostly about the inside politics of the Obama administration. It began, "President Obama brought his top Afghanistan commanders to the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss the way forward in a war he is determined to end by the end of the year, even as he finds himself stymied by an unreliable partner and an uncertain future."

That "unreliable partner" would be Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, who recently noted that the U.S. is "behaving like a colonial power" in his country. "Reliable partners" don't say things like that.

When the Times talks about the "end" of the "war" in Afghanistan, it might be useful to get out our Decoder Rings to see what they're really talking about. First of all, remember that it has not been a "war" since at least December 21, 2001, when the post-invasion Afghan government was sworn in. Since then it's been an occupation, which is evolving into an ongoing projection of military power in South Asia. It's aimed in part at "containing" Russia and China, keeping an eye on Pakistan and India, and reminding the small Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan who is the boss. And, when it comes to talking about the "end" of it, let's travel to the end of something else, namely the end of the Times article on the subject.

After making clear that the U.S.'s first choice is to keep a military presence in Afghanistan indefinitely, the article notes that it may not be necessary, and the second-to-the-last sentence tells us why:

"But as Mr. Karzai drags out the issue, defense officials said moving to zero troops no longer seems unthinkable, especially with alternatives like drones available."

What remains "unthinkable" here is the idea that the U.S. would respect the sovereignty of the nations of South and Central Asia. Or anywhere else, for that matter. But as the U.S. faces declining military budgets, declining public support for more wars, and declining global power, the U.S. will rely less and less on the deployment of actual flesh-and-blood troops—known euphemistically as "boots on the ground"—to maintain what remains of its empire, and more and more on remote-control warfare and secret "Special Operations" deployments. That's the meaning of that reference to "alternatives like drones." Robotic war means no people in tanks, no battalions, no supply lines, and, most importantly, few if any acknowledged U.S. casualties.

It's all part of the plan, which has been called "The New American Way of War." I described it in Nygaard Notes as "An international military alliance that can attack rapidly anywhere in the world, dominated by the United States, using U.S. weapons and technology, but with no risk to U.S. life."

None of this is news; it's only readers of the corporate media who had to wait until 2014 to get a glimpse of this reality. And people will only get that glimpse if they read to the bitter end of the page 6 article that is the subject of the words you are reading. For a more thorough discussion, I recommend going back and reading "Trumpeting The New American Way of War" in Nygaard Notes Number 501 and/or "The Invisible Killing of Remote-Control War" in Nygaard Notes Number 405.