As I've stated here before, the US has a hard time dealing with propaganda, especially that of the black sort. It's sort of like having to answer to the question of "having you stopped beating your wife?", since a no answer means that you continue to do so and a yes answer means that you have in the past.
This article by Gerard Baker of the Times is an indication of how successful the black propaganda (i.e. propaganda aimed at undermining a nation, rather than the usual propaganda aimed at glorifying one's own achievements) really is.
Here are the key points:
Far from driving us together in the face of a common threat, the events of September 11 have ripped the West apart. Now, the world's distrust of and disdain for America borders on pathology. It doesn't stop at opposition to US policies but seeks deeper explanations for American behaviour in society, economics and culture.
America is a country of religious zealots, it is said, typified by its president-zealot; a selfish and hypocritical people despoiling the planet even as they exalt their nationhood in their mega-churches. Its impact on the world is denounced not just for what its military does but for what its companies and workers do, from Exxon Mobil to McDonald's.
When Rupert Everett described Starbucks as a "cancer" last month in a campaign to stop the coffee chain from opening a shop in his London neighbourhood, it seemed to reflect not just a rebellion against the vast anonymity of globalisation but a rejection of everything for which America is despised.
But global warming, religious observance, McDonald's and even Starbucks were features of the US long before 9/11. In the end, deep as the cultural differences between Europe and America are, there is little doubt that it is the policies — the military and diplomatic stance of the US in the past five years — that have caused the rest of the world to turn away from its traditional ally.First of all, the key word is the pathology of the purported distrust and disdain: a pathology is a deviation from the norm, and in the terms that Baker is using, it is a psychopathology. Pyschopathology is used to denote behaviors or experiences that are indicative of mental illness. Baker is right: the kind of virulent anti-Americanisms that in in many places replaces discussion and discourse is indicative of a functional breakdown in cognition. If you have ever had to deal with someone who manifests BDS (Bush Derangemernt Syndrome, i.e. the mere mention of President Bush triggers aggressive and pathological behavior (see Kos, MoveOn.org, and significant portions of what is left of the Democratic Party).
And of course the descriptions of the US resemble not so much actual US behavior as much more the collective boogey-man for the left. Baker has a mistake in the next paragraph: he really means that Ruper Everett reflects a rejection of everything for which America is not despised, but rather loved.
And Baker is, of course, correct in noting that all of this is nothing new. But where I think he goes wrong is insisting that it is the behavior of the US which has "caused" the rest of the world to "turn away".
First of all, the rest of the world has scarcely turned away. NATO is still around, I do believe, and the Japanese-US relationship is better than it has been in many years. What Baker really means is that public opinion polls show something different: that when asked the right questions, "people" don't like what the US is doing.
Ah. Big difference, that last one.
Let me go back to Baker's article and start from the top here:
The rest of the world has always had a complex set of attitudes towards America — a mixture of envy, admiration, disdain, gratitude, exasperation, hope and, sometimes, fear. But that day, that week, America evoked only the sort of strenuous affection that causes a complete stranger to go out and stick bills on lampposts.
But that instantaneous solidarity with a stricken superpower was not, as it turned out, anything like a good predictor of the history that would unfold over the next half a decade.
As it prepares to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks, America stands reviled in the world as never before. It is a remarkable turnabout. In the same amount of time that elapsed between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the Treaty of Versailles, in as many months as passed between Germany's invasion of Poland and D-Day, the US has gone from innocent victim of unimaginable villainy to principal perpetrator of global suffering.
So complete has been this transformation in global sentiment that it is inconceivable now, should America be attacked again, today, that the tragedy would elicit the same response. There would be horror and sympathy in good measure, certainly, from most decent people. But there would also be much Schadenfreude, and even from the sympathetic a grim, unsmiling sense that America had reaped what it had sown.
The key point here is that according to public opinion polls, America stands reviled in the world as never before, and he goes on to point out that this happened in the timeframe that saw the ending of both WW1 and WW2.
But what is really telling is the line: the the US has gone from innocent victim to principal perpetrator of global suffering.
Now, on the face of it this is an absurd statement: there have been no changes in the role that the US plays in terms of "global suffering" other than the US has always been blamed for this. But what is different is that those who said this were usually political hacks for the Soviets or ChiComs, or some sort of NGO leftist that used the boogeyman of US imperialism to go and raise money from guilt-stricken western liberals. Now this has become more mainstream: it is the increasing acceptance of political propaganda as a mainstream meme.
Sympathy for a grieving America translated quickly into general support for the US war against the Taleban. But within a few weeks that support began to drain, as civilian casualties mounted and some questioned whether the US was doing enough to address the "root causes" of terrorism, in particular the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Then, in the view of most of the world, the US took a terrible detour: from the high road of regime change against the perpetrators and enablers of 9/11, the US descended into the thickets of Guantanamo, the "axis of evil", pre-emptive war without UN authorisation, the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the quagmire of Baghdad today.
It is the height of ignorance and stupidity for one to support a war against an enemy who deliberately uses civilians to hide behind and then abandon that when civilians get killed as a result. Addressing the "root causes" of terrorism is exactly what the US is doing in Iraq: it removed a regime that did nothing but terrorize its own people and pay others to be terrorists as well: there is now no doubt that pre-war Iraq was one of the major financers of terrorism in the Middle East and gave significant support to terrorist groups, including safe havens and training camps.
And Baker - representative for those "intellectuals" who fail to think things through - here muddles many things up. The US could have simply shot those now in Guantanamo out of hand, eliminating the problem, but as a land of laws with strict procedures, is now vilified for doing the right thing; the "Axis of Evil" is exactly that; there was UN authorization for the invasion of Iraq (just not the UN authorization that the corrupt French, Chinese and Russians wanted to deny the US and which has filled the public meme); the invasion of Iraq did what the UN failed to do (call Iraq's bluff and achieve regime change); Abu Ghraib was an anomoly and has seen those involved jailed and demoted; and the quagmire of Baghdad is not the doing of the US, but rather of Iran.
The US and its dwindling ranks of supporters elsewhere, led by Tony Blair in Britain, argued that 9/11 required a change in the way that America reacted with the world. The threat of Islamist terrorism, conducted by suicide bombers whose goals were nothing less than the destruction of the West and the return of the Caliphate, required something radically new. Armed potentially with weapons that could kill millions, these death-glorifying terrorists presented a wholly different challenge from the threat of the Cold War, and therefore required a much more assertive approach to the international system, led by the US.
But this argument failed to persuade much of world opinion, especially when Iraq, designated the most immediate threat, turned out to have been something of a paper tiger. Instead, the rest of the world simply saw an arrogant bully blundering into the Middle East and stoking the fire under the very terrorism that it had pledged to extinguish.
What other side? That of the Anti-Americanists.
But after President Bush's narrow but decisive election triumph in November 2004 that became less plausible. Americans had been given a chance to pass judgment on their leadership in the early years of the post-9/11 world. In John Kerry they had been presented with a candidate who explicitly articulated the critique of the rest of the world (He spoke French! He was clever! He liked the UN!) After 2004, confronted with the reality that President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld really were the representative leaders of America, the rest of the world formed an alternative impression of the US — that 9/11 had, in fact, induced a dramatic change in the psychology of the nation. A nation that had not been attacked on its own soil in 60 years had overreacted and, through a combination of government lies and a complaisant media, had turned its back on co-operation with the world.
First of all, the election was anything but narrow: if it had been, then it wouldn't have been deciusive, right?
And Baker does hit it right: the "rest of the world" is being critical that the US hasn't ceased being the US, but rather soundly rejected Kerrey. And a compliant media? How little Baker recognizes how biased the media is in the US.
And by deciding to follow what the duly elected officials of the US decided was the right and proper policy, supported by the Congress of the United States, the US turns its back on co-operation with the world?
What the US turned its back on what co-optioning the policies of the US by foreigners. That is one of the reasons that Kerrey lost: the voting populace realized that he was not the one who would pay attention to US interests, and while the US is the world's eminent superpower, it doesn't give foreigners a say in how it runs things, thank you very much. But then again, neither does any other nation in the world. Duh.
And now we come to the core of the problem:
Conspiracy theories became even more popular. The US or its ally, Israel, was behind the 9/11 attacks precisely so that America could strike at its enemies in a broader clash of civilisations and battle for control of Middle Eastern oil resources. Even saner types who did not believe such fantasies still think that the US is a bigger danger to world peace than almost any other country in the world.
This is where the propaganda starts. This is where the sophists have spoken and corrupted the youth, presenting falsehoods as truths and denying truths as mere opinion.
The article by Baker is also indicative of the effects of propaganda: it is, itself, perhaps unwittingly, propaganda as well, for it misleads one down a dwindling path into a morass. It is opinion masquerading as "truth", the most insidious is that "public opinion" is somehow the final arbiter of these things.
If the situation was so bad, if the US was so nefarious and evil, if it were the perpetrator of global suffering, then why oh why are there more trying to get into the US than ever before? Because they want to join the Dark Side before the entry fee is increased?
Or could it be that what Baker is reporting is the result of a concerted propaganda campaign, one that started in the 1950s and has continued today?