Sunday, 9 June 2013

How Propaganda Works : Nick Cohen and the Syrian Civil War.

Propaganda that appeals to the emotions seems to have become a speciality of those who use rhetorical framing devices to pigeonhole those opposed to a certain position as being less than human and to win arguments cheaply. Using 'humanitarian intervention' as a means to that end has become increasingly common since the 1990s.

One of the worst examples of this trend is Nick Cohen. Unlike certain advocates of the Iraq war as a humanitarian intervention such as the Canadian liberal Michael Ignatieff, who rejected his support for it when it became clear the US and UK invasion of 2003 had unleashed sectarian warfare, Cohen has learnt nothing.

Instead of looking at the facts of the current civil war in Syria, Cohen offers a generalised interpretation of a position he ascribes to all those who think that Foreign Secretary Hague's threat to arm the Sunni insurgents will force President Assad to stand down.
'Sceptics about humanitarian intervention in Syria hit you with what they regard as a killer question: "Where do you stop?" If the "international community", such as it is, tries to halt the massacres in Syria, why doesn't it intervene in North Korea or Somalia?'
This is meant to prove that those with qualms about Hague's recent move to get the EU's arms embargo on Syria lifted, along with the French foreign government, are somehow at one with those are simply pointing elsewhere to what the West is not doing in order to suggest that it should do something about Syria.

Now obviously this is true because there is no civil war in North Korea. Nor are the geopolitical interests of largest Global Powers at stake as Syria as they are in Somalia. For the one evident thing about the Syrian crisis is that it has become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Britain has consistently supported Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and continues to do so despite Cohen's own attempt to use these corrupt Gulf states corrupt influence on London as a cause for criticism at a domestic level, because it is the lynch pin of Britain and the US's foreign policy in the Middle East.

Given the fact that Saudi Arabia and Qatar began to arm the insurgents from early on in the Syrian conflict, using rhetoric devices as 'illiberal intervention' as Cohen does in passing reference to these powers, and omitting the fact that the CIA and MI6 have assisted on the ground, is a form of political lying.
'as for the conscience of the west, when it considers Syria at all, it finds liberal intervention unconscionable – nearly everywhere, that is, except in William Hague's Foreign Office..I accept praising Hague (and by extension David Cameron) in the Observer is akin to praising the pope at an abortion rights rally'.
No intelligent person cares about Mr Cohen's 'position' or what others think about it as it is not that relevant. The facts are more important. Hague supported the insurgents who hijacked the revolution against Assad as soon as they could as soon as the civil war broke out, making it clear that 'Assad Must Go'.

That policy, formulated by the US under the blustering and incompetent Hillary Clinton, was downplayed when it became clear Assad was just not going to 'go' . So Hague's new bluster about forcing Assad to negotiate his way out is clearly not to be praised but best condemned.

On its own terms Cohen has provided absolutely no geopolitical context to the supposed narrative that, thus far, the 'West' has sold out the Syrian 'rebels'. If the UK and US governments were so interested in Syrian civilians why did they not condemn Saudi Arabia's 'illiberal intervention'?

The reason is that Britain's Foreign policy under Hague, no less than that of the US, is shackled to the strategic relationship it has with Saudi Arabia, one criticised by Nick Cohen without him understanding that they do so to preserve the 'balance of power' in the Middle East.

The protection of the flow of Gulf oil and maintaining Saudi Arabian and Qatari interests against Iranian influence, especially when much opposition within the Gulf states has come from Shi'ite Muslims, is the basic strategic reality underlying US and UK foreign policy.

Given that Hague did not 'intervene' from the beginning and 'Radical Islamists have filled the void', the burden of proof lies with Cohen when suggesting that Hague has done or it intends to act in Syria in such a way that could be termed 'humanitarian intervention'.
'It is only from Hague's Foreign Office and the Quai d'Orsay that you find a glimmer of an understanding of the moral and diplomatic questions the Syrian catastrophe raises'
Well, if Hague's policy of threatening to back those radical jihadists who now predominate in Syria's anti-Assad insurgency is as 'humanitarian' as Cohen believes, then more than just 'a glimmer of an understanding' is needed. In fact, Cohen 'needs to start' by looking at reality.

Not least as most international humanitarian organisations have called on Britain not to back the Syrian insurgents with weapons and to use diplomacy to try and bring about a ceasefire. Yet the insurgents want total victory at any cost and not to protect civilian life.

The same is true of Assad who knows that in Libya it was the UK and France who led the way in aiding the insurgents there and that he faces the same primitive form of 'justice' meted out to Colonel Gaddafi if he were to lose.

Hague's policy is essentially to pretend that he tried before the forthcoming Geneva Conference ( if it happens ) all the alternatives to war while, in fact, effectively encouraging the insurgents to believe they will win because realpolitik interests dictate that they must.

For the real endgame of Hague's foreign policy is that same as that of Washington and that is curtailing Iranian ambitions in the Middle East with the growth of its influence in neighbouring Iraq. The irony is that this was a result of the military intervention of 2003.

Those advocates of the Iraq War are still interesting to read now, some more than others. Cohen is interesting if only because he epitomises a certain way of thinking that seemed briefly to be credible during the frantic polemicising within the left over the issue of the Iraq War.

Cohen's credibility is largely exhausted and he has continuously only indulged in an exercise in rhetoric in order to avoid coming to terms with the impact of the Iraq War which was supposed to lead to a domino effect in toppling Syria as well.

This can now be interpreted as necessary because after the Syrian civil war has grown more protracted and savage President Assad is The New Saddam. Just as Saddam Hussein was a 'New Hitler' , Assad is another Saddam and so another Hitler or Stalin.

The conceit, as well as utter banality of this, is instructive in understanding how the polemicising over Iraq actually worked, the sense of unreality connected to it and the indifference to what was really at stake. Cohen is only interested essentially in defending his position as a journalist.
'I accept praising Hague (and by extension David Cameron) in the Observer is akin to praising the pope at an abortion rights rally'
Cohen here attempts to fend off the inevitable criticism in advance by pretending that because he "praises" William Hague that those who presumably damn him can only be doing so because they don't really care about Syrians as he really does.

The idea is to insinuate he 'really' cares while anyone opposed to Hague's stated preparedness to arm the insurgents is morally stunted, malign, pseudo-left or only rigidly obsessed with Britain's national interest, is a crude form of pure propaganda.

Cohen had his brief moment of notoriety as part of the self proclaimed 'decent left' in the years between the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is between 2001 and 2003. Since then events have continually confounded him.

The reason for this is that Cohen, along with others who argued far better than he such as Christopher Hitchens, saw Iraq and the conflict with totalitarianism as they saw it as a rerun of the battle against Fascism and Stalinism in the 1930s and 1940s.

Such journalists thought they could see a similarity after 9/11 between European totalitarianism and Al Qaida and, by extension, all secular nationalist tyrannies such as Saddam's Baathist Iraq and Assad's Baathist Syria. No deeper analysis of the history of each nation is necessary.

For even if both Al Qaida and secular totalitarianisms in the Middle East did have a basis in European revolutionary traditions, they were not as one. They did not amount to what Michael Gove called, in his abysmal tract Celsius 7/7, a 'seamless totalitarian threat'.

The reason it is important to understand Cohen's position is not because there is any depth, humanity or clear message in it. It is because the way he sets the propaganda message appeals to humanitarian sentiments without being truly influenced by them.

As with Iraq, the attack on opponents of the Iraq War was based on the desire to destroy all opponents of the war as being 'objectively Saddam' . There was a 'sell out' leftist or liberal left that was pro-dictatorship or those who supported democracy and freedom.

Cohen and others went for that 'position' because they equated realpolitik with what they considered reality and thought of Iraq as an action replay of the 1930s with themselves is inheritors of George Orwell's mantle as opposed to being merely Orwellian.

Now Cohen seems to think the Syrian Civil War is a chance to pose again as someone who believes 'liberty is telling people what they don't want to hear' as Orwell did after his experience of the Spanish Civil War. It's facile rhetoric and ahistorical.

Those like Cohen and Hitchens seem to have fell into the trap of thinking that because a vocal part of the 'anti-war movement' were and are apologists for totalitarian regimes, that this was one reason to back 'good wars' to put one over on them.

Part of that has to be seen as a revulsion against the fact so many intellectuals and journalists had supported the Soviet Union in the 1930s. With the increasing knowledge of Soviet crimes after 1991 and the opening of the archives, many wanted to be 'new Orwells'.

Hitchens was one of these who 'positioned' himself in the tradition of anti-totalitarianism when he wrote Orwell's Victory . At least, that book had some interesting things to say. Cohen saw the possibilities of promoting himself by going along with this trend.

The difference is that Orwell did actually go to fight in Spain as part of an independent militia. Moreover, the situation in Spain in 1936 or Britain in 1939 has little to do with that in 2001 in Afghanistan or Iraq in 2003.
Cohen wants to believe now that Spain in 1936 is similar to Syria in 2013.

Nothing in the decade after the catastrophic war in Iraq, the hundreds of thousands dead, the revived sectarian violence of 2013 nor the prospect of regional sectarian warfare,  has had any impact on Cohen. Some fanatical interventionists have learnt nothing from Iraq, not even from their own ideas back then

For 'interventionists' kept saying about humanitarian intervention that each crisis is different and needs a new response. That true but it does not , in fact, happen and he curious thing about Syria is that most of the siren voices for war in 2001 and 2003 are now silent.

Indeed what do voices such as Brian Brivati , so vocal about Afghanistan and Iraq, have to say about Syria now?. Who remember such people now ? So far such enthusiasts for the Iraq War have not come forth as they once did with such brimming confidence.

Only Cohen has defended these ideas because now there is nothing left for him to lose as he nothing much to say other than salvaging what remains of his credibility. With regards foreign policy his journalism is sloppy, shrill, self important and largely propaganda.

The British Parliamentary Opposition  Does Not Oppose Hague.

Cohen writes in his article,
Douglas Alexander this time, Labour's "progressive" foreign affairs spokesman, breezily maintains that there is no need to help rebels because Syria is already "awash" with weapons. He then contradicts himself by maintaining that if Britain and France were to arm rebels – why would they need to if Syria were already "awash" with weapons? – the rebels would not come to the negotiating table.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander is not actually saying very much other than affecting to suspend his 'judgement' on the idea of helping the insurgents, one that Hague has actually just threatened to do as a means of pretending this is a way of getting Assad to negotiate his way out of power.

The fact is that four of the largest insurgent groups actually doing the fighting tried to scupper negotiations themselves before the Geneva Conference by rejecting the Syrian National Council as representing 'the national will' ( i.e. the will of the people as defined as Syrian and by them alone ).

Hague's threat to send arms to the 'right rebels' does not really change the fact there is no organised 'the opposition' and in conditions of chaos there can be no guarantee they would not 'fall into the wrong hands'. Obviously, nobody knows exactly which groups Hague regards as the 'right' groups.

The phrase about Syria being 'awash with weapons' is a deliberate piece of rhetoric to just create the impression of concern about what Hague is suggesting without spelling out why any decision to back insurgents in Syria is highly dangerous and likely to cause an arms race.

Cohen simply throws in the word progressive as an adjective in scare quotes before Alexander's name because anybody, even a self serving careerist politician, who has the slightest doubt about the merit of backing the insurgents against Assad is merely practising callous realpolitik.

This is why when forensically dissecting the propaganda the language is important. When Cohen writes 'Sceptics about humanitarian intervention' he is seeing it as one solid block of thinking that only cynics could oppose as a shoddy rhetorical trick to win polemical victories.

The same propaganda mechanisms were deployed by journalists and politicians and other opinion formers and framers around the Iraq War. So it is in continuity with that idea of 'humanitarian intervention' deployed by neoconservatives to affect that realpolitik decisions are 'humanitarian' ones.

Though nobody has yet been openly insane enough to call for full scale Western military intervention, the decision to back the insurgents would be a foreign policy similar to the one practised by the US and UK in the 1980s when backing the mujahadeen against the Soviet Union.

With Hague,no less than those such as Cohen, the messianic and Evil Enemy is now Iran instead of the Soviet Union. So proxy wars are one means to roll back dictatorship and get into the business of 'democracy promotion'.

The flaw in that is obvious in that neither Russia nor Iran are, in fact, dictatorships. Moreover, given that the itch to arm the insurgents as a counter move is about supporting Saudi Arabia's proxy war against Iran, it is actually about realpolitik and nothing to do with humanitarian considerations.

The absurdity is that the UK and US militarily in Iraq had to allow Shia ascendency-and ethnic cleansing-as the price of defeating sunni insurgents only to find that the Shia government moved closer to Tehran and it's energy interests in the Middle East.

With the collapse of the Syrian state's power and the rise of sunni fundamentalist insurgents, who displaced the relatively feeble secular opponents of Assad ( presumably the 'right rebels' ), was not created by the 'inaction' of the West but the action of its strategic allies.

No action nor pressure by the US or UK was put on Saudi Arabia or Qatar to stop supporting the 'wrong rebels'. The CIA and MI6 have been already in action funnelling arms and supplies to the insurgents in Syria from Jordan and Turkey to no avail.

It's curious that those screaming about the outrage to the conscience of the free West such as Cohen cannot see or choose not to see the facts as they are as opposed to pretending that they can ride with the tide of history on the right side.

As is evident here,
Hague is impressive because you do not need to tell him what he already knows. He accepts that the world failed Syria and gave Assad the time and space to brutalise the population. He at least is not surprised by reports of massacres.
Well, maybe he does not actually care that much. It's great to know Hague does not need to be told anything because he knows it already. So did Tony Blair when he decided to invade Iraq and who still tries to rationalise the scale of the bloodshed as part of a greater historical plan unfolding now from Iraq to Syria.

No comments:

Post a Comment