Syria Response – Short Memories 2.0
‘Elites’ have been leading us into accepting a ground war in Syria by fuelling a toxic mixture of emotion and imposed ignorance among US and European citizenry. By disregarding the historical context of recent imperial ventures, chastising Islam, and by focussing daily on the tragic Paris victims, much of the corporate media alongside their political kin have been banging the drums of war and normalising a capitalist-led imperial control grid. But will these key power players from a range of states manage to agree on a share of the spoils without resorting to using coercion directly against one another?
Whilst noting the inherent complexities within international relations, we should acknowledge that small, well-coordinated networks of men and women can have a disproportionate amount of long-term influence in our ‘democratic’ societies which can be reflected in the way media coverage is constructed for particular events. When deciphering this news and including capitalist to capitalist coordination in our analyses, state policies begin to make much more sense than taking at face value the framing which we are every day lambasted with through the corporate-owned media.
The goals of the Trilateral Commission, the cabal of capitalist corporate leaders and their internationalist partners who hold views pertaining to creating deeper cooperation between capitalist states and thus between global corporations, the media, banks and finance, gain little traction in the media’s state-leader orientated and ‘objective’ news approach, particularly when we think of their coverage of the current Syria bombing campaigns. Though this grouping of leaders does not extend beyond the US, Western Europe, Japan and their traditional allies, it represents a focal point by which capitalist states can coordinate together and extend powers over the politically powerless, in what scholar Karl Kautsky deemed ultra-imperialism; the pinnacle of capitalist to capitalist relations. This is not to deny the power of leaders, yet, by focussing purely on leaders and non-state terrorist groups only, the media’s emphasis on their decisions therefore makes little sense when attempting to properly understand what exactly is happening in Syria and the wider world. This in effect produces a fog so that we cannot truly see what is going on within a wider state of affairs.
Capitalist Cooperation in an Uncertain World
When considering further Syria action we must remember the propensity for war and the vested interests among and across the most powerful capitalist states. Need we forget the US war-lust, before ISIS were considered a serious threat, when supposed Syrian chemical weapons were unleashed. Only UN Security Council vetoes from Russia and China prevented referring the matter to the International Criminal Court whose ‘legitimacy’ may have allowed an intense situation to escalate into all-out war against the Syrian government – let’s not forget Obama’s ‘red-line’ over chemical weapons use or he’s proclamation that the world ‘had to act’ in Syria. Or more recently, the revelation that Tony Blair decided in 2002 that he’d take Britain into war with Iraq, no matter the pretext. More specifically, we could look to former French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, who noted that in 2009 whilst visiting Britain he was asked to participate in a British attempt to overthrow Assad using rebel proxies. We could also highlight General Wesley Clark’s extremely underreported revelations that the US administration planned to invade 7 countries in 5 years – Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Libya, Iran and Syria. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and demonstrate an imperial Western inclination towards war in the region, which the mainstream media is prone to forgetting.
In regards to non-Western powers, Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism appears alive and well – at least for the time being. Our minds must be drawn to the many oil contracts eventually signed by Chinese firms, such as Sinopec and PetroChina, in Iraq, and Russian firms operating there as well that are only mentioned matter-of-factly in the pages of business chronicles. Before the US invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi government had also cancelled some major Russian oil contracts. Regaining those contracts may have given Russia more leniency towards the US occupation, even with the risk of losing everything to the Americans and their allies. Alternatively, we could link events today with those of Libya’s bombing aftermath, where Chinese and Russian firms have entered the oil market, despite not backing the country’s successful rebels. What this all together implies is that Syria will only be ransacked once elites – including those in Russia and China – eventually decide or deem possible a fair share of the spoils.
The costs of all-out war are currently too high, and the results of modern warfare too unpredictable for elites to not cooperate in today’s world of bunker busting missiles and satellites; where there are few places for them in the world to hide. For the time being, what we are more likely to see is a gradual escalation of the crisis using fringe allies in the region, such as Western allies Turkey (who have never been allowed to become a European Union member) or Saudi Arabia, and on the other side, quite possibly Iran, backed by Russia, until a stalemate is eventually reached. Only then will it be possible to compromise. Given the fall in the price of oil and gas due to fracking and weak demand, in hand with Russia’s over reliance on these commodities’ exportation in order to contain their own social infrastructure, arrangements may be come by relatively quickly.
The Media’s Role
The horrific Paris shootings have evoked many emotions in the days and weeks after they occurred. With a multitude of avenues to communicate now at our fingertips, these emotions were clear to see, having found their way on to social networking sites such as Facebook, blogs, and news page comment sections. The mass media drenched populations link the events to their own lives and the ones they love, thus producing empathetic and defensive emotions. In this sense, the victims and survivors can sometimes become members of the populaces’ own families. This tendency culminated in individuals placing photos of their own pets online with the caption ‘Je suis Diesel’, in support of the police dog that was killed in a raid. These heightened emotions may also latch onto a whole host of other underlying tensions which partly relate to peoples’ ordinary frustrations, isolation and powerlessness in capitalist society and everyday life. The feelings are more likely to be vented in situations like these because the mood of the time, which has been fermented by real life events and daily media saturation, allows for people to self-righteously express their positive or often negative opinions knowing that in such a fog shrouded environment, others will strongly resonate with and accept their views – even if others strongly protest. Amongst the confusion, the propensity to tolerate ignorance increases through pressures to conform and because for a given situation people do not know how to act; this phenomena is called informational social influence. Individuals naturally seek information in order to increase certainty about events, but they are often met with an ignorant certainty which they themselves may sometimes adopt.
These frustrations must then express themselves through the media too. But, importantly, we should consider the way in which the mass media frames and sustains news stories depending on their origin. Despite their regularity, most of us do not see terrorist events regularly unfolding on the news in such a saturated manner, because the mass media usually reports daily foreign terrorist events in a matter of fact way, noting the ‘objective’ facts and figures – often failing to underscore the human side of events in any truly sustained manner. Terrorist attacks rarely gain such day-to-day coverage unless they directly affect the West and are politically expedient.
Linked to this, news outlets actively and sometimes unwittingly create a common enemy to focus our aforementioned frustrations on. The media have done so more recently by equating Islam with terrorism and demonising this multifarious and diverse group by linking them to criminality, speaking of ‘Muslim ghettos’ and ‘no go-zones’ in Paris. The classification of poor areas as ‘Muslim’ ghettos is a futile attempt to equate the crimes that emanate from these geographic areas, that are clearly linked to poverty, with Islam instead – just as the case with those labelled ‘black’ by society in US ghettos. What’s more, there are parallels with the ‘Muslim ghetto’ classification and the ‘Jewish ghetto’ labelling that was used to isolate the Jewish segments of society in Nazi Germany. Few of these news outlets actually venture out and do real reporting by visiting these areas. What they would have found if they did is simple; deserted streets. Many Muslims are terrified of the terrorists themselves and fear the possible hostile reactions of their fellow citizens towards them. Muslims are afraid to venture out of their houses, just like everybody else in Paris. Despite many media efforts to disassociate conventional Islam with extremists, Muslims are being used as scapegoats to suppress us all in our search through the fog, and to distract us from the self-serving interests of the few.
We could also look to the recent erosion of state boundaries and the media coverage regarding the refugee crisis to see these continued dynamics. This was originally an example of people from ‘outside’ who were given the emotive day-to-day media coverage that we see for Paris that was non-existent during the Iraq war. Who could forget the tragic photograph of the Syrian boy who washed up on Greece’s shores, and why shouldn’t we? I don’t quite remember the Iraqi refugee equivalent though in both Gulf wars or during the crushing UN sanctions in the 1990s which led to the death of well half a million children alone. Although the current refugee crisis affected Europe, which is considered fair game for the media daily news, the coverage was unprecedented in comparison to slightly smaller, but similar events in the past – why did the media choose not to care before? This coverage has now somewhat shifted clumsily to focus on the ‘terrible nature’ of these refugee groups, further strengthening this ‘us’ and ‘them’ paradigm.
Overall then, these views are interspersed with what Charles W. Mills labelled the ‘conservative mood’, whereby the lion’s share of the population will often defend their government, even if it does not always stand for their best interests. Together, the mood of sadness, anger, confusion and conservatism evokes memories of the build up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and this is why we should slow down and consider the bigger picture before we allow these emotions to get the best of us in this fog shrouded environment. After all, as Benjamin Ginsberg noted:
“a successful regime caters more to the interests of its elites and more to the emotions of its masses.”
So, in this context, how the Paris attacks and as well, the Russian airliner that was brought down over Egypt, are used to fulfil political objectives must be at the very least, weighed up when analysing political decisions that appear to stem from real events.
Civil Rights Threat
As we all fight one another, we may now sit at a precipice between a fully-fledged Syria invasion and the continuation of an ongoing bombing campaign which Britain and France have now joined against ISIS. Only a new attack on a country such as Britain or the US would ensure that there is absolutely no turning back. Worryingly, and like in America with their Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a whole host of archaic laws and measures are being passed across Europe in the name of security which strengthen the capitalist control grid. Despite the very real threats of terrorism, these laws and measures go too far and strongly threaten the freedoms we have left in our injured ‘democratic’ societies. Take London’s response to the Paris attacks when they decided to hire, not 50, nor 100, but 600 new armed police. Are we forgetting the lessons of Menenzez, who was brutally shot and killed by armed police who allegedly mistook him for another suspect in London? We also have to look at the secrecy surrounding initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and some of its aims to see the urgency of what we all face. The goals of the Trilateral Commission are ominously evident in the vast power the TPP gives to corporations. For example, according to leaked segments, it allows corporations to sue governments if their profits are affected negatively due to state activity. This could lead to the most powerful corporations having free reign across weak states’ boundaries, giving another tip of the cap to Kautsky.
Overall, what is needed is not new laws but better intelligence practises and a sensible increase in the number of analysts working for the intelligence services. It is clear that many terror suspects are/were already on the radar of multiple intelligence agencies before various major terrorist attacks took place. We should be wary of any measures going beyond reasonableness that reinforce this capitalist control grid. Otherwise, with all of the data intelligence agencies have already been collecting on our political allegiances and other highly personal information, we could be facing fascism on steroids. In this vein, we could look to the burning down of the Reichstag building and the subsequent 1933 Enabling Act, that in effect gave Hitler the power to pass laws without seeking approval from the Reichstag (Parliament/Congress) as an historic example of what the future could hold. Indeed, American elites have long had a historic disdain for Congress and the Federal government’s power has risen dramatically since even World War II.
ISIS – A Bolt from the Blue?
When attempting to understand ISIS in Syria and the role of the West, then, we must also look to the Saudis and Qataris amongst whose populations spurred wealthy donors that most likely supported them or other extremist groups looking to overthrow Assad. These governments are also no strangers to suppressing their own populations. The West have done much to ensure both their regimes’ continuation through the supplying of arms and the training of officers to name but a few of their actions. This internal authoritarianism, it is argued, has led directly to frustrations that were externalised through ISIS and allowed by both states to spread outwards so that these emotions were not turned inwards against the state. However, all in all, this theory does not fully add up.
The spread of ISIS has moved too far for it to simply be a venting of these frustrations. Have the United States government and Europe not more control over the Saudi and Qatari linked ISIS situation, or has everything simply got out of control? Whilst full control over any proxies may be impossible, the idea that the situation has simply gotten out of hand is erroneous when considering the benefits gained for the West in pursuit of some of their strategic objectives in the region and their own support for rebels. Have not US problems – complicated by the Arab Spring – of being unable to control more representative new governments, and in effect, their resources, been somewhat rectified by the allowance for ISIS to demolish state boundaries by an ISIS that British and American intelligence services reportedly armed using Libyan stockpiles. The horrific actions of ISIS across the Middle East, which the media have been all too happy to publicise through constant internet and television streams, provide an easy pretext for military and governmental involvement in these states once any Islamic fighter group the West chooses to label ISIS enters. They may also prove to be effective pawns at potentially drawing Iran and Syria into war with Turkey and the Saudis or any other state proxies.
I remember a time when blood, guts and gore were never shown over the mass media during wars, even when the internet had found its feet. ISIS and Syria and all their related bloodshed changed this so that even the conservative BBC decided to go all out with their video coverage by opening the floodgates with footage of those men, women and children affected by the chemical weapons attacks which were blamed on the Syrian government. In the fog of ‘the war on terrorism’, few men and women in the street are looking to the right places for information, or asking the right pertinent questions.
Daniel Taylor is an international politics PhD researcher at City University London. He specialises in US foreign policy in South America and the roles of their respective militaries. Areas of academic interest include: elite theory, social control, 9/11 and ‘coercive diplomacy’. Email contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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