Saturday, March 29, 2008

dd-c05-s03

Deterring Democracy Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter 5: The Post-Cold War Era Segment 3/15
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But not precisely the same. One problem is that some adjustments are needed in the propaganda framework. The U.S. invasion of Panama is a historic event in one respect. In a departure from the routine, it was not justified as a response to an imminent Soviet threat. When the U.S. invaded Grenada six years earlier, it was still possible to portray the act as a defensive reaction to the machinations of the Russian bear, seeking to strangle us in pursuit of its global designs. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could solemnly intone that in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, Grenada might interdict the Caribbean sea lanes and prevent the U.S. from providing oil to its beleaguered allies, with the endorsement of a new category of scholars created for the purpose.10 Through the 1980s, the attack against Nicaragua was justified by the danger that if we don't stop the Commies there, they'll be pouring across the border at Harlingen Texas, two days drive away. There are more sophisticated (and equally weighty) variants for the educated classes. But in the case of Panama, not even the imagination of the State Department and the editorial writers extended that far.

Fortunately, the problem had been foreseen. When the White House decided that its friend Noriega was getting too big for his britches and had to go, the media took their cue and launched a campaign to convert him into the most nefarious demon since Attila the Hun, a repeat of the Qaddafi project a few years earlier. The effort was enhanced by the "drug war," a government-media hoax launched in an effort to mobilize the population in fear now that it is becoming impossible to invoke the Kremlin design -- though for completeness, we should also take note of the official version, dutifully reported as fact in the New York Times: "the campaign against drugs has increasingly become a priority for the Administration as well as Congress as a diminishing Soviet threat has given Washington an opportunity to turn to domestic issues."11

The propaganda operation was a smashing success. "Manuel Noriega belongs to that special fraternity of international villains, men like Qaddafi, Idi Amin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Americans just love to hate," Ted Koppel orated, so "strong public support for a reprisal [sic] was all but guaranteed."12 Why did Americans hate Noriega in 1989, but not in 1985? Why is it necessary to overthrow him now but not then? The questions that immediately come to mind were systematically evaded. With a fringe of exceptions, mostly well after the tasks had been accomplished, the media rallied around the flag with due piety and enthusiasm, funnelling the most absurd White House tales to the public13 while scrupulously refraining from asking the obvious questions, or seeing the most obvious facts.

There were some who found all this a bit too much. Commenting on the Panama coverage, David Nyhan of the Boston Globe described the media as "a docile, not to say boot-licking, lot, subsisting largely on occasional bones of access tossed into the press kennel," happy to respond to lies with "worshipful prose." The Wall Street Journal noted that the four TV networks gave "the home team's version of the story." There was a scattering of skepticism in reporting and commentary, but most toed the line in their enthusiasm for what George Will called an exercise of the "good-neighbor policy," an act of "hemispheric hygiene" expressing our "rights and responsibilities" in the hemisphere -- whatever the delinquents beyond our borders may think, as revealed by their near-universal condemnation.14

The Bush administration was, naturally, overjoyed. A State Department official observed that "the Republican conservatives are happy because we were willing to show some muscle, and the Democratic liberals can't criticize because it's being so widely seen as a success"15; the State Department follows standard conventions, contrasting "conservatives," who advocate a powerful and violent state, with "liberals," who sometimes disagree with the "conservatives" on tactical grounds, fearing that the cost to us may be too high. These salutary developments "can't help but gives us more clout," the same official continued.

As for the general population, many doubtless were also enthusiastic about the opportunity to "kick a little ass" in Panama -- to borrow some of the rhetoric designed by George Bush's handlers in their comical effort to shape an effete New England aristocrat into a Texas redneck. But it is interesting to read the letters to the editor in major newspapers, which tended to express hostility to the aggression, along with much shame and distress, and often provided information, analysis and insights that the professionals were careful to avoid.

A more professional reaction was given by the respected Washington Post correspondent David Broder. He notes that there has been some carping at "the prudence of Bush's action" from "the left" (meaning, presumably, the National Council of Churches and some centrist liberals, anything else being far beyond his horizons, as is the idea that there might be criticism on grounds other than prudence). But he dismisses "this static on the left" with scorn: "what nonsense." Rather, the invasion of Panama helped clarify "the circumstances in which military intervention makes sense." The "best single definition" of the "new national consensus," he goes on to explain, was given by Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who outlined six "well-considered and well-phrased" criteria. Four of them state that intervention should be designed to succeed. The other two add that the action should be deemed "vital to our national interest" and a "last resort" to achieve it.16

Oddly, Broder neglected to add the obvious remark about these impressive criteria: they could readily have been invoked by Hitler.


Go to the next segment.

10 See chapter 3, p. 102, and note 24.

11 Andrew Rosenthal, NYT, Jan. 26, 1990.

12 Quoted from ABC TV in The Progressive, February 1990.

13 An example is the tale of Noriega's stores of cocaine, which turned out to be tamales, as noted a few weeks after the proper effect had been obtained. Susanne Schafer, BG, Jan. 24, 1990.

14 BG, Jan. 4, 1990. José de Cordoba, WSJ, Dec. 22; Will, WP weekly, Dec. 25, 1989.

15 Stephen Kurkjian and Adam Pertman, BG, Jan. 5, 1990.

16 Broder, "When US intervention makes sense," WP Weekly, Jan. 22, 1990. National Council of Churches condemnation, James Franklin, BG, Dec. 21, 1989. KEYWORDS terrorist democracy elections cia mossad bnd nsa covert operation 911 mi6 inside job what really happened wtc pentagon joint chiefs of staff jcs centcom laser hologram usa mi5 undercover agent female sex exploitation perception deception power anarchy green social democratic participation japanese spy black-op false flag gladio terror.

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