Obama and Russia, Cuba, and the neoconservatives

Jim Lobe reviews some articles and the book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons by Jacob Heilbrunn who speculates on what the neoconservatives, those instigators and cheerleaders for the disastrous policies of Bush-Cheney regime, will try to do now:

It speculates on the internal splits that the neo-cons are going through as a result of the political campaign and Obama’s victory, and the possibility (I would say probability) that at least one major faction — headed by people like Robert Kagan, David Brooks and even David Frum — will seek to forge an alliance with liberal interventionists, presumably led by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton (although Susan Rice also fits the bill), in the new administration, much as they succeeded in doing during the Clinton administration with respect to Balkans policy. As I’ve written before, the two movements have similar historical origins (inspired in major part by the “lessons” — “never again” — they drew from Munich and the Holocaust) and tend to see foreign policy in highly moralistic terms in which the U.S. and Israel are “exceptionally” good. While I don’t agree with everything in Heilbrunn’s analysis, it offers a good point of departure for watching the neo-cons as the Age of Obama gets underway.

As I wrote yesterday, the most immediate foreign policy issues confronting the Obama administration involve Iraq and Afghanistan. On other issues, the residual effects of neoconservative and cold war politics is likely to constrain Obama to continue to follow their agenda, at least for a short while. So far he has taken very much a standard pro-war establishment stand. We will have to observe whether the neoconservatives have any success in infiltrating the Obama administration and influencing its policies in the long run.

For example, during the campaign Obama was absurdly belligerent towards Russia on the Georgia/South Ossetia issue. After first making a fairly reasonable statement calling for restraint on both sides, under pressure he resorted to the required anti-Russian belligerence, blaming Russia (on August 9) for “aggressive actions” while sidestepping the provocations of the Georgian president.

What the pro-war one party state demands is that Georgia be portrayed as this plucky little democratic, innocent, western-friendly country that was suddenly attacked without provocation by the big bad Russians, and Obama belatedly but dutifully got on board with the program. However, as was clear from the beginning for anyone who read outside the mainstream media in the US, this picture was far too simple and that Georgia, far from being purely an innocent party, suffered from the actions of their own reckless president. As always, the unpalatable truth leaks out later in dribs (November 7) and drabs (November 17) long after the strong false but initial impressions have been created.

Governments and public relations professionals know how easy it is to manipulate public impressions if you have first crack at shaping the news. In an article (An Orwellian Pitch: The inner workings of the war-propaganda, LA Weekly, March 21-27, 2003) in which he analyzed the way that lies were used to rush the public into invading Iraq, John R. McArthur quotes Peter Teeley, George H. W. Bush’s press secretary when he was vice president, who explained it this way: “You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it.” If it happens to be untrue, “so what. Maybe 200 people read [the correction] or 2,000 or 20,000.”

In a post in 2005, I gave several examples of this lying technique in action. Uri Avnery points to some new examples in the current Israeli assault on Gaza

An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that “they shot from inside the school”, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.

So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas terrorist. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a “symbol of Hamas rule”. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the “most moral army in the world”.

Governments that lie take careful measures to prevent independent voices from gaining access to the news. In the case of Gaza, until yesterday Israel prevented journalists from entering Gaza, even defying the order of its own Supreme Court to allow them in. As a result, the only independent news sources are from Al Jazeera and from individuals, such as this eyewitness report from an Irish human rights worker that details in horrifying detail the terror and destruction that Israel has inflicted on the people of Gaza.

The morgues of Gaza’s hospitals are over-flowing. The bodies in their blood-soaked white shrouds cover the entire floor space of the Shifa hospital morgue. Some are intact, most horribly deformed, limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads blown off, skulls crushed in. Family members wait outside to identify and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved ones.

Blood is everywhere. Hospital orderlies hose down the floors of operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the injured continue to pour in: bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns, bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted and under siege, work day and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the predominance of death.

BBC reporters now allowed in say (and the videos show) that parts of Gaza looks like it has been hit by an earthquake with entire neighborhoods flattened and bodies still buried in the debris. The killing of a well known doctor’s daughters in their own home is another example of the horror inflicted on the people of Gaza.

But the Israeli government knows that by limiting first access to the news to its own sources, by the time the truth emerges and makes it into the mainstream press, it has had time to shape public perceptions in ways that are hard to correct.

This is why you have to be skeptical of the statements made by any political leader or government, especially in the immediate aftermath of some major event. They are not trying to inform you, they are trying to shape perception in their favor, and using the fact that they are the ones with immediate access to the media to distort the truth.

The only foreign policy area where there is some hope for quick improvement with the Obama administration is with Cuba. The tide seems to be turning as far as Cuban-American sentiment goes towards Cuba. The older hard-line anti-Castro embargo supporters are dying off and the younger generation wants to create normal relations. This may enable the cautious Obama to open channels towards that country, which has suffered so cruelly from the sanctions, without suffering loss of domestic support. Cuba’s president Raul Castro has offered to hold direct talks with Obama and I hope he accepts.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart on Bush’s final media blitz – clueless to the end

Is there anyone less capable of being reflective than Bush?

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