The Thoughts of Chairman May... on the War on Terror

Observations and opinion on the US media coverage on the War on Terror.

Nassau, Bahamas - December 2002

From my perspective as a non-American with a huge window onto the US media courtesy of Bahamian Cable TV, things with the War On Terror are looking decidedly worrying. Not so much from the terrorist threat (though that IS important, and should rightfully be dealt with), but watching the world's sole superpower with a burr up its arse, armed to the teeth, and going out hunting with little apparent regard for who or what else it stomps on in the process. You know, minor trivialities like the Geneva Convention, due process, human rights and so forth.

Of course, I might be getting a fairly misleading opinion of the American mood through the US media. If so, I wouldn't be surprised, as from what I've seen US TV reporting and debate on MSNBC etc (and ESPECIALLY the so-called "fair and balanced" FOX News1) has the most biased one-sided slant to news coverage I've encountered since I used to pick up "Radio Moscow" on short-wave radio when I was a kid. Granted they are more likely to support the home team, but objectivity seems to be out the window - and "balanced" reporting seems to consist of getting people in with chips on opposite shoulders and letting them at it in a shouting match that wouldn't be out of place on "Jerry Springer". Is there really an attitude that "America can do no wrong" with the War on TerrorTM? From what has been expressed by US media presenters and commentators, I have learned:

  1. Because America was attacked on 9/11, US forces have the right to go into any country it wants and hunt terrorists. Not as the world's policeman, but the world's vigilante - after all, the terrorists aren't playing by the rules, so US forces shouldn't either.
  2. European nations that express some concerns about how the US is going about fighting terrorism (while supporting the principle) should just shut their liberal whining and carping about America; the USA saved their butts during World War 2 and the Europeans should be properly grateful to America for all eternity that they're not living under the Nazis. Besides, they're all anti-American socialists anyway who still haven't learned that US-style capitalism is the perfect system for all. "Socialist" is the new dirty word now the Soviet Union is gone and "communist" is obsolete, with "liberal" a close second.
  3. Any rapproachment by countries like Libya, Cuba and Iran should be rebuffed; after all, we know they're complete bastards. It's a well-known fact that you catch more flies with vinegar than honey.
    Never mind that all three condemmed the 9/11 attacks, and that Cuba said that any Afghan escapees from Guantanamo Bay would be sent back to the the Americans.
  4. Iraq, Iran and North Korea form an "axis of evil" - despite the fact that Iran and Iraq hate each other's guts, and North Korea hardly has dealings with anyone.
    Threats on their own, okay, but allies? Hardly. The ironic thing is that Iran has more of a functioning democracy and less Islamic fundamentalism than Saudi Arabia. Not to mention Saudi was where a high proportion of the 9/11 terrorists came from in the first place!
  5. Terrorists, actual and suspected, have no rights. For suspected terrorists, they are guilty until proven innocent because after all we know they're a bunch of murdering rag-heads straight off the bat without bothering with things like due process or hard evidence.
  6. It is right and proper that there is one set of international laws for the United States (that US forces should be immune from international prosecutions), and another for everyone else, because hey, the USA are the good guys. International Criminal Court? It's only a tool used by that dastardly United Nations to overthrow American sovereignty.
    It's funny that in America that policemen don't have an automatic immunity from prosecution and everyone accepts this as right and proper - which is correct - but the USA suddenly wets its pants upon hearing that it might be accountable on an international level. It makes US claims about the rightness of "international rule of law" sound rather hollow, not to mention giving a big fat "I told you so" to America's enemies.
  7. Engaging Cuba and dropping the blockade2 is a Bad Thing because it supports Castro and his abuses of human rights.
    While conveniently forgetting that China brutalises more people than Castro yet still gets Most Favoured Trading Nation status with the US.
  8. America can send its forces into Iraq to whip Saddam's butt on its own, and bugger the rest of the world. Nothing must come between America and what it wants to do because, well, it's America.
  9. "America's forces exist to fight" and not to be involved in such unglamourous things as peace-keeping and rebuilding.
    If the Brits and EU do this sort of thing instead, it will eventually give the impression that while the US can win wars, the EU is the body more interested in peace rather than simply blowing stuff up.
  10. "Pre-emptive strikes" are perfectly OK for the United States to consider and carry out when anything the USA determines as a threat exists. If any other country wants to use the same principle in self-defence, they are a "rogue state".
    This is perhaps the single most dangerous aspect of US foreign policy, and one that can backfire horribly. With the American government's attitude of "regime change" toward Iraq for example, Saddam Hussein might feel justified in executing a "pre-emptive attack" on the US and/or US forces because his country is being threatened! Is this the sort of genie Dubya wants to let out of the bottle?
  11. Anyone who doesn't like current United States foreign and domestic policy with regard to the "War on TerrorTM" is one or more of the following:
  12. "Thumbing its nose at UN resolutions", potential ownership of nuclear weapons, oppression of civilian ethnic groups within your own borders and a warlike posture are evil things that classify the nation concerned as a "rogue state" - unless we're talking about Israel3. Democratic states like Israel do not count as rogue states, even if they launch air-to-ground missiles into residential areas while chasing suicide bombers, and ignore as many UN resolutions in forty years as the Iraqis have done in ten. After all, these tactics against terrorists are effective - it's a well-known fact that in Northern Ireland the RAF's aerial bombing of IRA homes in Armagh and Londonderry contributed to the Good Friday agreement.
    What RAF bombing in Northern Ireland? Exactly. There wasn't any.
  13. Shouting matches between extremists on both sides is "fair and balanced reporting", and it's perfectly OK to allow the panelists to shout over each other.
    Memo to CNN, MSNBC, et al: Watch BBC World's "Dateline London" and "Hardtalk" for how controversial debates should be handled.
  14. Even mainstream US news channels are out-biased by "news reports" from Christian channels like Trinity Broadcasting - these guys have an extremely apocalyptic viewpoint towards terrorists and the Middle East, with even more unquestioned support of Israel than even FOX News. (At least CNN, MSNBC, et al do actually question Israeli policy from time to time.)

Hate to say it, but if this is the general standard of news reporting in America, no wonder the rest of the world tends to think of the US as insular, trigger-happy, and arrogant. Makes me really glad that I have access to BBC World (UK) and DW-TV (Deutsche Welle, Germany) on cable so I can at least get some fairly objective news reports. "Objective" being of course reporting the plain facts, not lacing them with opinion.

Ahem. My apologies if the above was offensive. I just get REALLY fed up with the "this is wartime" stuff on TV. I should say that this point that while I don't believe the USA is all godlike and perfect like some sections of America think, neither do I believe that the USA is any way shape or form the "Great Satan" that so many Arabs seem to think. The USA is definitely one of the forces for good in the world, but it doesn't have a monopoly on righteousness or the best way of doing things. Nobody does.

And I am really looking forward to returning to New Zealand.

If the world is to be spared what future historians may call the "Century of Terror," we must chart a perilous course between the Scylla of American imperial arrogance and the Charybdis of Islamic religious fanaticism. Through these waters we must steer by a distant star towards a careful, reasoned, democratic, humanistic, and secular future. Else, shipwreck is certain. - Pervez Hoodbhoy, "Muslims and the West After September 11"

[1] FOX News advertises itself as "Balanced and Truthful Reporting", while MSNBC says it "allows Americans to think for themselves". From what I've seen, if this is true, then the "Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea" must therefore be a paragon of democracy and human rights.

[2] It's kinda ironic that I, as a lowly New Zealander, can freely travel to Cuba with only the usual visitor visa paperwork, yet people from "the land of the free" are prohibited from going - not by Castro, but by their own government.

[3] Before anyone gets any ideas into their head that I am anti-Semetic or similar regarding the Jewish people, I wish to make perfectly clear that my issues are with the Israeli government, not the Jewish people. Not all Jews are Israelis, and not all Israelis are Jews. Sorted.

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Copyright 1996, 2002 Terry Knight.

Last Updated December 2002

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