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Steering from the Abyss

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This article cross-posted from Consortium News
One of the many versions of "coexist" bumper stickers.

When thousands of people including women and children die in Syria amid what amounts to a sectarian civil war, the Syrian government is condemned and "regime change" is demanded. The West debates military intervention, and feeble peace efforts by the United Nations are mocked.

By contrast, when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq under false pretenses touching off a conflagration that killed hundreds of thousands or when President Barack Obama authorizes drone strikes inside Yemen, such as his first known one in the al-Majala region on Dec. 17, 2009, killing dozens, including 14 women and 21 children, most Americans just shrug. The international community stays mostly silent.

It is such double standards -- outrage when "their bad guys" do something and excuses when "our good guys" do -- that have become the recipe for what looks to be a poisonous future of endless warfare for the world. Mix in religious fundamentalism, especially the mythologies and grievances of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the brew becomes even more toxic. And don't forget the foul seasoning one gets by sprinkling in propaganda from supposedly "objective" and "professional" news outlets.

Indeed, it is hard now even to conceive how the world will push back from this table filled with hate, self-righteousness and recriminations. In the United States, anyone who dares to honestly address the nation's checkered history is accused of "apologizing for America," a charge that Mitt Romney has leveled repeatedly at President Obama for making the mildest of accurate observations.

In the U.S., we have seen this ugly pattern for decades. In the 1970s, there was a brief period of self-reflection regarding the Vietnam War, but a new revisionism took hold in the 1980s as President Ronald Reagan hailed the Indochina bloodbath as "a noble cause" and his UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick tongue-lashed those who would "blame America first."

Ever since then, nearly all U.S. politicians and many journalists have fallen over themselves to avoid anything that even looks like criticism. So, when President George W. Bush flattened the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, there was scant regard for the wanton slaughter and the mass graves. It was all "necessary," with blame for the civilian deaths falling on the city's defenders for hiding in populated areas.

The same has been true when Israel launched punishing assaults against its Arab neighbors, from the initial ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the late 1940s through the "preemptive" Six-Day War in 1967 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to more recent attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008-09. Some U.S. pundits, like the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, even praise the disproportionate nature of those slaughters as necessary to teach the Muslims a lesson and to protect Israel.

Yet, while such bloody messages may be acceptable to many Christians and Jews, they represent a harder sell to Muslims, who then nurse their own grudges and even feel sympathy toward al-Qaeda terrorists when they inflict unconscionable bloodshed on innocents in the United States and elsewhere.

All the sides are toting up their grudges while ignoring those of others. No one, it seems, wants to -- or has the courage to -- acknowledge that all sides are at fault. No one in authority dares take the first meaningful step toward peace. At this dark moment, it may not even be politically practical to try.

Role of Religion

As a Washington-based investigative journalist for the past three decades, I have tended to focus on provable facts and pay little heed to religious beliefs and doctrines. As someone who respects the U.S. Constitution, I also believe that everyone has the right to hold the religious creed of his or her choosing. I never thought it was my business to judge that.

Yet, as the years have progressed -- and the world has regressed -- I have concluded that religion is not something that can be ignored. It is not just some innocent force that gives people comfort and a sense of community. It has become a key part of the crisis as competing orthodoxies countenance less and less tolerance and justify more and more atrocities.

That's true whether it's Islamists who insist that everyone should live under Shariah law and that pluralistic democracy is just the latest trick of Western imperialism; or whether it's Christians believing that the Bible is the unchallengeable word of God and that the United States must be a "Christian nation"; or whether it's Zionists insisting that God granted the Jews dominion over wide swaths of the Middle East, thus giving them the right to drive the Palestinians from the land through force and coercion.

Besides religion, there are other factors compounding the problem, like the self-centered view of Americans that they have a right to the oil resources of the Middle East -- called "protecting our way of life" -- as well as a guarantee of perfect security against the possibility that others in the world might get angry and strike back.

Not to mention the career ambitions of politicians and journalists who know that they could find themselves out on the street if they don't toe the line of whatever the prevailing patriotic sentiment is. After all, Americans don't like negative observations about America: "USA! USA!"

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration played a key role in whipping the post-Watergate press corps back into line, in part, by organizing and dispatching special "public diplomacy" teams to lobby news executives to get rid of or at least silence troublesome reporters.[See Robert Parry's Lost History for details.]

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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