For those versed in the black arts of propaganda, the hijacking of Arab Spring must be a beauteous thing to behold.
First came evidently spontaneous uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Then some up-and-comer in Washington or London or Paris had a brainstorm, a new twist on a very old idea: if you can't beat em, join em. Or even better, co-opt them, and use them for your own purposes.
The old way of getting rid of "inconvenient" leaders was so 20th-century -- in the case of Saddam Hussein, a monstrous lie followed by a massive bloodletting on both sides. Tahrir Square suggested how to bring down a regime in a manner far less costly and far more palatable to the public: lots of medium-sized and little lies, war through Twitter, war through expendable proxies. Provide financial incentives to key figures to publicly renounce the old leadership, create a steady stream of heart-rending moments and photos and allegations, generate endless "human rights violations" by baiting the government into a military response, then very publicly petition international bodies for redress of humanitarian concerns.
Muammar Qaddafi, a fiercely independent, quasi-socialistic African transnationalist, was the guinea pig. A brilliant disinformation campaign isolated him; authentic domestic grievances were encouraged, and a whole war was conducted on behalf of the West with nary a Western soldier putting boots to ground.
Next up: Syria's Bashar al-Assad. So began, again, the covert arming of real domestic opponents, and an extensive and variegated propaganda campaign.
As with Libya, Western countries were covertly overthrowing a Middle East regime, just as they have done over the decades. And, as before, the media said not a word about what was really going on. So the public did not really understand, and there was practically no debate at all.
A Diverse Media, But a Single Message
Thanks to the Internet, we have what appears to be a more diverse range of media offerings than ever before. We know the corporate-owned American media won't take any kind of risks to warn us about what is going on. We are lucky we have alternatives: easy access to high quality foreign media (BBC, Guardian, Al Jazeera and the like). And we have a plethora of "alternative" media, from Left to Right to Other.
With this cornucopia of competing entities, we have every reason to expect that we will get good, hard-hitting, tough-minded reporting and analysis. Right? Wrong. Almost no news organization of any note, of any kind, has called Libya and Syria for what they really are.
The reasons may be various, but perhaps the most decisive one is this: All have seemingly fallen victim to a superb propaganda strategy that associates critical reporting and critical thinking on Syria with defending a regime (that is of course dictatorial and brutal) against "the people."
When almost no media anymore question these barely disguised coups against uncooperative standing governments, we are in very deep trouble. Because if we can't count on the media to tell us what is going on in far-off places, what may we expect of them closer to home? We are witnessing a crisis for journalism that is nothing less than a crisis for democracy itself.
The "Limited Hangout"
Yet one more example of how this debilitating game is played was on display the other day in the New York Times, just one of many news organizations that have essentially acquiesced in this sophisticated Western power propaganda operation.
The paper, whose reporting on Syria has been lackluster at best, finally provided us with a peek at what is actually going on. But the revelations were spun so as to benefit those seeking to depose Assad -- and bury the matter of foreign sponsorship in plain sight.