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Debate Moderator Distorted Syrian Reality

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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How ABC News' Martha Raddatz framed her question about Syria in the second presidential debate shows why the mainstream U.S. news media, with its deep-seated biases and inability to deal with complexity, has become such a driving force for wider wars and even a threat to the future of the planet.

Raddatz, the network's chief global affairs correspondent, presented the Syrian conflict as simply a case of barbaric aggression by the Syrian government and its Russian allies against the Syrian people, especially the innocents living in Aleppo.

"Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo," Raddatz said. "So this next question comes through social media through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn't it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?"

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The framing of the question assured a response from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her determination to expand the U.S. military intervention in Syria to include a "no-fly zone," which U.S. military commanders say would require a massive operation that would kill many Syrians, both soldiers and civilians, to eliminate Syria's sophisticated air-defense systems and its air force.

But Raddatz's loaded question was also a way of influencing -- or misleading -- U.S. public opinion. Consider for a moment how a more honest and balanced question could have elicited a very different response and a more thoughtful discussion:

"The situation in Aleppo presents a heartrending and nettlesome concern. Al Qaeda fighters and their rebel allies, including some who have been armed by the United States, are holed up in some neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. They've been firing rockets into the center and western sections of Aleppo and they have shot civilians seeking to leave east Aleppo through humanitarian corridors.

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"These terrorists and their 'moderate' rebel allies seem to be using the tens of thousands of civilians still in east Aleppo as 'human shields' in order to create sympathy from Western audiences when the Syrian government seeks to root the terrorists and other insurgents from these neighborhoods with airstrikes that have killed both armed fighters and civilians. In such a circumstance, what should the U.S. role be and was it a terrible mistake to supply these fighters with sophisticated rockets and other weapons, given that these weapons have helped Al Qaeda in seizing and holding territory?"

Siding with Al Qaeda

Raddatz also could have noted that a key reason why the recent limited cease-fire failed was that the U.S.-backed "moderate" rebels in east Aleppo had rebuffed Secretary of State John Kerry's demand that they separate themselves from Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, which now calls itself the Syria Conquest Front.

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
(Image by (U.N. photo))
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Instead of breaking ties with Al Qaeda, some of these "moderate" rebel groups reaffirmed or expanded their alliances with Al Qaeda. In other words, Official Washington's distinction between Al Qaeda's terrorists and the "moderate" rebels was publicly revealed to be largely a myth. But the reality of U.S.-aided rebels collaborating with the terror group that carried out the 9/11 attacks complicates the preferred mainstream narrative of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin "the bad guys" versus the rebels "the good guys."

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If Raddatz had posed her question with the more complex reality (rather than the simplistic, biased form that she chose) and if Clinton still responded with her recipe of a "no-fly zone," the obvious follow-up would be: "Wouldn't such a military intervention constitute aggressive war against Syria in violation of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg principles?

"And wouldn't such a strategy risk tipping the military balance inside Syria in favor of Al Qaeda and its jihadist allies, possibly even its spinoff terror group, the Islamic State? And what would the United States do then, if its destruction of the Syrian air force led to the black flag of jihadist terror flying over Damascus as well as all of Aleppo? Would a Clinton-45 administration send in U.S. troops to stop the likely massacre of Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other 'heretics'?"

There would be other obvious and important questions that a more objective Martha Raddatz would ask: "Would your no-fly zone include shooting down Russian aircraft that are flying inside Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government? Might such a clash provoke a superpower escalation, possibly even invite nuclear war?"

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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 secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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