Weapons of Mass Deception and What We Don't Know About U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Author:Irene Gendzier
Position:Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University
Pages:49-82
 
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Weapons of Mass Deception and What We Don’t Know
About U.S. Policy in the Middle East
Irene Gendzier
I. INTRODUCTION ................................................................................. 49
II. KEEPING THE PUBLIC UNINFORMED ................................................ 51
III. RESISTANCE TO IGNORANCE AND INDIFFERENCE............................. 57
A. Fallujah ....................................................................................... 58
B. Congressional Hearings ............................................................. 62
IV. THE LAST TABOO? THE ISRAEL–PALESTINE CONFLICT ................... 65
V. ISRAELIS AND PALEST INIANS: REFLECTIONS ON FENCES AND
NEW INITIATIVES ............................................................................ 72
VI. CON CLUSION ..................................................................................... 81
I. INTRODUCTION
How can one make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a r egion
viewed as hopelessly marred by un stable, if not intractable politics which
have not been entirely reformed by the revolutionary developments of the
past year? The question assumes special importance given the primacy of the
Middle East in U.S. foreign polic y, and notably its policy of counter-terrorism
in the wake of 9/11.
The discussion that follows assumes that “rethinking IsraelPalestine
policy” is inseparable from a reconsideratio n of U.S. Middle East policy,
including that pursued in Iraq and justified in the name of counter-terrorism.
It assumes that such “rethinking” of policy requires subjecting its official
formulation, justification and public dissemin ation to critical examination.
The results, as the pages that follow reveal, expose the weapons of mass
deception designed to assure passive public support, irrespective of the
nature of policies pursued.
There is little comfort in acknowledgin g that this practice is not unique to
the United States, or to the pursuit of Middle East policy in the United
States, as those familiar with the history o f U.S. policy in Southeast Asia and
Latin America can attest. Bu t it remains that we have y et to confront the
* Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University. Professor Gendzier is the author
of among other works, Notes From the Minefield, United States Intervention in Lebanon and the
Middle East, 19451958 (1997, 2006); co-editor, with Richard Falk and Robert J. Lifton, of
Crimes of War, Iraq, (Nation Books, 2006); and author of the forthcoming, Dying to Forget: the
Foundation of United States Policy in the Middle East, 19451949, Oil, Palestine and Israel
(Columbia Univ. Press).
TRANSNATIONAL LAW & CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS [Vol. 21:49
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consequences of deception and its widespread dissemination for our
understanding of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict and U.S. po licy in the
Middle East.
In the winter of 2011, as reporters were confronting the early stages of
the “Arab Spring,” New York Times r eporter Frank Rich adm itted that it is
not only the Administration that is “scram bling,” so are its constituents.1
“After a near-decade of fighting wars in the Arab world, we can still barely
distinguish Sunni from Shia.”2 Is the fact that Americans can barely
distinguish Sunni from Shia the most reve aling distinguishing mark to make
sense of developments in the Arab world, or is it the one readers found most
familiar? If so, why? The reflexive classification of Arab politics in ter ms of
sectarian differences has long been a common p ractice in media coverage and
public talk of the Middle East, a region that until recently was viewed in th e
United States as congenitally unfit for democracy and civil society. The
revolutionary transformations that have been ongoing in Tunisia and Egypt
and the dynamic movements affecting the region from North Africa and the
Middle East since the early spring o f 2011, exposed the severe limits of such
reductive classifications.
As Rich wrote in his column on the public response to the developments
in the Middle East, they reflected an avid desire to know and understand, but
journalists were hampered by:
the legacy of years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and
at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world in a large
swath of American news media. Even now we’re more likely
to hear speculation about how many cents per gallon the day’s
events might cost at the pump than to get an intimate look at
the demonstratorslives.3
Rich blamed media control, as in the case of Comcast, DirecTV and Time
Warner, for blocking al-Jazeera English, a majo r source of information on
ongoing developments across the Arab world.4 He also pointed to the
“indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in Americaand of the low quotient of
comprehensive adult news coverage” as contributing to such Islamophobia.5
Rich further observed that “given the disconnect between America and the
Arab world, it’s no wonder that American s are invested in the fights for
freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We’ve
1 Frank Rich, Wallflowers at th e Revolution, N .Y. TIMES, Feb. 6, 2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/opinion/06rich.html.
2 Id.; see also Jeff Stein, Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 17, 2009,
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/opinion/17stein.html.
3 Rich, supra note 1.
4 Id.
5 Id.
Spring 2012] WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION
51
been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a
jihadist.”6
In order to see what was happening in Egypt one must assume a different
conceptual framework, one that does not attempt to explain developments in
the Arab world in terms of sects and ethnic divisions. This type of conceptual
analysis involves being able to recognize the socioe conomic and political
grievances that mobilized Egyptians to demand an end to the authoritarian
Mubarak regime, long viewed in Washington as a n example of moderation,
stability, and realisman allusion to it s pro-Western orientation and its
relations with Israel. With the breakdown of the mod el and its leader, the
symbol of Tahrir Square came to symbolize anothe r struggle, one for equality,
political representation, and social justice. Americans empathized with this
struggle, and, in some instances, identified with it, as exemplified by the
solidarity expressed by workers in Wisconsin who denounced Governor
Walker as Hosni Walkerfor h is attack on workers’ rights, and in the letter
of advice to President Obama from former House and Senate leader, George
McGovern.7
Such signs, however, hardly invalidate Frank Rich’s remarks about how
little Americans know of their government’ s policies in the Middle East,
including Iraq and the U.S. invasion of that country. “It took months, even
years, for us to learn the hard w ay that in truth we really had no idea of what
was going on.”8
II. KEEPING THE PUBLIC UNINFORMED
The title of this essay refers to weapons of mass deception and their
function in the justification of U.S. policy in the Middle East, including Iraq
and the IsraelPalestine conflict. It is part of an inquiry that aims to explore
and expose what we know and why, or more precisely, what we do not know
and do not question of policies ostensibly carried out in our name. Underlying
such an inquiry is the conviction that the public has the right to know, as
House and Senate representatives, who investigated the U.S. export of
weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein in the years before the U.S.
invasion of 2003, insisted. It is the same conviction that animate d others
whose testimony against the abuse of state power reflected their conviction
that arousing public consciousness is the first step in changing policy.
Weapons of mass deception depend on ignorance of past policy, including
relations of power and profit embedded in its contemporary expression. They
rely on the education to conformist thinking to justify a distancing from the
6 Id.
7 Mike Hall, Huge Protest Greets ‘Hosni Walker’s’ Attack on Wisconsin Workers, AFL-CIO NOW
BLOG (Fe b. 16, 2011), http://blog.aflcio.org/2011/02/16/huge-protest-greets-hosni-walkers-attack-
on-wisconsin-workers/; George McGovern, Easy Chair, A Letter to Barack Obama, HARPERS
MAG., Sep. 2011, at 10, 12.
8 Rich, supra note 1.

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