World politics as a spaghetti western (Part 1)

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When it comes to mainstream media coverage of foreign policy, our side are the good guys; those not on our side are the bad guys, writes Dr Evan Jones.

FOREIGN POLICY, analysis and commentary are of the spaghetti western genre. The real thing, the art form, has style; unfortunately, the political derivative is wholly without it.

Stop wasting your time attempting to “be informed”, especially after each disaster, after the latest carnage. There is a short cut to the truth.

There are the good guys and there are the bad guys. Our side are the good guys; those not on our side are the bad guys. That’s it. Everything you read or hear in the mainstream media is merely filler.

Fairfax (and others) comply with the convention

We were served an entrée in the treatment of the chaos in Ukraine by the Western media, and by the Fairfax press as representative — supposedly the decent guys in comparison to the evil Murdoch empire. The coverage was (and remains) appalling.

By chance, I was rifling through a collection of letters (nothing is ever thrown out chez nous) from the old days. I came across a letter from one Chris Anderson, then editor-in-chief of Fairfax. The date was 26 February 1986:

Thank you for your letter regarding the Herald's foreign coverage. I am somewhat perplexed that you think Reuters, AP, AFP, Time and The Guardian are all one group and all in the business of pushing U.S. interests. But I appreciate your bothering to write.’

Evidently, I have been preoccupied with Fairfax editorial bias for thirty years. Am I wrong? I don’t think so. Fairfax’s choice of outlets is entirely mainstream (The Guardian less non-mainstream than is usually touted or believed, especially on touchy topics). And it’s got worse.

It’s the colonial cringe at work. We don’t expect Fairfax to start reproducing Russia Today, for example, but there exist critical journalists on the cusp of respectability — such as the British Independent’s Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, both intimately familiar with the Middle East. Ditto possible reportage from the long-standing Inter Press Service. Who? What? Nothing at all from this or comparable domains.

Whether through naiveté (Fairfax’s Chris Anderson?), or complicit flunkeydom (Fairfax’s current CEO Greg Hywood) or mendacity (Murdoch), our media opinion makers are either forging the loop or reinforcing it (for reasons of personal advancement or survival, though one can’t rule out stupidity). The “news” and commentary constitutes daily variations on correct line thinking.

Published letter writers are also generally in the loop. Either this is because the letter writers expose themselves only to the mainstream media (reinforcing the closed loop) or because the letters page is assertively managed. Both, because the latter is certainly the case.

A booknote on a just published book on the French philosophical concept of  “deconstruction” (in January’s Le Monde Diplomatique) captures the process perfectly:

‘This concept [deconstruction] entails exposing the construction, biased, of values and of ideas that are habitually presented as normal, natural, of an objective or universal character. Not only all standards but equally all truths are to be found only in a system of rules, generated and validated by systems of power and serving power itself.’

As for the ABC, hallowed Australian public broadcaster, its news coverage and analysis (save for the odd Foreign Correspondent exception) is integrally within the same loop. For the ABC, the devastation experienced in Syria is a civil war. And the outside influences? Jihadism is inexplicable, by default, save as something intrinsic to Islam. There is zero geopolitical analysis.

Add Morry SchwartzSaturday Paper as part of the loop. Ultra-experienced resident foreign policy scout Hamish McDonald now eats milk toast for breakfast. His Wikipedia entry claims that he also holds a fellowship at the American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. As you do. Contributor James Brown hails from the far from non-partisan Sydney University-based U.S. Studies Centre. For starters, Israel is not on the map. (Occasional contributions by Middle East-based freelancer Lauren Williams leavens this dross.)

The origins of Islamic extremism

A Sydney Morning Herald letter writer opines that the problem is centred in the medieval character of Islam.

‘… the attacks [the 13 November Paris massacres] most likely stemmed from a group of people wedded to medieval religious doctrine and behaviours.’

And Judaism and Christianity are post-modern?

Well, some of the apparent assassins at the cafés and bars of the 10th and 11th arrondissements on 13 November were anything but medieval, according to a witness (ditto the San Bernadino shootings, 2 December) — but we’ll leave those potential false flag scenarios to the professional “conspiracy theorists”.

Sources of latter day jihadism, in general, also appear to be of more recent vintage.

Current jihadism is perennially claimed to be a product of an extremist version of Islam, known as Wahhabism. For the uninitiated, the background to the birth and cementing of this creed can be found in a brief chapter of Tariq Ali’s 2002 The Clash of Fundamentalisms. Two things are pertinent.

One: the creed is a product of the fertile mind of one Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab — who was born and lived, not in the Dark Ages, but in the 18th Century.

As Ali explains, Wahhab enhanced the views of his ultra-orthodox father and, combined with demands for radical punishment (medieval?) against deviations from purity,

‘… provided a politico-religious justification for an ultra-sectarian jihad against other Muslims, especially the Shia "heretics" and including the Ottoman empire.’

Most of his contemporaries found him dangerous and he was forced to leave the village of his birth.

Two: Ibn Wahhab’s Wahhabism would have remained marginalised were it not for a boost from a thoroughly secular source. Not unlike the rise of Christianity itself from a minor and radically divided sect in its early years.

In 1744, Ibn Wahhab arrived in Deraiya, where resided (Ali again):

The notorious bandit-emir, Muhammad Ibn Saud, who was delighted to receive a preacher expelled by a rival potentate. He understood at once that Ibn Wahhab’s teachings might further his own military ambitions. The two men were made for each other.

Ibn Wahhab provided a theological justification for almost everything Ibn Saud wanted to achieve: a permanent jihad that involved looting other settlements and cities, ignoring the caliph, imposing a tough discipline on his own people and, ultimately, asserting his own rule over neighbouring tribes in an attempt to unite the peninsula.

It was to be a productive “marriage”, albeit the contract was unequal:

‘Spiritual fervour in the service of political ambition, but not vice versa.’

Saudi Arabia, the (very bad) good guy

Thus was born the wellspring of modern day Saudi Arabia. Ali’s succeeding chapter adds further details (Britain and the U.S. as midwives to this charming would-be country’s adolescence).

The “West” and Saudi Arabia are intimate buddies. “We” buy oil from them and they buy weapons from “us”.

Saudi Arabia is using its Western-supplied armaments to pound neighbouring Yemen into oblivion, on the pretext that the Houthi rebels are proxies for Iran. They aren’t, but Saudi Arabia is on our team, so that’s OK.

Recently, Saudi Arabia and Israel have become good friends (an “existential threat” in common), so that makes Saudi Arabia even more of an intimate friend of the West than before.

In short, Saudi Arabia is an indisputable good guy, ticking all the boxes that matter. It is this intimate connection that so incensed one Osama bin Laden, from a “good” bourgeois Saudi family — and which generated his now infamous jihad against the West.

France gives its 100 per cent to the cause

France has, almost overnight, expanded dramatically its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies (as well as elsewhere). France’s uncompromising spaghetti western foreign policy under its “Socialist” Government sees no moral quandaries in these sales. Indeed, the Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has effectively become an arms salesman, boasting of the boost to employment in an economy hit by deindustrialisation.

No such boasts were made when this same government, under pressure from the U.S. and Brussels over the Ukraine imbroglio, cancelled its contract with Russia for the two almost completed Mistral warships. Apart from the ongoing employment loss, the cost to the public exchequer (compensation, loss of maintenance contracts and so on) will be of the order of one to two billion euros. A principled foreign policy indeed!

In the meantime, given that the Dassault family owns both Dassault Aviation (manufacturer of the Rafale fighter aircraft) and the influential Le Figaro newspaper, the trenchantly right-wing Le Figaro is heaping nothing but praise on the deeply unpopular President Hollande, who will take support from anywhere for his absurd 2017 re-election bid.

Bernard Squarcini, President Sarkozy’s head of internal security, has recently claimed that, several years ago, Syria had sought cooperation on intelligence matters, offering a list of French combatants in Syria. Squarcini – no bleeding heart – claims that the government refused the offer for ideological reasons. The office of the Prime Minister (Manuel Valls) claims no knowledge of the affair but it evidently shows no interest in pursuing the matter.

Coming soon: Part 2

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