By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
Nureddin Sabir argues that the reactions of a large section of the so-called “left” and “anti-imperialist” camp to the uprisings in Libya and Syria are motivated not by some high-minded principle or anything to do with progressive ideology but by cynicism, petty personal agendas and ignorance.
There is an ugliness about realpolitik, one that smacks of cynicism, selfishness and an absence of all those things that give human beings their humanity: compassion, empathy and solidarity. It is an ugliness that becomes uglier still when the principles of realpolitik are applied by supposedly concerned citizens who see themselves as occupying the moral high ground.
Coined by Ludwig von Rochau, a 19th century German writer and politician, realpolitikrefers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material considerations. It is a Machiavellian game, devoid of ethics.
Realpolitik is ordinarily practised by states, and its practitioners would argue that states have a duty to advance the “national interest” without the distraction of ethical considerations.
Thus, during the Cold War the US extended support to authoritarian regimes that had abominable human rights records – in Central and South America, for example – on the pretext that this was in the national interest.
Similarly, Washington’s open-ended support for Israel – a racist, expansionist colonial settler-state and a serial violator of international law, can be attributed in no small part to a large but slowly diminishing pool of American military planners who see it as a strategic asset and therefore worthy of support.
States – and the elites that define their “national interests” – have practised what has become known as realpolitik since ancient times and therefore their pursuit of power without regard to the ethical dimension of their actions is hardly surprising.
However, it is perverse if not downright hypocritical when political activists apply the logic and methods of realpolitik while simultaneously claiming a higher moral purpose, namely to uncover the truth and instil a sense of justice in international relations. This is because the principles of realpolitik are intrinsically incompatible with ethical politics. It is a choice of either/or, and where realpolitik and ethics coincide the coincidence tends to be one of chance. So, when “moralists” engage in realpolitikthis besmirches their purported morality and diminishes them to the point where their moral standing is at least no greater than that of their amoral foes.
Yet, this is precisely what some self-styled “leftists” and “anti-imperialists” who seek to influence public opinion, principally through the internet-based “alternative media”, are doing. Their positions towards the Arab Awakening, especially the uprisings in Libya and Syria, are based largely on the cold logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – even if “the enemy of my enemy” is one who is fighting for the very human and civil rights which the “moral” activist claim to advocate.
As we have said previously, there is no doubt that the United States and its NATO allies are cynics and hypocrites who decry crimes against humanity in one place while simultaneously ignoring or supporting them in another. We have every right to be suspicious of the motives that may have driven them to dash for the moral high ground in Libya and Syria, having originally shunned the first flames of the Arab Awakening in Tunisia and Egypt and turned a blind eye to the violent repression of the popular uprising in Bahrain, not to mention their support for the backward and misogynist monarchy in Saudi Arabia.
But that does not mean that we should denounce them when they actually do the right thing – such as protecting the Libyan people from certain massacre or seeking to stop the Syrian regime from slaughtering its people – just because they are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons or not doing it across the board. And it certainly does not mean that we should castigate those who, out of desperation and through lack of choice, accept American and NATO assistance when others have consciously taken the decision to deny them support.
Nor does it mean that the double standards of the US and its allies give the “leftist” and “anti-imperialist” activists who denounce them a licence to ape them by supporting tyrants, fascists and mass murderers.
The killer questions to which some activists of the “left” and the “anti-imperialist” camp have no answer are these: Would it have been morally justifiable to allow Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi to carry out his promise of 17 March 2011 to send his thugs to Benghazi – a city of one million people – within hours and drown its inhabitants in blood, “house by house, room by room and alley by alley”?
And do they believe the right thing to do now is to sit back and watch the Bashar Assad regime murder thousands of Syrians who are demanding their civil and political rights?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then on what moral grounds are these answers based? If they are not based on moral considerations, then what are they based on?
Alas, the answer can be found in the same logic that lies behind US backing for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other unsavoury regimes, and that underpinned Washington’s support for Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and other military juntas in the Americas, as well as for the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. And it is the very same logic that had led George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Vladimir Putin, Dmitriy Medvedev, Hu Jintao and many others to befriend and support the Gaddafi regime right up to the eve of the 17 February Revolution. It is the logic of cynicism, of supporting the unsavoury simply because your enemies have, for equally cynical reasons, adopted a position against him.
States that apply the logic of realpolitikoften try to sweeten their ugly motives with the language of ethics. So do those on the “left” and the “anti-imperialist” camp who have decided to make enemies of the people’s revolutions in Syria and Libya.
But there are two significant differences between states and the armchair activists. First, whereas statesmen can claim, often dishonestly, that a higher purpose – the “national interest” – justifies their unethical foreign policies, the activists are responsible for nobody and answerable only to their consciences. They cannot invoke the security and wellbeing of the people to justify their unethical behaviour, and this makes them at least as depraved morally as their state adversaries.
Secondly, the realpolitik of the activists is transparently shoddy, ridden with contradictions, ill-informed, confused and half-baked. It is often based on false or distorted information and sometimes even lies.
This begs the question “why?” Why do people who claim that their only aims are to uncover the truth and bring about a more just world end up doing the exact opposite?
The answers can be gleaned from the positions adopted by some of the “leading lights” of the “left” and the “anti-imperialist” camp regarding the Syrian and Libyan uprisings. Put together, it adds up to a grotesque picture of cynicism, double standards, ignorance, naivety and stupidity, as well as lack of empathy, compassion and solidarity in respect of those struggling for justice and human and civil rights. What is worse is that, far from their proclaimed high moral goals, these activists seem to be motivated by nothing more virtuous than pseudo-ideological reasons and petty personal agendas.
We will consider just three of these “leading lights”: former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, US academic Franklin Lamb and self-styled “progressive” blogger Stephen Lendman. There are many others like them lower down the food chain but in our opinion these three are a representative sample of the large breed of cliche-obsessed, slogan-mongers who are contaminating the alternative media with cheap propaganda, ill-conceived ideas and outright fabrications.
The saddest and most disappointing of the three is former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney who embodies the confusion, contradictions, ignorance and hypocrisy displayed by the “left” and “anti-imperialist” camp towards Libya and Syria.
Until she inexplicably fell in love with the Gaddafi regime, McKinney’s credentials as a human rights activist and advocate for worthy causes had been unblemished.
The daughter of a veteran civil rights campaigner, in 2001 McKinney introduced a bill to Congress calling for “the suspension of the use, sale, development, production, testing and export of depleted uranium munitions”, which were depleting the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians living in areas contaminated by US and allied use of such munitions during the two Gulf wars. Ironically, given her later support for the Gaddafi regime, while in Congress she also worked on legislation to stop conventional weapons transfers to governments that are undemocratic or fail to respect human rights.
McKinney’s support for the Palestinian cause also went beyond words. In December 2008 she was aboard the humanitarian aid ship Dignity, which attempted to break the medieval Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip but was rammed and fired upon by Israeli gunboats, forcing it to dock in Lebanon. Six months later, in June 2009, she was a passenger on another humanitarian aid ship, Spirit of Humanity, which was stopped and seized in international waters by seaborne Israeli state terrorists.
However, for reasons known only to herself, from then onwards McKinney embarked on a journey that was to wipe out all her admirable deeds and place her firmly on the side of the very evil that she had hitherto campaigned against. In an interview in May 2011 to a television station run by the Israeli Mossad-linked Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), she met a key requirement of all who sell their souls to Gaddafi: she declared her admiration for the Libyan ruler’s handbook, the so-called Green Book, from which she said the US had a lot to learn.
The following month, instead of speaking out in defence of the hapless civilians that were being slaughtered daily by Gaddafi’s thugs through indiscriminate rocket and sniper fire, McKinney visited Libya and defended the Libyan tyrant, whom she claimed NATO was trying to assassinate. The stalwart defender of the oppressed had suddenly become spokeswoman for the oppressor, turning her anger on the international media for focusing too much on the civilian casualties of Gaddafi’s crimes.
The demise of Gaddafi and the liberation of Libya in October 2011 should have spelled the end of the love affair between the former human rights campaigner and the mass murderer. But no. McKinney changed tack and resorted instead to disseminating falsehoods.
Thus, in an article published on 13 January in Information Clearing House and other “alternative media”, McKinney claimed that President Obama had dispatched 12,000 US troops to Malta, ready to “make their descent into Libya”; that all Libyan petroleum platforms “are occupied by NATO and that warships occupy Libya’s ports”; that “photographs show Italian encampments in the desert with an announcement that the French are to follow”; and that there is a “vibrant, well-financed, [pro-Gaddafi] grassroots-supported resistance”.
The fact that these were lies and that it was only a matter of days until they were shown to be lies did not seem to bother McKinney, who continues to speak for the defunct Gaddafi.
Why? Why would a woman who until recently had been in the forefront of defending human rights resort to lying in defence of a murderous, fascist regime?
We can only speculate, but a clue to one line of speculation may be found in the reference in her 13 January article to the “antebellum South”, the “days of slavery” and “the confederacy”. The USA’s history of slavery and discrimination against African Americans obviously looms large in McKinney’s psyche. McKinney, it would seem, is a woman with a huge grudge against the American white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite whose forefathers discriminated against her family and her kith and kin. It is a grudge that has at times prompted her to behave irrationally, without thinking about the consequences of her actions. One of those occasions happened in March 2006 when she struck a Capitol Hill police officer for asking her to identify herself as she was bypassing a security checkpoint without wearing her congressional identification pin.
If this analysis is correct, then McKinney’s previous activities in support of human and civil rights have to be seen in a different light. Rather than done out of care and compassion for the victims of oppression, occupation and discrimination, they were in fact motivated by hatred for the ultimate power behind the victims’ oppressors, but for completely extraneous reasons.
In other words, in both Iraq and Palestine McKinney’s was motivated not by a desire to see justice for the Iraqis and Palestinians, but by her unrelated grudge against the elites running the US – the then occupying power in Iraq and the ultimate power behind Israel. By the same token, McKinney’s support for the criminal Gaddafi regime stemmed not so much from genuine belief and admiration for it, but from the fact that the Libyan tyrant had fallen out with his old friends and McKinney’s enemy, the hideously white political class in the United States (and its black flunkies). Thus, in all of her activities in the Arab world McKinney was guided not by anything noble or honourable but by the cynics’ principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
A former lecturer in international law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, USA, Franklin Lamb shares some of the contradictions and much of the hypocrisy of Cynthia McKinney. As with McKinney, some of his activities, such as his support for Palestinian rights in Lebanon, deserve praise. However, a large, black cloud hangs over his head.
Lamb touts himself as a Middle East expert and commentator, and he has been a frequent guest on Iran’s English-language Press TV, Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV and Russia’s English-language television channel RT. His articles have been published in a range of “alternative media” outlets, including Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal (not to be confused with the respected Foreign Policy Magazine), Voltaire Network International, Intifada Palestine and Uprooted Palestinians.
Lamb appears to suffer from chronic political and moral schizophrenia: on the one hand is the advocate of justice for the Palestinians and Lebanese, and on the other is the cold, cynical lobbyist for dictators. Indeed, beneath the veneer of academia and the language of rights, independence and anti-imperialism is an unsophisticated, delusional propagandist whose regard for the truth is at best partial and selective.
Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s propaganda chief, said that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. That is precisely what Lamb appears to have been hoping for, first in respect of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and now in relation to Syria’s ruling sectarian clique.
Ever since the Arab Awakening began to engulf the Gaddafi tyranny in February 2011, Lamb adopted a position of unyielding support for the Libyan tyrant which he has now extended to the Alawite regime in Syria. Out went any pretence of belief in the universality and indivisibility of human rights, and in came the crude propaganda and fabrications in the service of the Arab world’s worst two killer-regimes.
The central, unspoken premise underlying Lamb’s thesis on Libya and Syria is that the Arab people are too stupid to demand their rights and, therefore, the spontaneous, grassroots uprisings in Libya and Syria must have been planned and organized by superior powers, namely the United States and its Western allies.
To prove his thesis, Lamb took up residence in Tripoli while the people of Libya slowly and painfully fought their way towards their capital, and he busied himself spouting out, almost on a daily basis, articles based on the utterances of Gaddafi’s spokesman, Musa Ibrahim Gaddafi, and his own shoddy “observations” and unfounded speculation. In contrast to all foreign journalists who were holed up in the Rixos Hotel and could go out only on regime-sponsored trips and in the company of secret police minders, Lamb was allowed unrestricted movement in Tripoli and beyond.
Very much in the tradition of Lord Haw-Haw, whose propaganda was broadcast to audiences in Britain and the US by Nazi German radio during World War II, Lamb used the “alternative media”, as well as Russia’s RT television channel, Iran’s Press TV and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, to disseminate his rants with the express purpose of misinforming and confusing Western publics about the nature of the Libyan people’s revolution and, therefore, weakening their support for UN-authorized action to prevent Gaddafi’s thugs from murdering Libyans. His lies ranged from gross exaggerations of the numbers of civilian casualties resulting from NATO air strikes against Gaddafi’s thugs – taken straight from the lips of his Libyan colleague, Musa Ibrahim Gaddafi – to nonsensical (and since proven to be nonsensical) prattle about non-existent NATO plans to invade Libya and the imaginary imminent collapse of the people’s revolution.
Lamb’s sojourn in Tripoli came to an abrupt end in August when he was shot and wounded, ironically by one of Gaddafi’s snipers! However, he persisted in contaminating cyberspace and the airwaves with his odorous flatulence. In denial that his master, Muammar Gaddafi, is no more, Lamb continues to this day to share his imaginative wishful thinking that Gaddafi’s thugs will mount a counter-revolution to install in power the defunct tyrant’s odious offspring – Saadi, who has bribed his way to Niger, and Muhammad and Aysha, who are guests of the Algerian military junta.
Nowadays Lamb has another preoccupation: using the propaganda template he developed in Libya but this time in defence of the murderous and sectarian regime of Bashar Assad.
Contrary to eyewitness accounts and video footage of the carnage unleashed by Assad on innocent civilians up and down Syria, in Lamb’s parallel universe all is hunky-dory in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Daraa and elsewhere where the whole world knows dozens of innocent civilians are being mowed down by Assad’s “security” forces and shabiha thugs every day.
However, Lamb has shown less gusto in defence of the Assad family than he has in the case of the Gaddafi mafia. Perhaps his recent appointment as consigliere for the Gaddafi family has left him with little time to justify the mass murder in Syria.
Franklin Lamb and his obsession with defending mass murderers may, on the face of it, seem perplexing. As one Lebanon-based blogger said: “Franklin Lamb is like a jack-in-the-box. Where did he so suddenly come from? His case is the same as with all these obscure radical groups that appear out of the blue; ‘who’s his paymaster?’ He could be one of those – what we call here – Hezbollah groupies.”
Indeed, all the evidence indicates that Lamb is close to Hezbollah and its ally, Iran; hence Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV and its website and Iran’s Press TV being in the forefront of the channels airing his black propaganda on the Libyan and Syrian revolutions.
It would be fair to assume that, as with Cynthia McKinney, Lamb’s support for mass murderers is not based on some principle or obscure belief in them but has more cynical reasons. We have no publishable evidence to shed light on Lamb’s relationship with Hezbollah or other groups in Lebanon, but he is known to be an uncritical advocate of the Shi’i group, about which he has written a book.
But if Lamb is acting as a parrot for Hezbollah for whatever reason, why would Hezbollah adopt a position of hostility to the people’s revolutions in Libya and Syria?
As far as Hezbollah’s attitude to Syria is concerned, the answer is quite simple. Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanon, and its ability to hold its ground vis-a-vis Israel, is heavily dependent on Iranian arms supplies delivered via Syria, as well as Syrian backing rendered to the group as a means of maintaining the Assad regime’s influence within Lebanon. In return for this, Hezbollah has taken the shortsighted decision to support the Assad regime against the Syrian people, even though it is only a matter of time until the regime falls. It is a strategy that is similar to gambling all your money on a horse that you know for certain will lose.
Hezbollah’s policy towards the Gaddafi regime and the Libyan revolution is less straightforward but no less cynical. Neither Hezbollah nor its backer, Iran, are champions of the defunct Libyan tyrant, not least because he kidnapped and murdered the Iranian-Lebanese cleric Musa Sadr while he was on a visit to Libya in 1978. However, when the US reluctantly and belatedly decided to back moves at the UN Security Council to protect the Libyan people, Hezbollah and Tehran decided to make the most out of this in terms of propaganda. The reason was not that they liked the Gaddafi regime or distrusted the people’s revolution. It was much more cynical. They were acting according to the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Franklin Lamb – mercenary, opportunist, ignoramus, simpleton or nincompoop, it is hard to tell – simply fell in line.
The third and the most straightforward of our “leading lights” of the “left” and “anti-imperialist” camp is Chicago-based blogger Stephen Lendman,
In contrast to Cynthia McKinney and Franklin Lamb, Lendman has no experience in domestic or international politics. By his own account, he has spent almost his entire adult life, from the age of 33 until he retired at the age of 65, working for a small family business.
Lendman’s political education is based entirely on what he reads on the internet and elsewhere. As far as we can gather, he has never visited the Arab world and he began to write about political matters only in 2005 at the age of 71.
Although now aged 78 and considerably older than the usual internet activist, Lendman is more typical of the “leftist” and “anti-imperialist” online activists than either McKinney or Lamb – the former having been a professional politician and the latter sullied by questionable affiliations and dealings with political parties and unsavoury regimes. But while Lendman is arguably more “innocent” than either of these two, his attitude towards the uprisings in Libya and especially Syria is just as cynical.
Lendman is a self-proclaimed advocate of “progressive” and “anti-imperialist” causes. That is all very well, except that he seems to suffer from the same glaring problem which, according to Jeffrey Blankfort, ”has characterized a significant segment of the US and Western left going back to the days of Stalin, and that is its tendency to see everything in black and white terms”. In the words of Blankfort,
For this segment … the only criterion necessary to judge a dictatorship or a dictatorial central committee is where it stands in respect to US and Western imperialism.
If it is opposed by the US and its allies, it must be defended, regardless of the fact that it might be a police state which denies to its peoples the right to dissent politically from official government policies and practices and to organize opposition to that government – that is, free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association.
But it is not just this black and white syndrome that seems to shape Lendman’s view of the uprisings in Syria and Libya. As Uri Avnery observed in relation to some former Communists of the Stalinist tradition, in our view Lendman also suffers from “a kind of inherited attachment to Russia, almost automatically supporting its international positions, from Afghanistan to … Syria”.
Indeed, a trawl through Lendman’s published works reveals considerable overlap of ideas and perspectives between his views and Russia’s official position towards the Arab Awakening in general and the Syrian and Libyan uprisings in particular. This is one reason for the fact that in the year since February 2011 Lendman featured at least 34 timeson Russia’s RT television channel.
It is a mutually-reinforcing relationship. For Lendman, a mere blogger among thousands of bloggers, being plucked out of nowhere by an international broadcaster is not only flattering, but also encourages him to take his cue from the Russian media and write more of the stuff that RT likes to air. And the more he does so, the more RT chooses to invite him to speak on its programmes. In this respect, neither side has failed the other.
So, at least as far as the uprisings in Syria and Libya are concerned, Lendman the self-styled “progressive” is moved not by concern for the wellbeing of the peoples of those countries but by the cynical logic of my enemy’s enemy is my friend and by the ego boost he receives from being a talking head on Russia’s RT channel, a station whose motto is “we take any story and turn it into a completely different one”.
On the morning of 4 February, Lendman published a blog post entitled “Security Council showdown on Syria” whose opening paragraph read: “Slowly things are coming to a head. America, Israel, rogue NATO partners and regional despot allies are itching for a fight with Syria. Russia and China stand firmly opposed.”
On the same morning, Reuters news agency reported that Syrian forces had killed more than 200 people in an overnight assault on the city of Homs. It quoted residents of Homs as saying that “at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families inside”. Meanwhile, a video posted on YouTube conveyed in graphic details the mayhem unleashed by Assad’s killers on the innocent civilians of Homs.
Lendman and many like him would like us to believe that this is all a figment of our imagination, an illusion manufactured by “America, Israel, rogue NATO partners and regional despot allies”. We know it is not. We know that the people of Syria, like the peoples of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, have risen up to break the shackles of fascism and dictatorship and that they will not stop until they are free. We suspect that Lendman also knows this. However, since his own country, the imperialist USA, cynically claims to support the Syrian people, he has taken the opposite position: to support Assad’s fascist, sectarian regime. Thus, the logic of the enemy of my enemy prevails over all else – over compassion, empathy and solidarity – the more so if it also yields a few television appearances.
The proliferation of cynicism masquerading as humanism camouflaged in the language of the left and anti-imperialism would not have been possible without the collaboration of the internet-based “alternative media”.
Indeed, it is with sadness, dismay and considerable revulsion that we observe websites that have traditionally stood for justice and the truth helping cynics, ego trippers and ignoramuses peddle false information and questionable arguments about Libya, Syria and the Arab Awakening in general.
For many years, activists and campaigners for justice unhappy with the mainstream media’s flawed and lopsided reporting, especially where Israel or big business are involved, have looked to the alternative media as potential means of redressing the balance of news and information available to the voting publics.
Far from it. At least as far as Syria and Libya are concerned, some of the holy cows of the alternative media, websites such as Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Information Clearing House, AlterNet, Antiwar, Axis of Logic and Common Dreams have opted instead to take the side of the oppressors and against the Arab people – people who are seeking nothing more than the civil and political rights that are taken so much for granted in the West. Instead of providing reliable coverage of news that does not get reported or is under-reported in the mainstream media, these alternative media have turned into alternative, amateur versions of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
This is not only painful but also hard to fathom. One likely explanation is ignorance: those in the alternative media who support Assad and Gaddafi understand little about Syria or Libya or indeed much else and, therefore, are blind to the contradiction of supporting fascist dictators on the one hand while claiming to stand for the downtrodden and the oppressed on the other.
Truth has been sacrificed on the alter of ignorance, hate, hypocrisy and hyperbole.
It is time to start anew.