Exclusive: Secretary of State Kerry, who has bumbled through a string of propaganda fiascos on Ukraine, decries Russia’s RT network as a “propaganda bullhorn” that Americans should ignore — just trust what the U.S. government tells you, an idea that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern rejects.
By Ray McGovern
When specialists with a good sense of history insist that war with Russia is “not unthinkable” precipitated by events in Ukraine, one should take careful note. The “not unthinkable” quote is from pre-eminent American historian of Russia, Stephen F. Cohen, who recently appeared with John J. Mearsheimer, historian of U.S. foreign policy, on RT’s Crosstalk.
That Cohen and Mearsheimer are professors should not be held against them. They typify the best; they are not of the ivory-tower type. And, on Ukraine, they are a far cry from the ersatz-professors, the former U.S. officials and the blathering pundits dominating TV and newspapers, including the New York Times which is supposedly pledged to provide “all the news that’s fit to print.”
The Cohen/Mearsheimer commentary provided much-needed historical perspective for what is going on in Ukraine. And the possibility of a war between nuclear-armed U.S. and Russia over Ukraine is unsettling. But watch the Crosstalk program; it will help you understand why Secretary of State John Kerry has launched his own personal vendetta against RT, which is funded by the Russian government but offers important on-the-ground reporting and diverse opinions on a wide variety of topics.
Ironically, Kerry was warned three years ago by his predecessor of the steady strides being made by RT – as well as Al-Jazeera and CCTV (the new English-language programming set up by China). At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with then-Sen. Kerry in the chair, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented that the U.S. is “losing the information war,” and added that she finds watching RT “quite instructive.”
Are Kerry and Clinton unable to grasp that the U.S. corporate media’s regurgitation of the manifold and manifestly deceitful justifications for U.S. actions abroad is the main reason why RT and others are gaining on us? Despite awesome advances in communications technology, it remains difficult to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, which is often what U.S. policies abroad are, especially to the people of the targeted countries.
It is easy to blame “Russian propaganda” for just about everything, including the public distrust of the endless propaganda pouring forth from Official Washington and its “fawning corporate media.” But people tire of the constant spin from U.S. officials and the one-sided coverage by the U.S. mainstream press. I may be naïve about this, but I think people really do prefer the truth.
Yet, it is in vogue to blame Washington’s loss of credibility on Kremlin propaganda. At a State Department press conference last Thursday, Kerry lashed out at RT for its coverage on Ukraine:
“The propaganda bullhorn that is the state-sponsored RT program has been deployed to promote – actually, RT network – has been deployed to promote President Putin’s fantasy about what is playing out on the ground,” Kerry said, adding that RT spends almost all its time “propagandizing and distorting what is happening, or not happening, in Ukraine.”
After years leading CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, I know what effective propaganda looks like. The “public diplomacy” effort led by Kerry and his merry propagandists at the State Department is a poor facsimile. True, Soviet propagandists played fast and loose with the truth – as all propagandists do. But they were pros at it, which led them, inter alia, to avoid embarrassing their government for the short-term gain of 24-hour spin.
President Barack Obama needs to have a counseling session with Kerry, who could not resist the temptation to run with the spurious story on new registration requirements for Jews in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine. Nor could he pass up the chance to be able, finally, to adduce “proof” of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine by citing photos front-paged by the New York Times, with the photos and story very quickly debunked and retracted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Russian Photo Scoop.”]
And he wonders why the U.S. is continuing to lose what Hillary Clinton called the “information war?” As for “state-sponsored,” is that not an apt description for what has become of the mainstream U.S. media, given the eagerness of career-minded “journalists” to accept U.S. government handouts as a way to prove their “patriotism” and to shield themselves from accusations that they are pawns of Russian “propaganda”?
Full disclosure: I am a regular guest on RT and an occasional interviewee on Al-Jazeera and CCTV-America. Have I ever been given “guidance” as to what would be acceptable for me to say? No. Am I free to speak on live broadcasts as critically of President Vladimir Putin as of President Barack Obama? Yes. Lately, have I been more critical of Obama and the mischief-making Kerry people than of their Russian counterparts? Yes.
And why is that? Simple. In Ukraine, the U.S. has sponsored one “regime change” too many. And, although this is rather obvious to thinking people, Obama has not yet been able to rein in his neoconservative “regime changers” and do what is necessary; i.e., fold his cards on Ukraine before he makes more of a fool of himself.
And how do Obama and Kerry get a pass from the American people for what they are doing? Because the mainstream U.S. media has left Americans brainwashed. In the biased U.S. coverage, for example, there has been little or no mention of NATO’s eastward expansion despite solemn promises at the highest U.S.-Russian level not to do that. Indeed, a cartful of relevant facts that could provide crucial context goes unmentioned. It’s simply, “Putin bad; Putin very bad. Shame on him; he sometimes has no shirt on, even on a horse. Bad, bad Putin.”
Degraded U.S. Media
It was 51 years ago when I began work in Washington, so I have seen not only a lot of propaganda, but a lot of significant change, as well. By far the most important change I’ve witnessed is today’s near-total absence of a genuinely free U.S. media (elements of the Internet/Web being the sole and salutary exception). There is no way to exaggerate the significance of that sea change.
What has this to do with Stephen Cohen’s warning that events in Ukraine could lead to war with Russia, and John Mearsheimer’s instructive comments on U.S. exceptionalism? Everything — particularly since most Americans citizens seem pretty well brainwashed by U.S. government propaganda, even though only a small minority can point out Ukraine on a map. Certainly, the “group think” on Ukraine and against Putin seems almost total among Americans who have access to a TV talk show or a newspaper op-ed page.
True, the corporate media was not able to convince many Americans that the U.S. should attack Syria last summer. Russia is another story, given the animosities engendered by nearly a half century of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow. Thus, it is much easier to conjure up fear and hatred of Russia’s alleged “expansionist ambitions.” We all remember the “Red Dawn” movie.
On RT’s “Crosstalk,” John Mearsheimer made the important point that Americans view the United States as “the benign hegemon.” He explained:
“We think we’re different from other great powers and that when we expand our influence, countries like Russia will understand that we’re ultimately not very threatening because we are the good guys in the international system. This is a remarkably foolish way of thinking about the world. But I think that, if you spend any time in Washington, it becomes clear that this delusion is widespread.”
I have always harbored doubts that Official Washington could really believe all that and use it to underpin foreign policy, but I defer to Mearsheimer on this. The point here is that it is the guidance given to, and adhered to, strongly by the corporate media that serves to impoverish the citizenry’s store of accurate information. The way things are going, it will be far easier to drum up support for the kind of risk taking that could lead to war with Russia than was the case on Syria. That’s one key problem; but there is another.
The Antonym of ‘Indispensable’
Proclaiming that the U.S. is the sole “indispensable” country in the world renders other countries, by definition, dispensable. Putin himself, at the end of his extraordinary op-ed in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013, included this unusual admonition: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor. … We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Have U.S. policymakers become so callous as not to care what happens to those with the bad luck to live in “dispensable” countries? It does appear so – and that arrogance about U.S. “indispensability” and “exceptionalism” has caused Official Washington to lose its moral compass.
In 1995, the United Nations reported that U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq had brought death to 500,000 Iraqi children below the age of five. Asked about that by Lesley Stahl on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on May 12, 1996, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright answered, “We think the price is worth it.”
Apparently that was the correct answer, at least for Official Washington. A few months later, President Bill Clinton nominated Albright to be Secretary of State and she was confirmed unanimously by the full Senate. No one asked about the children.
“There’s only one rule, that I know of, babies – god damnit! you’ve got to be kind,” said Kurt Vonnegut writer and prominent humanist/agnostic/athiest. What has become of us? There is no requirement to believe in what George W. Bush calls “The Almighty” in order to know in your bones that some things are plain wrong – that human beings do not do such things to other human beings, and especially not to children.
Let Them Come to Fallujah
When one lacks any personal experience with innocent suffering, it is very difficult to empathize – much less to take action to end it. I suspect that Anne-Marie Slaughter, current head of the New America Foundation who served for two years under Secretary Clinton, lacks such experience. How else would she think it is okay to slaughter Syrians in order to “change Putin’s calculations?”
In a think piece that she published a week ago, she argues cavalierly that the United States should respond to the crisis in Ukraine by mounting a bombing campaign against Syria: “The US, together with as many countries as will cooperate, could use force to eliminate Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft as a first step toward enforcing Resolution 2139. … After the strike, the US, France, and Britain should ask for the Security Council’s approval of the action taken, as they did after NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Equally important, shots fired by the US in Syria will echo loudly in Russia.”
Though Slaughter’s plan sounds so antiseptic, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged to a Senate hearing last September that the U.S. bombing campaign against Syria – then on the table – would have inflicted civilian casualties. He demurred on stating publicly the number of Syrian civilians who would be killed, saying the Pentagon’s classified estimate could be shared with the senators only in closed session.
Do Professor Slaughter and other protégés of Madeleine Albright care about children and other humans in “dispensable” countries? If so, they should visit the rubble in Fallujah, human as well as material, left behind by U.S. troops ordered to mount reprisal attacks of the kind labeled war crimes at the post-WWII Nuremburg Tribunal. Nuremberg took great care to emphasize the lack of any distinction between indispensable and dispensable countries before the law.
Buildings can always be rebuilt; children not so much. Following the U.S. military assaults of April and November 2004 on Fallujah, the hospitals there were overwhelmed with severe trauma cases. As time went by, physicians in Fallujah gradually became aware of apparent increases in the incidence of cancer, especially childhood leukemia, as well as a broad spectrum of birth defects like congenital heart disease, spina bifida and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
The causes of the health crises in Fallujah are not yet firmly established but uranium is the prime suspect. Some three years ago, a credible report found elevated amounts of uranium in soil, water and human hair samples from Fallujah. This was not depleted uranium (DU); the U-238/U-235 ratios were consistent with natural uranium or very slightly enriched uranium. Many studies in animals confirm that uranium is not only a strong teratogen (inducer of birth defects), but also a carcinogen and mutagen. Uranyl ions bind to DNA with high affinity and can cause DNA damage and DNA mutations.
While these health problems appear most severe in Fallujah, increases in cancer, leukemia and birth defects have also been reported in many other Iraqi cities. Fortunately, the existence of a sister-university relationship between the University of Basra in Iraq and the University of Washington enabled a reliable statistical analysis of a registry of leukemia cases.
Trends in leukemia since 1993 in children aged 0 to 14 years were evaluated, and the researchers concluded that childhood leukemia rates in Basra more than doubled over a 15-year period; Basra’s rate compared unfavorably with neighboring Kuwait and nearby Oman, as well as with the U.S. and European countries.
As for the country of Iraq at large, precise measurement of changes in cancer incidence in Iraq today, compared with the incidence before the shock-and-awe years of 1991 and 2003, is hampered by two main factors: (1) the general lack of comprehensive cancer registries for Iraq in the years prior to those dates (with Basra the exception), and (2) the determination of the U.S., U.K. and Iraqi governments to cover up post-war health crises in Iraq. The first factor is regrettable but understandable; the second is, in my view, unconscionable.
Another factor hindering such studies, of course, is the bedlam that continues to exist in and around Fallujah and other Iraqi areas. So, let those savants who glibly advocate for more war, whether with Syria or Russia, come to Fallujah and try to tell the parents of Fallujah that it was worth it.
It would be a fool’s errand to depend on the mainstream U.S. media for such inconvenient truth. And if RT should do an investigative report on the moral depravity of inflicting leukemia and other ills on so many Iraqi children, you can bet it would be criticized as stemming from Russia’s anti-American “propaganda bullhorn.”
We need to find some way to poke holes in the mainstream media, so our fellow citizens can be more fully informed before they are persuaded, a la Iraq, by intelligence “fixed around the policy,” to risk war with Russia. To borrow from a common Chinese expression: This would come to a no-good end.
We need to stop it now.
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a student of Russian history, has led CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).