Making the best of bad news


The distinguished US journalist ALEXANDER COCKBURN will be one of the featured international guests at the second Socialist Scholars Conference, being held in Melbourne July 18-21. This commentary by Cockburn on the Gulf War is abridged from the US Nation.

President Bush said on January 17 that this time it would not be like Vietnam and this time US troops would not fight "with one had tied behind their back". Most Americans seem to have approved of the sentiment.

But why did they think the war against the Vietnamese had been thus hobbled? After all, the United States killed 2 million Vietnamese, which doesn't suggest much tiresome restraint. It turns out that a good many Americans think that only some 100,000 Vietnamese got killed, which is like a German saying in 1962 that only 300,000 Jews were murdered in the death camps and that the Final Solution had been conducted mit einer Hand hinter dem Rücken gebunden.

This testimony to successful historical rewrite and the recuperative force of American sanctimony came in a survey conducted February 2 through 4, just over two weeks into the war, under the supervision of three academic researchers. Two hundred and fifty people in the Denver metropolitan area, selected at random, were interviewed by telephone. The idea was to find out what sort of job television had done in communicating pertinent facts about the Gulf War and its origins.

The answer, though the academic team doesn't quite see it that way, is that TV news did a tremendous job. After being drenched in Gulf coverage for six months, most people were pitifully ignorant of the facts. The more they watched, the more ignorant they were.

The surveyors broke down their respondents' TV viewing into three groups: light (less than an hour and a half at night), medium (between an hour and a half and three hours) and heavy (more than three hours). Among the light viewers 16% thought Kuwait was a democracy, 22% knew of the intifada and 40% were aware that Iraq's was not the only foreign occupation in the Middle East. Among the heavy viewers 32% thought Kuwait was a democracy, only 10% had heard of the intifada and 23% were aware of occupations other than Iraq's. To my surprise, 14% knew that the United States was among three nations in the UN that had voted against a call for a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Don't be downhearted. Almost as many, 12%, thought it was Iraq that voted against the resolution.

It was all as you might expect. A big majority, 74%, believed that the US government had warned Iraq in advance of the invasion that it would impose sanctions, and almost as large a number thought their government had at that point vowed to support Kuwait with military force. Only 2% of the respondents could identify Kuwait's undercutting of the oil price as a reason for Iraq's attack.

When Saddam Hussein called for "linkage", two out of every three Americans — on the basis of this survey — scratched their heads and answered, "Linkage to what?" Fewer than a third were aware that Israel is illegally occupying the territories and part of

There was a direct correlation between knowledge and opposition to the war. The war supporters simply knew less. They were twice as likely to maintain that Kuwait was a democracy, less than half as likely to know that before August 2 the official US posture to prospective Iraqi attack was See if we care. The only fact that war supporters were more aware of was the name of the Patriot missile.

The researchers conclude, high-mindedly enough, that "the news media have failed, quite dramatically, in their role as information providers. Despite months of coverage, most people do not know basic facts about the political situation in the Middle East, or about the recent history of US policy towards Iraq."

I hope they don't believe this nonsense but just shoved it in as a sign of good will. Substitute the word "succeeded" for "failed" and the sentence makes sense. It's bad practice all the same to suggest to people, as outfits like Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting inevitably do, that it's only a matter of sticking a balancing liberal in the talk-show line-up and all will be well. FAIR even invokes "objectivity", a dangerous move, and shot through with vulgar empiricism in the bargain. "Objectivity" is one of their words, not ours. Start flailing around with it and pretty soon you are just a pawn in their game.


I've been riffling through old UN Security Council resolutions, wondering which one Bush will decide to enforce next. Try this one:
Resolution 425 (1978) of 19 March 1978

"The Security Council ...

"1. Calls for strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries;

"2. Calls upon Israel immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory ..."

For some unaccountable reason Israel failed to obey this injunction. But instead of bombing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv after six months, the United States played a cunning waiting game. Four years later there was Resolution 508 and not so long thereafter Resolution 509 (June 6, 1982):

"The Security Council ...

"1. Demands that Israel withdraw all its military forces forthwith and unconditionally to the internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon;

"2. Demands that all parties observe strictly the terms of paragraph 1 of resolution 508 (1982) which called on them to cease immediately and simultaneously all military activities within Lebanon and across the Lebanese-Israeli border ..." This set a pretty urgent tempo. The US government stayed right on top of the situation, and soon enough, only nine years later, on January 30, 1991, the Security Council was laying down the law again with Resolution 684, reiterating its strong support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognised boundaries.

Since Israel has been maintaining a security zone inside Lebanon six miles deep and fifty miles wide, not to mention the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, we may expect a few deadlines from the White House soon. Trade embargo, including denial of medical supplies and essential foodstuffs, then lots of bombing, then ground invasion. It won't be long now. I wouldn't care to be in the madman Shamir's shoes. Wait till George Bush gets his hands on him!