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Greenwald writes: "The most significant problem in political discourse is not that people embrace destructive beliefs after issues are rationally debated. It's that the potency of propaganda, by design, often precludes such debates from taking place."

Saudi King Abdullah with US President Barack Obama. (photo: Mido Ahmed/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi King Abdullah with US President Barack Obama. (photo: Mido Ahmed/AFP/Getty Images)


Tyranny and Propaganda in the Middle East

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

14 January 13

 


he most significant problem in political discourse is not that people embrace destructive beliefs after issues are rationally debated. It's that the potency of propaganda, by design, often precludes such debates from taking place. Consider how often one hears the claim that the US is committed to spreading democracy and opposing tyranny in the Middle East in light of this fact from a New York Review of Books article by Hugh Eakin reviewing three new books on Saudi Arabia (via As'ad AbuKhalil):

"The US does more trade - overwhelmingly in oil and weapons - with Saudi Arabia than any other country in the Middle East, including Israel, and depends on close Saudi cooperation in its counterterrorism efforts in Yemen."

Indeed, President Obama has repeatedly touted what he calls "the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia" and "the importance of our bilateral relationship" and often vows "to continue cooperating closely on a range of issues".

In other words, the single most repressive regime in that region is also America's closest ally. Eakin also notes that while Saudi leaders have exploited the rhetoric of the Arab Spring to undermine leaders its dislikes (primarily in Syria and Iran), its only direct action was to send its troops into Bahrain "to stave off a popular revolt and prop up the Bahraini monarchy" and use "its influence in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the alliance of autocratic Persian Gulf states, to pull together support for the beleaguered royal houses of Morocco and Jordan." About all of this Saudi bolstering of tyranny, Eakin says: "The White House has remained silent."

Actually, that's not quite accurate. The US has been there every step of the way with its close Saudi allies in strengthening these same tyrannies. As the Bahraini regime has systematically killed, tortured, and imprisoned its own citizens for the crime of demanding democracy, the Obama administration has repeatedly armed it and trumpeted the regime as "a vital US partner in defense initiatives" and "a Major Non-NATO Ally". The US continues to be a close partner of the Yemeni dictator ("elected" as the only candidate allowed on the ballot). And it stands as steadfastly as ever behind the Gulf State monarchies of Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar as, to varying degrees, they repress democratic movements and imprison dissidents.

There is, of course, a long-standing debate about whether there's anything wrong with the US supporting and allying itself with repressive regimes. A popular strain of foreign policy thought has long held that the US should be guided primarily by self-interest rather than human rights concerns: hence, since the US wants its Fifth Fleet to remain in Bahrain and believes (with good reason) that these dictators will serve US interests far better than if popular will in these countries prevails, it is right to prop up these autocrats.

That's all well and good, but then there should be nobody willing to believe US political leaders when they claim that they are engaging in military action or otherwise interfering in other parts of the world in order to subvert despotism and spread democracy. When President Obama stands up and says - as he did when he addressed the nation in February 2011 about Libya - that "the United States will continue to stand up for freedom, stand up for justice, and stand up for the dignity of all people", it should trigger nothing but a scornful fit of laughter, not credulous support (by the way, not that anyone much cares any more, but here's what is happening after the Grand Success of the Libya Intervention: "Tribal and historical loyalties still run deep in Libya, which is struggling to maintain central government control in a country where armed militia wield real power and meaningful systems of law and justice are lacking after the crumbling of Gaddafi's eccentric personal rule").

The US is not committed to spreading democracy and freedom in the world. "Freedom" and "democracy" are concepts it exploits to undermine regimes that refuse to serve its interests. Indeed, there is virtually an inverse relationship between how democratic a country is in the Muslim world and how closely allied the US is to it.

Yes, all of this is obvious and not novel to point out. Still, it needs to be pointed out because of how often the US government succeeds in leading people to believe that these are its goals. It's just extraordinary that so many people are willing to believe and advocate that the US ever acts in the world with the goal of undermining tyranny when "the US does more trade - overwhelmingly in oil and weapons - with Saudi Arabia than any other country in the Middle East". That this blatant sham is so widely accepted is a testament to the potency of propaganda, bolstered by the willingness of people to embrace self-flattering claims.


 

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+8 # MidwestTom 2013-01-14 11:05
Iran tolerates 12 active Jewish Temples and does not bother the Jews that live there. Yet we are told that Iran is terrible. In Syria, we are supporting the rebels who are driving out and killing any non-Muslims in territory that they capture. Syria was 12% Christian. The whole Arab Spring was supported by the US, so the Muslim Brotherhood could gain control. This month the OBama administration is sending 200 of our latest tanks, and 10 F-16s to Egypt, a country now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. I bet Israel likes that move.
 
 
+4 # Kiwikid 2013-01-14 13:22
Tom, the US is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. While it is true that the Middle East 'regimes' (wonderful word that - a government becomes one when we decide we no longer like it) that the US support are neither 'democratic' nor 'free', the alternatives are likely to be much worse. Saudi Arabia is awash in Wahhabist Islam - to remove the monarchy and to allow the Mullahs to take over (which they surely would) will return that country to the stone age with much greater oppression of it's people than currently exists. Watch Syria, until recently the safest place for minority groups in the Middle East, if (when)Al Assad goes - there will be a blood bath (worse than currently) where non-Sunni are put to the sword, or under the heal. We're seeing that the Arab spring's thirst for freedom, simply opens the door for more oppression than before.
 
 
+4 # Jonathan Levy 2013-01-14 14:28
Muslim Brotherhood are US clients just as Mubarek was. Mubarek became unsustainable so they go their next choice. This Muslim Brotherhood will not aid the Palestinians much if any more than Mubarek.
 
 
+19 # engelbach 2013-01-14 11:10
Thanks, Glenn, for another potent, factual essay about reality.

The American public is largely uninterested in the details of American foreign policy, preferring to line up with Democrats or Republicans based on nothing more substantial than propaganda.

Because the GOP is so horrendous, Obama and the Democrats get a free pass on virtually everything they do by their supporters, who simply ignore the war crimes and the lies.
 
 
+7 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-01-14 14:05
Please, engelbach, allow me to join you saying thanks to Glenn. Facts/truth we soooooo need these dreadful days.

And, underlying all the dread in the dreadful: unending karlroving style MSDing (manipulating, spinning, distracting) a.k.a. propoganda. Keep we the sheeple dumbed down they do and will. Say it often enough, and aim it at an eleven year old mind, and the naive dummies, including but certainly not limited to all knee jerk G.O.P. and Dem. voters, will believe it.

Promoting democracy in the mid-East. Duh! Especially with our so-called 'democracy' now in the toilet, along with rule of law. But, we the sheeple are now fully crippled with MSD, and naive moreso than ever before, with folks in every corner of the globe scorning and disgusted plus with us, for our greed and power over all addicted constant, unending warmode for $$$$$ into the coffers of the 1% villainaire rulers.
 
 
+4 # Jonathan Levy 2013-01-14 14:26
That's the deliberate plan--the GOP scares everyone into voting for Obama who is not their friend while nothing the people want gets in the debate. Still, people don't get this simple formula and persist in believing in Obama as some sort of other side to say, a Romney, just put up there to scare us and lose in a close and very distracting 6 billion dollar show. RSN, though they publish stories exposing Obama's corporatism, still persist on submitting to the fear and campaigning for him like good little dogs. This is my concern with RSN and the other supposed "people's" news sites. They buy the theater and thus disempower the left just as planned by the puppets. Most leftists get corralled into a nice Obama-hope and change-herd of sheep, cheering for hope and change right up to their merciless slaughter.
 
 
+11 # cordleycoit 2013-01-14 11:12
We support the worst people in the world if they have oil. Oil buys the press and protects the corrupt politician who has created the New Tyranny. Our leader talks peace while pursuing dissidents beyond the grave. Watch what is said about Aaron Swartz. Look at the torture of Bradley Manning, so harsh as to gag a Military Judge See the censored art shows, cause that is all you will see from now on
 
 
-5 # MidwestTom 2013-01-14 11:23
I will go out ojn a limb here, because most of you will not believe this, but IIllinois has a significant oil industry, and our company does business with several different oil companies. The US is flooded with crude oil right now, Cushing OK, the largest storage facility is fill, and we are importing less and less. This increase in production has come despite the Administrations efforts to slow or halt development whenever possible; think Green river basin proven to have over 2 million barrels per acre, and the XL Pipeline. All of these Administration' s moves help keep the price of oil high, which benefits the Arabs, and especially the Saudis. Add the fact that under OBama the immigration quotes from Muslim countries have been drastically increased. All this is fact.

Now the theory. More than once I gHave heard an oil executive say that they believe that the Saudi's for some reason are closly associated with Obama. They point out that only big money could have gotten a "C" student at Occidental College into Harvard and paid the cost. A large donation could easily get someone the platform at the Democratic convention. Obama has avoided attacking Global Warming, which the oil industry, especially the Saudi's appreciate.

In short, OBama and the Saudi's go way back, and their money may control his actions.
 
 
+9 # Timaloha 2013-01-14 14:02
"More than once I gHave heard an oil executive say that they believe that the Saudi's for some reason are closly associated with Obama. They point out that only big money could have gotten a "C" student at Occidental College into Harvard and paid the cost."

Sure, Tom, because the immensely powerful Obama family, which consisted of one single parent and no one else, used its vast, global influence to pressure the Saudi Kingdom into backing an anonymous twenty-somethin g college student and they agreed because it was undeniable that a quarter century later that particular student would definitely be the first black president of the United States. Maybe the Saudis also planted the birth notices in two Honolulu papers to fake a birth certificate forty plus years before any controversy arose?
 
 
+1 # mdhome 2013-01-14 18:06
Such foresight to have been able to put those birth notices in the Honolulu papers so long ago, maybe we should start scanning the old newspapers to see where the next president will come from! LOL
 
 
+4 # Jonathan Levy 2013-01-14 11:31
This is true and very similar to readers on here who think the US has a real democracy and something other than a corporately run theater of debate. They persist in belueving Obama is in any way standing for them and not the big banks and corps who puppeteer both he and the republicans. Despite the fact he appoints, Geithner then Lew, torturer Brennan to head CIA, signs NDAA, appoints Michael Taylor, affirms the endless war on terror, clearly shafts the common person to make him/her pay for the crash he/she didn't cause, etc...
 
 
+4 # tedrey 2013-01-14 11:56
Besides, America's decision makers may not be blind to the obvious fact that if there is a real democracy in a nation which is predominantly made up of strong believers in Islam who distrust Western nations, the government will strongly support Islam and distrust Western nations. Since that is precisely what American leaders do NOT want, they will do anything to prevent a real democratic election in those countries . . . and try to topple one if it emerges.
 
 
+2 # Nel 2013-01-14 11:59
Well stated, thank you Glenn.
 
 
+5 # reiverpacific 2013-01-14 12:07
When you have a population, the majority of who wouldn't be able to point out where Saudi Arabia is on a global map, or even the entire Middle east -and who don't give a damn into the bargain- as long as they can put gas in their guzzlers, so they can drive a couple of miles to their favorite "Supersize" drive-up junk outlets, this should not be a surprise.
It's all about oil and military hardware sales to Arabic nations and Israel alike, and anybody else who will buy them in the area and in the rest of the world, innit.
Remember these revolting photos of Dimwits holding hands in a sudden spate of "Cultural correctness and awareness", with prince Saud? ASnd the emergency flights laid on for the Saudi elites from Bluegrass Filed in Lexington KY, when American airspace was closed post 9-11?
Perhaps we'll see US diplomats (or the NRA brass) invited to a lavish public ceremony in Riyadh's "Chop-chop square". It's a wonder that they haven't brought out a video of a public beheading and dismemberments.
It seems like Obama is at also walking gingerly in this shadow of deceit and perpetrating the myth of benign tolerance of theocratic totalitarians many times worse than the hated Iran, whilst still supporting Israel unconditionally.
this is what is called "Diplomacy".
 
 
+4 # Jonathan Levy 2013-01-14 14:34
Good point. We are kept dumb, obese and unhealthy, watching sports and cheering like a bunch of 8 year olds, while obvious hypocrisy is perpetrated right in front of our dumbed down faces. You needn't look farther than here on RSN for this as people on here still insist Obama is on their side just because he ran against Romney, whose role was to scare them to death in a perfect 6 billion dollar election show or election theater, as it were.
 
 
+5 # davidmichael 2013-01-14 15:25
I agree with many comments of the author regarding the Middle East. However, after living and working in the Middle East for four years (Turkey and Jordan), what I came to accept is that the US is a very complex nation with a set of complex policies, regardless who is in power. It seems easy...but it is not easy to make rational, sustanable decisions about the welfare of the US vs. individual nations. Case in point..Foreign Aid. Number One is Israel (Jewish State). Number two: Jordan (Arab State).

There's nothing simple when it comes to the role of the US Government. We wish it were black and white, but in reality it is a palette of grays. That's the problem with travel. Simple beliefs often based on propaganda, confront the world of reality.

IMHO, the US and Democracy will have little effect on making deep change in the Middle East, regardless of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East has its own history, traditions, will and way.
 
 
+3 # Activista 2013-01-14 23:53
diplopundit.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/top-10-recipiens-of-aid-fy2013.jpg?w=500&h=312
Most of the US "foreign aid" is MILITARY AID
Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq --- like ANOTHER 10+ billions of dollars that should be part of DOD budget. Ans for 2013 this military aid is going up Israel 3075 million to 3100 million. With 6 million people - over $1200 per family - US pay for Israeli military more than Israeli taxpayer.
 
 
+1 # reiverpacific 2013-01-15 19:50
Quoting davidmichael:
I agree with many comments of the author regarding the Middle East. However, after living and working in the Middle East for four years (Turkey and Jordan), what I came to accept is that the US is a very complex nation with a set of complex policies, regardless who is in power. It seems easy...but it is not easy to make rational, sustanable decisions about the welfare of the US vs. individual nations. Case in point..Foreign Aid. Number One is Israel (Jewish State). Number two: Jordan (Arab State).

There's nothing simple when it comes to the role of the US Government. We wish it were black and white, but in reality it is a palette of grays. That's the problem with travel. Simple beliefs often based on propaganda, confront the world of reality.

IMHO, the US and Democracy will have little effect on making deep change in the Middle East, regardless of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East has its own history, traditions, will and way.

Agreed to a point -I've been in the area too, but I refused a position in Saudi Arabia that would have made me rich; I was interviewed in a huge hotel suite in London by the saudi minister of finance, entourage and visible harem. I just couldn't bring myself to be a prisoner in Riyadh for two or three years. And you can hardly compare Jordan and Saudi-A.
And the US military has admitted both ignorance and contempt for the area's mores -after invasion!
 
 
+3 # ishmael 2013-01-14 18:23
Most of the 911 hijackers: Saudi.

This piece should be required reading for high school students.

Worldwide. Including the Americas, Europe, Africa and the ME.
 
 
+2 # futhark 2013-01-14 22:52
The biggest( and most successful) propaganda lie in human history was that 19 Islamic radicals, mostly from Saudi Arabia, planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. The evidence in support of this hypothesis simply does not stand up to the documented facts or scientific principles. According to the Law of Parsimony (aka Occam's Razor), the hypothesis that best fits the events as they are known is that agents of the military-indust rial complex and surveillance state apparatus, along with politically powerful and wealthy neocons, plotted and executed this coup.

Then, with the world in shock, they made up a bogus story scapegoating Muslims, justifying the subsequent military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
 
+5 # ishmael 2013-01-14 18:43
Of course the neocon mantra has the US with a mission of spreading "democracy" out of gun barrels when someone has oulived his or her usefulness (see Iraq); (although if candidates for office aren't "approved by the US" the policy changes, as with Hamas).
 
 
+6 # Artemis 2013-01-14 18:45
Thanks, Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian is a better place to go since you arrived.
Is there not a new word to define countries like America and Israel which define themselves boastfully as democracies because they have so-called 'free elections', yet defy many of the criteria associated with a true democracy and are even serial abusers of human rights and international law?
 
 
+5 # ishmael 2013-01-14 19:27
This whole article could, of course, have been subtitled "The Elephant In the Room".

As the gun lobby does all the time, some groups have a standing interest in preventing discussion of fundamental issues because it undermines their basic assertions and therefore their credibility.
 
 
-1 # The Voice of Reason 2013-01-16 11:21
The real problem with these ME Islamic republics is that you just can't build a jail big enough for a billion people.

And we're not even trying!
 

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