Blairspeak By William Bowles

6 July 2003

Predictably, in response to continued challenges to the rationale behind the invasion of Iraq, Blair said the following:

‘There couldn’t be a more serious charge, that I ordered our troops into conflict on the basis of intelligence evidence that I falsified.’

Now what’s wrong with this statement? Firstly, nobody is accusing Blair of falsifying evidence, merely of using false evidence in order to justify a policy which had already been laid down years before. Blair’s lies consist of the entire rationale for the invasion not the single piece of misinformation planted by Western intelligence agencies. And in a classic piece of newspeak, Blair goes on to say:

‘I think everyone now accepts that charge is wrong.’

What, that he invented the evidence or that the information used is false? As ever, the tactic of the propagandist is to confuse and conflate different but related, information, so that when challenging statements, one has to be quite specific with the challenge and pay close attention to the language.

Keep your eye on the ball
Nowhere, in any of the evidence I’ve reviewed has anybody ever said that Blair personally invented the evidence, but that is what Blair says he’s been accused of doing. So now the argument will spin down a different road, leaving the essential issues behind obscured in a cloud of dust and small stones.

Note too, that Blair ups the ante with his statement of gravitas that:

‘You could not make a more serious charge against a Prime Minister.’

The implication being of course, that prime ministers don’t lie and that in continuing to challenge Blair, one challenges not only his position as prime minister but his ‘morality’. Is he implying that he’ll resign if we don’t accept his word? So now, rather than deal with the issues, the ‘debate’ will be about Blair’s fitness for the job. Whether it’s Blair or some other defective who holds the position of pm, is neither here nor there. What is central, is the government’s policy.

They speak with forked tongue
For a long time, I’ve tried to grapple with the language of persuasion, how it works, how we receive it and why there appears to be such a vast gulf maintained between how we receive and interpret the information produced by the dominant culture and information from so-called alternate voices. Why do we accept the word of the corporate press and the state and why is it so compelling?

The basic tactic consists of the saturation and repetition of false knowledge which, over time, combines to produce a ‘false consciousness’. All other information is downgraded and diminished. It’s ‘not credible’ or it simply gets lost in the torrent of words. Even its presentation is critical. A story presented in the corporate press is received quite differently than one read in some ‘unknown’ publication. The idea of the ‘professional’ journalist as someone who uses some kind of quasi-scientific process when presenting the ‘news’, is firmly rooted in our culture. We accord the ‘professional journalist’ attributes much like we do a doctor or scientist, never stopping to think that like all products of our society, it is historically determined. Ideas and values don’t exist independently of the society which produces them or its dominant value system.

Over the years, as the techniques of propaganda has extended the state’s reach and depth, much like Coca Cola has in the commercial world, the contested terrain has shifted. What was extreme is now normal but not only that, the context has shifted as well. Having firmly demonised Saddam (as opposed to all the other demons), the debate revolves not around the basic issue of invasion of a sovereign state based upon the complete overthrow of international norms and practices, but upon a false notion of morality, which in turn, leads toward a redrawing of the ‘law’ – from de facto to de jure. We need only compare the USUK attitude toward Iraq with that of its position on Liberia to see how the dominant culture perverts reality to get it to conform to strategic objectives and to reinforce our prejudices about people, events and their causes.

What goes around, comes around
For generations, the US supported a series of bloody dictatorships in Liberia, initially because of the Cold War and Liberia’s geographic position in relation to Libya and Angola. Even the foundation of Liberia as being by freed slaves who returned to Africa from America, is a complete fiction. And of course, the intrinsic racism in the West’s attitudes toward Africa helps to build a conception around which dismissal of the issues can be rationalised. Fundamental to the propaganda used by the West is the implicit notion that ‘Africans’ are somehow exempt from the same standards that govern the rest of us (meaning of course, ‘civilised’ white people). This is never stated openly of course but even the most cursory examination of the coverage of the situation in Liberia reveals the innate attitudes of whites toward Africa.

‘Back in the camps [in Monrovia] we’re greeted with the same dancing and singing as always but the people are losing hope.’ (Independent on Sunday, 06/07/03)

Same ‘singing and dancing’ as what? ‘As always’, because, as we all know, when ‘Africans’ aren’t butchering each other, they’re ‘singing and dancing’. This report is written by a nurse with Médicins Sans Frontieres, which in itself is revealing. The Independent can’t be bothered to send a journalist to cover the events, instead it has to rely on a moonlighting nurse called Tom Quinn to tell us the ‘news’. Does this make his report more ‘objective’ I wonder? No, what it does, is remove the issue from the political and put it firmly in the context of ‘humanitarian’. The entire story consists of the writer’s description (taken from his diary) of the appalling humanitarian conditions that exist in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. So events in Liberia are yet again, reduced to Liberians as ‘victims’ of savagery and the West’s intervention is presented by the writer as:

‘The people are exhausted. They are sick to death of it. Sick of the fighting. They see the US as an obvious solution because of historical ties.’

US meddling in Liberian affairs lies at the heart of the current situation. It was, after all, US support for Samuel Doe, the former dictator of Liberia which created the basis for the current situation, so is the writer referrring to this ‘historical tie’? Perhaps the writer should stick to treating the sick and wounded and stop making assumptions about what Liberians want based upon his obvious utter lack of knowledge about how Liberia ended up as yet another ‘African basket-case.’

Actual coverage of ‘Africa’ is limited to a single story on Bush’s upcoming trip to the ‘dark continent’. The story, written by the Independent’s reporter in New York of all places, reveals the problem the US has over its propaganda war on the invasion of Iraq. Simple arithmetic reveals that in pure numbers (which is, after all how the Saddam’s butchery has been presented to us as part of the rationale for the invasion), the number of lives lost in the tiny country of Liberia, far outstrips those who died at the hands of Saddam. But numbers aside, where are the USUK demands at the UN to end the bloody dictatorship of Taylor? Where are the threats of intervention based upon the superior morality of the West? Why should – to quote the West’s propagandists own words – ‘one of the most despicable dictatorships of the modern age’ not be part of the reason for intervention?

You see the problem and it’s a sticky one for the West to deal with. What’s good for the goose is surely good enough for the gander. But who really cares about a couple of million Africans in a country with no real strategic or economic significance aside perhaps as part of a global network of US military bases and even then, there’s plenty of other bankrupt countries in the region whose rulers, in exchange for a few dollars more, are ready to give the US access to.

But if you reduce the issue to one of ‘humanitarian’ concerns, then some nurses and a few blankets will suffice. Why should we risk valuable American lives in some god-forsaken country that nobody in America ever even heard of? So perhaps they’ll send a couple of thousand troops but they’ll let Ecowas do the real fighting. Let Africans kill Africans.

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