Tag Archives: Pakistan

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian
by Ian Sinclair
Medium
29 December 2016

Earlier this month the Morning Star newspaper found itself in the middle of a media shitstorm. The trigger was their front page headline about the final stages of the battle of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city: ‘Final liberation of Aleppo is in sight’.

The response from some Labour MPs and liberal commentators was immediate and indignant. ‘Absolute disgrace’, tweeted Tom Blenkinsop MP. ‘All parliamentarians, especially party leaders, should condemn false propaganda as was displayed in the Morning Star. People are being murdered not liberated’, Jess Phillips MP argued. Writing the next day in The Guardian Owen Jones noted ‘Yesterday’s front page of the Morning Star rightly provoked revulsion when it described Aleppo’s fall as a “liberation”’. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland was similarly critical, as was fellow columnist George Monbiot, who retweeted Jones’s column. Paul Mason, also a regular at The Guardian, went one further tweeting the following challenge: ‘Dear NUJ colleagues at Morning Star: in what world does cheering on a war crime conform to union code of practice? Or any form of socialism?’

(Full disclosure: While I write for the Morning Star, I do not agree with the Morning Star’s front page description of what’s happening in Aleppo. Accordingly, I wrote a letter to the paper stating this, which was published on their letters page — like other letters I’ve recently written critical of their Syria coverage.)

To make sense of this uproar, it is useful to compare the reaction to the Morning Star front page on Aleppo to a recent three-page leading article in The Guardian’s Review section. With the front page of the Review section depicting a very presidential-looking Barack Obama next to the headline ‘Amazing Grace’, The Guardian asked seventeen leading authors to reflect on Obama’s legacy.

Before I consider the writers’ contributions, it’s worth stating some basic facts about the first black president’s time in office. Since 2008 the Obama Administration has bombed seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia), escalating the war in Afghanistan, and massively expanding the secret war in Somalia. In 2012 the New York Times reported that Obama had ‘embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties’ of US drone strikes that ‘in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.’ US counter-terrorism officials insisted this approach is based on simple logic, the New York Times explained: that ‘people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.’ According to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee the 2011 US-NATO bombing of Libya led to ‘political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in North Africa’. In Syria, Obama has been carrying out an illegal bombing campaign against Islamic State, and has provided extensive military support to Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government, and given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to send in arms to, thus playing a key role in escalating and prolonging the conflict.

The Obama Administration has supported Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, with the Yemen Data Project reporting that one third of Saudi Arabian-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. With the US providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, the war has played a key role in creating a dire humanitarian emergency, with the UN estimating as early as June 2015 that 20 million Yemenis — nearly 80 percent of the population — were in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. More broadly, the Obama administration has offered to sell $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over its eight years in office, making Obama ‘the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history’, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel. Turning to the US’s other major regional ally, Obama has protected Israel more times at the United Nations than any other US president, recently agreeing a record $38 billion, 10-year US military aid deal with Israel.

At the tail end of George W Bush’s presidency US Special Forces were deployed in 60 countries. Under Obama today they are deployed in 135 countries — presumably why muckraker Matt Taibbi sees the US presidential race as being about choosing the next ‘imperial administrator’.

At home Obama ‘has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers’, according to Spencer Ackerman and Ed Pilkington. ‘On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act — more than double those under all previous presidents combined.’ In April 2011 more than 250 American legal scholars signed a letter protesting against the Obama Administration’s treatment of Chelsea Manning arguing her ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ were illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture. Described by some immigration NGOs as the ‘Deporter in Chief’, between 2009 and 2015 the Obama removed more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders. ‘Based on statements so far, Trump’s plan to remove the undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes is similar to what President Obama declared in 2014’, ABC News noted in August 2016. On climate change — an existential threat to humanity — Obama’s actions have been wholly inadequate, with the US turning up at the crunch 2009 Copenhagen climate talks with a paltry offer to make 17 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2020 (in comparison the European Union pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020). For Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute, this obstructionism was further proof Obama was ‘a conservative voice among world leaders’ on climate change.

So, what did the authors commissioned by The Guardian make of Obama’s time in office? ‘Brilliant and understated, urbane, witty, compassionate, composed, Barack Obama is a unique human being’, began Joyce Carol Oates’s contribution. Siri Hustvedt described Obama as ‘an elegant… moderate, morally upright’ black man. ‘Thank you for your grace, your intelligence, your curiosity, your patience, your respect for the constitution, your respect for people who don’t look like you or pray like you’, wrote Attica Locke. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilyn Robinson asserted Obama was ‘a deeply reflective man, an idealist whose ideal America is a process of advance and self-realisation.’ In the most critical piece, Gary Younge inverts reality, arguing Obama’s ‘victories saved the country from… war without end or purpose’. Noting that she opposed Obama’s use of ‘kill lists’, Professor Sarah Churchwell nevertheless felt the Obama family were ‘disciplined, distinguished, serious… there was not a whiff of scandal’. After he leaves office Churchwell hopes Obama will ‘keep fighting’ as he ‘remains a formidable champion to have on our side.’ Ending the contributions Aminatta Forna laments ‘The world will miss Obama. Deeply.’

I could quote many more lines from the contributions, but you get the picture: evidence-free eulogising from supposedly free-thinking, smart individuals whose worship of established power would shame Pravda. Yemen is never mentioned, nor is Pakistan or Somalia. Libya gets one mention — described by Lorrie Moore as something Obama ‘did not entirely succeed at’. Lionel Shriver provides the sole mention of Afghanistan, noting Obama has been ‘slow to get us out of the sinkhole of Afghanistan’. In short, the deadly impact of American military power is largely either ignored or downplayed.

Far from being an outlier, the authors’ shocking support for an American president who has caused the deaths of thousands of men, women and children, and destabilised entire countries, fits well with the Guardian’s broader coverage of the Obama Administration.

For example, a front-page Guardian article penned by Freedland about Obama’s July 2008 speech in Berlin breathlessly reported the then Democratic presidential candidate ‘almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water.’ In January 2011 Guardian columnist Madelaine Bunting argued Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was advancing a US foreign policy with ‘an explicitly feminist agenda’. In April 2015 a Guardian editorial referred to ‘the Obama-esque oath to first do no harm’. A year before Assistant Editor and foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall chided Obama for his ‘retreat from attachment to the imperious might, the responsibilities and the ideals that once made America an unrivalled and deserving superpower.’ Tisdall has form — in December 2013 he wrote of the ‘good causes for which western soldiers bravely fought and died’ in Afghanistan. What are these, you ask? Tisdall explains: ‘creating and safeguarding the space for extending women’s rights, human rights in general, universal education and child healthcare.’ World Affairs Editor Julian Borger went one better in July 2012, making the extraordinary claim that the US’s ‘military and civilian assistance’ to Egypt was ‘an investment in Middle East peace.’

On Syria, The Guardian has repeatedly downplayed the US’s extensive intervention in the ongoing war. Shockingly, The Guardian’s report of a July 2016 US airstrike that killed at least 73 Syrian civilians — the majority women and children, according to activists — appeared as a small report at the bottom of page 22. In May 2013 Tisdall provided a perfect case study for Mark Curtis’s concept of basic benevolence — how the ideological system promotes the idea Western foreign policy is driven by high principles and benign intentions — when he asserted Obama ‘cannot count on Russian (or, therefore, Chinese or UN security council) support to fix Syria.’

If, as Professor of Journalism Robert Jensen argues, the role of mainstream journalism in a democratic society is ‘to analyse and critique systems of power to help ordinary people take greater control over our lives’, then large sections of The Guardian’s reporting of the Obama Administration has failed miserably.

But now I am downplaying things: if one seriously considers the level of devastation, death and misery around the world the Obama Administration is responsible for, then The Guardian’s ongoing support for/ignoring/downplaying (pick one) of these crimes becomes nothing less than obscene. But while there were howls of outrage at the Morning Star’s front page on the war in Aleppo, there is a telling silence when it comes to the more subtle pro-US government propaganda pumped out by the far more influential Guardian. The Morning Star’s headline was simply unacceptable to the liberal commentariat. In contrast, The Guardian’s often positive coverage of Obama is considered a legitimate part of the broader media debate.

The difference, of course, is all about politics — who is doing the killing and who is being killed. ‘A propaganda system will consistently portray people abused in enemy states as worthy victims’, argue Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent. In contrast ‘those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy. The evidence of worth may be read from the extent and character of attention and indignation.’ And, of course, it’s all about which newspaper is doing the reporting — the small circulation, cash-strapped and generally left-wing Morning Star or the liberal, establishment newspaper that publishes the work of — and pays the salaries of — Jones, Freedland, Monbiot and Mason.

 

The Obama Illusion

The Obama Illusion
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
November 2008

Those wishing to keep a level head should certainly keep away from the mainstream media. Jonathan Freedland, writing about Barack Obama’s July speech in Berlin for the UK’s most progressive national newspaper the Guardian, breathlessly reported that the Democratic US presidential nominee “almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water.”

Although he doesn’t reference the second coming, the liberal American journalist Jann Wenner’s description of the Great Black Hope is no less gushing: “There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline…. Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature’.”

The propensity of some journalists to bow to the powerful clearly knows no bounds. But what lies behind the slogans, soundbites and rhetoric presented to us by Obama’s slick PR machine and the wilfully naïve media?

Contrary to the widespread myth surrounding his candidacy, from his public statements there is very little to suggest Obama will make significant changes to US foreign policy – the topic of his Berlin speech and the issue that most affects the rest of the world.

Like George Bush, Obama views the world in Manichean terms and believes the United States has a divine right to intervene anywhere in the world. “We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good”, he proclaimed in his first major foreign policy speech in April 20a07. “We must lead by building a 21st century military…. I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.” That’s right folks, liberal America’s poster boy wants to increase the size of the US military, whose 2008 budget is already a staggering $711 billion – a figure greater than the budget of the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined.

It is important to remember Obama’s opposition to the foreign policy of the Bush administration has largely been on tactics grounds – cost and failure – rather than principled moral objections.

For example, Obama believes the US invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq is a “strategic error”, rather than an illegal act, as described by ex-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, or the “supreme international crime,” as the Nuremberg Tribunal determined in 1946.

Indeed, for a man who prides himself on being a “citizen of the world”, Obama is strangely silent about the suffering of other nations under the boot of his own. How many times has he mentioned the more than one million Iraqi people who have died because of the invasion, according to UK polling company Opinion Research Business?

His headline-grabbing pledge to withdraw from Iraq is actually nothing of the sort. If you read the small print you will find Obama has only promised to withdraw combat troops, which only comprise about a third of US forces currently in Iraq and Kuwait. Earlier this year Robert Kahl, Obama’s foreign policy coordinator on Iraq, recommended keeping between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2010 to play an “overwatch role” – supposedly to conduct “counter-terrorism” operations, train Iraqi government security forces and protect US facilities and citizens.

By reducing US troop levels in Iraq, Obama hopes to transfer 10,000 extra troops to escalate the increasingly bloody “good war” in Afghanistan, where president Bush “responded properly,” he noted. Indeed, by signing an order in July authorising illegal US military ground incursions in to neighbouring Pakistan, the incumbent US president seemed to be paying tribute to the senator from Illinois, who had stated his support for the exact same policy a year before.

“I continue to believe that we’re under-resourced in Afghanistan… the real centre for terrorist activity that we have to deal with and deal with aggressively”, said Obama in the summer.

Compare this militaristic posturing to this month’s admission by the British military’s top brass that the war can not be won militarily, and the testimony of the current British ambassador to Afghanistan, who reportedly said the US/NATO presence is “part of the problem, not the solution” and that the American strategy was “destined to fail.”

On Iran, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June, “there is no greater threat to Israel – or the peace and stability of the region – than Iran.”

Interviewed by Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly last month about the so-called nuclear ambitions of the Iranian government, Obama stated he “would never take a military option off the table”.

US dissident Noam Chomsky perceptively points out that by constantly threatening Iran with military strikes, Obama is brazenly violating the UN Charter, and also going against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, with 75% favouring building better relations with Iran, according to a recent Program on International Policy Attitudes poll.

Furthermore, by telling a Cuban-American audience in 2007 that he would continue the barbaric 47-year embargo on Cuba because “it is an important inducement for change,” Obama adopted a view that is not only opposed by the majority of Americans (who broadly support ending the embargo), but also runs counter to global public opinion, with the UN General Assembly last year voting 184 to four in favour of ending the blockade .

Obama’s hawkish pronouncements shouldn’t really be surprising when you consider most of the United States’ wars in the modern era have been initiated by Democratic presidents – Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam, Carter in Afghanistan and Clinton in Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq in 1998.

As the only realistic alternative is the Republican John McCain, progressives in the United States and around the world will undoubtedly by hoping for a Obama victory on 4 November.

However, we should not be under any illusions about what that really means. Those opposed to aggressive western military interventions abroad and corporate-led globalisation, and who are fearful of climate change and interested in promoting fair trade and human rights, will have to continue to fight for these causes – regardless of whether the next president of the United States is John McCain or Barack Obama.

 

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 June 2015

Reading radical alternative news and commentary about Western foreign policy often leads to intense self-doubt and to questions like “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?” Or “Am I reading this right?” And even “Perhaps I am losing my mind?”

Two recent news reports about the US involvement in Syria have triggered these exact questions for me.

Last month a formerly classified August 2012 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report was published by the right-wing watchdog Judicial Watch. In the heavily redacted document the DIA – the intelligence arm of the US Department of Defense – notes “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence in the report is this: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the [Assad] regime.” Later, the DIA makes another extraordinary statement: “There is the possibility of [the opposition] establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and arguably the leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, provided the second jaw-dropping reading experience in May 2015. “The US-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups… specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations”, including official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra, Lister explained in Foreign Policy.

So, to summarise, the West – the US and likely the UK too – were supporting the Syrian armed insurgency in 2012 in the full knowledge it was dominated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three years later the US is encouraging rebel groups to cooperate with al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

What happened, you might well ask, to the epic, generational struggle against al-Qaeda and radical jihadists that we have been fighting since 2001 to save Western civilisation? A war and evil enemy, least we forget, that has been repeatedly hyped by a pliant media and supported by all the main political parties in the US and UK.

Except for Seumas Milne in the Guardian, the mainstream media have ignored the extraordinary revelations of the DIA and Lister. The BBC has, as far as I’m aware, not mentioned either on any of its many news platforms. Incredibly the highly respected Middle East specialist Shadi Hamid describes the Obama Administration as “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”.

In addition to this explosive new evidence of Western support for jihadists, the West’s key allies in the region have also been supporting the more extreme elements of the resistance to the Syrian government.

In August 2014 the Washington Post reported that before their blitz in Iraq “Turkey rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State, eager to aid any enemy of the Assad government. “Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front… were treated at Turkish hospitals”, the Post noted. “Most important, the Turks winked as… Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.”

The Wall Street Journal carried a similar report in March this year, except this time it concerned Israel and how some of the al-Nusra Front’s “severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

Unsurprisingly, on this issue the Western media invariably report the official US Government line – that the US is opposed to these actions and is pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting jihadists in Syria.

However, a close reading of mainstream news reports suggests that far from being opposed, the US is deeply involved in these nefarious networks. For example, earlier this year the Wall Street Journal published a story titled ‘Saudis Agree to Provide Syrian Rebels With Mobile Antiaircraft Missiles’. According to the report “Rebel leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30… That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [snit-aircraft missiles].”

Writing about the increased coordinated support to the Syrian rebels provided by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently noted the Saudi king told allies “the US would not stand in the way.” And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted the arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the Americans.”

Public denials at odds with covert actions are, of course, meat and potatoes when it comes to outsourcing foreign policy to regional proxies. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” the US-supported Yemeni President told US General David Petraeus in January 2010 about the US drone strikes in his country. According to the Washington Post, a similar deception has long been in effect between the US and Pakistan with the Pakistani Government publicly condemning US drone strikes, while at the same time secretly cooperating with the US.

And of course, if the US really felt as strongly about the destructive policies of their Middle East allies as they publicly claim to, then a simple way to pressure them to stop supporting jihadis in Syria would be for the US to threaten to stop selling their allies arms. In reality, the US continues to arm countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia despite – or perhaps because of – their support for the Syrian insurgency. In March 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the GCC states and Turkey are “scheduled to receive further large order of major arms in the coming years” – mainly from the US and Europe.

It’s certainly possible I’m not reading the evidence correctly. I may be taking it out of context. There may well be good reasons the media has chosen not to cover the story. And I could well have lost my mind. But what if the reports point to a far more frightening conclusion – it’s not me that is mad and delusion but the entire media and political elite in the West?

‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering

‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering
by Ian Sinclair
Ceasefire Magazine
18 December 2013

Recently, I found myself engaged in a Twitter argument with James Bloodworth, the Editor of the Left Foot Forward blog, columnist at the Independent and up and coming BBC commentator. On the ‘About’ section of its website Left Foot Forward says it provides “evidence-based analysis on British politics, policy, and current affairs.”

The discussion in question concerned Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen because of her public support for girls’ education. What, asked another person involved in the conversation, should we in the West do to support the rights of schoolgirls in Pakistan? “Militarily defeating the people who shoot them, first off”, was Bloodworth’s response.

Twitter is, of course, a highly reductive and simplifying medium but Bloodworth’s position seems clear enough – he proposes military action by the US and UK in Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of female education. While expressed through only a minor Twitter exchange, Bloodworth’s gung-ho approach to the ‘war on terror’ is representative of a vocal, largely media-based, minority. As such, his arguments are worth spending time refuting.

The first problem for Bloodworth is that Yousafzai herself – the person who embodies everything he claims he wants to protect – disagrees with him. Invited to the White House for a PR photo-op, she reportedly told President Obama that US drone strikes in Pakistan were “fueling terrorism.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His reply? “They’ve also been incredibly effective at killing top members of the Taliban.” Sharp-eyed readers will notice this justification mirrors the US Government’s line, with the CIA Director arguing in 2009 that drone strikes had been “very effective” in targeting the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. As George Orwell once said “Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip.”

In contrast, consider the testimony of David Kilcullun, a counter-insurgency specialist and top adviser to General David Petraeus: “The drone strikes are highly unpopular”, he told the US House Armed Services Committee in 2009. “And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around extremists and leads to spikes in extremism”. Robert Grenier, the CIA’s former station chief in Pakistan, agrees, explaining last year that the US “has gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield.”

Across the border in Afghanistan is former MP Malalai Joya, who has also survived attempts on her life. A vocal supporter of female education, earlier this year she argued that “The US is the main obstacle towards the development of… democratic forces” in Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan also supports the withdrawal of US and UK troops, telling me in 2009 “Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country; they are the values that can be achieved only by our people and democracy-loving forces through a hard, decisive and long struggle.”

Yousafzai further challenged Bloodworth’s militarism when she appeared on The Daily Show in the US. Asked by host Jon Stewart how she personally dealt with the death threats, she replied “You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His considered response? “I’m not sure Churchill would agree.” The colonial bulldog may not have agreed but the British military leadership seems to be sympathetic. “There is a common perception that the issues in Afghanistan, and indeed elsewhere around the world, can be dealt with by military means”, said Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup in 2007. “That’s a false perception.” So, to be clear, Bloodworth, the editor of supposedly the ‘No. 1 left-wing blog’ in the UK, is a far bigger supporter of UK military aggression than the country’s most senior armed forces leader.

Despite the armchair warmongering of commentators like Bloodworth, in recent years peace talks have been going on with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, continued Western aggression has made a political settlement more, not less, difficult; according to Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former UK special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I’m sure some of them are more willing to parlay”, he said in 2011. “But equally, for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be ten pledged to revenge.”

In short, if followed through, Bloodworth’s militaristic posturing in support of more US and UK military action would mean energising and increasing the number of extremists, prolonging the conflict and therefore bringing about more violence and more deaths. Fortunately, the British public is a little smarter; over the past few years a large majority has supported the withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan. Unfortunately for us on the Left, however, it is Bloodworth – seemingly impervious to evidence and elementary logic – who is published in the Independent and sought-after by the BBC.

An open letter to Bruce Springsteen REM, Wilco and Arcade Fire on President Obama

An open letter to Bruce Springsteen REM, Wilco and Arcade Fire on President Obama
by Ian Sinclair
Winnipeg Free Press
25 February 2012

Dear Bruce Springsteen, REM (RIP), Wilco and Arcade Fire,

First a few admissions in the interests of transparency. Bruce, I consider you to be the most important and vital singer-songwriter working today. My deep respect for you led me to write my 15,000-word dissertation on your music for my masters of American studies. I would include Murmur in my top 20 albums of all time. I remember Automatic For The People playing in the background as I fell in love at university. I think Pitchfork Media was spot on when they awarded Yankee Hotel Foxtrot their 10 rating. I love, absolutely love, Anodyne. In short, you have all played a huge role in soundtracking and enriching my life.

Oh, yes. I almost forgot. Arcade Fire. I like your music but have never completely fallen in love with you like everyone else. But you are very much the band of the moment and everyone I know thinks you are touched by the hand of God, so I thought it was important to include you.

I am writing to you all because in 2008 you enthusiastically endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, playing numerous benefit concerts in support of his campaign.

Speaking to the BBC Culture Show, Bruce described Obama as “a knight” who had come to save the United States from “the disastrous administration of the past eight years.” During his public appearances at Obama’s election rallies, Bruce emphasized Obama’s qualities of “temperateness,” “compassion,” and “understanding.” In November 2011, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of disbanded R.E.M. appeared on BBC Newsnight and stated they were “huge fans” of President Obama and would be voting for him again come November. Speaking backstage at a concert where he introduced the then Illinois senator as “the next President of the United States,” Jeff Tweedy of Wilco explained that Obama “melted our hearts” when the band first met him in 2005.

Guys, with your support – and the votes of nearly 70 million of your fellow Americans – Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States in January 2009. However, while many of you were openly critical of the Bush Administration, as far as I can tell none of you has made any public criticisms of the Obama administration. Of course this could be because Obama’s actions in the White House do not warrant criticism. But can this be true if former CIA director Michael Hayden is correct when he says “there’s been a powerful continuity between the 43rd and the 44th” presidents?

The former head of Britain’s MI6 is in general agreement with his American counterpart, noting foreign policy under Obama has remained “very aggressive and hardline.” On Afghanistan, Obama has actually escalated Bush’s war, sending an additional 30,000 American servicemen and women into danger. Predictably this has led to an escalation in violence, with the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office recently noting that the number of insurgent attacks grew by 14 per cent in 2011 to 13,983 attacks a year. Similarly, civilian deaths are at an all-time high. How did you feel when U.S. warplanes bombed the Afghan village of Granai in May 2009 killing perhaps 140 people, around 90 of them children? The killing continues. Earlier this month, NATO killed eight Afghan children in a bombing raid. Does Obama’s policy of propping up an Afghan government that runs medieval-like torture systems, including a stretching rack, make you queasy?

Across the border in Pakistan, did you know Obama is just as unpopular as Bush was, with a 2011 Pew Research poll finding 69 per cent of Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy? Turns out Pakistanis aren’t that keen on American drone strikes. Would you be happy if another country was conducting drone attacks on New Jersey, Athens, Chicago or Montreal? The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently reported drone strikes in Pakistan “have been stepped up enormously under Obama,” averaging one every four days and killing between 282 and 535 civilians.

Did you know the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who joked about using drones on the Jonas Brothers, has now authorized drone attacks in six nations across the world – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Libya? This reflects Obama’s preference for targeted killings – sometimes of American citizens – rather than capturing suspected terrorists, the latter the preferred policy of the Bush administration.

What do you think of the Obama administration’s treatment of Bradley Manning, described by 250 legal scholars in the United States as “degrading and inhumane”? And what to make of Obama’s deliberate attempts to scuttle any serious attempt to get a global deal on climate change?

Back at home, it is widely accepted Obama is running a “Wall Street government.” The signs certainly weren’t good when he hired Timothy Geithner, a key player in the deregulation of finance in the 1990s, as his treasury secretary, were they? “At every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs noted last year. “It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and the Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions.” Were you aware Obama was raising far more money from Wall Street than John McCain when you publicly endorsed him? And does the October 2011 Washington Post article explaining “Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all the GOP candidates combined” concern you at all?

All of this is not to say you were not right to support Obama over McCain in 2008, and wouldn’t be right to back Obama over the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. There are clearly real differences between having a Democratic and Republican president, especially for the most vulnerable members of society. But does this mean you should stay silent when Obama carries out the same or similar policies as his predecessor?

“Obama’s greatest achievement is having seduced, co-opted and silenced much of liberal opinion in the U.S.,” argues journalist John Pilger. Your silence during the death and destruction of Obama’s first term is living proof of the political con-trick he performed to win Ad Age’s marketer of the year award in 2008. But do you think the Pakistani mother whose child is killed by an American drone cares whether the attack occurred under a Democratic or Republican president?

Isn’t a key role for artists in any society to ask awkward questions? To hold power to account? To think outside the box? Songs like Born in the USA, Welcome to the Occupation and The Flowers of Guatemala were some of the most powerful critiques of the Reagan administration’s domestic and foreign policies. But this is 2012, not the 1980s. If the narrator of Born in the USA was “born down in a dead man’s town” a generation later, he would have “a brother in Helmand/Fighting off the Taliban.” The Flowers of Guatemala would be renamed The Flowers of Pakistan.

Rather than continuing to support the most powerful politician in the world – what Matt Taibbi calls the “imperial administrator” – isn’t it time you, as popular artists with huge audiences and all the influence this suggests, began to give a voice to the victims of the Obama administration?

Yours,

Ian Sinclair
London, UK