A few days ago we were — how to put it? — uncivil to New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, taking him to task over his story about Somalia, in which he told readers of the “world’s leading newspaper” that the little tussle they were having over there was mostly the fault of a bunch of greedy gangsters with inborn anarchic tendencies who didn’t want to pay taxes. Mr. Gettleman’s story, we suggested, with unpardonable rudeness, was not really a work of journalism but more of propaganda piece, aiming to whitewash the Bush Administration’s crucial — and armed — role in instigating the brutal war of aggression that has brought fresh ruin and death to that long-broken land.
We now wish to apologize most wholeheartedly to Mr. Gettleman for our splenitive and rash outpouring. It was wrong of us to imply that he had poisoned the public discourse with the artful distortions and compelling mendacities that adorned his piece. We reacted so strongly because we feared that his peculiar take on the situation — greedy darkies getting what’s coming to them — would become the “conventional wisdom” about Somalia in the American media world, thus blinding the American people once again to the vast crimes being committed in their name by the buccaneers of the Beltway.
But it turns out that Mr. Gettleman’s manly effort on behalf of Little Caesar and Big-Time Dick was quickly effaced by the sterling work of one Chris Tomlinson of the Associated Press. In a story that appeared last Friday — and soon permeated every media market in America, and many foreign ones as well — Mr. Tomlinson delivered a much bolder pre-emptive strike against any unpatriotic malcontent who might question the president’s wise policy in Somalia. Indeed, Mr. Tomlinson’s long and much-reprinted piece was so servile and accommodating that it makes Mr. Gettleman look like the second coming of I.F. Stone.
Eschewing the psychological nuance that characterized Mr. Gettleman’s insightful analysis (such as his discovery of the “raw antigovernment defiance” that will prevent “many Somalis” from ever accepting any government, much less the beneficent hegemony of President Bush’s proxies, the dictator of Ethiopia and his Somali warlord allies), Mr. Tomlinson cuts right to the chase, brandishing the Bush Administration’s most potent weapon: raw fear, produced by the constant evocation of 9/11 and the world-encircling dastards of al Qaeda.
Right out of the gate, in the second paragraph, Tomlinson asserts — without any qualification or attribution whatsoever — that those resisting the American-backed invasion of their country by are “threatening to turn the country back into a haven for al-Qaeda.” (9/11! 9/11!) Just two paragraphs later, he provides this description of the Islamic Courts council that had brought Somalia its first measure of peace and stability in 15 years before its overthrow by Ethiopian tanks and American bombs:
…Islamic radicals who grabbed power for six months last year, filling Somalia’s power vacuum with a strict religious government. Like the Taliban who once ruled Afghanistan and hosted Osama bin Laden, the Somali movement, the Council of Islamic Courts, harbors al-Qaeda terrorists, U.S. officials say.
Just like the Taliban! Osama bin Laden! 9/11! 9/11! At least this paragraph offers one of Tomlinson’s rare uses of a source — albeit unnamed ones — to back up his bald assertions. But the import is clear: the Islamic Courts council is the same thing as the Taliban and al Qaeda, and thus the invasion of Somalia is entirely justified as part of the noble War on Terror that President Bush is waging to keep Americans safe.
Nowhere does Tomlinson offer even a pro forma mention of the Islamic Courts’ constant denials of any involvement with al Qaeda. Nor does he mention — doubtless because, in his sweet ignorance, he does not know — that the Courts themselves were comprised of various factions of varying degrees of religious fervor, from moderates to more hard-core fundamentalists. They were never simply a monolithic bloc of Taliban-style fanatics. You’d have to look to Mr. Bush’s longtime family friends, the Saudi royals, for that kind of thing; their kingdom is by far the most repressive religious regime on the face of the earth — and also a haven for not a few al-Qaeda supporters, including some very highly placed and quite wealthy ones.
In fact, Tomlinson’s constant assertions of an inextricable link between the deposed Islamic Courts and al Qaeda rests on the word of those fountains of unerring truth — “intelligence officials” in the service of the Bush Administration. These charges are in turn based on the alleged presence in Somalia of a bare handful of individuals with alleged ties to alleged al Qaeda-associated enterprises. Tomlinson breathlessly relates that a whole ten “al Qaeda operatives remain in Somalia,” and are “at least partially responsible for the growing violence in the capital.” Who knew that these wily al Qaeda operators were somehow able to sneak into the tanks and artillery batteries of the American-trained Ethiopian army, which has been the source of most of the “violence in the capital” in the last month, when more than 1,400 people were killed, most of them civilians? Gadzooks, is there nothing these evil masterminds can’t do?
There is more — much more — in this vein. Tomlinson notes that those opposing the invasion are said to possess some shoulder-fired anti-aircraft guns. Now, you and I might think these weapons would be used by the “insurgents” to attack those who have invaded their country. (And indeed, their only reported use has been to shoot down an Ethiopian cargo plane supplying the invaders and an Ethiopian military helicopter.) But Tomlinson is mainlining the Bush juice now, and so simply says flat out — again without even the fig leaf of an unnamed “intelligence official” — and that these weapons “could be used against civilian aircraft throughout the region.” Al Qaeda! Airplanes! 9/11! 9/11!
But yes, it’s true that shoulder-fired missiles could be used against civilian aircraft in the region. And the Chinese could give a nuclear bomb to the Ku Klux Klan. Germany could invade Poland tomorrow. All kinds of things could happen in this crazy world. But normally, in a “news” story, one offers some kind of evidence for this kind of assertion.
But this is not a story designed to provide readers with the news of what is happening in Somalia. It is designed to convey — without a single dissenting viewpoint — the official line of the Bush Administration regarding the murderous proxy war that it has greenlighted in Somalia. There is no mention of the American air strikes against fleeing refugees in the early days of the war — an ostensible attempt to kill alleged al Qaeda operatives that instead murdered dozens of innocent civilians. There is no mention of the “rendition” of refugees — including innocent American citizens — into Ethiopia’s torture chambers. There is no mention of the years, and millions of dollars, that the Bush administration has spent in arming and training the repressive Ethiopian military. There is no mention of the complexities of the political situation in Somalia, just constant invocations of “Taliban” and “al Qaeda” to evoke a Pavlovian response of fear — and unquestioning acquiescence to the Terror War policies of the Bush Administration. After all, who could possibly oppose a righteous operation to keep Somalia from “turning back into a haven for al Qaeda”?
The reality, of course, is that deposing the Islamic Courts council — which had reached out to the West, seeking recognition and cooperation — and plunging Somalia back into anarchy virtually guarantees that it will indeed become a haven for terrorism, just as in Bush’s other “regime change” operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But then, the Terror War has never been about curtailing the terrorist threat against Americans. This is blatantly obvious, as every aspect of the “War” has only exacerbated terrorism and anti-American feeling around the world. The Terror War is about securing even more loot and power for elite factions in the American Establishment (and selected foreign cronies). Somalia’s oil and its strategic location make it a prime target for the Terror Warriors; hence the invasion and the blood-soaked occupation.
But these truths must remain forever hidden from the American people. And here Tomlinson’s story has been marvelously effective. The ubiquitous AP wire serves countless papers and television stations, large and small, across the length and breadth of the land, and around the world as well. Even a cursory Googling of the story’s appearances in print shows the tremendous reach of Tomlinson’s piece:
Casper, Wyoming. White Rock, South Dakota. Wilmington, North Carolina. Fort Wayne, Indiana. State College, Pennsylvania. Gainesville, Florida. Seattle, Washington. Twin Falls, Idaho. Sacramento, California. Baltimore, Maryland. Houston, Texas. Atlantic City, New Jersey. Albany, New York. Los Angeles. Las Vegas. Denver. The Federal News Radio. Newsday. Fox News. The Guardian. Pravda. The Scotsman.
On and on it goes. This conglomeration of fear, fantasy, manipulation and omission is now the picture of the situation in Somalia for millions of Americans: a propaganda coup for the Bush Administration, yet another “mission accomplished.”
Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.