The Lies of the Times: NYT Pushes Bush Line on Somalia


The New York Times has finally deigned to bestow prominent notice on the Bush Administration’s third on-going "regime change" operation, its blood-soaked proxy war in Somalia. But it should come as no surprise that today’s front page piece by Jeffrey Gettleman (People Who Feed Off Anarchy in Somalia Are Quick to Fuel It) is riddled with the same kind of slavish spin, artful omissions and outright lies that the paper produced in those glorious Judy Miller days of yore before the invasion of Iraq. One can only hope that Gettleman submits an invoice to the White House, to get his rightful due for this remarkable piece of government propaganda. For the story is permeated with the Bushist ethos: blame the victims, bury the truth, and smear all those who oppose the Leader’s will.

The theme of Gettleman’s piece is that resistance to the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is being led by a bunch of greedy gangsters grown fat on the anarchy that has plagued the land for more than 15 years. What’s more, this chaotic gangsterism is evidently a national trait of Somalis, who are possessed of a "raw antigovernment defiance" that is solely responsible for the collapse of the nation, and is making it hard even for the entirely benevolent Bush Administration to do anything for them. For as Gettleman ominously notes, "many Somalis…will never go along with any program." Obviously then, the only way to tame these savages is by brute force — such as the artillery and tank fire that the Ethiopian invaders and their native warlord allies are raining down on residential areas in Mogadishu even as we speak, killing at least 350 people in the last week — and 29 civilians just yesterday, as the BBC reports, but which Gettleman politely declines to mention in his piece.

This is classic Establishment thinking here: the reduction of complex human societies to a few unruly character traits, supposedly unique and endemic faults that the poor creatures can’t control but which pose a danger to civilization, thus justifying massive military action to bring them to heel — for their own good, of course. Gettleman is stalwart in this regard. He ignores the direct and quite open American military involvement in the invasion: the U.S. training, arming and funding of the Ethiopian military, the deployment of U.S. Special Forces in the invasion, the airstrikes launched by U.S. planes on fleeing refugees, and the role of U.S. intelligence agents in arresting and "rendering" Somali refugees to the torture chambers of the Ethiopian dictatorship — all of which has been thoroughly documented by reputable mainstream newspapers in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Aside from one passing reference, in the 27th paragraph, of "covert American help" in the invasion, the only other mention he makes of any American involvement in Somalia is the Bush Administration’s "pledge of $100 million to rebuild the country." Just another noble mission, in other words, another act of purest altruism from the "shining city on the hill."

Of course, there are greedy gangsters in Somalia — just as there are in every single human society on earth. (Even the "shining city" itself is not noticeably lacking in this regard.) So it’s not very hard for Gettleman — or rather, the local stringers he employs in Mogadishu — to dig up some nefarious figures to illustrate his chosen theme.

Take Maxamuud Nuur Muradeeste, for example, "a squatter landlord who makes a few hundred dollars a year renting out rooms in the former Ministry of Minerals and Water." Muradeeste says he would allow "insurgents" (i.e., those resisting the armed conquest of their nation by foreign invaders) to store guns at his place. Obviously a prime candidate for a set of Gitmo pajamas.

Or what about the equally sinister Omar Hussein Ahmed, a Mogadishu olive oil exporter? In addition to sharing a name with anti-Bush terrorists like Saddam and Obama, Ahmed "and a group of fellow traders recently bought missiles to shoot at government soldiers." And why would they do this? "’Taxes are annoying,’ he explained."

And then there’s…well, that’s it. These are the people who Gettleman says are "fueling" the insurgency because the Ethiopian-installed government "poses the biggest threat yet to the gravy days of anarchy." A gangster who makes "a few hundred dollars a year" renting rooms in a long-abandoned government building. (Perhaps Gettleman could ask Dick Cheney’s employers at Halliburton if they would consider a few hundred dollars of revenue a year to be "gravy.") And an olive oil producer who doesn’t want to pay taxes. (Actually, Gettleman’s first capsule description of Somalia’s gangsters sounds exactly like Bush’s corporate cronies: "They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated, and they have skills that are not necessarily geared toward a peaceful society." So what’s not to like about these guys?)

But this would not be a classic NYT piece if its nakedly ideological framework was not subverted by the nuggets of fact buried deep beneath the sludge-like prose. And so it proves in this case. Although olive oil trader Ahmed first appears as a missile-toting gangster who just doesn’t want to pay taxes — one of the "many Somalis" whose "raw antigovernment defiance" compels them to "resist any program" or government — far, far down in the story we learn that he and his fellow traders had actually accepted the imposed new government at first, but were driven into opposition by the Bush-backed warlords’ own greed:

For many Abgal [tribal members], an influential subclan of the Hawiye, the last straw came in mid-March when the government raised port taxes by 300 percent. Mr. Ahmed, the olive oil exporter and an Abgal, said that after that, there was a mass Abgal defection to the insurgency. "The government is trying to destroy business as we know it," he said.

The new "government" is led by clan leaders and warlords whose power and profits had been curtailed by the Islamic Courts government that took power in Somalia last year and brought the nation its first measure of peace and relative security in 15 years. So when they sought to recoup their losses with draconian tax hikes, many Somalis went into rebellion, including the "gangster" Ahmed. This is presented as some kind of wild, anarchic, even terroristic action. But what would good ole God-fearin’ American businessmen do if Washington suddenly raised their taxes by 300 percent?

And Gettleman’s own portrayal of the deposed Islamic Courts system gives the lie to his earlier depiction of Somalis’ inborn anarchy and gangsterism:

Many in the business community became fed up with paying protection fees to the warlords and their countless middle-men. Business leaders then backed a grass-roots Islamist movement that drove the warlords out of Mogadishu last summer and brought peace to the city for the first time in 15 years. The Islamists seemed to be the perfect solution for the businessmen. They delivered stability, which was good for most business, but they did not confiscate property or levy heavy taxes. They called themselves an administration, not a government. “Our best days were under them,” said Abdi Ali Jama, who owns an electrical supply shop in Mogadishu.

So it seems that Somalis — even Somali businessmen — can be governed, as long as people are treated fairly. It seems that stability and peace can be achieved in Somalia — if it rises from the grass roots and is not imposed by foreign fighters shelling neighborhoods and American bombers attacking refugees. But you can only discern this by looking at Gettleman’s piece upside down, and discarding the heavy scaffolding of spin he has erected around it.

And now we come to the heart of darkness in Gettleman’s story. For it is not enough for him, and the "Western security officials" who are his sources, simply to lampoon Somalis as a bunch of shiftless, lazy, quarrelsome darkies in the traditional Establishment fashion. No, Gettleman goes beyond this to concoct a completely false account of how this new front in Bush’s "War on Terror" was launched. Here, he invokes the eternal cry of every aggressor from time out of mind: "They made us do it." It’s what Hitler said when he invaded Poland. It’s what Saddam said when he invaded Kuwait. It’s what Bush said when he invaded Iraq. And it’s obviously the Bushist party line now:

But then a radical wing took over, and the Islamists declared war on Ethiopia, which commands one of the mightiest armies in Africa. The Ethiopians, with covert American help, crushed the Islamist army in December and bolstered the authority of Somalia’s transitional government in the capital.

"The Islamists declared war on Ethiopia." This, of course, is a blatant and outright lie. (Although perhaps Gettleman, taking dictation from his "Western security officials" — and apparently unable to access, say, the BBC on his computer — doesn’t actually know the truth. In any case, he obviously can’t be bothered to find out.) The truth is that Ethiopia sent a 100-strong column of trucks and armored cars across the border into Somalia on July 20 of last year to bolster the Bush-backed warlords who were trying to overthrow the Islamist Courts government, which had taken over Mogadishu a month before. It was the day after this armed incursion into Somalian territory that the Islamist Courts declared a jihad "against Ethiopians in Somalia," not a "war against Ethiopia."

Let’s walk through that sequence of events once again: Ethiopia makes an armed incursion into Somalia. The Somalian government declares that the Ethiopian troops should be driven out of Somalia. (Yes, I know that if Mexico sent an armed column into Texas to join up with a Chinese-backed group trying to overthrow the government of the United States, George W. Bush would react with Zen-like calm and seek a peaceful solution through diplomacy, negotiation and compromise, and that’s what the Islamic Courts guys should have done in this case. But you can’t expect such heathenish savages to respond with the enlightenment and good will that has always marked conflict resolution among the Christian nations of the West.)

Somehow from this sequence Gettleman manages to convey to readers exactly what the Bush Administration wants them to think: the Muslim terrorists started it, and now they’re getting what’s coming to them. And if you see any pictures on CNN or somewhere of innocent people being killed in the crossfire, well, that’s just because a bunch of greedy gangsters and al Qaeders are causing trouble.

And this is the "news" about Somalia that the New York Times believes is "fit to print": lies and spin about yet another war of aggression being fought at America’s behest, with American money, troops, arms and bombs.