The Hypocrisy of the West Part Three: The Big Lies

In which we address our own propaganda machine

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.

In Part One I attempted to establish that despite the fact that Putin is a dictator, the West (Europe especially) was happy to rely on Russia for its energy needs, while keeping him at arm’s length, thus funding his regime and ambitions. We turned him into an enemy while paying for his weapon research and development. The bottom line is that fossil fuels purchased by the West largely paid for Putin’s atrocious and illegal war. Not only that, but European companies have been circumventing sanctions to sell arms to Russia for years. And, yes, that was after Russia annexed Crimea. That’s just part of the reason why our supposed moral high ground is not that high.

Wait, you mean that the West is supporting undemocratic regimes? Yes, it does. Have you heard of a country called Saudi Arabia? Its long history of human rights violations? Is the name Jamal Khashoggi familiar? How about Yemen? It has been called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis by the United Nations, and getting worse. And yet, you wouldn’t know it by watching our media. It’s virtually non-existent. It’s just something that we, in most European countries, have in the back of our minds, but are not really thinking about. Why is that?

Because of the deafening media silence.

It’s not just cultural, geographical and racial proximity which makes the war in Ukraine loom larger in our screens, although these are all important factors, and not to be ignored. After all, we’ve been conditioned to think that wars in Africa and the Middle East are commonplace, expected, almost normal. But in Europe? These are people like us! We could be next! Obviously, it’s the sort of thing which drives up ratings and is thus a goldmine for any news outlet.

But it’s also a political choice. The less we see about Yemen, the less questions we ask. The less questions we ask, the less uncomfortable our leaders get. Because they won’t have to explain why one autocrat invading a neighbouring nation is good (or, at least, tolerable) and why another one’s invasion is bad. Or, even worse, why our “own” invasions are not invasions, but a fight for democracy.

You see, the story goes that when NATO forces and/or the US invades anywhere, there is a good reason for it. Usually, it’s to end the tyranny of a dictator — doubtlessly a noble cause. However, in practice it has been proven that these interventions/invasions/occupations rarely end well. Case in point: Afghanistan or Iraq. Where there weren’t even good reasons to invade. The claim on the existence of WMDs was as fabricated as the claims of Putin regarding genocide in the Donbas region — even more so, to be precise. At least in Donbas there were ongoing hostilities between Ukrainian forces and separatists for the past eight years. More than 14,000 people were killed. There were absolutely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And, wouldn’t you know it when there were, back in the ‘80s, they were supplied by West Germany!

This is not any attempt at “whataboutism”. This is not about the past. People are actually, silently dying right now, while all cameras are turned on Ukraine. But one has to ask at this point: we make a lot of fuss about Putin’s authoritarianism and the West’s staunch defense of democratic values. If there is any justice in this world, Putin should go on trial for the alleged war crimes committed under his orders. But when will the architects of the invasions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and countless other interventions be tried? When will the ongoing humanitarian tragedy of Yemen be addressed?

I will help you with that. Never.

Yes, unlike Russia or any authoritarian regime, the West does eventually admit its mistakes. But that happens long after the fact. Long after millions of people have been displaced, crippled for life, killed, or have lost their families. Long after entire countries, such as Afghanistan have been bombed back to the Dark Ages, with little hope of recovery. And, more importantly, no one ever really takes the fall for any of it.

Donald Rumsfeld died at the ripe old age of 88, at his home, surrounded by his family. The chief architect of the United States’ two most recent failed wars, (which produced two failed states, killed an untold number of people, saw trillions of dollars wasted, which could have actually made the lives of US citizens better, and gave birth to ISIS, causing even more death and suffering), died peacefully at home. He green-lit the torture of POWs in Iraq and Guantanamo. There were no trials, no accountability, and in his case, not even a half-baked apology.

Other countries commit war crimes and atrocities. The US (and our democratic countries who support it) only make mistakes. Because we’re good people. Civilized. Democratic. We can’t possibly be evil, like those terrorists and the dictators who support them. Can we? The people who orchestrated these wars were democratically elected, after all.

But were their voters actually well informed? Were they ever asked to decide on a war with the benefit of all the relevant facts, or were they just bombarded with propaganda day and night about that evil (insert autocrat here), while all the other equally evil autocrats who benefited their governments enjoyed anonymity and protection?

We always talk about Russian propaganda, which obviously exists, but most of us rarely, if ever, address our own. Anyone old enough to remember the first Iraq war must also remember the infamous black cormorant images on CNN, supposedly in the Persian Gulf, which were proven to be footage taken from a completely unrelated ecological disaster at another time and place. I was a teenager at the time, but I vividly remember deciding then and there that I could never unquestioningly trust the media again. This wasn’t a “mistake”. It was a blatant, manufactured lie with the clear purpose of influencing public opinion in favour of the war. And it wasn’t a fluke. Our media lies all the time. And when not outright lying, they’re doing something even more insidious: focusing only on the parts of the truth which suit the current narrative.

Because the best propaganda works like this: not with outright lies, but by focusing on trivial details and leaving out what really matters.

Let me take a recent example: the Austrian Chancellor visited Moscow, supposedly in an effort to push Putin into accepting negotiations. Karl Nehammer made a point of stressing that it was not a “visit of friendship”, that the discussion was “open and hard” and that he stressed that any war crimes would be investigated. The first EU leader to meet with Putin since the war began was left with “no positive impression”. One wonders what exactly Mr. Nehammer hoped to achieve.

What almost no one other than Reuters reported was that the Austrian Chancellor gained the assurance of Vladimir Putin that there is a way for Austria to continue paying in euros for its natural gas, by using a workaround with Gazprombank. The report came from the Austrian news agency APA, which, of course, almost every western medium chose to ignore.

We got blaring headlines about how intractable Putin seemed to Nehammer, but nothing on the actual reason for his visit. See? Putin is a warmonger. We’re still buying his natural gas, though, thank goodness. But let’s not dwell on that too much. Or at all.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels with Saudi Arabia here. Despite its flagrant disregard for human rights and free speech, it was voted in the UN Human Rights Council and remained for a full four years after the war in Yemen began. Hospitals and schools were bombed, women and children were killed, but Saudi Arabia enjoyed the acceptance and tolerance of its democratic business partners.

An abundance of fossil fuels can wash away any crime.

The media will not focus on that, though. They will pick and choose the hated villain of the day and keep silent on those villains who are close to our interests. Or even part of our governments.

They will paint Putin as a madman, an unstable megalomaniac who is poised to conquer Europe. At the same time, they advertise the terrible performance of the Russian army. The propaganda is so rampant that there isn’t even a cohesive message to it. Is actually Russia a danger to Europe or is its army totally inadequate to face NATO after all? Both things can’t apply at the same time. Even more telling is the fact that the danger of nuclear war is systematically being downplayed by the media. The one, actual, verifiable danger to the world is being sidelined. Small wonder, then, that people call for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine. They don’t understand what it means, and the media are not doing their job in explaining it to them, as clearly and loudly as they’re trumpeting Putin’s supposed madness. One has to truly wonder about our collective sanity. Putin’s and ours both.

But let’s suppose that Putin is indeed mad or, at least criminally reckless enough to risk nuclear war for a country he can’t really occupy. Let’s suppose that he’s lying and this war has nothing to do with NATO’s eastward expansion.

Was Boris Yeltsin, a favourite of the West and friend to Bill Clinton, a warmonger? In 1994, when Ukraine agreed, perhaps unwisely, to give up its nuclear arsenal, Yeltsin accused NATO of trying to exclude and isolate Russia and warned of a “cold peace” if this continued. Was Mikhail Gorbachev mad too? Here’s what he said in 1997 on the matter of NATO expansion . “I believe it’s a bad mistake. […] You may not humiliate a nation, a people, and think that it’ll have no consequences. So my question is: is this a new strategy?”

Putin, back in 2000, was open to the prospect of joining NATO, even a few months after swallowing the then-latest wave of its expansion (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic). It would have been possible to ensure a lasting peace for Europe at the time, but the historic chance was lost. All that is not consistent with the current narrative of Putin-as-Hitler, however, and is thus ignored.

The current grandstanding by Putin about the historic connection of Russians and Ukrainians, the need for denazification of Ukraine, and so on are used by western media to justify the narrative of Putin’s insanity. How different is all of that, really, from the rhetoric of the so-called “Axis of Evil” by President George W. Bush back in 2002? When a country is gearing up for war, just or unjust, its leadership will always spin a fitting narrative to justify its cause. The media will always follow, even in democratic countries, even when they know that they’re distorting the truth. Or not speaking about it at all.

Well, here’s the truth for a change, at least as I understand it: ALL wars are bad. All wars have to end. It is especially important to defuse the situation in Ukraine as fast as possible, since, apart from the human cost, it carries the very real danger of nuclear escalation. However, the war in Yemen, and its own terrible humanitarian cost, are not to be ignored. Yes, there are Houthi rebels in Yemen and Nazis in Ukraine. Is it necessary to destroy these countries to eradicate a small group of dangerous people? As it has been well established by now, regime change or “democratization” by force of arms is a recipe for disaster. Especially when the country attempting it is not exactly a beacon of democracy, such as Russia or Saudi Arabia.

And one has to seriously question whether even the US fits that description in its current state.

And if these wars are really just about resources, as are those that will follow, fanned by the rapidly evolving climate crisis, we have to stop and consider what the costs of these power games will be for the future of the entire human race. We have to stop before the desperate grasp for every last resource left on the planet actually hastens our decline, instead of slowing it.

These problems don’t have easy solutions and, even worse, will make people think.

And that’s the one thing that the people in power and the media that spew their propaganda don’t want us to do.

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Nikos Papakonstantinou

Nikos Papakonstantinou

It’s time to ponder the reality of our situation and the situation of our reality.