The fog of war does not occur by itself. It must be manufactured. As the Trump administration prepares to join Israel in a military confrontation with Iran, liberal US media outlets have already launched their own war of representations, images and stories. These are the basic components of a fog storm that may soon settle over us.
Despite the liberal media's widespread dissatisfaction with Trump's style and policies, despite its consensus that Trump is both dangerous and incompetent, it now appears enthusiastic about the possibility of an attack on Iran. Can elite public opinion be swayed toward war with Iran and its allies? The answer is not obvious. Liberals reject Trump, of course, but they trust his generals and have applauded all his previous military actions. Many liberals are fatigued by war, but remain faithful to the gospel of global American mission. The liberal zeal for intervention will remain boundless as long as it is plausibly humanitarian in nature.
As Americans wrestle with the logic of supporting a war started by Trump and Netanyahu, it will be important to observe the role played by the liberal media. If past history is any indication, we can expect their coverage to follow these storylines:
- Iran is the aggressor in this war.
- Israel wants peace. Its neighbors want war.
- Iran (not a nuclear power) poses an existential threat to Israel (a nuclear power).
- Israel's interests are American interests.
- Israeli and US engagements are always defensive and responsive in nature.
- Iran's bid for regional dominance is unacceptable. (In contrast, power moves made by US allies — Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE — are reasonable and legitimate.)
- The situation in Syria has gotten to the point where the US must intervene militarily. (This is valid even though the US has already been playing an active military role in Syria for many years.)
- US and Israeli forces are motivated by humanitarian concern. (Their opponents are motivated by various forms of barbarism, neglect and cruelty.)
- Iran, the Assad regime, and Hizbollah can not be negotiated with.
It is likely that the liberal media will present these axioms as self-evident, whether or not they are actually true.
Consider, for example, this explainy piece from Vox.
This was published on May 8 in the wake of a series of deadly Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. Yet the headline suggests that the "threat" is not Israel, but rather the targets the Israelis had just pummeled. The story continues, by shifting the focus to the threat now posed to the Golan Heights -- and there, in the midst of this, the truth of Israel's aggression is buried:
"Before Trump’s Iran deal announcement, news broke that Israel had moved to safeguard the Golan Heights — the territory between northeastern Israel and southwestern Syria — to defend against a possible Iranian attack. (Iran has proxies and troops in Syria to help Bashar al-Assad’s regime stay in power, which puts them uncomfortably close to Israel.) Israel even opened up bomb shelters in the area to keep citizens safe. Tensions are elevated because Israel and Iran are in the middle of fighting a shadow war in Syria. Israeli jets continually bomb Iranian military locations in Syria and have even killed Iranian troops."
Israeli aggression appears, but only when buried beneath a pile of threat claims. But there is more: the author forgets to mention that, by international law, the Golan Heights are not part of Israel. They are Syrian territories occupied by Israel. Likewise, the author fails to note that many (most?) of the "citizens" of Golan are not Jewish Israelis, but Syrian Arabs whose lands were seized by Jewish settlers. One wonders whether non-Jewish residents of Golan had the same access to bomb shelters as Jewish Israelis? Previous moments in Israeli history would suggest that they likely did not. And what about these Jewish settlers? Given the paramilitary, frontier character of their lives, it does not make complete sense to think of them as civilians at all.
In other words, this story has completely reversed the moral polarity of the situation in Syria: Israel is not defending Israeli land, but Jewish paramilitary settlers squatting on Syrian lands seized through an earlier cycle of Israeli military expansion. And in any case, Israel is not defending against anything at all, unless we redefine the term "defense" to mean routine bombing sorties across international borders.
Similarly, today's reporting from the New York Times depicts Israeli attacks as responses and introduces us to the foggy term "shadow war."
"Shadow war" is a very odd way of referring to Israel's unilateral bombing campaign in Syria, which has gone on for years now and which until recently had not provoked a response on the part of Syrian or Iranian units. The language here strains to depict unprovoked and unanswered Israeli aggressions as a "to-and-fro" between rivals. It fails to mention that one of these rivals is a nuclear power.
And what about that Iranian missile attack? Here's what the same author had to say the day before:
While the headlines and first paragraphs suggest that the Iranian missile attack was unprovoked. Much later we learn that there actually is a context for the Iranian attack:
"The rocket attack early Thursday appeared to come in response to Israeli strikes on positions in southern Syria on Wednesday.... Israel had been bracing for a retaliatory attack from Syrian territory after a number of deadly strikes against Iranian targets there. But analysts said the Iranians had been restrained from striking back while awaiting President Trump’s decision on whether to withdraw the United States from the nuclear agreement with Iran."
Again, the point is that liberal media outlets are gravely misleading their readers by way of faulty headlines and reporting that buries the actual dynamics of the situation. Without this, the upcoming war might be seen for what it is: a brazen act of aggression driven by interests and sociopathic will to power.
When the US invaded Iraq fifteen years ago, it did not do so accidentally -- we were led there: first and foremost by the neocons who wanted war at any cost; and secondly, by a liberal media that was all too willing to create the fog that made the war possible. There are salient differences between now and then. In 2003, one could plausibly make the argument that US war policy was not driven by Islamophobia and the most toxic forms of Zionism. Not so this time. By this stage in 2003, we had gone out in the millions to protest. We haven't even begun to do so yet.
The fog bank is rolling in again this week, bringing with it mass human suffering.
Do not think of it is a natural event. It is entirely man-made. It's what happens when a blast of neocon will-to-power hits the hot, moist air of liberal humanitarianism.
And do not think that this fog emanates from distant places "over there" in Syria. This fog is an entirely local meteorological phenomenon, designed to prevent only Americans from seeing things for what they are. It will not impact weather or vision in other parts of the globe.