Fareed Frames the Story

GPS relocates the foreign policy narrative

If you walk through Times Square and try to locate yourself on your mobile GPS, you’ll find it often places you several blocks from where you are. One assumes the massive electricity being pumped through the grid sends GPS technology haywire. Tourists veer to and fro, led astray by their mobile masters. But you don’t need to come to New York to experience a dysfunctional GPS. Just tune in the Fareed Zakaria’s show GPS every Sunday at 10 a.m. on CNN. But prepare for a nauseating ride. Even as Fareed breaks the mould of his grimace of humanitarian concern, smiling broadly to welcome whatever war criminal he has invited on the show, you’ll find yourself retching from the vertiginous worldviews on offer.

Of course, we know that GPS, in Zakaria’s Orwellian universe, stands for Global Public Square, a risible construct since his guests represent a revolving door of corporate media flacks, senile military generals, and former administration thugs now promoting wars for various elite finance, defense, or energy concerns. This is the likely cause of your nausea. Zakaria’s roster of guests better reflects a guest list at a Bilderberg dinner than the messy give-and-take of an actual public debate. Especially since only one perspective of the issues are entertained: the imperial capitalist point-of-view. Naturally, within this ideological straight jacket, there are a multitude of demented views, which are bantered about with all the vim and vigor of actual disagreement. You might actually find yourself believing you are witnessing democracy in action. Instead, your head is being filled with fanciful platitudes designed to instill a) fear of the other, b) contempt for government, and c) a willingness to tolerate international aggression. These counterintuitive precepts must be continually reinforced by flag-wavers such as Zakaria, who doubles as an imperial scribe for The Washington Post.

The Imperial View

On his latest show, Zakaria talks to former Secretary of State James Baker about Russia, and then offers commentary of his own about the Middle East. Two things to note here. The first is that Zakaria frames the discussion with Baker squarely within the ideological cage of imperial capitalism. Here’s how he articulates his Russia question for Baker:

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Russia. Russian foreign policy over the last five or six years has seemed to be very much directed at in some way or the other pressuring the western established order, sowing divisions within European union, sowing divisions with NATO…There’s the annexation of Crimea. What they did to Ukraine, Georgia. What do you think the American strategy in response to this should be? Because there are a lot of republicans who feel we need an even tougher response than the fairly tough one that Obama has but the President-elect again seems to have a different view.

Baker’s reply isn’t the focus here, but suffice it to say that he ignores the economic looting that occurred after the Berlin Wall fell and pretends that the coordination between Washington and Moscow during this period was a good thing. He then remarks, with a condescending air, that Russia’s behavior is “not acceptable” and perhaps can be dealt with using “carrots and sticks.”

Rather than Baker’s predictable reply, notice how Zakaria frames Russia as the aggressor from the outset — one that must be ruefully challenged by a reluctant United States. This is the conventional schema of the U.S. foreign policy narrative: America is a noble nation among a vast array of distempered countries and actors, and hence must constantly intervene, using sanctions, war, subversion and bribery (“carrots and sticks”) to discipline nations that fail to understand the “new world order,” laid out by George H.W. Bush, and defined as U.S. global hegemony.

Foundation of a Falsehood

Inside the warm embrace of this construct, interviewers and interviewees can be completely rational — given one accepts the opening premise. This is the great tool of propaganda: begin from a false premise and build a mountain of misinformation on top of it. Everything that follows from a false premise is fundamentally flawed. Aristotle’s simple syllogisms make the point:

Major premise: All men are mortal

Minor premise: Socrates is a man

Conclusion: Socrates is mortal

The syllogism works perfectly provided your premises are correct. But what if your major premise above was that all men are immortal? Then you find yourself concluding that Socrates is immortal. A false first premise poisons the whole syllogism.

This is what Zakaria and all good servants of the corporate-state do. They begin with a false assumption. This is fatal. Justice Robert Jackson, who presided over the Nuremburg Trials, said that wars of aggression were the “supreme international crime” since they contained within them all the consequent evil. In other words, crimes of aggression are the point of provenance for all the crimes that they beget. One could say the same of Zakaria’s framing: it is the underpinning of all the argumentation that follows. It is the lie smuggled into the debate before the debate begins, and which gives the lie to the conclusions the debate offers.

Writ large, this is the same dynamic at work when progressives say that we have only one party, the business party, that has a left and right wing. This is to say that both Democrats and Republicans are committed to the corporate imperialism designed to the enrich finance, energy, and defense industries at the expense of the public interest. Within that construct, it is quite natural for the parties to disagree on tactics. But it is the common premise that poisons the policies that follow.

The Elephant in the Room

Just as Zakaria builds foreign policy debate on the false belief in Russian aggression and American passivity, he shapes perception of the Middle East by removing U.S. involvement. Both tactics start from the basic premise of U.S. innocence. And so, after dismissing the jowly sage of the Bush administration, Zakaria settles in for a measured lament on the Arab world. He opens with an interesting statistic:

Even though the Arab region is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it was responsible for 45 percent of global terrorist attacks in 2014….

Here are some excerpts from the rest of his commentary:

Historically, the report says, nearly 20 percent of the world’s conflicts since 1948 have come from the Arab world but in 2014 it was responsible for almost 70 percent of the world’s battle related deaths. These human development reports all authored by Arabs began to be an issue after 9/11 when they realized that the problem in Arab worlds were spilling out about affecting the entire world. Sadly, many of the problems they pointed to in the first report remain. For example, women’s inclusion in the Arab region’s labor force is at an all-time low.

What happens in the Arab world does not stay there. Just look at the unintended effects of the war in Syria. The refugees entering Europe from that conflict, had been one of the main sparks for nationalist movements that are now sweeping across the United Kingdom, France, Italy and more.

Arab governments need to make improvement in education, healthcare, liberalize the economy, ushering greater tolerance for freedom of expression, equality for all and anti-discrimination. All this will take decades and honestly with the exception of oasis of progress like the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, the trends are not moving forward. And until they do, expect more turmoil from this region.

Note here how the United States is not even mentioned, and is certainly not a key source of instability in the Arab world. Many would argue that it is the primary source of instability there, based largely on its insatiable quest for energy resources. What’s missing are the 14 countries the U.S. has invaded, occupied, or bombed since 1980, including “Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria (2014).” What’s missing are the 23,000 bombs dropped on Muslims in 2015. What’s missing are the 26,000 bombs dropped on Muslim nations in 2016.

This leaves out entirely the CIA subversion in the region, most recently supporting jihadists to destabilize Syria, among many other Washington-bequeathed instability, including brutal sanctions against Iraq and Iran, and the delivery of billions of dollars in lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel. This leaves out America’s rabid demonization of Iran’s civilian nuclear program and, of course, Washington’s track record as a dishonest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Hallmarks of a Heretic

Canada’s The Globe and Mail praise Zakaria for his work. It said of him in 2014, “There is a market for intelligent discussion on television.” And indeed there is, and Zakaria fills it. He is eloquent and thorough in his writing, interviews, and commentary. Some of his work is perfectly accurate and sensible, such as his writing on the role of immigration in populist uprisings, or his desire for Donald Trump to acknowledge the scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change. But this is natural: truths can — and must be told — within the prevailing orthodoxy of imperial capitalism. Largely, the truth-telling does not openly contradict the core ideological pillars. For instance, if capitalism is at the heart of climate change, Zakaria does not need to say so to acknowledge and argue that we must address climate change. He could even acknowledge capitalism’s role, but could not argue that capitalism must be replaced if we are to deal significantly with environmental challenges. Likewise, as before, he highlights instability in the Middle East — perfectly reasonable. But he fails to acknowledge Washington’s destructive role — perfectly craven.

Something else should be said: Zakaria is also modest, soft-spoken, and possessed of a grimace that hints at perpetual anxiety. This is no mistake. It is part of why he is on CNN. He provides a nice contrast to the bombast of Bill O’Reilly and other polarizing pundits. CNN hopes this contrast will convince media fence-sitters that it delivers a fairer and more measured treatment of political topics. Where many neoliberals on social media and in the MSM relentlessly pepper their commentary with the fearsome adjectives, “horrifying” and “terrifying,” Zakaria, like writers at The New York Times and other neoliberal publications, opt for softer terms like, “worrying” and “troubling.” It is Zakaria’s role to maintain the appearance of an even temperament. An even-keeled demeanor is almost universally confused with an even-handed critique. A mild-mannered temperament is almost universally mistaken for level-headed judgment. This is the trick of neoliberal media: it lulls you into complicity with its quietude. It may be that a “soft answer turneth away wrath”, but gentle speech can easily mask a warlike policy.

This was also the triumph of Barack Obama: he was a calming influence on an angry citizenry sick of injustice. His intelligence, rhetorical restraint, and smart appearance helped defuse the anger wrought by unjust Democratic and Republican policies.

Likewise, Zakaria partakes in another feature of the liberal facade: he imparts to all Westerners inherently noble intentions. The Democrats and Republicans are both thought to be servants of the public interest, however imperfect. When their policies harm, they are merely mistakes, lapses in judgment, and failures of resolve. Never are they deliberate political choices. Those who continue to peddle the conceit that the duopoly serves the people is perpetuating the first falsehood of the elite — that they mean well. Yet the one percent only means well for its own, not for the 99 percent. Any media that traffics in this philosophical ruse is interested in securing the status quo, not overthrowing it.

A Trusted Servant

Fareed Zakaria behaves like this because he works for corporate state media. Non-corporate state media is called ‘alternative media.’ Naturally, Zakaria has internalized all the necessary arguments so that he genuinely believes he is a flag bearer for peace, democracy, and Western enlightenment. Just as banging on about U.S. backing for terrorists or the capitalist-created environmental apocalypse doesn’t play in corporate-state media, neither does not believing your own commentary. Better to swallow your own lies. (See Robert Trivers on selection pressure for self-delusion.)

Since Zakaria has fully internalized the diktats of the corporate interests he serves, he has been amply rewarded. He is a New York Times bestselling author, a host of CNN’s “flagship foreign affairs program,” and a celebrated columnist for The Washington Post. These are the perks of service to power. By contrast, what are the perks of a revolutionary? German sociologist Max Horkheimer said, “A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.” The banquets and titles that adorn Fareed’s curriculum vitae tell you what he is. And if journalism is about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, Zakaria has got it backwards. Getting cozy with elites may deliver creature comforts, but at the price of ideological bankruptcy.

Thanks in part to Zakaria’s obvious prejudice, flogged under a flimsy veil of judicious journalism, CNN ranks among the least trusted mainstream news outlet. Rightly so. These closet imperialists ought to be outed once and for all, and our GPS ought to locate these charlatans right where they are–at the foot of corrupt power.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com. Read other articles by Jason.