In an article published by Al Jazeera with the title, “What is behind the hype about the new Iran-China partnership?” Pakistan-based journalist Tom Hussain weighs in on how media in the US have become dedicated to magnifying real events not to further our understanding of them, but to create a climate of conflict, if not war in the Middle East.
Hussain cites two stories that US media have been running with in recent weeks to generate emotional heat while depriving them of the light of intelligible analysis. The first is the strategic partnership agreement between Iran and China. The second is the normalization of diplomatic and trade relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Tekashi 6ix9ine and the American Way
Hussain notes that both stories have been interpreted in the US as “escalations in the geopolitical conflict between the US and Iran.” Seeking some needed perspective, he points out that “the first development was a media creation. The New York Times (NYT) ran a front-page story citing a ‘leaked’ draft of the 25-year strategic partnership agreement under negotiation between China and Iran since 2016.” The Times story summed up its case in its misleading headline: “Defying U.S., China and Iran Near Trade and Military Partnership.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
1) Fabricated melodrama masquerading as news provided by respectable media outlets to prove that they can be just as disrespectful of the truth as social media
2) The state of hyperreality induced by society’s obsessive addiction to professional media and the entertainment industry, effectively canceling the public’s relationship with reality
The methodology of media creation has achieved something close to perfection in the Donald Trump era. It reflects a complex team effort shared by an infinitely creative political superstructure and the complicit media.
Before Trump, this novel dynamic that now regulates the news cycle had never existed in the political world. Trump didn’t invent “alternate facts,” even though a member of his team made the term a permanent item of US political vocabulary. Politicians have always lied and exaggerated, but it was always about specific issues. With Trump, it has now become a way of life. Without hyperreality, the news would be too boring to pay attention to. The public now expects it. For their profitability, the media now depend on it.
Building the hyperreal system required two critical components. At its core is a democratically elected clown show whose members are skilled at turning every utterance into a deliberate distortion and often inversion of reality. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have perfected that role. For a while, they were accompanied by John Bolton, the former national security adviser. But when that began to look too much like the Three Stooges, the production team pared it back to make it look more like Abbot and Costello.
One member of the show’s technical crew, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, has compared the Trump administration’s show to Alice in Wonderland. Once the hyperreal wonderland sets were in place, the media could play their role of amplifying every absurdity in the actors’ actions and discourse and presenting it as the essential news of the day. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and many others then had an open field for manufacturing scoops designed to reveal how artificial and distorted the starring team had become.
In the example Hussain examines, the lead player was Pompeo, a man whose commitment to hyperreality includes a personal belief in a marvelous work of American evangelical fiction that claims to be inspired by the Bible: “the rapture.” Hussain recounts that when interviewed by Fox News in early August, “Pompeo claimed that the prospective China-Iran deal would put Communist cash in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s hands.” Hussain then mentions Pompeo’s warnings: “China’s entry into Iran will destabilize the Middle East. It’ll put Israel at risk. It’ll put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at risk as well.”
No patriotic American is allowed to doubt that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the good guys on the world stage. It doesn’t matter that any of these good guys may from time to time slaughter civilian populations (in Gaza or Yemen), seize land that is not theirs in violation of UN resolutions, ambush, assassinate and dismember the occasional dissident journalist or blockade an allied nation (Qatar) that doesn’t toe their line. Washington long ago elected those three nations to the good guys club. If any of the three detects or even invents a threat from elsewhere, the US will be by their side.
In the interview with Fox News, Pompeo amplified his warning: “Iran remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and to have access to weapons systems and commerce and money flowing from the Chinese Communist Party only compounds that risk for that region.” It doesn’t matter how much truth or falsehood there may be in Pompeo’s claim. What matters is that the evil force he has identified combines the two permanent objects of US paranoia in a single historical event: terrorism and communism.
Breaking free from the envelope of hyperreality his reporting has focused on, Hussain offers this extraordinary moment of sincerity so rare in today’s media: “At the risk of spotlighting my own inadequacies as a journalist, I [cannot] help wondering why editors and writers seem so willing to fan the flames of war.”
To answer his own question, he might have simply reviewed the past 75 years of US history to realize that the Cold War has always been a Hollywood production, courtesy of the military-industrial complex and its pervasive economic logic. But unlike Hollywood action films, US foreign policy as modeled by the media has real world consequences. Hussain makes this clear: “The long-suffering peoples of the Middle East could do without journalists once again playing cheerleader for American politicians who perpetuate their domestic power by igniting conflict in others’ backyards.”
Russiagate is one obvious manifestation of the hyperreal campaign. It’s the one chosen by the Democrats. Pompeo and the Republicans prefer demonizing China. The New Yorker has just published an article debunking in glorious detail the entire Russiagate ideology so assiduously pursued by the most respectable media in the US, starting with The New York Times. But the principle goes beyond Russia and President Vladimir Putin. “Foreign interference is now a trope in American politics, at risk of becoming as cheap and meaningless as the term ‘fake news’ became once it was co-opted by Trump,” The New Yorker reports.
Future historians centuries from today will wonder why the US empire of the late 20th and early 21st centuries required the non-stop fabrication of an imaginary all-powerful enemy to maintain its identity as an empire. The Roman Empire did quite well for centuries without requiring a cold war ideology. Neither did the British Empire, Genghis Khan or the ancient Persian Empire. Once they had the military might to move and conquer, they focused on the supposed pragmatic rationality of their ability to control and exploit resources to occupy an ever-expanding geographical zone of influence.
Analyzing the US empire from the perspective of Pakistan, Tom Hussain reminds those Americans who happen to read his column of this simple truth: “There is no grand alliance or ‘evil axis’ – just tentative diplomacy and proxy warfare amid shifts in the balance of power in the Middle East, necessitated in part by the withdrawal of US combat forces from the region, as well as the seepage of power to Beijing from Washington.”
Only a small minority of Americans today are willing to accept the idea of “shifts in the balance of power,” knowing that the “greatest nation in the history of the world” has monopolistically exercised power over the globe for decades. Nor are they about to countenance the idea of “seepage of power” because that would call into question America’s divine mission to spread its enlightened but fundamentally elitist democratic-capitalist ideology across the globe.
In the age of Trump, it appears useless to point out that enlightened leaders — and even benevolent despots — have throughout history consistently recognized and dealt with the historical reality of shifts in the balance of power. Power is never absolute and never stable, but when it does approach becoming absolute — as happens, at least in people’s minds, when hyperreality takes over — Lord Acton’s wisdom dating from 1887 ends up prevailing: it “corrupts absolutely.”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.