Change, Sometimes: Why Bush-era Policies for the Middle East Continued under Barack Obama

Change (Terms and Conditions May Apply)

George W. Bush is not a man who will be remembered fondly by history. The 43rd President of The United States is widely considered to be an instigator of conflict, both by his own people and the international community. He embarked the US on a crusade against terrorism, following the events of 9/11—when the terrorist organization al-Qaeda managed to hijack three airliners, crashing two of them into the US’ World Trade Center thus utterly destroying its two towers, with the third smashing into the west side of the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon (CNN, 2016).

In retaliation to the attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda, the Bush administration set in motion plans to crush terrorists found in all corners of the Earth. Beginning in October 7th of 2001, the US led a “coalition of the willing to” to combat terror cells with the moniker of Operation Enduring Freedom, or as it is widely known by the public, the Global War on Terror (Schmitt & Shanker, 2005). To this day—2017—the anti-terror enterprise continues, despite the dismay shown by US citizens and leaders of states worldwide (Monbiot, 2003).

The American public protested against Bush’s campaign against terrorism (Sullivan et al, 2005). Though at first they were on board with the plan, due to a thirst for vengeance caused by 9/11, the people grew tired of a military crusade which has no end in sight. Americans rightly objected against the wasting of US soldiers’ lives, the ever-increasing budget of the military, violations of Human Rights, along with countless other issues. Hence Americans began looking for a new leader, one who could perhaps bring an end to the boundless cycle of violence their nation was pulled into. Ergo the rise of former US Senator, Barack Obama.

Obama promised a number of things throughout his presidential campaign. One which struck international headlines was a vow to decrease, or at the very least alter, the US’ involvement in the Global War on Terror. One of the first things he would do, was withdraws US troops from the Middle East as quickly as possible, until none or only a minimal number would remain. Furthermore, he emphasized that he would use diplomacy, not force in order to combat terrorism—putting an end to the Bush’s continuous violations of sovereignty for to states “suspected of harboring terrorists.” Lastly, Obama assured the Arab World that the US would no longer commit humanitarian crimes, cause unceasing deaths their people, nor demolish their infrastructure (Soffen, 2017). Obama gave hope to Americans and the peoples of the Middle East of a more peaceful era, yet unfortunately it is but a pipe dream.

The seemingly virtuous president did fulfill some of his promises. The withdrawal of troops for instance, was completed by 2011 (Landler, 2011). He was also willing to negotiate with leaders of the Arab World, publicly supporting the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—where the two nations would have respective areas of sovereignty—and supporting the Iran Nuclear Deal—permitting Iran to harness nuclear energy, so long as it uses atomic power solely for deterrence and an energy source (BBC, 2016). On top of that, Obama utilized the US army mainly when Middle East nations are requesting international aid.

But is Obama as virtuous as he seemed to be? To anyone who has devoted time to studying international politics, it would not be a surprise to find the former president to be as ruthless as any of his predecessors. While Obama indeed withdrew US forces, the move did not mean the US would no longer intervene with the affairs of the Middle East.

Rather, it meant the conventional soldiers would simply be replaced by Private Military Contractors (Scahill, 2007)—essentially mercenaries—and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Scahill et al, 2016)—drones as they are commonly known, capable of constant surveillance and launching missiles at a moment’s notice without posing any risk to US military personnel. Consequently, the Bush-era War on Terror continued unabated. As what Obama did was essentially maintain the policies of his predecessor, but through a different shape.

Yet a question rose from Obama’s policies: Why? Why did Obama sustain policies that were abhorred by the peoples of the world, although having the chance to initiate a revolution regarding the US’ approach to the Middle East? Answering this question will be the primary focus of this essay, as it is a conundrum that demands further investigation. Since whatever the answer might be, its implication might be that the US’ conduct could never be altered by its leadership, thus making the concept of democracy seem like nothing but a cruel joke.

Grounded in Reality

It would likely be most suitable to solve the Obama foreign policy conundrum by using the theory of neorealism. Established by Kenneth Neal Waltz, Neorealism posits the notion that the behavior of states are dictated primarily by an anarchic nature of the international system; a world where there are no rules and regulations, where no actor is capable of enforcing others to abide by its bidding, basically a realm where one could do whatsoever they so wish so long as they have the power to do so (Waltz, 1979).

Neorealism’s relevance to the case of the United States of America’s aggression towards the Middle East comes chiefly from the fact that under neorealist lens, no actor is considered to be more significant than the state. That is to say, non-governmental entities have next to no effect on the behavior of nations. And as the US and Middle East countries are within the category of meaningful actors—as the interaction mainly involves the two parties—neorealist thought would be proper for the analyzing their interaction, and solving the mystery of why the Obama administration was willing to continue the unpopular Bush-era policies.

It must also be noted however, that the significant actors within the eyes of neorealism are states, not the men and women who lead them. Hence, neorealist conceptions would be of utmost use in assessing whether or not the US would maintain its behavior, no matter who the leader of the superpower might be.

To further support the ideas of neorealism, and determine whether or not the US truly is an actor that will not alter its approach, we must briefly mention the possible causes of why the US is willing to pour its resources into the Middle East. Oil is a popular candidate for accusing US interventionism in the Middle East, but the US itself is capable of producing enough fuel to support its own energy needs. Regional dominance is perhaps a more likely motive, as the US does have a robust alliance with Israel, which could allow the US to dominate the Middle East by proxy. Yet we must not ignore the probability that the US is in its very essence, an imperialist nation—as countless critics have repeatedly pointed out.

But we do not expect the reader to be convinced by our arguments from providing introductory and theoretical framework segments alone. For us to be able to accomplish this rather challenging goal, we would need to delve deeper into the policies formulated by both the Bush and Obama administrations, primarily for the purpose of unraveling why Obama and the US are consistently keen to meddle with Middle East businesses.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

 

As mentioned in the introductory section of the paper, George W. Bush began a particularly intriguing era for the United States of America; one where the US and its soldiers were sent to far-flung corners of the Earth in the name of a Global War on Terror. For the Bush administration, sending tens-of-thousands of American lives posed a significant challenge. Which takes the form of convincing the American public that it is essential to endanger their friends and families, in the name of justice and the safety for all Americans.

Hence numerous campaigns were launched under the banner of anti-terrorism. Bush made numerous speeches stating that terrorists are existential threats to America as a nation and to the ideology of democracy. He further expressed that nations who were unwilling to support the war on terror were “against us [America],” indirectly implying that Americans who were also unsupportive of the US’ battles as unpatriotic, ungrateful of the sacrifices done by US soldiers.

Despite the many efforts made by the Bush administration to advertise its War on Terror as a righteous movement, both Americans and the international community widely condemned the US’ actions. Protests repeatedly arose within the US, with anti-war groups forming on a regular basis, and academics the likes of Rachel Maddow, Christoper Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, and so on; declaring that the war is nothing but a waste of American and Middle Eastern lives with no end goal and a cover-up of actual US objectives (Chomsky, 2011)..

Bush’s critics were also right on another matter, that of how Bush utilizes force in the Middle East and towards suspected terrorists. On the home front, Bush violated numerous rights for both Americans and possible agents of terror residing in the US. In regards to US citizens, Bush granted sweeping powers to intelligence agencies to gather information on Americans by way of the Patriot Act—essentially a program designed with the aim of gathering information about everyday Americans allegedly involved with terrorism. To those detained by American forces, as suspected terrorists, torture and other breaches of basic inalienable rights were permitted in Guantanamo Bay. These humanitarian crimes were eventually publicized, throwing further fuel into the fire of demonstrations.

Abroad, Bush launched invasions into multiple sovereign territories, most notably Iraq. Bush was determined to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, whom he accused of possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Yet when such weapons were not found, Bush continued the campaign under the excuse of “assuring the national security” of the United States.  Despite the US in previous years considering Iraq and Hussein as a valued ally, who was granted the honor of being an honorary citizen of Detroit.

It was only when Hussein began to show indications of disobedience to US whims that the Bush administration considered him to be a threat. Thus portraying him to be a danger to US national security. This move drew remonstrations from the international stage, as they begin to perceive the Bush administration’s objectives as not a hunt for terrorists, but a method to encroach US influence to the Middle East (Pressman, 2009).

We can see that Bush’s publicized aims were designed to essentially persuade the American peoples and the international community that his policies were devised to protect all citizens from the globe. Yet this is plainly untrue, as the Americans and the international community have noticed. The US likely has multiple, immoral motives—oil, regional dominance, imperialism, etc.—that aren’t shared to the public. These probable objectives on Bush’s mind are perhaps ones that are shared by Barack Obama, contrary to the latter’s presidential campaign promises.

Noticing how Americans abhorred the War on Terror and the deaths it brought to their loved ones, Barack Obama used the Americans’ outrage as a platform from which to launch his presidential campaign; Vowing to bring home American troops, forming alliances with Middle East nations to combat the terrorist threat—ensuring that less and less American lives would be lost—all in an effort to signify that Obama would not be following the steps of George W. Bush

Furthermore, Obama ensured the international community, particularly the Middle East countries that he would minimize US involvement and abate collateral damage caused by US forces in the region. He would use means that are far more precise than those utilized by Bush, affecting the rate by which innocent Middle Easterners perished at the hands of the US military. But did Obama actually follow through with these pledges? Indeed he did, but at a very limited level (McCrisken, 2011).

Obama did encumber the use of force in the Middle East, by way of withdrawing American soldiers from the region. As exemplified by the reduction of US troopers in Iraq from tens of thousands to practically none (Landler, 2011). The move seemed to indicate that the US would actually, for once, be willing to reduce its influence in the Middle East.

Then were the anti-terror coalitions Obama erected with Middle East partners. Around 10 nations were persuaded into an alliance to crush the terror-organization Daesh, otherwise known as the Islamic State (Reuters, 2014). The move to consort with states—such as Iraq—formerly considered to be threats to US security was a convincing sign of a US that perceived nations of the Arab world as equals, and not hazards that demanded subjugation.

On the non-military side of things, the US promoted and showcased its approval of a controversial deal involving Iran obtaining and harnessing nuclear power. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as it came to be known, permitted Iran to use nuclear power; provided that it would only do so for deterrence and energy production, as it would undergo repeated examinations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (BBC, 2016). Again, another Bold move by the Obama administration for demonstrating that the US is willing to do whatever it takes to triumph over chaos in the Middle East with minimal use of violence.

But are these aforementioned indicators legitimate proofs that the US would no longer excessively intervene with Middle East affairs? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In spite of the rhetoric of peace uttered by the Obama administration, the US proceeded to unduly exercise force throughout the Middle East. The withdrawal of US soldiers was not a sign of peace, but nothing more than a change in the US military’s approach. Deaths of Americans did lessen to a significant degree, but the more than one million dead people of the Middle East weren’t so lucky (Lazare, 2015).

Instead of risking American lives, the US military simply replaced its conventional soldiers with PMCs and UAVs.

The benefits being that the US military would not be held accountable to the actions of PMCs—they are not, after all, American troops—nor would the methods used by the soldiers of fortune need to be revealed to the public, corporate secrets and all that—although contractors the likes of Blackwater have been found guilty of allowing its employees to use mind-altering substances, assaulting civilians, and other humanitarian crimes.

While UAVs, in the eyes of most US citizens, are nothing more than expensive toys of their military. Each drone deployment did not risk the safety of any American, only those deemed, by both the public and the US government, to be targets. Even though each “successful kill” done by drones are somewhat imprecise, more often than not having their missiles not just blasting their target(s) but also innocent bystanders from caught in the blast radius.

Thus, should a drone be shot down, PMC squadrons be annihilated by Middle East militias, innocents Middle Easterners be maimed or murdered for no reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is minuscule risk of inciting the ire of everyday Americans (Maddow, 2012).

Of course, the Obama administration concealed their deployment and modus operandi for PMCs and UAVs from American eyes. Quite successfully too, as protests against the War on Terror began to wane. The ones who are still against the anti-terror crusade are mainly interested in the amount of money the US spends on military operations, not so much with the deaths of innocents in the Middle East.

But here we must remind ourselves of how the US is capable of doing whatever it wants in the Middle East. To neorealists, it is no surprise at all for a nation as mighty as the US to act however is so wishes due to the anarchic nature of the international system. More so due to neorealism’s central notion that any and all states would be willing to do whatever is necessary to further enhance their prowess—without regard for abstract concepts the likes of justice and morality—be it by increasing their wealth, bolstering their military might, et cetera. The US is of course no exception to these rules, as will be shown with why Obama resumed the policies of his predecessor in spite of his slogan of “Change.”

Obama had the incredibly rare opportunity for drastically changing how the US viewed and treated the Middle East. So why didn’t he take that chance? Sadly it is impossible to answer such a complicated question with a single answer, as the US has many reasons for continuously intruding itself into Middle East affairs.

It is perhaps an impossibility to demand the US to leave the Middle East alone. The region is, after all one of the wealthiest areas of the globe in terms of oil. Dominating such a sought-after and increasingly scarce resource—let’s not forget about Hubbert’s peak oil theory (Peak Oil Barrel, 2013)—would allow the US to attain riches beyond what we could imagine, and leverage over all countries incapable of producing their own fuel—i.e. nearly every developing nation on Earth (Yergin, 1991).

Control over the Middle East’s oil would mean energy security for the United States, ensuring that it would be capable of developing its industries without limit. And in terms of militaristic needs, the US would be free to employ their forces without having to worry over the costs required to do so. Since, after all, they would be the ones who own the fuel required to execute military operations.

Yet energy security is not the only advantage the US would attain should it manage to take control of Middle Eastern oil. A combination of US and the Middle East’s oil production capacities would mean an entity unrivaled in its capacity to generate fuel, and thereby control its supply. In other words, the US would be able to wrest control of global oil prices, away from OPEC—Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—or significant oil producers the likes of Russia, Latin American and Asian countries.

Control of the globe’s largest oil supply would grant the US enormous power. An ability to do whatever it so wishes, without necessarily having to use force. Dare to disobey US demands? Say hello to inflating energy costs and maybe even a reintroduction of the pre-industrial era.

Thus would be born a superpower whose might originates not just from its military’s strength, but also from the pull it has over others as provided by oil (Yergin, 2011). An achievement that would impress anyone who adheres to the notions that the international system is an anarchic one, and that any actor with sufficient power would essentially obtain a permission slip for anything and everything.

Yet for the US to be able to attain the Middle East’s oil supply, without an outright military invasion on all of the region’s countries, it would need a partner already operating in the area. Luckily for the US, such an ally already exists in the form of Israel. We previously glanced at how the US stated that it would be willing to support a two-state solution to resolve The Israeli-Palestinian conflict; an outcome Israel would in all likelihood despise, as it considers Palestinian territories to be rightfully Israeli. Obama is aware that providing actual assistance to Palestine would mean alienating Israel.

Therefore, what did the US do about the two-state solution? Nothing, really. The US seems to be turning a blind eye to whatever Israel is doing in Palestinian territories—including the latter’s construction of illegal settlements. The US’ effort for a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine essentially amounts to “let them sort it out themselves.”

Unless the US does wish to form new, equally concrete alliances in the Middle East, it would be the wisest move for them to not meddle with Israeli affairs—and if possible, provide support for Israel’s actions. Should the US commit to a path opposing Israel, it would also be losing its only Middle Eastern ally with nuclear weaponry. Needless to say, access to nuclear energy equates to Israel being one of the likeliest candidates of reaching hegemonic status in the Middle East—the ultimate objective of the US in the region, as it would be granted the similar levels of power to Israel but by proxy (Chomsky, 2016).

The anarchic nature of the international system allows the US and Israel to accomplish any objectives they set out for themselves, provided the two nations possess enough power to do so. If they wish to rule over the Middle East, then by all means do so. Non-state actors would also have minimal effect on the relationships between the US, Israel, and Palestine. As despite the countless militia campaigns launched by Palestinians, Israel looks to be unfazed and remain dead-set on conquering as much Palestinian land as possible.

George W. Bush has showcased that the US’ War on Terror is not entirely honest. The campaign cloaked itself under the guise of vengeance and justice. But in truth, it is nothing more than a quest for the wealth of the Middle East and for dominance over the region. Fortunately, no matter how much the Bush administration tried to sell their anti-terror campaign as a righteous endeavor, neither the Americans nor the international community bought their pitch. Hence diminishing domestic and international support for the War on Terror.

Barack Obama picked up on how the Bush administration failed to garner the necessary support for continuing the US interventionism in the Middle East. Thus his campaign platform and administration portrayed him as a bringer of peace, one who would not needlessly risk American lives, and a man who would rather fight with a pen in his hand instead of a sword.

Yet from the cases we have reviewed, we can clearly see that Obama always has his sword at the ready. Should Middle East states resist the demands of the US, then Obama would send in his cadre of mercenaries and drones. He was essentially able to avoid the publicity of deploying military force without actually having to employ conventional US soldiers, but achieving the same effect nonetheless.

Why did two different administrations, with seemingly distinct leaders have and conjure up policies with essentially identical aims? The reason isn’t as philosophical as “there is no such thing as individuality.” The root cause of the similarity between the Bush and Obama administrations concerning the Middle East stem from the imperialist nature of the United States.

From the period of the Cold War, the US has repeatedly engaged itself with obtaining control over territories that it does not strictly own—though back then it was for legitimate security reasons (Dobbs, 2008). During Obama’s time in office, this particular habit of the US seems to have embedded itself on US foreign policy. The US does not wish to be rivaled by any nation on any front: economically, militaristically, et cetera. The main problem being, for non-Americans and non-allies of the US, the superpower does have the capability to do so; therefore permitting the US to behave in manners that should draw international interventions, though as no nation could stand up against the might of the US—at the time of writing—then the US can proceed to go on its merry path of sowing chaos wherever it goes and whenever it pleases (Chomsky, 2004).

 

Change (Minus the Terms and Conditions)

 

Is it possible to one day see a United States of America that does not freely interfere with the affairs of other nations? Perhaps.

The American public nearly managed to halt the US’ War on Terror during the Bush Era. Their protests did not go unnoticed to their peers, the international community, and US politicians. Barack Obama successfully acquired control of the White House from his slogan of “Change,” with one of his main propositions being less US militaristic interventions in the Middle East. But Obama, either willingly or otherwise, lied to the American public as he basically only modified the approach of the Bush administration. Though because of how Obama deployed not US soldiers, replacing them with PMCs and drones, American anger subsided and Obama could continue the legacy of the Bush administration without much fear of public protests.

Another possibility for altering the US’ approach on international matters would be if another state could rival the power of the US and be willing to interfere with the superpower’s actions and decisions. For now, the likeliest candidates seem to be Russia, China, and maybe India. Although they have traded diplomatic blows with the US on occasion, it does not yet look that either of the three are in a position to directly challenge the US’ global hegemony.

Presently, there are not enough factors for the US to do a one-eighty on its foreign policy, nevertheless on the ones it designed for the Middle East. The American public lie in slumber as they are no longer perturbed by the constant bombardment of news concerning the deaths of US soldiers. The international community is either too fearful of the US or structurally restricted to affect US actions—it needs to be remembered that the US is a permanent member of United Nations Security Council, granting it dominion over international, interventionist actions by way of veto power. Simply put, there isn’t any method in existence for inhibiting US desires as anarchy reigns and the US revels in it.

Until the time comes, when a solution that we the writers cannot imagine arises, the US is as free as a bird. The atrocities it commits on a regular basis, its leaders who promise peace and democracy for but never bring these vows into reality, are all parts of life that we as citizens of Earth must humbly accept.

 

REFERENCE

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New Challenges to U.S. Empire. New York City: Metropolitan Books.

 

Chomsky, N. (2016). Who Rules the World? London: Penguin Books.

 

Dobbs, M. (2008). One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castron on the Brink of

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Scahill, J. (2007). Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New

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McCrisken, T. (2011). Ten years on: Obama’s War on Terrorism in Rhetoric and Practice.

 

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Lazare, S. (2015, 03/26). Body Count Reveals at Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US Led War on

Terror. Common Dreams. Retrieved from

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It’s the Demons, I Tell You!

Misfortune strikes in a multitude of ways. One could be born into utter poverty, where she could only view education as a far-fetched dream. Largely cutting her chances of attaining high level jobs, the type where one could sit in front of a desk, in a climate-controlled room, without fear of losing a home or having nothing to eat. Yet as bad luck would have it, there is another way for which misfortune could strike with a subtle savagery: by taking control of our minds, against our will.

Mental illness is perhaps one of the most devastating things that could happen to a human being. Imagine living a life where we constantly hear voices within our heads—saying whatever they wish, at times screaming at us to end our lives—and seeing what does not exist whenever and wherever, as if being stalked by invisible entities whose wills we could never understand. Basically living the life of every character in horror films, except taking place in reality. That, is what having schizophrenia is like (NIMH, 2016).

But what of those who undergo depression? Do they simply feel an endless sadness? Yes, though sorrow is a minuscule part of the depression experience. The depressed feel almost nothing. No joy, no excitement, curiosity, desire, even love. Leaving only the exhaustion of never having the relief of pure happiness. It is no wonder then, that many of the depressed choose to end their lives over having to endure never-ending days of torment (NIMH, 2016).

There exist also the men and women who could lose control of their emotions at the flip of a switch: those plagued by Bipolar Disorder. In this case, the sufferers go through cycles of emotions. Ones that they cannot control, and are mainly controlled by random factors. Anything from a dramatic event such as a death within their families, to insignificant ones the likes of failing to wake up on time, could trigger a depressive side of the disorder’s cycle. On the other hand, getting a promotion on their jobs, reading an entertaining book could spark the opposite half of the cycle. That of complete, unadulterated glee. For many of the bipolar, they have next to no clue as to why their minds could switch at a moment’s notice, inducing a sense of paranoia about one’s self at all times (NIMH, 2016).

What should we, as a society do to those who are plagued by mental disorders? Should we shun them, as they are certainly more burdensome than the average human being? Or should we endeavor to aid them, as we are obliged to do for anyone in suffering? The latter, for anyone with a conscience is clearly the path that we should collectively take.

The mentally ill, are no different from those burdened by physical diseases. They require the help of medical professionals, support from their friends and families. But before they could be aided in any way, shape, or form they require the acceptance of society; to not be viewed as oddities or freaks, rather people who are simply in need.

Developed countries such as Italy understand the needs of the mentally ill. Thus striving to meet the psychological help the mentally ill yearn for (Frances, 2015). Sadly, the same cannot be said for other nations. Particularly, the archipelagic state of Indonesia.

Indonesia, both the nation and its citizens have a unique understanding for mental illness. Both the people living in rural areas and those residing in upscale cities share a similar perception. That the psychologically ill should be avoided, seen as a menace, and are nothing more than a nuisance. It is not odd at all to see individuals in dire need of medical care wandering garbage-ridden streets, sometimes without clothes, mumbling incoherently to themselves, or screaming their lungs out at nothing. The weirdest part however, is that when a common Indonesian passes these sufferers, they avoid offering any form of help. Not even contacting authority figures for assistance.

But why do Indonesians possess such a callous attitude for the mentally ill? One reason comes from the realm of superstition. Some Indonesians believe that the mentally ill are not sick at all, but afflicted by something else altogether; they could be possessed, cursed by a rival, punished their ancestors, or have failed to appease the gods. Thus, instead of looking for a doctor, they opt for a shaman instead. That is, witch doctors that prescribes herbs, and act out rituals to rip out the supposed demons possessing the psychologically disturbed. The approach of the shamans are of course, utterly useless. However, shamans, as unhelpful as they might be are not the worst “cures” for Indonesia’s mentally ill.

The practice of ‘pasung’ which basically amounts to shackling people—without clothes or just the bare minimum, regardless of gender—with iron chains, tying them up to wooden stocks, or simply locking them up is another method for handling Indonesia’s mentally ill. According to The Human Rights Watch, more than fifty-thousand people—fifteen percent of Indonesia’s mentally ill—have been “treated” with pasung. It is easy to predict the consequences of being subjected to pasung: filth from having to defecate and urinate in a locked and unclean room, severe lack of nutrition, disease, the list goes on. Although the practice of pasung has been declared to be illegal, an estimated eighteen-thousand individuals are currently still chained, tied, or locked-up across the nation. The Indonesian justice system has unforgivably failed the mentally ill.

While proclaiming to be willing to take all steps necessary to help the mentally ill, the Indonesian government’s performance has been quite lackluster. Mental health-care professionals amount to less than a thousand, for a country that has a population of more than 250-million peoples. Such a number is the opposite of adequate. But what is perhaps the worst blunder of Indonesia’s government concerning its citizens’ psychological well-being, is their feeble attempt at constructing mental-health institutions.

In Indonesia, mental-health facilities are, in the words of one of their former patients, “Imagine living in hell, it’s like that here…” Not a particularly flattering statement for Indonesia’s mental institutions.

Said remark can easily be accepted as truth, since it is true that basic human rights are ignored within these institutions’ confines. Physical, verbal, and sexual crimes are regular occurrences that the patients have to endure. Whilst the supposed caretakers act as the perpetrators.

Reality rarely offers an idealistic portrayal of the world, but some of what the Indonesian mentally-ill population have been subjected to–from the callousness of the public, to the most obscure and harmful of remedies, and the state-sponsored institutions that assault their patients rather than assist them–would shock nearly all who read, listen, or see their tales.

Reference

Frances, A. (2015). World’s Best and Worst Places to be Mentally Ill. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/saving-normal/201512/worlds-best-and-worst-places-be- mentally-ill

Staff. (2016). Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Staff. (2016). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Staff. (2016). Indonesia: Treating the Mentally Ill With Shackles. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/20/indonesia-treating-mental-health-shackles

Staff. (2016). ‘Living in hell’: mentally ill people in Indonesia chained and confined. Retrieved from http://www.globalmentalhealth.org/category/country/indonesia

Staff. (2016). Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml

Weaponized Literature

Indonesia does not possess what we could call a rich reading culture. That is to say, few of Indonesia’s populace spend much of their time gathering information, knowledge, et cetera from literature—be they fiction or non-fiction. A worrying insight into our nation’s intellectual landscape. As it would mean that most Indonesians are deprived of what could arguably be called the richest recourses for academic development.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture—known as KemDikBud in Indonesian parlance—released in 2016, a survey conducted by  an anonymous United States of America university. Among 61 of the countries included in the survey, Indonesia placed 60th. Peaking just slightly above the impoverished African state of Botswana. How could Indonesia, a nation that has been independent for more than seventy years only managed to beat one which has held independence for a mere fifty-something-years? The answer lies in multiple places.

Reasons for why Indonesians sway from reading are several. The baseline however lies with the fact that Indonesians prefer other medias, the likes of television and radio, the internet, over those of newspapers and books. Each of these non-literary mediums provide information at a much faster and accessible pace than those reachable through text alone (Staff, 2016). But should the advantage of speed outweigh all that literature has to offer? Certainly not.

Books grant their readers several, invaluable powers. They allow us to sift for truth within the barrage of narratives provided by mainstream media. They empower skepticism, instead of discouraging it. Most important of all though, is how they compel us to question and debate all the information presented to us—including those found in the books themselves. Clearly it would take more than a single paragraph to induce the desire to read, thus I ask of you for the chance to further elaborate my arguments. Starting with the diverse offerings of the literary world, and how they might unshackle our minds.

It would be a mistake to think that only the works of academics and scientists—in other words, nonfiction—could bestow readers the powers I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph. Fiction too are great drivers of truth-seeking, questions, and debates. We need only look at the work of George Orwell to understand fiction’s prowess.

Orwell’s novel, 1984, illustrated a world where a government dictates and observes all that its denizens do and think. Wherein all the thoughts that flow through its world’s common people’s are watched and evaluated. Have ideas that are in alignment with the governing body’s agenda, and you’re perfectly fine. Think in the opposite direction however, and the police would be eager to imprison you. Censorship reign as well, with the narratives presented to the citizenry always concocted and approved or disapproved by the powers that be. Essentially, the state controls the people directly, by manipulating the latter’s thoughts, ideas, flows of information, as permitted by its countless prying machines and absolute authority. All for the purpose of creating a population that does not dare challenge or even question the decisions of the rulers (Orwell, 1949).

1984 is an almost clairvoyant allegory for present-day state-sponsored intelligence gathering programs, and government censorship. Alongside the effects they already, and would one day have on ordinary citizens. Prying on citizens, as revealed by whistleblowers the likes of Edward Snowden, exerts a certain pressure for compliance; as the observed would be fearful of punishment should they be caught committing what the governing body deems to be unseemly. Whilst censorship would compel obedience since what could and could not be said are clearly outlined, and those who stray from the norm are punished in one way or another (York, 2014)—imprisonment, in the case of Indonesia.

What 1984 arms readers with however, is the armament of prediction. Should powerful nations the likes of the United Kingdom or the United States of America continue to peer into the thoughts of peoples across the globe; should Indonesia’s government continue to shut the mouths that speak in ways that does not appease it, then the future would be akin to the dystopia of 1984. Readers are given the power to argue that what they are currently witnessing and experiencing could spiral out of control, leading us all into a world without privacy, without free speech, for fear of the ever-seeing eyes of the state. A reader would likely ask and challenge the decisions made by states that mimic those made by the powerful in 1984.

Thus the way fiction empowers its readers: By way of presenting tales that could very well be our upcoming and unpleasant futures, ones that must be halted at every step of its actualization. But how does fiction’s polar opposite, nonfiction, strengthen its consumers? In a way it does offer possible futures as well, albeit with less fantastic predictions. But its strength lies in how it propels the search for truth, skepticism towards conventional narratives—mass media—an unwillingness to lie down and accept the lies thrown at us on a daily basis.

Take the works of Noam Chomsky. From his essays and lectures that aim to criticize both domestic and foreign policies of the US, alongside the war crimes committed or made possible by the decisions of the superpower. Chomsky aims to showcase his readers the darker sides of governance, the ones that aren’t easily visible when one only tunes to the news provided by mainstream media.

An excellent introduction to Chomsky’s ideas would be his tome titled, Who Rules the World? A probing analysis of how the United States maintains its global empire through the shadows and in broad daylight. From examining the impacts of the US’ military-first policies—ones that have enabled genocide, ethnic cleansing, and so on in countries from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia—to the US’ unquestioning support for autocratic regimes that support it. What a reader would gather from reading Chomsky’s book would be a critical view of the West’s paragon of democracy, justice, and human rights.

Who Rules the World? illustrates how the US is not nearly as honorable as it makes itself seem. The US would ceaselessly use their drones on either militants or civilians, so long as it is necessary for them to hold power over a region, as is the case with the Middle East. They would overthrow democratically elected leaders, should said leaders prefer to not cooperate with the US; as can be seen in Latin America. Then the US would provide support for any group, even though these organizations may well be called terrorists by Western standards, such as the case with Reagan’s support for the Contras in Nicaragua. A faction completely willing to commit atrocities—mass murder of innocent men, women, and children for one—to achieve their US-approved objectives.

In Indonesia, the US propelled the rise of the Soeharto regime; a military coup which resulted in 31 years of genocide against anti-Soeharto groups, censorship that employed violence as its primary method, essentially an era of Indonesians being prohibited from voicing their thoughts at the risk of imprisonment, abuse, or straight-out murder. And how did the US respond to all the crimes Soeharto committed? It hailed the dictator as a hero, a herald of stability and peace to a land where chaos prevailed over order and peace. Despite all proofs pointing to the contrary (Chomsky, 2016).

Chomsky highlights nearly all the hypocrisies the US has engaged in. His works allow readers to understand that the world is not as black and white as the US would like us to believe. It is rather, various shades of gray. Where no action, no matter how sugar-coated it might be, can never wholly be justified. It is through the minds of authors akin to Chomsky, that a reader may arm himself with the idea that they would have to be a complete skeptic to be able to sift for truth in a world dominated by the narratives of the powerful. Essentially granting readers the opportunity to question, and the foundation to debate the claims presented by the entrenched elites.

Reading either fiction or nonfiction reveals to us countless things. From the information that governing bodies may not want us to see, to the brave predictions that may be in line with how we as societies are developing. With these glimmers of wisdom, a reader would be able to better understand the reality of what is happening around them—either through fiction or otherwise.

Whatever types of books, articles, journals that we choose to read, all of them embolden us to strike back against the convenient—but not necessarily true—information presented to us. A reader can understand, they can argue with the powerful through provable facts, and see truths even when they are buried under countless lies. Most of all, literature allows us to see a better world for all, one that we may well be able to realize in the coming future.

REFERENCE

Chomsky, N. (2016). Who Rules the World? New York City: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt &
Co.

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. New York City: New American Library.

Staff. (2016). Gerakan Indonesia Membaca: “ Menumbuhkan Budaya Membaca”. Jakarta:
Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan

York, J. (2014). The harms of surveillance to privacy, expression and association. California:
Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Censorship, by the People for the People

Freedom of speech is perhaps one of the most significant indicators of nation’s tolerance for diversity. It is a right that grants a citizenry the ability to speak their mind without fear of reprisal from fellow citizens, the government, essentially any entity which may or may not agree with the thoughts expressed—even if the thought could be considered as offensive or inappropriate depending on one’s standard’s.
Sadly the freedom of speech  is not a privilege enjoyed by all. Indonesia for instance, is notorious for its willingness to control the thoughts and words of its people. From jailing bloggers who express dissenting ideas, categorizing Communist sympathies as a criminal act, forbidding the common peoples from cracking jokes at the expense of powerful individuals, and so on (Schonhardt, 2010). Essentially, what an Indonesian may or may not speak of depends on the whims of whoever currently sits in power.
It would be depressing enough to know that the Indonesian government prohibits its inhabitants from speaking their minds; but impeders of free speech could also be found among everyday Indonesians. A quick showcase of how intolerant Indonesians can be to the ideas of their fellow peoples, is easily seen from how they reacted to the “mockery” of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.
On March 1st 2017, the King of Saudi Arabia landed on Indonesian soil. Many Indonesians, especially those who adhere to Islam were ecstatic for the king’s arrival. To the government of Indonesia, Salman is seen as an opportunity for Indonesia to increase cooperation with Middle East states—not just Saudi Arabia. However, the Indonesian populace view Salman as something more than just a sign of Indonesia’s warming relationship with the Saudis.
To Indonesian Muslims, particularly those of the more fanatical nature, Salman is a sign of a changing paradigm. The man who represents the end of Indonesia’s secularist facets and acceptance of beliefs other than Islam (Staff, 2017). At worst, he would be a symbol of Islam’s superiority in Indonesia. They were, and still are, quite fervent defenders of Salman and his reputation.
When the immensely popular comedy show Opera van Java—commonly known as OVJ—performed a skit involving Salman, his Indonesian defenders were quick to react. One of OVJ’s main actors, Denny Cagur, played a caricature of King Salman. He did not insult Salman’s beliefs, the culture of Saudi Arabia, or behaved in any way that could be seen as malicious. What Cagur sought to do was basically make people laugh. A goal as innocent as any. Yet apparently such an aim is a sin to some Indonesia.

Viewers of OVJ, or anyone who heard the news of Salman’s portrayal by Cagur immediately called for Indonesia’s government to take action. KPI—Broadcast Commission of Indonesia—was stormed with countless complaints. With internet users voicing their disapproval of OVJ’s skit. One anonymous poster expressed his outrage (Staff, 2017),

OVJ needs to be put down, it has no sense of ethics. Even nobles from other countries are made into jokes[…] Why should majestic guests be made into jokes? […] It’s really not funny. KPI, please do something, just shut down OVJ.

I dare say that I do not need to elaborate on the ridiculousness of the above fusser’s complaint. As his words truly do reflect how particular citizens of Indonesia cannot accept that a figure they worship are not immune from the mildest teasing. Though it should still be noted that the anonymous complainer failed to illustrate why poking fun at Salman is an immoral act; merely howling that it is, well… wrong.

The anonymous poster is a reflection of how numerous Indonesians conceive of free speech. That is to say Indonesians are allowed to voice their ideas, praises, criticisms, et cetera. But God forbid anyone speak ill of an idolized character. In a sense, the Indonesian public act in a manner identical to their governing body. They may have different standards and agendas, but they are completely willing to prevent their fellow men and women from voicing their thoughts.

Indonesia is by no means a state that values humanity’s right to free speech. Its government as well as certain crowds from the common people may say that man has the right to say whatever they want. Yet should we speak in a fashion that upsets them, then our right to free speech would be immediately revoked. At the government’s hands, we would face the threat of jail time, whilst when the public are involved we would either be beset by mockeries, threats, or whatever else could be conjured up.

REFERENCE:

Schonhardt, S. (2010). Indonesia and Free Speech. The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://
thediplomat.com/2010/06/jakarta-threatens-free-speech/

Staff. (2017). Bergaya Ala Raja Salman, Candaan Denny Cagur di ‘OVJ’ Dikecam Netizen. Wow
Keren. Retrieved from http://www.wowkeren.com/berita/tampil/00151829.html

Staff. (2017). Raja Salman, Renggangnya Hubungan dengan Mesir dan Kunjungan ke
Indonesia. Media Dakwah Islam. Retrieved from https://mediadakwahislam.com/
2017/02/27/raja-salman-renggangnya-hubungan-dengan-mesir-dan-kunjungan-ke-
indonesia/9754.html

A Particular Kind of Education

What is the purpose of education? Is it to push students to know as much about the world as they possibly can? Is it for them to build upon the discoveries unearthed by our predecessors? Or is it primarily concerned with urging the best and brightest to dig up brand new revelations by themselves? All of these guesses are quite accurate, as they cover partial aspects for why education is a necessity for each and every member of humanity. But they are, in my personal opinion, not the primary motivation for why we learn. The attribute I’m alluding to, is most commonly known as ‘curiosity’.

 
A desire which conjures up an obsession with finding out as much as we can about the world around us, by whatever means available. It may not strictly be directed at the natural or social sciences, but it is unquestionable that all of us have at one point in our lives, desperately wanted to know about something. Regardless of our personal motivations, our penchant for learning has granted us the capacity to develop as individuals and as a species. Our brains have collectively given us abilities far beyond those bestowed by claws, fangs, tentacles, et cetera. It is rather puzzling then, to witness certain institutions actively strive to hamper what is arguably the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. I am of course referring to education systems.

 
Educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities supposedly have the goal of encouraging their pupils to learn. In the sense of broadening the interests of students, assisting them in their quest to understand, to discover, and find joy in sating their curiosity. Yet in most cases, at least in Indonesia, this is not what happens by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead of hypothesizing, experimenting, or even simply observing, Indonesian students are implored to memorize and obey authorities without question. And startlingly, at least for myself, there is a political motivation behind the two teaching practices, one I will discuss later in the text.

But first, I ask you dear reader, to imagine a group of pupils that are currently in a biology classroom. Do they discuss theories or perform experiments—ones that aren’t directed step by step by the teacher? Nope. What is likely to happen is a bunch of students sitting silently at their desks jotting down notes, while the educator preaches of material treated as dogma. If one of these learners muster up the courage to trigger a debate about the accuracy of the subject at hand, he would in all likelihood be treated as nuisance to the class, both by his peers and mentor. An implication that the students should all simply memorize the topics presented instead of questioning them, should they wish to get a passing grade. This scenario may sound plausible on the middle-school or even high-school levels, but sadly its plausibility reaches beyond those early stages of education. Instances akin to this hypothetical scene also plays out in universities.

In well-respected Indonesian universities, the likes of the University of Indonesia for instance, certain lecturers are equally intolerant of student behavior that deviates from the pre-planned curriculum. I learned from a source that in a Philosophy of Politics class, none of the pupils are allowed to question the information presented to them. In a philosophy class! A subject birthed by questions, critiques, and debates! I find it difficult to conjure up a more explicit exhibit of how overvalued memorization is, and how insignificant actual learning is perceived by Indonesia’s education system. A problem which, surprisingly, segues into the issue of obedience without question.

The social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky made a noteworthy statement regarding education systems,

“…let’s have a mass education system, but of a particular kind, one that inculcates obedience, subordination, acceptance of authority, acceptance of doctrine. One that doesn’t raise too many questions.”

What Chomsky meant is that quintessentially, education systems have a purpose outside of teaching. We have seen so far that arguing with established curriculum is a pointless exercise that is often treated with hostility. It would be reasonable to make an assumption that the rigidity of educational institutions stems from laziness, conservatism, or other equally feasible reasons. But what Chomsky proposes is that behind the inflexible characteristic of academies, lies a political motive.

Let us turn back to the remark, “[An education system] that doesn’t raise too many questions.” Why build an establishment which actively discourages inquiries, especially when the establishment should be encouraging students to inquire. It’s a method that is both ironic and convoluted. However, that is not to say that the technique is pointless and ineffective.

Why are students dissuaded from putting forward questions? The answer involves the concept of indoctrination; inducing peoples’ inquisitiveness into a state of unconsciousness, by providing them with information that cannot and must never be disputed. This intellectual comatose is instilled early on through Indonesia’s education system, by way of forbidding students from challenging the information forcibly embedded into their minds.

The process takes many years, and could potentially never end, but the student then increasingly becomes more and more obedient. They would rather not elicit a debate for fear of chastisement either from their equals or superiors. Answers to questions are chosen not for their accuracy, but because others—especially authority figures—decided that the answers are correct, despite arguments to the contrary. The effect of the Indonesian education system is essentially the transforming and conditioning of students into becoming gullible pawns. Through the lens of realist politics, a voter-base consisting of the unquestioning and the compliant, is a goldmine for securing power.

When the majority of a population accepts the decisions of the ruling class, then they have turned into nothing more than servants of the powerful. Repressing peoples’ urges to call into question the actions of a society’s elites equates to allowing them to conduct themselves in whatever way they see fit. Even if their behavior actively harms the interests of the many and benefit only their coterie. The government is then run not by the people for the people, but by the powerful and for the powerful. This state of affairs is a standard in Indonesia.

The Indonesian people must take action to reform the current education system. Not only due to its failure in evoking the curiosity of students, but primarily because of how it is used for engendering compliance with the status quo, and misplaced trust in the words of the unethical yet powerful.

A nation must not be run by those who seek only to satisfy their own cravings. As such a nation would amount to a playground for those who managed to come into power. While those who are less fortunate, would be forced to stay at the peripheries, with their needs largely ignored. In spite of how the weak are mistreated, they are still content to remain at the beck and call of the elites. How could they not? They have, since their childhoods after all, been taught that to obey is good and to disobey is bad. Thus, the necessity to rebuild Indonesia’s education system.

A Safe Internet for Whom, Exactly?

Relatively recently, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information launched a program with the aim of sieving the Indonesian web of ‘inappropriate’ content. Dubbed as “Clean and Safe Internet,” (abbreviated as INSAN) the series of measures aim to cleanse the net of unpleasantries the likes of gambling, fraud, cyber-bullying, libel, and—as is the trend in Indonesia—pornography. The ministry’s stated purpose for devising such a program is “To prevent crimes from occurring in the digital realm…alongside the unwanted effects the [crimes and negativities] could bring to the real world.”

While a program designed to protect innocents from abuses originating from the internet is all well and good, there is a particularly glaring issue with how INSAN is implemented. The problem being that any site suspected of spreading content deemed as unseemly is liable to be banished from the Indonesian web—even if the website itself doesn’t actually devote itself to carrying out, or hosting any of the trespasses INSAN seeks to eradicate.

Some websites allow their users to host whatever content they so please. Meaning that the responsibility for offensive actions should mostly lie at the hands of the users themselves, not the site. Yet Indonesia’s government does not see matters that way, either through ignorance or an outright refusal to do so. Thus should a website be suspected of spreading pornography, for instance, it could end up as one of the many sites banned from the Indonesian net.

The distinction between whether the websites or users should be held accountable is rather significant. As basically users are inviting the government to ban websites, whatever the actual purpose of the site might be. In other words, sending an invitation for broad censorship targeted at websites that have purposes that are in no way disobeying the laws set by the Ministry of Communication and Information.

Let us take a gander at one highly popular website on the internet, Reddit.com. The 24th most visited site according to the internet-analytics company, Alexa. Reddit is quintessentially a news-aggregator, whose content is conjured up almost entirely by its user-base. Hence the plethora of topics available are predictably quite diverse.

On Reddit, one could find himself lost in a myriad of content. It has sections dedicated to subjects covering politics, global news, religion, pictures, jokes, and countless more. On the majority of these divisions, users can post their opinions, ideas, and whatever else as long as it is related to the topic(s) at hand, eliciting vast amounts of interactions and discussions.

I frequently visit Reddit’s politics and news segments, mainly to gather information but to also observe—and sometimes join in—the conversations taking place. And I must say that the experience is rather fascinating, as Reddit serves essentially as a forum accessible to anyone with an internet connection, who wish to discuss any issue of import to them or simply watch. It is an invaluable tool, for me personally, as a monitor on current events and on the shifting moods of the global population.

Despite Reddit’s usefulness as a source of information and a global forum, it seems that the Indonesian government has a different perception of it. Since it holds a place on Indonesia’s catalog of blacklisted websites. The reasoning behind this ban, I suspect, is because of how a minority of Reddit’s users and divisions post and host pornographic content; a big no-no for the Ministry of Communication and Information, and a great excuse for evicting Reddit from the Indonesian web.

What the Indonesian government fundamentally does is proclaiming to the denizens of the internet—both hosts of websites and ordinary users—that it has umbrella terms it is not shy of using. Ones that allow it to outlaw websites without legitimate reasons. The excuses of pornography and all the rest essentially have the effect of permitting the governing body to erect blockades against whatever site it so desires, so long as it either purposefully or accidentally violates INSAN’s rules and regulations.

INSAN has granted the Indonesian government the capacity to control the kind of information its populace are permitted to access. Quite the danger to anyone who wishes to exercise the right to free speech. As for now, although it seems that the government is content with concentrating its efforts on sites containing pornographic material, that contentedness could soon fade. We must remember another misdeed targeted by INSAN: libel. If we check the records concerning Indonesia’s defamation cases, they reflect an unpleasant image.

Cracking jokes about a celebrity, mocking a CEO, criticizing government officials, are all fertile grounds for libel charges. Regardless of whether the verbal attacks are accurate or false, as showcased by the many Indonesian reporters, bloggers, activists that have been jailed for allegedly spouting slander—a topic that will be covered on another article.

Now let us consider the scenario of websites jeopardizing the supposedly spotless reputations of powerful peoples. These sites would likely fall to the same fate as any other Indonesian critic accused of libel. They would be muted, but not by means of imprisonment. Instead the muting would be done via the regulations supplied by INSAN, that allow for the government to shut down access to these presumably criminal websites.

INSAN is a program built not for the protection of Indonesians. In its current form it is nothing more than a censorship tool disguised under the mask of moral imperatives. INSAN’s goal is not to ensure the safety of internet users, rather to manipulate them by keeping in check what the Indonesian people can and cannot see; a tool for the government to enlarge the amount of power they already hold over public opinions. INSAN must be put to a stop, before its venture turns from just impeding the spread of pornography, but also to that of other realms: beneficial information, meaningful public discourse, criticism of government policies and officials, so on and so forth. It is of utmost urgency, for those who see themselves as champions of free speech to demolish the very concept of INSAN.

Terror Out of Nothing

war_on_terror_sam

September 11th of 2001 was a day of utmost tragedy. On a seemingly normal morning, two commercial airliners crashed into the United States of America’s World Trade Center, killing nearly three thousand Americans (CNN, 2015). A third plane made its way to the US’ Pentagon, yet failed to reach its target due to the bravery of its passengers. On that day, the world mourned for America. 9/11 was, understandably, an atrocity which must be rectified. Fortunately, the group responsible for these terroristic attacks quickly made themselves known: The extremist, Islamist organization al-Qaeda declared their victory through all channels available to them, inciting outrage throughout all corners of the United States.

Al-Qaeda’s action was a direct attack at of one of the globe’s most powerful states. An act which would bring about monstrous consequences to the Middle East. Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the US launched an immediate campaign of retaliation; seeking to purge any and all sorts of terrorist groups—be they independent, state-sponsored, or otherwise—in the name of justice. The methods employed to do so, of course, were militaristic.

Drone strikes, assaults on terrorist compounds, abductions of suspected terrorists, and many more exploits were undertaken. At times, these maneuvers resulted in civilian casualties, yet the US continued their—now dubbed—“War on Terror” with supreme fervor, rarely pausing on their vengeful path.

Throughout the War on Terror, an estimated 1.3 million Middle-Eastern civilians have been vanquished by the hands of the US military (Lazare, 2015). To compare this plethora of deaths, to the total lost on 9/11, points to a rather disturbing detail concerning the US’ crusade. The number of Americans who have died at the hands of terrorists are minuscule, when compared to the defenseless who have died from US conduct. Terrorists pose less of a threat to the lives of innocents than the US actually does, especially when considering that the likelihood of dying from acts of terror are less than the fatality rates of mundane things such as falling (Pinker, 2010).

Terrorism presents minimal threat to both US citizens, to US survivability. And it would be naive to think that US politicians, strategists, kindred executives are unaware of this particular factoid. Hence a question needs to be raised, “Why would the US pour billions upon billions of Dollars, not to mention the lives of its soldiers, on fighting something which could not possibly endanger it?” There are numerous answers to this question, ranging from a desire to seek justice at all costs, to simply wanting to showcase US military might. However, the writer disagrees with these propositions, and chooses a supposition rarely mentioned: That the US’ War on Terror is a military campaign, designed to strengthen its grip throughout the globe with the full consent of its own people.

To accuse that the US is itself manipulating the minds of its own people, for the sake of bolstering US power is perhaps a reckless deed. Therefore further elucidation is required to justify such a claim, as supported by publicly-accessible data, alongside the judgments of analysts who spent countless hours scrutinizing the War on Terror. Hopefully, the evidence gathered by the writer can be perceived as worthy, and supportive of his hypothesis in the eyes of the reader.

Let us begin by reviewing certain US actions in recent memory, specifically those that antagonize singular items. During and after the Cold War, all sympathies for Communism was tarnished. The US invaded states which it claimed harbored Communist sentiment, funded rebellions against suspect governments, did all it could to shatter the governments of its targets. Despite the unsettling reality that a number of these targets were in actuality democratic, supportive of human-rights, accommodating to labor unions, essentially reflective of American “values.”

However, US citizens were largely unaware of the details regarding the containment of Communist influence. US media did not accurately portray how many civilian casualties were caused by anti-Communist policies, and how gruesome some of these deaths were. Communists were painted as the enemy, the villains who craved for a world without accepted morals. Although nothing could be as black-and-white as such a depiction.

Thereafter was the “War on Drugs,” a campaign which sought the eradication of illegal narcotics; an endeavor which unfortunately increased the flow of suchlike drugs between Mexico and the US; enriching Mexican cartels, debilitating the Mexican government, allowing power to be gripped by the country’s underworld. Though the likely irreparable damages spawned by US are numerous and are almost exclusively suffered by Mexico, mainstream US media proceeded to generate tales of why the crusade was an absolute necessity (Chomsky, 2011).

We can see a unifying theme in the aforementioned US policies and the exploits they spawn: demonizations of specific targets via mainstream mass media. Yet what is the purpose of these campaigns? The efforts do seek and succeed at catching the eyes of the many, but this is not their primary purpose. Rather, the goal of the US media crusades is to attain justification in the eyes of the public, for questionable US actions. But why does the US look for this approval from their citizens in the first place? Because it needs to maintain the image of being a full-fledged democratic state in its own lands, and on the international stage.

The enemy of the US has to also be the enemy of its people. Should the US assault targets that its citizens do not approve of, then its credibility of being a democracy would be  directly harmed. Such an event would not bode well for the US, as its government’s authority would be doubted by its masses, with its claims and deeds called into question by its allies and rivals. Moreover, it would lose the ability to act as a supposed representative of democracy, spiraling its reputation—a necessity to conduct itself in the way it does—downward. Thus the requirement for the consent of US taxpayers.

How the US acquires its people’s consent isn’t difficult. The political thinker Noam Chomsky wrote in intricate detail how much control the US government wields over US mass media channels. Reports, testimonials, expert analyses, no matter how provable or unprovable they might be, will be featured on television programs, front pages, news reports and are repeated endlessly as long as they fall in line with the then-operative US policy. Essentially, the US masses are bombarded with messages of what is “right” and “wrong” from sources perceived to be trustworthy. Due to the plethora of channels available to the US government and their credible status, the US’ citizens are more often than not complacent to stick with the biased rhetoric of US executives. After all, the most popular and sensible of the conduits—CNN, TIME, NBC, et cetera—see no problems with sticking to the stories designated by US officials. Relaying official statements gather more viewers, readers, and listeners than questioning them. As a consequence, the few and little that deviate from the path are buried beneath the prestige of mass media giants (Chomsky, 2002).

We have understood why the US requires and obtains the consent of its citizens. However, such reasons and endeavors would be utterly pointless should the US fail to benefit itself from public approval. Thus here we ask one more question, “What does the US gain from manipulating its own?” To answer this line of inquiry, we must examine with further thoroughness the actions it has taken in the Middle East.

Let us take a closer look at the US-led invasion of Iraq. The US’ primary justification for such an aggression is once more to purge state-sponsored terror (Muzaffar, 2008). The ouster of Saddam Hussein was at first justified by unfounded claims that he was planning or is already constructing weapons of mass destruction and would allow terrorist groups to utilize these armaments; when this was left unproven, US media concentrated primarily on the human-rights abuses conducted under Hussein. However, it is no secret that the country that the the US had battered is enjoying a hefty surplus of oil. A resource unquestionably desired by any industrialist nation, including the US. However, to point our fingers at oil alone would be somewhat hasty. There are other rationales at play.

Iraq was a threat to US interests. That is, the state of Iraq itself, and not the idea of WMDs or the possibility of it aiding terrorist groups. Iraq was once capable of challenging the authority of one of the US’ closest allies, Israel. Israel is perhaps the few capable of wielding regional hegemony over the Middle East. Furthermore, it has proven itself to be cooperative to US interests, whilst pre-invasion Iraq was beginning to reject US demands. Iraq and Israel meanwhile, were involved in a hostile relationship; wherein both have declared their mutual dislike yet have not escalated to armed conflict. With these facts glaringly visible, what should the US do to protect its stake in the Middle East? Obviously, invade Iraq.

Invading Iraq was a deliberate act of aggression. It was done not with the intent of protecting American lives, but that of US-Israeli interests in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was once crowned as one of the most progressive—that is, in line with American values—Middle Eastern leaders in modern history. An honor granted despite his horrific human-rights record. Yet when he showed an uncooperative attitude towards US commands he instantaneously found himself a villain in the eyes of US citizens. For that sudden shift in attitude he has the US media to thank, as they broadcasted various “expert opinions” claiming that Hussein was building WMDs, exhibited his once—already known to the US government yet—well-hidden massacres, abductions, and crimes (ABC, 2006). A leader and a state that are of service to the US will be heaped with praises no matter the truth, but should they disobey they will suffer the wrath of the US government and the outcries of its people.

Palestinian freedom fighters—patent enemies of Israel—the government of Syria, even Africa’s Sudan are not unimpeded by similar US treatment. Palestinians who dared to oppose the Israeli regime, the latter of which has casually murdered the former’s unarmed peoples, were labeled as terrorists. Syria’s government—a key ally of the US’ rival, Russia—continues to be challenged by the US-supported Free Syrian Army—a critically destabilizing action that insults the notion of sovereignty—in the name of war against state-terror. Sudan’s internal conflict was oversimplified to be another black-and-white issue on US media, so that the US could easily alienate whichever sides did not support its wants and needs. Here we could see a disconcerting pattern of US policy: Give us what we want, or we will make you the enemy of  not only our citizens, but of anyone who tunes in to our newsreels.

What can we learn from the paragraphs above? The US’ portrayal of the complex situations across the globe is tainted with extreme bias. It creates demons out of nothing, from people who fight for their right to live without estrangement, from governments that seeks sovereignty without the involvement of the US, from groups that pose little to no danger to American lives, so long as they do not fulfill the demands of America. The enemy is rarely an actual monster. Usually it is whatever state, organization, object, or ideology, that could jeopardize whichever US interest is presently significant.

In the case of the War on Terror, we have understood that it is not at all about fighting terrorism, but of building a regional hegemony controlled by a US ally. Terrorists are still less likely to kill an American than car crashes or unhealthy foods. Campaigning against it seems to be a massive waste of resources. But should the campaign be approved of by ordinary Americans alongside its allies, and if it makes happen certain goals of US policy that are obscured to the public’s eyes, then it will be launched.

Mainstream US mass media actively collaborates with the US government. It does not hunt for objectivity, it tells the stories the state wants it to. It gathers more viewers, listeners, and readers as violence sells. It heralded to be the voices of the ostracized, and active opposers of tyranny. Capital and credibility are handed to it voluntarily by the public. The media directly benefits from cooperating with the state, as its businesses thrive by following the latter’s instructions.

The state of the world is never entirely black-and-white. But it is convenient to say that the events of Earth aren’t gray, to paint one side as good and the other as evil, for justification could easily be gained from doing so. This is what the US and its media channels do on a daily basis. They conjure up harrowing tales that inspire fear and anger amongst the ordinary, for the cold purpose of getting permission to do whatever they want.

Should one seek to understand what is truly happening on our planet, then he or she must give heed to the few outcasts that dare to question the claims of the giants. Otherwise, they would fall prey to the tall tales of the US, see the world as it wants them to see it, and consequentially act in accordance with the prejudiced pictures subtly forced into their minds.

Reference

ABC News. (2006). List of Saddam’s Crimes Is Long. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/
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Chomsky, N. (2011). How the World Works. California: Soft Skull Press.

Chomsky, N. & Herman, E. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
New York City: Pantheon Books.

CNN Library. (2015). September 11th Fast Facts. CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/
september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/

Lazare, S. (2015). Body Count Report Reveals At Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US-Led War on Terror. Common
Dreams. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/03/26/body-count-report-reveals-
least-13-million-lives-lost-us-led-war-terror

Pinker, S. (2011).  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York City: Viking Press.

Muzaffar, C. (2008). The Global War on Terror – and the Prawn Behind the Stone. Vienna: International Progress
Organization.

Salam, R. (2011). Costs and Benefits of the War on Terrorism. National Review. Retrieved from http://
http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/266649/costs-and-benefits-war-terrorism-reihan-salam