U.S. may now strike Iraq because it feels like it

Meanwhile the murderous government in Egypt just got new U.S. military helicopters.

I noticed an alarming top story just now on my Google News search:
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So I read on, to get more details:

President Obama is lining up ISIS targets in Iraq and may launch an attack on the militant Islamic militia that is threatening Baghdad even if he does not get an agreement with the Iraqi regime, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Speaking in Baghdad after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other political leaders, Kerry said Obama is “each day” gaining more certainty of the targets he would strike if the United States decided on its own to take military action.

“He has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any point in time if he deems it necessary strategically,” Kerry said.

Obama has said he would not provide Iraq more military support unless it forms a government more accepting of religious minorities, but Kerry stressed that Obama wouldn’t hesitate to have the U.S. conduct its own military operations if necessary.

“The president has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting,” Kerry said.

While it’s true that the United States since 9/11 has conducted airstrikes without permission in other countries before (e.g. Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc.), the justification has been that the targeted individuals or organizations were at least trying to attack the U.S. homeland, U.S. troops in the area, or U.S. sites like embassies and such. I might not agree with that policy, but at least I can follow the reasoning.

That’s not the case here, because ISIS isn’t attacking those points. Nor has the argument been made that such strikes would be a “humanitarian intervention” to stop massacres (as was argued in the Balkans in the 1990s). Which makes it an odd and troubling development.

The summary phrase of greatest importance to that point, in the above, was: “may launch an attack … even if he does not get an agreement with the Iraqi regime”

Thus, the newest version of the Bipartisan Post-9/11 US Rules for Whole World: The United States President reserves right to attack anyone, anywhere, for any reason even if U.S. is not attacked (and even if there are no attacks on its sites, its people, or its interests).

Because ISIS isn’t doing any of that so far, nor does it look like it will be imminently. ISIS is probably about 3 layers away from being a threat to the U.S. in any way, including sites/interests/regional troops. So why the heck would we attack without Iraq’s request?

True, ISIS is allegedly massacring opponents in Iraq, but we haven’t invaded Syria to stop the regime or “our” rebels or ISIS from doing that next door.

We’re not doing it to protect the Iraqi government. Because they didn’t (and largely still don’t) want our help, and we left, and this didn’t happen immediately after we left. And we’re not getting their permission.

What can possibly be gained from this action? Who benefits from this at all? Probably not the Iraqis. Certainly not the United States.
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The latter day United Arab Republic

Formerly briefly united into one country, known as the “United Arab Republic,” Egypt and Syria still look pretty similar politically and economically decades after separation. In spirit, the UAR lives on.

But in one country winning the presidency with 97% of the vote is deemed tyranny by the West. In the other, the same figure is “important for democracy.”

“The Egyptian election is important for the process of the democratic transition and return to forming an elected government in Egypt,” a [UK] Foreign Office spokeswoman [said.]

What a joke.

Did Egypt’s military organize the protests leading to the coup?

egypt-coat-of-armsOne man is alleging in an in-depth report by Buzzfeed that his much-cited populist organization, Tamarod, which paved the way for the Egyptian military coup in July 2013 and demanded intervention on behalf of millions of protesters, was actually just five guys in an office whose name and social media popularity was co-opted (or at least force-multiplied) by the military and Interior Ministry as a front group to legitimize the coup. The original organization leaders would send talking points to state television and the Army would rewrite them and then put them out over the air under the Tamarod name anyway. But, then again, he also suspects three of his co-founders may actually have been Army plants all along.

By the end of June, he asserts they were effectively no longer in control of the group as Interior staff began using its offices to stage and organize protesters to rally against the president — down to the logistical level of how many little flags and water bottles were needed. In other words, more like a highly choreographed U.S. presidential convention audience with pre-printed signs than a spontaneous mass demonstration of affection for the military and disgust with the president.

The June 2013 protests always seemed way too well organized (or rather, unusually well supplied) to me, but I tend to hesitate to jump on board with suggestions that may prove to be conspiracy theories. These allegations aren’t necessarily true either — the Buzzfeed reporters had trouble finding anyone who could corroborate his account and he sometimes hinted he had been less ignorant of the situation at the time than he lets on — but it would certainly fit with a suspicious pattern that resulted in a very rapid emergence of a mass produced Cult of Personality surrounding (soon-to-be-president) General Sisi within a week or so of the coup.

Then again, maybe I’m just looking for even more reasons to be disgusted with the idea of millions of people rallying enthusiastically for the replacement of transitional democracy with military dictatorship — and with their Western cheerleaders who, to this day (despite all the terrible things the new government has done or endorsed), can’t contain their excitement for military rule, in their haste to quash Islamic participation in government.

Egypt propagandists announce military has cured AIDS

egypt-coat-of-armsIn all the Ukraine crisis news, I missed this stellar example of increasingly implausible Egyptian military propaganda. They announced to their citizens last month that they had cured AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The so-called “Complete Cure Device” draws blood from a patient, breaks down the disease and returns the purified blood back to the body, according to Dr. Ihsan Hanfy Hussein, a member of Abdel-Atti’s research team.

She said it cures the ailments in as little as 16 hours.

“I will take the AIDS from the patient and I will nourish the patient on the AIDS treatment. I will give it to him like a skewer of Kofta to nourish him,” Abdel-Atti said, referring to a dish made of ground meat.

“I will take it away from him as a disease and give it back to him in the form of a cure,” he said. “This is the greatest form of scientific breakthrough.”

He paid tribute to the military chief and unofficial presidential hopeful, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who attended the unveiling of the “miracle” device registered under the armed forces and approved by the country’s Ministry of Health.

The wild fabrication, endorsed by the country’s incoming leader-for-life, General Sisi, immediately drew very harsh criticism from medical researchers both in Egypt and around the world. Because it’s flat-out crazy nonsense.

It is yet another attempt to convince the population of Egypt, via flat-out alternate reality creation, that the military is the one true source of all that is good and necessary in society.

Accordingly, despite the obvious fiction and the government’s own science adviser calling it junk, there was a full-court press by state media to praise the “breakthrough” and the glory of Egypt’s military in having “solved” a problem that has eluded the entire rest of the world.

“The interim president should fire the scientific adviser, Essam Heggy, after his offensive comments to Egypt and the army,” Mohammed Abu Hamed, an Egyptian politician and vice chairman of the Free Egyptians Party, tweeted Wednesday.

Pro-military journalists and media outlets urged Egyptians to rejoice after the army announced the invention will be available in June.

“Has the level of doubt reached such a high level on an international breakthrough? This will benefit all of humanity and solve a crisis that the medical community has not been able to fix for years. This is something we should celebrate,” Maha Salim, a state media reporter, said on private network Tahrir TV.

Such delusions have very dangerous consequences for both Egypt and the region. North Africa is currently experiencing a rising tide of new AIDS infections. Egypt is also one of the world’s most Hep C-prevalent countries; the CDC says 10% of the population has it. As we’ve seen in other countries where leaders claimed to have magically developed cures for AIDS and other infectious diseases, infection rates will almost certainly climb.

Cairo University assault illustrates Egypt’s violence against women

As I’ve discussed previously, Egypt has a pretty big violence against women problem, backed by both the society and the power of the state, which has worsened dramatically under military rule (both in 2011 and in 2013-present).

Here’s a noteworthy stat from Egypt News Daily:

According to a UN report issued last year an overwhelming majority of Egyptian women (99.3%) have experienced some sort of sexual harassment, and 96.5% of women had been sexually assaulted in some way.

In the latest high-profile incident — as opposed to the daily struggle for basic safety many of Egypt’s women face quietly — a female Cairo University Law student was sexually assaulted in plain sight by a dozen men on campus, who brazenly filmed their attack. She only escaped worse because some individual members of the campus security had the decency to intervene (something that can’t be said of much of Egypt’s local and national security forces).

The appropriate response would be: “Wait, we have a horrific problem where some of our male students feel secure in sexually assaulting our female students right out in the open on campus in front of security cameras and their own! What are we doing wrong? What can be done to change the culture and behavior of our male students?”

Instead, Cairo University’s president helpfully called her attire a “mistake” that was “out of the ordinary” for the dress code. He added that campus security should have removed her from campus or told her to change her clothes, before she was assaulted, rather than after. Sure he also said they would look into it, or whatever, and maybe think about some prosecutions because they shouldn’t have done it, but really he seemed to feel it was fundamentally attire-related.

Media treatment

Egyptian news media, closely aligned with the military government, extensively blamed the victim and gave her what might here be dubbed the full Rush Limbaugh treatment (with eerie parallels to his Sandra Fluke rant), calling her a “hooker” who should be in the “red light district” instead of at law school. At least one channel also obtained video footage — probably from one of the attackers — showing her walking around campus so the audience could see how she had been dressed. (Perfectly normal or even conservative campus attire, of course, by U.S. standards… not that it in any way matters.)

Egyptian pundits also wrote off the Cairo University assault using the tried-and-true method of rape apologism that dehumanizes everyone involved including fellow men, by suggesting that no man could possibly not try to rape a woman who crossed his field of vision. Below is newscaster Tamer Amin, mid-rant, on that line of attack:
Statements like that always raise more questions than they answer.

Questions like “Tamer Amin, since you clearly believe every man lacks all self-control and is a rapist at heart, is that belief from personal experience?”

Or, “Tamer Amin, how many women have you yourself raped and assaulted? Too many to remember?”
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Egypt’s Sisi selflessly offers to be leader forever

fake-time-magazine-egypt-200In the least convincing denial yet that he is building a cult of personality and permanent personal dictatorship, Egypt’s General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has told voters there that they should vote for his new constitution in this week’s referendum if they want him to run for president:

“If I run, then it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army,” General Sisi said at a military seminar, according to the website of the state newspaper, Al Ahram. “I can’t turn my back on Egypt.”


Sisi added that it would be embarrassing for him if they didn’t vote for it, and you don’t want to disappoint the Dear Father.

“Don’t embarrass me in front of the world,” he said, “not me personally but the military, because in the military we are as united as one man’s heart, and we adhere to democracy.” He noted that the new charter authorizes the military to “protect the will of the people” and he vowed, “We will protect it in any circumstances.”


Fortunately for Sisi, campaigning against the proposed constitution is not allowed. Seems like a pretty fair way to check on public opinion before you run for something, right? And just to be sure, the state propaganda engines are grinding away toward victory:

The state news media and Egyptian private television networks, all supportive of the military takeover, are effusive in their endorsements of the new charter and contain scarcely a word of criticism. A group of Egyptian movie stars has recorded a television commercial singing a song in praise of the new charter, ending with a call for a thousand yeses to the new Constitution. And the military itself has produced a television advertisement in which a group of children sing their own endorsement to a martial theme.

“It’s to be or not to be,” the children sing, warning listeners that they will be judged by God for their vote and urging them not to “leave my country for destruction.”


So, to recap: If you vote against this, you’ll embarrass the national armed forces and its leader and then God will smite you. This seems compelling.

When old-school propaganda meets the internet age

The irony of the internet age and the rise of social media under autocratic states is that it not only hasn’t brought an end to traditional replacement-of-reality-with-alternate-reality propaganda (à la the Soviet Union’s totalitarian media) and toppled all the dictators, but it has actually provided new opportunities for some of the propagandists. Propaganda is not just co-existing but flourishing, at the moment, even in places with ample internet access.

Person of the Year

Case in point: Egyptian government propagandists on state-run and pro-coup television were so eager to promote their new dictator, General Sisi, that they convinced everyone that Egyptians could control the outcome of TIME magazine’s person of the year selection and ordered them all to vote for him in the magazine’s online reader poll — which has no affect on the final choice for the magazine (which the editors pick). More Egyptians voted in the global internet poll, open to anyone, than the number of Americans or Indians who voted. Then when General Sisi won that reader poll, Egyptian media produced a fake cover of TIME and reported (falsely of course) that he had been officially chosen by the magazine as Person of the Year.


Obviously, given their easy access to outside media, most internet-using Egyptians are probably well aware of the distinction, whether or not they voted for him in the poll. It’s worth remembering, however, that a lot of Egyptians still get their news from television media and, unlike their Twitter-savvy brethren, aren’t necessarily exposed to alternate sources of information. So if the TV says TIME magazine picked their nation’s leader as the global Person of the Year, and shows a cover to prove it, then they might not know otherwise.

American TV News

Television is by nature an authoritative, one-way medium that many viewers can’t contradict or fact-check easily (and tend not to, even if they can). Thus, propagandists can exert a heavy influence without much to challenge them. And in the modern era, they can couple it with the power of the internet rather than being undermined by it.

The Egypt story might seem provincial and irrelevant to us in the United States, but let’s not forget that a majority of Americans — particularly from the older generations — still get their news from television each day. The influence of TV news producers, while substantially more open to challenge in the United States than in Egyptian state media, is still a powerful force with a rigid narrative.

Viewers receive a narrow (partly by nature of the time-restricted format) and often repetitive message and are strongly encouraged to put their trust in the networks — local, national, or cable — that they are being told The Truth. Network brands are marketed like other products through heavy promotion. The promos urge people to maintain high brand loyalty to a particular delivery service of what is (theoretically) open information that should — if it’s really The Truth, as advertised — be more or less the same across brands.

The Fox Delusion

Fox News Channel, of course has taken this philosophy much further. They brag that they are the highest-rated cable news network … after years of convincing viewers — who skew older and count on television to be factually accurate — that the news world outside (except for right-wing talk radio, of course) is filled with lies and treachery, and that only Fox News Channel and its hosts’ radio shows are able to bring you The Truth. So everyone on the conservative end of the spectrum jumped on the bandwagon long ago and stayed put, resulting in its rise to the number one spot (while liberals split over a range of sources). For a regular viewer, adjusting that dial away from Fox News means being exposed to the “liberal media” conspiracy beyond.

Fox News Channel broadcasts are riddled with demonstrable errors — not just in analysis, but in basic statements of empirical, encyclopedic facts — as many a media fact-checking website has shown every day. Its viewers know better by now than to check outside the channel or its partners for the facts, though, so there is little danger they will be exposed to reality. When they go to vote in U.S. elections, they are doing so based on information received almost entirely if not solely from one news universe that has built all its analysis upon totally fabricated underlying facts. It’s not just skewed interpretations being delivered to viewers, but even foundational “facts” lacking in truth.

All this holds true even in an age of easy access to a literal world of factual information, via the internet. The internet, for a Fox viewer, instead of a source of contradicting reality, becomes a network of websites affiliated with Fox News or run by other devotees and like-minded ideologues.

Thus, as I have discussed extensively before, Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and the conservative blogosphere have established an entire unchallenged, closed-loop parallel universe of news “reality,” much in the way a totalitarian government’s state media would. And just as with Egyptian TV’s fake TIME magazine Person of the Year cover, Fox News Channel is able to propagate its elaborate fiction through traditional means, with help from the internet, rather than being genuinely subverted and exposed by the internet, as we might have expected.

What does the future hold?

The internet, social media, and freer access to information around the world will undoubtedly play a major role in opening societies and exposing fictions presented as news — and certainly the U.S. internet community has already been ripping apart fraudulent news stories in the traditional media for many years and forcing corrections (from outlets that aren’t trying to create a parallel reality).

But for the moment, at least, the rise of the internet is not the cure-all for propaganda, whether on U.S. cable or on authoritarian governments’ TV stations. The meeting of the internet and propaganda isn’t like throwing water on the Wicked Witch of the West. The narratives and fictional worlds of propagandists don’t dissolve instantly in the presence of access to information. But eventually, they will crumble.

The interim period will not be without consequences. How do people, including Egyptians or Fox News fans, react when confronted by the harsh light outside the cave? Ultimately this confrontation will inevitably occur, as it always has, despite the propagandists’ efforts to steer people to favorable sources. Whether the clash with reality occurs in the form of the loss of U.S. election if you were under the false impression that everyone agreed with the worldview Fox News nurtured in you, or in the form of realizing at newsstands in a few weeks that TIME magazine hasn’t put Dear Leader on the cover after all, people seem react in two ways.

The first reaction is turning in anger to wild conspiracy theories that explain the disjunction — i.e. that inscrutable minority forces must be controlling outcomes — and encourage extreme responses to “correct” the conspiracy — i.e. that the opposing faction must be destroyed. The second reaction is accepting that the propagandists have misled their audience about The Truth outside.

Sadly, many people find discovering themselves massively wrong or realizing they have been to duped to be extremely embarrassing or humiliating. (Being manipulated is something that happens to other people.) And so these people generally resist accepting they have been conned at all costs, even if it means embracing the extreme conspiracy theories and doubling down on their misguided beliefs. And that’s when the politics in a country get really scary.