The New York Times’ False Foreign Policy Narratives


The New York Times has done some great reporting, much with foreign policy implications in an increasingly linked world. They have highlighted the expanding Amazon model of micromanagement and grueling work practices, brought sunlight to cozy think tank-corporate alliances, and exposed government surveillance and the Pentagon Papers.

But as of late the Times has become part of what Matt Damon calls our topsy-turvy world. They offer up biased, false foreign policy narratives. Sure much of the media long ago abandoned their raison d’etre, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi describes in “The Summer of the Shill,” hilariously explaining how a friend would go to Russian media for news about America and the American media for news about Russia. The Trump or Hillary-bashing have obliterated what’s left of our news media, he asserts. The liberal media (that formerly worked to defeat Sanders’ popular politics) is now an effective arm of the corporate-friendly Democratic party.

The New York Times’ coverage of the past few weeks demonstrates this. They amplified the earlier tactics of the Clinton campaign of using red baiting to avoid critical foreign policy debates and to silence discussion about party corruption, climate-killing trade, endless war, and exploitative power grabs. Now Clinton’s strong ties to Russia are no longer fair game. Unfavorable stories are blasted with neo-McCarthyism. Unsurprisingly these tactics – used broadly across the media – have been condemned by The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and the Nation magazine.

The latest came on September 1, on an NYT A1 article that provided little support for its assertion: “Wikileaks’ Disclosures Often Benefit Russia, Our Examination Found – whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence.” Even if one disagrees with Assange’s tactics, as many do, one must acknowledge that the truths covered by him and Russian media on corporate priorities and election manipulation were often in the public interest. In fact, the article dodges the larger question: why must Clinton’s e-mails and foreign and corporate policies remain clouded by a Red smokescreen? “The End of History” may well be here. But we now see, rather than a natural progression, it requires quelling debate to advocate for those allied with the free market.

The New York Times’ participation in this process is problematic for three reasons. First, as the newspaper of record, it is read by many who fund the dominant parties – and thus critically shapes the ideology for the tiny ruling elite. Second, on a grassroots level, it aggravates the conditions that make it difficult for Sanders’ supporters to vote for Hillary – postponing battles over ideas (thus ironically undermining Clinton’s support). Lastly, American exceptionalism justifies corporate and military actions that work directly to impoverish global populations and ruin our planet. It’s trebly ironic that the so-called liberal The New York Times would fail to make such connections.

It would be difficult to examine the entire body of recent NYT writing through September 1 that has (or should have had) a foreign policy angle. My worsening technology access and problems as I wrote this story are a continuation of those that have occurred since I’ve been writing about the media manipulation and DNC bias in the Democratic primary. (Most likely, I’ve been targeted by groups that support Democrats.)

Yet even a quick review proves interesting. The newspaper does little to make sense of the violent politics of today: whether through an exploration of their roots in problematic American alliances, or an examination of the role of corporations who benefit from economic and political violence. The forcible imposition of world leaders and unpopular ideas continue. Sunlight must be shone on the interests served for a tiny corporate and government global elite.

Saudi Arabia – A little over a month ago, 29 pages from a joint Congressional inquiry from a dozen years ago on Saudi Arabian involvement in 9-11 were published. This document, along with others, seems to tie Saudi government officials to the 15 9-11 Saudi hijackersThe New York Times recently weighed in through a story on the front page and a full spread in the A section. But it did not illuminate the high cost of the publishing delay, which was key to justifying the regional destabilization from invading Iraq. Nor did it explore the next steps for the US Senate’s bill that passed unanimously, which would make it easier for families of 9-11 victims to sue the Saudi government. Neither did it describe the history of American arms deals with the Saudis, including the largest ever overall, nor the rearming of the nation which has been internationally condemned for its indiscriminate bombing in Yemen. The Times’ didn’t choose to highlight Saudi ties to Clinton either. It didn’t call attention to her statement that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Nor did it focus on her family foundation’s links or her campaign chair’s brother’s provision of public relations to a nation that leads in beheadings and other human rights abuses.  Finally, this article didn’t focus on how to wean ourselves from our oil addiction.

Saudis and Extremism: Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters” generally lacks critical context. It fails to justify our support for the violent regime. Opening with a weak statement that purportedly shows Clinton and Trump think similarly delays a major point. One has to read about 15 paragraphs down to find the bulk of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and to learn that the nation supplied more suicide bombers to Iraq and foreign fighters to ISIS than any other nation. The article highlights extremist practices and ideology, and briefly discusses the funding of universities by the nation and how it may dissuade research on Wahhabism. It touches on the ineffective retraining of religious leaders. The financing and training of muhajadeen, including textbooks that contributed to extremism and terrorism abroad, is explored. (Yet a State Department-funded review of Saudi textbooks finished in 2013 was never published (?!)). Not surprisingly the article fails to make case the Saudis are effective “firefighters,” to defend their human rights record, to defend our dependence on oil, to defend our arms sales, to defend their war crimes, or to generally rationalize extremist ideologies. Perhaps the 5000-word article with few conclusions which is largely unanchored from current politics achieves exactly what sets out to accomplish: postponing serious debate on a close US ally.

Puerto RicoDemocracy Now! and The New York Times both ran stories on September 1 on the selection of the Puerto Rican control board, an unelected body mirroring those appointed in many US cities – most memorably Flint – to run the territory for at least 5 years. It could potentially severely reduce living standards. Democracy Now! ran it as one of a handful of key segments for the day, while the Times buried it deep in their Business section. DN! raised critical issues of democracy and debt, covering protests by hundreds of a gathering of bankers or business executives in their segment titled “Protests Erupt in San Juan as Obama Forms Unelected Control Board to Run Puerto Rico.” They also covered the $37 billion in debt that is believed to be illegitimate including $1.6 billion in issuance fees and another $1.6 billion in capitalized interest in so-called “scoop and toss” deals. They discussed high average issuance fees of more than 2 percent for Puerto Rico vs. 1 percent for other municipalities. (Barclays even charged Puerto Rico 9 percent for one deal.) In contrast The New York Times story “Puerto Rican Affairs Will be Overseen by Several Experts in Finance and Law” read like an Obama administration press release, ignoring the protests, excessive fees, and questionable debt.

Syria – Last week, the United States implemented a de-facto, ill-defined “no fly zone” that the Pentagon spokesman refuses to call so: telling the Syrians (and implicitly Russians) they can’t fly in places where coalition forces and partnered operations are focused on ISIL. The video exchange with puzzled journalists would have been prime Saturday Night Live material or worthy of a Jon Stewart “Daily Show” without editing. He doesn’t actually clarify who coalition forces or potential partners are, where those forces are, whether those forces would need to be engaging with ISIL at times of targeting, or when this “old” policy took effect.

Of course, a “no fly zone” is a big issue and was indeed the subject of major debate earlier in the Democratic primary: Clinton notably went beyond Obama and Sanders in her support. The prospect has been considered a frightening one. Should we not consider the world currently in World War III — even as many countries bomb Syria — an interaction prompted by the new/old policy could be a flashpoint for a new World War. Obama was proactively and hopefully awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet he has bombed 7 countries and Clinton is described as even more militaristic – with her family Foundation and State Department record backing up such an interpretation – and a likely appointee of hers supports a no-fly zone. The New York Times did not seem to give this press conference or the development due consideration.

It may be worth noting here, separately, that Obama seems to have proactively endorsed policies that would keep Clinton from being blamed as president as being too hawkish or corporatist (although these might be consistent with his world view.)

He is potentially allowing European Union language in the TTIP trade agreement that could allow $444 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies in the case of emergency, despite G20 commitments for a phase out. He also signed a GMO bill shelving Vermont and other states’ democratically-enacted laws. Right after the Democratic Convention, he announced he would bomb Libya again (restarting “Hillary’s War,”) and he has introduced pesticides to fight Zika through a short-circuited process which appear to be devastating bee colonies.

Honduras – On August 21, The New York Times published an article entitled “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer,” giving it about ¾ of prime real estate of the cover of the The New York Times’ Sunday Review. The teaser read, “Programs funded by the United States are helping to transform Honduras. Who says American power is dead?” It appeared to be an extraordinarily poor choice to justify American intervention.

The article failed to explain how exactly Honduras got that wayfollowing a coup (a term used by the US ambassador as shown in a Wikileaks’ cable) that was conducted by trainees of the infamous US Army School of the Americas. The coup was condoned by then-Secretary of State Clinton, which allowed the continuation of military aid. Child refugees skyrocketed with tens of environmental and other activists being murdered, including “Green Nobel” prize winner Berta Caceres. Since then, her daughter Laura has called for a halt to arms sales barring investigations (her recent DNC activism would have provided a worthy news peg.)

The New York Times has long been criticized for Honduran reporting that serves US government interests, and ignores human rights violations and murders and the need for accountability. This article was true to form. Heavily condemned by readers and media analysts, it celebrated the marginal contributions of trash cans and school uniforms, seeking to imply a transformation by ignoring the larger picture.

Brazil — The weak response the coup has met in the US, even as the media has championed a female presidential candidate on the merits of her gender, is truly shocking. As has been pointed out by Dilma herself, it’s her second coup. The first, of 40 years ago, brought her repression and torture. This was an overthrow enabled by weak economy that was devoid of proof of corruption. It was done on grounds not considered impeachable in most countries, and ginned up by a biased media.

Many Brazilians do regret her impeachment and protested during the Olympics, and later in Sao Paolo and elsewhere. The coup was timed to allow the right-wing Vice President to take over, even as a removal just six months later – rather than two months after her election – would not have. Dilma says the coup will affect every democratic organization, as highlighted on Democracy Now!, which also published “In Post-Olympics Brazil, A Political Coup is No Game.” The New York Times provided a less forceful and clear analysis the day after the long expected outcome, even as their endorsed presidential candidate is supposedly friendly with new leadership.

University of Chicago – In another lead A1 article, The New York Times published “The University of Chicago Rebels Against Moves to Stifle Speech.” It outlines their letter to freshmen which describes their lack of support for intellectual safe spaces and trigger warnings, and their policy of allowing all invited speakers on campus. (Ironically, neither the campus president nor the letter author was available to discuss the letter or what prompted it).

Immediate questions come to mind. The university is in the midst of so-called Chi-Raq zone of violence, presumably with about 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted as is common across US colleges — in fact, ironically, the article jumps to a page describing the fallout from the Stanford swimmer’s widely condemned short sentence for rape. How they can be blind to the violence inherent in our society and the need to warn people of potential retraumatization? Another question might be whether they intend to bring to campus all war criminals, or just American ones, as well as criminal bankers?

The article cites how the 1932 Communist party candidate for president gave a speech at Chicago. Yet major questions remain related to the school’s past of supplying the ideas and leaders behind brutally imposed economic changes accompanied by harsh violence. It’s a topic extremely relevant to discussion today. So let’s review a subject that escaped examination.

The Chicago model championed by Milton Friedman included extreme deregulation, destruction of labor rights, and punishing privatization and austerity schemes. It has been forced on populations through extraordinary measures. About 50 years ago, staggeringly successful government-led, inward-looking developmentalism in the Southern Cone of Latin America was thriving. Such policies in Chile brought strong health care and education gains, a growing middle class, and rising industrial sectors. But it was at the expense of foreign corporate profits. Then the State Department funded students in “The Chile Project” that was expanded across Latin America. Forty to 50 Latin Americans at a time attended the university at some points, including 1/3 of the graduate economics department.

The so-called Chicago Boys should not have fared well in Chile, a nation where all three political parties supported nationalizing US-controlled copper mines. But after Salvador Allende’s election, President Nixon ordered the CIA director to “make the economy scream.” The Chicago Boys developed detail proposals. Eight of 10 of the major authors of the new 80-page economic program, called the “The Brick,” were from the University of Chicago. The CIA-funded El Mercurio newspaper printed it. During a military coup by General Pinochet, the population was “shocked” by tanks rolling down the streets and fighter jets attacking government buildings. The September 11, 1973 event had followed 41 years of peaceful democratic rule. The second capitalist “shock treatment” of the Chicago boys that followed was facilitated by a third shock: the roundup of tens of thousands and the application of CIA torture techniques.

ITT-promoted corporate sabotage further weakened the economy, which allowed Sergio de Castro and other Chicago Boys to make more reforms. By 1980, public spending had been cut in half from Allende-levels, with severe hits to health and education that prompted the usual free-market champion The Economist to call it “an orgy of self-mutilation.” Almost 500 state-owned companies were privatized in the 10 years ending in 1983, with the pain prompting former Chicago Boy Andre Gunder Frank to publish an “Open Letter to Arnold Harberger and Milton Friedman” that said the brutal economic policies could not “be imposed or carried out without the twin elements that underlie them all: military force and political terror.” Eventually the public school system was taken over by vouchers and charter schools, health care became pay-as-you-go, and social security was privatized.

“Now the Chicago Boys and their plans were back, in a climate distinctly more conducive to their radical vision,” writes Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. “In this new era, no one besides a handful of men in uniform needed to agree with them. Their staunchest political opponents were either in jail, dead or fleeing for cover; the spectacle of fighter jets and caravans of death was keeping everyone else in line.”

In 1976, generals seized power in Argentina. They coordinated with Pinochet and like-minded Brazilians to attack policies and institutions responsible for the uplift of the poor. Major government posts went to the Chicago Boys. Price controls were lifted which sent food prices soaring, strikes were banned, and hundreds of state companies were sold, a move applauded by Henry Kissinger. Trade unions were immediately attacked to avoid strikes, and they were discredited by falsely associating them with guerilla movement. A full 81 percent of 30,000 disappeared were between 16 and 30 in an attempt to rid the nation of political activists of the next generation. While state violence was lower profile than in Chile to promote greater international acceptance, there were three hundred torture centers. Half the nation’s citizens ended up below the poverty line.

The termed “genocide” was used by federal judge Carlos Rozanski to describe what happened in the state. He thoroughly rejected the United Nations Convention on Genocide’s decision not to include the elimination of a group with certain political beliefs – a position traceable to Joseph Stalin’s earlier insistence, and its support by other leaders who wanted freedom to target their political opponents.

Brazil and Uruguay fell too in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s with U.S.-backed military governments running the nations with Chicago School economic policies. Several governments collaborated in Operation Condor, which used a Washington computer system to track those they kidnapped and moved across borders for torture much like the CIA’s more recent “extraordinary rendition.” In all, 100,000 to 150,000 were tortured or killed in the Southern Cone. War was declared also on the dominant mass culture from Pablo Neruda’s poetry to Simon Bolivar with efforts often phrased as cleansing or cleanup, in echoes of the Third Reich.

Allende’s U.S. Ambassador Orlando Letelier rejected the idea that there were two different projects, insisting “terror was the central tool of the free-market transformation.” Similarly, Brazil’s Nunca Mais report stated: “Since the economic policy was extremely unpopular among the most numerous sectors of the population, it had to be implemented by force.” Simone de Beauvior wrote on the topic of excesses: “There are no ‘abuses’ or ‘excesses’ here, simply an all-pervasive system.” Klein concluded, “Just as there is no kind, gentle way to occupy people against their determined will, there is no peaceful way to take away from millions of citizens what they need to live with dignity – which is what the Chicago Boys were determined to do.”

These reforms morphed into what was used by the Chicago-Boy heavy International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — later referred to as Washington Consensus. Countries with serious economic crises received financial bailouts only if they accepted privatization and free trade measures, even though these were admittedly not related to stability. After commodity shocks or capital outflows resulted in skyrocketing debt, a punishing series of deregulation, privatization and austerity was forced on many countries. Even an IMF internal audit that examined structural adjustment in several Asian countries found the demands were “ill-advised” and “broader than seemed necessary” as well as “not critical to resolving the crisis.”

Of course, whether through disasters or war, radical economic policies have been used elsewhere. In Iraq, a self-described “Shock and Awe” that terrified civilians was followed by the extreme shock treatment. People were tortured in prison and Debaathification (firing) was done across sectors including medicine, engineering and teaching as well as the police. Large-scale unemployment also resulted from an enforced reliance on foreign firms for goods and rebuilding: an approach very different from the Marshall Plan, which aimed to create local jobs and tax bases for domestic social services.

Was the crushing of local democratic efforts, the billions lost through no accountability, and mass privatization of war and the nation what Klein calls the “logical conclusion of Chicago School theory?” Also: was the two-tiered recovery system in New Orleans with mass privatization of public schools another example? How about the boxing in of the South African economic plans such that grassroots democratic demands became truly unachievable and untenable? She convincingly argues so: that war and disaster are now a boon for corporations.

Fortunately, there are those — who receive very little high-profile media ink — who challenge the purpose and priorities of our twinned economic and physical wars. There are those who see repression in trade deals, privatization, and so-called “labor flexibility” that rob the dignity from much of humanity, while stripping them of their environment and basics for living. And so they continue fighting. But they deserve allies in media – who don’t just seek to promote the lesser evil – but a world worthy of our humanity and of our potential.


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Veena Trehan writes on policy and the responsibilities of politicians and institutions. She has written for Reuters, Bloomberg News and NPR. Trehan is an active citizen with a passion for issues including inequality and human rights, environmental justice, and the safety of women on college campuses. Before her career in journalism, she worked in government consulting and information technology. Trehan studied Electrical Engineering at MIT and did a Master’s in Journalism on a Reuters Fellowship.