Hillary Clinton admits it: ‘We’re losing the war’

Alexander Cockburn: Why the world doesn’t believe America any more

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:50 ON Thu 3 Mar 2011
Alexander Cockburn

As the vast, rebellious crowds mustered during February in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and across the region from Benghazi to Manama, there were plenty of complacent commentaries here in the US about the made-in-America tools fuelling the struggle for democracy across the Middle East: Twitter and Facebook.

There was a flourishing little internet industry claiming that the overthrow of Mubarak came courtesy of US Twitter-Facebook Command. There were respectful articles about Jared Cohen, currently the 30-year old director of ‘Google Ideas’, but formerly a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff, advising both Condoleezza Rice and later Hillary Clinton.

During June 2009 post-election protests in Iran, Cohen, a notable self-promoter, let it be known that he had contacted Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and persuaded him to postpone scheduled downtime for the site so that Iranians could keep on tweeting.

The New York Times runs numerous articles about the role of Twitter and Facebook while simultaneously ignoring or reviling Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Of course, in any discussion of the role of the internet in fuelling the upsurges across the Middle East, WikiLeaks should be given major credit. Tunisians were able to read the unsparing assessment of the kleptocratic regime oppressing them, courtesy of US Ambassador Gordon Gray’s cables, secured by WikiLeaks. Egyptians were able to read hitherto secret details of the role of Omar Suleiman in renditions, of Egypt’s abject services for the US and Israel.

But WikiLeaks, along with Twitter and Facebook, all pale into insignificance next to the role of Al Jazeera.

Millions of Arabs can’t tweet. Facebook is unfamiliar to them. But they all watch TV, which means they all watch Al Jazeera. In comparison to the significance of Al Jazeera in motivating Arabs to rush to the main square in town and demonstrate, Twitter and Facebook are as two ticks on the rump of a water buffalo.

None other than the US Secretary of State herself, Hillary Clinton, finally paid fulsome tribute to Al Jazeera yesterday. Appearing before a US Foreign Policy Priorities committee, she was asked by Senator Richard Lugar to impart her views on how well the US was promoting its message across the world.

Clinton promptly volunteered that America is in an "information war and we are losing that war," and furthermore, that "Al Jazeera is winning".
 
"Let’s talk straight realpolitik," Clinton went on. "We are in a huge competition" for global influence and global markets. China and Russia have started multi-language television networks, she pointed out, even as the US cuts back in this area. "We are paying a big price" for dismantling international communications networks after the end of the Cold War. "Our private media cannot fill that gap."

There were huge ironies in Clinton’s confession. In the late 1970s, radicals in the United Nations was eagerly promoting the need for a 'New World Information Order' (NWIO) to counter the lock on world communications and hence propaganda by the advanced industrial countries, preeminently the United States.
 
Ronald Reagan, campaigning for the presidency in 1980s, issued almost daily denunciations of the prospective NWIO, making it sound like a particularly sinister arm of the international communist conspiracy. Battered by this assault, the NWIO duly died and instead the world tuned into Ted Turner's CNN, founded in 1980, which swiftly became   precisely the US worldwide propaganda vehicle the Third World countries had been complaining about in the UN.
 
Enter the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khaifa, founding patron and financier of Al Jazeera, in 1996. It was an immensely significant moment in the history of the Middle East. Its power has long been tacitly acknowledged by the US government which has pressured US cable companies not to carry it.

In the early days of the rebellion in Egypt, US TV viewers had the somewhat surreal experience of seeing Al Jazeera being broadcast on one of the two sets in Obama’s office, though Al Jazeera English is blacked out to cable viewers in the US, with the exception of those in Toledo, Ohio; Burlington, Vermont and Washington DC. (This did not prevent both Obama and Mrs Clinton from decrying censorship in Iran.)

Poor Mrs Clinton. She envisages a vast imperial communications network disseminating adroit propaganda for the American way. She hints that it should be financed out of public funds, a ramped up version of Voice of America, devotedly followed by audiences behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago.
 
The world has moved on. One has only to watch US TV for 10 minutes to conclude that America’s communicators no longer have the intellectual resources to mount successful, well-informed propaganda. The Fox Channel is for home turf idiots. And besides, what would the state-subsidised propagandists be able to boast about? Predator raids in Afghanistan? Guantanamo? Thirty million on part-time or jobless in the Homeland? America is not the easy sell it once was. ·