Salvage from the wreckage
Why is Aleppo in such heavy focus just when the Syrians have more or less wrested the eastern part of their biggest city from an assortment of extremist Jabhat Al Nusra and similar groups? The US, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel have consistently dignified these as "Syrian rebels". Turkey was a key member of this gang too but has switched sides after an attempted coup against President Tayyip Erdogan which he suspects had American origins. He travelled to Moscow outlining an Ankara-Moscow-Teheran axis. This, by the way, is a game-changing axis: major powers are meeting over Syria without US participation, for the first time. This brings me back to the above question.
The American establishment, bruised by the defeat of its very own candidate Hillary Clinton, is trying to influence the incoming administration on some issues it has invested heavily in -- Russia and Syria, for instance. The CIA and the media, duly mobilised, would like to cast Russia in a Cold War-like adversarial role. Also, they would not like to give up on regime-change and fragmentation of Syria.
The relentless propaganda war, with Aleppo at centrestage, is part of an effort to salvage something from the wreckage. What is happening in Aleppo is truly grim and very tragic. But tragedy dressed up as propaganda is what we are being exposed to. The propagandist's expectation is that folks around Donald Trump would begin to worry about public opinion thus whipped up. This, in turn, would influence policy.
All of this is delusionary because Trump has come to power fighting precisely this kind of stuff and from these very sources -- CIA and the media. He has set the cat among the pigeons by taking on the CIA even before he has assumed office. Never have CIA daily briefings to the President been so summarily dismissed. What is the point of listening to the same thing every morning, he says.
Rep Peter King, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, says CIA Director John Brennan is orchestrating a "hit job" against the President-elect by leaking allegations that Russia hacked into the US elections. Some heads may roll, but the CIA will eventually fall in line once Trump enters the Oval office.
Media gyrations, on the other hand, would be interesting to watch as it begins to make adjustments. Stalwarts like Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria (to name just two) have followed the Establishment script to the last syllable. Now that an avowed anti-establishment is in the White House, will they change their spots?
There is another dimension to the media story which has been reinforced by Trump's victory. He won despite major networks and newspapers arrayed behind Hillary Clinton. This is proof of an abysmal drop in the media's credibility. This is a truth the media (including Indian media) will ignore to its peril. There is a consistent decline in the media's credibility for two primary reasons.
The post-Soviet, unipolar world order was accompanied by accelerated globalisation which, in its wake, gave rise to crony capitalism worldwide.
It is in the nature of crony capitalism to have mainstream media (Think Tanks too) lined up behind the establishment. Recent history shows that this arrangement results in wide disparities of income and lifestyles. A majority begins to lose faith in the media which is seen as being partisan to an establishment they have lost trust in.
There is another durable cliché to remember. When wars break out, the first casualty is truth. In conditions of war, the journalist becomes myth maker and propagandist. Only the finest journalists are able to separate a war from the national interest. Such is the din of jingoism.
There were many journalists who exposed the fallacies of the Vietnam War. They changed the course of history. That kind of professional honesty has been a casualty of journalism in the age of crony capitalism. What objectivity in an era of embedded journalists?
This media has been called upon to cover nearly 50 big or small conflicts the West embroiled itself in after the Soviet collapse. One-sided coverage resulted in a huge loss of credibility.
During the final debate with Trump at Las Vegas, Clinton simulated a lump in her throat talking about the four-year-old Syrian boy with a burnt face. This was evidence of indiscriminate Russian bombing of civilians in Aleppo, she said. Is none of the brutality to be placed at Jabhat al Nusra's door? Is the Nusra a benign force?
On cue, Christiane Amanpour thrust the very same photograph of the Syrian boy under Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's nose. "Crime against humanity" she emoted. In counter-propaganda, Youtube showed graphic details of how the "burnt boy" story was manufactured. Anyone can see it on Youtube.
In the course of another interview, Amanpour thumped the table, "Are we going to allow another Srebrenica in Aleppo?"
In Srebrenica in 1995, 8,000 Bosnian men were separated from their women and children by Serbian soldiers. They were lined up, shot and buried in mass graves even as Dutch Peace Keeping troops turned the other way. True, Aleppo is witness to great brutality perpetrated by all sides. Where is the comparison with Srebrenica?
(Saeed Naqvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal.)