The NYT’s casually racist, arrogant chauvinism in two paragraphs
A New York Times reporter unironically insist that the Iraq invasion was about “spreading democracy,” and another writes another tedious, ahistorical love letter to Pax America.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine understandably draws outrage across North America and Europe, U.S.-reputation-polishing news outfits are working overtime to use Russia’s military aggression to bolster discredited readings of the U.S.’s own history of military aggression. Two recent examples in the New York Times show the dangers of using this moment to rehabilitate the forces of war and exploitation within the U.S.
In what one could easily mistake for a glossy promotional pamphlet aimed at convincing American foreign fighters to fly to Eastern Europe and combat Russians, New York Times reporter Dave Philipps published his article, “‘I Just Can’t Stand By’: American Veterans Join the Fight in Ukraine” on Mar 5. Inserted into the piece, seemingly at random, is this ideologically loaded revisionist interpretation of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:
All across the United States, small groups of military veterans are gathering, planning and getting passports in order. After years of serving in smoldering occupations, trying to spread democracy in places that had only a tepid interest in it, many are hungry for what they see as a righteous fight to defend freedom against an autocratic aggressor with a conventional and target-rich army.
See, American troops were simply trying to “spread democracy” in hot, desert-y places (e.g. “smoldering occupations”), but those they occupied, killed, bombed, arbitrarily detained, and humiliated were just disinterested in “democracy.” Our benevolent White Man’s Burden was rejected by ungrateful people who were simply too backwards for “democracy,” unlike the white, presumably pro-Democracy Ukrainians who eagerly await American troops flooding into their emerging war zones.
This is a straight report in the Times, not an opinion piece, asserting extremely contestable ideological premises about the alleged high-minded motives of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan—and the broader war on terror, which cost over 14 trillion dollars and resulted in, by conservative estimates, almost 400,000 deaths. Where are the vaunted Washington Post or AP “fact checking” services to verify the claim the U.S. was motivated by “spreading democracy,” or that such a concept was the reason for resistance to U.S. occupation? Does it merit 3 pinocchios or “partly true” to say George W. Bush’s objective was “spreading democracy,” while at the same time he sold weapons and backed dictatorships such as Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine-occupying Israel?
Another article shows the extent to which this unchallenged chauvinism permeates the Times’ newsroom. “The War in Ukraine Holds a Warning for the World Order” from March 4 is not a straight report, but rather a “news analysis”—which is a mode of article where the Times waves its normal prohibition against its reporters editorializing, and permits them to assert a bunch of chauvinist opinions under the auspices of “analysis.” It’s a useful window into how Times reporters function, which is often as little more than ideological border patrol defending the frontiers of Acceptable Opinion. The “analysis” by Damien Cave reads like a 6th grade social studies report, only with less humility. He, throughout, asserts premises about a supposed “liberal, rules based order” that never existed, but he seems convinced does:
The liberal world order has been on life support for a while. President Biden, in his inaugural address, called democracy “fragile.” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said two years ago that “the liberal idea” had “outlived its purpose,” while China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has extolled the strength of an all-powerful state and, as he put it last March, “self-confidence in our system.” The multinational response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown that the demise of the global postwar rules-based order may not be inevitable. The multinational response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown that the demise of the global postwar rules-based order may not be inevitable…
The article would go on to lament that “Ukraine may also be just the first of several tests for the old order,” and that we need to “reinvigorate both American democracy and the institutions of the international order.”
It’s unclear what the “post-war rules based order” is. Neither Cave nor his sources ever define it, or explain how, in any capacity the U.S. is subject to an “international” “rules base” “liberal order”.
The U.S. has not ratified and is not subject to the vast majority international treaties, signed by the vast majority of countries—including the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention of 1958, the Convention against Discrimination in Education of 1962, Convention on the Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages of 1962, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, Minimum Age Convention of 1973, the Moon Treaty of 1979, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996, Kyoto Protocol of 1997, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998, Convention on Cluster Munitions of 2008, or the Arms Trade Treaty of 2013.
Not only is the United States not a signatory to the the International Criminal Court, the most prominent manifestation of “liberal, rules based order,” it passed the American Service-Members' Protection Act in 2002, dubbed by humans rights groups as the “Hague Invasion Act,” that actually compels the President of the United States to literally invade The Netherlands and free any American citizen subject to ICC justice. The U.S.’s closest ally and the largest recipients of military aid, Israel, is not subject to virtually any major international agreement pertaining to war and human rights, including the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, Missile Technology Control Regime of 1987, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972, the International Criminal Court of 1998, Convention on Cluster Munitions of 2008 or the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997. Both the U.S. and Israel reserve the unilateral legal right to assassinate any person on Earth whenever they deem fit, and invade or bomb any country they deem a threat. And they have not sought international sanction or legitimacy for any of their wars in the past 30 years.
Twelve hours after Cave posted his piece, Axios reported that the Biden White House was sending top envoys to convince Saudi Arabia to increase its oil supply in exchange for even warmer relations. Saudi Arabia is currently engaging a seven-year war on Yemen, blockading its coast and bombing the poorest population in the Middle East non-stop. Where they fit into this “U.S.-led liberal, rules based international order” versus “authoritarian order” dichotomy isn’t clear.
So what “liberal, rules based” order is Cave referring to exactly? Is it actual international law, and if it is, then what specifically is it? Presumably this “liberal rules-based global order” is merely a vague and unenforceable collection of norms, norms that say the U.S. and its allies can do whatever they want—be it colonize and displace Palestinians or bomb Yemen for years-on-end, killing over 400,000. But if any other country engages in aggressive war without U.S. sanction, they are said to undermine the “liberal, rules based order.” But such an order never existed, it’s not an actual document or a series of laws. “Rules based” simply means “American rules” that the U.S. and its NATO allies assert when it suits them. One can and should find Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unconscionable, but it’s not because it violated some mythical “rules based order”: It’s because invading other countries is bad in and of itself and, per Putin’s own explanation, it’s animated by dubious, pre-revolutionary imperial territorial claims. Indeed, it very much mimics another arbitrary, imperial regime of lawlessness that has become the actual post-Cold War “global order.” If it’s a “liberal, rules based” order Times writers seek, perhaps they can start by noting that the US government—which supposedly manages this “order”—routinely rejects international law and claims divine right to kill and invade whomever they want, whenever they want.