As an exercise in judging the torrent of political propaganda that’s spewed at us from all sides in these tenuously United States, here are two articles covering the same subject; President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from the area of Syria near the Turkish border, to avoid getting involved in a shooting war with the Turks over the Kurds. (We’ve spoken of his decision before, here and here. Basically, I think it was correct.) They offer very different perspectives.
The New York Times thinks the President got it disastrously wrong, and has endangered US prestige, policies and security as a result.
President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.
Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — probably will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.
But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.
. . .
Out of necessity, the Kurds switched sides on Sunday, turning their backs on Washington and signing up with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a man the United States has called a war criminal for gassing his own people … And over the weekend, State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the United States had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 250 miles from the Syrian border, according to two American officials. Those weapons, one senior official said, were now essentially Erdogan’s hostages.
There’s more at the link.
It’s worth noting that the NYT classifies its own article as “News Analysis” rather than a news report. An analysis can bring in extraneous opinion, and isn’t limited to the facts – something useful to propagandists, who know that readers may not find it easy – or may not even bother – to distinguish between the two categories.
Also, I find it curious that the NYT article mentions the nuclear weapons based in Turkey. They’re assigned to NATO, so to a certain extent, the US can’t act independently in moving them; we have to consult with our treaty partners. They’ve been a question-mark in NATO’s relationship with Turkey for some time, but so far no-one has suggested that they’re a political trump card (you should pardon the expression) for either side. I don’t think they are. It’s too easy to disable them by removing key components; in fact, I’ll be very surprised if they’re stored in a ready-for-use configuration. I’m willing to bet some critical components have been removed, and may already be out of the country. What’s more, there’s nothing about those weapons that is new or top-secret. They’re all decades-old designs, well-known to friend and foe alike. I think that the NYT mentioning them is nothing more or less than a red herring, designed to provoke a knee-jerk reaction to President Trump’s policies from the anti-nuclear-weapons crowd.
Be that as it may, The Last Refuge, generally a pro-Trump source, has a very different perspective on his policies toward Turkey.
President Trump has played this out perfectly. By isolating Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and effectively leaving him naked to an alliance of his enemies, Erdogan is now urgently asking for the U.S. to mediate peace negotiations with Kurdish forces.
This request happens immediately after President Trump signed an executive order [See Here] triggering the sanction authority of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Erdogan called the White House requesting an urgent phone call with President Trump.
After President Trump talked to Kurdish General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, President Trump then discussed the options available to President Erdogan. As a result of that conversation, Erdogan requested the U.S. mediate negotiations. Vice-President Mike Pence announces he will be traveling to the region with National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to lead that effort.
Again, more at the link.
Who to believe? Who’s got it right? Who’s telling the truth about President Trump’s policies in Syria and towards the Kurds, and who’s lying?
The answer is, of course, that neither article has it completely correct. A great deal of the information coming out of the Middle East is suspect, heavily influenced by partisan perspectives there and here. However, there are three important elements to watch for when trying to determine what’s propaganda, and what’s fact.
- What’s the pattern? Has a source been consistently reliable, accurate and truthful in its reporting about a person or subject, or has its coverage been generally biased and one-sided? If the latter, its trustworthiness takes a knock.
- Does the source’s reporting match what’s happening on the ground? This can be difficult to determine in real time, so it may be necessary to look at past reports and analyze whether they matched the facts as they emerged. Again, if a pattern of accurate reporting takes shape, that’s good. If it doesn’t, that’s bad. In general, one should suspend judgment until the facts are clear. In this case, the facts on the ground are murky, to say the least, and are not helped in the least by deliberately false reports in local and international news media. (ABC News, take a bow. If that report was “mistaken” or “inaccurate”, I’ll eat my hat. No, it was deliberate propaganda, and you were caught red-handed. You even edited out from the video people holding cellphones, so it would look more realistic! You deserve the egg on your face.)
- Is the language objective, or subjective? Is the way in which the incident(s) and/or person(s) is/are described factual, unbiased and neutral, or is it designed to evoke a particular emotion, attitude or reaction? What descriptive words and phrases are used, and what is the author’s and/or editor’s intention in using them? That, in itself, tells us a lot.
Obviously, in the two examples above, both have elements of propaganda in them. However, when analyzed according to the three principles above, it’s clear that one is more propaganda than reporting, while the other is more factual. There’s also a consistent pattern of that in both outlets’ reporting, where one prefers to offer opinions without specific references to prove them, while the other backs up its opinions with references whenever possible. I don’t fully trust either outlet, but I certainly trust one more than the other, based upon that evidence. Nevertheless, I’ll double-check both, just to be sure.
We simply can’t trust the mainstream media, and much of the alternative media, to be completely honest and trustworthy any longer. It’s up to us to be far more discerning in accepting the “news” and “facts” with which we’re bombarded, and reserve judgment until we have enough of a factual foundation to make one.
(BTW, for another, somewhat contrarian perspective on what’s going on in Syria and the results of the US withdrawal, see here. It’s interesting – and again proves my point about judging carefully.)