IN-DEPTH / IN-DEPTH
Beltway media, think tanks act as 'white-glove' for US to attack, suppress countries: expert
Published: Sep 15, 2021 08:23 PM
US Defense Department holds a press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on August 16. Photo: VCG

US Defense Department holds a press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on August 16. Photo: VCG

The response to Taliban's rapid takeover of Afghanistan has exposed the agressive attitude of some elite US media beneath the impartiality and neutrality they claim, as the public found many mainstream media outlets in the US blasting Biden's troop withdrawal, regardless of the fact by polls that most Americans support the decision.

"Afghanistan's quick unraveling jolts national security officials and threatens to stain Biden's legacy," declared CNN on August 13, two days before Taliban entered Kabul. "Biden said the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be safe. Then chaos ensued," criticized NPR the next day.

Condemnation and complaints from mainstream US media including the New York Times (NYT) and The Washington Post (WP) on the withdrawal continued over the following month after US troops finally left Afghanistan. That exposed the Beltway media's "de facto merger with the military," American historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter said in an article posted by US investigation journalism website The Grayzone.  

Beltway media refers to the American corporate media that focus on the interests and priorities of officials, politicians, and contractors rather than those of the general public. Looking into the recent coverage of Beltway media that vehemently opposed the withdrawal, the Global Times found that many of the authors have numerous connections with the Pentagon and it-backed Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which is "the most militaristic think tanks in Washington," described Porter   in his latest article published on Grayzone.

Over the decades, these authors have been beating the drum for US' military invasions and the subversion of foreign governments in the name of anti-terrorism. Now many of them are also active in topics such as Xinjiang and COVID-19 origins tracing to smear China.

Having long alienated the US public, Beltway media act as a mouthpiece for the US military, political parties, and intelligence agencies, observers said. "Instead of professional news outlets, they play more of a 'white-glove' role for the US to attack and suppress other countries," Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Aggressive objectors

"In his August 30 article Afghanistan collapse reveals Beltway media's loyalty to permanent war state," Porter cited examples that illustrate how Beltway media stood with the US military in calling for keeping troops in Afghanistan and in taunting Biden's withdrawal schedule.

Porter mentioned a story published on NYT's website on the eve of the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Authors of the story, NYT's correspondents David Sanger and Helene Cooper, wrote that military leaders failed to compel Biden to maintain 3,000 to 4,500 troops in Afghanistan earlier this year. They cited "intelligence estimates" that predicted "Al Qaeda could find a new foothold in Afghanistan in two or three years." 

Sanger and Cooper "homed in on Biden's refusal to keep troops in Afghanistan for counter-terrorism purposes," Porter said.

 A view of the Pentagon. Photo: VCG

A view of the Pentagon. Photo: VCG

Another example that Porter mentioned was an article published by Foreign Policy on August 16, after the US-backed Afghan government was ousted. In the article the Foreign Policy reporters interviewed "a dozen people who held posts in Afghanistan" and who expressed "deep anger, shock, and bitterness about the collapse of the government they spent decades trying to build."

On the same day, a writer with The New Yorker called the withdrawal "an epic defeat," lamenting that the US "is engaged in what historians may someday call a Great Retreat."

Polling shows the general Americans' attitude is at the opposite pole. In an April survey, 73 percent of respondents approved of Biden's plan to withdraw from Afghanistan; in August, a survey by Pew Research Center showed 54 percent say the decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right one.

The voices of ordinary American people "should count for something, yet their point of view was largely missing from reports out of Washington," said an opinion piece published on The Hill on August 15, which criticizes, in its title,  Beltway media's coverage of the Afghanistan withdrawal is "a disservice to Americans."

American elite media are indeed disappointed with Biden's withdrawal schedule, as the chaos caused by the withdrawal so far have led to substantial damages to the image and international status of the US, analyzed Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.

"Apart from disappointment, the possible collusion with the military under any interest can be another reason behind the media's attitude toward the Afghanistan issue," Xin told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Li agreed. "In the US, the withdrawal is welcomed by the public but not acceptable to some military and political elites," he said. "In all probability Beltway media have formed a  community of shared interests with the military for some reason and speak for them in this propaganda campaign."

Behind the propaganda campaign

Among the mainstream elite media in the US that take an aggressive, militant stance on the withdrawal, many have connections with the Washington-based CNAS, a self-claimed "independent, bipartisan, nonprofit organization" but is funded by the State Department and the Pentagon, and "has taken more money from weapons companies over the last several years than any other think tank in Washington," news website Mint Press News reported in August.

On the CNAS website, a sponsor list showed that the US Department of State and leading weapon manufacturer Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation are among the main contributors to this organization, donating more than $500,000 between October 2019 and September 2020. Huge military-industrial complexes include Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and BAE Systems, the Global Times found.

At least 16 CNAS alumni are now in key positions in the Biden Pentagon and State Department, the Mint Press News article said. The "revolving door" phenomenon, which think tankers "revolve" out to engage in government service and former government officials "revolve" in to take their place, is very common in the US, making the country's decision-makers and interest groups highly interconnected, Li explained.

The CNAS' co-founder Michelle Flournoy, for instance, had been Obama's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. She was expected to be appointed as the next Secretary of Defense until Biden froze her out, "because of her role in advocating the failed troop surge in Afghanistan during the Obama administration," according to Porter's Grayzone article.

Clearly, core members and sponsors imply how CNAS stands close to the US military and hawks. Worse still, several national security and foreign policy reporters from elite US media outlets are affiliated with CNAS, which, as journalist Dan Cohen wrote in his article released on Grayzone in August, "are therefore indirectly affiliated with, and likely paid by, the US government and corporations."

Taking a look at the name list of CNAS' writer in residence, all the nine writers are editors and reporters of typical elite US media such as NYT and WP, the Global Times found. 

Sanger, who condemned Biden's withdrawal as mentioned above, is on the list. According to Cohen, Sanger has been engaged in the propaganda campaign of supporting US aggression and war since the "WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq" accusation in 2002. He published a story that advocated the COVID-19 lab-leak conspiracy on NYT in May, pointing the finger of blame at China.

Another familiar name on the list is Michael Gordon, who is notorious for co-authoring an article in September 2002, falsely asserting that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.  

Gordon also constantly slanders China with misinformation and lies. He was the first author of an article published on the Wall Street Journal on May 23, which quoted "a previously undisclosed US intelligence report" as saying that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) "became sick" and had "both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses" in November 2019. Chinese health authorities and WIV lab director later refuted the false report.

The US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have cost American taxpayers $6.4 trillion since they began in 2001, according to the report by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University published in November 2019. 

Members of the Taliban military unit walk amid debris of the destroyed Central Intelligence Agency base bombed out by US troops before they full withdrawal in Kabul on September 6. Photo: VCG

Members of a Taliban military unit on September 6 walk amid debris of the destroyed Central Intelligence Agency base bombed out by US troops before their full withdrawal in Kabul. Photo: VCG

Obviously, on the Afghanistan issue, think tanks such as CNAS run information campaigns together with their cooperative elite media journalists, to serve the interests of Pentagon and the military-industrial complex behind them, Li told the Global Times. "Not sure whether these journalists are paid for it, but it's possible," he added. 

After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US may enhance military provocations on China as it shifts its strategic focus to the Western Pacific, and the Pentagon would try its best to maintain its high military spending, Li said. "China must be vigilant against that," he noted.
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