Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

May 10, 2000

As Justin completes his upcoming book on Murray Rothbard, we present a Classic Raimondo piece from last year.

October 18, 1999


The web of lies woven by this Administration to cover up its crimes in the Balkans is so thick and crawling with vermin that it is virtually certain we won't know the unvarnished truth for at least the next fifty years, if then. Even when the truth, in some form, does begin to leak out, as in the case of the London Observer's revelation that the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was deliberate, there is still more than enough reason to suspect that we are being fed yet more lies by master spinmeisters.


While it is in somewhat dubious taste to say, "I told you so," in this case the temptation to do so is irresistible. It is especially tempting in view of the fact that no one, absolutely none of the "mainstream" commentators of the sort who grace This Week with Cokie and Sam or Meet the Press – or even the sort who merit a coveted link on the anti-Establishment Drudge Report – questioned NATO's non-explanation that "it was all a mistake." Here is a punditocracy so brain-dead, and so co-opted, that their suspicions were not even mildly aroused by Secretary of Defense William Cohen's ludicrously lame excuse that "one of our planes attacked the wrong target because the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map."


And it wasn't just the TV talking heads who missed the story, but the alleged journalists who are presumably peddling more than just their opinions. As news of the bombing broke in early May, I cannot recall a single news story in English that did not assume the truth of the NATO-crats' explanation. The Observer's revelations dramatically illustrate the sad state of the rest of the English-speaking and especially the American media. Once purporting to be the guardians of the public interest and relentless seekers after truth, the Fourth Estate has long since dropped that pretense and degenerated into the Praetorian Guard of whatever wing of the War Party happens to occupy the White House.


This was a real test of the independence and integrity of our vainglorious media, and virtually everyone failed. I hasten to point out, however, that passed the test with flying colors. We featured a number of news stories and commentaries, originating for the most part outside the West, that treated NATO's explanation for the bombing with considerable skepticism. In my column, then called "Wartime Diary," for May 10 [1999], I wrote:


"Please do not anyone tell me that the same people who 'mistakenly' bombed a hospital, several busloads of civilians, a market, and innumerable residences [in the past few weeks] have made another 'mistake.' Everybody knows that the psychological terrorism practiced on the brave Serbian people has been a deliberate tactic in the war on Yugoslavia. But this latest 'error' is so fraught with political implications and consequences, both abroad and right here at home in the United States, that it cannot have been anything but deliberate. Exile me to the fever-swamps for daring to say it, denounce me as a 'conspiracy theorist,' but how can any objective observer possibly swallow NATO's story?"


Having once succumbed to the temptation of self-quotation, it is not hard to fall into the habit. However, I will risk what could turn out to be a dangerously self-indulgent and even addictive course in order to make my point about the nature and meaning of the interplay between the media and the State, a relationship that has become virtually symbiotic. At any rate, the next day – "Wartime Diary" was a daily column – I really got myself worked up:

"This war is rapidly taking on the qualities of a surrealistic nightmare, a collective hallucination of horror from which we are all trying – in vain – to awaken. That the U.S. government is now attributing the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade to an outdated map is the kind of bizarre touch that not even Kafka could have come up with."


We have yet to awaken: the nightmare continues. The collective hallucination cast by the American media over its narcotized audience has yet to be dispelled, even with the Observer's revelations. To begin with, the news has yet to get out there: 24 hours after the story was published, the big American networks had not even reported it. The sole mention of it was in a question put to White House strategist John Podesta by Cokie Roberts, in which she asked him to comment on the allegations. It was a priceless moment in the history of American television: as George Will and Sam Donaldson averted their eyes from the embarrassing scene and stared hard at the table, Podesta looked utterly stunned. He gazed uncomprehendingly at Cokie, his eyes wide with astonished innocence, and pretended not to understand what she was talking about. "I'm sorry," he said, "could you please repeat the question?" He then claimed, with the bewildered air of a virgin whose virtue has never been questioned, not to have even heard of these allegations. This is no ordinary arrogance, but duplicity developed into an art form, blatant lies that nevertheless are perfectly convincing: for who would doubt that an invincible ignorance is one of the chief characteristics of government officials? In this case, Podesta didn't even have to act: he only had to play himself.


Well, then, what is the truth about the bombing of Belgrade's Chinese embassy? In many ways, the Observer piece raises more questions than it answers. For it makes the rather dubious claim that NATO bombed the Chinese embassy "after discovering it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications." Not only that, but we are supposed to believe that these signals were, at first, coming from Slobodan Milosevic's home – perhaps he was transmitting them himself, from the "safety" of his living room. But why would anyone believe that Milosevic's house was somehow classified as a forbidden target, along with hospitals and other civilian sites? Talk of "taking out" the Serbian strongman was rife. Although the NATO-crats insisted that they wanted him alive so they could try him in their fake War Crimes Tribunal, chances are they would have been willing to forego the propaganda benefits of a show trial in the interest of bringing the war to a swift and seemingly victorious end. But this is where the story gets really outlandish. . . .


When Milosevic's "compound" – as targets of the US government's wrath, from Waco to Belgrade, are invariably called – was bombed, the mysterious radio signals started emanating from . . . the Chinese embassy! Oh, this is too rich for words – a cheap spy thriller that might have come from Hollywood rather than Washington. Can't you just see it? The movie version, I mean, starring Tom Cruise of "Top Gun" fame as the fearless but conflicted pilot, and maybe Jack Nicholson as crafty old Slobodan Milosevic, always up to no good. In the end, an anguished President Clinton – casting suggestions, anyone? – must make the Ultimate Decision: should he yield to the more pragmatic policy of keeping the Chinese embassy on the "don't bomb" list – and, it turns out, there was indeed such a list – or should he bomb those gooks into oblivion (in the name of "humanitarianism," of course)?


I don't have to relate the rest of the story line, we all know how it ends, except to point out that this thriller is really a mystery story, and the mystery is this: why are government officials on two continents suddenly coming clean? The Observer article cites "senior military and intelligence sources in Europe and the U.S." and furthermore goes on to state that "the story is confirmed in detail by three other NATO officers – a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels. They all confirm that they knew in April that the Chinese embassy was acting as a 'rebro' [rebroadcast] station for the Yugoslav army (VJ) after alliance jets had successfully silenced Milosevic's own transmitters."


These three anonymous employees of various governments are described in such specific terms as to make their identification an easy matter for officials to uncover their identity – if they don't know it already. The question is: why would these senior officials give us a glimpse of the truth, however fanciful and self-exculpatory – what do they have to gain by it?


This last is the key question in our quest to identify, as least speculatively, the source of the leak: not in the sense of identifying specific individuals, but in understanding the politics of this underreported but explosive story. Note, first, that senior officials in Europe as well as the US are cited, and that the nationalities of the others are never specified. This is one possible clue or partial explanation. The Europeans, or at least some of them, have lately come to resent American hegemony on what is after all their continent, and have begun the process of consolidating their own continental defense force independent of NATO. The "Europe First" crowd, in Berlin, Paris and Rome, has every interest in diverting Washington's attention to the East.


Is it even necessary to explain the importance of this story, or to describe the effect it will have on US-China relations? With China gearing up for a major confrontation with Taiwan, and various factions within the Beijing regime jockeying for control of the PRC's foreign policy, the consequences of this incident could be momentous. The already beleaguered Communist Party of China is facing several challenges to its supremacy, and if it is seen as capitulating to the West on this issue its shaky rule could be further endangered. This is a matter of national pride, and it could be the rallying point for a whole new upsurge of aggressive Chinese nationalism – a development that pleases certain interest groups to no end.


Yet another group, this one domestic, has an interest in the exacerbation of worsening relations with the People's Republic of China, and that is the ostensibly 'conservative' Republican wing of the War Party. I have discussed, at length and often, the role of the Hate China Lobby as the catalytic agent and organizing principle of rightwing warmongers. While the Clintonian "humanitarians" seem to concentrate their world-saving missions on such politically correct targets as Somalia, Serbia and East Timor, the "Asialationists" of the GOP, who pride themselves on their unsentimental realism, prefer to demonize the doddering hierarchs of "Red" China. This has the added advantage of playing to the reflexive anti-Communism of their conservative base. However washed-out pink the capitalistic "reds" of Beijing appear to be, the neoconservative warmongers of the Weekly Standard and National Review can always count on the ignorance of their supporters when it comes to such questions as the history of modern China: the average conservative generally doesn't know or care to know the difference between Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaopoing. Sating the Right's appetite for conspiracy theories with exotic and farfetched tales of Clintonian collusion with the Chinese "reds," the Hate China crowd obviously has the most to gain by a confrontation with China over this issue. For the Chinese reaction, which will not be long in coming, is bound to ratchet up tensions with the US – and the possibility of war (in the Straits of Taiwan) should not be entirely precluded.


Initial speculation that the bombing of the Chinese embassy was anything other than an "accident" was derided, in the "respectable" media, as a frivolous and baseless "conspiracy theory." This, in and of itself, was considered sufficient reasonto dismiss out of hand the possibility that the building was deliberately targeted. Whenever the Establishment wants to discredit any idea or individual, they immediately brand it a "conspiracy theory" and its progenitor a "conspiracy theorist" – a sobriquet that conjures images of someone who believes that the Freemasons, in league with the Knights of Malta, the Queen of England and the Sanhedrin, exert virtually complete control over current events.


This is all to obscure a very fundamental point, and that is that all government is a conspiracy of the rulers against the ruled. Government officials in every nation on earth are constantly conspiring not only to retain power but to expand it, to exploit not only their own subjects but those in other countries. Thus is born the policy known as "imperialism." A government, overweening in its power at home – even a so-called republic (or a democracy, in modern parlance) – naturally seeks to extend that power geographically, and to take the road marked "Empire – straight ahead."


But our rulers and their fawning officials cannot pull all this off alone: they require the help not only of allied politicians, but the active cooperation of intellectuals: academics, literary figures, prestigious "names" from the arts and sciences, and especially journalists. For it is the purveyors of what we call the "news" who set the terms of the discussion and define the context of what is factual – and, therefore, what is within the accepted parameters of debate. This is especially true when it comes to foreign policy, that is, when it comes to events occurring in faraway places to unfamiliar peoples. In that case, ordinary Americans are even more than usually at the mercy of professional journalists, especially those who work for the major news corporations. Yet, as of Sunday evening, only the European and Asian media seem very interested in the story of how the NATO-crats have been brazenly lying about the "tragic error" of May 7: only Drudge, the BBC and Reuters are even running it. There is no mention of the story in Monday's Washington Post or the New York Times – and aren't you glad we have a free press?


Fox and AP are running NATO's denials, citing British Defense Minister Robin Cook as saying: "The idea that the United States has been sitting on a good explanation for all these months but sought not to share it is, I'm afraid, a delusion. It was a tragic error. That is the reality of the situation." These NATO-crats are so clever, particularly the Brits: note how Cook is pushing the idea that the "radio signals" story is "a good explanation" – albeit untrue. This has the effect of mollifying those increasing numbers of reasonable people who are joining the "conspiracy theorists" in confronting the obvious fact: that our government has been lying from the get-go. Well, then, perhaps they were doing it for a good cause – this is the clear implication of what Cook is saying, and we can expect his American counterparts to take the same line.


But how, you may ask, do they get away with it? I read a fascinating story the other day, an Agence France Presse report [October 4, 1999] about the evolution of the media in nation of Eritrea, a poor and wartorn country on the tip of the Horn of Africa. The war with neighboring Ethiopia may have wreaked devastation on the entire region, and further degraded an already impoverished people, but it has apparently been a big boon to the news business, giving birth to no less than twelve newspapers where before there was one. The Eritrean media, born in war, is all privately owned, but the article asks "just how free is the Eritrean free press?" The answer is: not very, and the explanation, offered by Dawit Isaac, editor of Setit, the country's oldest private paper, seems to apply not only to Eritrea: "There is no government censorship," he says, "but we self-censor." Mathewos Hebeab, editor of Mehaleh, confides: "If we are concerned about something, we call and consult a friend, maybe someone in government. It's not official, but they can say if it is dangerous or wrong." Does any of this sound familiar?


But that sounds exactly like what happens in the "developed" countries, where the parameters of acceptable dissent may be a bit wider, but are no less strictly defined and relentlessly enforced by the "private" media. This is how the real story of the China embassy bombing was suppressed, not by bureaucratic edict but by unspoken agreement between government officials and their media echo chamber. This is how the real story of Waco was hushed up for so long, and is still being kept from the American people. And that is the status of American journalism: not too many notches above the standard prevalent in Eritrea, a thoroughly wretched Third World nation ruled by a self-styled Marxist junta.


There is yet one more group that had, at the time, a direct interest in the bombing of the Chinese embassy, and that stood to gain from its most immediate consequences: the Clinton Administration. For, if you remember, in the beginning of May, peace was about ready to break out, with Jesse Jackson just returned from his trip to Belgrade and a Republican-led congressional delegation also involved in peacemaking efforts. Clinton was going to be denied his glorious "victory," and the pro-war media was clamoring for the introduction of ground troops. The Clintonites were up against the wall, and something had to give – luckily for them, however, the "tragic error" of the embassy bombing destroyed all hope for a negotiated settlement, as the Chinese screamed bloody murder. The Yugoslav government pressed its advantage, and held out, hoping that the Chinese would rescue them by vetoing UN approval of military action at the Security Council level – even if the Russians sold them down the river. Peace was averted, and the "humanitarian" crusade of the Clintonians took thousands of more lives before it ground to a halt and NATO declared its grisly "victory."


With all these various interest groups benefiting, in one way or another, from the accidentally-on-purpose bombing of the Chinese embassy, I will leave it to the reader to construct his or her own "conspiracy theory" to fit the facts. I merely note that virtually all the major power centers in the West gained something from what has been described as a "tragic accident." This, of course, is purest coincidence – and if you don't believe it, you're probably one of those dreadful "conspiracy theorists."

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