Ambassador Chris Stevens: How Propaganda Works For Empire
Ambassador Stevens, Servant to Evil
The Big Lie
It is compassion and love that guides United States foreign policy in North Africa and the Middle East and there can be no doubt about it.
At least that has been the strange and wonderful idea sold to the English-speaking world these past weeks after the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens. Just like Jesus, Christopher Stevens offered the people of Libya his selfless love and received death in return.
Why couldn’t Libyans see this miracle of love? Why couldn’t Libyans see this miracle of self-sacrifice? Maybe it’s because there was no miracle. Maybe it’s because Christopher Stevens was a vicious scumbag and at least one group of Libyans showed him the door.
It is precisely for this reason–to resurrect that faux miracle–that Washington’s propaganda machinery joined with the corporate media to lay waste to any notion of material “truth,” clubbing fact-seekers with cartoonish depictions of a saintly ambassador, working tirelessly for a saintly cause on behalf of a saintly government.
The purpose of this essay is to show–at least in this one instance–how this propaganda machinery performed its craft and why. Because the event in question was largely unanticipated, and because, by its very nature, it had to be addressed immediately, we have found that Ambassador Stevens’ death has provided us with a rare opportunity to see propaganda formation at its most raw and revealing.
Selling Ambassador Christopher Stevens
In the days since Ambassador Stevens was killed, much has been spoken and published about this previously-obscure American diplomat, the overall effect being that angry, confused, ignorant Arabs killed one of the greatest human beings that has ever existed.
According to the sources cited, Ambassador “Chris” Stevens was:
- “…one of the smartest men I ever knew.”
- “…the model American diplomat, committed, idealistic, willing to take risks.”
- “…funny and charming with a broad smile and wide curiosity.”
- “…always smiling, unruffled…”
- “…friendly, casual, and rarely rattled.”
- “…the best of the best.”
- “…very inclusive of everyone.”
- “…one of the least judgmental.”
- “…the best person I have ever worked for.”
- “…the coolest guy in the room.”
- “…cool and calm.”
- “…so intelligent, but never lost that human touch.”
- “…a brilliant young diplomat.”
- “…beautifully even-tempered.”
- “…calm and easy and people loved him.”
- “…a courageous man of action.”
Chris Stevens had “humility, integrity and a willingness to listen”; “an unflappable character and unrelenting empathy.” He was a “tennis player and a Laker fan.” And “when you got him one-on-one, he was just funny.”
- “…had a yearning to mingle with Arabs.”
- “…[was a] friend to all Libyans.”
- “…[was] in love with the Middle East.”
- “…loved that part of the world, he loved the people, he spoke the languages and he really loved his job.”
- “…risked his life to stop a tyrant.”
- “…[was] one of Libya’s best friends.”
- “…[was] on the rebels side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable.”
- “…[was] among those who were pushing for a stronger commitment by the United States, both in the air and, through the special forces on the ground.”
- “…was murdered by the people he loved…the people he was trying to help.”
- And especially that “he has probably done more than anybody on the planet to help the Libyan people.”
As we digest these selected encomiums, let us also remind ourselves of the obvious: that Ambassador Stevens was in fact a senior-level “diplomat”–a paid liar, an artificial person. This public relations aspect had been especially crucial to the work Christopher Stevens was performing in the past year, first representing the United States as their top liaison to the NATO-backed “rebels” (as that international coalition of aggressors waged their proxy “regime change” war against Libya), then later after the country was removed as a threat to totalitarian global rule, he was rewarded as the first ambassador to the now-destroyed sovereign state. First the aggressor, then the viceroy of a new colony he created.
To many observers both within Libya and elsewhere, it was the United States that pushed Libya into civil war. The challenge then became to convince Libyans–and to leave no doubts whatsoever about this–that U.S. policy had been guided by purely “humanitarian” motives.
Exactly what the United States was hoping to project about itself (through its ambassador) is revealed in this short video below, produced by the State Department, intended to be shown to a Libyan audience.
Now that we’ve read the eulogies; now that we’ve seen the sunshine, the budding flowers and the smiling faces, do we think that we have been brought any closer to the truth? Most of us want to believe there’s truth in these words and images (most of us are victimized by this imagery and so we cannot do otherwise but to believe).
And yet what is the material source of this belief?
Eulogies given by those from his own culture, from his own social circles, from his own government offices; those sharing many of the same prejudices and political aims as he did? Photos taken by people that are paid to massage a delicate political climate with shallow finesse? Words from the mouth of a man that is paid to monitor and control his own image projection? Can it be said that we are now any closer to knowing the “real” Christopher Stevens?
Perhaps there are people out there that could offer a different, less appreciative story of the man and his work; or at least a truly balanced account of his life and work? Where would we find these people? And why haven’t they been asked to speak?
Didn’t anyone get angry when NATO war planes pounded civilian population centers in Libya last summer? Didn’t anyone get angry when patriotic Libyans and innocent civilians were rounded up, traumatized, some beaten, some tortured and then murdered for speaking on behalf of (and defending) their country from a foreign-backed invasion? Didn’t anyone get angry when Muammar Gaddafi–the main architect of Libya’s transition into the modern world–the leader of this sovereign nation–was ruthlessly gunned down without so much as a trial, without so much as a cry of injustice from media in “civilized” nations?
And Christopher Stevens lived and worked at the center of all this violence, murder and mayhem. His job was to demand a widening of this violence; his job was to exploit indigenous social divisions; to promote civil war; and to subjugate the country (and the people) he is said to love.
Chris Stevens was the bag man for the United States.
Any reasonable “journalism” would have highlighted these controversial aspects of his history and legacy; any reasonable “journalism” would have presented balance, if only because this balance might offer readers important clues to understand what secrets lurked behind his death.
But this was not to be. Our “journalism” ignored balance and unbiased perspective. Our “journalism” told us fairy tales instead.
Compassionate “Loving Heart” of U.S. Policy: Here is the Conceptual Territory that the Propagandist Creates and Defends to Advance the Goals of Empire
There is a slick methodology at work here, one which we call “Creating and Protecting the Compassionate Loving Heart of United States foreign policy.”
Think of this “loving heart” as a location in some larger amorphous conceptual space in your mind–call it an “ideological” space–call it the mental battlefield where war is waged against your common sense and good judgment about the very world you live in–call it the place where ‘matter’ turns into concept and meaning–or the lens through which you see and judge manifestations in the political world.
The United States government, through its propaganda apparatus, has a motive–always–to be tinkering in this larger conceptual space. The propagandist really wants to own this territory; wants to select, limit and define what “facts” and impressions should be included in this territory; wants to dictate which parts of these “facts” and impressions should be considered “good” and which parts should be considered “evil”; which parts are “sane” and which should be considered “crazy”; which parts can be reasonably debated and which cannot.
It is within this space that a “loving heart” (or brand image for the United States) has been created and nurtured, it functions as the lens through which we look directly at (and judge) U.S. policy. If the United States government does anything–build; destroy; kill; save; help; hurt; enable; penalize–the function of the “loving heart” is to convince public opinion that the U.S. government does so, not out of greed or ignorance or malevolence–not out of self-interest or group interest–but out of self-sacrifice, compassion and love.
More pointedly, if the United States bombed Libya and killed its leader last year, it did so out of self-sacrifice, compassion and love.
Since his death, Christopher Stevens has become the centerpiece of this “loving heart” propaganda scheme. He has been transformed into an idea, irrespective of any actual behavioral traits, both Christopher Stevens and the United States will continue to be shown to the world as the embodiment of a loving “humanitarian” mission. When Christopher Stevens smiles, it is the United States that smiles. It is the United States that speaks the language and pays respect to the culture; it is the United States foreign policy apparatus that lays claim to friendship; the United States government is “in love with the Middle East”; the United States government “risked [its] life to stop a tyrant”; the United States government has “probably done more than anybody on the planet to help the Libyan people”; and the United States government has been martyred at the hands of those it sacrificed itself to “save.”
No One Ever Dislikes The United States
When we read about a country that we’ve never visited, that we know little about; a place where the nuance of its language or culture is completely unknown to us; and against which a decades-long ideological and cultural war has been waged…is it any wonder that our public opinion leaders can ignore “reality” and replace it with a fictitious narrative of their choosing?
According to senior U.S. officials and the corporate media apparatus, there are two generic versions of what happened in Benghazi, Libya on the evening of September 11 of this month, each of them slightly different. But perhaps what’s more important than their differences is what they both have in common. Both reinforce the two-pronged myth that the United States is in Libya to “help” the “Libyan people,” and that the “Libyan people” love the United States.
The White House’s generic version was crystallized September 14, by Press Secretary Jay Carney:
The underlying idea here is “spontaneity” and a focus on “protesters” and “victims.”
Common sense dictates that the whole “Libyan people” cannot be said to love the United States and their self-sacrificing “democracy” mission if there are calculated, military-style acts of political violence directed against it. Calculation presupposes careful logic and sophistication. The successful assault against an American consulate and the killing of an American ambassador presupposes planning and organization. It might even be indicative of deep-seated hatred and resentment on the part of “the people” the United States claimed to “save.”
The ‘spontaneity’ narrative has been designed to deny Libyans a deep-seated hatred or a legitimate expression of political violence. The focus here is, instead, on emotion and reaction; and on “protesting,” a legitimate form of “democratic” expression. These “spontaneous wave of protests” were brought about, not because of anything real, not because of anything with genuine political value, but because of that crudely-made Youtube video, the one that nobody has seen and nobody can reasonably vouch for, the one that is said to insult the Prophet Mohammad. Which is to say, the “Arab people” are victims here, not culprits, not killers (never mind that this reading implies an insult to the Arab: intellectual dunces, emotional weaklings, incapable of even basic political discernment; dragged into the streets by their own violent rage, victims of past insults and residual misunderstandings, unable to exercise control over their physical bodies…zombies fixated on the “Great Satan”…always with a lot of signs in English and always with a serious flag collection at their disposal).
“Extremism” is the culprit of both the protests and the armed attacks: either right-wing racist bigots (the supposed filmmakers) or “terrorists” “linked to al Qaeda.”
These “extremists” are not representative of the true Libya or of true Western sentiment, it is said. True Libyans love the United States and cling to their “democratic” expression. True Americans and true Westerners love Libyans and want to help them succeed in their “democracy.” Like so many other places, “al Qaeda” (a foreign terrorist element) “hijacked” a completely legitimate “spontaneous protest” and tried to make it their own.
There is another “official story” circulating, however. This one has been sponsored by both the Libyan government and the United States Department of Defense. This one claims that the assault on the American consulate in Benghazi was well-coordinated, well-organized, not connected to the protests at all. This one says the violence was planned and carried out by “Muslim extremists.”
United States Senator John McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had this to say:
The underlying idea behind this alternative narrative is to focus on the culprits; to define them and judge them. This narrative is also designed, we imagine, to answer questions about how the (guarded) United States compound could be penetrated; how the ambassador of the most powerful country in the world could be reached, and could be killed.
“Al Qaeda” is implicitly the central character of this narrative and what is ridiculously implied is that only they could logistically pull off such a planned assault, not any faction from within Libya itself. And, anyway, why would “Libyans” want to attack the U.S. consulate? What reason would they have? The United States loved and saved this country from an evil “dictator.” The United States gave this country “democracy.” No, the “Libyan people” had neither the means nor the motivation to carry out an attack of this kind.
It is indeed curious how two competing narratives are able to be sold simultaneously to the public by members of the same administration, the same power apparatus. Will there ever be one definitive version that will survive? And if so, which one will it be?
While we cannot be certain of this answer, we do know that for a whole year since the killing of Gaddafi, all “news” about Libya disappeared completely from Western public consciousness. Libya was “liberated” and then strangely Libya did not exist. All that was really happening in Libya–the murders, the chaos, the real power struggle, the real social and political challenges–all this was conveniently damned to darkness and obscurity. Nobody was “selling” Libya anymore and so nobody was asked to care. It was only because of an ambassador’s death–no more, no less–that the bloody mess that has become modern Libya has reemerged for public consideration. And what a Libya we discover!
And so we ask again, will there ever be one definitive version of the event that will survive?
When Libya gets damned back to obscurity again, will anybody even care?
Imagined Reality Versus Physical Reality
“Libyans,”"the Libyan people” and “Muslim extremist” are actually brands: the “Libyan people” live within the “loving heart” concept, which means that whoever gets defined as the “Libyan people” are always “good” and an object of United States’ paternal love and compassion. The “Muslim extremist” lives outside the “loving heart,” which means that whoever gets dubbed “terrorists” are always “bad” and deserve the wrath of the powerful United States military apparatus.
Welcome to the simple mathematics of imperialism in the modern world. Obviously imperialism would not work as well if its caretakers were telling us the truth: if they told the world, for example, that the reason why they have killed Colonel Gaddafi and bombed Libya is because they want oil and gold, support for military bases in Africa, monopolization of the Mediterranean, or greater diplomatic and economic leverage on the African continent. For most of us–and especially for those in Libya–this kind of salesmanship just will not do.
And so there has been created a salesman’s reality, a liar’s reality, one that successfully packages unpopular behavior in a language that we simply cannot resist.
We Don’t Know
So who really killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and why?
Here is the question that almost everyone is orbiting around–every political analyst, every essayist, every blogger, every talking head–those in the alternative and mainstream media alike–and almost everyone has put forth an elaborate answer or speculation.
Mark Robertson and Finian Cunningham recently published a short list of the most visible of these “claims, counter-claims and disinformation.” They wrote:
- The Obama regime says “protesters” irate over an anti-Islam video did it.
- The NATO-installed bureaucrats in Libya say that “foreign extremists” did it.
- US Congressmen say “Al Qaeda did it”. So does CNN, as well as the alternative media web site Prison Planet, which denounces any reference to the Green Resistance as “absurd”.
- Media outlets, such as the UK Guardian, say “an organized terror network did it”.
- Turkey’s government says “Syria’s Assad did it”.
- Israel says “Hezbollah did it”.
- The Sunni monarchs of the Gulf Cooperation Council oil sheikdoms say “Iran did it”.
- Even reputable alternative media writers and progressive bloggers have attributed the attack to “the Benghazi Islamists”, and that this is “blowback from imperialism”.
- Wikileaks says the attack happened because the US had backed Britain’s threat to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London and remove Julian Assange.
- Some media outlets claim that “Al Qaeda” carried out the attack in revenge for the supposed death in Pakistan (by US drone strike on 4 June 2012) of Libyan-born Abu Yahya Al Libi (aka Hassan Mohammed Qaid) who was supposedly a key aide to Osama bin Laden, and was supposedly the “number two man” in Al Qaeda.
But what can we really know if our speculations are not grounded by material details?
And considering the sorry state of the corporate-controlled media environment today, what details can we reliably trust?
Tonight we sit, the two authors of this essay, thousands of miles away from Libya, neither of us able to speak or read Arabic, neither of us ever having visited Libya… limited by time… limited by resources… limited by our own intelligence…
…and yet, still, both of us pawing through news reports…
…news reports provided by our information handlers…
…looking for a single solitary detail…
…looking for a story to tell…a story with real insight and value…
And here’s what we find: “thousands of Libyans enraged by the lawlessness of armed militias and the killing of the popular US ambassador, have stormed the compounds of Islamist groups in Benghazi, driving them out of the Eastern city.” “We demand justice for Stevens,” one protest sign is claimed to have said. “Libya lost a friend,” said another.
Can we really vouch for the truth of this event? Or the perspective from which it came?
How about we, instead, pause and take a step back?
Because last year we did not discover one mainstream “news” article that offered journalistic balance to Colonel Gaddafi’s legacy in Libya… not one article that offered journalistic balance to the means and purpose of NATO’s role… nothing even remotely critical of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine… not one challenge to the myth of the “humanitarian war.”
Muammar Gaddafi as post-colonial, anti-imperialist liberator and revolutionary leader: an idea that has been excised from memory
And there’s certainly nothing we have discovered about our media to suggest that anything has changed.
Is this observation not true enough? Certainly there is value in acknowledging that.