Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A cloying, claustrophobic "little Englander" mentality

There is something profoundly disturbing about the second leader in The Daily Telegraph today, which picks up on the story by Thomas Harding in yesterday's edition about the "British" success in Afghanistan.

If Harding's story was bad, the leader is inestimably worse in its absolute determination to airbrush US involvement out of the picture.

Now, this is not just – or even – a bitch about lazy journalists missing some small details from a report, or an editorial that glosses over the role of our allies in its enthusiasm for lauding "our boys". There is something fundamentally wrong with this editorial which, it seems to us, betrays a much more deep-seated malaise.

In order to understand quite how wrong it is, however, one must appreciate that the current effort in Helmand province is truly a combined operation – as we point out in our earlier report. The two main players, the US and British militaries, are closely meshed and working together as one, with joint planning and the sharing of intelligence. Furthermore, the Americans are supplying considerably more assets, in terms of fighting troops, helicopters and air power, than the British.

Against that, we see in today's DT leader - entitled, "Over to you in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai" – open with the words, "The welcome news from Afghanistan that British forces have reached a "tipping point" in their campaign to subjugate the Taliban is a testament to the skill and determination of our Armed Forces in tackling a fierce and determined enemy.

It continues:

Despite having to cope with serious shortages of both men and equipment - the enduring legacy of this Government's egregious underfunding of our Armed Forces - the British contingent has been so successful in crushing the Taliban that it is no longer able to constitute a serious military threat.
Only in the next paragraph do we get a tangental reference to "British and other Nato forces", but only in the context of the objective of the Taleban's campaign, before the piece then again refers to, "The military success enjoyed by British forces …". There is no mention whatsoever in the entire piece about the United States, still less of the nature of the combined operations.

This could perhaps be dismissed as an example of jingoistic short-sightedness on the part of the paper, but in the context of the DT's inherent anti-Americanism, the greater probability is that the omission is deliberate.

The contrast is seen best with a report today by the Bloomberg news agency, clearly based on an ISAF press release and an interview with US. General Dan K McNeill, the outgoing commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, reported by Agence France-Presse.

The Bloomberg report talks of Taliban guerrillas being "driven from their strongholds in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province as NATO and US forces try to close one of the rebels' routes across the border." Even handedly, it reports that "British soldiers and US Marines" are pushing the insurgents south to the border with Pakistan's Baluchistan province after capturing enemy positions in Garmsir district, adding that the US has deployed an additional 2,200 Marines this year to southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is strongest, to help mostly British, Canadian and Dutch troops.

Then we get a Canadian Press report (well worth reading in full) telling us that US Marines have "clawed their way south along the Helmand River valley over the weekend in an ongoing push that the commander of the battle-hardened assault force hopes is easing the pressure on the Canadians in neighbouring Kandahar." But it also notes that the Marine push has "… eased pressure on the British further up river, where almost 8,000 troops have fought repeated bloody campaigns over two summers to stamp out militants …".

The problem, we think, is that the idea of success being achieved by the combined forces of the British and Americans working so closely together goes so much against the "establishment" narrative that the paper cannot bring itself to report it. That the Americans might be effective, and that the British might actually be relying on US support, also challenges the orthodoxy that we are soooo superior to the "dumb Yanks" - hence, a reluctance to offer a conflicting narrative.

But, if the Telegraph is the focus of our ire for its distorted reporting, at least it has actually reported on the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan. It is the only British newspaper to have done so and the broadcast media – especially the BBC – are silent.

This, though, is also the case in the US. Marine commander Colonel Pete Petronzio, in a Canadian newspaper is thus reported as "worried he's losing the battle when it comes to getting Americans interested in the war." "I get concerned some days that, as Americans, we are a military at war, not a nation at war," he says, adding that "it doesn't help that US residents are currently more captivated by stories about the ongoing presidential campaign and rising gas prices."

Those comments could equally apply to the UK – pointing up the same fundamental malaise in the MSM to which my co-editor referred earlier.

But, if we add to the general, loathsome inertia of the MSM, the British disease of a cloying, claustrophobic "little Englander" mentality, we are perhaps closer to understanding what is going on. Having lost our Empire and having yet to discover a role (other than "strengthening the position of Europe in the world" – as the FCO would have our primary foreign policy objective), it appears that our media can no longer cope with looking over the horizon to report candidly on what is really happening in the world we have so egregiously vacated.


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