(WASHINGTON) – The aggressive new campaign by the administration of President George W Bush to depict US foes in the Middle East as “fascists” and its domestic critics as “appeasers” owes a great deal to steadily intensifying efforts by the right-wing press over the past several months to draw the same comparison.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Network and the Weekly Standard, as well as the Washington Times, which is controlled by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, and the neo-conservative New York Sun, have consistently and with increasing frequency framed the challenges faced by Washington in the region in the context of the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 1930s, according to a search of the Nexis database.
All of those outlets, as well as two other right-wing US magazines — the National Review and The American Spectator — far outpaced their commercial rivals in the frequency of their use of keywords and names such as “appeasement”, “fascism” and “Hitler”, particularly with respect to Iran and its controversial president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
For example, Nexis cited 56 uses of “Islamofascist” or “Islamofascism” in separate programs or segments aired by Fox News, compared with 24 by CNN, over the past year. Even more striking, the same terms were used in 115 different articles or columns in the Washington Times, compared with only eight in the Washington Post over the same period, according to a breakdown by Nexis.
Similarly, the Washington Times used the words “appease” or “appeasement” — a derogatory reference to efforts by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain to avoid war with Nazi Germany before the latter’s invasion of Poland — in 25 different articles or columns that dealt with alleged threats posed by Ahmadinejad, compared with six in the Post and only three in the New York Times.
Israel-centered neo-conservatives and other hawks have long tried to depict foreign challenges to US power as replays of the 1930s in order to rally public opinion behind foreign interventions and high defense budgets and against domestic critics.
During the Cold War, they attacked domestic critics of the Vietnam War and later the Ronald Reagan administration’s “Contra war” against Nicaragua — and even Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon — as “isolationists” and “appeasers” who failed to understand that their opposition in effect served the interests of an “evil” Soviet Union whose ambitions for world conquest were every bit as threatening and real as those of the Axis powers in World War II.
Known as “the Good War”, the conflict against Germany and Japan remains irresistible as a point of comparison for hawks caught up in more recent conflicts — from the first Gulf War when former president George H W Bush compared Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler; to the Balkan wars when neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists alike described Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in similar terms; to the younger Bush’s “global war on terrorism” (GWOT), which he and his supporters have repeatedly tried to depict as the latest in a series of existential struggles against “evil” and “totalitarians” that began with World War II.
Given the growing public disillusionment in the US not only with the Iraq war but with Bush’s handling of the larger GWOT as well — not to mention the imminence of the mid-term congressional elections in November and the growing tensions with Ahmadinejad’s Iran over its nuclear program — it is hardly surprising that both the administration and its hawkish supporters are trying harder than ever to identify their current struggles, including last month’s conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, specifically with the war against “fascism” more than 60 years ago.
As noted by the Associated Press (AP) this week, “fascism” or “Islamic fascism”, a phrase used by Bush himself two weeks ago and used to encompass everything from Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda and Hamas to Shi’ite Hezbollah and Iran to secular Syria, has become the “new buzzword” for Republicans.
In a controversial speech on Tuesday, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld was even more direct, declaring that Washington faced a “new type of fascism” and, in an explicit reference to the failure of Western countries to confront Hitler in the 1930s, assailing critics for neglecting “history’s lessons” by “believ(ing) that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased”.
But Rumsfeld’s remarks, which drew bitter retorts from leading Democrats, followed a well-worn path trod with increasing intensity by the neo-conservative and right-wing media over the past year, according to the Nexis survey. Significantly, it did not include the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial pages have been dominated by neo-conservative opinion, particularly analogies between the rise of fascism and the challenges faced by the US in the Middle East, since September 11, 2001.
Thus the Washington Times published 95 articles and columns that featured the words “fascism” or “fascist” and “Iraq” over the past year, twice as many as appeared in the New York Times during the same period. More than half of the Washington Times’ articles were published in just the past three months — three times as many as appeared in the New York Times.
Similarly, the National Review led all magazines and journals with 66 such references over the past year, followed by 48 in The American Spectator and 14 by the Weekly Standard. Together, those three publications accounted for more than half of all articles with those words published by the more than three dozen US periodicals catalogued by Nexis since last September.
The results were similar for “appease” or “appeasement” and “Iraq”. Led by the Review, the same three journals accounted for more than half the articles (175) that included those words in some three dozen US magazines over the past year. As for newspapers, the Washington Times led the list with 46 articles, 50% more than the New York Times, which also had fewer articles than its crosstown neo-conservative rival, the much smaller New York Sun.
A search on Nexis for articles and columns that included “Iran” and “fascist” or “fascism” found that the Sun and the Times topped the newspaper list by a substantial margin, as did the Review, the Spectator, and the Standard among the magazines and journals. Nearly one-third of all such references over the past year were published in August, according to the survey.
Nexis, which also surveys the Canadian press, found that newspapers owned by CanWest Global Communications, a group that owns the country’s Global Television Network as well as the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette and several other regional newspapers, were also among the most consistent propagators of the “fascism” paradigm and ranked far ahead of other Canadian outlets in the frequency with which they used keywords such as “appeasement” and “fascist” in connection with Iraq and Iran.
The CanWest Global group is run by members of the Asper family whose foreign-policy views have been linked to prominent hardline neo-conservatives in the US and the right-wing Likud Party in Israel.