Shills for empire: a matter of intent?

8 Nov

Our species draws a sharp distinction between intended and unintended harm, even when the outcomes are identical. That’s why the law distinguishes manslaughter from murder. In both, the victim of a criminal deed dies as a direct consequence of that deed, while in some cases – Mick and Mairead Philpott spring to mind – manslaughter is punished as severely as murder.

But even the Philpotts, jailed for life after incinerating their children by way of reckless venality, were not charged with murder. Had Britain retained the death penalty they would have avoided the gallows precisely because killing those children had never been their intent. 1

Hold that thought.


In my post of two days ago, Cook on Monbiot on Ukraine (again), I wrote:

Just as the Guardian confers liberal respectability on a rotten status quo, so do writers like George Monbiot (excellent on linking ecocide to big money, dire on Syria) and Owen Jones (author of such worthy tomes as The Establishment, useless when his employer was trashing Corbyn) give left cover to the Guardian. In none of this, however, do I accuse such writers of conscious bad faith  … though at times they sail close to the wind. 2 In the main … I see them as confused precisely because their humanist ‘universalism’ makes them useful idiots, easily duped by the agendas of an empire to whose existence they remain for all practical purposes oblivious.

This elicited the following exchanges below the line:

Margaret O’Brien: I disagree. I believe they are guilty of conscious bad faith. I just don’t think they can be that dense. Surely the fact that their paychecks from the Guardian would disappear is a factor in their siding with empire, and going along with the character assassinations of Assange and Corbyn. The quotation about it being difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding comes to mind.

Me: Well this isn’t a red line for me Margaret, so I’ll happily agree to differ (slightly). In my spell at a spiritual cult I learned many valuable things. One being that at some level of consciousness we all know what we’re doing.

All the same, I draw a distinction between the self-serving delusionality – eloquently skewered by the Upton Sinclair quote 3 you imply in your final sentence – of most mainstream journalists, including Monbiot, and the conscious mendacity of men like Luke Harding. Granted, it’s an at times blurry line or slippery slope but the distinction is to my mind worth preserving. And even Jonathan Cook, who detests the man, acknowledges that Monbiot is worth listening to on environmental matters.

Bottom line? Since our difference on this small point has no practical consequences, I haven’t the energy to spare for a fight for Monbiot’s soul.

Margaret O’Brien: Self serving delusionality – I like that. I also agree with you on the distinction between George Monbiot and Luke Harding. However, they both do enormous damage irrespective of that distinction, as I’m sure both you and Jonathan, whose work I greatly admire, do [agree?!?]. Also Monbiot can write about soil erosion and stuff until the cows come home, while the horrifically destructive agenda of war and empire is pushed by his employers at the Guardian, with him performing the role of useful idiot on that. I regard Luke Harding as almost a cartoon character but he has his followers. Haven’t been near the Guardian in years.

I admire your work also. Find it therapeutic in an insane world.

Me: “… on the distinction between George Monbiot and Luke Harding … both do enormous damage irrespective of that distinction …”


Susan O’Neill: Good post. I am really glad Margaret delivered her comment regarding her difference of opinion on your extremely generous appraisal of Monbiot et al.

I have no kind thoughts re Monbiot, Jones, Harding or any other traitors to truth. Monbiot refuses to engage with the likes of Cook and Prof. Tim (Hayward) precisely because he knows he can only offer more lies, misrepresentations and snarky insults – THAT is not journalism or anything remotely like it.

He is a shill and self-serving ventriloquist for the establishment who has sold his soul and any integrity (if he ever had any in the first place) to keep himself in a job and pro Israel Zionist Lobbyists good books.

Too many times I have read his words of rebuttal to anyone challenging his hubristic drivel and seen how absolutely worthless he is, being completely unable to defend his posits without insults and fall back memes by way of defending the indefensible.

You are a person with a genuine skill (in journalistic writing) and having a noble approach to opposition in both thought and actions, but sometimes you really are too kind. Extending generosity to the likes of those who scrape the barrel, scurrilously denigrating good people in the case of Monbiot and his ilk is probably giving them a due they do not deserve.

Having said that, I would neither change who you are or expect anything less from you.

Me: I’ve always been too kind Susan. It’s my only fault.


That last flippancy betrays my own doubts. The facts about Ukraine are available to all, though we do have to look beyond corporate media – systemically incapable of speaking truths on matters vital to power – and I long ago stopped apologising for repeatedly showing these two maps …

… and for repeatedly recycling Caitlin Johnstone’s characteristically on the nail observation:

Condemning Putin is the safest, most redundant and least courageous thing that anyone in the western world can do right now. What’s a lot harder is taking a bold stand against the west’s depraved role in getting this war started and keeping it going.

The war in Ukraine is not “Putin’s war”. Russia was provoked into it by the USA and its junior partners (none more culpable than a German ruling class which has betrayed its own people, as Michael Hudson noted yesterday). Designed, controlled and lied about by Washington, it is the most dangerous to date of America’s ceaseless wars for global domination. What else could the above maps – together with an ocean of corroborative evidence pertaining to deed, intent and even outright declaration – possibly signify?

And it carries the very real risk of going nuclear.

Things couldn’t get any worse, right? Wrong. To America’s plutocracy, Ukraine is a “warmup” for the “big one” with China. As I’ve observed before, any division within the American ruling class, over whether to target Russia or China first, no longer applies since the odds against driving a wedge between the two powers are now stratospheric. Here’s what Admiral Charles A. Richard, commander of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), said yesterday, November 7:

This Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup. The big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be very long before we’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested in a long time. We have to do some rapid, fundamental change in the way we approach the defense of this nation. I will tell you, the current situation is vividly illuminating what nuclear coercion looks like and how you, or how you don’t stand up to that. As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking. It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are. As those curves keep going, it isn’t going to matter how good our [operating plan] is or how good our commanders are, or how good our horses are—we’re not going to have enough of them. And that is a very near-term problem. 4

Let me translate. “Yes, the USA may have a far greater record of aggression than China, and vastly outspend it militarily. Nevertheless, the threat China’s economic rise poses to dollar rule, and to imperial exploitation of the world  [as discussed in numerous posts on this site, with my 2016 post, perilous days, an early example] justifies any measure, including first-strike use of thermonuclear weapons. But hey, we must back democracy against autocracy, right? It’s not as if any of this is about upholding the freedom of a tiny oligarchy to plunder the planet ...”

Here endeth the sarcasm.

I don’t suppose George Monbiot wants Armageddon any more than you or I do. But through his attacks on those who see America’s Ukraine war for what it truly is, and through his silence on the US-led West’s culpability at every turn, a man who enjoys celebrity status on the green left 5 is guilty of a dereliction of duty incalculable in scale and consequence. Margaret and Susan just might have a point.

As might the judge who handed the Philpotts those life sentences. But I’ll give the last word to Jonathan. The context – a dirty war on Syria sold by way of propaganda blitz – may differ but that shirking of the responsibility of critical vigilance does not:

Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wishes to see a military attack on Syria. But if he weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.

* * *

  1. The line between intended and unintended killing is not always clear cut, and men have hanged not because they intended to kill but because they were found to have “common cause” with others who did. See in this regard the case of Derek Bentley.
  2. As I discovered while researching my ‘universalism’ post on Syria, Owen Jones trashed Mother Agnes, head of an organisation mediating between warring factions and working for the safe evacuation of civilians. This Lebanese Christian nun had argued consistently for dialogue and reconciliation so why was Jones – whose knowledge of the war in Syria could, like Monbiot’s, be written on the back of a stamp – so contemptuous?  Because Mother Agnes questioned the hole-riddled narrative on Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons at Ghouta. As for George Monbiot, besides the public attacks, and failure to put up or shut up when challenged – as alluded to by Jonathan, Margaret and Susan – two mutually independent sources, Media Lens and David Ray Griffin, told me that in private they found themselves at the sharp end of his vitriolic ad hominems for taking positions, on Syria and on 9/11, counter to his own.
  3. The American writer Upton Sinclair famously observed that “it is hard to get a man to see a truth his salary depends on him not seeing”.
  4. Commentary on Admiral Black’s speech is given in two pieces appearing yesterday. One is by Caitlin Johnstone in the Greanville Post, one by Gerrard Kaonga on International Clearing House.
  5. I dare say if I looked hard enough I’d find condemnations by George of the immense trail of environmental destruction left by the US military in its wars on the global south, from Vietnam to Syria. (Greta Thunberg stays clear of such ‘political’ terrain; an avoidance I’m happy to pin on her image managers.) I’m confident, however, that any condemnation by George – by George! – would be general not specific; against all wars in principle, but silent on whatever particular war the empire happens currently to be waging.

12 Replies to “Shills for empire: a matter of intent?

  1. Way back in time on what seems like a different planet rather than a different era – albeit only a matter of weeks over fifty years ago – the two pipper (an amenable Northern Irish man with a wicked sense of humour *) who delivered our basic training lecture on the rules of conflict (Geneva Convention) concluded with an analogy we had become familiar with in the two weeks we had so far endured.

    From day one we had been told and daily reminded that just because we were going on to learn a trade and were only getting half the basic training period of an regular infantryman it did not matter whether you were a cook or a mechanic, a clerk or a radio operator; you were a soldier first, and a tradesman second.

    His summing up of the bottom line on the rules of conflict were simple. To paraphrase: : ‘it doesn’t matter whether you are a general, a sergeant or a private; whether you are military or civilian. Whatever hat you happen to be wearing you are a human being first and anything else a distant second.’

    And this is where those such as Monbiot, Jones and similar figures fail miserably simply as a result of blatant inconsistency in reasoning and application of values to suit convenience. A failure of the Gell-Mann test if you like.

    Monbiot, taking just one example, never fails to make systemic linkages in terms of environmental issues. Yet, on other matters which others adopt the same analytical approach he uses on environmental issues in regards Geo-politics he does not simply fail to adopt the same approach he systematically adopts the very opposite approach. Making him, at least on the issue of Syria, well to the political right of Peter Hitchins – who at least adopts a consistent and logical approach across subject areas. **

    Similarly, Jones’s approach to matters also applies double standards. See-sawing from one position to the opposite on support for Corbyn when he was LOTO – blowing hot and cold to appease those who pay his wages. Again, on the sex/gender non-debate, Jones (along with others like Billy Bragg) insists on the imposition a one way dialogue in which who gets to have rights to define their own experiences are limited to a single group at the pinnacle of an artificially created hierarchy of oppression with no room for reciprocal rights for anyone else – who simply dismissed as bigots.

    As a result, I find myself concurring with Margaret and Susan on this matter.

    Caitlin Johnson, in the link supplied with this blog post makes the following observation:

    So let’s get real clear about this here and now: if there is a hot war between the US and a major power, it will not be because that war was “stumbled into”. It will not be like an earthquake or other natural disaster. It will not be something that happens to or is inflicted upon the US empire while it just passively stands there in Bambi-eyed innocence.

    It will be the result of specific choices made by the managers of the empire. It will be the result of the US choosing escalation over de-escalation, brinkmanship over detente — not just once but over and over again, while declining off-ramp after off-ramp. It will be the result of real material decisions made by real material people who live in real material houses while collecting real material paychecks to make the choices they are making.

    The double standards applied for convenience by those such as Monbiot and Jones are choices made. Deliberate choices. The choices which are no different in their exceptionalism – this applies only where it suits me – to that of the sociopaths embedded as controlling elites in the ‘West.’

    * Two years later I encountered this Officer, whilst on military exercise in the West German countryside, commanding a small group of personnel transported in some half a dozen armoured personnel carriers (APC’s).

    On such occasions – military exercises – accidents happen. A tank or APC causes some damage to local property; damaging a hedge or a fence in or near a farmers field, or cutting across a corner of field and damaging a small proportion of the crops in it.

    And as is the case there existed a process by which the farmer could recover the cost of any damage done. And, again, as is the case, sometimes a farmer might slightly exaggerate the amount of damage a little bit. Or even kick the arse out of it by claiming for a whole field or crops when only about 10% of the crops have been damaged.

    And thus was the case here. Where one of the APC’s drove across a section of crops in a field and an irate farmer insisted on this Northern Irish Officer signing the appropriate form and advising him that he would be claiming for the entire field. Thus making a tidy profit ultimately off the UK taxpayer.

    This officer was happy to sign the form on this basis. And, having committed the UK taxpayer to compensating the farmer for an entire field of ‘damaged’ crops proceeded to line up all six APC’s at one end of the field and drove them up and down the field until every part of it was flattened.

    ** Monbiot and Jones are not the only high profile figures for whom this critique can be levelled. On the matter of ‘Putin’s War’ Craig Murray, as well as Richard Murphy, fails to consistently apply the same reasoning and values they bring to other matters. Picking and choosing where those values and that reasoning is applied and where they are not applied.

    Much like that German farmer all those years ago. Reverting to the particular hat they are wearing rather than being consistent across all issues/matters/subject areas etc in terms of being a human being.

      • Thanks bevin. Don’t we all love a reight good story, where venality gets its come-uppance? I could picture the scene of those APCs (armoured personnel carriers) methodically mowing down the greedy farmer’s crops!

        (Let’s not be spoil sports. We can just this once set aside our qualms about crop destruction on a hungry planet, even when the perp is the British Army.)

        Dave should write above the line more often. As should you.

    • I think what is most annoying about people like Monbiot, Jones etc. is that they have come half-way. You expect people like Thatcher, Trump, Reagan and Biden to be completely committed shills for the share owning classes, but the former have seen through some of gambits of the lie machine – that makes it all the more frustrating / annoying / incomprehensible / contemptible that they can’t go all the way.

      But as they are not going to, best forget them. Half a Nazi is an enabler fora full-on Nazi.

      • With MonbiJones, “coming halfway” is worse than insufficient. It garners them an adoring following which then grants them a free pass on other matters.

        I’m not saying Monbiot must have “The Right Take” on every matter of importance. (That’s a ridiculous demand and I’ve experienced enmity from “Covid truthers” who attack me for not being more critical of the “scamdemic” – even though many do zilch themselves while I’ve given space on this site for the more intelligent critics of lockdown and vaccination.) But Monbiot does not content himself with silence on matters, like Syria and Ukraine, where he is out of his depth. Rather, he goes on the offensive in ways that suit empire designs very well indeed. Then, when his attacks elicit pushback from folk who actually know a thing or two, he gets angry and – in further abuse of his position – seeks to belittle his critics. Not a good look.

        Here too the issue is generalisable. The Guardian – like NYT, HuffPo, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel and other liberal media – is prepared to speak truth to power on lesser (but still important) issues. This builds up a bank of credibility, to be drawn upon when it really matters: as in vilifying threats to empire; be they Vladimir Putin or the Ba’athism of Bashar al-Assad; a mildly socialist leader of the British Labour Party or a Julian Assange.

        If George and Owen say these are bad guys, well, it must be right …

        Below is the Chomsky quote I used in Cook on Monbiot on Ukraine (again):

        The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

  2. I agree with all these comments. I’m a great admirer of Craig Murray, particularly for his bravery on facing prison for his accurate reporting on the Alex Salmond travesty, but also his staunch support for Julian Assange, to which his punishment is also no doubt linked.

    I have, however, wondered about some of what he’s written about Putin, while also bowing to his vast knowledge and experience.

    • I too admire Craig Murray (and other gamekeepers with the balls to turn poacher when their masters’ deeds grew unconscionable) but not unreservedly. I try to avoid two mirror opposite errors. One is to idolise. The other is to throw baby out with bathwater when we discover, as sooner or later we will, that those we respect in one sphere may disappoint in another.

      Vilifying the Russian (or Syrian) President I see as reflecting less the personal failings of the disparagers – except when, as in Monbiot’s case, they abuse a privileged position to go on the offensive with reckless disregard for solid evidence – and more the cumulative intensity of decades of brainwashing.

      But the main driver of my seeming leniency towards journalists is not that I am too kind. It’s that the incapacity of media owned by oligarchs – and/or answerable to advertisers and/or rich sponsors – to deliver truth on matters vital to our rulers cannot be reduced to the conscious bad faith of almost every journalist. It doesn’t wash. A more sophisticated explanation is required. One which reckons on the one hand with Herman and Chomsky’s model as set out in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, on the other with the screeds written since Gramsci’s day on the nature of ideology and class rule.

      Not that this negates the truth that there are indeed some seriously unscrupulous dudes delivering our pictures of the world. On a journalist continuum stretching from the naively credulous to the thoroughly deceitful, I’d place Monbiot closer to the former pole. But it’s one thing to be credulous. Egoic refusal to either defend or retract is another altogether. George once boasted that he could “handle more reality than most people”. In that boast he laid the seeds of its falsification.

      In bridging the gap between an overly systemic approach which lets culpable individuals off the hook, and an overly personalised approach that supposes a profession staffed top to bottom by liars, I recommend former Guardian columnist Jonathan Cook, quoted at some length in my post of two years ago: What’s the point of George Monbiot?

      • I suppose George Monbiot is more credulously naive than deliberately deceitful, however, if he is then he really must be pretty dense. I read up a bit on Gell-Mann amnesia. Very interesting and no doubt applies to Monbiot, Jones and others. I also read Manufacturing Consent a few years ago. Everyone should read it.

        Just one more thing about Craig Murray. He worked for the foreign office in different parts of the world which gave him close up insight into how these people think. They obviously don’t give a fuck about human rights or democracy or anything like that. It’s all British business interests and “national security” bollocks. Someone else who’s excellent on how the British operate on foreign affairs is Mark Curtis who you’re no doubt familiar with. Read his book Web of Deceit. I think it was in that book he said anyone who knows what really goes on should fall about laughing when British politicians make speeches about democracy and human rights. Anyway, about Craig Murray, as I said he’s seen close up how these people think and act, has no illusions whatsoever in that regard. Don’t know if you’re aware that he was threatened with being fitted up for sexual assault by the foreign office if he didn’t shut up about torture in Uzbekistan. The tyrant running that country was an “ally” in the war on terror apparently. Where have we heard that before? Sexual assault allegations seem to be the go to thing for anyone who pisses off or embarrasses the establishment. I think the lovely Jack Straw was foreign secretary at the time of Craig’s departure from the diplomatic service. He was highly thought of by his colleagues too. Anyway, I take on board most of what Craig Murray says because he’s obviously an honest man of vast experience and knowledge, at the same time taking on board differing views such as yours.

        • I suppose George Monbiot is more credulously naive than deliberately deceitful, however, if he is then he really must be pretty dense.

          Don’t throw him that lifeline, Margaret – the man is highly intelligent! You nailed it first time round with the allusion in your original comment to Upton Sinclair’s timeless truth as set out in footnote 3.

          A pal of mine opined, plausibly, that George may have a Faustian pact with GMG. They give him ample licence on ecological matters, but on condition he doesn’t rock the boat on empire’s enemies. We needn’t suppose such a deal to be formal and explicit. We needn’t even suppose George to be fully aware of it, though again I hear my former ‘spiritual teacher’ insist that all of us know, at some level, exactly what we’re up to. (Said teacher – he too had feet of clay, of course – called it the ‘law of volitionality’.)

          George’s take may well be that environmental destruction is the greatest threat of all to humanity, and that is where he’ll focus his considerable skills as writer and investigator. The problem with this is that, while his thinking has indeed progressed from relatively ‘non-political green’ to a focus on the links between ecocide and big money, he fails to see that the agendas trashing our planet also drive the West’s never-ending imperialist wars.

          Or if he does see it, he fails to draw the appropriate conclusions in his very public role. Again I hear the scornful tones of my ‘spiritual teacher’. “What you think matters not one whit – only what you do!”

          That failure to make the biggest connection of all, together with his de facto siding, as a ‘univeralist’, with the propaganda those wars necessitate – and a touch perhaps of old fashioned superiority – actually limits his vision even within his core arena of expertise.

          I’ve written so much now, above and below the line, I feel the need to stop. I need only add that I concur with your remarks on Craig Murray’s courageous standing up to Blair, who’d wanted his silence on Islam Karimov’s nepotistic kleptocracy and mediaeval cruelty. Why? Because Karimov was allowing ex Soviet airbases in Uzbekistan to be used for those air strikes on Iraq.

          (And we who say Blair should have been in the dock at the Hague – charged with the very crime, waging aggressive war, for which Himmler, Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Jodl et al were tried – are deemed extremist!)

          Weaponising ‘sexual misconduct’? This, as you know, has been effective in separating so many political enemies – not just Craig but Scott Ritter, Alex Salmond and (aided by George and Owen; ditto Marina Hyde, Suzanne Moore and countless other Guardian opinionators) Julian too – from what should have been their natural support bases in the liberal intelligentsia.

          • Yes enough’s been said on this thread so I’ll just make a couple of short comments. If Monbiot cared as much as he claims about the planet, he wouldn’t cheer on every war started by western powers, as he must know that the military causes vast incalculable damage to our environment. But we’ve explored his motives extensively so need say no more.
            Finally, yes I was sickened to see so called liberals and feminists, a lot of them Blairites obviously, marching and demanding that Julian Assange be shipped off to Sweden to face non existent rape “charges”.

            Interesting exchanges. Take care x

        • Other books in a similar vein to the one you mention are Len Deighton’s “Blood, Tears and Folly” and Clive Ponting’s “1940: Myth and Reality”. Both worth reading. I’ll add “Web of Deceit” to my library. Thanks for that.

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