‘Moderate’ Extremism – The Independent Provides Cover for the West’s Threat of an Iraq Invasion

Western state power prides itself on its ‘moderation’, along with its self-lauded commitments to freedom, tolerance, and “the inalienable rights of man”, as U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it recently in a British newspaper (‘We must act to prevent a greater evil, even if that act means war’, The Independent on Sunday, 8 September, 2002). Elite-friendly media channels faithfully convey and amplify such propaganda. In continuance of the longstanding tradition, mainstream commentators and academics coo approvingly whenever our glorious leaders proclaim the supposed virtues of ‘liberal democracies’, even as western power conducts the latest destructive phase of its global neocolonialism, now christened the “war against terrorism”.

Little wonder that a recent editorial in The Independent congratulated the United States after it had “moderated its stance” on its ongoing subjugation of Iraq, a once vibrant country, now with over one million dead as a result of 11 years of crippling economic sanctions and endless bombings ‘A welcome hint of moderation from the Bush administration’, editorial, The Independent, 23 October, 2002). At the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. will now graciously “accept a resolution promising much vaguer threats of action.” Presumably, then, details of shifting war plans in successive newspaper ‘leaks’, building up public expectations of an imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq, will be kept “much vaguer” in future..

The editorial did display touching honesty, however, in pointing out that the Americans, “with British backing”, were continuing to “seek…cover” that “would allow military action against Iraq without further consultation” with the recalcitrant French and Russians (the fifth permanent member of the Security Council, namely China apparently being unworthy of mention).

“But at this stage”, the Independent dutifully reminded its readers, “one should be grateful that Washington has put aside its talk of regime change and unilateral action.” The possibility that such talk has been “put aside” as part of a determined propaganda campaign by Bush and his team is quietly passed over. Instead, “whatever the rights and wrongs of action against Iraq” – and here the editorial writer refrains from casting moral judgement – “it makes no sense at all to strain the international alliance”; this alliance, it need not be mentioned, consisting of only the United States and its British lieutenant in close attendance. Indeed, from the standpoint of a diligent media advocate of US-UK power, such as The Independent, not only would it make ‘no sense at all to strain the international alliance’, the mere notion of the western defenders of peace and freedom being shaken by evil forces is anathema to respectable commentators.

The Independent, situated on the ‘liberal’ end of the spectrum of acceptable mainstream discourse, at least points out that Saddam’s Iraq is not necessarily the great threat that Bush and Blair have portrayed it. After all, the editorial writer claims, “the bombs in Bali – and the sniper in Washington, in his way – have shown that the threat to America’s, and the West’s, security comes far more from individuals or clandestine groups than from state terrorism.” That the U.S. has been the most destructive exponent of state terrorism since the end of the Second World War is an unmentionable fact.

“The concern now”, the editorial reasonably suggests, “is that the return of the inspectors to Iraq should be left in the hands of the United Nations, and that the UN should be firm in its pursuit of this course.” No mention here of the exhaustive ratcheting up of contortions, pressures and ‘international diplomacy’ by the United States to provide UN cover for its threatened massive assault on Iraq.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, on the same day, The Independent’s Washington correspondent Rupert Cornwell reports George W. Bush’s no-nonsense warning that: “If the United Nations can’t make its mind up, if Saddam Hussein won’t disarm, we will lead a coalition [sic] to disarm him for the sake of peace.” Cornwell notes that Bush’s spokesman Ari Fleischer was more explicit: “It’s coming down to the end – the United Nations does not have forever.” (‘Russia and France block US draft resolution on Iraq’, Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, 23 October, 2002).

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in support of the U.S. threats, faithfully “stepped up pressure on the UN”, Cornwell reported, “to make up its mind”: code for ‘to accept conditions amenable to the dictates of U.S. power’. (‘America hints at willingness to wait for resolution’, Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, 24 October, 2002). Straw added ominously: “We cannot wait for ever. I do not believe we will have to.”

In the meantime, mainstream media channels such as The Independent will no doubt continue their ideological support of elite western interests, and obscure the reality of the awful threat hanging over the lives of twenty-three million Iraqi people.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

In your own words, please ask the editors of The Independent (Simon Kelner) and The Independent on Sunday (Tristan Davies) why they are not much more challenging of US-UK rhetoric on Iraq. Similarly, write to Rupert Cornwell of The Independent about his role in faithfully amplifying the views of the American and British government, without serious scrutiny.

Write to:

Rupert Cornwell, Washington correspondent of The Independent: [email protected]

Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent: [email protected]

Tristan Davies, editor of the Independent on Sunday: [email protected]