Scott Simon, NPR & The Empire


As a matter of habit, I listen to NPR nearly every morning, including to Scott Simon’s “Weekend Edition” program on Saturday mornings.   However, like most habits, it is not a good one, leading almost inevitably to feelings of anger, sadness and regret for time ill-spent.

While most of my liberal friends love Scott Simon for his old, folksy charm, and his interest in cultural icons of the left (such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Studs Terkel), I know him for what he truly is:  an unapologetic shill for imperial violence against Third World peoples.

This truth was made apparent to me back in 2003 when the U.S. began its “shock and awe” bombing campaign against Bagdad.  I vividly remember listening to Scott Simon, a self-described Quaker, at that time and not believing what I was hearing.  Thus, Simon was saying what even the most strident hawk would be reluctant to utter – that this unprovoked attack upon the poor — and as it turns out, defenseless — country of Iraq represented a “humanitarian bombing,” as if there could ever be such a thing.   Simon, sounding like Goebbels defending the merits of the Luftwaffe, argued that the U.S. blitzkrieg was “humanitarian” because it would lead to a quicker lancing of the Iraqi boil, a shorter war and therefore to less bloodshed.  Of course, as many of us knew at the time, and what has history has proven, Simon was dead wrong.  The Iraq conflict continues to this day and has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. service men and women.

Fast forward to today, and Simon continues to push his neo-conservative, interventionist policies, unbowed by historical lessons or by his professed Quaker morality.   Thus, this past Saturday (June 2, 2012), Simon was on his high horse again, arguing vigorously for U.S. military intervention into Syria, again based upon the flawed logic that intervention now would somehow spare lives.

First, Simon prefaced his lesson in aggressive military policy with an interrogation of UN spokesperson Kieran Dwyer in a piece entitled, “As Killings Continue in Syria, a Look at UN’s Role.”   In this interview, Simon questioned whether former UN General Secretary, and current special UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, was in fact somehow ratifying the misdeeds of the Syrian government by meeting with President al-Assad.   As Simon pointedly asked: “Within a couple of days or so of the [Houla] massacre, Kofi Annan met with President al-Assad.  And this is while a number of governments were withdrawing their ambassadors. What kind of signal does it send for Mr. Annan to shake President al-Assad’s hand?”

Of course, if one were to be honest, and Simon does not aspire to truthfulness in such matters, one could fairly ask whether one should be shaking the hands of Western leaders who have been responsible for much greater loss of human life than al-Assad – e.g., Bill Clinton who killed at least 500,000 children in Iraq due to his crippling sanctions there – a result which his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said was “worth it”; George W. Bush who was responsible for the killing of tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Barack Obama who, as we recently learned from The New York Times, personally oversees the killing of scores of ostensible militants (though it is quite arguable whether they truly are) as well as civilians through his drone strikes, and who has carried out mass killings and mayhem through his expansion of U.S. war into Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Colombia.  Simon never dares to ask such questions about these crimes, but rather, cheers them on.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy here, it would seem that the goal in Syria at this point should be to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict before it descends into a destructive and bloody civil war that would certainly lead to the loss of life of thousands in Syria, and is likely to spill over into other countries such as Lebanon.   And, it is just such a peaceful solution which Kofi Annan is attempting through his meetings with al-Assad – indeed, it is hard to know how he is going to pull off such a solution without meeting with the current leader of Syria.  And, while the Houla massacre was certainly appalling, it is still unclear exactly who was responsible for it, and whether, even if it were pro-government forces as is most likely the case, they were truly acting under al-Assad’s direction and/or control.  Moreover, al-Assad’s forces had, at least up to the point of this incident, shown an ability to honor the cease-fire agreement which al-Assad had made with Kofi Annan.  In short, it does not appear that all possibilities for peace have yet been exhausted, and therefore, under any “just war” theory, peace should continue to be pursued.

However, Simon – as much of a Quaker in his commitment to peace as fellow Quaker Richard M. Nixon was – prefers war as the method of solving international crises.  And so, he followed up his attack on the UN and Kofi Annan — who, by the way, was correct his in assessment back in 2003 that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the war against that country which Simon cheered on — with a piece entitled, “A Case for Military Intervention In Syria.”    While Simon claimed that he would give the “pros and cons” of such intervention in this piece, he only interviewed one person for the story, and that person, Pentagon analyst Thomas P.M. Barnet, is an outspoken advocate of military intervention.  So much for any “point/counterpoint” here.

In this piece, Simon gives a platform to Bennett’s right-wing foreign policy views, with Bennett, upon a soft pitch from Simon, arguing that “When you’ve seen successful intervention by the international community to prevent bloodshed and to speed the killing and to create all the dynamics that get you to resolution faster, as opposed to in a dragged-out fashion, it’s typically been, you know, the executive committee of Western great powers are represented by NATO, not the U.N. Security Council.”

In other words, Bennett argues, the U.S. most do now as George W. Bush did by bypassing the UN and engaging in unilateral military intervention which, Bennett argues, will “speed the killing” (well, that is certainly true) and thereby prevent a “dragged-out” conflict.   Again, anyone who has been following the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan (now nearing its 11th year) or Iraq (now in its 9th year) must question what planet Bennett and Simon have been on for over a decade.  Thus, these are “dragged-out” conflicts by any standards (Afghanistan being the longest conflict in U.S. history), and there is no indication that lives were somehow spared by U.S. intervention in these countries – far from it.

And yet, undeterred by history and the facts, pundits like Scott Simon continue to push for massive violence against sovereign nations in the name of peace.

As a final note, one might ask why I have singled out Scott Simon for my critique.  “Leave this old, doddering fool alone,” I can hear many of my liberal friends say.   I focus on Simon because of the very fact that many good-hearted liberals listen to him every Saturday and are brought along to support aggressive wars by his faux folksy style.  Simon, like many other liberal pundits and politicians, is able to dress up horrendous crimes and make them appear acceptable, and even good.   Indeed, there is no doubt that without people like Scott Simon peddling their bad religion, the U.S. war machine could not keep churning without so much as a peep from the American people.  For that, folks like Scott Simon bear a great deal of blame and guilt, and someone must call them on this.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. 


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