Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Foreign Policy by Batman


The drums of war have faded into the distance and once more the people can breathe a collective sigh of relief or disappointment. Every few weeks the media ramps up war hysteria against one of the gallery of international villains. It’s like a game show: spin the wheel, which rogue regime is the Administration debating action against this week? Last week it was Egypt; this week it’s… Syria!

Over the past 12 months the government has deliberated bombing North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Why does no one seem to notice this revolving door of similar enemies? It looks cartoonish: the constant distraction of the populace in a television-show-like procession of this gallery of goons. Do we owe this approach to foreign policy to TV cop shows where we have a new villain every week or to comic strips where the same villains reappear time and again: the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze? Better call the Bat Cave!

This approach to foreign policy draws its immediate history from September 11. In 2002, in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush expanded his policy on the War on Terror, aiming to punish sponsors of terrorism, as well as terrorists themselves. He coined the phrase “an axis of evil,” naming North Korea, Iran and Iraq as its member states. At the time, some were surprised because the states had little in common and posed different dangers. Over the past 11 years we have seen the fallout of this policy with the country seemingly unable to turn away from the shooting gallery with the same characters popping up.

Analogies with popular culture are apt. The media forms a field which frames all political events for people. In the 1960s, Guy Debord developed the idea of the “the society of the spectacle.” The spectacle was not a collection of images but a “social relation among people, mediated by images”. Debord described the total subjugation of the individual by the commodity. According to the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things” reaches its absolute fulfilment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as tangible.

Post 9/11, Henry Giroux drew the links between consumer culture and terrorist spectacle. Meaning in consumerist society occurs through the accumulation of and identification with consumer objects and, in the case of the spectacle, through images. Giroux argued that the spectacle of terrorism asserts its power through a massive return to ‘the real’ through hyperviolence. “The spectacle of terrorism undercuts the primacy of consumerism by adding to it.”

Images generate desire whether it be for the latest consumer item or for a perfect safety, protected by a strong, militarized state. Raw displays of brutality by States or terrorists must have wide distribution through the media to have the desired impact. Giroux’s ‘citizen soldier’ protects his freedom, which remains constructed as the freedom to choose whichever consumer item he desires. This is ultimately the reconfiguration of the consumerist desire in a new direction. Fear and retribution become commodified images to be consumed and security is sold to us in the same way as breakfast cereal.

The Bush Doctrine has evolved into the Obama Doctrine but the presentation of politics and international relations in the media seems to follow themes similar to 11 year ago. Like any ongoing sitcom or soap opera, the axis of evil has broadened to include a larger cast of characters. North Korea and Iran retain their status and appear as regulars on the show. Iraq has been subdued into a violent mess by the intervention of the US so they do not appear on the play bill very often and usually only as a cripple to be ridiculed. Libya was included for a short run. Now Syria is auditioning and seems likely to acquire an ongoing role.

As we sit at our computer and television screens mesmerized by the passing spectacle of revolving enemies, government shut down, and racist crimes, spectacular power robs us of our capacity to act. However, as we can see by the current debacle in Congress, spectacular power captures the rulers as well as the ruled. Congress seems caught in the media frames of drama and conflict, providing a good show for the audience, rather than acting in rational and considered ways in the public interest of the whole country. By blaming one side or the other, we enter into the drama not as citizens with a stake but as audience and barrackers consigned to the sidelines.

Joanne Knight can be reached at:

Joanne Knight writes about the influence of the media on power and politics. She has a Masters in International Relations. Her blog is

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat