Thursday, 24 January 2008

Add pinch of salt before swallowing whole...

OK so this has been a long while coming, and was in fact the event that sparked the creation of this blog. Basically the story here is that I happened across a post on a personal blog I occasionally read, which urged anyone planning to vote (particularly for Obama) in the next US election to watch this video. I clicked through, and found something that struck me as most likely part conspiracy theory, part political propaganda. But, being a good sceptic, I wouldn't want to condemn it as such without actually looking into it - it concerned a subject I'd not heard much about before. But the alarm bells were ringing right from the start, before I even watched the video, because of the blurb at the side. It asks "What Presidential Candidates are part of the CFR?" and lists Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jim Gilmore, Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. Then it asks "Who opposes the CFR?", under which there is but one name: Ron Paul.

Suspicions are confirmed when you click through to the authors other uploaded videos - every one of them is regarding Ron Paul, and (on brief inspection of the titles, at least) appear to all be in support of him. Now is it just me, or does that suggest that this video might be a bit of campaign material designed to frighten people off of voting for anyone except Ron Paul?

Start the clip rolling, and this hypothesis is supported by its use of Rage Against The Machine's track Wake Up - the perfect music for creating a mood of anti-establishment fear and, well, rage. I can imagine some of the quotes used in the introduction having the opposite effect with the use of a more soothing, optimistic-sounding backing track.

So now that we've established (to my own satisfaction at least) that the video is most likely an attempt to scare people into voting for anyone other than Ron Paul, we must consider the case that the video puts forward - it may be propaganda, but that doesn't mean it's entirely false. In fact, if it were entirely false it would fail as propaganda - its effectiveness lies in it being a subtle misrepresentation of the facts.

So what is the CFR? The Council on Foreign Relations is "an independent and nonpartisan foreign policy membership organization", apparently. But what does that mean? Well, it accepts both Democrats and Republicans as members and seeks to inform policymakers of the important facts in any given foreign policy situation. It is undoubtedly an important player in policy formation due to the large number of its members who have key roles in government, but its official position is that it does not take an active role.

It's naturally been the subject of many controversies (read - conspiracy theories), probably due to its secret and elite nature. Anywhere you get top dogs from both major parties, especially behind closed doors, there are going to be a lot of people who think the worst; this is probably due to the common perception, encouraged by the politicians themselves to a substantial degree, that the parties are in 100% opposition to each other - diametrically opposed in every way. Of course this is a gross oversimplification, and often you'll find members of one party who have more things in common with some from the other than with many from their own party. It's the inevitable product of having two huge umbrella parties supposedly representing the vast majority of a country of around 300 million people.

The message that this video is pushing is that the CFR is trying to undermine the sovereignty of the United States by creating a North American body like that of the European Union, encompassing the US, Canada and Mexico. The article they link to (right here) mentions nothing of such plans, but is clearly intended to be read in light of the video. What it actually argues is that, given the increasing power of non-national entities (corporations, terrorists, crime syndicates) in the increasingly globalised world, some of the older ideas about sovereignty are becoming outdated and in fact stand in the way of tackling global problems. It makes sense to me, but then I've studied this in a fair degree of detail. The quotes from Richard Haass in the video are perfectly reasonable, and are not arguing for the creation of a one-world government. He may believe that such a thing is necessary, but that is not what he is arguing there. (But wait, the music - he must be up to something!)

I'm sorry, but the speech by Stan Jones at around the 4-minute mark started well (he admitted it sounded like a conspiracy theory, something which conspiracy theorists don't often do in my admittedly limited experience), but as soon as he uttered the word "communist", it was over for me. He lost all credibility. Not only is it a lie (even those in the CFR who do wish to create a supreme world government have never to my knowledge said that it would be a communist one, and the very idea is preposterous given the clear impracticality of such a system [anyone remember the Soviet Union?]), but it's also one of those buzzwords you will often hear in predominantly right-wing US political speeches, designed to tap into the fear and hate that they so painstakingly created after the second world war.

The second point from that speech is the comparison with the European Union - particularly the constitution. Probably banking on the fact that his audience know little or nothing about the EU (why would they? It's a whole other continent), he claims that they implemented the constitution after it was "rejected by a few". Not true. It was rejected, and yes they have attempted to implement it via a treaty that does basically the same things as the constitution would have done, but with important opt-out clauses for member states. After this point, Jones' speech becomes even less believable - a single North-American currency, "the Amero", and a new constitution "modelled on the Soviet Union's Constitution". Even if the other charges are true, this last one is simply impossible - no constitutional adviser is going to draft a new constitution based on the Soviet model. It would be career suicide, because nobody would take them seriously ever again. I'd love to see where they're getting this stuff, as it's now supposedly "out in the open".

Basically, the CFR seems to be a forum for discussion of the big issues in foreign affairs. The reason it operates partly in secret is because if the big names are to be involved in hypotheticals, they need to be able to do it without press attention. What I think this conspiracy theory has done is say that because there are people in a room talking about something (some will be advocating, some putting the case against), and not letting anyone else know what exactly is being discussed, everyone in that room (4,300 life members at the moment apparently) are all in league together, bent on implementing this plan.

While there are certainly those in the CFR who would like to see a world government realised, it is a fallacious generalisation to infer that every member is an advocate of the same policy.

And never trust a video that ends with 30 seconds of a politician grinning.

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