If you find yourself questioning the American government’s already evolving explanations for what happened in Abbottabad on May 1st, you are not alone. A growing number of Americans themselves are wondering – aloud – not merely what happened to Osama bin Laden, but why they don’t trust their President when he tells them that the World’s #1 Terrorist died last Sunday night in Pakistan.
While Pakistanis have had decades of government mismanagement, corruption, and deceit to formulate their grave concerns about how Pakistan is run, Americans are rather new to the game of feeling like cogs in a government mind machine – it’s not often, after all, that their country is knee-deep in several costly wars while also enduring its worst-ever economic recession.
Yes, there have been some notable moments like Vietnam or the 1920’s anarchist movement, where it seemed like enough momentum might have been built to sustain a public outcry against war-mongering, divisional propaganda. But it’s always been interest groups that are directly affected by the propaganda, or student activists, who take to denouncing it. The broad consensus against government war propaganda amongst Americans of vastly differing interests and backgrounds was very much missing – that is, until the Iraq War fiasco took shape. The weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, the Abu Ghraib prison torture and cover-up, the lie about how American soldier Jessica Lynch was an abused POW, the bizarre outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame – all of that and more added up, bit by bit, to make an increasing number of Americans feel used and abused by their government’s need to instill war in them.
Now the bin Laden story has added fuel to the simmering fire and what is nonetheless a very taboo subject in the American media has attracted the attention of some Americans who, though satisfied with news of the death, are bothered by the inconsistencies in the official story. And what’s more significant than the growing doubt about America’s wars and the information strategy for propagating or at least supporting those wars, is the fact that more of the people doing the doubting are White Americans.
The bin Laden escapade is a glaring example of it. White liberals like Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky have been joined by a massive following of Whites whose primary political identification is not with a party but with the basic notion that they don’t trust the government. One of the most vocal of these White men is Alex Jones, director of the widely viewed 9/11 inside-job documentary “Loose Change”, and hugely popular talk radio personality. He not only believes that bin Laden died years ago, he cites numerous high ranking government and military officials – including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2007 – who apparently stated as much in the American media in the years after 9/11 happened. Jones himself not only finds the bin Laden story contrived, he is flabbergasted by the media strategy that was used to employ it. In his opinion, the Sunday evening television broadcast by Obama, coupled with the photos of senior government officials watching the assassination in real-time, smack of pure Hollywood fiction.
Alex Jones, despite his following, has the credibility of a conspiracy theorist, but others have also joined the fray, not necessarily to doubt the bin Laden story but to question President Obama himself. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat compares Obama to his predecessor and declares that in the immediate aftermath of the bin Laden revelations, Obama’s foreign policy – the Libyan war, a drone attack in Pakistan that killed more civilians, and the attempted assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US citizen of Yemeni descent – has now merged into what he calls a “Bush-Obama era”. Obama is no different than Bush, the columnist suggests, when it comes to war and destruction.
And finally, there are the millions of people who are following the words and wisdom of these aforementioned White American men – the ordinary Americans who can’t quite put their finger on what part of the bin Laden story rubs them the wrong way, but are curious and doubtful enough that they are eager to learn more. These Americans are dangerous to Bush-Obama policies, quite simply because they are in no way foreign, and therefore cannot be demonised for lack of patriotism. It is one thing to have minorities in America doubt the President’s foreign policies, it’s quite another to have members of the majority riled up and suspicious.
The writer is a US-based political analyst and a former Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi