Wednesday, July 14, 2010

(HERALD) Of disconfirmity and classical conditioning

Of disconfirmity and classical conditioning
By George R. Chingarande

DURING the Diplomacy Briefing Series Conference on Sub Saharan Africa hosted by the State Department in Washington DC on June 14, one participant who identified himself as Calvin Hayes asked Secretary of State Hilary Clinton the following question:

"Given the challenges of political battles associated with leadership in Zimbabwe, how is the Obama Administration showing that the foreign aid given to this area actually meets the people and their local communities? Is there a comprehensive strategy to measure the efficiency of our appropriated resources, the accountability of our disbursements, and the sustainability of our efforts both in Zimbabwe and countries in sub-Saharan Africa? If so, can you shed some light on the strategy…"

The rather dyspeptic Clinton blithely responded by stating that, "Zimbabwe is a very difficult challenge to us and to our policy. It is a country that has been woefully governed and misruled for a number of years now. Congressman Donald Payne, who had to leave for a vote, is probably, in the Congress – is he still here — there he is — is probably, in the Congress, the most knowledgeable, strongest advocate for African interests.

‘‘And when he tried to go to Zimbabwe a few months ago — right, Donald? The Government of Zimbabwe would not let him in because they don’t want somebody who has his expertise and experience actually seeing for himself all of the difficulties that are now apparent in Zimbabwe. And it’s very sad. It’s a tragedy. And we are working hard with South Africa, with the African Union, with other countries to try to assist the people of Zimbabwe. We’re doing primarily humanitarian assistance".

She further stated that: "So we are trying to walk a line between supporting the people, keeping the pressure on the Mugabe leadership, working with South Africa to try to get that message across. But I’m not going to stand here and tell you we have some perfect formula, because it’s extremely difficult to try to do what we’re doing and really make a difference for the people of Zimbabwe", and also revealed that, "the President just renewed sanctions against 220 individuals and entities associated with the Mugabe regime… I’ve had two meetings with Prime Minister Tsvangirai in the last year to try to send a message that we support reform in Zimbabwe."

This exchange between the Secretary of State and Calvin Hayes is instructive in that it not only betrays American frustration with the unmitigated failure of its Zimbabwean policy but also reveals the reasons for that failure. A number of themes call out for a robust address; and America would do well to pay attention to them.

Credibility Deficit and American Hyperrealism

It has been pointed out; rightly and correctly so; that the secretary of state misled her audience by informing them that Senator Payne had been refused entry into Zimbabwe when in fact he had visited the country on several occasions during the period that Clinton was referring to.

At the height of the Iraq debate when the US was desperate to sell its case for invading Iraq and the exercise had run into serious difficulties, the then Secretary of State Collin Powell laced his presentation to the United Nations with falsehoods, terminological inaccuracies and blatantly perverse hyperbole. There are several other relevant examples of the State Department and its senior officials resorting to misinformation in order to buttress their arguments.

Whether or not Clinton knew that she was peddling false information at the time she gave her response is not of material importance. What is important is the fact that she deliberately chose not to correct her assertions weeks after it has been exposed that she is dealing in lies and inaccuracies, and by so doing has relegated herself into the league of liars.

After Powell’s failed attempt to pull off a gigantic confidence trick at the UN was exposed; he too never withdrew his presentation or acknowledged publicly that he had erred. Well, there have been loud murmurs that Powell was deliberately misled, but surely that is a feeble defence, a man incapable of distinguishing for himself the difference between truths and improbabilities is not suited for high office.

As for Hilary Clinton, her reputation of subjecting the truth to cosmetic surgery by resorting to decorative phrases, extravagant exaggerations and outright lies preceded her to the state department. When her faltering presidential campaign had degenerated into terminal decline Hilary infamously told the world of how she artfully dodged bullets and bombs during her trip to the Balkans. However, resourceful journalists soon exposed that nothing of the sort happened as footage of a congenial Hilary walking in a tranquil environment were unearthed and published for all to see that the self proclaimed "artful dodger" was after all an artful liar.

It serves no useful purpose to taunt the State Department for its dealing in falsehoods. However, it has to be underscored that whenever such lies come to light the fragile image of the department is further dented and sullied. By dealing in falsehoods, the state department is not just showcasing incompetence but deliberately engaging in deception. It is indisputable that to some significant extent, the US foreign policy is based on deception. For this reason alone it is bound to fail because lies do not only have a short leg, but also have a notoriously short shelf life.

However, this pattern of lies that dovetails neatly into US foreign policy has actually created a Credibility Deficit. The US needs both allies and surrogates to play the midwife to its policies. By casting itself as a thoroughly dishonest interlocutor the US has severely eviscerated its ability to attract reliable allies and surrogates, and consequently does not always receive the support that it requires. Many know that the US lied about Iraq and therefore sparingly support the US initiatives there.

Likewise many are wise enough to see through some of the obvious US lies about Zimbabwe; and therefore no self-respecting African is willing to be a surrogate of the US Zimbabwe policy. Unless the US addresses the Credibility Deficit, it will experience more frustrations in Africa.

The question that has to be asked is — How can such a well-resourced department get it so wrong? The answer lies in a phenomenon called hyper-realism. Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher argued forcefully that the media’s preoccupation with filtering the information that it somehow force-feeds onto its captive consumers has transported us into a "hyper-real" society.

This over-reliance on filtered information has blurred the distinction between "reality" and its "simulation". This is the pestilential malady afflicting the State Department, and indeed the whole discourse on the ‘‘Zimbabwean crisis’’.

The West has based its policies on filtered information manufactured by the media, NGOs and other non-state actors some of whom are phantoms existing merely in name. Whole governments and sometimes even academics in the west have formulated positions also based on filtered information, such as Hillary Clinton’s perverse inaccuracies. The net effect of all this is that when it comes to Zimbabwe, the west, its media barons and many that unsuspectingly feed from its lap, now inhabit a world of hyper-realism that is grossly at variance with the reality in Zimbabwe itself. It was predicted that Zimbabwe would descend into a genocidal conflagration that would dwarf the Rwanda calamity in scope and savagery. That did not happen.

It was predicted that Zimbabwe would become the next Somalia, triggering western governments to engage in simulation exercises in preparation for rescuing their citizens; that too did not happen.

A military coup, in fact many were predicted, but have not materialised. In 2000, it was predicted that the government would not survive until December. All these predictions were awry because they were based on a "hyper-realistic" analysis of the Zimbabwean situation.

Scourge of blackness

Research shows that up to today the Rwanda genocide in which more than a million people perished has not received as much coverage as the Zimbabwe situation. Why is this so? Again the answer lies in information filtration.

The reason there is so much hyperbole about Zimbabwe are reports that 12 white farmers died in the initial stages of the land redistribution exercise. Discussing racism does not make one racist. Violence of any kind is deeply revolting and should be condemned; and the death of one man regardless of his ancestry is one death too many more so if he perishes at the hands of his fellowmen.

Zimbabwe has failed to conform to all the textbook predictions and to the desires of the West because instead of engaging with the facts the west has betrayed itself into a Pavlovian Bell type response, itself to a large extent created and fed by media hyper-realism. When the Pavlovian syndrome sets in one rarely changes tact even in the face of mounting evidence of policy failure. As long as this remains the case Zimbabwe will remain a cryptic puzzle to the west.

winningmantra ***

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