Embedded NYT Reporter Boosts US War in Honduras (and Why We Shouldn’t Listen)

Sunday’s edition of the New York Times featured a front page story by Thom Shanker about how the US is waging an “Iraq-style” war on drugs in Honduras.

Shanker, a former Senior Writer in Residence with the Centre for New America Security (which the WSJ called a “farm team” for Obama’s national security advisors), has also been the NYT’s Pentagon correspondent, was embedded in Afghanistan, and has reported from Iraq.

The piece, which ran online as US carries lessons of Iraq into Honduras drug war is your classic bit of embedded journalism. The dateline is a U.S. military base (ahem, forward operating location), the sources are soldiers and marines, and the Hondurans — which are included in photos only — are soldiers.

Hey, world, the U.S. is at war with the bad guys in Honduras! Is the gist of the article, but Shanker’s pro-establishment/embedded bias does little to give readers an informed perspective about what is actually taking place in the Central America.

First off, Shanker does his best to set the story up as being all about drugs, even though it is common knowledge that U.S. militarization doesn’t decrease drug production or trafficking. “Forty years of increasingly violent efforts to stamp out the drug trade haven’t worked,” reads a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine.

Then Shanker slips into a description that is perhaps a little more indicative of the U.S. role in Honduras:

This new offensive, emerging just as the United States military winds down its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is moving to confront emerging threats, also showcases the nation’s new way of war: small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests.

Is this about drugs, or is it about securing U.S. sweatshops in Honduras? Is it about drugs, or is it about seeing the entire population of Honduras as a latent “criminal” group that could, at any moment, become “illegal” immigrants? Is it about drugs, or is it about controlling insurgents (aka rebels or revolutionaries), namely the members of a massive popular movement that has risen up since the illegal coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009?

You’d be forgiven for reading this piece and not knowing about the coup: Shanker left out that, ahem, little detail in his piece. The U.S. media don’t like to talk about how the coup, carried out by the Honduran army and supported by Honduras’ tiny transnational elite, has sparked a massive popular movement all across the country. But acknowledging that there is a huge (and generally peaceful) popular movement in Honduras makes war boosterism more complicated. Better to stick to the fighting drugs and bad guys, you know the quasi criminal terrorist line…

The re-militarization of Honduras isn’t just about Honduras — it is about the entire region.

Shankar mentions that US anti-drug teams developed in Afghanistan are now active in Honduras to “plan interdiction missions in Central America.” He makes passing reference to how Honduras was used for staging the war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, but leaves out the fact that Honduras was also the staging area for the 1954 CIA backed coup in Guatemala, and for US backed wars against the FMLN in El Salvador later on (and on, and on). Looks like the bad old days of the “USS Honduras” are coming back in a big way – this, in a country that already has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

The fact that the New York Times is sending embedded journalists to Central America is gross. Instead of talking to, um, Hondurans, Shanker quotes the Council on Hemispheric Affairs as a sort of “critical” voice. Check this quote, from Larry Binns of the COHA:

“We know from the Reagan years that the infrastructure of the country of Honduras — both its governance machinery as well as its security forces — simply is not strong enough, is not corruption-proof enough, is not anti-venal enough to be a bastion of democracy.”

The Reagan years!? Excuse me? What about the freaking military coup during Obama’s administration? Sigh.

The implication that what the US did/learned in Iraq was a success alone is obviously beyond problematic for reasons that others can explain far better than I.

Finally, Shanker ends off paraphrasing a money quote from an ex-Navy SEAL, writing “There are ‘insidious’ parallels between regional criminal organizations and terror networks.” I can’t bring myself to unpack this here, but the immediate implication (more war) is obvious, no matter how you understand the world.

Anyhow, some folks might argue that this piece is useful because it reveals the US mission in Honduras. I don’t agree — I think this piece is useful to the Pentagon and the US elite. There’s so little factual, contextual or historical information in here that this piece is near useless even for a critical reader.