Professor Fouad Ajami died Sunday, at age 68. I thought his obituary in the New York Times, like many of their obits, was deeply interesting. I saw Ajami frequently on television, as an expert commentator, on CNN mostly. He was definitely suave, and I thought persuasive in his analyses, at least on their surface. For me, he did bring a certain credibility: he was an Arab, born and raised in the Levant until he was 18, when his family came to the U.S.
I always had reservations about his analyses, however, as he had become an American college professor rooted in this country, and, worse, a denizen of the ideological think-tank subculture. In other words, for decades he was no longer a day-to-day or more or less continuous presence in his area of expertise — the Middle East, its Arab nations and peoples.
As the obituary makes clear, he was a member of that amazing, only-in-America group, our public commentators who are almost always wrong about the really important things, but who seem never to go away quietly in disgrace (in Olde England, one admiral who failed at war was hanged for it):
● Dick Cheney: “In a speech in 2002 ... Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.” At the time, this astute “expert” assessor of the contemporary Iraqi public temperament was safely ensconsed in his scholar’s office at Johns Hopkins, a short drive from the White House;
● The Condoleezza, who “summoned him to the White House” when she was (ugh!) national security advisor fresh from ... a sunny California campus half the globe away from Iraq;
● The hapless Paul Wolfowitz, whom Ajami advised when Wolfie was deputy secretary of defense under the unbalanced Princeton grad and wrestling cheat Donald Rumsfeld. At least Rummie served in the military;
● And Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (another scholar who moonlighted as an Important Expert Advisor for the powerful). Lewis, who “urged the United States to invade Iraq,” advised President George W. Bush himself — going right to the tippy top, as it were. From the obit, I learned the degree to which Ajami was in that cohort with Professor Lewis. (William Kristol wasn’t mentioned in the obit as one of the always-wrong, as should have been his due. I’m sure Willy published lots of praise about Ajami in his magazine)…
(By the way, let us nevermore hear how elitist liberal universities like Princeton turn out, exclusively, legions of brainwashed liberals and other leftist and perverted crazies who poison and undermine our republic. Think Lewis and Rumsfeld. Ajami, too, taught at Princeton. And we must add to my little counter-argument U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as well.)
Professor Ajami bought into the Gilded Age legacy of Democracy, Always and Forever. He “despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy,” with the implication that others — oh, who, I wonder, could those others be? — would lead them to it, like horses to water. He told his audience “of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried [and failed] to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism.” (We can pass over, for now, the perception that there may be a homeland on the other side of the Atlantic that needs its culture renewed through the forces of modernism and secularism.)
That catalog of wet-dream stuff for other nations has long been the price of entry to the circle of the powerful and the righteous, the ones who, as the obit said, “believed that the United States must confront what he [Ajami] called a ‘culture of terrorism’ after the 2001 terrorist attacks…” Not before? How come the revelation came so late to this seemingly so knowledgeable scholar of the region and its cultures?
Prof. Ajami also “strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective,” often referring to “Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed.” (In 1683? The Times offers us that lunatic howler with a straight face.) “He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion, as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles.”
You have to be pretty far removed from the reality on the ground anywhere (and from common sense) to come up with imaginings like this. I suppose the Muslim Middle East is 99% full of just plain people. Folks who have families, children, jobs, little joys and too often sorrows. They want education for their children, things like that, and maybe not so much finally to get revenge for 1683 in Austria by destroying two buildings far away from Austria, in New York City.
I’ve never been in the Arab Levant, but I doubt the respectable folks there, busy with living their lives as best they can, sit around the kitchen table and lament the failure of the Ottomans (who were themselves culturally centered in Asia Minor, I believe, not in Iraq or the Arabian peninsula) to overrrun Vienna. What a crock of shit — yet Professor Ajami shrewdly got the power players to buy it and butter his bread.
Well, that’s the message they wanted to hear, to be sure. I’ll bet the local people in the Middle East complained and still complain endlessly about stuff, real stuff, not just Ajami’s imaginary nonsense ... but I’ll also bet it hasn’t typically included anger at being humiliated by the cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire, a k a “the West.”
The Times obituary failed to observe that Prof. Ajami is only one in a large coterie of men (mostly) who determinedly urge “us” into this or that war or other military escapade, but who have never troubled themselves to put on the uniform of military or naval service and risk standing in harm’s way. Yes, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that includes you, not just the “Dick” and Wolfie and Feith and many of the rest of the gang so eager to keep Dover Air Force Base busy.
Here’s a small part of Jim Wright’s advice to the warhogs currently polluting the airwaves. For the full cathartic, go here.
What’s the goal? What’s the objective? Is it to end terrorism? Is it to enforce peace at the muzzle of a gun? Is it it to make defense contractors rich? Is it for jobs? Or is it for magic flying bunnies who shoot rainbows and cheap gasoline out of their little assholes to the sound of Yankee Doodle Dandy?
Or, or, is it just because you hate Barack Obama?
That’s it, isn’t it?
You sons of bitches one and all, you simpering capering madmen, this time at least have the courage to face the cameras, to look into America’s eyes, and tell them that their sons and daughters will be dying because you John McCain, because you Mitt Romney, because you Dick Cheney, because you Donald Rumsfeld, because you George W. Bush you lying bastard, because you conservatives hate Barack Obama and for no other reason. Go on, tell us, go on. Wave your little flags and beat your fleshy chests, roll out the marching bands and tell us just how many more American soldiers should die. Go on, put a number on it. Ten? A hundred? Fifty four thousand? How many of us have to die? How many more bodies will it take to satiate your mindless hunger for blood and revenge? How many more American lives are worth your insane hatred of the president? How many? How much further into debt should we drive our nation, another trillion dollars? Two? Ten? A hundred? Put a price on it you insane sons of bitches, go on, give me a number, write me a check. Tell me how much you’re willing to pay, show me the goddamned money. How many more years? How many? One? Five? Another decade? Fifty? What is it? Don’t wave your hands and make some vague prognostication, give me a number, how many lives, how much money, how many years? You look us in the eye and you fucking tell us…
Before we trembling, ever-fearful Americans lash out around the world once again with our low-risk (low to us, that is) bombings, we might usefully pause to gain a little perspective. Let us put aside for the moment the hysterical excursions into the trendy geopolitical speculations of highly paid but low-information dabblers such as the Times’s David Brooks.
Let’s also pass over their unhelpful invocation of “hegemony” for every entity that would presume to challenge our own hegemony. Let’s agree likewise that the current fatuous name-calling — “autocrat” is today’s favorite epithet, “dictator” apparently having been deemed old-fashioned — is the substitute for analysis that it is. Instead, let’s calm down and meditate on the triggers of today’s alarums.
Item: The turmoil in Ukraine was started by popular — and initially nonviolent — protests against corruption in the country’s governance. That a neighboring autocrat took opportunistic advantage of that uprising and of inherent nationalistic divisions is an adventitious byproduct of that trigger.
Item: The fighting in Syria was somewhat similarly initiated by popular opposition to that country’s dictatorial governance. The opposition was nonviolent at first. Not surprisingly, given the religious divisions common throughout the Middle East and North Africa — the opposition has evolved into a more complex composition.
Item: The current chaotic situation in Libya was triggered by a popular uprising, largely nonviolent in its earliest days, against the country’s dictator and the corruption surrounding him. Other unrest in the region around the same time, first in Egypt and then especially in Tunisia, was likewise initially popular in origin.
Item: Today’s advances that the Sunni-based al-Queda-like ISIS is making into much of Iraq (and, we are told, they had been making from across the Syrian border for a year or more) were essentially triggered de novo by ... oh, dear, not by popular uprising, but by a series of unintended consequences of our own fraudulent “Just do it” invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq in 2003.
Not the least of those consequences is the quite predictable but also virulent anti-Sunni bias of our default puppet there, the Shiite and once-and-future Iranian fellow-traveler, Maliki. While ISIS may be leveraging the toxic effects of Maliki’s bias to their own advantage among Sunni Iraqis, the resulting popular discontent among the Sunni peoples in Iraq is what has enabled that. (Seven or eight years ago, the practical-minded, non-geopolitician Joe Biden said he thought Iraq would end up one way or another split into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd -- and did he ever get shit dumped on him for that.)
Our own nation was more or less founded in an outburst of popular discontent. Shouldn’t we maybe, kinda, sorta be reassured that popular discontent — We the People — is now showing itself elsewhere in the world? (That there happen to be violent reactions to those shows of popular discontent should not surprise us, or even the amateur geopoliticians such as Brooks or fearless warriors of the podium such as Senator Graham and the always-wrong William Kristol.)
But wait! Is popular discontent starting to show itself again here in the United States as well? Please hold off on the bombs, guys, so we can take stock of our own house first.
From a Time story on Chelsea Manning, serving a barbarous 35-year sentence for committing the truth in a public place:
For starters, the Department of Defense was known as the Department of War until 1947, when the newly-created (and named) Air Force, along with the Army, gathered under the same roof for the first time with the Navy (the new outfit was known as the National Military Establishment until 1949).It would have been immediately clear to George Orwell (who was to publish 1984 two years later) that the United States was about to embark on a series of wars that would continue, almost unbroken, for the rest of the century and well into the next one.
War has always had, not to put to fine a point on it, a specific and violent meaning. With the end of World War II — and the beginning of the Cold War — the U.S. government found itself needing a standing Army for the first time in its history. Replacing War with Defense made the change more palatable.
Can’t say I’ve searched the entire narrow span of the MSM, but this is the first major mention I’ve come across of the remote possibility that the United States might in some minuscule fashion if you viewed the matter from just the right angle hold some microscopic measure of responsibility under certain circumstances perhaps not totally unimaginable for the present mess in Crimea. From the New York Times, and good for them:
…Safeguarding this maritime muscle may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?
For years, Mr. Putin has complained about the West moving unilaterally to reorder the Continental balance of power — promoting Western capitalism and democracy — with little indication anyone was heeding his concerns. Its courting of Ukraine, apparently, was a step too far, prompting Mr. Putin to risk sanctions and the worst conflict since the Cold War to make clear that Washington and its friends do not call all of the shots anymore…
Read the rest and then forward it to the idiot McCain and Graham, care of any of the Sunday talk shows.
It has been plain to me for a long time that the biggest foreign threats to the security of United State do not come from such usual suspects as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and North Korea.
They come from inside our tent, not from out: from Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I’ll address Israel and Pakistan some other day, if I ever get around to it. For now Gary Brecher has done a pretty good job on Saudi Arabia at PandoDaily. Here’s an excerpt, but read it all here.
And of all their many skills, the one the Saudis have mastered most thoroughly is disruption. Not the cute tech-geek kind of disruption, but the real, ugly thing-in-itself. They don’t just “turn a blind eye” to young Saudi men going off to do jihad — they cheer them on. It’s a brilliant strategy that kills two very dangerous birds with one plane ticket. By exporting their dangerous young men, the Saudis rid themselves of a potential troublemaker while creating a huge amount of pain for the people who live wherever those men end up.
Saudis have shipped money, sermons, and volunteers to Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Russia’s North Caucasus just as they’re doing now in Syria. It’s a package deal — to get the money, you have to accept the Wahhabism and the volunteers. And it works. The Saudi package is usually resented at first, like it was by the Afghans who were outraged to be told they were “bad Muslims” by Saudi volunteers.
The excerpt below is from Charles Pierce’s double evisceration of the utterly unspeakable Elliott Abrams and the painfully pathetic David Gregory. Read it all here. Please.
The last time a president was as “bold” as Gregory wants this one to be, he lied us into a war that continues to wreak ruin to this day. Elliott Abrams was working for him at the time. The time before that, peasants got slaughtered and American nuns got raped and murdered, and archbishops got ventilated on the altar, and Elliott Abrams, to whom the Dancin’ Master directed his volley of bad history, cheered all of this on, lied about it as part of his official duties, and continues to believe that to have been the height of patriotism and public service. Ghosts of the dead should howl him awake every night. He should be spat upon by the surviving families of the dead every day on his way to teach his history class. History itself should vomit him out of its mouth. Journalism should revolt at the very sight of him. He should be whatever is one rung below a pariah. Instead, he gets a guest shot to tell the nation he has spent his career misleading into armed conflicts in which he never would have picked up a weapon or stood a post that its foreign policy is not blood-soaked enough for his taste. It was a living parable of the uselessness of dead memory.
…but it sure keeps on rhyming. This is from Garry Wills’ 1981 book, The Kennedy Imprisonment:
…Over and over in our recent history, presidents have claimed they had to act tough in order to disarm those demanding that they act tough. The only way to become a peacemaker is first to disarm the warmakers by making a little successful war. And if the little war becomes a big one, it must be pursued energetically or the “hawks” will capitalize on the failure. War wins, either way. If you are for it, you wage it. And if you are against it, you wage it.
The previous post reminded me of the total prostitution of the word “freedom” by the warmongers who have dominated our foreign policy steadily since World War II, and pretty often before that.
Which reminded me of those golden days of yesteryear — 2003 actually — when the Congressional dining room was serving freedom fries, and when I served up this:
From the New York Times:
“On a day that the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, said the American-led war was ‘doomed to fail,’ the administration struck a small blow at France, another ally that has parted company with the United States over Iraq. The menu on Air Force One this morning featured ‘stuffed freedom toast topped with strawberries’ — a new name for French toast.”
Once I had recovered from this droll bon mot I got to thinking about poor old freedom, and how our everloving warleaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, have sent it out on the street to turn tricks for them.
The other day, for example, I heard a Nevada man tell a radio reporter that his Marine son hadn’t died in vain: instead he had sacrificed himself for, you guessed it, freedom.
The poor man was hardly alone. An extraordinary number of otherwise sensible citizens apparently believe that Mr. Bush has invaded Iraq to bring freedom to that country — never mind that it wasn’t remotely “free” even before Saddam Hussein.
And never mind that Iraq will not be free after him, either. There are words to describe what the country is likely to be, but “free” is not among them. The words are instead “military protectorate,” and “occupied territory,” and “dependency,” and “colony.”
Iraq, that is to say, will remain free of freedom. Those who keep it so will now be Americans instead of Iraqis, of course, but this only looks like an improvement from our side of the fence.
This corruption of “freedom” did not occur overnight. Ronald Reagan unblushingly used the term “freedom fighters” to describe such despots and butchers as Jonas Savimbi in Angola and the Contras in Nicaragua.
No doubt Mr. Reagan was unconscious of the absurdity, as he was unconscious of so much else. To him, free and freedom were words which applied to any leader, any movement, any nation, that appeared willing to take orders from Washington.
Freedom meant subservience, as indeed to many Americans it always had. During the Vietnam War, for instance, the Fort Dix stockade was used to confine deserters, draft dodgers, and other objectors to the war. A sign over its front gate read, “Obedience to the law is freedom.”
Once we grasp this concept, such phenomena as John Ashcroft and Admiral Poindexter become understandable and even admirable. When Mr. Bush's men strip away our civil liberties one by one, they are only killing to cure. The loss of freedom is the price of remaining free.
The price for the people of Iraq will be even higher. They must be colonized by smart bombs and the Third Infantry Division, so that Exxon and Halliburton may free their oil fields at last from the chains of Iraqi ownership.
Surely then, praise be to Allah, all the nations of Araby will rise in joyful song and clamor, each in his turn, to be washed in the blood of the Bush.
And if my aunt had wheels, she’d be a tea cart.
When we find ourselves getting into similar situations over and over we have two basic types of response. We often start thinking of the world as the kind of place that generates such situations. Occasionally, though, we find a moment to lift our gazes and see our lives as a story we’re telling as we go along. In those moments we can notice patterns in our lives that seem related to us as much as to the universe, and start to wonder whether anything we’re doing might contribute to generating those repetitive situations.
If only the same self-consciousness could be brought to nation-states! Here in the US our leaders continue to follow the pattern Chomsky described: you can’t reach a position of power in the US government without believing that the United States is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives. And it looks like Obama is about to do it again in Syria. Here’s some questions that occur to an amateur observing from the sidelines, which I would hope have been considered.
Ultimately, as with all things political, cui bono? Who in Syria, the United States, and around the world would benefit from military action? If the US claims to be acting on moral grounds despite being unable to generate a case under international law, then those moral grounds should, it seems to me, be clear and unassailable.
…this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. No doubt he does it for what he considers to be the greater good: protecting the rest of his agenda from the “national security” cowards who predominate in Congress and the electorate. In some cosmic weighing of the scales, he may be right. Or not.
Still, this is what President Obama does to helpless men 88 times a day. Every day.
The excerpt below is from an op-ed in the New York Times by Karl W. Eikenberry and David M. Kennedy. The first is a retired general and former ambassador to Afghanistan; the second is an emeritus professor of history at Stanford. Read the whole article. It is the only intelligent and useful thing about the military you are likely to run across on Memorial Day.
…The Congressional Research Service has documented 144 military deployments in the 40 years since adoption of the all-voluntary force in 1973, compared with 19 in the 27-year period of the Selective Service draft following World War II — an increase in reliance on military force traceable in no small part to the distance that has come to separate the civil and military sectors. The modern force presents presidents with a moral hazard, making it easier for them to resort to arms with little concern for the economic consequences or political accountability. Meanwhile, Americans are happy to thank the volunteer soldiers who make it possible for them not to serve, and deem it is somehow unpatriotic to call their armed forces to task when things go awry…
President Obama himself seems to be the one about to cross the red line — that same red line we’ve crossed so many, many times before:
The United States will “shortly” begin arming Syrian rebels, looking to boost moderate factions over al-Qaida-affiliated extremists whose rise would be a national security “nightmare,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CBS News on Tuesday.
“I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said in an interview. “We’re doing a lot more there on the ground than really is known, but we do have to change the equation.”
I just have 20 short words for the president: Indonesia, Haiti, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Angola, Zaire, Libya, Lebanon, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to name a few victims of our never-ending mission to force “democracy“ on the natives.
The invariant rule, Mr. President, goes as follows: When you take the wrong train, every station you reach is the wrong one.
To give you an idea of how truly stupid the bipartisan War Party in Congress is, its members are even stupider than the citizenry they pretend to represent:
Sixty-two percent of the public say the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups, while just one-quarter disagree. Likewise, 56 percent say North Korea is a threat that can be contained for now without military action, just 15 percent say the situation requires immediate American action and 21 percent say the North is not a threat at all.
Louis Brown, 50, a poll respondent from Springfield Township, Ohio, said, “We don’t need additional loss of American lives right now.”
In the poll, 4 in 10 Americans cited the economy and jobs as the country’s most important problems, while only 1 percent named foreign policy.
Syrbal, at Herlander-Walking, is herself a veteran. So is her husband. They have a son who just left for Afghanistan on his second tour in the Bush-Obama wars. Not that Bush and Obama are the only ones responsible for those evil, idiot wars. Read her post to the end.
I know keeping very, very busy is the best idea right now. Distraction was my only friend the last year he was in the war zone; but this time it is far more difficult to keep my mind away from sharp cliff edges. At least, this time, it seems most Americans, even in this perversely red county of a blue state, have decided the wars are not a jolly good time.
Last time, seeing the service star on my car, or if it came up in conversation I still had idiots say the equivalent of “Right on!” which made me tilt my head and eye them like a hungry raptor before verbally pecking them to death. This time, if I apologize for temporary mental lapses with the explanation of my son being deployed, faces fall and people say “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “Oh, no!”
Why, oh, why was that not the response in 2001 and 2003? It was the same lie then? And over 8000 men and women from a host of nations including our own have paid for that lie with their deaths. And that is not even beginning the count of Iraqis and Afghanis.
During the long, sad evening of the election night when Reagan won reelection in a landslide, a colleague in Gore campaign headquarters defined the word democracy for me. “Democracy,” he said, “is that system of government in which you give the people what they want. And you give it to ’em good.”
From the New York Times, page one:
WASHINGTON — A new assessment by the Pentagon’s intelligence arm has concluded for the first time, with “moderate confidence,” that North Korea has learned how to make a nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile…
The assessment’s existence was disclosed Thursday by Representative Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, three hours into a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
This is kind of an amazing coincidence, really. Let me backtrack a little and you’ll see what I mean. There is a small hospital in Sharon, Connecticut, which means that there are lots of doctors in our town. Now and then they leave off old medical school textbooks in the Swap Shop at the local dump.
Just last Tuesday — you’re not going to believe this — I picked up one called Brain Surgery for Dummies and proceeded to read that sucker from cover to cover. Finished last night, and now I can say with moderate confidence that I have learned how to perform a prefrontal lobotomy. Drop by any time. Special rates if your name is Doug Lamborn.
Hurrah. Hurrah. We’re getting out of Afghanistan in 2014. Maybe. If and when, we know how it will look, because we’ve been there before. Over and over. And will be again, if we let the disgusting, discredited warhogs who lied us into Iraq do to it to us again. Very likely we will let them. We are what we are.
This is from Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia by Arnold R. Isaacs:
One thing about living in a country with amnesia is that the old becomes new over and over again, as we repeat our forgotten idiocies. Here is a post I put up on Bad Attitudes on September 12, 2002, still fresh as a daisy:
Looking up something else in the files I just came across a four-year-old article from the New York Times, written as the Taliban were about to take over Afghanistan.
It’s easy to forget, and most of us conveniently have, that the Taliban was Made in the USA. What if, for just that once, we had managed to mind our own business?
From the Times of August 13, 1998, speaking of the likelihood that the mullahs would soon seize power:
“If so, the outcome is full of tragic irony for a nation that seemed set on a completely opposite course in 1973, when King Zahir Shah, the last representative of the Durrani Dynasty that had ruled the country for 250 years, was ousted in a coup mounted by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.
“As President, Mohammed Daoud proclaimed himself a modernizer but lasted barely five years before he was killed in April 1978 in a coup staged by the Soviet-backed Communist Party, which proclaimed a still more radical modernization program.
“The Communists’ program aimed at uprooting the pervasive influence of Muslim clerics, whose support of the Durranis had consigned Afghanistan to a social and economic backwardness.
“Within hours of seizing the Arg Palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Communists vowed to emancipate Afghan women, achieve universal literacy, and move the country beyond its bullock-cart economy.
“But the bid to force compliance with the Communist program, especially in the arch-conservative world of the Afghan village, triggered a civil war that drew in Soviet forces in December 1979.
“This in turn prompted President Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan to commit the United States to backing the Afghan Mujahedeen, the self-styled Muslim holy warriors who drove out the Russians in February 1989.”
To put the matter clearly, the Russians were the nearest thing there was to good guys in the Afghanistan of the late seventies. The nearest thing to bad guys, then and now, were the ignorant village clerics…
As so often happened during the Cold War, we jumped eagerly into bed with the worst guys in sight. Even worse than the Russian alternative? Well, figure it out. Our exciting fling with the primitive, lawless Mujahedeen created the conditions for the Taliban takeover that the Russians had feared. And the takeover created the kind of country an Osama Bin Laden could get comfortable in.
Well, okay, but still.. We couldn’t very well have left this tiny land in the terrible claws of godless Russia, could we? Of course we could. We did it all the time, before and during the Cold War. And in this case, so what? Three and a half years later the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, giving everybody a get-out-of-jail card.
But wasn’t that collapse precisely because we had armed and financed those brave Afghan freedom fighters? Pretty doubtful. The Soviet Union had been a basket case for decades. It might have stayed on its feet for a year or two longer if Cold War cowboys like Zbigniew Brzezinski and William J. Casey hadn’t been gnawing at its crutches in Afghanistan, that’s true. But the aging invalid was about to topple in any case..
Suppose those few years had been spent under the Russians rather than the warlords and the Taliban? A number of things would have happened, all of them good. Afghanistan wouldn’t have been devastated in a pointless civil war, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Afghans would still be alive, and the country would be independent today just like the other ’Stans in the neighborhood. No better off, but no worse either.
And yesterday — September 11th of 2002 — could have been just another lovely day in early autumn.
…not that we ever knew, or knowing, cared.
“In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam’s party, the Ba’ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba’ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…; it backed him in 1991 when Bush [senior] suddenly stopped the war, exactly 24 hours after the start of the great March uprising that engulfed the south and Iraqi Kurdistan…”
Tomas Young, paralyzed in Iraq by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (among millions of others; you know who you are), is in hospice care committing slow suicide. Chris Hedges writes about his decision in Truthdig:
Young joined the Army immediately after 9/11 to go to Afghanistan and hunt down the people behind the attacks. He did not oppose the Afghanistan war. “In fact, if I had been injured in Afghanistan, there would be no ‘Body of War’ movie to begin with,” he said. But he never understood the call to invade Iraq. “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor we didn’t invade China just because they looked the same,” he said.
He became increasingly depressed about his impending deployment to Iraq when he was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He asked the battalion doctor for antidepressants. The doctor said he had to meet first with the unit’s chaplain, who told him, “I think you will be happier when you get over to Iraq and start killing Iraqis.”
Andrew Bacevich is one of the clearest and deepest voices against the war machine the United States has become. A retired Army colonel with a Ph.D. from Princeton whose son was killed in the Iraq war which he opposed, he’s now a professor of international relations at Boston University.
This combination of experience and education positions him perfectly to observe and reflect on the tenth anniversary of the second Bush war against Iraq. Training and inclination give a historical tint to his perspective, and I highly recommend the WaPo article.
Next year marks the centennial of the conflict once known as the Great War. Germany lost that war. Whether France and Britain can be said to have won in any meaningful sense is another matter. Besides planting the seeds for an even more horrific bloodletting just two decades later, the fighting of 1914-1918 served chiefly to provide expansion-minded British politicians with a pretext for carving up the Ottoman Empire. It proved a fateful move.
What London wanted from this new Middle East that it nonchalantly cut and pasted was profit and submission; what it got was resentment and resistance, yielding a host of intractable problems that in due time it bequeathed to Washington. In effect, victory in 1918 expanded Britain’s imperial domain only to accelerate its demise, with the United States naively assuming the mantle of imperial responsibility (euphemistically termed “leadership”). Thank you, Perfidious Albion.
Many another storied triumph has contained its own poison pill. More recent examples include the Six Day War, which saddled Israel with a large, restive minority that it can neither pacify nor assimilate; the ouster of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, giving rise to the Taliban; and Operation Desert Storm, after which the garrisoning of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia helped light the long fuse that would eventually detonate on Sept. 11, 2001.
Think you’ve won? Wait until all the returns are in.
McCain recently tried to use his beloved Surge in Iraq to convict Hagel of incompetence as a potential SecDef, though of course the real issue was that Hagel didn’t endorse McCain in 2008. Bacevich compares the surge to Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. It was indeed a great victory on the battlefield, but as the returns filtered in Gibbon’s words were recalled.
Such is the empire of Fortune (if we may still disguise our ignorance under that popular name), that it is almost equally difficult to foresee the events of war or to explain their various consequences. A bloody and complete victory has sometimes yielded no more than possession of the field; and the loss of ten thousand men has sometimes been sufficient to destroy, in a single day, the work of ages.
Jackson’s signature victory, of couse, took place two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the War of 1812. And McCain’s surge made no difference in the outcome of the war, though of course it killed more Americans. It also caused Americans to kill more Iraqis, and to me it appears that the most underplayed aspect of the story in accounts I’ve been reading is the animosity provoked throughout the Middle East by the three Bush wars, two on Iraq and one on Afghanistan. Bacevich speculates that the entire second war on Iraq will be seen by historians as not very important, like the War of 1812, except that the War of 1812 left us with a national anthem. Even the importance of the American empire is fading in comparison to the rising literacy and production and general capabilities of the rest of the world.
In what has become one of the most momentous stories of the 21st century, the inhabitants of the Islamic world are asserting the prerogative of determining their own destinies. Intent on doing things their way, they are increasingly intolerant of foreign interference. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington sought to revalidate an altogether different prerogative, one pioneered by Britain: an entitlement to meddle.
Britain never learned its lesson; and hubris attracts Nemesis, in this case history, the great teacher. What about the US, will we learn from Britain’s example? Not yet. As Bacevich puts it, “Sure, American troops captured Baghdad and overthrew Saddam Hussein. So what?”
Back in 1947, the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine kicked off Washington’s effort to put its imprint on the Greater Middle East, while affirming that Britain’s exit from the region had begun. U.S. power was going to steer events in directions favorable to U.S. interests. That effort now seems likely to have run its course. The United States finds itself today pretty much where the British were back in the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. The only problem is that there’s no readily available sucker to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create.
Still, we have made some progress: compare McCain’s fate with Jackson’s.
This month marks ten years since the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq. In my view this was the biggest strategic error by the United States since at least the end of World War II and perhaps a much longer period. Vietnam was costlier and more damaging, but also more understandable. As many people have chronicled, the decision to fight in Vietnam was a years-long accretion of step-by-step choices, each of which could be rationalized at the time. Invading Iraq was an unforced, unnecessary decision to risk everything on a “war of choice” whose costs we are still paying…
Anyone now age 30 or above should probably reflect on what he or she got right and wrong ten years ago. I feel I was right in arguing, six months before the war in “The Fifty-First State,” that invading Iraq would bring on a slew of complications and ramifications that would take at least a decade to unwind…
Read the whole post, which is great stuff. But the intro above got me thinking about the most beautiful phrase in the English language, “I told you so.” One of the small rewards of committing words in a public place is the ability to prove that we did in fact tell you so. Like Jim, I really did blog about Saddam’s aluminum tubes and imaginary weapons of mass destruction a decade ago. Further back in the day, I really did attack President Kennedy in my Washington Post column when he sent 16,000 military “advisors” to Vietnam. You could look it up.
Not that it mattered a bit, then or now. We are a nation of cop lovers and soldier sniffers, as George Carlin called us. Our national pastime is war, and we don’t let facts get in the way when we scent other people’s blood in the water.
And right now we are watching the same crowd of vicious cowards — Abrams, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kristol, Tucker Carlson, Bolton, Lindsey Graham — mongering war with Iran. If they fail, it will only be because we can’t afford a new war just at the moment.
Mark Ambinder has gathered the “Five Silliest Reactions to Women in Combat” here. They’re silly all right but none of them addresses the sad absurdity at the heart of the issue. Why would women want to take part in the most degrading, dishonorable, destructive, amoral, cruel, cowardly, stupid, useless and evil activity of which our species is capable? You’ve come a long way, baby. Now you can kill yourselves with IEDs as well as lung cancer.
Rudyard Kipling again, this time from the several years he lived in Vermont:
When the people looked, which was seldom, outside their own borders, England was still the dark and dreadful enemy to be feared and guarded against … But how thoroughly the doctrine was exploited I did not realize till we visited Washington in 1896, where I met Theodore Roosevelt, then Under Secretary ( I never caught the name of the Upper) to the U.S. Navy…
It was laid on him, at that time, to furnish his land with an adequate Navy; the existing collection of unrelated types and casual purchases being worn out. I asked him how he proposed to get it, for the American people did not love taxation. “Out of you,” was the disarming reply. And so — to some extent — it was.
The obedient and instructed Press explained how England — treacherous and jealous as ever — only waited round the corner to descend on the unprotected coasts of Liberty, and to that end was preparing, etc. etc. etc. (This in ’96 when England had more than enough hay on her own trident to keep her busy.) But the trick worked, and all the Orators and Senators gave tongue, like the Hannibal Chollops that they were…
And thus was born the military-industrial complex, which was to grow till now it strangles the nation. Perfidious Albion gave way to the Kaiser in 1916, to be replaced some 30 years later by the dark and dreadful Kremlin, which gave way to an Axis of Evil every bit as treacherous and jealous of our freedoms as England had once been before metamorphosing into our closest ally. Which it still is, or would be except for Israel.
From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress.
Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.
The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.
In this, too, America is exceptional — as we are in prison population, military spending, gun violence, domestic spying, nuclear stockpiles, et cetera and so on and so forth. We ought to be deeply ashamed of ourselves. We are not. As a nation, we are incapable of shame.
It comes from being exceptional.
President Obama yesterday, awarding Presidential Medals of Freedom:
Administration officials filled the room as well – with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton beaming from the front row as Obama touted the “courage and toughness” of one of her predecessors, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat.Franklin C. Spinney, a long-time systems analyst for the Pentagon:
Kosovo is a case study in the failure of high complexity weapons and organizational arrangements. U.S. military planners predicted a “precision” bombing campaign would force the Serbs to capitulate in only two to three days, but the air campaign grinded on for 79 days. Yet when it was over, NATO intelligence determined only tiny quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks were destroyed. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment, crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with.
Moreover, the terms of Serb “surrender,” which the undefeated Serb military regarded as a sell out by Serbian President Milosevic, were the same as those the Serbs agreed to at the Rambouillet Conference, before U.S. negotiators and Secretary of State Madeline Albright inserted a poison pill to queer the deal, so we could have what the politically troubled Clinton administration thought would be a neat, short war.
This is business of usual of course, for the world’s most aggressive and war-loving nation. Old folks will remember that Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam war for four bloody years to ensure Nixon’s reelection. Once this was accomplished he bombed Hanoi to save face, then immediately accepted the same peace settlement that Ho Chi Minh had offered four years earlier. Kissinger’s reward was the Nobel Peace Prize. No doubt he would have gotten a Presidential Medal of Freedom, too, if Nixon hadn’t been driven from office.
Here’s David Barash, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
There’s a noteworthy trend among retired military and civilian officials who, in their professional capacity, held senior roles with regard to our nuclear weaponry: When they retire, they often see the error of their ways, denounce what they have done and apologize for how they “succeeded” in their careers…
For example, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s baleful influence went far beyond escalating the Vietnam War. More than anyone else, he was personally responsible for the immense escalation in the number of deployed U.S. warheads during the 1960s. After retiring from his Defense post and a stint heading up the World Bank, McNamara announced that much of what he had done during the Johnson Administration was quite literally a mistake.
In Errol Morris’s superb documentary, The Fog of War, in addition to admitting his colossal and murderous Vietnam blunders, McNamara commented as follows: “The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7,500 offensive strategic nuclear warheads, of which 2,500 are on a 15-minute alert to be launched at the decision of one human being?” Clearly, his answer was No.
What a shame that he didn’t act on this realization when he had the authority to do so!
A politician’s first duty, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, is to get elected. This requires telling a frightened, ignorant and superstitious electorate what it wants to hear. A Reagan or a George W. Bush can do this with an untroubled heart, since what we want to hear is what he wants to say.
A rising bureaucrat may or may not be in agreement with those in a position to advance his career. If the latter, he must put his convictions in a blind trust for future use, once he reaches the top of his personal ladder. Then, he tells himself, he will be free at last do the right thing.
Nothing is left, then, but to write your memoirs and hope the next guy will learn from them. It’s no use blaming McNamara for this. If he had “acted on this realization” at the time, McGeorge Bundy or some other striver left over from the Kennedy White House would have become secretary of defense.
It would have been, as Lyndon Johnson used to say in his simple, homespun way, like pissing in a blue serge suit. The wearer gets a nice, warm feeling, and nobody else notices a thing.
McNamara couldn’t have have changed the course of history a bit by rebelling, any more than Obama could have called off our pointless and idiotic “War on Terror” in 2009. It’s what the boss ordered, and we ordered it because we are what we are.
Walter Pincus is still The Man.
Britain is not the only country modernizing [its nuclear weapons]. The United States has a multi-billion-dollar program to upgrade its three major nuclear warheads and a more costly effort to build new land, sea and air strategic delivery systems. France is modernizing its nuclear bombs and missiles as well as its strategic submarine, though it is reducing numbers. Russia and China are modernizing, too. It is ironic that these five countries meeting in Baghdad to dissuade Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapon are all modernizing their stockpiles.
In A People’s History of the United States, 1492 - Present Howard Zinn excerpts an article I wrote for the New York Times in 1973. I always figured these few paragraphs would turn out to be my only durable literary legacy, and in an odd way this seems to be coming true.
Chasing down my old op-ed piece earlier today on Google, I discovered that Zinn’s brief excerpts have gone viral in the flourishing world of ghost-written student essays. The following paragraphs are the ones being heisted from Zinn’s book, repackaged, repurposed, and resold to student plagiarists as nuggets of original research. For whatever further service I may be to scholars, a pdf of the full text is here. The map below (you can steal that too; I did) shows where our bombs fell on Laos between 1965 and 1975.
The Pentagon’s most recent lies about bombing Cambodia bring back a question that often occurred to me when I was press attache at the American Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.
Why did we bother to lie? When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: “At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.”
This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. The International Control Commission knew it was a lie. Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie....
After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us.
Robert C. Koehler takes apart the Bad Apple myth we find so comforting whenever a Sergeant Bates appears. The whole story from which this excerpt comes is here.
“A freshly captured detainee had been denied his insulin. He was a hadji and probably he won’t die, but it wouldn’t matter if he did. This is what the CO said in denying permission to hospitalize him. His diabetic stroke was mistaken for insubordination. They pepper-sprayed him and put him in a holding cell, where he died.” — Andrew Duffy
“It’s almost impossible to act on your morality. . . . You remove the humanity from them — beat them — and in doing so you remove humanity from yourself.” — Carlos Mejia
Does this begin to penetrate the mystery that so confounds the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media? Stories of American troops’ horrific treatment of Iraqis and Afghans are endless. Most of the time, such treatment was well within the context of orders. Contempt for the people we were “liberating” permeated the chain of command. In 2003, the Washington Post reported that a Defense Department computer program for calculating collateral damage was called “Bugsplat.”
We may or may not wind up acting with our customary insanity in reaction to Israel’s current cries for war. Barack Obama and Joe Biden rather than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in charge, and so this time our strutting chickenhawks might not get their way. Which would spare us another descent into Macbeth’s dilemma:
I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.
In recent months, talk of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has fueled the Republican presidential campaign, served as the backdrop for this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and earned a pledge from Obama on Sunday that the United States would resort to military means if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
Israeli officials acknowledge that the widespread acceptance in the West that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon isn’t based just on the findings of Israeli intelligence operatives, but relies in no small part on a steady media campaign that the Israelis have undertaken to persuade the world that Iran is bent on building a nuclear warhead…
His point was driven home in February, when Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, said that Iran is developing a missile that could strike targets more than 6,000 miles away — such as the East Coast of the United States.
The missile project is “aimed at America, not Israel,” said Yaalon, a well-known hawk who advocates a military strike on Iran by Israel and its allies.
“Israel has everyone so worked up that the thought is, let’s temper what they do, rather than, let’s stop or control what they do,” said one European diplomat based in Jerusalem, who like many diplomats declined to be identified further because of the sensitivity of the subject…
“…I’ve been talking about this since 2005, and nearly every year has been the ‘Iran year,’” Javedanfar said. “I think the level of hysteria has dropped... If Iran gets a bomb it is not something I would like to see, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end. It’s a mistake to use words like ‘existential threat.’”
The first date-specific prediction of when Iran would have a nuclear weapon was made in 1998, by the then head of military intelligence, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, who warned that Iran could have the bomb by 2008…
Not that the predictions have been consistent. In 2009, Israel’s then-spymaster, Meir Dagan, estimated that Iran would have a weapon by 2014. That same year, Yossi Baidetz, the head of Israel’s military intelligence research division, said that Iran had all the nuclear know-how it needed. In 2010, Israeli officials shortened their estimates to 2012.
Consortium News interviews Phil Donahue, fired by MSNBC in 2003 for telling the truth in a public place:
Well, there’s almost a worship of people in power. You never see a peace worker or leader on Meet the Press. The established journalists cover established power…
So did the so-called expert generals, defense people on CNN and the other channels … I mean [the run-up to the Iraq war] was so managed and the press made it happen. One of the few journalists that I admire who doesn’t care if the White House calls them back is Sy Hersh. And I’m sure you’ve interviewed and you know you won’t see him on Meet the Press…
You know, if a Marine goes into a Fallujah home and blows away the family with an AK47 that’s a war crime. If we drop a bomb on that house and incinerate the family, it’s collateral damage. We are in denial. And we are creating language to help us continue to be in denial. This is awful…
A president doesn’t get a statue for fixing health care. The only way you get a statue in a park is winning a war. That’s why we’ve got horses and swords; we have military airplanes in parks that kids play on. We’ve cannons in parks, in parks! We celebrate war. There’s no other way to say this.
Here’s Nicholas von Hoffman (Make-Believe Presidents, Pantheon Books, 1978) on the apparently indissoluble marriage between presidents and the Pentagon:
Laissez-faire, free market competition, is incompatible with the coordination, planning and allocation of resources for mobilization and the quasi-permanent war alert of our own times. Conservatives, with their free-enterprise faith, seem unable to grasp that their military and militant foreign policy assures the continued existence of the centralized state they profess to abhor.
This remains true, with the result that those segments of industry involved in war production have become so close to the Pentagon as to become indistinguishable, combining government inefficiency with private greed. Militarization is a job creator for sure, but of jobs that don’t need doing. Our massive war machine is a solution in search of a problem. Too often, it creates one.