I’m 2/3 the way through the six-part Hulu adaptation of Catch-22. There are good things and bad things about it. The crews have incredibly stressful and dangerous missions, but they also have some absolutely incredibly photogenic R&R opportunities. Sometimes I think I’m watching a Calvin Klein underwear ad….
Major thing that bothers me is that, yeah, let’s be sympathetic to these young american men who are in an awful position, but they are in the business of dropping bombs and I wonder if the series is ever going to have them face to face with the destruction they’re causing.
(I’m happy to go back on this if the final two episodes take things in this direction. Honestly can’t remember from the book, which I read in grade school)…
I always keep in mind that the historian Howard Zinn, a bombardier in the Euro theater at the tail end of WWII (his unit dropped napalm on a French seaside resort, pour rire, in April 45), exposed a lot of the lies we as Americans tell ourselves and the world….
“I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident’, ‘military target’, and ‘collateral damage’.”
Whenever we think of horrible violence within our borders and say, “that’s so unamerican,”–I’d say the problem is that it’s all too American.
I don’t agree with everything Cole says, and haven’t forgotten his support for Obama’s non-Constitutional “kinetic action” in Libya, nor his “letter to the left.” His position was not short on nuance, but Libya is a disaster today, though surely it’s cheering for those who like their middle eastern nations in flames.
Thomas Friedman’s more-puzzling-than-usual column from midweek, in which he wondered aloud whether the West should be arming ISIL, led to more than a few hot takes asserting Friedman had lost it, and was floating that balloon out of ignorance and/or dementia. I beg to differ: I think he knew exactly what he was saying.
Between Obama’s pending rapprochement with Iran and the cooperation between US and allied militaries in bombing ISIL combatants (and countless more collateral persons of no interest), there lurks the possibility of peace breaking out in the Middle East. Well, OK, peace is not really in the works, but there remains the chance the U.S. will stall out on its accidental/on purpose mission to take down every proper country in the region that doesn’t kowtow to U.S./Israeli domination.
What accounts for [Friedman] being in this category of Daesh-supporters when he is not a conservative (in the American political sense of conservative)? It is his Zionism. For Israel, Daesh is just a manifestation of chaos and not threatening to Israel which has the best military in the Middle East. But for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, it is the big conventional rejectionist states and armies with their potential for nuclear weaponry that are the real danger. That is why Friedman supported Bush’s Iraq War, as well. Apparently, for this strain of Zionism, the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer militarily in the region. Daesh is just a set of gangs and aids in keeping Syria and Iraq in chaos, so from this point of view, it is a good thing and should be armed to cause more chaos.
It is a monstrous point of view that would come as a surprise to most Americans when put like this, but all Middle Easterners understand that it is exactly the kind of policy Israeli hawks pursue and urge the US to pursue.
It’s hard to compete with the sheer star power of the DNC attendees:
And then there’s Mort. Forgive me for this, but I did not even know Mort Sahl was still alive (he’s 85), and from the looks of his twitter feed this morning, very much kicking. He provides a welcome dissent to the USA USA Support the Troops nuttiness that just went down in Charlotte.
The Democratic Party is dead. You witnessed the execution. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Nancy Pelosi told Dennis Kucinich that impeachment of Cheney and Bush was off the table. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Biden said the Special Forces are the finest warriors of all time. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when no one in Charlotte asked Obama if he made up a kill list every Tuesday. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Biden said any place is a battlefield when our enemy is there-a dir quote frm Michael Hayden, the fmr Dir of the CIA. #DNC2012
It died a little every day when the Press never told you the truth. MSNBC, FOX; Vanilla or French Vanilla? #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when it embraced homosexuals but left Bradley Manning in solitary confinement. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Jack Kennedy’s daughter addressed the convention. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when it went from the loving arms of Jack Kennedy to an arranged marriage with Barack Obama. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Obama became an agent of the Middle Class and never mentioned the Working Class. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when the First Lady kept talking about the Troops. This President is in five wars. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Obama condemned Romney for being wealthy. So was Roosevelt and so was Adlai Stevenson. #DeathoftheDemParty
It died when Obama refinanced the auto companies and forced the workers to accept a lower wage and no health insurance. #DNC2012
It died when neither Bernie Sanders nor Howard Dean ran against Obama. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Barack Obama became a hostage to the CIA and the Pentagon. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when the first Liberal voted for the Vietnamese War. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Barack Obama ignored Congress and sent cruise missiles into Libya. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died when Kerry didn’t ask for a recount in Ohio. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
You too can be a Democrat if you have enough room in your closet for your conscience. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
I may have aroused your anger. But I can’t seem to raise your conscience. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012
It died because the Liberals don’t want to do anything just– they just want to feel good. #DeathoftheDemParty
John Cusack has moved me to rescind my personal rule to ignore what actors say about anything other than what they do well–which is generally speaking to look good, spend a lot of time at the gym, and learn their lines.
Unlike most of the opinionated members of his profession, Cusack has been intensely critical of both the Bush administration and the current one. He uses a single set of criteria to judge both Bush and Obama. Imagine that!
Apparently, Cusack is also an old school friend of Jonathan Turley, who blogs most expertly on legal issues, in particular those having to do with civil liberties. He has published a meaty interview with Turley which should be read in it entirety. I just wanted to excerpt this terrific little passage, which is especially appropriate this week, as we crown our emperor in the non-union Democratic stronghold of Charlotte.
CUSACK: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an ongoing moral fiasco — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go?
Hmm. The version of this interview published in truth-out.com contains a lengthy preamble by Cusack that doesn’t appear on the Turley blog. It ends with a provocative question that I think answers itself.
Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…
Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.
Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men & fanatics— “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”
… there are certain Rubicon lines, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed.
All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.
This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones but to ask fundamentally: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?
Three markers — the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me…
Mr. Obama, the Christian president with the Muslim-sounding name, would heed the admonitions of neither religion’s prophets about making war and do what no empire or leader, including Alexander the Great, could do: he would, he assured us “get the job done in Afghanistan.” And so we have our democratic president receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he sends 30,000 more troops to a ten-year-old conflict in a country that’s been war-torn for 5,000 years.
Why? We’ll never fully know. Instead, we got a speech that was stone bullshit and an insult to the very idea of peace.
We can’t have it both ways. Hope means endless war? Obama has metaphorically pushed all in with the usual international and institutional killers; and in the case of war and peace, literally.
To sum it up: more war. So thousands die or are maimed; generations of families and veterans are damaged beyond imagination; sons and daughters come home in rubber bags. But he and his satellites get their four more years.
The AfPak War is more H. G. Wells than Orwell, with people blindly letting each other get fed to the barons of Wall Street and the Pentagon, themselves playing the part of the Pashtuns. The paradox is simple: he got elected on his anti-war stance during a perfect storm of the economic meltdown and McCain saying the worst thing at the worst time as we stared into the abyss. Obama beat Clinton on “I’m against the war and she is for it.” It was simple then, when he needed it to be.
Under Obama do we continue to call the thousands of mercenaries in Afghanistan “general contractors” now that Bush is gone? No, we don’t talk about them… not a story anymore.
Do we prosecute felonies like torture or spying on Americans? No, time to “move on”…
Now chaos is the norm and though the chaos is complicated, the answer is still simple. We can’t afford this morally, financially, or physically. Or in a language the financial community can digest: the wars are ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. No need to get a score from the CBO.
Drones bomb Pakistani villages across the border at an unprecedented rate. Is it legal? Does anyone care? “It begs the question,” as Daniel Berrigan asks us, “is this one a “good war” or a “dumb war”? But the question betrays the bias: it is all the same. It’s all madness.”
One is forced to asked the question: Is the President just another Ivy League Asshole shredding civil liberties and due process and sending people to die in some shithole for purely political reasons?
Basically, I said what is Off the Table is far more important, and more dangerous, than what the parties are arguing about.
Dixon looks back to the post-Civil War era as a comparable era of malign consensus:
Too much agreement between Republicans and Democrats has always been bad news for those at the bottom of America’s class and racial totem poles.
Back in 1875, Frederick Douglass observed that it took a war among the whites to free his people from slavery. What then, he wondered, would an era of peace among the whites bring us? He already knew the answer. Louisiana had its Colfax Massacre two years earlier. A wave of thousands upon thousands of terroristic bombings, shootings, mutilations, murders and threats had driven African Americans from courthouses, city halls, legislatures, from their own farms, businesses and private properties and from the voting rolls across the South. They didn’t get the vote back for 80 years, and they never did get the land back. But none of that mattered because on the broad and important questions of those days there was at last peace between white Republicans and white Democrats — squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game.
Like Douglass, the shallow talking heads who cover the 2012 presidential campaign on corporate media have noticed out loud the remarkable absence of disagreement between Republican and Democratic candidates on many matters. They usually mention what the establishment likes to call “foreign policy.” But the list of things Republicans and Democrat presidential candidates agree on, from coddling Wall Street speculators, protecting mortgage fraudsters and corporate wrongdoers to preventing Medicare For All to so-called “foreign policy,” “free trade,” “the deficit” “clean coal and safe nuclear power” and “entitlement reform,” is clearly longer and more important than the few points of mostly race and style, upon which they disagree.
All these brave “independents” say that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and claim they can start history over, with candidates suddenly become as good as they are themselves. What they do is give us the worst of evils.
Long sad sigh.
First, no one ever said there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the candidates. Some of the points Wills makes are valid, and a reign of Romney, especially one combined with Republican control of Congress, would be a dark age indeed.
But for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and millions living in countries unfortunate enough to be “strategically important” to Washington, so was the Bush era. And so are the Obama years. Yep, Romney would be worse, but as David Swanson’s tweet below says, our choices are calamity and catastrophe. Definitely there is a difference, but forgive us for not getting excited about it.
The Obama years have taught me (and I am slow to learn, though not as slow as some) that what binds the parties is more important than what separates them, and that the areas of agreement, the issues that aren’t even on the table, are a bigger problem that the things the parties fight about. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote recently, “the political press mostly covers whatever arguments Republicans and Democrats are having, a tendency that effectively outsources judgment about what’s important to partisans.” Or, to be a little less polite, party hacks.
I have been trying to summarize these commonalities with a catchy little acronym. I’ve been stuck on WASP for some time (War, Austerity, Surveillance and Prisons) but it left a lot of things out. This week, I had a breakthrough. Tossing on a hot sleepless summer night, this came to me: our politics, it’s like those old Bud commericials, you know: WASSUP!
So. WASSUP? No matter who wins the 2012 presidential election we will get:
WARS, lot of them, declared and un-, fought with armies, swarthy special forces spooks, and robots. Wars fought in particularly dirty ways, like bombing wedding parties, and targeting first responders who come to the aid of first strike victims. And those are only the ones we know about.
SURVEILLANCE: Your right to privacy went out the window in September 2001. That’s the story and both parties are sticking to it.
SECRECY, for the gubmint, not for us. See above. I mean, who saw this coming? You couldn’t have been more skeptical about Obama than me, and yet I’m shocked on a daily basis that the man who ran as the transparency candidate has been an absolute nightmare on that front. And don’t get me started on whistleblower persecutions, especially as that would mess up the WASSUP.
UNDEREMPLOYMENT, and (bonus letter) UNAFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE (and education).
PRISONS, and prisoners, inside the United States, at Guantanamo, and God knows where else. An area where the USA can proudly and truthfully claim We’re Number One. Not just in the number of people incarcerated, but in the staggering variety of cruel and unusual punishments a true growth industry can create when motivated: from Supermax to the pure evil of the death penalty system, to mandatory long sentences for the pettiest of crimes.
More on this latter, but all I have to say is (wait for it) WASSUP with that? WASSUP?! WAZZZZZAAAAPPPPPP!!?????
And to get back to the Gary Wills thing. It’s a little disappointing. I expect, and usually get, sophisticated analysis from him. That NYROB piece is a bit lazy, based on straw men and oversimplifications, and as a bonus perpetuates the canard that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000.* How tedious have arguments been over that very point for the past dozen years?
The 2012 election will make that argument seem as brilliant as the repartee in Gertrude Stein’s salon. Yeah, Obama’s been appalling, but Romney would be worse. Can’t WAIT to rehash that simple proposition in all its permutations for the next six months.
And I don’t disagree. But … calamity/catastrophe. Not exactly stoked about the choice.
The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as ‘collateral damage’. (In those days it was called ‘frightfulness’.) The Italians, however, were much cheered by the ‘wonderful moral effect’ of bombing, its capacity to demoralise and panic those on the receiving end.
A hundred years on, as missiles rain down on Gaddafi’s defences and sleeping Libyan soldiers are blasted and burned, we hear claims of a similar kind: the might of the western onslaught will dissipate all support for Gaddafi’s regime and usher in a new golden age for everyone. Just as Shock and Awe were meant to in Iraq. Or bombing and defoliation were meant to in in Vietnam. Or as the London Blitz was meant to break Britain’s spirit. Yet all the evidence suggests that dropping high explosive on places where people live increases their opposition, their solidarity and their resolve. Happy Anniversary.
That essay, and that book, opened my eyes to the singular and pervasive evil that is bombing (and, alas, to America’s leading role in its deployment). Englehardt’s overview of the American century o’ bombing could use a little updating (the Predators hadn’t entered our consciousness in that distant naive year of 1994—when we thought getting rid of Bush would stop the carnage!)
Nevertheless, this is a pretty good summation of a century of death from above, or War American Style!
According to Sven Lindqvist’s (irritatingly organized but fascinating) labyrinth of a book, A History of Bombing, one Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti “leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb — a Danish Haasen hand grenade — on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several moments later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first air attack.”
On the “natives” in the colonies, naturally enough. What better place to test a new weapon? And that first attack, as perhaps befits our temperaments, was, Lindqvist tells us, for revenge, a kind of collective punishment called down upon Arabs who had successfully resisted the advanced rationality (and occupying spirit) of the Italian army. Given where we’ve ended up, it would be perfectly reasonable to consider this moment the beginning of modern history, even of modernism itself.
A generation, no more, from Kitty Hawk to 1,000-bomber raids over Germany. Another from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to “shock and awe” in Iraq. No more than a blink of history’s unseeing eye. Between 1911 and the end of the last bloody century, villages, towns and cities across the Earth were destroyed in copious numbers in part or in full by bombs. Their names could make up a modern chant: Chechaouen, Guernica, Shanghai, London, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Damascus, Pyongyang, Haiphong, Grozny, Baghdad, and now Falluja among too many other places to name (and don’t even get me started on the bomb-ravaged colonial countryside of our planet from Kenya to Malaya). Millions and millions of tons of bombs dropped; millions and millions of dead, mostly, of course, civilians.
And from the Japanese and German cities of World War II to the devastated Korean peninsula of the early 1950s, from the ravaged southern Vietnamese countryside of the late 1960s to the “highway of death” on which much of a fleeing Iraqi army was destroyed in the first Gulf War of 1991, air power has been America’s signature way of war.
Think of it this way: Imagine the history of the development of the plane and of bombing as, in shape, a giant, extremely top-heavy diamond. In 1903, one fragile plane flies 120 feet. In 1911, another only slightly less fragile plane, still seeming to defy some primordial law, drops a bomb. In 1945, vast air armadas take off to devastate chosen German and Japanese cities. On August 6, 1945, all the power of those armadas are compacted into the belly of the Enola Gay, a lone B-29, which drops its single bomb on Hiroshima, destroying the city and so many of its inhabitants. And then just imagine that the man who commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces, both the armadas and the Enola Gay, General Henry “Hap” Arnold (according Robin Neillands in The Bomber War, The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany), “had been taught to fly by none other than Orville Wright, one of the two men credited with inventing the first viable airplane.” Barely more than a generation took us from those 120 feet at Kitty Hawk past thousand-plane bomber fleets to the Enola Gay and the destruction of one city from the air by one bomb. Imagine that.
Then imagine that both civilian plane flight and the killing of enormous numbers of civilians from the air (now subsumed in the term “collateral damage”) have over that not-quite-century become completely normal parts of our lives. Too normal, it seems, to spend a lot of time thinking about or even writing fiction about. When we get on a plane today, what do we do –close the window shade and watch a movie on a tiny TV screen or, on certain flights, TV itself in real time as if we were still in our living rooms. So much for either shock or awe. Today, American planes regularly bomb the distant cities of Iraq and no one even seems to notice. No one, not even reporters on the spot, bothers to comment. No one writes a significant word about it. Should we be amazed or horrified, proud or ashamed?
The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers. —Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, September 16, 2010, at a Security Council debate on Somalia
Which is the most appallingly evil thing about the sad, ridiculous incarceration and trial(s) of Omar Khadr?
That a CHILD of 15, shot twice in the back, and blinded in one eye, is accused of WAR CRIMES for fighting back against an invading army that bombed and rocketed his compound before sending in the Special Forces, chucking grenades and … well, shooting children in the back?
That much of what we know about the firefight comes from the heavily redacted report by one OC-1, the “government employee” who shot Khadr in the back, twice? And that that report only fell into reporters’ hands by accident, because the prosecution team accidentally left it where journalists could see it? And that there was a standoff worthy of the Keystone Kops where the authorities insisted the report be returned, with the reporters (naturally) refusing?
That half a dozen military PROSECUTORS have been disgusted enough to quit? “This is neither military, nor justice,” said one.
Another prosecutor’s case is reminiscent of Soviet psychiatric examinations for dissenters:
Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, formerly lead prosecutor in another commissions case against a child soldier—a case that collapsed midway through, with the government dropping all charges. “It would be foolish to expect anything to come out of Guantánamo except decades of failure. There will be no justice there, and Obama has proved to be an almost unmitigated disaster,” he told me. After resigning from the commissions as a matter of ethical principle, Vandeveld was punished with a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and gratuitous hearings into his fitness for remaining in the Army, even though he now has only two months remaining in his term of service. Vandeveld, who has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, doubts very much that any more prosecutors will resign after his highly visible reprimand.
That Obama, who vowed to “close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions,” has not gotten around to any of those things yet. What DID he do? He
abruptly barred four of the most knowledgeable reporters from returning to Gitmo, accusing them of violating an order that the identity of Omar Khadr’s primary interrogator be kept secret. It doesn’t matter that “Interrogator Number One,” convicted in a 2005 court martial for prisoner abuse at Bagram prison, had already been interviewed by one of these journalists two years ago and that his identity is available in the public record.
That the prosecution has engaged a shady charlatan who promotes himself as an “expert in evil” as a kind of last half-hearted effort to demonize Khadr?
That Khadr’s options are still ridiculous, to face the farcical military commissions trial, or agree to a plea-bargain that will see him behind bars for eight more years?
Even if Khadr did everything alleged, none of the five charges as actually lodged describes a criminal violation of the law of armed conflict (LOAC). Two of the charges, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, are inherently problematic. The remaining offenses, murder and attempted murder “in violation of the law of war,” and spying, are capable of valid application, but lack legitimacy in Khadr’s factual situation. Essentially the government seeks to distort the fundamental legal equality between opposing belligerents into a unilateral shield for coalition personnel, turning the conflict into a “hunting season” in which U.S. forces can shoot their enemy on sight but their adversaries commit a war crime by fighting back. Because the tribunals’ statutory bases, the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, were enacted after Khadr was in custody, any charges lacking sound grounding in the LOAC constitute impermissible ex post facto enactments.
It’s Sunday night. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning and Khadr’s legal team might agree to a plea bargain any minute. Which would be a tragedy. Of course, his going forward with the trial might be even more tragic.
The laws and treaties that bind the United States are clear. Omar Khadr should not have served a single day in any prison. He was 15, a child, when captured. In a just world, he should be paid massive restitution from both the United States and Canadian governments. I know. Fat chance of that.
“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands
The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!
Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.
Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?
You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy. Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.
That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one. That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”
The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.
Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:
“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”
What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.
Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:
I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.
I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)
“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”
That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.
And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.
I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.
Simon Owens’ Clash of the Blogosphere Titans sees Glenn Greenwald’s relentless (and entirely justified) criticism of Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as a useful yardstick with which to measure “the effect of media criticism in a Web 2.0/3.0 age.”
The journalistic catastrophes that made Goldberg’s name synonymous with spectacular wrongheadedness, a pair of long pieces about the Iraq threat for the New Yorker (the first one titled “The Great Terror”), came back in 2002.
Times have changed. Today, Greenwald, a “blogger” (a term of utter contempt once, now losing its bite) has a featured column at Salon, a site that gets far more online readership than the Atlantic, according to Owens, as well as a New York Times bestseller to his credit. Owens says Greenwald now possesses the clout to compel Goldberg to respond to criticism, especially as regards “The Point of No Return,” his attempt to replicate his scare/war-mongering success, this time with regard to Iran.
Goldberg declined Owens’ invitation to discuss his disputes with Greenwald; Greenwald did not. Responding to the suggestion that his singular focus on Goldberg might be perceived as an “obsessive feud,” Greenwald tells Owens that Goldberg’s stature demands close scrutiny:
“[T]here are two things that distinguish this case. One is the consequentiality of it and the centrality [Goldberg] played. It wasn’t like he was just kind of wrong about something, he was one of the leading people validating the war. The thing that happened in the Iraq War is that obviously the right got behind it because the people on the right — the leaders on the right — were clearly behind it. But in order to make it a majoritarian movement, they had to get centrists and liberals behind it. So they needed liberal validators … There’s probably nobody that you can compare in influence to getting Democrats and liberals to support the war than Jeffrey Goldberg. It wasn’t just that he was for the war, he was using his status as a reporter to feed lies. I mean he didn’t just write one New Yorker piece but a second one too, and he was all over the television with this stuff saying that Saddam had a very active nuclear program and most importantly that Saddam had an enthusiastic alliance with al-Qaeda.”
The second distinguishing characteristic of Goldberg, Greenwald argued, is that he’s one of the few mainstream reporters who hasn’t issued a mea culpa on the facts he got wrong. Greenwald pointed out that though Judith Miller paid a career price for her Iraq reporting at the New York Times, Goldberg — who Greenwald considers equally culpable — continues to gain prominence despite doubling down on his past reporting. In fact, Goldberg recently used his blog to argue that there truly was a strong connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda.
It’s true that Goldberg has responded to Greenwald multiple times over the Iran piece, both on his blog and as a guest on NPR, but these responses have been perfunctory at best, mendacious at worst:
“It’s almost like his responses are three or four years behind. When I first started writing about criticizing media figures — establishment media figures — that was very much the reaction. It was a very lame sort of not-really-attentive response, just dismissive or plain mockery. Like, ‘I don’t have to respond because in my world he’s nobody and I’m somebody so the most I’m going to do is be derisive about this.’ That’s a journalist/blogger cliché from 2005, and most journalists know they can no longer get away with it. He’s living in a world where he thinks it doesn’t affect his reputation. Among his friends it doesn’t. I’m sure he calls [TIME writer] Joe Klein or whoever else I’ve criticized and he’s like ‘he’s an asshole and a prick, don’t worry about that.’ But I guarantee you that there are a lot more people reading the stuff I write than the stuff he writes, in terms of sheer number. And the level of impact that that kind of level of critique has is infinitely greater than it was three years ago. So I’m sure he tells himself and convinces himself that it doesn’t actually matter but it does. And it’s hurting his credibility.
True, but my more cynical take is that Goldberg’s credibility is not the point. Or at least it isn’t anymore. In fact, his willingness to use his credentials as a correspondent for the New Yorker (liberal! fastidiously fact-checky!) to stretch the case for war with Iraq, at the cost of his journalistic reputation in the “reality-based community,” was what got him to the pinnacle of the blogging profession.
This sort of failing upwards is not a new thing, especially given Goldberg’s journalistic focus.
If you make a case for a militaristic solution to a perceived problem, and possess even a middling capacity for persuasion, and if you make that case boldly and loudly enough, you are well on your way a successful career in punditry in America.
Why should Goldberg apologize? Reckless accusations that lead to war, in the face of contrary facts and likely catastrophic consequences, are a feature, not a bug.