Wearing blackface is/was an idiotic thing for the Virginia governor or attorney general to do when they were young. It may destroy their political careers and maybe that’s OK. But many more politicians do far worse things that truly deserve severe sanctions and get rewarded for them instead.
Apologists for militarism, particularly liberal Democrats, justify those who enlist in America’s murderous military by saying that many soldiers come from parts of the country where good jobs are hard to come by. It’s time to point out that the real act of heroism is personal sacrifice rather than killing innocent people overseas for a slightly better paycheck and benefits.
The estimated total cost of the US war against Afghanistan is now running $13 trillion, enough to pay off all debts of all Americans. Why didn’t the CIA, which the media trusts implicitly these days, warn us that we’d lose after spending all that money and destroying hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides?
December 11, 2001: Three months after 9/11, two months after George W. Bush ordered bombs to begin raining on Kabul, the day The Village Voice published one of my war reports from the front in Afghanistan.
“We’ve lost this war,” I wrote. To drive my point home, the headline was: “How We Lost Afghanistan.”
I continued: “So how much will it cost?”
Seventeen years later, the end of America’s longest war—since history suggests Afghans will keep killing each other long after our departure, it would be more precise to say the end of America’s involvement in Afghanistan—appears to be drawing near. Peace talks between the Trump Administration and the Taliban in Qatar have culminated with an “agreement on principle” whose main U.S. demand is easy for the Taliban to grant. Afghanistan, the Taliban must assure the U.S. and the Afghan puppet regime in Kabul, cannot again become a “platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.” Even according to estimates by the Obama-era CIA, Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan was more of a coincidence than a fearsome terrorist organization: “about 50 to 100 Qaeda operatives.”
They could have fit on one bus. For this we fought a war?
Now we know the pricetag of the invasion and long occupation: 2,400-ish U.S. troops killed, 4,000-ish U.S. “civilian contractors” killed, 59,000-ish Afghan soldiers and police killed, 38,000-ish Afghan civilians killed, 42,000 “enemy” Afghan soldiers killed, 50-ish journalists killed, 400-ish NGO workers killed, 20,000-ish U.S. troops wounded. No one counts the other non-fatal casualties. Obviously the non-U.S. death counts are way lowball.
U.S. taxpayers spent $5 trillion—enough to wipe out all outstanding student loans three times over—on bombing and pillaging and torturing Afghans. Wind-down costs, interest on the national debt, etc. will cost more still. Caring for wounded veterans adds another $8 trillion going forward. For that total of $13 trillion you could pay off every debt owed by every American citizen: home mortgages, car loans, credit cards, student loans, everything.
No one estimates the total cost of the buildings and other Afghan infrastructure destroyed by the war.
Of course no one can begin to calculate America’s loss of moral standing in the world. You don’t get to invade the world’s poorest nation, kidnap the locals and torture them in gruesome concentration and death camps, coddle local perverts and child rapists and come out looking half-decent.
Special Forces captain Dan Quinn beat a U.S.-backed Northern Alliance commander he found sexually abusing an Afghan boy chained to his bed on a U.S. military base. “The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” Quinn said. “But we were putting people into power [the Northern Alliance] who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did—that was something village elders voiced to me.” Quinn was drummed out of the military.
As I mentioned at the top of this essay, the war was lost before it really began, in 2001.
Anyone who paid attention knew losing was inevitable.
So why did we lose?
It’s too facile to say: graveyard of empires. Afghans really did welcome us as liberators in 2001. We had a better shot at success than the Brits and the Russians.
The short answer is: we did both too little and too much.
Too much cash spent, too little reconstruction.
“It would take billions of dollars to even begin rebuilding this country,” an American officer told me for my 2001 Voice piece. “Billions of dollars and many, many years. We don’t have that kind of attention span. Bombing Iraq will be a lot sexier than teaching Afghans how to read.” Afghanistan didn’t have phones, electricity, paved roads, bridges or public records. Streets didn’t have names, houses had no numbers—which was fine since there was no mail. There was no central bank or monetary system. People didn’t know their own last names.
Billions were spent, some of it on rebuilding public infrastructure. “A year ago it took about two days to drive between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar. Today it takes about five hours on a smoothly tarmacked road paid for by millions of US taxpayers’ dollars,” the BBC reported in 2004.
Problem was, reconstruction money didn’t go to ordinary Afghans or even their towns. The U.S. installed a puppet president, Hamid Karzai, whose corrupt family looted millions, possibly billions, of dollars in cash. The drug trade, suppressed by the Taliban government before the U.S. invasion, exploded. “Private money, a substantial portion of it thought to be from the illegal drugs trade, is also funding a spurt of new building in the cities, but many say they have seen little change, especially in rural areas where most Afghans live, where villages without even basics like running water, power or schools remain the norm,” reported the BBC. By 2010 half of Afghans told pollsters they hadn’t seen any reconstruction whatsoever paid for by foreign aid. It’s just as bad now.
If an Afghan wanted to fix his house after it was damaged by a U.S. drone attack, that was on him.
Too little self-determination.
“The Afghan people have lost faith in the democratic political process, and regardless of the Taliban’s intimidation they have already boycotted the ongoing voter registration throughout the country,” Asia Times reported in 2018. What “democratic” process? Fraud was widespread in presidential and parliamentary elections. “Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over,” an Afghan voting official said in 2009.
The message that elections can be fixed came straight from the self-declared crusaders of electoral democracy. In November 2001 while the initial invasion was still underway the U.S. staged a farcical political conference in Bonn, Germany where the Bush Administration attempted to foist the exiled king Zahir Shah, an 87-year-old exiled in Italy since the early 1970s, on the Afghans as a weak English-style constitutional monarch. Ironically, the Afghans present liked the idea—then the Americans pushed him out of the way to make room for Karzai.
The message was clear: American-style democracy is BS.
P.S. Afghanistan, it turns out, has vast mineral wealth worth more than $1 trillion. China has locked up the rights to exploit those reserves.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is in its 17th year with no end in sight. The U.S. has killed a million Iraqis over the last 15 years. We’re killing Syrians, Yemenis and Somalis. None of the victims threatened us. We murdered them for fun and profit.
Some of the killers feel guilty. Twenty military veterans and active-duty personnel commit suicide each day.
Militarism is a gruesome sickness. Some people are trying to cure our country of this cancer. But pacifists are fighting an uphill battle.
On Sunday, October 23rd “About 1,500 women and allied men marched on the Pentagon on Sunday to demand an end to perpetual war and the funding of education, health care and other social needs instead,” reported Joe Lauria of the progressive website Consortium News.
Mainstream/corporate journalistic outlets memory-holed the event with a total media blackout.
One commenter on Facebook bemoaned national priorities: what does it say that so few attended the Women’s March on the Pentagon? More than 200,000 people crowded the Washington Mall for comedian Jon Stewart’s inane 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” a piss-take parody of protest, literally and by the definition of its organizers an apolitical march for nothing!
Cindy Sheehan, an activist who made national news by protesting her son’s death in the Iraq War at George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, responded on Facebook that people should show up rather than sit at home criticizing those who did on their computers.
Cindy is right. She usually is.
But apathy and laziness aren’t the main causes of low attendance at real, bona-fide Left protests and demonstrations (as opposed to coopted-by-the-Democratic Party marches like the annual January 20th Women’s Marches against Trump).
Our real problem is that there isn’t a real, bona-fide Left journalism outlet in the United States.
One that’s smart, i.e., well-managed. Not in the derpy leaderless consensus style that destroyed the Occupy movement, but top-down by brilliant Machiavellian can’t-be-bought leftist schemers who know how to motivate and build an organization.
One that’s well-funded. Not by some control-freak billionaire who can petulantly renege on his big promises after he loses interest or gets corrupted, but by generous ongoing crowdsourcing that guarantees editorial independence to an uncompromisingly left-wing team of editors with big budgets to hire kickass investigative reporters, back out-of-the-box journalists, humorists and editorialists. Give me $50 million a year (wonder if the person who won the $1.6 billion MegaMillions lottery is progressive?) and I could build and run an operation that could change the world. It’s not impossible: Bernie Sanders raised $100 million from small donors in one year.
One that’s entertaining. The way FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh are entertaining but MSNBC and Air America aren’t/weren’t. Because humor and entertainment are what attract new readers/listeners/watchers and keep loyalists coming back.
I only heard about the Women’s March on the Pentagon one day before. It was by happenstance. (I live in New York, six hours from DC, but like most people I can’t just drop everything and skip town with a night’s notice.)
I’ve been a leftie cartoonist and columnist for nearly three decades. Yet I have hardly ever received an email from a left-leaning organization inviting me to publicize or attend or cover a protest demonstration, or a press release explaining that one was about to occur. I’ve asked other pundits; they never hear from the Left either.
Meanwhile I’m constantly getting talking point lists, action memos, press releases and all sorts of sundry propaganda from right-wing organizations as well as the mainline Republican and Democratic party apparatuses. Which is all redundant because all that crap gets ample coverage on cable news, network news, talk radio, NPR, newspapers and news websites, not to mention social media.
I don’t need more junk email. Point is, my leftism-free inbox is a barometer of the state of the Left: disorganized and disconnected and incapable of broadcasting its message. If a protest march falls in the woods—or on the Washington Mall—does it make a sound? Not if the word doesn’t get out. Not if no one reports it after the fact.
Speaking for myself, I would push out events like the Women’s March on the Pentagon via my social media feeds if I knew about them in advance. I would attend some. I would cover some. I’m sure my left-leaning colleagues feel the same.
Grassroots organizing will never build into 1960s-level mass demonstrations without big, rich, smart, cool media distribution channels to give it space to breathe and expand.
First, we need a big-ass left-wing media group to educate people about what’s going on. You can’t expect people to get riled up about what the U.S. is doing in Yemen if they don’t know what’s going on there. Mainstream corporate media doesn’t cover the U.S. role in the proxy civil war.
Second, to redefine what’s “normal.” In the current media landscape, opposing war is abnormal. That message is subliminal: when’s the last time, during a foreign policy crisis, that a mainstream pundit suggested the U.S. simply stay out of it? A smart, well-funded, entertaining-as-hell media organization would provide an alternative to the establishment narrative. You can’t dream of peace if it’s not in your brain as a possibility in the first place.
Third, to showcase activism and direct action as feasible, fun and effective. 1,500 people is a good turnout for a wedding but a bit depressing if you drove hundreds of miles to attend a national protest demonstration. Movement-based media could get more people to rallies. It could frame such gatherings as exciting, fun and important. That framing would create real political pressure on the powers that be.
In the 1960s the corporate mainstream media allowed antiwar, pro-civil rights and other antiestablishment journalists and pundits to disseminate their views on TV (Cronkite criticizing the Vietnam War), on the opinion pages of major newspapers and in bestselling books. And they covered protests.
No more. The Left has been ruthlessly purged.
Not one single opinion writer or staff columnist or cartoonist employed by an American newspaper is a real, bonafide leftist—not a single one even supported Bernie Sanders (whose politics are basically McGovern in 1972 and was supported by half of Democrats) during the 2016 primaries.
Not one single TV or major radio talk show host is a real, bonafide leftist. None supported Bernie.
The same goes for “liberal” outlets like The Atlantic, Salon, Slate, etc.
It’s censorship. It’s systemic. It’s killing the Left.
Considering that it’s impossible for the Left to get coverage for anything, it’s a miracle that 1,500 people showed up for the Women’s March on the Pentagon.
If we had a real, smart, well-funded, organized media organization to publicize the news and the world from a socialist or communist viewpoint—an ideology shared by at least one out of three American voters overall and 57% of Democrats—there could easily have been 150,000 or 1,500,000.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What if other countries mourned their national tragedies the way we do? The United States reads off the names of the dead during annual commemoration ceremonies and builds walls with names. Other countries have far bigger death counts, often due to us, but the scale of the carnage makes it impossible for them to wallow in such niceties.
During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, I wrote a syndicated opinion column about John McCain, who then seemed likely to emerge as the GOP nominee. As Americans assess McCain’s life and legacy, this ten-year-old assessment still holds up. Bear in mind, this was written before some of McCain’s more egregious warmongering, such as his attempts to stir up U.S. military attacks against Iran, Syria and Russia, not to mention his decision to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Puffing Up John McCain, POW
by Ted Rall
February 5, 2008
“A proven leader, and a man of integrity,” the New York Post called John McCain in its editorial endorsement. “A naval aviator shot down over North Vietnam and held as a POW, McCain knew that freedom was his for the taking. All he had to do was denounce his country. He refused–and, as a consequence, suffered years of unrelenting torture.”
This standard summary of McCain’s five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton, repeated in thousands of media accounts during his 2000 campaign and again this election year, is the founding myth of his political career. The tale of John McCain, War Hero prompts a lot of people turned off by his politics–liberals and traditional conservatives alike–to support him. Who cares that he “doesn’t really understand economics”? He’s got a great story to tell.
Scratch the surface of McCain’s captivity narrative, however, and a funny thing happens: his heroism blows away like the rust from a vintage POW bracelet.
In the fall of 1967 McCain was flying bombing runs over North Vietnam from the U.S.S. Oriskany, an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. On October 26, the 31-year-old pilot was part of a 20-plane squadron assigned to destroy infrastructure in the North Vietnamese capital. He flew his A-4 Skyhawk over downtown Hanoi toward his target, a power plant. As he pulled up after releasing his bombs, his fighter jet was hit by a surface-to-air missile. A wing came off. McCain’s plane plunged into Truc Bach Lake.
Mai Van On, a 50-year-old resident of Hanoi, watch the crash and left the safety of his air-raid shelter to rescue him. Other Vietnamese tried to stop him. “Why do you want to go out and rescue our enemy?” they yelled. Ignoring his countrymen, On grabbed a pole and swam to the spot where McCain’s plane had gone down in 16 feet of water. McCain had managed to free himself from the wrecked plane but was stuck underwater, ensnared by his parachute. On used his pole to untangle the ropes and pull the semi-conscious pilot to the surface. McCain was in bad shape, having broken his arm and a leg in several places.
McCain is lucky the locals didn’t finish him off. U.S. bombs had killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, many in Hanoi. Ultimately between one and two million innocents would be shredded, impaled, blown to bits and dissolved by American bombs. Now that one of their tormentors had fallen into their hands, they had a rare chance to get even. “About 40 people were standing there,” On later recalled. “They were about to rush him with their fists and stones. I asked them not to kill him. He was beaten for a while before I could stop them.” He was turned over to local policemen, who transferred him to the military.
What if one of the hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center had somehow crash-landed in the Hudson River? How long would he have lasted? Would anyone have risked his life to rescue him?
An impolite question: If a war is immoral, can those who fight in it–even those who demonstrate courage–be heroes? If the answer is yes, was Reagan wrong to honor the SS buried at Bitburg? No less than Iraq, Vietnam was an undeclared, illegal war of aggression that did nothing to keep America safe. Tens of millions of Americans felt that way. Millions marched against the war; tens of thousands of young men fled the country to avoid the draft. McCain, on the other hand, volunteered.
McCain knew that what he was doing was wrong. Three months before he fell into that Hanoi lake, he barely survived when his fellow sailors accidentally fired a missile at his plane while it was getting ready to take off from his ship. The blast set off bombs and ordnance across the deck of the aircraft carrier. The conflagration, which took 24 hours to bring under control, killed 132 sailors. A few days later, a shaken McCain told a New York Times reporter in Saigon: “Now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”
Yet he did.
“I am a war criminal,” McCain said on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” Although it came too late to save the Vietnamese he’d killed 30 years earlier, it was a brave statement. Nevertheless, he smiles agreeably as he hears himself described as a “war hero” as he arrives at rallies in a bus marked “No Surrender.”
McCain’s tragic flaw: He knows the right thing. He often sets out to do the right thing. But he doesn’t follow through. We saw McCain’s weak character in 2000, when the Bush campaign defeated him in the crucial South Carolina primary by smearing his family. Placing his presidential ambitions first, he swallowed his pride, set aside his honor, and campaigned for Bush against Al Gore. It came up again in 2005, when McCain used his POW experience as a POW to convince Congress to pass, and Bush to sign, a law outlawing torture of detainees at Guantánamo and other camps. But when Bush issued one of his infamous “signing statements” giving himself the right to continue torturing–in effect, negating McCain’s law–he remained silent, sucking up to Bush again.
McCain’s North Vietnamese captors demanded that he confess to war crimes. “Every two hours,” according to a 2007 profile in the Arizona Republic, “one guard would hold McCain while two others beat him. They kept it up for four days…His right leg, injured when he was shot down, was horribly swollen. A guard yanked him to his feet and threw him down. His left arm smashed against a bucket and broke again.”
McCain later recalled that he was at the point of suicide. But he was no Jean Moulin, the French Resistance leader who refused to talk under torture, and killed himself. According to “The Nightingale’s Song,” a book by Robert Timberg, “[McCain] looked at the louvered cell window high above his head, then at the small stool in the room.” He took off his dark blue prison shirt, rolled it like a rope, draped one end over his shoulder near his neck, began feeding the other end through the louvers.” He was too slow. A guard entered and pulled him away from the window.
I’ve never been tortured. I have no idea what I’d do. Of course, I’d like to think that I could resist or at least commit suicide before giving up information. Odds are, however, that I’d crack. Most people do. And so did McCain. “I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate,” McCain wrote in his confession. “I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors.”
It wasn’t the first time McCain broke under pressure. After his capture, wrote the Republic, “He was placed in a cell and told he would not receive any medical treatment until he gave military information. McCain refused and was beaten unconscious. On the fourth day, two guards entered McCain’s cell. One pulled back the blanket to reveal McCain’s injured knee. ‘It was about the size, shape and color of a football,’ McCain recalled. Fearful of blood poisoning that would lead to death, McCain told his captors he would talk if they took him to a hospital.”
McCain has always been truthful about his behavior as a POW, but he has been more than willing to allow others to lie on his behalf. “A proven leader, and a man of integrity,” The New York Post says, and he’s happy to take it. “All he had to do was denounce his country. He refused…” Not really. He did denounce his country. But he didn’t demand a retraction.
It’s the old tragic flaw: McCain knows what he ought to do. He starts to do the right thing. But John McCain is a weak man who puts his career goals first.
Later that year, I reminded readers that there was nothing honorable about the Vietnam War:
Every presidential candidacy relies on a myth. Reagan was a great communicator; Clinton felt your pain. Both storylines were ridiculous. But rarely are the constructs used to market a party nominee as transparent or as fictional as those we’re being asked to swallow in 2008.
On the left–OK, not–we have Barack Obama. “The best orator of his generation!” says Ed Rendell, the Democratic power broker who has a day job as governor of Pennsylvania. “The best orator since Cicero!” Republican strategist Mary Matalin swoons. No doubt, Obama reads a mean speech. Take his Teleprompter away, though, and the dude is as lost as George Bush at a semiotics class. Forced to answer reporters’ questions off the cuff, Obama is so afraid of messing up that he…carefully…spaces…each…word…apart…so…he…can…see…them…coming…wayyy…in…advance.
Still more laughable than the notion of Obama as the second coming of JFK is the founding myth of the McCain campaign: (a) he is a war hero, and (b) said heroism increases his credibility on national security issues. “A Vietnam hero and national security pro,” The New York Times calls him in a typical media blandishment.
John McCain fought in Vietnam. There was nothing noble, much less heroic, about fighting in that war.
Some Americans may be suffering another of the periodic attacks of national amnesia that prevent us from honestly assessing our place in the world and its history, but others recall the truth about Vietnam: it was a disastrous, unjustifiable mess that anyone with an ounce of sense was against at the time.
Between one and two million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were sent to their deaths by a succession of presidents and Congresses–fed to the flames of greed, hubris, and stupidity. The event used to justify starting the war–the Tonkin Gulf “incident”–never happened. The Vietnam War’s ideological foundation, the mantra cited to keep it going, was disproved after we lost. No Southeast Asian “dominos” fell to communism. To the contrary, the effect of the U.S. withdrawal was increased stability. When genocide broke out in neighboring Cambodia in the late 1970s, it was not the U.S., but a unified Vietnamese army–the evil communists–who stopped it.
Not even General Wesley Clark, shot four times in Vietnam, is allowed to question the McCain-as-war-hero narrative. “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” he argued. The Obama campaign, which sells its surrogates down the river with alarming regularity, promptly hung the former NATO commander out to dry: “Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by General Clark.”
Even in an article criticizing the media for repeatedly framing McCain as a war hero, the liberal website Media Matters concedes: “McCain is, after all, a war hero; everybody agrees about that.”
I was 12 when the last U.S. occupation troops fled Saigon. I remember how I–and most Americans–felt at the time.
We were relieved.
By the end of Nixon’s first term most people had turned against the war. Gallup polls taken in 1971 found that about 70 percent of Americans thought sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake. Some believed it was immoral; others considered it unwinnable.
Since then, the political center has shifted right. We’ve seen the Reagan Revolution, Clinton’s Democratic centrism, and Bush’s post-9/11 flirtation with neo-McCarthyite fascism. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Americans–including Republicans–still think we should never have fought the Vietnam War.
“After the war’s 1975 conclusion,” Michael Tomasky wrote in The American Prospect in 2004, “Gallup has asked the question (“Did the U.S. make a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam?”) five times, in 1985, 1990, 1993, 1995, and 2000. All five times…respondents were consistent in calling the war a mistake by a margin of more than 2 to 1: by 74 percent to 22 percent in 1990, for example, and by 69 percent to 24 percent in 2000.”
Moreover, Tomasky continued, “vast majorities continue to call the war ‘unjust.'” Even in 2004, after 9/11, 62 percent considered the war unjust. Only 33 percent still thought it was morally justified.
Vietnam was an illegal, undeclared war of aggression. Can those who fought in that immoral war really be heroes? This question appeared settled after Reagan visited a cemetery for Nazi soldiers, including members of the SS, at Bitburg, West Germany in 1985. “Those young men,” claimed Reagan, “are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”
Americans didn’t buy it. Reagan’s poll numbers, typically between 60 and 65 percent at the time, plunged to 41 percent after the visit. Those who fight for an evil cause receive no praise.
So why is the McCain-as-war-hero myth so hard to unravel? By most accounts, John McCain demonstrated courage as a P.O.W., most notably by refusing his captors’ offer of early release. But that doesn’t make him a hero.
Hell, McCain isn’t even a victim.
At a time when more than a fourth of all combat troops in Vietnam were forcibly drafted (the actual victims), McCain volunteered to drop napalm on “gooks” (his term, not mine). He could have waited to see if his number came up in the draft lottery. Like Bush, he could have used family connections to weasel out of it. Finally, he could have joined the 100,000 draft-eligible males–true heroes, to a man–who went to Canada rather than kill people in a war that was plainly wrong.
When McCain was shot down during his 23rd bombing sortie, he was happily shooting up a civilian neighborhood in the middle of a major city. Vietnamese locals beat him when they pulled him out of a local lake; yeah, that must have sucked. But I can’t help think of what would have happened to Mohammed Atta had he somehow wound up alive on a lower Manhattan street on 9/11. How long would he have lasted?
Maybe he would have made it. I don’t know. But I do know this: no one would ever have considered him a war hero.
Personnel is policy, they say in Washington. The appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor is by far President Trump’s most dangerous decision.
When the president considers foreign policy, no one is closer to his ear than his national security advisor. He will discuss questions of war and peace with military generals and members of his cabinet, but when there’s a diversity of opinion, the views of a national security advisor can be determinative.
“Brent Scowcroft defined the role of the National Security Advisor (NSA),” wrote Stephen J. Hadley, former National Security Advisor under George W. Bush. “The only person to hold the job twice [under Ford and George H.W. Bush], Brent established the ‘Scowcroft Model’ for all who followed him in the job: Be an ‘Honest Broker,’ running a fair, transparent, and inclusive process for bringing issues to the president.”
John Bolton is not an honest broker. John Bolton cannot be an honest broker. No human being on earth is less qualified to be Donald Trump’s national security advisor.
Given the fact that Donald Trump already leans hard to the right wing of the Republican Party, and that his advisers are drawn from the extreme right as well, and “honest broker” national security advisor would by definition need to provide balance. Ideally it would come from the NSA himself. At minimum he would bring in people with opposing views. Bolton is congenitally incapable of either.
Bolton must be stopped.
His nomination does not require Senate confirmation. But there’s nothing preventing members of both parties from traveling to the White House to inform the president that Bolton is a nonstarter. Congress should have nothing to do with this president as long as this dangerous man is whispering sweet bellicose nothings into his ear.
If you haven’t been paying much attention, I don’t blame you for smelling a whiff of hysteria. How bad could this guy really be?
Bolton was the king of the George W. Bush-era neocons, a man who made Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz look like wimps. As Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, he remarked that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the institution disappeared or, evoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the building housing UN headquarters were to lose a few floors.
These days Bolton is touting “regime change” against Iran. Evoking the same arguments he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, he paints dark portraits of North Korea selling or giving nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any links for common ideology between the two. Just after Trump — correctly, in my view — announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Bolton wrote an opinion essay laying out the so-called “legal” argument in favor of a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that comes up between American and North Korean officials setting up the summit in May.
Most foreign-policy experts, most ordinary Americans, and most sane people generally agree that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a military, political, economic, and propaganda disaster for the United States and the world. We were not “welcomed as liberators.” The war was sold (in large part by Bolton) based on the lie that the U.S. knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (they didn’t have them so we know that “knowledge” was a lie).
Anti-Americanism increased, as did terrorist attacks and the appeal of terrorist organizations that targeted Americans. Thousands of American troops were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and millions of Iraqis died because of the war. Billions of dollars were squandered and oil prices went up, not down as the neocons had hoped and expected, because of the resulting instability. Perhaps most damning of all, the long simmering Sunni-Shia divide widened into a gaping chasm that continues to chew up the Middle East in places like Yemen.
No one was more in favor of that war than John Bolton. For that reason alone, he’s unqualified to provide foreign policy advice to anyone more important than a small marsupial. But Bolton is more than just a warmonger — he’s a stupid warmonger. Which is why he still can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he told The Washington Examiner in 2015. “I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces. The people who say, ‘Oh, things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam,’ miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone.”
“I think the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” Bolton bloviated in a breathtakingly embarrassing 2002 interview. “And Iraqi opposition leaders of a variety of positions and views are discussing now what will happen after Saddam Hussein. I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we’ll have an important security role. I think concluding the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction themselves will be important.”
Wonder if the families of those dead and injured American soldiers think their role was “fairly minimal.”
I tell you what, John: you go and find those weapons of mass distraction and we’ll let you be national security advisor.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What if Hillary Clinton had won 114,000 more votes in four key states? Or, what if she’d picked up the two to three percent of the vote she lost because Bernie Sanders’ supporters sat on their hands on election day? She’d be “Clinton 2” or “Clinton 45” or “the second President Clinton” — and the world would look very different.
In terms of personnel and therefore policy, a Clinton Administration II would look and feel like a mash-up of Obama’s third term and a throwback to figures who populated her husband’s White House during the 1990s. Having moved to the right since Bill’s first term, progressive figures like then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich would be out in the cold. Rahm Emanuel and Timothy Geithner could expect cabinet offers. So could some Bush-era neo-cons like Robert Kagan.
Hillary didn’t promise much change to domestic policy during her campaign. Her biggest proposal was to spend $275 billion on infrastructure, which would have left us $1.3 trillion short of what’s needed. Not that she could have gotten it through the Republican Congress.
The alternate presidential history of 2017 differs most significantly in two respects: foreign policy, and tone.
Clinton’s liberal supporters always glossed over her long history of hawkish, arguably far-right, approaches to military matters. Those who mourn her loss to Trump today have completely forgotten that she convinced Obama to back military coups against the democratically-elected leaders of Honduras and Egypt. She also successfully advised advised Obama to arm and fund radical Islamist militias in Syria and Libya, plunging two modern Muslim countries into civil wars that have reduced them to failed states. Clinton’s famous cackle after a U.S. drone blew up Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafi’s convoy, leading to his being sodomized by bayonet on video, is terrifying.
“It’s impossible to know which national security crises she would be forced to confront, of course,” Micah Zenko speculated in Foreign Policy in July 2016. “But those who vote for her should know that she will approach such crises with a long track record of being generally supportive of initiating U.S. military interventions and expanding them.”
Two months later, another FP writer penned an astonishing look behind the Kremlin walls at the thinking of top Russian officials worried about the U.S. election: “Moscow perceives the former secretary of state as an existential threat… That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia,” wrote Clinton Ehrlich.
Would Hillary’s tough talk have triggered World War III with Russia by now? Probably not. But it’s not impossible — which shows us how far right she stands politically on the use of the force.
More likely and thus more worrisome, Hillary might have leveraged the current U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan into attacks against neighboring Iran. “I want the Iranians to know, if I am the president, we will attack Iran” if Iran were to attack Israel — even if there were no Congressional authorization or a clear and present danger to the U.S., Clinton said in 2008. “And I want them to understand that… we would be able to totally obliterate them [to retaliate for an attack on Israel].” Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has a real military and thus a real ability to defend itself — which would mean a long, costly and possibly unwinnable war.
The one arena where most people agree that President Clinton would have been better than President Trump is presidential tone. Yes, “she does yell into microphones and speak in an overly enunciated voice—two factors that may make her seem abrasive.” But this is a woman whose campaign assigned 12 staffers to compose a tweet; they went through 10 drafts over 10 hours. There wouldn’t be any Trump-style 3 a.m. Twitter diarrhea coming out of a Clinton White House.
When George W. Bush was president, there wasn’t one morning I didn’t regret that Al Gore wasn’t there instead. Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. He might not have gone into Afghanistan either. Unlike pretty much every other president, he cared about the environment.
There isn’t a single moment I miss President Hillary Clinton, though. Trump is a disaster, a real piece of crap. But everyone knows it. Because Trump is so loud and stupid and cruel and greedy and corrupt, all liberals and not a few conservatives clearly discern the true nature of his administration, and of the system itself.
If Hillary Clinton were president, the left would still be just as asleep as it was between 2008 and 2016. First woman president! Aren’t we just the best.
Meanwhile, the drones fire their missiles and U.S. troops and spooks prop up tyrants, and the filthy rich rake in their loot.
Trump gives us clarity. That is no small thing.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.
The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.
When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.
Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)
Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!
The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)
Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.
No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.
Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.
President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.
Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.
“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.
No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.
If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.
“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.
As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.
As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)