Tag Archives: Robert McNamara

The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War. They Couldn’t Have Done It without Lapdogs like the Washington Post.

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            “In ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth,” the Dead Kennedys sang. “But by then it’s only so much paper.”

            But it might just score you a Pulitzer Prize.

            Award bait and bragging rights are no doubt the principal goals of The Washington Post’s self-congratulatory data dump, “The Afghanistan Papers.” As the headline implies, the 2000 pages that a court ordered the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to release to Jeff Bezos’ newspaper paints a Robert McNamara-esque portrait of not-so-best-or-bright Bush and Obama Administration bozos privately admitting what they knew all along—that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always an unwinnable, counterproductive mistake—at the same time they were telling the American people that victory in the post-9/11 “good war” was right around the corner. All we had to win was win Afghan hearts and minds.

            “The [I.G.] documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting,” the Post reported. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul—and at the White House—to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

            “The Afghanistan Papers” is a bright, shining lie by omission. Yes, our military and civilian leaders lied to us about Afghanistan. But they could never have spread their murderous BS—thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans killed, trillions of dollars wasted—without media organizations like the Washington Post, which served as unquestioning government stenographers.

            Press outlets like the Post and New York Times weren’t merely idiots used to disseminate pro-war propaganda. They actively censored people who knew we never should have gone into Afghanistan and tried to tell American voters the truth.

            People like me.

            I was among the tiny minority of journalists and commentators who opposed the Afghanistan war from the very beginning. Nine days after 9/11, I published the first of my cartoons pointing out that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so there was no moral or legal justification for invading. As the war dragged on I pointed out that the men and women in charge of the war didn’t have a clue about Afghanistan or the Afghan people. According to “The Afghanistan Papers,” those men and women knew they were screwing up, wouldn’t admit their ignorance and refused to bring in experts.

            I went to Afghanistan to check things out for myself. It was obvious the U.S. didn’t stand a chance there. “The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent,” I wrote from Afghanistan on December 11, 2001. “And so we’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are. The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right—we’re not nation builders…we ought to tally our dead, write up our losses, and count ourselves lucky to still be called a superpower.” My piece, for The Village Voice, was titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.”

            It was published eighteen years ago. But not in the Post. They didn’t want to hear what lefties like me had to say.

            They still don’t.

            Afghanistan was not a passing fancy for me. I wrote hundreds of essays and drew hundreds of cartoons urging an end to the madness. It was lonely. Even Democrats liked the Afghan war; they called it the right war while Iraq was the dumb one.

            I went back to the country, traveling independently as an unembedded reporter, several times. I wrote the first book about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the only book about oil pipeline politics in that country, a book placing Afghanistan in the context of Central Asia, and yet another book comparing the state of Afghanistan when Obama said we were pulling out—another lie—with how it was at the start of the war.

            What was my reward for being right while everyone else was wrong? Hundreds of death threats. Getting fired by my client newspapers and magazines. It’s hard to believe now but back in 2004 George W. Bush was popular and being compared to Winston Churchill; that was the year that the “liberal” New York Times and Washington Post stopped running my work.

            Major news outlets and book reviewers ignored my books. Editors refused to hire me. Producers wouldn’t book me. Anyone opposed to the Afghanistan war was censored from U.S. corporate media.

            Not that Afghanistan was ignored. It was the subject of countless analysis pieces and opinion articles in American newspapers—all of it pro-war propaganda. There were thousands of television and radio stories about the Afghan war on radio and television. Corporate media repeatedly trotted out the same retired generals, former CIA officers, and random right-wing warmongers for quotes and analysis. Never, ever did they invite critics or opponents of U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to share their thoughts with readers, listeners and viewers.

            Nothing has changed. Whenever there is a foreign policy “crisis,” you will never read or hear or see someone completely opposed to U.S. involvement given a voice in the media. Certainly not in the Post.

            So, 18 years and tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars too late, it’s nice to see the media finally shame these scumbags and their government handlers. But they ought to save a big portion of the blame for themselves.

(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.)

 

Death to the Stump Speech

Image result for stump speechThroughout 2016 the presidential candidates who were not Donald Trump complained to Jeffrey Zucker.

“You showed hours upon hours of unfiltered, unscrutinized coverage of Trump!” Todd Harris, an advisor to Senator Marco Rubio, shouted at the head of CNN during a panel discussion after the election. “CNN helped make [Trump] by carrying every speech he made in the primary season,” added Larry King, the former CNN anchorman. “It was almost like the other guys didn’t exist.”

In the general election accusations of pro-Trump favoritism at CNN continued from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

“If we made any mistake last year, it’s that we probably did put too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” Zucker ultimately confessed. “Listen, because you never knew what he would say, there was an attraction to put those on the air.” Hell, Trump probably didn’t know what he was going to say before he arrived at each podium.

He winged it, riffed off his audience, ran off at the mouth and scrammed before the country knew what hit it.

Trump rallies are freeform jazz. Anything can happen. Quality varies but give the president this: no two performances are the same. “Trump was simply more entertaining and generating more passion,” recalled David Sillito, media reporter for the BBC.

While Trump delivered the extemporaneous devil-may-care thrills of a candidate who doesn’t expect to win, Clinton and Trump’s primary opponents dutifully trudged the land delivering that deadliest of ought-to-be-deceased propaganda formats: the stump speech.

There was Hillary reading from a Teleprompter in Columbus, every word scrupulously stripped of life by her army of staffers, consultants and attorneys. There she was again in Atlanta: same words, same cadences, same gestures and facial expressions. Tune in, tune off. You can hardly blame CNN for skipping some of those cut-and-pasters—to do otherwise would have violated viewers’ human rights.

Stump speeches go back to the early 1800s. Politicians made their way from town to town, first on horseback and then by train, where they delivered the same speech while standing atop a sawed-off tree stump because many areas were freshly cleared forests.

Radio, television and the Internet have revolutionized communication. The last presidential election, in which ad lib shockingly defeated inevitability, demonstrated the obsolescence of the stump speech. Yet this boring tradition endures.

On April 29th former vice president and presidential wannabe-come-lately Joe Biden unleashed his stump speech in Pittsburgh. “There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it?” Biden asked a group of unionists. “No!” the unionists replied.

“Of course not!” Biden said.

Repetition in Des Moines and Akron and Buffalo and Knoxville will not make this exchange more exciting.

All the major Democratic presidential candidates rely on stump speeches. Introductions are modified to acknowledge local officials in attendance. Sections are dropped to adjust to tight schedules. Location determines the insertion or deletion of certain lines. But the basic structure is the same whether you’re in Dubuque or Decatur. It’s easy to see the appeal of the stump speech. Why pay for a hundred speeches when you can make do with one? Why risk gaffes when you can massage and road-test a veteran rallier?

The Associated Press described the drill in 2016: “Day after day, the candidates for president wake up, brush their teeth and pump themselves up to say the same thing they did yesterday. Most of what they say won’t make the evening news, or get tweeted or repeated. But that spiel they repeat, with variations, to audience after audience in state after state, is a campaign essential.”

What they’re missing is why it won’t make the news. By definition, repetition is not news.

Trump repeatedly made the news by repeatedly saying something new.

Campaigns that still rely on stump speeches are pretending that technology doesn’t exist. It’s impressive when Bernie Sanders talks to 20,000 people. But his real audience isn’t there. A limitless crowd, millions of voters perhaps—is watching on cable news and/or online. But networks won’t carry his rally unless it might break news. A stump speech can’t do that. Even diehard Berners won’t bother to livestream if they see pretty much the same event each time. Been there, saw that, next.

Today’s Democratic stumpers might want to take a cue from the stump speeches of the 19th century, which were actually vibrant and spontaneous expressions of frontier life.

“Refined politicians in the cities may have looked down on stump speeches,” writes history writer Robert McNamara. “But out in the countryside, and especially along the frontier, stump speeches were appreciated for their rough and rustic character. They were free-wheeling performances that were different in content and tone from the more polite and sophisticated political discourse heard in the cities.” America’s first politicians shot brutal insults; audiences rewarded the most outrageous slurs with their votes.

There’s a reason Trump looks uncomfortable reading from a script. He prefers to rock it old school.

(Ted Rall, the 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.)