You see them flying over the doors at hotels, in front of post office is and other government offices, as stickers on cars. The POW/MIA flag is everywhere. But what it represent is complete fiction: the idea that there are still prisoners of war languishing in Vietnam nearly 50 years after the end of hostilities. There’s no evidence whatsoever that that’s the case. But even a progressive like Elizabeth Warren supports this ridiculous myth.
This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.
The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.
“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe‘s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.
The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”
Is it really?
The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”
No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.
But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?
When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.
In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.
Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.
Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.
There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.
Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.
Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.
But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. (Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.)
As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”
Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.
Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.
During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”
Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.
On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.
George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.
Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.
It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.
(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 independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.
But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.
Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?
Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.
August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied — as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.
The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.
For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.
Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.
After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.
Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.
Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.
That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.
Alternative facts abounded under Obama.
Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?
The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.
(Ted Rall 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.)
Of all the stupid things people say while talking about politics, the one whose stupidity never ceases to astound me is that we’re all out of room for new immigrants.
Haven’t the nativists ever flown cross-country? Grab a window seat! If America has anything, it’s space.
The no-room-at-the-inn argument, used most recently in opposition to immigration from Mexico, has been with us throughout America’s first two centuries. Yet, despite a 320% population increase from 76 million in 1900 to nearly 320 million today, the U.S. has somehow managed to muddle through.
Now we’re hearing the same lock-the-borders build-a-beautiful-wall argument in response to refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.
Europe has borne the brunt of the migration out of the Middle East — and they’ve freaked out the most. European Union countries that ought to know better (Germany) and others choosing to ignore their treaty obligations (Hungary) have even restored the passport checkpoints whose elimination was the primary purpose of the EU.
European governments keep saying they’re “overwhelmed” by migrants. As they do, the media has cut-and-pasted these official pronouncements into its “news” reports. But is it true?
Germany predicts that it will have taken in a million refugees by the end of this year. A “common European effort,” its vice chancellor says, is required to cope with this “flood” of immigration. Bowing to international criticism, the U.S. promises to accept a not-so-whopping 10,000. It has become a campaign issue, with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders under pressure to name his own (higher) number.
For the sake of this argument, let’s set aside moral responsibility. There probably wouldn’t be a civil war in Syria, or an ISIS, or a resulting refugee crisis, had the U.S. and its European allies not armed and funded the Free Syrian Army in opposition to the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Let’s focus instead on the numbers. How many refugees can the U.S. and Europe allow to immigrate without facing an economic or political crisis?
When Vietnam defeated the U.S. in 1975, we took in 800,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and others who fled the victorious communists. That was just shy of a 0.4% population increase (from 216 million). It worked out well. Southeast Asian-Americans generated billions of dollars in increased economic activity while having one of the lowest rates of applying for public assistance of any ethnic group. Plus we got some great restaurants in the bargain.
Four million people, about a fifth of Syria’s population, have fled the war. An estimated 42,500 refugees leave every day. It won’t happen — but what if half of the remainder followed suit?
Eight million additional Syrians would increase the E.U.’s population by 1.6% — substantial and noticeable, but a drop in the bucket compared to German and Irish immigration to the U.S. from 1820 to 1870, which more than doubled the nation’s population.
Were the U.S. to accept Syrians in the same proportion to its population as it took in Southeast Asians in the 1970s, we could absorb 1.2 million — close to the total who have fled to Europe since the crisis began last year.
Though vast human migrations are psychologically traumatic and bureaucratically challenging for governments, there is a tendency to exaggerate the inability of people to cope. Léon Werth’s riveting memoir “33 Days” describes the chaos of “l’Exode,” when 8 million Frenchmen took to the roads to escape advancing Nazi forces during the summer of 1940. It has been described as the largest migration in history.
L’éxode increased the population of the areas where it ended — the southern French “Free Zone” administered by the collaborationist Vichy regime — by 25%. Moreover, the host region was traumatized by war, military occupation and economic ruin. Still, people coped. For the most part, these internally displaced persons reported being treated with kindness until they were able to return home at the end of World War II. Of the many economic problems faced by Vichy, histories scarcely mention the burden of absorbing les Parisiens.
If wartime France could cope with one new arrival for every four inhabitants, we can deal with one in 250.
Nativists cite economic and demographic arguments against immigration to cover for their real motivation: racism and bigotry. If one or two million Syrians want to come here, the U.S. should welcome them with open arms.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.
As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”
Excuse me while I puke.
Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.
It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.
The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.
What you might not know is that this isn’t new.
The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.
During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”
For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.
Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.
Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.
Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.
In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.
Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.
Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”
Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Reader Brian McManus asks:
“Just wondering if you can find time to post a piece on what the U.S. should do (or not do) regarding the current situation with ISIS in Iraq. Not so much on how the situation got to be where it is, but what the U.S. and/or other nations should do in situations like this. Would appreciate your thoughts on the issue.”
Thanks for writing, Brian.
Americans are “can do” people. Optimism is an appealing national personality trait but it comes with the unfortunate tendency to overestimate what can be done and its more dangerous corollary, the will to act when doing nothing would be preferable.
We saw the pitfalls of can-do following 9/11. Initial reactions to the attacks were shock and confusion. Traditional ideological divides were blurred, but in those early days one could still discern the pre-GWOT liberal tendency toward treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, versus the old hawkish rightist desire to lash out militarily. Then the Right trotted out a line that resonated across the spectrum and caused the antiwar left to dissolve as into mist:
We have to do something.
In the United States, “something” means military action.
The thing we “have” to do “something” about always refers to foreign policy.
Americans don’t feel that “have to do something” about domestic problems. Poverty? No need to act. Corrupt bankers? Inaction is fine. But if a crisis flares up overseas (a civil war as in Syria or Libya, a siege of civilians as in Sarajevo or Iraqi Kurdistan, cross-border encroachment as in ex-Soviet Georgia or Crimea), and especially if it involves opponents the media categorizes as “bad guys” (regional economic rivals such as Iran, China or Russia, radical Islamists who may or may not have gotten their guns from us), “we” “have” “to” “do” “something” (military action).
This is not true.
There are always alternatives to military action. The success of the formerly Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria insurgency, which controls half of both countries, is no exception. Half-measures come in both military (money and weapons) and non-military (political advisors) forms.
We can do nothing.
Albania is doing nothing in Iraq. Cuba is doing nothing in Iraq. Vietnam is doing nothing in Iraq. These countries have not been harmed by their refusal to intervene militarily in Iraq.
As I see it, Brian, whatever appetite ordinary Americans have for Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS and other attempts to prop up the current regime in Baghdad stems from the investment of lives and treasure the U.S. has made since the 2003 invasion.
“To be sure, the cost was high,” then-Secretary of State Leon Panetta said when Obama ordered the main troop withdrawal from Iraq. “But those lives were not lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free, and sovereign Iraq.”
If ISIS captures Baghdad and establishes Taliban-style Sharia law throughout Iraq, complete with amputations of accused thieves and stonings of wayward women — leaving Iraq, already in worse shape than it was under Saddam, an unequivocal nightmare for its people and a base for radical jihadis out to overthrow U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia — Panetta’s statement will have been belied.
The war will have been exposed as a total waste.
Which it was. Every American who lost a life or a limb in Iraq was sacrificed stupidly, predictably, in a war that never could have been won even had the generals and politicians in charge of it weren’t idiots.
The attempt to salvage Iraq by saving the rump Iraqi state inside the Green Zone is a refusal to accept defeat. But that doesn’t change reality.
We lost the Iraq War years ago. The sooner we accept that there is nothing to be saved there and move on, the better off we’ll be.
Undeniably and regrettably, washing our hands of Iraq — aside from leaving ISIS alone, we ought to evacuate the embassy and other government personnel Obama says we need to “protect” — will result in awful consequences. Whether or not ISIS can close the deal by capturing Baghdad, the sectarian conflict will escalate. Areas within ISIS control will be lost for the foreseeable future. More civilians will die, many as the result of “ethnic cleansing.”
We know these things will happen because we’ve lost wars before. The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam created the “boat people” crisis, opened space for wars between Vietnam and its neighbors China and Cambodia, and permitted a communist regime hostile to U.S. interests to consolidate power, and exclude American business for decades.
But consider the alternative.
Remaining in Vietnam would have required pouring more money and more soldiers down a hole, and slaughtering countless more Vietnamese. We still would have lost. All that post-withdrawal stuff — the civil conflicts, reprisals against our former local collaborators — would still have happened. It just would have happened later.
After we accepted defeat and walked away from Vietnam, on the other hand, things eventually worked out. Vietnam is now a major U.S. trading partner; nearly half a million American tourists visit Vietnam each year.
A guy named Barack Obama once summarized his foreign policy as “Don’t do stupid stuff” like invading Iraq in the first place. Hillary’s jibes and Obama’s actions aside, it’s good advice. To which I’ll add Ho Chi Minh’s legendary order to his general Vo Nguyen Giap, who was planning the decisive 1954 battle that would expel France from Indochina: “If victory is certain, then you are to attack. If victory is not certain, then you must resolutely refrain from attacking.”
Victory against ISIS is anything but certain. Therefore, in this and similar situations, I would refrain from attacking.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
They can’t help themselves.
Whatever the situation, the reaction of U.S. policymakers is more war.
Two wars in the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq) finally winding down (because we’ve lost and people are sick of them)? Time to ramp up secret arms sales to a pair of pipsqueak insurgencies (Libya and Syria).
Other superpowers love militarism. But only the United States would send troops, rather than aid workers, to people devastated by natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes…even within the United States.
As Joel Andreas put it in his seminal graphic novel-format comic, American politicians are addicted to war. And we — even those who identify with the antiwar left — are like an addict’s long-suffering spouse, trapped in a dysfunctional relationship where we enable the militarism we claim to deplore.
The ruling elite’s addiction to militarism is fully visible in President Obama’s announcement that he plans to re-invade Iraq. He’s starting small, with a few hundred military advisers and maybe (i.e., probably) airstrikes via the precise, never-fails, cares-so-much-about civilians technology of drones. Sending a few hundred military advisers was, of course, how JFK initiated America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
But we’ve already been through all that in Iraq. We invaded. We propped up a wildly unpopular pro-U.S. puppet regime. We fought. We lost — and lost big. We withdrew. Now our pet autocracy is collapsing. In Vietnam time, it’s 1975 in Iraq. This is supposed to be the part where we burn stacks of $100 bills, push Hueys into the sea, shove desperate locals off the roof of the embassy in Saigon/Baghdad and get out. Twenty or so years later, we come back and invade the right way — as obnoxious tourists and predatory sneaker company executives.
What’s up with Obama? Why is he treating Iraq like it’s Vietnam in 1962 — as though this were one of those hey, let’s just send a little help and see what happens affairs, as in there’s no way, no how “combat troops” (as opposed to non-combat troops) are going in (again), unless they do?
Even by presidential standards, Obama’s behavior is bizarre. Somewhere in the multiverse there must be one version of this story in which a half-dozen cabinet members, steeled in their resolve by the support of the Secret Service, rush into the Oval Office and bundle the President off to an institution that can give him the treatment he seems to require.
Alas, we live here.
In this weirdass country, the President’s re-invasion of Iraq is supported by 320 million enablers — not least of whom is the media.
It’s not just the sickening worship of all things soldierly, as when so-called journalists say “thank you for your service” to armchair generals who will never be on the wrong end of a shot fired in anger. The media drowns us in so much misinformation that it’s impossible for all but the most dedicated between-the-lines readers to come to an intelligent assessment of the facts.
Consider, for example, The New York Times. Given how often the paper has gotten burned by its pro-militarist establishmentarianism (supporting the failed right-wing coup attempt against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, not returning Edward Snowden’s phone call), you’d think its editors would be reluctant to support Gulf War III.
A June 17th piece bearing the headline “Your Iraq Questions, Answered,” in which Times reporters reply to readers, is illustrative.
One reader asks: “ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamist insurgent militia threatening the U.S. puppet regime of Nouri al-Maliki, currently in control of half the country] seems to have legit online following. Is this reflective of support on the ground?”
Rod Nordland, Kabul bureau chief but reporting from Iraq, replies: “ISIS has a huge and very aggressive social media operation, but I don’t know how anyone could characterize that as a legitimate following. I suspect a lot of their followers, clicks and retweets are voyeuristic because the material posted is so bloody and savage, and ISIS is completely unapologetic about it. Hopefully, most of their following is aghast.”
So much for any smidge of journalistic objectivity.
Then things turn really stupid:
“Most people in the territory ISIS controls do not seem terribly supportive of them, but they hate the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government far more, and ISIS takes pains to treat the Sunnis in their dominions with consideration — at least at first. That is the central challenge that the Iraqi government faces, to convince people in ISIS-dominated areas that their government wants to include them, and has more to offer than the ISIS extremists.”
Anyone who has studied history or read Che Guevara — which you’d hope an employee of The New York Times might have done — knows that ISIS, as a guerilla army outgunned and outmanned by the central government it seeks to overthrow, would never have gotten as far as it has without substantial support among civilians.
Even more egregious than Nordland’s failure to convey this truism to Times readers is his closing combination of childlike naiveté and taking sides. Maliki has been in office for eight years. If he were interested in building a pluralistic post-sectarian political coalition, rather than ruthlessly excluding all but his own Shiites from positions of influence, he would have done so by now. Even with ISIS on the road toward Baghdad, he hasn’t shifted his Shiite-centric approach.
With the most respected news source in the United States spoon-feeding such nonsense, it’s no wonder we can’t break free of the militarist traps laid for Pentagon generals by defense contractors, for the President by his generals and for us by the President.
When’s the last time you read an uncompromising antiwar opinion on the op-ed page of a major newspaper? Have you ever seen someone completely against war interviewed on network television news — even on “liberal” MSNBC? Even the state radio for the intellectual elite, NPR, rarely grants airtime to experts who oppose militarism. I’m an addict — to news — and I can honestly say that it’s rare to see more than one antiwar talking head on TV in a year…and that’s on daytime shows with low viewership.
As long as the alternatives to war aren’t allowed a voice, our addiction to war is safe.
(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Why Don’t More Soldiers Walk Away?
American news media portrays Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his apparent decision to simply walk away from the war in Afghanistan as bizarre and incomprehensible.
I wonder why it doesn’t happen all the time.
From The New York Times:
“Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.”
There’s little doubt. Bergdahl was politicized by what he saw.
“The future is too good to waste on lies,” a 2012 Rolling Stone article quotes an email from Bergdahl to his father. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”
Among other traumas, the then 23-year-old Idaho native witnessed an Afghan child run over by a U.S. Army vehicle. His fellow soldiers, he recalled, didn’t seem to care.
The Times paints a portrait of a soldier who was alienated, burned out and possibly a victim of PTSD. “He wouldn’t drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds,” the paper quotes Cody Full, a member of Sergeant Bergdahls platoon, in an interview arranged by the Republican Party. “He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there [in Afghanistan], learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.”
Bergdahl’s walk-away echoes Tim O’Brien’s allegorical 1978 novel “Going After Cacciato,” in which a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam goes AWOL, determined to walk all the way to Paris. His buddies go after him. It soon becomes clear that Cacciato’s comrades are less interested in catching him than in following his example.
All military forces contend with deserters, and the United States is no exception. “Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War — when they peaked at 5 percent. In the 1970s they hovered between 1% and 3%, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers,” according to NBC News. By 2007, the fourth year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the rate was up 80%, to nine out of 1,000.
Few deserters pull a Cacciato, opting out in the combat zone. Instead, while on leave, most just fail to report back.
Given the conditions faced by many U.S. soldiers in war zones, it’s surprising that more don’t lose it and take off.
Contrary to standard practice among armed forces in the West for hundreds of years, American soldiers are assigned to repeated, long combat tours without sufficient time between missions to recuperate. They are often underequipped and, as was apparently the case in Bergdahl’s unit, poorly disciplined and rarely given any context for their operations.
Then there’s the nature of the wars themselves.
Since 1945, since they weren’t authorized by Congress, every single one of America’s wars have been illegal. They’ve all been wars of aggression — neither the Koreans nor the Vietnamese nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans posed any threat to the United States. And they’ve all featured aspects of what historians dubbed “total war” after World War II: combat in which civilian casualties are not regrettable accidents, but strategically considered and intentional.
When soldiers become vets, they’re cast out into the streets, where many become homeless.
It doesn’t take long for the truth to hit home. All but the stupidest active-duty soldiers realize that they’re peasant mercenaries for a cruel and uncaring empire.
Why don’t more guys (and women) pull a Bergdahl? The main incentive to remain at their posts has to be the unremitting hostility of the locals — something Bergdahl no doubt experienced during five long years of captivity.
(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent
On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.
The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.
The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”
The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”
Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”
Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!
Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.
First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]
Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”
MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”
It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”
“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.
No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.
USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.
They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.
The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”
Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.
Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL