State of the Union

What We Owe Sevicemen

According to Mark Helprin in the Wall Street Journal:

We owe them a decision to go to war ratified unambiguously by the American people through their constitutional and republican institutions. Except where instantaneous response is necessitated by a clear and present danger, this means a declaration of war issued by a Congress that will fully support its own carefully determined decision and those it sends to carry it out—nothing less, nothing hedged, nothing ducked.

This requires in turn the kind of extraordinary, penetrating debate that can occur only among those wise enough to understand mortality and weigh it against principles that cannot be left undefended. It requires a president who can argue for his decision not merely with eloquence but substantively and tenaciously—guided only by the long-term interests of the United States, not fatuous slogans, political imperatives, and easily impeachable ideological notions of the right, left, or center.

Helprin has been critical of the Iraq War, and those who instigated it, for failing to meet these criteria. A soldier, says Helprin, “should never have to die for the sake of an academic theory once the doctoral thesis of an Ivy League idealist working his way up through the bureaucracies and think tanks.”

This is fair enough as far as it goes. But considering that the chances of U.S. political leaders once again declaring their wars in a constitutional fashion are nugatory, as are the odds of civilians making the kinds of sacrifices Helprin calls for elsewhere in his essay, much more thought needs to be given to how to restrain the most foolhardy and ideological influences on our foreign policy. Responsibility hawks like Helprin are not going to get the policies they want — the question they should confront is whether their next-best option is to oppose all wars of choice.

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New Yorker’s Disgraceful Embrace of Government Coverups

A New Yorker article on Wikileaks’ heroic Julian Paul Assange asserts: “But, unlike authoritarian regimes, democratic governments hold secrets largely because citizens agree that they should, in order to protect legitimate policy.”

 This is one of the biggest crocks in modern history.

Wikileaks is doing more to promote self-government than the vast majority of liberal publications that kowtow to government coverups.

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The Vets Washington Wants to Forget

As readers can see on TAC‘s main page, our cover story this month is on America’s Vanished veterans — those who never came home from Vietnam and remain classified as “missing in action.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Sydney Schanberg has compiled copious evidence that some of these men were left behind at the conclusion of the war. But that’s not evidence that most media outlets care to examine. As Ron Unz argues in his introduction to Schanberg’s essay in TAC, the only thing that comes close to being as shocking as a story itself is the utter lack of interest it has generated among journalists and politicians who routinely profess to “support the troops.” Andrew Bacevich, in his contribution to TAC‘s symposium on Schanberg’s investigations, suggests that the ritual display of the POW/MIA flag by politicians great and small is an act of tokenism that draws attention away from the country’s overall obliviousness to the realities of war. (It’s not only Vietnam veterans who are unaccounted for, by the way — thousands of American soldiers were MIA in Korea, and some of them are known to have been POWs.)

When the prestige media has deigned to notice this story, it has only been to frame it in terms calculated to trivialize, with much stress laid upon fictional scenarios. Thus, for example, the New Republic in 1985 ran a cover proclaiming, “Sorry, Rambo, there are now POWs in Vietnam,” complete with a picture of a shirtless Sylvester Stallone toting a machine gun. The Atlantic in 1991 was similarly as interested in Tinseltown as in Indochina, with a cover heralding, “The POW/MIA Myth: How the White House and Hollywood combined to foster a national fantasy.” Peter Worthington, to his credit, in responding to Schanberg and TAC in the Toronto Sun, doesn’t portray present the story as Hollywood-induced hysteria, but instead he opts for a preferred neocon debating point — Schanberg is bad because he said Cambodia would be better off without U.S. intervention, which means he didn’t predict the Khmer Rouge’s horrors, which means no one should listen to him because he’s an America-hating, Commie-coddling jerk. Oh, did someone say something about missing Americans? Forget about them, just think about the Khmer Rouge.

(Schanberg, unlike any neocon that I know of, actually spent time in war-torn Cambodia. And yes, he was wrong about what would happen there, though the U.S. was never in a position to stop the Khmer Rouge and may well have fueled Pol Pot’s rise by “secretly” bombing Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The whole thing, though, is a red herring on Worthington’s part.)

As Gareth Porter argues in TAC‘s symposium, there is reason to doubt some of the evidence purporting to show that Americans were abandoned in Indochina. What’s needed is not for journalists and political leaders to buy into Schanberg’s story solely on grounds of material he presents (as much of it as there is), but for them to make a serious effort to address all of the evidence, including what is still locked in the government’s own files. Talk of supporting the troops and commemorating their sacrifice is hollow so long as Washington — which means the capital’s press as well as its politicians — chooses to keep the public ignorant about the fate of America’s missing veterans.

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All Our Questions Answered At Last

Queer black marxist feminist political economy in a white-supremacist heterosexist-homophobic capitalist patriarchy: Rhonda M. Williams on method, history, theory, and policy,” by Mathew Forstater.

“Despite the subtitle,” the description reads, “this paper is neither a comprehensive overview nor an in-depth study of Williams’ work.” But of course — surely one would need two dozen hardbound volumes to plumb the depths of Rhonda Williams’ work.

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The Prettification of War

Sunday’s New York Times, gearing up for Memorial Day, carries a leading front-page story direct from the Afghan front, complete with photos. Does it tell of the 1,000 Americans who have perished there in America’s longest war, or the unknown number of innocent Afghans to fall, or the many more on both sides gruesomely injured, or the devastation visited on the poor and backward regions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan by the firepower of the mightiest war machine the world has yet to produce? Absolutely not.

Instead, readers are treated to a feel-good story about female Marines “bonding” with their Afghan sisters, under the headline “In Camouflage or Veil, a Fragile Bond.” Did a Times writer dream up that sappy headline, or did it come from a basement office in the Pentagon or Langley where pro-war psyops against the U.S. citizenry are concocted? Or can such a distinction even be drawn, with journalistic ambition and careerism run wild? In my edition of the paper of record the story is adorned with a photo of a young Marine woman holding an Afghan toddler. How nice these warriors are. No killing for them. Just handing out ibuprofen, “giggling” (sic) with Afghan women, and playing with kids.

Moreover, the women have done this in the face of skepticism from some of the male commanding officers! Not only are the Marines’ fearless females helping the benighted Afghan women and providing fine examples of women imperial warriors, they are striking a blow against male chauvinism in the imperial forces. These humanitarian wars are almost too good to be true. No wonder Medea Benjamin disclosed a soft spot in her very Democratic heart for Obama’s wars. Read More…

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How Disinformation Works

There is a piece in today’s Sunday Times of London entitled “Israel stations nuclear missile subs off Iran”  (  The article states that Israel is sending one of its three Dolphin class submarines to the Persian Gulf “near the Iranian coastline” to permit retaliation if Iran or its allies in Syria and Lebanon attempt a missile strike against Israel.  The presumption is that Israel would be prepared to retaliate using nuclear armed cruise missiles. 

If the story is true it is alarming because it considerably increases the tension level in the Middle East due to the threat of a nuclear strike.  But the story is suspicious because it appears in the Rupert Murdoch owned Times, which has often been a conduit for stories places by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad.  The submarines in question have  a range of 2700 miles.  The distance from the Israeli naval port in Eilat on the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman is slightly more than that one way.  The Israeli vessels would not be able to refuel at any neutral port in the Indian Ocean making the logistics somewhat complicated, requiring refueling at sea by a support ship sent out from Israel.  As the Israeli naval is designed for coastal defense, it does not have such a vessel, though I suppose something could be improvised.

There is also a subplot.  The Times story additionally relates that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barack allegedly showed President Obama “classified satellite images of a convoy of ballistic missiles leaving Syria on the way to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”  The fact is that US intelligence, which has far better capabilities than the Israelis, cannot verify the missile story that the Israelis have been peddling for several months.  The Israelis clearly want the US to buy into the scud threat, but CIA analysts have so far found the evidence unconvincing.

So we have a suspicious story with phony supporting details.  Floating the story might be intended to scare the Iranians into doing something stupid or to pressure the White House into doing something equally dumb by rolling over for Bibi Netanyahu when he visits Washington on Tuesday.  It might also be an attempt to heighten the threat from Hezbollah and Syria, such as it is.  Or it might have multiple objectives.  Disinformation involves creating a false story and distributing it widely in an attempt to shift the narrative in a way favorable to your own interests.  The Times story was picked up immediately by the media in Israel and Iran and also by the UPI, giving it credibility, which is exactly how disinformation is supposed to work.

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West vs. South?

Jacob Weisberg offers a superficially plausible explanation of recent struggles on the Right — he sees them reflecting a split between Western and Southern varieties of conservatism, the former identified with Barry Goldwater and now Rand Paul, the latter with Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. The examples he provides suggest that his West/South breakdown is just a remapping of the conventional libertarian/religious Right divide. But the remapping doesn’t work: Ron Paul hails from Texas, after all, which is Southern as well as Western, and his son lives in the Bluegrass State, which is certainly more Southern. Meanwhile, Midwesterner Tim Pawlenty is the darling of the Bush-style compassionate conservatives. And before he destroyed his personal and political lives at a single stroke, South Carolina politician Mark Sanford had seemed like a leading voice for the budget-cutting Right.

Plainly enough, the South is still the center of gravity for the GOP, and many of the most prominent figures in the Christian conservative and small-government camps alike hail from that region. Moreover, the two groups overlap more than Weisberg admits: not only do both Pauls have strong social conservative credentials (tempered by libertarianism, to be sure), but Sarah Palin, whom Weisberg assigns to the “Western” faction, is supported at least as strongly by the religious Right. Weisberg’s categories are just plain wrong.

“A GOP dominated by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed was increasingly noxious to potential supporters who happened to be secular, Jewish, Mormon, or gay, or who accepted evolution,” he writes. This is risible: Mormon voters are a very important, if imperfectly assimilated, bloc of the religious Right — they have been indispensable in campaigns to stop gay marriage, for example — while Christian Zionists are considered welcome allies by many in the minority of American Jews that votes Republican. (It’s true that Glenn Beck is a Mormon, and there are strong traditions of self-reliance in Mormonism, which can be a source of libertarian tendencies. But the religious Right side to Mormon political activity is equally pronounced.)

Weisberg, alas, not only is wrong in his general argument, but can’t even get the particulars right. He claims that Harry Jaffa “wrote Goldwater’s famous convention speech.” No, he didn’t — Karl Hess drafted that speech, borrowing the idea about extremism in defense of liberty from a letter Jaffa wrote. No research, no original thought, just cliches. Weisberg ought to try harder.

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Honoring Warriors, Rethinking Wars

Since America became a nation, four of her greatest generals have served two terms as president: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Dwight David Eisenhower.

Not one of these generals led America into a new war.

Washington was heroic in keeping the young republic out of the wars that erupted in Europe after the French Revolution, as were his successors John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Jackson, arguably America’s greatest soldier — who won the Battle of New Orleans, which preserved the Union, and virtually annexed Florida — resisted until his final days in office recognizing the Republic of Texas, liberated by his great friend and subaltern Sam Houston.

Jackson wanted no war with Mexico.

Eisenhower came to office determined to end the war in Korea. In six months, he succeeded — and kept America out of the raging war in Indochina.

Of the men who led us into our 19th century wars — the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War — only one, William McKinley, was a soldier who had seen combat.

McKinley had enlisted at 17. In 1862, he was with the Union army at Antietam, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.
Though derided as having “the backbone of a chocolate eclair” by the bellicose Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley confided to a friend before going to war with Spain: “I have been through one war. … I have seen the bodies piled up. I do not want to see another.”

James Madison, who took us into the War of 1812, which came close to tearing apart the Union; James Polk, who took us to war with Mexico and gave us Texas to the Rio Grande, the Southwest and California; and Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation in its bloodiest war, were politicians. Lincoln had served three months in the Illinois Militia in the Black Hawk War, but he never saw action.

America was led into the world wars by Woodrow Wilson, a professor, and Franklin Roosevelt, a politician. Harry Truman, who took us into Korea, had captained an artillery battery in France in 1918. John F. Kennedy, who led us into Vietnam, had served on a PT boat in the Solomons. George H.W. Bush, who launched Desert Storm, was one of the youngest Navy pilots to fight in the Pacific war. Read More…

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When Failsafes Fail

The April 20 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is a gift from British Petroleum that keeps on giving: 11 human lives lost, 2,940,000 gallons of oil daily, a 2,500-square-mile oil slick, underwater plumes 10 miles across, softball-size tar balls washing up on beaches of Louisiana, marshes and wildlife wiped out, the regional economy dealt a body blow, and now the oil looping around Florida and up the Atlantic Coast where the driller in chief, Barack Obama, outdoing George W. Bush, recently approved new drilling, but has supposedly now suspended it, which turns out to be an untruth (1). Key to the disaster is the malfunction of several devices and procedures designed to prevent a blowout. Some simply malfunctioned, one perhaps because one of its batteries was dead; others were not properly implemented or not implemented at all. Such fail-safe devices inevitably fail – even when they are put in place.

Days later on May 1 in Boston, my hometown, an enormous metal collar, the latest in technology, connecting parts of a water pipeline blew out and washed away, leaving 2 million with no potable water for days. The collar has yet to be found, and the reason for the failure remains a mystery – at least to the public. Of course aqua disasters are nothing new to Boston, with the Big Dig, another engineering marvel, leaking like a sieve, a malfunction less well known than the ceiling collapse that killed one hapless motorist.

In the interval between those two calamities on April 26 fell the anniversary of the nuclear reactor disaster in 1986 in Chernobyl, now a ghost town, as are neighboring villages in the “zone of alienation.” Here again fail-safe measures failed, and the impact in terms of lives lost and to be lost numbers in the thousands and perhaps much higher. Of course such a “zone of alienation” will be radioactive for a long time to come. That, however, has not deterred the Obama administration from moving forward on nuclear power plants, going again where no Bush dared to go before.

In physics, there is a maxim attributed to Murray Gell-Mann, “Whatever is not forbidden is compulsory,” which demands a stronger statement of Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it must.”

These events all came upon us in the weeks leading up to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference at the UN on May 3, where the United States wasted the opening trying to demonize Iran, a ploy that was foiled in the eyes of most of the world by the tough and wily Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, much to the horror of the United States and Israel. Read More…

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Actors Shrug

In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the captains of industry bring the country down by going on strike, refusing to remain the motor of a society that despises them. You can’t have an economy without producers. Similarly, you can’t have a film without actors. Or can you?

For almost two decades, Hollywood has tried unsuccessfully to turn Ayn Rand’s 1100 page classic Atlas Shrugged into a feature film with actresses ranging from Angelina Jolie to Charlize Theron to Faye Dunaway. John Aglialoro, the entrepreneur who  17 years ago paid $1 million to option the book rights, is tired of the futility and is taking matters into his own hands. He’s announced that he is financing a June 11 production start in Los Angeles for the first of what he said will be four films made from the book.

The kicker is that June 11 is exactly two weeks away, but it appears that no talent has signed on to the film yet. Libertarians and their sympathizers have been waiting for many years to see Rand’s magnum opus on the big—or small—screen, and as this Deadline New York piece notes, there have been many rumors of big names to play Dagny Taggart. But one wonders if the producer—John Aglialoro is the CEO of Cybex International, a brand name known to anyone who’s visited a lot of gyms—understands how Hollywood works. The article says that he  “sent a missive indicating that he’s courting actresses like Theron and Maggie Gyllenhaal to play Taggart.” Actresses tend to schedule projects months in advance. That’s why you heard about Bradley Cooper signing on to the upcoming The A Team a year ago, and then heard it had started filming a few months later. (Isn’t that the summer movie everyone’s waiting for?) But maybe Aglialoro will manage to find someone with an opening in her schedule and persuade her to suit up quickly. Dagny does get three love interests, after all. But then he needs to find three leading men at short notice, too.

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