zaterdag 27 oktober 2018

Psychiater Esther van Fenema met 'Pitbull' Mark Koster

Misschien wist u het al, maar op onder andere You Tube zijn de uitzendingen van Café Weltschmerz te zien. Daaronder een interview met de 

‘Pitbull’ van de journalistiek, Mark Koster

die in de ogen van psychiater Esther van Fenema

de gevreesde journalist [is] van maandblad Quote. Hij heeft de inmiddels uitzonderlijke, journalistieke nieuwsgierigheid om ‘tot het bot toe’ door te vragen. Koster ziet zichzelf als ‘hard op de inhoud, maar zacht op de mens’. Je bent al snel een pitbull als je doorvraagt, stelt hij vast. Koster vindt hard interviewen om het later zacht op te schrijven eerlijker dan slijmerig vragen te stellen om deze later keihard neer te pennen. Het profiel van een nog zeldzaam nieuwsgierig journalist.

Koster werkte eerder al voor Quote en bij Het Financieele Dagblad. Hij was van 2004 tot 2005 werkzaam als hoofdredacteur van de Nieuwe Revu en werkte bij het Talpa-programma NSE. In 2006 richtte hij met twee compagnons het Amsterdamse productiebedrijf Campus TV op.

⚙️Deze aflevering is geadopteerd door designbureau MEGAVOLT, Amsterdam

Ik had tot voor betrekkelijk kort nooit iets van deze ‘pitbull van de journalistiek’ vernomen, terwijl ik toch na bijna vijf decennia journalistiek aardig wat collega’s ken. Ik werd me pas in maart 2018 bewust van het bestaan van deze kennelijk ‘gevreesde journalist’ tijdens de presentatie van het boek Nepnieuws Explosie. Desinformatie in de Nederlandse Media. Aangezien ik hierin ook een artikel had geschreven, voelde ik me genoodzaakt hierbij aanwezig te zijn. Na binnenkomst werd ik onmiddellijk gestalkt door een hinderlijk aanwezig meneer, die iets van mij wilde. Aangezien hij zich niet voorstelde, kwam ik er pas naderhand achter dat de man Mark Koster heette, die tijdens de presentatie schichtig naar achteren bleef kijken om te zien of ik er nog wel was. Omdat hij zich met zijn ook nog eens opvallend glimmende schedel nogal on-journalistiek gedroeg nam ik enkele foto’s van hem. Toen het moment van vragenstellen aanbrak, wilde Koster weten of er volgens de critici van de mainstream-journalistiek, die het aangedurfd hadden gedetailleerd en gedocumenteerd de Nederlandse corporate media aan te vallen, nog goede journalisten bestonden. Om hem op weg te helpen, antwoordde ik dat er talloze uitstekende journalisten bestonden in de wereld, zoals Chris Hedges, John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Adam Lebor, Dan Kovalik, etcetera, allen namen die de ‘pitbull’ van de polder ‘journalistiek’ niet kende, zo ontdekte ik toen ik naderhand zijn verslagje las van de bijeenkomst. Op dinsdag 27 maart 2018 berichtte Mark Koster, de zo ‘gevreesde journalist,’ het volgende op de website villamedia.nl onder de kop:

Koster & Vrienden: Nepnieuwsbestrijders verdrinken in eigen complotten

Ze was er die middag nog geweest, maar deze avond liet ze passeren. Minister van nepnieuwsbestrijding Kajsa Ollongren had geen zin om op vrijdagavond nog een keer te worden gemangeld over haar uitspraken dat de informatiestromen in de lage landen worden gemanipuleerd door Big Brother Poetin.

Ollongren is het nieuwe spotobject voor een nieuwe generatie kritiese journalisten. De nepnieuwsbestrijdbrigade verzamelde zich in een verder uitgestorven Nieuwspoort om te debatteren over feit en fictie van de verslaggeving betreffende die grommende Beer uit het Oosten.

De opkomst was redelijk, zij het dat vertegenwoordigers van bekende journalistieke merken, ze werden door aanwezigen smalend omschreven als ‘de mainstream media’, afwezig waren. Het NOS Journaal had geen zin om te komen, meldde de organisatie in een persbericht.

Misschien was dat ook omdat Arnold Karskens in het boek Nepnieuwsexplosie, dat werd gepresenteerd, de staatsomroep had gefileerd. De Kale Schrik van het Journaille kwam in gezelschap van de Belgische mediacriticus Willy van Damme die een tikkie doorsloeg in zijn achterdocht tegen de gevestigde machten. De Belg beweerde dat de dood van fotograaf Jeroen Oerlemans in scène was gezet, omdat zijn kinderen en zijn vrouw op de eerste rij zaten te ginnegappen tijdens de uitvaart. Dat was best een beetje pijnlijk.

Ook met de stelling dat er geen feiten bestaan, maar dat dit ‘reconstructies’ zijn (aldus Joost Niemöller) dreigde de discussie wel héél theoretisch te worden op een avond dat iedereen liever aan de bar hangt. Het duurde nog vrij lang voor we eindelijk aan de toog stonden. Veroorzaker voor het oponthoud was VPRO-mastodont Stan van Houcke die een college hield over progressieve Amerikaanse journalisten die we ‘moeten’ lezen. Toen de gespreksleider hem zachtjes probeerde te onderbreken, werd hij boos en beende hij weg. ‘Als je me niet laat uitpraten dan houdt het op.’ 

Wat valt mij op aan dit werkstuk van Mark, ‘de Kale Schrik van het Journaille’?Allereerst natuurlijk dat hij vergeten is de hele titel van het boek te vermelden, wat toch een beginnersfout is. Wie, Wat, Waar, en Wanneer, is de vuistregel in ons vak. Tevens wordt duidelijk dat Koster het  boek niet haeeft gelezen, wat eveneens een kwalijke omissie is, aangezien een journalist -- voordat hij een tendentieus stukje schrijft -- toch op zijn minst moet weten wat de schrijvers van het boek precies naar voren brengen. Ook dit is broddelwerk van iemand die psychiater Esther van Fenema verzekerde dat hij zich ‘laat leiden door mijn nieuwsgierigheid,’ en hij zich bovendien altijd ‘goed voor[bereid].’ Van Fenema die in de inleiding had verklaard dat zij ‘erg blij’ was ‘met mijn gast vanavond, Mark Koster, Pitbull van de Journalistiek,’ liet opnieuw de geïnterviewde kritiekloos leeglopen met opmerkingen als dat hij een ‘intellectueel vrijzinnige’ persoonlijkheid was, die als leitmotiv heeft ‘het standpunt van een ander' te begrijpen, oftewel dat je een ‘poging’ doet ‘je in te leven in waarom een ander iets vindt, en, laten we eerlijk zijn, dat ontbreekt af en toe toch wel in het intellectuele debat.’ Als we ons beperken tot Nederland en zijn poldermentaliteit dan kan ik niet anders dan Koster voor de volle honderd procent gelijk geven. Hij sprak uit ervaring, want Mark is het vlees geworden voorbeeld van dit gebrek, zoals u uit zijn opstel hierboven kunt opmaken. Gezien ondermeer het feit dat in het boek de journalist Arnold Karskens een serieuze analyse van het werk van het NOS-Journaal geeft, en de redactie het niet de moeite vond om één van haar bijna 700 medewerkers naar de presentatie van het boek Nepnieuws Explosie te sturen, zou voor een zelfbenoemde ‘intellectueel vrijzinnige’ aanleiding moeten zijn geweest om zich hierover te verwonderen.  Maar omdat de mainstream-journalistiek in Nederland in het algemeen en de journalistieke ‘pitbull’ Koster in het bijzonder weigeren zich ‘in te leven’ in de vraag ‘waarom’ kritische journalisten ‘iets’ vinden, en al een oordeel hebben  over een kritisch boek ondanks het feit dat ze het niet gelezen hebben, blijft de mediakritiek in de polder op zo’n laag peil. Desondanks luisterde Van Fenema ademloos naar haar gast die volgens haar ‘recht door mensen heen[kijkt],’ om hier snel aan toe te voegen: ‘dat zeggen mensen ook van mij.’   Het jammerlijke is alleen dat mevrouw Van Fenema niet bij machte was de kijker attent te maken op hetgeen zij zag bij Mark Koster. Haar bewondering van dit journalistieke lichtgewicht was daarvoor te groot. Ik kom hier later op terug. 



'Pitbull' Mark Koster.
  

Terrorists





It is Up To Israel to Repair the Crack in the Axis of Evil



After the Khashoggi Murder, It is Up To Israel to Repair the Crack in the Axis of Evil

 
Photo Source POMED | CC BY 2.0
On the domestic scene, there is Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell and many others of a similar caliber, but among world leaders could there by anyone more loathsome than Donald Trump?
Because he has so many serious competitors, each of whom is loathsome in different ways, the question is impossible to answer.  But Trump is “special” — thanks to the hand that the Electoral College, building on the work of Democratic Party losers and Hillary Clinton, dealt him.
MBS, Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is special too.
Compared to those two, Benjamin Netanyahu looks almost like what he plainly is not, a decent human being.
But as the leader of a country that, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, comprises an axis of evil in the Greater Middle East, his power is magnified, and therefore so is the harm he can do.  He could, for example, bring America into a war with Iran.  This would almost certainly take a catastrophic turn.
That prospect is less likely, however, the more fractured the axis becomes.  This may turn out to be the silver lining in the savage murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
***
His murder was horrifying, but so is much else that the Saudis do to those who fall out of favor with the monarchy’s rulers; and so, of course, is the Saudi war in Yemen.  However, only this one gruesome murder seems to have struck a nerve.  Perhaps this is because the victim was well known to Western politicians and journalists.
His murder was unsettling enough to cause even the likes of Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio to distance themselves, ever so delicately, from the sway of the conman to whom they, along with nearly all other Republican office-seekers and influence peddlers these days, pay homage.  It was ghastly enough even to get the conman himself to send out words and tweets of regret.
Future historians will have no trouble explaining the outrage; its causes are obvious to anyone with normal human sensibilities.
This assumes, of course, that the world will survive Trump well enough for there to be future historians. It also assumes that, despite the enthusiasms of the crowds at Trump rallies, and despite the propagandizing and dumbing down that Fox News and other rightwing media do, that the moral and intellectual capacities of normal human beings will remain generally unimpaired.
So far, the country has gotten through nearly two years of Trump and is still, for the most part, not too seriously damaged.  But there are at least two more years to go, and even if fortune smiles upon us and that longed for “blue wave” materializes, it won’t help much.
If our luck nevertheless holds, future historians will wonder why the Khashoggi murder, but not, say, the more outrageous and far more lethal war that the Saudis are waging, with American help, in Yemen, or the many other greater and lesser assaults on international law and basic human morality that have always been the stock and trade of the Saudi royal family, get a pass.
It is not as if the information isn’t available or that nobody outside the Middle East cares.  The problem is that American public opinion is indifferent.  The Khashoggi murder could change this.   Or not.
With American and other Western capitalists salivating at the prospect of the Saudis throwing money their way, and with the large Trump base becoming increasingly unhinged and vicious, a turn towards sanity is no slam-dunk.
After all, one of the very few things that Trump is good at is stirring up those “darker angels of our nature” that MSNBC and CNN pundits keep talking about.  He is even better at that than he is at tax evasion and fraudulent dealings with workers and investors.
About the only thing that Democrats are good at, besides quashing radical initiatives and stifling progressive impulses, is racking up huge leads in polls and then losing to the more odious duopoly party.
Even so, it is still more likely than not that “the Desert Kingdom” – a theocracy ruled by some of the most retrograde and morally debased miscreants alive today – will, thanks to this latest atrocity, be so damaged in the eyes of right-thinking people the world over that not all the oil money in the world will ever make it right.
Time will tell.  For now, it is still possible to believe that when the barbarism is severe enough and persists long enough, public opinion will eventually catch on, no matter how much money the rich and heinous throw around.
Future historians, if any, will also marvel at how liberals fell into line behind the Saudis before the Khashoggi murder.  Could it be that they really are dumb enough to fall for the nonsense put out by the likes of Tom Friedman?
Those historians will also know more about the Trump Organization’s business arrangements with MBS and other Gulf potentates than we now do.  This is likely to make those who fell for the MBS charm offensive look even dumber.
That the United States is in league with Saudi Arabia is not exactly news; America has been throwing its weight around in ways detrimental to the historically Muslim world since the end of the Second World War.  But now that Trump is in the White House, and Middle East policy is in the hands of Jared Kushner, his joined at the hip to Netanyahu son-in-law, the problem is worse than ever.
If the Trump Party loses ignominiously in the upcoming midterm elections, perhaps not all will be lost. Lately, though, prophets of doom – or are they just Democratic National Committee fear mongers? — have taken to telling the world that the Trump Party might hold onto power even in the House. They say that Trump’s misogyny, racism and overall vileness has aroused the enthusiasm of his base enough to overwhelm the enthusiasm of the anti-Trump “resistance.”
They may be right.  It does look like formerly quiescent, morbidly desperate people who used to be only privately mean-spirited now think that body slamming reporters and sending pipe bombs to “liberal” news organizations and Democrats is cool.  Those purported “populists” even think, on Trump’s word, that Brett Kavanaugh, late of Georgetown Prep and Yale, is God’s gift to the workingman.
We will know soon enough how well Trump’s strategy of riling up his base, all others be damned, will work.
We will know too how much, if at all, it matters that, in our so-called “democracy,” the majority of Americans, like the majority of people the world over, understand full well that Trump’s cult-like followers are mostly deluded thugs and that Trump himself is a laughing stock.
We will know to what extent ours has become a minority rule political culture, a veritable kakistocracy.
***
Like the others, the third member of the Middle East’s axis of evil, Israel, gets away with murder, both figuratively and literally, too.
But because Israel is a state with no territorial ambitions outside Palestine and no prospect of becoming a regional economic power, and because it is still a democracy of a sort, a Herrenvolk democracy, despite years of rightwing rule, its atrocities are confined, for the most part, to its own sliver of the world.
Nevertheless, its effect on world affairs is extensive and profound.
Israel and Saudi Arabia used to be mortal enemies.  Though hardly close friends now, they have become de facto allies.
To make their mark on the world, they are both utterly dependent on the United States.  The United States depends on Saudi Arabia for its oil, for the financial clout its oil makes possible, and for keeping the global oil market on track in ways that accord with America’s global interests. Israel has nothing comparable to offer the United States – it is no longer even useful as an off-shore military base — but the political clout of the Israel lobby, both Jewish and Evangelical Christian, more than makes up for the deficit.
I believe that these lobbies, the Jewish one especially, are paper tigers and that this will become apparent to everyone if and when they are boldly defied.  But the American political class thinks differently, and that is all that matters.
In any case, their relations with the United States are not what is holding them together.  Their animosity towards Iran is the reason for that.
The United States has it in for Iran in large part because its foreign policy establishment l holds a grudge for the humiliation America suffered during the hostage crisis four decades ago.
To be sure, the United States is, for the most part, just what as Gore Vidal famously said it was, the United States of Amnesia.  The bromance now flourishing between two of our most loathsome domestic political figures, Trump and Ted Cruz, attests to that.
But, like everything else in the Middle East, the situation is complicated.  At the same time, that, on most matters, the past might as well never have happened, the hegemon’s memory is long when its global dominance is challenged.
Therefore, whenever it is convenient to vilify Iran, American politicians generally will do precisely that. Even thoughtful ones, like Barack Obama, after trying meekly to chart a new course in American-Iranian relations, beat a hasty retreat at the first signs of trouble.
The Saudis have it in for Iran – and Turkey too, to a lesser extent – because, despite the retrograde nature of their regime, they want to become the regional hegemon for the entire Middle East, not just the Arabian Peninsula.
But great power politics is not the whole story.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are rival theocracies; their animosities therefore transcend the bounds of Reason, passing over, as religious conflicts often do, into a realm where irrational fervor sometimes overwhelms calculations of economic and national interest.
Israel’s problem with Iran is different.  It has no hegemonic aspirations; it is happy for the United States to monopolize that. And although secularism is in retreat in Israel, the country is still far from becoming a theocracy.
It is relevant too that in Jewish lore, Persia (Iran) has always been held in high regard.  The thinking of the European Jews who colonized Palestine was, of course, affected by  Orientalist attitudes, but, like other Europeans, European Jews generally held Persians in higher regard than the Arabic speaking peoples under Ottoman – and later British and French – rule.
In short, Israel and Iran are neither natural nor historical enemies.
But to flourish and perhaps even to survive, Israel needs enemies; it always has and as long as it purports to be a Jewish state, it always will.  With anti-Semitism on the wane, despite what Zionists would like the world to think, it therefore needs to concoct credible “existential threats.”  Iran is its best, perhaps its only, chance for that.
There is a reasonable debate to be had about whether anti-Semitism made or still makes Zionism necessary.  There is no doubt, however, that it made it possible.
By “anti-Semitism,” I mean hatred of Jews.  The term is unfortunate because “Semite” is a linguistic, not an ethnic, category, and because most of today’s purported anti-Semites are “Semites” themselves.  But the word is in common use, and there is no getting around it.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism are not the same.   Anti-Judaism has existed at least since Roman times, and is a mainstay of the other two “Abrahamic” religions, Christianity and Islam.  It could hardly be otherwise, inasmuch as each of them understands itself to be the legitimate and unique successor of the religion of ancient Israel.
Since theological animosities sometimes shade over into animosities towards theological opponents, anti-Semitism, in the largest sense, has also been around since ancient times. But the anti-Semitism that made Zionism possible, and perhaps also necessary, the kind that is based on eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century notions of “race,” is a European concoction and a creature of the modern world.
Jews fared better under Islam than they did in Christendom, and modern anti-Semitism owes a great deal to Christian anti-Judaism.  Muslim anti-Judaism, such as it is, has had almost nothing to do with the rise of modern anti-Semitism or with its nature.
Apologists for Israel nowadays struggle to conflate occasional expressions of anti-Zionist outrage in suburban quarters of European cities with the anti-Semitism that led to the Final Solution.  There are a lot of susceptible people in the world these days begging to be fooled, but, in the end, theirs is a fool’s errand.
It should go without saying that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are historically and conceptually distinct.
The original Zionist idea was that anti-Semitism would always be with us and that, if only for the sake of self-defense, the Jewish people need a state of their own.   The idea that this state had to be in Palestine came later, as did the idea that support for a Jewish state in Palestine is an expression of Jewish identity.
Indeed, it was once a widely accepted tenet of the Jewish religion that, until the Messiah comes, Palestine was to be a holy land, not a homeland.  This is still the view of many extreme orthodox Jews today.
It was a holy land too for Old Testament besotted Anglo-Protestants and Lutherans in Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
Indeed, Anglo-Protestant “dispensationalist” theologians in the nineteenth century were the first to give the “return” of the Jews to Palestine an expressly political inflection; they were political Zionists a good half century before the idea gained a foothold in Jewish circles.
Their theology had a profoundly anti-Semitic cast, however; before Christ could come a second time, they argued, Jews would have to accept Christ or else face an eternity in Hell. There is little doubt that most of them were rooting for the latter option.  It took a while, but Jewish Zionists, always on the lookout for allies who could help them sway the U.S. government their way, decided not to mind.
To be sure, what started out as a reaction to European anti-Semitism did, in the course of time, take on different colorations.   By now, Zionism is mainly a form of Jewish identity politics, with the nation serving as a substitute for God.
But nations are not part of the furniture of the world; they are socially and politically constructed. This is especially true of the Jewish nation, formed from peoples who share a common religion, but not a common language, except liturgical Hebrew and Aramaic, a shared history or a shared land. Jewish nationalism is a slender reed upon which to base Zionist theory and practice.
Why even bother trying unless circumstances make the construction of a Jewish national identity morally imperative?
This is why, some hundred and twenty years after Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat, Israel’s first reason for being remains its best – anti-Semitism.
But although anti-Zionism, like anti-Judaism, can and sometimes does slide over into anti-Semitism, and although Zionists have worked hard to keep the fear of anti-Semitism alive, there just isn’t enough of the genuine article around anymore to justify all the harm that the state of Israel does.
But existential threats will do instead, and if they don’t exist, it will therefore be necessary to create them.
Real threats to the ethnocratic character of the Jewish state — voluntary emigration, for example, or population drift due to low Jewish birthrates, especially among the Ashkenazi (European) Jews who founded the state — don’t cut it.  They are no more “threatening” than intermarriage between Gentiles and Jews in the United States and other Western countries.
Palestinians under occupation and in exile used to serve the purpose, but, by now, they are too politically divided, too abandoned by the world, and too militarily feeble to fool anybody who is not begging to be fooled.
And, of course, the Saudis and the Arab regimes they control are of no use either; they have become Israel’s friend – not officially, but in ways too obvious to hide.
Jordan is and always has been useless, and after the Bush-Cheney war of choice in Iraq, Iraq now is too. Then came the utter and complete mess that the Obama administration, led on by the always inept Hillary Clinton and the liberal imperialists she and Obama empowered, made of Libya and Egypt, and, worst of all, Syria.
And so, Iran is all that is left.
Netanyahu is obsessed with Iran, and therefore so is Trump.  He may aspire to be the Absolute Leader of the Universe but, in fact, he dares not displease Sheldon Adelson and the Israel lobby leads him around by the nose.
Adelson, by the way, is living proof that classical anti-Semitism is finished in the United States.  The man is a character right out of the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and yet nobody, even in so-called “alt-right” (quasi or bona fide fascist) circles seems to care.
Netanyahu has the bomb and he has the Israel lobby, but he doesn’t have anything like the Saudis’ money; and, in capitalist America, money talks.
But after the Khashoggi murder it may not talk loud enough.
Therefore, if Netanyahu is to succeed in getting America to go to war with Iran, he may have to do the heavy lifting himself.  Is he up to the task?  Don’t count on it.
Let’s hope instead that Israel’s inherent weakness and Netanyahu’s own ineptitude does him in along with his even more odious axis of evil partners, and ultimately the axis itself.

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Tom Engelhardt 301

Tomgram: William Astore, The Pentagon Has Won the War that Matters
In June, Austin “Scott” Miller, the special-ops general chosen to be the 17th U.S. commander in Afghanistan, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like so many of the generals who had preceded him, he suggested that he saw evidence of “progress” in the Afghan war, even if he refused to “guarantee you a timeline or an end date.” Smart move, general!
As it happens, just over a week ago, he got a dose, up close and personal, of what the Afghan version of “progress” really means. He was visiting key American allies in the southern province of Kandahar when the “insider” attack of all insider attacks occurred. In the sort of event that’s been going on since at least 2010, an ostensible ally, in this case a local member of the Afghan security forces who had evidently joined the Taliban, turned his gun on Kandahar’s chief of police (a crucial powerbroker in the region), the local intelligence chief, and the provincial governor, killing the first two and wounding the third. In the process, he ensured that, with local leadership literally down the tubes, elections in Kandahar would be postponed for at least a week. Three Americans, including a brigadier general, were also wounded in the attack.  (In 2014, an American major general was killed in just such an insider strike.)  In one of the rarest acts for an American commander in memory, General Miller reportedly drew his sidearm as the bullets began to fly, but was himself untouched. Still, it was a striking reminder that, 17 years after the U.S. invaded that country, the Taliban are again riding high and represent the only forces making “progress” or “turning corners” in that country.
In a conflict with no end in sight that is now not only the longest in American history but more than four times as long as World War II, the “finest fighting force that the world has ever known” hasn’t been able to discover a hint of victory anywhere. And that’s something that could be said as well of the rest of its war on terror across the Greater Middle East and ever-expanding regions of Africa. Today, TomDispatch regular retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore suggests that no great military stays at war for 17 years unless it is, in some sense, victorious. As a result, in his latest post, he explores just where, in our increasingly upside-down American world, evidence of such triumph might be found. Tom
Why American Leaders Persist in Waging Losing Wars
Hint: They’re Winning in Other Ways
By William J. Astore
As America enters the 18th year of its war in Afghanistan and its 16th in Iraq, the war on terror continues in Yemen, Syria, and parts of Africa, including Libya, Niger, and Somalia. Meanwhile, the Trump administration threatens yet more war, this time with Iran. (And given these last years, just how do you imagine that’s likely to turn out?) Honestly, isn’t it time Americans gave a little more thought to why their leaders persist in waging losing wars across significant parts of the planet?  So consider the rest of this piece my attempt to do just that.
Let’s face it: profits and power should be classified as perennial reasons why U.S. leaders persist in waging such conflicts. War may be a racket, as General Smedley Butler claimed long ago, but who cares these days since business is booming? And let’s add to such profits a few other all-American motivations. Start with the fact that, in some curious sense, war is in the American bloodstream. As former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges once put it, "War is a force that gives us meaning." Historically, we Americans are a violent people who have invested much in a self-image of toughness now being displayed across the “global battlespace.” (Hence all the talk in this country not about our soldiers but about our “warriors.”) As the bumper stickers I see regularly where I live say: “God, guns, & guts made America free.” To make the world freer, why not export all three?

Add in, as well, the issue of political credibility. No president wants to appear weak and in the United States of the last many decades, pulling back from a war has been the definition of weakness. No one -- certainly not Donald Trump -- wants to be known as the president who “lost” Afghanistan or Iraq. As was true of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the Vietnam years, so in this century fear of electoral defeat has helped prolong the country’s hopeless wars. Generals, too, have their own fears of defeat, fears that drive them to escalate conflicts (call it the urge to surge) and even to advocate for the use of nuclear weapons, as General William Westmoreland did in 1968 during the Vietnam War.
Washington’s own deeply embedded illusions and deceptions also serve to generate and perpetuate its wars. Lauding our troops as “freedom fighters” for peace and prosperity, presidents like George W. Bush have waged a set of brutal wars in the name of spreading democracy and a better way of life. The trouble is: incessant war doesn’t spread democracy -- though in the twenty-first century we’ve learned that it does spread terror groups -- it kills it. At the same time, our leaders, military and civilian, have given us a false picture of the nature of the wars they’re fighting. They continue to present the U.S. military and its vaunted “smart” weaponry as a precision surgical instrument capable of targeting and destroying the cancer of terrorism, especially of the radical Islamic variety. Despite the hoopla about them, however, those precision instruments of war turn out to be blunt indeed, leading to the widespread killing of innocents, the massive displacement of people across America’s war zones, and floods of refugees who have, in turn, helped spark the rise of the populist right in lands otherwise still at peace.
Lurking behind the incessant warfare of this century is another belief, particularly ascendant in the Trump White House: that big militaries and expensive weaponry represent “investments” in a better future -- as if the Pentagon were the Bank of America or Wall Street. Steroidal military spending continues to be sold as a key to creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitive edge, as if war were America’s primary business. (And perhaps it is!)
Those who facilitate enormous military budgets and frequent conflicts abroad still earn special praise here. Consider, for example, Senator John McCain’s rapturous final sendoff, including the way arms maker Lockheed Martin lauded him as an American hero supposedly tough and demanding when it came to military contractors. (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)
Put all of this together and what you’re likely to come up with is the American version of George Orwell's famed formulation in his novel 1984: "war is peace."
The War the Pentagon Knew How to Win
Twenty years ago, when I was a major on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, a major concern was the possible corroding of civil-military relations -- in particular, a growing gap between the military and the civilians who were supposed to control them. I’m a clipper of newspaper articles and I saved some from that long-gone era. “Sharp divergence found in views of military and civilians,” reported the New York Times in September 1999. “Civilians, military seen growing apart,” noted the Washington Post a month later. Such pieces were picking up on trends already noted by distinguished military commentators like Thomas Ricks and Richard Kohn. In July 1997, for instance, Ricks had written an influential Atlantic article, “The Widening Gap between the Military and Society.” In 1999, Kohn gave a lecture at the Air Force Academy titled “The Erosion of Civilian Control of the Military in the United States Today.”
A generation ago, such commentators worried that the all-volunteer military was becoming an increasingly conservative and partisan institution filled with generals and admirals contemptuous of civilians, notably then-President Bill Clinton. At the time, according to one study, 64% of military officers identified as Republicans, only 8% as Democrats and, when it came to the highest levels of command, that figure for Republicans was in the stratosphere, approaching 90%. Kohn quoted a West Point graduate as saying, “We’re in danger of developing our own in-house Soviet-style military, one in which if you’re not in ‘the party,’ you don’t get ahead.” In a similar fashion, 67% of military officers self-identified as politically conservative, only 4% as liberal.
In a 1998 article for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Ricks noted that “the ratio of conservatives to liberals in the military” had gone from “about 4 to 1 in 1976, which is about where I would expect a culturally conservative, hierarchical institution like the U.S. military to be, to 23 to 1 in 1996.” This “creeping politicization of the officer corps,” Ricks concluded, was creating a less professional military, one in the process of becoming “its own interest group.” That could lead, he cautioned, to an erosion of military effectiveness if officers were promoted based on their political leanings rather than their combat skills.
How has the civil-military relationship changed in the last two decades? Despite bending on social issues (gays in the military, women in more combat roles), today’s military is arguably neither more liberal nor less partisan than it was in the Clinton years. It certainly hasn’t returned to its citizen-soldier roots via a draft. Change, if it’s come, has been on the civilian side of the divide as Americans have grown both more militarized and more partisan (without any greater urge to sign up and serve). In this century, the civil-military divide of a generation ago has been bridged by endless celebrations of that military as “the best of us” (as Vice President Mike Pence recently put it).
Such expressions, now commonplace, of boundless faith in and thankfulness for the military are undoubtedly driven in part by guilt over neither serving, nor undoubtedly even truly caring. Typically, Pence didn’t serve and neither did Donald Trump (those pesky “heel spurs”). As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich put it in 2007: “To assuage uneasy consciences, the many who do not serve [in the all-volunteer military] proclaim their high regard for the few who do. This has vaulted America’s fighting men and women to the top of the nation’s moral hierarchy. The character and charisma long ago associated with the pioneer or the small farmer -- or carried in the 1960s by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement -- has now come to rest upon the soldier.” This elevation of “our” troops as America’s moral heroes feeds a Pentagon imperative that seeks to isolate the military from criticism and its commanders from accountability for wars gone horribly wrong.
Paradoxically, Americans have become both too detached from their military and too deferential to it. We now love to applaud that military, which, the pollsters tell us, enjoys a significantly higher degree of trust and approval from the public than the presidency, Congress, the media, the Catholic church, or the Supreme Court. What that military needs, however, in this era of endless war is not loud cheers, but tough love.
As a retired military man, I do think our troops deserve a measure of esteem. There's a selfless ethic to the military that should seem admirable in this age of selfies and selfishness. That said, the military does not deserve the deference of the present moment, nor the constant adulation it gets in endless ceremonies at any ballpark or sporting arena. Indeed, deference and adulation, the balm of military dictatorships, should be poison to the military of a democracy.
With U.S. forces endlessly fighting ill-begotten wars, whether in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Iraq and Afghanistan four decades later, it’s easy to lose sight of where the Pentagon continues to maintain a truly winning record: right here in the U.S.A. Today, whatever’s happening on the country’s distant battlefields, the idea that ever more inflated military spending is an investment in making America great again reigns supreme -- as it has, with little interruption, since the 1980s and the era of President Ronald Reagan.
The military’s purpose should be, as Richard Kohn put it long ago, “to defend society, not to define it. The latter is militarism.” With that in mind, think of the way various retired military men lined up behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, including a classically unhinged performance by retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (he of the “lock her up” chants) for Trump at the Republican convention and a shout-out of a speech by retired General John Allen for Clinton at the Democratic one. America’s presidential candidates, it seemed, needed to be anointed by retired generals, setting a dangerous precedent for future civil-military relations.
A Letter From My Senator 
A few months back, I wrote a note to one of my senators to complain about America’s endless wars and received a signed reply via email. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it was a canned response, but no less telling for that. My senator began by praising American troops as “tough, smart, and courageous, and they make huge sacrifices to keep our families safe. We owe them all a true debt of gratitude for their service.” OK, I got an instant warm and fuzzy feeling, but seeking applause wasn’t exactly the purpose of my note.
My senator then expressed support for counterterror operations, for, that is, "conducting limited, targeted operations designed to deter violent extremists that pose a credible threat to America's national security, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), localized extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists.” My senator then added a caveat, suggesting that the military should obey “the law of armed conflict” and that the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that Congress hastily approved in the aftermath of 9/11 should not be interpreted as an “open-ended mandate” for perpetual war.
Finally, my senator voiced support for diplomacy as well as military action, writing, “I believe that our foreign policy should be smart, tough, and pragmatic, using every tool in the toolbox -- including defense, diplomacy, and development -- to advance U.S. security and economic interests around the world.” The conclusion: “robust” diplomacy must be combined with a “strong” military.
Now, can you guess the name and party affiliation of that senator? Could it have been Lindsey Graham or Jeff Flake, Republicans who favor a beyond-strong military and endlessly aggressive counterterror operations? Of course, from that little critical comment on the AUMF, you’ve probably already figured out that my senator is a Democrat. But did you guess that my military-praising, counterterror-waging representative was Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts?
Full disclosure: I like Warren and have made small contributions to her campaign. And her letter did stipulate that she believed “military action should always be a last resort.” Still, nowhere in it was there any critique of, or even passingly critical commentary about, the U.S. military, or the still-spreading war on terror, or the never-ending Afghan War, or the wastefulness of Pentagon spending, or the devastation wrought in these years by the last superpower on this planet. Everything was anodyne and safe -- and this from a senator who’s been pilloried by the right as a flaming liberal and caricatured as yet another socialist out to destroy America.
I know what you’re thinking: What choice does Warren have but to play it safe? She can’t go on record criticizing the military. (She’s already gotten in enough trouble in my home state for daring to criticize the police.) If she doesn’t support a “strong” U.S. military presence globally, how could she remain a viable presidential candidate in 2020?
And I would agree with you, but with this little addendum: Isn’t that proof that the Pentagon has won its most important war, the one that captured -- to steal a phrase from another losing war -- the “hearts and minds” of America? In this country in 2018, as in 2017, 2016, and so on, the U.S. military and its leaders dictate what is acceptable for us to say and do when it comes to our prodigal pursuit of weapons and wars.
So, while it’s true that the military establishment failed to win those “hearts and minds” in Vietnam or more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, they sure as hell didn’t fail to win them here. In Homeland, U.S.A., in fact, victory has been achieved and, judging by the latest Pentagon budgets, it couldn’t be more overwhelming.
If you ask -- and few Americans do these days -- why this country’s losing wars persist, the answer should be, at least in part: because there’s no accountability. The losers in those wars have seized control of our national narrative. They now define how the military is seen (as an investment, a boon, a good and great thing); they now shape how we view our wars abroad (as regrettable perhaps, but necessary and also a sign of national toughness); they now assign all serious criticism of the Pentagon to what they might term the defeatist fringe.
In their hearts, America’s self-professed warriors know they’re right. But the wrongs they’ve committed, and continue to commit, in our name will not be truly righted until Americans begin to reject the madness of rampant militarism, bloated militaries, and endless wars.
A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and professor of history, Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Storyand Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands.
Copyright 2018 William J. Astore

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176487/ 


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