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Endless War: Obama Secretly Extends US War on Afghanistan November 22, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: who is writing the script for this horror movie, Joseph Goebbels or George Orwell?  Who else could come up with such winners as “Operation Enduring Freedom” which has now morphed, thanks to War-Criminal-in-Chief Obama, into “Operation Resolute Support?”  To describe aggressive warfare and the murder of innocent civilians?  To maintain control over oil pipelines?

Why does that 1960s chant ring in my head: “Hey, Hey, LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?”

 

dead-children

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Obama allowed the military to dictate the terms of the endgame in Afghanistan

 

Last May 27, in an announcement in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said:

“2014, therefore, is a pivotal year.  Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan… America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country.  American personnel will be in an advisory role.  We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys.  That is a task for the Afghan people.”

Never mind.

The president has now quietly authorized an expanded role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported last night that Obama’s decision is the result of “a lengthy and heated debate” between the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon won. An official told the Times that “the military pretty much got what it wanted.”

Obama has also given the war in Afghanistan a new name: Operation Resolute Support.

Obama’s secret decision will keep American troops on the ground and fighting for at least another year and the US will continue using F-16 fighter jets, Predator and Reaper drones, and B-1 bombers.

US Plans for Perpetual War January 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
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Published on Saturday, January 28, 2012 by Common Dreams

  by  Renee Parsons

As an attack on Iran remains temporarily on the backburner and Syria, home to US-identified terrorist group Hamas, moves up the queue as the next target for military intervention, both are part of a larger strategy proposed to newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.

The “Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” suggested a “new approach to peace’ premised on a ‘clean break’ from the Oslo peace process of the 1990’s. Oslo would have withdrawn Israeli troops from the occupied territories while affirming Palestine’s right of self-determination. Rather than pursuing a ‘comprehensive peace’ with the Arab world, Clean Break advocated an aggressive pre-emptive military strategy to destabilize Iraq and eliminate Saddam Hussein. In addition, Clean Break retained the ‘right of hot pursuit’ anywhere within the occupied territories and encouraged ‘seizing the initiative’ by “engaging” Hezbollah, Syria and Iran to trigger ultimate regime change.

The key authors of that document, American neo-cons Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Douglas Feith (who Gen. Tommy Franks called the ‘f… stupidest guy on the face of the earth” i.e. Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, pg 281), soon found themselves influential national security positions within a receptive Bush Administration from which to proselytize their recommendations.

A decade later, the authors of that study are gone in name but their spirit of unending wars is alive and well within the Obama Administration’s recently announced “Defense Strategic Guidance” as part of “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” Where Clean Break offered what was then a radical Middle East military strategy, Obama’s DSG identifies US military priorities for the 21st century to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world” with an emphasis on the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region as the “greatest challenges for the future.” (Panetta, 1-5-2012)

Even prior to announcement of the DSG, the American military is still pursuing WMD’s as combat troops have been deployed to chase local ‘terrorists’ that pose no threat to the US; such as the Lord’s Army in Uganda and escalating a US military presence dispatching 2,500 Marines to Australia to protect US ‘national interests’ in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.

Addressing a January 5th news conference at the Pentagon, the president cited ‘enduring national interests’ as he read a prepared ten minute statement and left the podium without taking any questions; attending reporters remained in their places with bright, shiny faces leaving Defense Secretary Panetta and Joint Chief Martin Dempsey to carry on. With his usual eloquence, the president pledged that the United States is going to “maintain our military superiority … ready for the full range of contingencies and threats” and that ‘the US faces a complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe.”

The president’s grim pronouncements failed to reassure a US commitment to international law or to provide an analysis to justify a future of perpetual armed conflict and, as both Obama and Panetta postulated the pretense of victory in Iraq, neither acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room that if the systematic destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of U.S. interventions was an example of providing for a ‘safer, more stable, prosperous world,’ then perhaps the world would be better off if the United States stayed at home and minded its own business..

In a questionable grip on reality, the president recounted the ‘extraordinary’ growth of country’s military budget since 9/11 as he acknowledged that “global responsibilities demand leadership, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.” Obama went on to make the prediction that the American people will “accept a defense budget” that ‘continues to be larger than roughly the next ten countries combined.” As the news networks almost entirely allowed the implications of DSG to slide under the radar neglecting to inform the American public of the president’s generosity regarding his new military strategy, the average American taxpayer remains unaware of Obama’s future foreign policy objectives and its consequences for social programs that millions of Americans rely on. Nor has the American taxpayer benefited from a presidential explanation of how a budget ‘larger than it was’ will affect the country’s fragile economic stability.

With passage of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to prepare budget projections for all Federal departments. Those projections are premised on a baseline budget process that predicts future budget increases based on inflation, new programs, increased administrative costs, etc. In a bi-partisan game of smoke and mirrors intent on tricking the taxpayer, it is reductions to this baseline budget projection that the Pentagon is now heralding as ‘cuts.’ Therefore, the $487 billion in ‘cuts’ over the next ten years are, in reality, coming out of the projections prepared by the CBO which explains why there are no cuts to any major weapons program.

In addition, with the Pentagon’s four-year baseline budget cycle of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 at $515 billion, $533 billion, $549 billion and $531 billion, respectively; for the president and Panetta to claim that the proposed ‘baseline’ budget for 2013 of $525 billion is a dramatic cut representing significant savings does not meet the straight-face test or their ethical obligation to the country.

Neither the president nor Panetta felt any need to articulate a credible global threat that requires eternal armed vigilance as the country continues to dismantle its People Programs and as its infrastructure continues to crumble — nor did either provide the American people with a thoughtful rationale for who, why, when, where and how.

In sync with Clean Break’s principles, DSG provides a framework for reassuring any nervous Nellies of the US ability to sustain multiple wars simultaneously in multiple global locations as Secretary Panetta suggested “from a land war in South Korea and at the same time, threats in the Strait of Hormuz” (1-5-2012 news conference Q&A).

As DSG transforms the nature of US combat realigning its forces beyond the Mideast, the US will “of necessity” rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region in recognition of the ‘growth of China’s military power….to avoid causing friction in the region.” Recognizing that ‘over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to effect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways,” refers to more than just the US missing an interest payment on its debt or China knocking on our door to demand payment.

DSG eschews diplomacy as a viable alternative in favor of a military response to international tensions with a reduction in the need for ‘boots on the ground’ while relying on an increase in a leaner, meaner new generation of remote-powered guilt-free drones, the weapon that Ron Paul suggests are unconstitutional, and more agile, flexible Special Op troops.

After the president’s departure, Panetta, once known as a liberal House Democrat from California, began to morph into a gnarl-faced Dr. Strangelove with every utterance of war, enemies, threats, death and destruction as he touted U.S. military dominance and its ability to “decisively prevail in any conflict.’

With the world’s largest military force including an incomparable nuclear arsenal and a budget to match, exactly who are we protecting the Homeland from — and what condition will it be in when they arrive? If al Qaeda’s goal was to destroy the country’s quality of life, its economic prosperity or its high regard for the First Amendment and civil liberties while creating a second-rate banana republic, they have done a terrific job.

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Renee Parsons

Renee Parsons was a lobbyist for Friends of the Earth in Washington, D.C. focusing on nuclear energy issues. While at FOE, she was responsible for a TRO that stopped the Dept of Energy from conducting an experimental drilling program at 12 locations along the perimeter of Canyonlands National Park as a possible high-level nuclear waste repository. Her efforts included opposing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and organizing the coalition that successfully defunded the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. She also served as staff in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council (Colorado) and served four years as Councilor and Mayor.

Christopher Hitchens and the protocol for public figure deaths December 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, Political Commentary.
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Etiquette-based prohibitions on speaking ill of the dead should apply to private individuals, not public figures

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

FILE – In this Sept. 14, 2005 file photo, British essayist Christopher Hitchens speaks during a debate in New York.  (AP Photo/Chad Rachman, File) (Credit: Associated Press)

One of the most intensely propagandistic weeks in the last several decades began on June 5, 2004, the day Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93 in Bel Air, California. For the next six days, his body was transported to, and his casket displayed in, multiple venues around the nation — first to a funeral home in Santa Monica; then to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, where it remained for two full days as over 100,000 people paid their respects; then onto the U.S. Capitol, where his casket was taken by horse-drawn caisson along Constitution Avenue, and then lay in state under the dome for the next day-and-a-half; then to a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral presided over by President Bush and attended by dozens of past and present world leaders; and then back to the Presidential Library in California, where another service was held and his body finally interred. Few U.S. Presidents in history, if any, have received anything comparable upon their death; as CNN anchor Judy Woodruff observed the day Reagan’s body arrived in the capital: “Washington has not seen the likes of this for more than 30 years.”

Each one of those mournful events was nationally televised and drenched in somber, intense pageantry. At the center of it all was the prominently displayed grief of his second wife, Nancy, to whom he was married for 52 years. The iconic moment of the week-long national funeral occurred on the last day, at the internment, when she broke down for the first time and famously hugged and kissed her husband’s casket, while holding a folded American flag, seemingly unwilling to let him go immediately before his body was lowered into the ground.

But the most notable aspect of that intense public ritual was the full-scale canonization of this deeply controversial, divisive and consequential political figure. Americans — including millions too young to remember his presidency — were bombarded with a full week of media discussions which completely whitewashed Reagan’s actions in office: that which made him an important enough historical figure to render his death worthy of such worldwide attention in the first place. There was a virtual media prohibition on expressing a single critical utterance about what he did as President and any harm that he caused. That’s not because the elegies to Reagan were apolitical — they were aggressively political — but because nothing undercutting his deification was permitted. Typifying the unbroken,week-long media tone of reverence was this from Woodruff at the start of CNN’s broadcast on the day Reagan’s casket arrived in Washington:

We are witnessing a moment in history, a moment when this city, which is hustle-bustle personified, a city where people fiercely protect their interests and lobby for the issues that matter most to them, all that is put aside, politics is put aside, while we pay respects and deep honor to this president, who literally changed a generation, if not more, of American students of politics.

I have talked to so many young people over the last few days who came up to me and said, I started paying attention to politics because of Ronald Reagan.

Just a little while ago, I was talking with Tom DeLay, the majority leader of the House. He, I got into politics. He said, I ran to be chairman of the my precinct. He said, I was a businessman. I was running an insects — he called it a bug business. It was insect removal. And he said, Ronald Reagan inspired me to get into politics. I’d been sitting around griping, and he was the one. He gave me reason to get involved and to think that we could make a difference.”

So he changed, he inspired, and we now have a chance today and through this whole week to take note of him.

The key claim there was that “politics is put aside.” That’s precisely what did not happen. The entire spectacle was political to its core. Following Woodruff’s proclamation were funeral speeches, all broadcast by CNN, by then-House Speaker Denny Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney hailing the former President for gifting the nation with peace and prosperity, rejuvenating national greatness, and winning the Cold War. This scene repeated itself over and over during that week: extremely politicized tributes to the greatness of Ronald Reagan continuously broadcast to the nation without challenge and endorsed by its “neutral” media — all shielded from refutation or balance by the grief of a widow and social mores that bar one from speaking ill of the dead.

That week forever changed how Ronald Reagan — and his conservative ideology — were perceived. As Gallup put it in 2004: Reagan had, at best, “routinely average ratings . . . while he served in office between 1981 and 1989.” Indeed, “the two presidents who followed Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher average ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents — Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower.”

Though he became more popular after leaving office (like most Presidents), it was that week-long bombardment of hagiography that sealed Reagan’s status as Great and Cherished Leader. As media and political figures lavished him with politicized praise, there was virtually no mention of the brutal, civilian-extinguishing covert wars he waged in Central America, his funding of terrorists in Nicaragua, the pervasive illegality of the Iran-contra scandal perpetrated by his top aides and possibly himself, the explosion of wealth and income inequality ushered in by “Reagonmics” which persists today, his escalation of the racially disparate Drug War, his slashing of domestic programs for the poor accompanied by a deficit-causing build-up in the military budget, the racially-tinged (at least) attacks on welfare-queens-in-Cadillacs, the Savings & Loan crisis resulting from deregulation, his refusal even to acknowledge AIDS as tens of thousands of the Wrong People died, the training of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan and arming of the Iranian regime, the attempt to appoint the radical Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, or virtually anything else that would undermine the canonization. The country was drowned by a full, uninterrupted week of pure, leader-reverent propaganda.

This happened because of an unhealthy conflation of appropriate post-death etiquette for private persons and the etiquette governing deaths of public figures. They are not and should not be the same. We are all taught that it is impolite to speak ill of the dead, particularly in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death. For a private person, in a private setting, that makes perfect sense. Most human beings are complex and shaped by conflicting drives, defined by both good and bad acts. That’s more or less what it means to be human. And — when it comes to private individuals — it’s entirely appropriate to emphasize the positives of someone’s life and avoid criticisms upon their death: it comforts their grieving loved ones and honors their memory. In that context, there’s just no reason, no benefit, to highlight their flaws.

But that is completely inapplicable to the death of a public person, especially one who is political. When someone dies who is a public figure by virtue of their political acts — like Ronald Reagan — discussions of them upon death will be inherently politicized. How they are remembered is not strictly a matter of the sensitivities of their loved ones, but has substantial impact on the culture which discusses their lives. To allow significant political figures to be heralded with purely one-sided requiems — enforced by misguided (even if well-intentioned) notions of private etiquette that bar discussions of their bad acts — is not a matter of politeness; it’s deceitful and propagandistic. To exploit the sentiments of sympathy produced by death to enshrine a political figure as Great and Noble is to sanction, or at best minimize, their sins. Misapplying private death etiquette to public figures creates false history and glorifies the ignoble.

* * * * *

All of this was triggered for me by the death this week of Christopher Hitchens and the remarkably undiluted, intense praise lavished on him by media discussions. Part of this is explained by the fact that Hitchens — like other long-time media figures, such as Tim Russert — had personal interactions with huge numbers of media figures who are shaping how he is remembered in death. That’s understandable: it’s difficult for any human being to ignore personal feelings, and it’s even more difficult in the face of the tragic death of a vibrant person at a much younger age than is normal.

But for the public at large, at least those who knew of him, Hitchens was an extremely controversial, polarizing figure. And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writing but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.

Corey Robin wrote that “on the announcement of his death, I think it’s fair to allow Christopher Hitchens to do the things he loved to do most: speak for himself,” and then assembled two representative passages from Hitchens’ post-9/11 writings. In the first, Hitchens celebrated the ability of cluster bombs to penetrate through a Koran that a Muslim may be carrying in his coat pocket  (“those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, ‘Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.’ No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words”), and in the second, Hitchens explained that his reaction to the 9/11 attack was “exhilaration” because it would unleash an exciting, sustained war against what he came addictively to call “Islamofascism”: “I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost.”

Hitchens, of course, never “prosecuted” the “exhilarating” war by actually fighting in it, but confined his “prosecution” to cheering for it and persuading others to support it. As one of Hitchens’ heroes, George Orwell, put it perfectly in Homage to Catalonia about the anti-fascist, tough-guy war writers of his time:

As late as October 1937 the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that ‘the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman’s legs’ was ‘a commonplace’ in Loyalist Spain.

The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

I rarely wrote about Hitchens because, at least for the time that I’ve been writing about politics (since late 2005), there was nothing particularly notable about him. When it came to the defining issues of the post-9/11 era, he was largely indistinguishable from the small army of neoconservative fanatics eager to unleash ever-greater violence against Muslims: driven by a toxic mix of barbarism, self-loving provincialism, a sense of personal inadequacy, and, most of all, a pity-inducing need to find glory and purpose in cheering on military adventures and vanquishing some foe of historically unprecedented evil even if it meant manufacturing them. As Robin put it:

Hitchens had a reputation for being an internationalist. Yet someone who gets excited by mass murder—and then invokes that excitement, to a waiting audience, as an explanation of his support for mass murder—is not an internationalist.  He is a narcissist, the most provincial spirit of all.

Hitchens was obviously more urbane and well-written than the average neocon faux-warrior, but he was also often more vindictive and barbaric about his war cheerleading. One of the only writers with the courage to provide the full picture of Hitchens upon his death was Gawker‘s John Cook, who — in an extremely well-written and poignant obituary – detailed Hitchens’ vehement, unapologetic passion for the attack on Iraq and his dismissive indifference to the mass human suffering it caused, accompanied by petty contempt for those who objected (he denounced the Dixie Chicks as being “sluts” and “fucking fat slags” for the crime of mildly disparaging the Commander-in-Chief). As Cook put it: “it must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong”; indeed: “People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made.”

Subordinating his brave and intellectually rigorous defense of atheism, Hitchens’ glee over violence, bloodshed, and perpetual war dominated the last decade of his life. Dennis Perrin, a friend and former protégée of Hitchens, described all the way back in 2003 how Hitchens’ virtues as a writer and thinker were fully swamped by his pulsating excitement over war and the Bush/Cheney imperial agenda:

I can barely read him anymore. His pieces in the Brit tabloid The Mirror and in Slate are a mishmash of imperial justifications and plain bombast; the old elegant style is dead. His TV appearances show a smug, nasty scold with little tolerance for those who disagree with him. He looks more and more like a Ralph Steadman sketch. And in addition to all this, he’s now revising what he said during the buildup to the Iraq war.

In several pieces, including an incredibly condescending blast against Nelson Mandela, Hitch went on and on about WMD, chided readers with “Just you wait!” and other taunts, fully confident that once the U.S. took control of Iraq, tons of bio/chem weapons and labs would be all over the cable news nets–with him dancing a victory jig in the foreground. Now he says WMD were never a real concern, and that he’d always said so. It’s amazing that he’d dare state this while his earlier pieces can be read at his website. But then, when you side with massive state power and the cynical fucks who serve it, you can say pretty much anything and the People Who Matter won’t care.

Currently, Hitch is pushing the line, in language that echoes the reactionary Paul Johnson, that the U.S. can be a “superpower for democracy,” and that Toms Jefferson [sic] and Paine would approve. He’s also slammed the “slut” Dixie Chicks as “fucking fat slags” for their rather mild critique of our Dear Leader. He favors Bush over Kerry, and doesn’t like it that Kerry ”exploits” his Vietnam combat experience (as opposed to, say, re-election campaign stunts on aircraft carriers).

Sweet Jesus. What next? I’m afraid my old mentor is not the truth-telling Orwell he fancies himself to be. He’s becoming a coarser version of Norman Podhoretz.

One of the last political essays he wrote in his life, for Slate, celebrated the virtues of Endless War.

* * * * *

Nobody should have to silently watch someone with this history be converted into some sort of universally beloved literary saint. To enshrine him as worthy of unalloyed admiration is to insist that these actions were either themselves commendable or, at worst, insignificant. Nobody who writes about politics for decades will be entirely free of serious error, but how serious the error is, whether it reflects on their character, and whether they came to regret it, are all vital parts of honestly describing and assessing their work. To demand its exclusion is an act of dishonesty.

Nor should anyone be deterred by the manipulative, somewhat tyrannical use of sympathy: designed to render any post-death criticisms gauche and forbidden. Those hailing Hitchens’ greatness are engaged in a very public, affirmative, politically consequential effort to depict him as someone worthy of homage. That’s fine: Hitchens, like most people, did have admirable traits, impressive accomplishments, genuine talents and a periodic willingness to expose himself to danger to report on issues about which he was writing. But demanding in the name of politeness or civility that none of that be balanced or refuted by other facts is to demand a monopoly on how a consequential figure is remembered, to demand a license to propagandize — exactly what was done when the awful, power-worshipping TV host, Tim Russert, died, and we were all supposed to pretend that we had lost some Great Journalist, a pretense that had the distorting effect of equating Russert’s attributes of mindless subservience to the powerful with Good Journalism (ironically, Hitchens was the last person who would honor the etiquette rules being invoked on his behalf: he savaged (perfectly appropriately) Mother Theresa and Princess Diana, among others, upon their death, even as millions mourned them).

There’s one other aspect to the adulation of Hitchens that’s quite revealing. There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins. Part of that is the by-product of America’s refusal to come to terms with just how heinous and destructive was the attack on Iraq. That act of aggression is still viewed as a mere run-of-the-mill “mistake” — hey, we all make them, so we shouldn’t hold it against Hitch – rather than what it is: the generation’s worst political crime, one for which he remained fully unrepentant and even proud. But what these paeans to Hitchens reflect even more so is the warped values of our political and media culture: once someone is sufficiently embedded within that circle, they are intrinsically worthy of admiration and respect, no matter what it is that they actually do. As Aaron Bady put it to me by email yesterday:

I go back to something Judith Butler’s been saying for years; some lives are grievable and some are not. And in that context, publicly mourning someone like Hitchens in the way we are supposed to do — holding him up as someone who was “one of us,” even if we disagree with him — is also a way of quietly reinforcing the “we” that never seems to extend to the un-grievable Arab casualties of Hitch’s favorite wars. It’s also a “we” that has everything to do with being clever and literate and British (and nothing to do with a human universalism that stretches across the usual “us” and “them” categories). And when it is impolitic to mention that he was politically atrocious (in exactly the way of Kissinger, if not to the extent), we enshrine the same standard of human value as when the deaths of Iraqi children from cluster bombs are rendered politically meaningless by our lack of attention.

That’s precisely true. The blood on his hands — and on the hands of those who played an even greater, more direct role, in all of this totally unjustified killing of innocents — is supposed to be ignored because he was an accomplished member in good standing of our media and political class. It’s a way the political and media class protects and celebrates itself: our elite members are to be heralded and their victims forgotten. One is, of course, free to believe that. But what should not be tolerated are prohibitions on these types of discussions when highly misleading elegies are being publicly implanted, all in order to consecrate someone’s reputation for noble greatness even when their acts are squarely at odds with that effort.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.More Glenn Greenwald

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  • navamskeSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

Few U.S. Presidents in history, if any, have received anything comparable upon their death; as CNN anchor Judy Woodruff observed the day Reagan’s body arrived in the capital: “Washington has not seen the likes of this for more than 30 years.”

I wonder if Woodruff thought she was commenting pithily on what might charitably be called the pageantry, because that was simply a factual statement: Prior to Reagan, the last state funeral for a president was that of Lyndon Johnson, in 1973. (Richard Nixon, who died in 1994, didn’t get a state funeral — as per his own wishes, I believe, and not because he was, you know, a crook.) LBJ’s funeral wasn’t choreographed down to the last detail as Reagan’s was — how serendipitous that the closing moments of the spectacle coincided with the setting of the sun over the 40th president’s tomb and the Pacific beyond — so perhaps Woodruff could have commented on that aspect.

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

I seem to recall JFK’s funeral was fairly dramatic too.

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  • Starogo
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

JFK was murdered while in office. Reagan died an old man well after his presidency was over. How could you even compare the two?

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:54 am

To rebut the following: “Few U.S. Presidents in history, if any, have received anything comparable upon their death.”  Don’t get me wrong, as I am saying that JFK’s funeral was much more dramatic, being the first such event broadcast world-wide via live television.  As you point out, that was for an assassinated President (Lincoln’s slow train ride back to Illinois also comes to mind), but Washington’s funeral procession was just as comparable, if not more so.

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  • Idiotland
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 12:26 am

Forever and always, living in a self deluded bubble.

  • navamskeSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:57 am

I seem to recall JFK’s funeral was fairly dramatic too.

Choreographed. Dramatic. Two different words, two different meanings. Capiche?

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 11:00 am

Again, I wasn’t the one to claim: “Few U.S. Presidents in history, if any, have received anything comparable upon their death.” Perhaps your beef is with the author of those words instead of me?

  • navamskeSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

Perhaps your beef is with the author of those words instead of me?

No.

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Few doesn’t mean none, douchebag

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It will be so sad when Jimmy Carter goes.  Oh, the humanity!

  • OliverSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 9:44 am

I scarcely know where to begin.  So I’ll just remark that yours is among the most cogent and thoughtful columns I’ve ever read… “Cogent” because it is lens through which so much of the past decade (+) comes into focus; and “thoughtful” because it skips the reflexive in favor of the insight.

Thanks Glenn. You make a difference.

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:35 am

I took my 2-year old son to Simi Valley that next day, and we waited in a huge line for a bus to take us to the Ronald Reagan Library so we could pay our respects.  Hitchens won’t get anything close to that.

  • BeleckSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 11:19 am

Pay your respects to Reagan?

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 11:55 am

Yes.

In the interest of consolidating my comments into a single post, you’re welcome, Glenn. To talesofunrest: no, and I don’t hate America.

As for namvaske, do you also think that no other US President has received the following?

“For the next six days, his body was transported to, and his casket displayed in, multiple venues around the nation — first to a funeral home in Santa Monica; then to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, where it remained for two full days as over 100,000 people paid their respects; then onto the U.S. Capitol, where his casket was taken by horse-drawn caisson along Constitution Avenue, and then lay in state under the dome for the next day-and-a-half; then to a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral presided over by President Bush and attended by dozens of past and present world leaders; and then back to the Presidential Library in California, where another service was held and his body finally interred.”

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  • okieprof
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 12:38 am

I sent a small piece, mildly critical of Reagan to the faculty where I teach a few days after his death. It was personally polite, but critical of many of his policies. It asked where the morning was for the dead in Central America, AIDS victims, etc.

I’ve sent a lot of emails to that faculty over the years, before and since. And I’ve never had such a large and harsh response from so many so called liberals. How dare one speak ill of St. Ronnie? While I received as many responses in support, it was shocking to me just how many people buy into the notion Glenn describes.

And let’s be clear. “Speak no ill of dead Reagan” IS a covert endorsement of his politics in much the same way as “support the troops” is really just an endorsement for war. I’ll believe people are sincere in their speak no ill of the dead ethos when they apply it to bin Laden or another leader opposed to right-wing American interests (just wait until Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, or Jane Fonda dies…I’m betting no such hagiographic love fest). I’ll believe they support the troops when they quit passing anti-homeless ordinances which disproportionately effect vets and when they start supporting ALL the troops, including Ehren Watada and Bradley Manning.

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  • okieprof
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Ick, mourning.

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Great and thoughtful post.  Worthy of Hitchens’ own critique of Reagan and his ‘rictus of senile fury’ in his 2004 Slate piece ‘Not Even A Hedgehog’, which he later softened in February of this year with his follow-up, ‘Would America Have Been Better Off Without A Reagan Presidency?’.

Nudnik alert: shouldn’t “internment” be interment(?):

“The iconic moment of the week-long national funeral occurred on the last day, at the internment, when she broke down for the first time and famously hugged and kissed her husband’s casket, while holding a folded American flag, seemingly unwilling to let him go immediately before his body was lowered into the ground.”

Ibn al Rahman

  • PedinskaSalon Core Member
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 11:59 am

Re: “internment”.

That’s what you call one of them Freudidlian slippages. ;-}

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  • Clawrence3
  • Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:04 am

So we can all agree that Hitchens was a miscarriage then?

One of the clearest examples I know of for the ritual and protocol is in the reactions to the deaths of Edward Said and George Plimpton, who died on thesame day — 25 September 2003. Plimpton, a figure of little if any lasting note but threatening to none and obedient sycophant when power required, was hailed with unalloyed, glowing words across the spectrum.

Said, by contrast, was treated very cautiously, when he was treated well. Plenty — including Christopher Hitchens, who had once been a friend of Said’s — excoriated Said in vicious, often deceptive if not outright false language.

Astonishingly, something similar happened when the genuinely great political philosopher John Rawls died. Rawls was no progressive, but his theories seemed to carry pretty straightforward liberal, redistributive implications. The first New York Times obit to run described some of his views as “nonsense” (the Times’s own words). Wow. It took several days, an op-ed obit by (the now pro-torture) philosopher Martha Nussbaum to alter the tone on Rawls.

Look at the treatment of other genuine iconoclastic humanitarians and you will see no concern in the mainstream to treat them with respect in death.

Then, of course, there are the cases of people like Yasir Arafat, treatment with something approaching contempt by The New York Times and NPR. Okay. Maybe the man was ultimately contemptible. But why war criminals like Menachem Begin or Rehavam Zeevi or Ronald Reagan should be treated so gently tells us more about the toadying sycophants of mainstream media, Washington and academia than it does about those who have died.

One of the most intensely propagandistic weeks in the last several decades began on June 5, 2004, the day Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93 in Bel Air, California. For the next six days, his body was transported to, and his casket displayed in, multiple venues around the nation — first to a funeral home in Santa Monica; then to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, where it remained for two full days as over 100,000 people paid their respects; then onto the U.S. Capitol, where his casket was taken by horse-drawn caisson along Constitution Avenue, and then lay in state under the dome for the next day-and-a-half; then to a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral presided over by President Bush and attended by dozens of past and present world leaders; and then back to the Presidential Library in California, where another service was held and his body finally interred. Few U.S. Presidents in history, if any, have received anything comparable upon their death; as CNN anchor Judy Woodruff observed the day Reagan’s body arrived in the capital: “Washington has not seen the likes of this for more than 30 years.”

Each one of those mournful events was nationally televised and drenched in somber, intense pageantry. At the center of it all was the prominently displayed grief of his second wife, Nancy, to whom he was married for 52 years. The iconic moment of the week-long national funeral occurred on the last day, at the internment, when she broke down for the first time and famously hugged and kissed her husband’s casket, while holding a folded American flag, seemingly unwilling to let him go immediately before his body was lowered into the ground.

But the most notable aspect of that intense public ritual was the full-scale canonization of this deeply controversial, divisive and consequential political figure. Americans — including millions too young to remember his presidency — were bombarded with a full week of media discussions which completely whitewashed Reagan’s actions in office: that which made him an important enough historical figure to render his death worthy of such worldwide attention in the first place. There was a virtual media prohibition on expressing a single critical utterance about what he did as President and any harm that he caused. That’s not because the elegies to Reagan were apolitical — they were aggressively political — but because nothing undercutting his deification was permitted. Typifying the unbroken,week-long media tone of reverence was this from Woodruff at the start of CNN’s broadcast on the day Reagan’s casket arrived in Washington:

We are witnessing a moment in history, a moment when this city, which is hustle-bustle personified, a city where people fiercely protect their interests and lobby for the issues that matter most to them, all that is put aside, politics is put aside, while we pay respects and deep honor to this president, who literally changed a generation, if not more, of American students of politics.

I have talked to so many young people over the last few days who came up to me and said, I started paying attention to politics because of Ronald Reagan.

Just a little while ago, I was talking with Tom DeLay, the majority leader of the House. He, I got into politics. He said, I ran to be chairman of the my precinct. He said, I was a businessman. I was running an insects — he called it a bug business. It was insect removal. And he said, Ronald Reagan inspired me to get into politics. I’d been sitting around griping, and he was the one. He gave me reason to get involved and to think that we could make a difference.”

So he changed, he inspired, and we now have a chance today and through this whole week to take note of him.

The key claim there was that “politics is put aside.” That’s precisely what did not happen. The entire spectacle was political to its core. Following Woodruff’s proclamation were funeral speeches, all broadcast by CNN, by then-House Speaker Denny Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney hailing the former President for gifting the nation with peace and prosperity, rejuvenating national greatness, and winning the Cold War. This scene repeated itself over and over during that week: extremely politicized tributes to the greatness of Ronald Reagan continuously broadcast to the nation without challenge and endorsed by its “neutral” media — all shielded from refutation or balance by the grief of a widow and social mores that bar one from speaking ill of the dead.

That week forever changed how Ronald Reagan — and his conservative ideology — were perceived. As Gallup put it in 2004: Reagan had, at best, “routinely average ratings . . . while he served in office between 1981 and 1989.” Indeed, “the two presidents who followed Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher average ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents — Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower.”

Though he became more popular after leaving office (like most Presidents), it was that week-long bombardment of hagiography that sealed Reagan’s status as Great and Cherished Leader. As media and political figures lavished him with politicized praise, there was virtually no mention of the brutal, civilian-extinguishing covert wars he waged in Central America, his funding of terrorists in Nicaragua, the pervasive illegality of the Iran-contra scandal perpetrated by his top aides and possibly himself, the explosion of wealth and income inequality ushered in by “Reagonmics” which persists today, his escalation of the racially disparate Drug War, his slashing of domestic programs for the poor accompanied by a deficit-causing build-up in the military budget, the racially-tinged (at least) attacks on welfare-queens-in-Cadillacs, the Savings & Loan crisis resulting from deregulation, his refusal even to acknowledge AIDS as tens of thousands of the Wrong People died, the training of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan and arming of the Iranian regime, the attempt to appoint the radical Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, or virtually anything else that would undermine the canonization. The country was drowned by a full, uninterrupted week of pure, leader-reverent propaganda.

This happened because of an unhealthy conflation of appropriate post-death etiquette for private persons and the etiquette governing deaths of public figures. They are not and should not be the same. We are all taught that it is impolite to speak ill of the dead, particularly in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death. For a private person, in a private setting, that makes perfect sense. Most human beings are complex and shaped by conflicting drives, defined by both good and bad acts. That’s more or less what it means to be human. And — when it comes to private individuals — it’s entirely appropriate to emphasize the positives of someone’s life and avoid criticisms upon their death: it comforts their grieving loved ones and honors their memory. In that context, there’s just no reason, no benefit, to highlight their flaws.

But that is completely inapplicable to the death of a public person, especially one who is political. When someone dies who is a public figure by virtue of their political acts — like Ronald Reagan — discussions of them upon death will be inherently politicized. How they are remembered is not strictly a matter of the sensitivities of their loved ones, but has substantial impact on the culture which discusses their lives. To allow significant political figures to be heralded with purely one-sided requiems — enforced by misguided (even if well-intentioned) notions of private etiquette that bar discussions of their bad acts — is not a matter of politeness; it’s deceitful and propagandistic. To exploit the sentiments of sympathy produced by death to enshrine a political figure as Great and Noble is to sanction, or at best minimize, their sins. Misapplying private death etiquette to public figures creates false history and glorifies the ignoble.

* * * * *

All of this was triggered for me by the death this week of Christopher Hitchens and the remarkably undiluted, intense praise lavished on him by media discussions. Part of this is explained by the fact that Hitchens — like other long-time media figures, such as Tim Russert — had personal interactions with huge numbers of media figures who are shaping how he is remembered in death. That’s understandable: it’s difficult for any human being to ignore personal feelings, and it’s even more difficult in the face of the tragic death of a vibrant person at a much younger age than is normal.

But for the public at large, at least those who knew of him, Hitchens was an extremely controversial, polarizing figure. And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writing but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.

Corey Robin wrote that “on the announcement of his death, I think it’s fair to allow Christopher Hitchens to do the things he loved to do most: speak for himself,” and then assembled two representative passages from Hitchens’ post-9/11 writings. In the first, Hitchens celebrated the ability of cluster bombs to penetrate through a Koran that a Muslim may be carrying in his coat pocket  (“those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, ‘Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.’ No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words”), and in the second, Hitchens explained that his reaction to the 9/11 attack was “exhilaration” because it would unleash an exciting, sustained war against what he came addictively to call “Islamofascism”: “I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost.”

Hitchens, of course, never “prosecuted” the “exhilarating” war by actually fighting in it, but confined his “prosecution” to cheering for it and persuading others to support it. As one of Hitchens’ heroes, George Orwell, put it perfectly in Homage to Catalonia about the anti-fascist, tough-guy war writers of his time:

As late as October 1937 the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that ‘the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman’s legs’ was ‘a commonplace’ in Loyalist Spain.

The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

I rarely wrote about Hitchens because, at least for the time that I’ve been writing about politics (since late 2005), there was nothing particularly notable about him. When it came to the defining issues of the post-9/11 era, he was largely indistinguishable from the small army of neoconservative fanatics eager to unleash ever-greater violence against Muslims: driven by a toxic mix of barbarism, self-loving provincialism, a sense of personal inadequacy, and, most of all, a pity-inducing need to find glory and purpose in cheering on military adventures and vanquishing some foe of historically unprecedented evil even if it meant manufacturing them. As Robin put it:

Hitchens had a reputation for being an internationalist. Yet someone who gets excited by mass murder—and then invokes that excitement, to a waiting audience, as an explanation of his support for mass murder—is not an internationalist.  He is a narcissist, the most provincial spirit of all.

Hitchens was obviously more urbane and well-written than the average neocon faux-warrior, but he was also often more vindictive and barbaric about his war cheerleading. One of the only writers with the courage to provide the full picture of Hitchens upon his death was Gawker‘s John Cook, who — in an extremely well-written and poignant obituary – detailed Hitchens’ vehement, unapologetic passion for the attack on Iraq and his dismissive indifference to the mass human suffering it caused, accompanied by petty contempt for those who objected (he denounced the Dixie Chicks as being “sluts” and “fucking fat slags” for the crime of mildly disparaging the Commander-in-Chief). As Cook put it: “it must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong”; indeed: “People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made.”

Subordinating his brave and intellectually rigorous defense of atheism, Hitchens’ glee over violence, bloodshed, and perpetual war dominated the last decade of his life. Dennis Perrin, a friend and former protégée of Hitchens, described all the way back in 2003 how Hitchens’ virtues as a writer and thinker were fully swamped by his pulsating excitement over war and the Bush/Cheney imperial agenda:

I can barely read him anymore. His pieces in the Brit tabloid The Mirror and in Slate are a mishmash of imperial justifications and plain bombast; the old elegant style is dead. His TV appearances show a smug, nasty scold with little tolerance for those who disagree with him. He looks more and more like a Ralph Steadman sketch. And in addition to all this, he’s now revising what he said during the buildup to the Iraq war.

In several pieces, including an incredibly condescending blast against Nelson Mandela, Hitch went on and on about WMD, chided readers with “Just you wait!” and other taunts, fully confident that once the U.S. took control of Iraq, tons of bio/chem weapons and labs would be all over the cable news nets–with him dancing a victory jig in the foreground. Now he says WMD were never a real concern, and that he’d always said so. It’s amazing that he’d dare state this while his earlier pieces can be read at his website. But then, when you side with massive state power and the cynical fucks who serve it, you can say pretty much anything and the People Who Matter won’t care.

Currently, Hitch is pushing the line, in language that echoes the reactionary Paul Johnson, that the U.S. can be a “superpower for democracy,” and that Toms Jefferson [sic] and Paine would approve. He’s also slammed the “slut” Dixie Chicks as “fucking fat slags” for their rather mild critique of our Dear Leader. He favors Bush over Kerry, and doesn’t like it that Kerry ”exploits” his Vietnam combat experience (as opposed to, say, re-election campaign stunts on aircraft carriers).

Sweet Jesus. What next? I’m afraid my old mentor is not the truth-telling Orwell he fancies himself to be. He’s becoming a coarser version of Norman Podhoretz.

One of the last political essays he wrote in his life, for Slate, celebrated the virtues of Endless War.

* * * * *

Nobody should have to silently watch someone with this history be converted into some sort of universally beloved literary saint. To enshrine him as worthy of unalloyed admiration is to insist that these actions were either themselves commendable or, at worst, insignificant. Nobody who writes about politics for decades will be entirely free of serious error, but how serious the error is, whether it reflects on their character, and whether they came to regret it, are all vital parts of honestly describing and assessing their work. To demand its exclusion is an act of dishonesty.

Nor should anyone be deterred by the manipulative, somewhat tyrannical use of sympathy: designed to render any post-death criticisms gauche and forbidden. Those hailing Hitchens’ greatness are engaged in a very public, affirmative, politically consequential effort to depict him as someone worthy of homage. That’s fine: Hitchens, like most people, did have admirable traits, impressive accomplishments, genuine talents and a periodic willingness to expose himself to danger to report on issues about which he was writing. But demanding in the name of politeness or civility that none of that be balanced or refuted by other facts is to demand a monopoly on how a consequential figure is remembered, to demand a license to propagandize — exactly what was done when the awful, power-worshipping TV host, Tim Russert, died, and we were all supposed to pretend that we had lost some Great Journalist, a pretense that had the distorting effect of equating Russert’s attributes of mindless subservience to the powerful with Good Journalism (ironically, Hitchens was the last person who would honor the etiquette rules being invoked on his behalf: he savaged (perfectly appropriately) Mother Theresa and Princess Diana, among others, upon their death, even as millions mourned them).

There’s one other aspect to the adulation of Hitchens that’s quite revealing. There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins. Part of that is the by-product of America’s refusal to come to terms with just how heinous and destructive was the attack on Iraq. That act of aggression is still viewed as a mere run-of-the-mill “mistake” — hey, we all make them, so we shouldn’t hold it against Hitch – rather than what it is: the generation’s worst political crime, one for which he remained fully unrepentant and even proud. But what these paeans to Hitchens reflect even more so is the warped values of our political and media culture: once someone is sufficiently embedded within that circle, they are intrinsically worthy of admiration and respect, no matter what it is that they actually do. As Aaron Bady put it to me by email yesterday:

I go back to something Judith Butler’s been saying for years; some lives are grievable and some are not. And in that context, publicly mourning someone like Hitchens in the way we are supposed to do — holding him up as someone who was “one of us,” even if we disagree with him — is also a way of quietly reinforcing the “we” that never seems to extend to the un-grievable Arab casualties of Hitch’s favorite wars. It’s also a “we” that has everything to do with being clever and literate and British (and nothing to do with a human universalism that stretches across the usual “us” and “them” categories). And when it is impolitic to mention that he was politically atrocious (in exactly the way of Kissinger, if not to the extent), we enshrine the same standard of human value as when the deaths of Iraqi children from cluster bombs are rendered politically meaningless by our lack of attention.

That’s precisely true. The blood on his hands — and on the hands of those who played an even greater, more direct role, in all of this totally unjustified killing of innocents — is supposed to be ignored because he was an accomplished member in good standing of our media and political class. It’s a way the political and media class protects and celebrates itself: our elite members are to be heralded and their victims forgotten. One is, of course, free to believe that. But what should not be tolerated are prohibitions on these types of discussions when highly misleading elegies are being publicly implanted, all in order to consecrate someone’s reputation for noble greatness even when their acts are squarely at odds with that effort.

Glenn Greenwald
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Today in Endless War June 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Tuesday, Jun 21, 2011 07:22 ET

As usual, there are multiple events from just the last 24 hours vividly highlighting the nature of America’s ongoing — and escalating — posture of Endless War:

(1) In December, 2009, President Obama spoke at West Point and, while announcing his decision to (yet again) deploy more troops to Afghanistan, he assured the nation in a much-heralded vow that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”  He repeated that claim in May, 2010, prompting headlines declaring that Obama has set July, 2011 as the target date for when “withdrawal” from Afghanistan will begin.  Now we’re less than two weeks away from that target, and The New York Times today makes clear what “withdrawal” actually means:

President Obama plans to announce his decision on the scale and pace of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in a speech on Wednesday evening . . . Mr. Obama is considering options that range from a Pentagon-backed proposal to pull out only 5,000 troops this year to an aggressive plan to withdraw within 12 months all 30,000 troops the United States deployed to Afghanistan as part of the surge in December 2009.. . . .

Even after all 30,000 troops are withdrawn, roughly 68,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan, twice the number as when Mr. Obama assumed office.

 

So even under the most “aggressive” withdrawal plan the President is considering — one that he and media outlets will undoubtedly tout as a “withdrawal plan” (the headline on the NYT front page today: “Obama to Announce Plans for Afghan Pullout”) — there will still be “twice the number” of American troops in that country as there were when George Bush left office and Obama was inaugurated.  That’s what “withdrawal” means in American political parlance: doubling the number of troops fighting a foreign war over the course of four years.

 

(2) So frivolous and lawless are Obama’s excuses for waging war in Libya in violation of the War Powers Resolution that they have provoked incredibly harsh condemnations even from those who typically defend the President.  In The Washington Post today, Eugene Robinson aggressively denounces Obama’s arguments for waging war without Congress:

Let’s be honest: President Obama’s claim that U.S. military action in Libya doesn’t constitute “hostilities” is nonsense, and Congress is right to call him on it.

Blasting dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s troops and installations from above with unmanned drone aircraft may or may not be the right thing to do, but it’s clearly a hostile act. Likewise, providing intelligence, surveillance and logistical support that enable allied planes to attack Gaddafi’s military — and, increasingly, to target Gaddafi himself — can only be considered hostile. These are acts of war.

Yet Obama, with uncommon disregard for both language and logic, takes the position that what we are doing in Libya does not reach the “hostilities” threshold for triggering the War Powers Act, under which presidents must seek congressional approval for any military campaign lasting more than 90 days. House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s claim doesn’t meet the “straight-face test,” and he’s right. . . .

Most important, what are we doing there? Are we in Libya for altruistic or selfish reasons? Principles or oil? Assuming Gaddafi is eventually deposed or killed, then what? Do we just sail away? Or will we be stuck with yet another ruinously expensive exercise in nation building?

There’s also a moral question to consider. The advent of robotic drone aircraft makes it easier to wage war without suffering casualties. But without risk, can military action even be called war? Or is it really just slaughter?

 

Afghan War advocate Andrew Exum similarly condemns Obama’s attempt to justify violation of the WPR as “simply one of the stupidest things I’ve read in some time” and — echoing Robinson — proclaims that “it does not pass the laugh test.”  And in The New York Times, Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman explains that, through their lawyer-cherry-picking, “the White House has shattered the traditional legal process the executive branch has developed to sustain the rule of law over the past 75 years,” and adds:

From a moral perspective, there is a significant difference between authorizing torture and continuing a bombing campaign that may save thousands of Libyans from slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But from a legal viewpoint, Mr. Obama is setting an even worse precedent.

Although Mr. Yoo’s memos made a mockery of the applicable law, they at least had the approval of the Office of Legal Counsel. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s decision to disregard that office’s opinion and embrace the White House counsel’s view is undermining a key legal check on arbitrary presidential power.

 

And it’s always worth recalling that this is being done by a President who made restoration of “the rule of law” a centerpiece of his campaign.

 

(3) In Mother Jones, NYU Law School’s Karen Greenberg notes a trend that was as predictable as it is destructive: rather than signal an end to the “War on Terror,” the killing of Osama bin Laden has been seized upon by the bipartisan National Security State — led by the Obama administration — to expand its posture of Endless War and accelerate its assault on civil liberties.  Citing multiple examples subsequent to the bin Laden killing, she correctly observes:

The Obama administration and Congress have interpreted the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader as a virtual license to double down on every “front” in the war on terror. . . . One thing could not be doubted. The administration was visibly using the bin Laden moment to renew George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (even if without that moniker). . . . In other words, Washington now seems to be engaged in a wholesale post-bin Laden ratification of business as usual, but this time on steroids.

 

One of the more absurd (though, as a matter of hope, understandable) claims I’ve heard in quite awhile was that the killing of bin Laden would trigger a reduction in the abuses of the War on Terror — as though bin Laden was truly the cause of those abuses rather than the pretext for them.  The morning after the bin Laden killing, I wrote the following, addressing those optimistically proclaiming its likely benefits:

Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we’ve started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?

Those are rhetorical questions. None of those things will happen. If anything, I can much more easily envision the reverse. Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. One can already detect the stench of that in how Pakistan is being talked about: did they harbor bin Laden as it seems and, if so, what price should they pay? We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.

 

Read Greenberg’s piece, including the numerous examples she examines, to see if there’s any doubt that this is exactly what is happening.

 

(4) The war in Libya is starting to resemble virtually every other war: commenced with claimed humanitarian justifications; supported by well-meaning people convinced by the stated, official objectives; hailed as a short and easy task (“days, not weeks”); and then warped into a bloody, protracted conflict far from the original claims and without any real end in sight.  Earlier this week, one of the war’s most vocal supporters, Juan Cole, produced a list he entitled “Top Ten Mistakes in the Libya War,” including Obama’s failure to get Congressional approval, that “NATO has focused on a ‘shock and awe’ strategy of pounding the capital, Tripoli,” and that “NATO put its emphasis on taking out command and control in the capital instead of vigorously protecting civilian cities under attack.”

Perhaps that’s because “vigorously protecting civilians” was the pretext for the war, not the actual aim.  Yesterday, NATO admitted it killed multiple civilians — apparently including children — by bombing a house in a residential area.  It’s difficult to know exactly how many civilians NATO has killed thus far because Western armies don’t count their victims and the Gadaffi government’s claims are obviously unreliable, but whatever is true — including the fact that such killings are not intended —  they are the inevitable by-product of invading and bombing other countries.  The logic of war ensures that almost every conflict becomes more and more about such killing and less and less about the original lofty excuses for why they were started.

It’s thus not a surprise that 39 neocons — hilariously calling themselves “foreign policy experts” (including John Podhoretz, Liz Cheney, Gary Bauer, Marty Peretz, Karl Rove, Marc Theissen, and Bill Kristol) — issued a letter yesterday urging steadfast support for (and escalation of) the Libya War. Lofty justifications notwithstanding, this is exactly what they favor: long-term, endless domination of the Muslim world through military force and control over their governments.  That’s what the war in Libya, intended or not, has become.

 

(5) Perhaps most amazingly of all, this policy of Endless War endures even as official Washington inexorably plans — in the midst of still-booming economic inequality and suffering — to slash entitlements in the name of austerity.  Bizarrely, while more and more Republicans continue to recognize the growing foreign policy split in their Party (Ross Douthat and Joe Scarborough are the latest to side with the “isolationists” against the war-mongering neocons), many establishment liberals seem to be laying the groundwork for those cuts.  Yesterday, Matt Yglesias said he was “disillusioned” by alarmism over vast income inequality because, he assured everyone, things aren’t particularly good for the super-rich; meanwhile Digby — in a piece highly worth reading — examines how some liberal pundits (her example is Ezra Klein) seem to be doing the GOP’s work (and, more significantly, the White House’s) in (unwittingly or otherwise) justifying entitlement cuts.

Why Are We Still at War? February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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by Norman Solomon, www.commondreams.org, February 3, 2009

The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. “The war on terror” has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.

For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological “sophistication” and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.

W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.

Stanley Kunitz: “In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.”

And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington’s certainty, Richard Farina wrote: “And death will be our darling and fear will be our name.” Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring “war on terrorism,” chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.

Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program and told viewers: “Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism.”

But the “war on terrorism” rubric — increasingly shortened to the even vaguer “war on terror” — kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: “We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America’s correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war.”

There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize — or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.

The new U.S. “war on terror” was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.

Now, in early 2009, we’re entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president’s escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.

And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration’s reported plan to double U.S. troop deployments in that country within a year.

“This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced,” Norman Mailer wrote in his book “Why Are We at War?” six years ago. “It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void…”

Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: “This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion. … There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist.”

And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just has there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.

It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America — but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.

For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the Jan. 30 discussion on “Bill Moyers Journal” with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.

Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about “the war on terror.” Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.

And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is “Made Love, Got War.” He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.