Which Hypocritical Billionaire Should Rule America?

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She might meet with you — if the price is right

W.J. Astore

News about the Clinton Foundation and its finances shows the truth of that old adage, “You get what you pay for.”  In this case, giving money to the Clinton Foundation often bought access to Hillary Clinton (or her closest aides), the odds-on favorite to be America’s next president, and sometimes it helped with favors as well.  These revelations illustrate perfectly the “pay to play” nature of the American political scene: the usual influence peddling, the usual FOBH, Friends of Bill and Hillary, coming together to pull the strings while being paid handsomely for the performance.

Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about it:

A sports executive who was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and whose firm paid Bill Clinton millions of dollars in consulting fees wanted help getting a visa for a British soccer player with a criminal past.

The crown prince of Bahrain, whose government gave more than $50,000 to the Clintons’ charity and who participated in its glitzy annual conference, wanted a last-minute meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U2 rocker and philanthropist Bono, also a regular at foundation events, wanted high-level help broadcasting a live link to the International Space Station during concerts.

In each case, according to emails released Monday from Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, the requests were directed to Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and confidante, Huma Abedin, who engaged with other top aides and sometimes Clinton herself about how to respond.

The emails show that, in these and similar cases, the donors did not always get what they wanted, particularly when they sought anything more than a meeting.

But the exchanges, among 725 pages of correspondence from Abedin disclosed as part of a lawsuit by the conservative group Judicial Watch, illustrate the way the Clintons’ international network of friends and donors was able to get access to Hillary Clinton and her inner circle during her tenure running the State Department.

Yes, money sure does matter.  If asked why they took more the fifty grand from the prince of Bahrain, among other donors with deep pockets, I suppose Hillary and Bill might just say, “Because that’s what they offered.”  Money is the universal solvent of politics, and Hillary and Bill know this better than most.

Of course, Hillary is trying to position herself as the champion of ordinary people, even as she and her husband have amassed a foundation and position worth roughly $2 billion. Who knows?  Given the nebulous and chaotic nature of Trump’s finances, the Clintons may be richer than him.

Which brings me to this question: Which hypocritical billionaire do you want to rule America?

Update (8/24/16): The Washington Post has another story on how Hillary Clinton is raising big money through various fundraisers.  All you need is $25K or $50K and some good connections and you too might be able to meet Hillary in a semi-private setting.  You might even net a bonus like seeing Cher (in Provincetown) or hearing Aretha Franklin sing (in Birmingham, Michigan).

Remember how Bernie Sanders energized a movement, raising millions by relying on individual donations that averaged (and this is an amount he made famous) $27 per donation?

Those days are gone.  Establishment Hillary is back, and she’s raising buckets of money from the deep pockets of heavy-hitters.

But never fear!  She’s all about helping “everyday people” — a phrase her campaign used until someone noticed it was slightly condescending.

If we’re “everyday people,” who are the Clintons?  Well, I can tell you how they think of themselves by how they act: They are the higher life forms, to borrow a phrase from a friend, a retired Army major who remembers M-48 tanks because he served in one.

That’s one place we won’t see Hillary: in an Army tank.  But if we ever did, I think she’d pull it off better than Michael Dukakis did.

***Photographer
Beware of posing with tanks

 

My First (and only) Encounter with Bob Dylan

Bob_Dylan_in_November_1963
Bob Dylan in late 1963

Richard Sahn

On a snowy evening in January 1965 four friends, including myself, drove across the Hudson River from Tivoli NY, where we were living at the time, to Woodstock. We had heard that the folksinger, Tom Paxton, was singing at the Café Espresso. I had become enamored of Paxton’s music so I was anxious to see and hear him in person. What we didn’t know was that the rising counter-cultural folk star, Bob Dylan, was also going to be there. By the time we arrived I was wondering whether it was good idea to drive the twenty miles for this mini-concert. The roads were treacherous.

As a college student in 1965 I hadn’t heard much about Bob Dylan but I did like some of his music, which my dorm mates at Bard College played constantly.  Dylan was sitting at the next table when we entered the cafe. There were only a handful of customers, mostly from the area.  As Paxton started singing some of the patrons were still talking. Suddenly, Dylan shouted at them to shut up. Perhaps he was already experiencing his celebrity because his manner was slightly intimidating. Heck, he was just a scrawny, unimpressive kid, about my age—one year older, actually.

paxton guitar
Tom Paxton

During a brief intermission of Paxton’s mini-concert I found myself in a backroom with the two (not too distant) future giants of counter-cultural folk music, the heirs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Dylan wanted to show Paxton, if memory serves me, some chords on the guitar. There were four of us in the room, including my classmate, Paul, who was the driver of the car to Woodstock. I can’t remember how this little gathering happened, what permission or lack thereof we had to witness this intimate discussion between Dylan and Paxton.  I do recall thinking that I should not give up the chance to be as close to Bob Dylan as I could get.

At one point during this strange encounter Dylan looked at me directly with a penetrating stare. I was nervous and amused at the same time. Did he know something about me I didn’t know or did he see me as a kindred spirit?  I’ll never know.

Fifty one years later I still listen to the music of the “old Dylan.”  I still marvel at the fame he’s achieved since the time I met him in person when we were both barely beyond being “kids”—at least by today’s standard of what it means to be a “kid.”  Today, I can appreciate the impact songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a’ Changin’” have had on my generation especially.

What I don’t take for granted is that the younger generation, the “kids” I teach today, can appreciate, much less have heard of, the lyrics of those songs. I don’t believe they would find Dylan’s music or even Paxton’s music inspiring.  Their clarion call for a change in the status quo wouldn’t seem relevant to them or even “cool.”

Richard Sahn teaches sociology and embodies the mission of Bracing Views.  In his own way, he’s as cool as Dylan.

Hillary and the Earth Wreckers

nothing
Nothing to see here … move along

W.J. Astore

News that Hillary Clinton has selected Ken Salazar to head her transition team should give pause to anyone who believes Hillary’s claim that she’s a “Progressive.”  Assuming Hillary wins the presidency, Salazar will chair the team that helps her to fill more than 4000 appointments.

What do we know about Salazar?  According to a report at The Intercept,

As a senator, Salazar was widely considered a reliable friend to the oil, gas, ranching and mining industries. As interior secretary, he opened the Arctic Ocean for oil drilling, and oversaw the botched response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to the private sector, he has been an ardent supporter of the TPP, while pushing back against curbs on fracking….

“We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone,” Salazar told the attendees, who included the vice president of BP America, another keynote speaker at the conference. “We need to make sure that story is told.”

Really, Mr. Salazar?  I lived in Pennsylvania for nine years, during the height of the fracking boom.  A friend of mine lost his family farm and land due to poisoned water caused by fracking.  Earthquakes have been traced to fracking.  Methane seepage and burn-off contributes to global warming.  Fracking chemicals are highly toxic and wastewater from fracking is radioactive.  And these are just a few of the dangers associated with fracking.

It’s one thing to argue that fracking is hazardous but that those hazards can be controlled through rigorous practices that emphasize environmental safety.  It’s a defensible position, though I believe the hazards are not fully known, therefore they can’t be fully controlled, let alone minimized.  But Salazar is arguing fracking has not caused a single environmental problem!  For anyone!

Yes, Hillary now claims she’s against fracking (when she led the State Department, she was strongly for it).  But how does that flip-flop square with her decision to appoint yet another earth wrecker to a key position in her government-to-be?  Just what the planet needs: a pro-fracking, pro-industry, corporate shill who will help to ensure that people like himself will occupy key positions of authority in a Clinton government.

I’ve witnessed enough earth wrecking.  Count me out of Hillary 2016.

“On Leave”: The Costs of War

on leave

W.J. Astore

Recently, a good friend gave me a copy of Daniel Anselme’s “On Leave,” a book published in 1957 in the early stages of France’s war in Algeria, which ultimately ended in France’s defeat and Algerian independence in 1962.  A novel, it follows three French soldiers on furlough in and around Paris and their desperate (and mostly failed) efforts to reconnect to home prior to returning to a brutal war.

The main themes are disaffection and disorientation.  The gulf in understanding between the soldier-conscripts and their families and the wider public is simply too wide to be bridged.  Instead, the soldiers find comfort in drink, women, and especially in each other. Having relied on each other in war, they come to rely on each other again in the short downtime they have from its brutalities.

What struck me forcibly was the indifference of France to the soldiers.  We see a similar indifference today in the U.S., despite all of the “support our troops” rhetoric. This “support” often is, as the saying goes, a mile wide but only an inch deep.  Another similarity between then and now is the gulf in understanding between what the soldiers know about war and what the people think they know. The soldiers know the horrors; the people only know a few talking points.  Back then it was about upholding the honor of France; nowadays in the USA it’s about fighting them (the terrorists) over there so we don’t have to fight them here.

For the troops, it’s always the same cause: preservation.  Survival.  Saving oneself and one’s buddies.

One soldier gives an electric speech about “when will it end.” How many men is France willing to lose in its attempt to hold onto some smidgen of colonial glory? How long will the wars in Africa go on?  His speech made me think of our own, seemingly endless, wars.

All three men in this story — a sergeant, a corporal, and a private — are unwounded physically from war.  Yet all three are psychological casualties.  War and atrocity has already inflicted a serious toll, as all three suffer some of the less obvious costs of war and extended military service (broken marriages, family arguments and estrangement and resentment, guilt at not being able to conform to family expectations, a growing sense of fatalism).

Recognizing a lost cause, French President Charles de Gaulle eventually smartened up and pulled out of Algeria.  But the U.S. today doesn’t have leaders of de Gaulle’s grit and smarts to recognize a losing hand. So America’s wars just grind on and on.

“On Leave” is a fine book.  Would that it were on President Obama’s summer reading list, or on Hillary’s or Trump’s.  They could all use a heavy dose of reality about war’s futility.

Military Dissent and the Need to Save Democracy from Perpetual War

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A true hero because he spoke up

W.J. Astore

My latest article at TomDispatch.com focuses on the need for military dissent in an age of creeping militarism and perpetual war.  In my article, I identify some of the key reasons why such dissent is tightly constrained and often severely limited.  This is especially problematic for at least two reasons.  The first is that Americans say they trust the military more than any other societal institution.  If the military censors itself, it misses an invaluable opportunity to educate an attentive public about the disastrous path of America’s wars.

The second reason is that a democracy’s health depends on dissent.  A country in which dissent is suppressed, a country that finds itself engaged in perpetual war, is a country that cannot sustain democratic institutions.  We’re already witnessing the withering away of democracy in America.  That it’s happening in slow motion doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

A Marine Corps sergeant and Vietnam War veteran wrote to me in “salty” language that “his damn war [was] fucked up,” but that while he was still in uniform he “spoke little [against the war] and only then about how it was being run.”  We need more honesty from today’s veterans about how America’s damn wars are fucked up.  Maybe then we’ll finally get off our duffs and work to put a stop to them.

Here are a few excerpts from my article; I invite you to read all of it at TomDispatch.com.

The Pentagon has, in a very real sense, become America’s national cathedral.  If we’re going to continue to worship at it, we should at least ask for some minimal level of honesty from its priests.  In militarized America, the question of the moment is how to encourage such honesty.

Call it patriotic dissent.  By “dissent” I mean honest talk from those who should know best about the hazards and horrors of perpetual war, about how poorly those conflicts have gone and are going.  We desperately need to encourage informed critics and skeptics within the military and the [Military-Industrial] Complex to speak their minds in a way that moves the national needle away from incessant bombing and perpetual war.

Yet to do so, we must first understand the obstacles involved.  It’s obvious, for example, that a government which has launched a war against whistleblowers, wielding the World War I-era Espionage Act against them and locking away Chelsea Manning for a veritable lifetime in a maximum security prison, isn’t likely to suddenly encourage more critical thinking and public expression inside the national security state. But much else stands in the way of the rest of us hearing a little critical speech from the “fourth branch” of government …

Leaving military insularity, unit loyalty, and the pressure of combat aside, however, here are seven other factors I’ve witnessed, which combine to inhibit dissent within military circles.

1. Careerism and ambition: The U.S. military no longer has potentially recalcitrant draftees — it has “volunteers.”  Yesteryear’s draftees were sometimes skeptics; many just wanted to endure their years in the military and get out.  Today’s volunteers are usually believers; most want to excel.  Getting a reputation for critical comments or other forms of outspokenness generally means not being rewarded with fast promotions and plum assignments.  Career-oriented troops quickly learn that it’s better to fail upwards quietly than to impale yourself on your sword while expressing honest opinions.  If you don’t believe me, ask all those overly decorated generals of our failed wars you see on TV.

2. Future careerism and ambition: What to do when you leave the military?  Civilian job options are often quite limited. Many troops realize that they will be able to double or triple their pay, however, if they go to work for a defense contractor, serving as a military consultant or adviser overseas.  Why endanger lucrative prospects (or even your security clearance, which could be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you and firms looking to hire you) by earning a reputation for being “difficult”?

3. Lack of diversity: The U.S. military is not blue and red and purple America writ small; it’s a selective sampling of the country that has already winnowed out most of the doubters and rebels.  This is, of course, by design.  After Vietnam, the high command was determined never to have such a wave of dissent within the ranks again and in this (unlike so much else) they succeeded.  Think about it: between “warriors” and citizen-soldiers, who is more likely to be tractable and remain silent?

4. A belief that you can effect change by working quietly from within the system: Call it the Harold K. Johnson effect.  Johnson was an Army general during the Vietnam War who considered resigning in protest over what he saw as a lost cause.  He decided against it, wagering that he could better effect change while still wearing four stars, a decision he later came deeply to regret.  The truth is that the system has time-tested ways of neutralizing internal dissent, burying it, or channeling it and so rendering it harmless.

5. The constant valorization of the military: Ever since 9/11, the gushing pro-military rhetoric of presidents and other politicians has undoubtedly served to quiet honest doubts within the military.  If the president and Congress think you’re the best military ever, a force for human liberation, America’s greatest national treasure, who are you to disagree, Private Schmuckatelli?

America used to think differently.  Our founders considered a standing army to be a pernicious threat to democracy.  Until World War II, they generally preferred isolationism to imperialism, though of course many were eager to take land from Native Americans and Mexicans while double-crossing Cubans, Filipinos, and other peoples when it came to their independence.  If you doubt that, just read War is a Racket by Smedley Butler, a Marine general in the early decades of the last century and two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor. In the present context, think of it this way: democracies should see a standing military as a necessary evil, and military spending as a regressive tax on civilization — as President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously did when he compared such spending to humanity being crucified on a cross of iron.

Chanting constant hosannas to the troops and telling them they’re the greatest ever — remember the outcry against Muhammad Ali when, with significantly more cause, he boasted that he was the greatest? — may make our military feel good, but it won’t help them see their flaws, nor us as a nation see ours.

6. Loss of the respect of peers: Dissent is lonely.  It’s been more than a decade since my retirement and I still hesitate to write articles like this.  (It’s never fun getting hate mail from people who think you’re un-American for daring to criticize any aspect of the military.)  Small wonder that critics choose to keep their own counsel while they’re in the service.

7.  Even when you leave the military, you never truly leave: I haven’t been on a military base in years.  I haven’t donned a uniform since my retirement ceremony in 2005.  Yet occasionally someone will call me “colonel.”  It’s always a reminder that I’m still “in.” I may have left the military behind, but it never left me behind.  I can still snap to attention, render a proper salute, recite my officer’s oath from memory.

In short, I’m not a former but a retired officer.  My uniform may be gathering dust in the basement, but I haven’t forgotten how it made me feel when I wore it.  I don’t think any of us who have served ever do.  That strong sense of belonging, that emotional bond, makes you think twice before speaking out.  Or at least that’s been my experience.  Even as I call for more honesty within our military, more bracing dissent, I have to admit that I still feel a residual sense of hesitation.  Make of that what you will.

Bonus Reason: Troops are sometimes reluctant to speak out because they doubt Americans will listen, or if they do, empathize and understand.  It’s one thing to vent your frustrations in private among friends on your military base or at the local VFW hall among other veterans.  It’s quite another to talk to outsiders.  War’s sacrifices and horrors are especially difficult to convey and often traumatic to relive.  Nevertheless, as a country, we need to find ways to encourage veterans to speak out and we also need to teach ourselves how to listen — truly listen — no matter the harshness of what they describe or how disturbed what they actually have to say may make us feel …

And I conclude my article in this way:

Some will doubtless claim that encouraging patriotic dissent within the military can only weaken its combat effectiveness, endangering our national security.  But when, I wonder, did it become wise for a democracy to emulate Sparta?  And when is it ever possible to be perfectly secure?

“People Who Cherish the Second Amendment”

dirty-harry
Worthy of being cherished?

W.J. Astore

The U.S. Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights is the foundation of our democracy.  If you had to pick a right to celebrate, perhaps even to cherish, which would it be?  There are so many important ones, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, our right to privacy (the fourth amendment), and so on. There are other amendments that righted old wrongs, including prohibitions against slavery and the granting of the vote to Blacks and women.

Yet which right/amendment is the best known in U.S. politics today?  The second amendment, or the right to bear arms, which Mike Pence referred to yesterday when he noted, “people who cherish the Second Amendment have a very clear choice in this election.”

Uneducated Voters

OK, I’ve owned guns and enjoy shooting, but I hardly “cherish” my right to spend thousands of dollars on lots of guns.  I have friends who hunt and friends who collect guns and I wouldn’t deny them their rights to do both, but again why is this the one right that deserves to be singled out as worthy of being “cherished” in a democracy?

I know: the NRA and its followers claim that an armed citizenry is the best guarantor of all the other rights, a position that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Believe me, your personal collection of guns is not going to stop a trained military using tanks and artillery and all the other heavy weaponry of war. And no: this is not an argument for you to have the right to purchase your very own M-1 Abrams tank!

Look: No political candidate plans to take away anyone’s guns. Nevertheless, the NRA and Trump/Pence persist in scaring gun owners while encouraging a “cherishing” attitude toward guns.  And here’s the telling part: Even as the gun cherishers bloviate about the extreme importance of gun rights, they virtually ignore all the other rights that do need protecting in America, especially our rights to speech, assembly, and privacy.

Stop fixating on guns, America, and start cherishing what really matters: your rights as a citizen to have a real say in politics and the running of this country. Those are the rights that truly need protecting.

 

 

Twelve Questions for this Fall’s Presidential Election

johnson
Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party

W.J. Astore

Here are twelve questions for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, followed by quick answers about where they stand, based on what they’ve done as well as what I’ve heard them say in various speeches and debates.  To avoid any confusion with her husband, I refer to Hillary Clinton as “Hillary.”

Which candidate is going to:

  1. End America’s wars?

Hillary will continue them.  Trump has questioned whether they’re worth it.  Advantage Trump.

  1. Tackle global warming?

Hillary believes in science.  Trump apparently doesn’t, though he’s taken steps to safeguard his properties against climate change.  Advantage Hillary.

  1. Reverse Citizen’s United and get corporate money out of politics?

Hillary has said she’ll do something; Trump hasn’t.  But Hillary is dependent on corporate financing.  A wash.

  1. Work to reduce the growing gap between the richest 1% and everyone else?

Hillary talks about fairness, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women.  Trump wants to restore American jobs through tariffs and trade wars.  Whether either candidate really cares about the working classes is debatable.  A wash.

  1. Rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, ensuring safe roads, bridges, and water supplies?

Both candidates talk a good game.  The problem is: Where is the money coming from?  Trump’s tax breaks that favor the rich may literally bankrupt America; Hillary’s war and social spending will absorb most federal funding.  A wash.

  1. Reject trade deals that hurt American workers?

Hillary was for the TPP before she was against it.  She and Bill were also for NAFTA.  Trump talks about helping workers even as his companies shift jobs overseas to save money.  A wash.

  1. Pursue a domestic political agenda that doesn’t vilify minorities and the vulnerable?

Hillary is far better than Trump at promoting a message of inclusion.  Advantage Hillary.

  1. Respect the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers, i.e. reject the “Unitary Executive” model?

Neither candidate promises to rein in executive authority.  Both are power-hungry and secretive.  A wash.

  1. Rein in the burgeoning national security state and its lockdown mentality?

Trump is seemingly more skeptical about military spending and is less encumbered by neocon conventions.  Yet he stokes fear of the outsider, which feeds the lockdown mentality that plagues America.  Hillary boasts of strengthening national security and cultivates hawkish elements while rejecting any cuts to war spending.  A wash.

  1. Work for quality public education?

Neither candidate has spoken a lot about public education.  But Trump has joked that he likes the under-educated since they’re many of his most ardent supporters.  Stupid is as stupid does.  Advantage Hillary.

  1. Reduce the prison-industrial complex?

Hillary’s husband’s policies are partly responsible for the complex, though now she says she wants to reduce America’s reliance on prisons, which target minorities disproportionately.  I haven’t heard Trump articulate a clear vision on this, except to vow “on day one” that he’d restore law and order to America.  Slim advantage to Hillary.

  1. Respect the environment, e.g. end fracking?

Hillary promoted fracking while she led the State Department.  Trump simply promotes business and making money.  I don’t see either as having any deep-rooted respect for nature.  A wash.

Score Card: Score 1 for Trump, 4 for Hillary.  And 7 for candidate “Wash.”

Stein
Jill Stein in Philly

What if Green Party candidate Jill Stein were included?  She might edge Trump and Hillary on all of these questions.  I think Bernie Sanders would score 11 out of 12.  His one failing during the primary was his reluctance to say he’d rein in the national security state.  What a shame Bernie is out, especially since he was beaten neither fairly nor squarely.

What about the Libertarians?  I have limited exposure to Gary Johnson, William Weld, and their party, but here’s a quick cut and paste job from CNN:

“First, libertarianism is more than just an economic ideology. It’s a social one. And many Libertarian social positions — an openness to immigration, an embrace of equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgender persons, a hostility toward the war on drugs and American militarism abroad, and support for women’s reproductive rights — are arguably more progressive than the average Democrat. Libertarians were supporting marriage equality and marijuana legalization, for instance, long before any mainstream politician — Clinton included — would touch those issues.”

“Second, even on strictly economic issues, Libertarians have a lot to say that should appeal to those on the left. Libertarians have long been sharply critical, for instance, of the ways regulations such as occupational licensing requirements are used to protect the economically powerful at the expense of the poor and marginalized. They’ve fought against subsidies, bailouts, and other forms of “crony capitalism” that benefit the few at the expense of the masses. And — contrary to popular perception — Libertarians have often argued in favor of a well-designed social safety net to protect those who fail to benefit from the economic dynamism of a free economy.”

A quick look at my 12 questions coupled with interviews I’ve seen with Gary Johnson suggest that he’d easily score higher than Hillary and Trump but lower than Stein and Sanders.

Here’s the deep irony for America: The most interesting candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, are the ones marginalized by the system.  They are not allowed to debate.  They are judged “not ready for prime time.”  And the weakest candidates, the most deeply compromised, Hillary and The Donald, are the ones who are given the lion’s share of attention and respectability.  They are celebrated.  They are prime time.

Only in America.

This November’s “Choice” for President

DEM 2016 Clinton
So many flags, but where’s the fresh thinking? (AP Photo/John Locher)

W.J. Astore

Andrew Bacevich has written a whip-smart article at TomDispatch.com on this November’s choice for the presidency.  Here are a few excerpts:

Trump is a bozo of such monumental proportions as to tax the abilities of our most talented satirists.  Were he alive today, Mark Twain at his most scathing would be hard-pressed to do justice to The Donald’s blowhard pomposity.

Similarly, how did the party of Adlai Stevenson, but also of Stevenson’s hero Franklin Roosevelt, select as its candidate someone so widely disliked and mistrusted even by many of her fellow Democrats?  True, antipathy directed toward Hillary Clinton draws some of its energy from incorrigible sexists along with the “vast right wing conspiracy” whose members thoroughly loathe both Clintons.  Yet the antipathy is not without basis in fact.

Even by Washington standards, Secretary Clinton exudes a striking sense of entitlement combined with a nearly complete absence of accountability.  She shrugs off her misguided vote in support of invading Iraq back in 2003, while serving as senator from New York.  She neither explains nor apologizes for pressing to depose Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, her most notable “accomplishment” as secretary of state.  “We came, we saw, he died,” she bragged back then, somewhat prematurely given that Libya has since fallen into anarchy and become a haven for ISIS.

She clings to the demonstrably false claim that her use of a private server for State Department business compromised no classified information.  Now opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) that she once described as the “gold standard in trade agreements,” Clinton rejects charges of political opportunism.  That her change of heart occurred when attacking the TPP was helping Bernie Sanders win one Democratic primary after another is merely coincidental.  Oh, and the big money accepted from banks and Wall Street as well as the tech sector for minimal work and the bigger money still from leading figures in the Israel lobby?  Rest assured that her acceptance of such largesse won’t reduce by one iota her support for “working class families” or her commitment to a just peace settlement in the Middle East.

Let me be clear: none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump.  Yet together they make the point that Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, notably so in matters related to national security.  Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly.  Yet her record in that regard does not exactly inspire confidence.

Not much of a “choice,” right?  Donald Trump is a loose cannon, with no apparent rangefinder, whereas Hillary Clinton is a “fire-at-will” cannon, with a known record of pounding a select list of targets.  Trump doesn’t know what a nuclear triad is and asks why the U.S. has so many nuclear weapons while not using them (good question, actually, but I don’t think The Donald wants to follow this to the logical conclusion that we should eliminate our nuclear arsenal).  Clinton is hopelessly compromised on Israel and so many other issues and is a card-carrying member of American exceptionalism and neo-conservative military adventurism.

Here’s another telling excerpt from Bacevich:

When it comes to fresh thinking, Donald Trump has far more to offer than Clinton — even if his version of “fresh” tends to be synonymous with wacky, off-the-wall, ridiculous, or altogether hair-raising.

The essential point here is that, in the realm of national security, Hillary Clinton is utterly conventional.  She subscribes to a worldview (and view of America’s role in the world) that originated during the Cold War, reached its zenith in the 1990s when the United States proclaimed itself the planet’s “sole superpower,” and persists today remarkably unaffected by actual events.  On the campaign trail, Clinton attests to her bona fides by routinely reaffirming her belief in American exceptionalism, paying fervent tribute to “the world’s greatest military,” swearing that she’ll be “listening to our generals and admirals,” and vowing to get tough on America’s adversaries.  These are, of course, the mandatory rituals of the contemporary Washington stump speech, amplified if anything by the perceived need for the first female candidate for president to emphasize her pugnacity.

A Clinton presidency, therefore, offers the prospect of more of the same — muscle-flexing and armed intervention to demonstrate American global leadership — albeit marketed with a garnish of diversity.  Instead of different policies, Clinton will offer an administration that has a different look, touting this as evidence of positive change.

Yet while diversity may be a good thing, we should not confuse it with effectiveness….  

So the question needs be asked: Has the quality of national security policy improved compared to the bad old days when men exclusively called the shots?  Using as criteria the promotion of stability and the avoidance of armed conflict (along with the successful prosecution of wars deemed unavoidable), the answer would, of course, have to be no.  Although Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Clinton herself might entertain a different view, actually existing conditions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa tell a different story. 

The abysmal record of American statecraft in recent years is not remotely the fault of women; yet neither have women made a perceptibly positive difference.  It turns out that identity does not necessarily signify wisdom or assure insight.  Allocating positions of influence in the State Department or the Pentagon based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation — as Clinton will assuredly do — may well gratify previously disenfranchised groups.  Little evidence exists to suggest that doing so will produce more enlightened approaches to statecraft, at least not so long as adherence to the Washington playbook figures as a precondition to employment. (Should Clinton win in November, don’t expect the redoubtable ladies of Code Pink to be tapped for jobs at the Pentagon and State Department.)

In the end, it’s not identity that matters but ideas and their implementation.  To contemplate the ideas that might guide a President Trump along with those he will recruit to act on them — Ivanka as national security adviser? — is enough to elicit shudders from any sane person.  Yet the prospect of Madam President surrounding herself with an impeccably diverse team of advisers who share her own outmoded views is hardly cause for celebration. 

In short, if you want more endless foreign wars and the abridgment of rights here at home in the name of “security,” vote for Hillary.  If you want “rogue” actions based on knee-jerk sentiments and biases backed by inexperience and a stunning ignorance of even the most basic world facts, vote for Trump.

Quite a “choice,” right?

Be sure to read the rest of Bacevich’s article here.

Too Many Troops Have Died in the Name of Big Boy Pants

Mike Murry’s recent comment reminded me of this article that I wrote about three years ago. Macho posturing by America’s “leaders” has created enormous problems for the U.S. What is it with this obsession for “hardness” and “toughness” and “big boy” pants? Isn’t it a defining trait of a bully to whack people around precisely because he’s insecure and wants to compensate for that by feeling “big” through violence against the vulnerable? Just look at Trump and his bullying behavior. He attacks those he perceives as vulnerable (Mexicans, Muslims, women, and so on), even as he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.

It’s obvious that many men in America see masculinity under assault, or they fear their own loss of manliness, hence those calls for “big boy” pants, and hence all those sports metaphors applied to war.

Time to put away the “big boy” pants, America. Instead, how about engaging in mature, intelligent, thinking and reflection, followed by action that ends our unwinnable wars and our national obsession with violence and weapons?

Bracing Views

Too many troops have died in the name of big boy pants Too many troops have died in the name of big boy pants

W.J. Astore

Jeremy Scahill is a reporter for whom the word “intrepid” may have been invented. He’s been remarkably bold in covering the creation of private mercenary forces in the United States (as documented in his bestseller, Blackwater) as well as America’s “turn to the dark side” after 9/11/2001, which led to “wars of choice” in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with interventions in Somalia, Yemen, and across the world in the name of combating terrorism. Indeed, the subtitle of Scahill’s new book is “The World Is A Battlefield.” And since there’s always a terrorist organization at large somewhere in the world, we are ensured of a forever war, a grim prospect on this Veterans Day.

I’ve written an extended review of Scahill’s Dirty Wars at Michigan War Studies Review, edited by the incomparable Jim Holoka.  An aspect…

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State of (Military) Failure

turse

Tom Engelhardt

Reposted from TomDispatch.com and used by permission.

Someday, someone will write a history of the U.S. national security state in the twenty-first century and, if the first decade and a half are any yardstick, it will be called something like State of Failure.  After all, almost 15 years after the U.S. invaded the Taliban’s Afghanistan, launching the second American Afghan War of the past half-century, U.S. troops are still there, their “withdrawal” halted, their rules of engagement once again widened to allow American troops and air power to accompany allied Afghan forces into battle, and the Taliban on the rise, having taken more territory (and briefly one northern provincial capital) than at any time since that movement was crushed in the invasion of 2001.

Thirteen years after George W. Bush and his top officials, dreaming of controlling the oil heartlands, launched the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the second Iraq War of our era), Washington is now in the third iteration of the same, with 6,000 troops (and thousands of private contractors) back in that country and a vast air campaign underway to destroy the Islamic State.  With modest numbers of special operations troops on the ground and another major air campaign, Washington is also now enmeshed in a complex and so far disastrous war in Syria.  And if you haven’t been counting, that’s three wars gone wrong.

Then, of course, there was the American (and NATO) intervention in Libya in 2011, which cracked that autocratic country open and made way for the rise of Islamic extremist movements there, as well as the most powerful Islamic State franchise outside Syria and Iraq.  Today, plans are evidently being drawn up for yet more air strikes, special operations raids, and the like there.  Toss in as well Washington’s never-ending drone war in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, its disastrous attempt to corral al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (leading to a grim and horrifying Saudi-led, American-supported internecine conflict in that country), and the unending attempt to destroy al-Shabaab in Somalia, and you have at least seven wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, all about to be handed on by President Obama to the next president with no end in sight, no real successes, nothing.  In these same years Islamic terror movements have only spread and grown stronger under the pressure of the American war machine.

It’s not as if Washington doesn’t know this. It’s quite obvious and, as TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse, author of the highly praised Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, points out today in his latest report on the U.S. military’s pivot to Africa, the pattern is only intensifying, something clearly recognized by key American commanders. What’s strange, however, is that none of this seems to have caused anyone in the national security state or the military to reconsider the last 15 years of military-first policies, of bombs dropped, troops dispatched, drones sent in, and what the results were across the Greater Middle East and now Africa. There is no serious recalibration, no real rethinking. The response to 15 years of striking failure in a vast region remains more of the same. State of failure indeed!

Be sure to read Nick Turse on how U.S. military efforts in Africa show more regress than progress.