Wars, Secrecy, and Lies

W.J. Astore

You know an American war is going poorly when the lies come swiftly, as with the Afghan War, or when it’s hidden under a cloak of secrecy, which is also increasingly true of the Afghan War.

This is nothing new, of course.  Perhaps the best book I read in 2019 is H. Bruce Franklin’s Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War.  Franklin, who served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s before becoming an English professor, cultural historian, and an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, is devastating in his critique of the military-industrial complex in this memoir.  I recommend it highly to all Americans who want to wrestle with tough truths.

Let’s consider one example: Franklin’s dismissal of the “stab-in-the-back” myth (or Rambo myth) that came out of the Vietnam War.  This was the idea the U.S. military could have won in Vietnam, and was indeed close to winning, only to be betrayed by weak-kneed politicians and the anti-war movement.

Franklin demolishes this argument in a paragraph that is worth reading again and again:

One widespread cultural fantasy about the Vietnam War blames the antiwar movement for forcing the military to “fight with one arm tied behind its back.”  But this belief stands reality on its head.  The American people, disgusted and angry about the Korean War, were in no mood to support a war in Vietnam.  Staunch domestic opposition kept Washington from going in overtly.  So it went covertly.  It thereby committed itself to a policy based on deception, sneaking around, and hiding its actions from the American people.  The U.S. government thus created the internal nemesis of its own war: the antiwar movement.  That movement was inspired and empowered not just by our outrage against the war [but] also by the lies about the war, lies necessitated by the war, coming from our government and propagated by the media.  Although it was the Vietnamese who defeated the United States, ultimately it was the antiwar movement, especially within the armed forces, that finally in 1973 forced Washington to accept, at long last, the terms of the 1954 Geneva Accords, and to sign a peace treaty that included, word for word, every major demand made by the National Liberation Front (the so-called Viet Cong) back in 1969…

The truth was that for three decades our nation had sponsored and then waged a genocidal war against a people and a nation that had never done anything to us except ask for our friendship and support [during and after World War II].

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This is well and strongly put.  The American people had no interest in intervening in Vietnam in the 1950s; the Korean debacle had been enough.  But the U.S. government intervened anyway, lying about its involvement until it could no longer lie.  Then a bigger lie was concocted, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, to justify a larger commitment of troops in the mid-1960s, which led to near-genocidal destruction in Vietnam.

Wars built on lies are rarely won, especially in a democracy.  But even as they are lost (Vietnam in the 1960s, and now Afghanistan), there are always “winners.”  Weapons contractors and other war profiteers.  The Pentagon, which from war gains more money and more power.  And authoritarian elements within society itself, which are reinforced by war.

If we wish to take our democracy back, a powerful first step is to end all American wars overseas.  This would not be isolationism; this would be sanity.

Wars, secrecy, and lies are three big enemies of democracy. Maybe the big three. War suppresses thought and supports authoritarianism. Secrecy prevents accountability. Lies mislead the people. And that’s what we have today. Constant warfare. Secrecy, e.g. reports on “progress” in the Afghan War are now classified and no longer shared. Lies are rampant; indeed, lies are policy. Just look at the Afghan Papers.

Yet wars, secrecy, and lies have been incredibly successful. The Pentagon budget is booming! Weapons sales are exploding! No one is being held accountable for failures or war crimes. Indeed, convicted war criminals are absolved and touted as heroes by the president.

The solution is as obvious as it will be painful. We need peace, transparency, and truth. End the wars, declassify all those “secrets” we the people should know about our military and wars, and reward truth-tellers instead of punishing them.

Hating America?

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Really?  Which America?

W.J. Astore

I’m always baffled when I get a message from a reader that accuses me or my site as being “America haters.”  Of course, I shouldn’t be.  There’s always a strong element of “America: love it or leave it” in our popular discourse.  It’s an element the government actively encourages.

There was a time I identified with the U.S. government because I was part of it.  Having served in the US Air Force for twenty years — having worn this nation’s uniform with pride — I can understand those who think that the government and its actions represent them, or that patriotism somehow requires deference toward our elected representatives or government employees.

But this is indeed a dangerous attitude to have.  It’s not we who are supposed to serve the government: it’s the government that is supposed to serve us.  Even when I was in the military, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, not the government.

Governments are human constructions composed of imperfect humans.  They are vested with power, which feeds corruption.  So governments must always be kept in check.  They must always be viewed critically.  “Question authority” should be the byword of all true patriots.

Government is supposed to represent us.  When it fails to do so, we should elect new leaders who will do their jobs as public servants.  And if that fails, people need to organize and protest.  Sometimes, direct political action is all that works to right wrongs.  Think of union strikes; think of the civil rights movement; think of antiwar protests, as in the Vietnam War.

Government requires constant criticism.  That is the very reason why we have rights such as freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press.  It doesn’t help when people reject criticism as unpatriotic.  Indeed, it just empowers the worst elements within government.

I know all of this is obvious to my readers, else they wouldn’t be here.  Suffice to say our incredibly powerful government, which is increasingly shrouded in secrecy and therefore often unaccountable to the people, needs a lot more criticism.

Don’t confuse criticism with hate.  In fact, criticism may indeed be driven by a kind of love.

Top Stories of U.S. Foreign Policy in 2019

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What happened to Afghanistan and all that lying about progress?

W.J. Astore

According to FP: Foreign Policy, these are the top five stories in U.S. foreign policy in 2019.  I’ve inserted quick comments at the end in bold:

1. U.S. and Turkey Lock Horns Over Syria.

“U.S. support to the Syrian Democratic Forces has long angered Turkey, a NATO ally which views the Kurdish-led group as a terrorist threat … But in a fateful October phone call, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his longtime threat to launch a cross-border invasion. This time Trump capitulated, moving a handful of U.S. troops so the Turks could begin the assault against the Kurds … Hundreds have been killed and roughly 200,000 people were displaced.”

Comment: Syria is not a vital U.S. interest.  U.S. forces shouldn’t be there.  And who are these “democratic forces” of Syria?

2. Trump Impeached Over Ukraine Scandal.

“Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating a Democratic rival this year led to the third impeachment of a U.S. president in history, thrusting Washington’s national security apparatus into the spotlight.”

Comment: The U.S. shouldn’t be meddling in Ukraine.  And we shouldn’t be sending more weapons there.  I sure as hell don’t want my taxpayer dollars going to weapons for Ukraine.

3. North Korea Talks Sputter and Stall.

“The historic nuclear talks between Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 offered hope that the two countries could de-escalate tensions and prevent a nuclear confrontation. Talks stalled after the Singapore Summit in June 2018. While both sides made significant verbal commitments in 2019, the year saw a gradual deterioration of bilateral relations.”

Comment: North Korea isn’t giving up its nuclear weapons.  The North Koreans saw what happened to Gaddafi in Libya when he gave up his WMD.  Plus nuclear weapons and missiles are a prestige project for Kim Jong-un, who’s played Trump like a fiddle.

4. Iran Strikes Back.

“Tensions between Iran and the United States skyrocketed in 2019, as the U.S. maximum pressure campaign took effect and Tehran lashed out against harsh U.S. sanctions. (Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018.) … Attacks have ceased in recent weeks as Tehran launched a brutal crackdown on the worst political unrest the country has seen since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago. But U.S. officials are bracing for another devastating strike in the region, this time perhaps targeting the region’s critical sources of drinking water.”

Comment: Harsh U.S. sanctions are an act of war — or at least we’d see them that way if the roles were reversed.  And why is Iran always seen as the aggressor capable of launching “devastating” strikes?

5. Venezuela Crisis Simmers.

“Venezuela’s Russia-backed leader Nicolás Maduro clung to power this year despite an economic collapse, nationwide blackouts and fierce opposition from Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January with support from the West. Tensions threatened to boil over in May, when Guaidó tried and failed to ignite an uprising.  The attempted coup was seen as an embarrassing failure by the United States and particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton, reportedly the architect of multiple attempts to unseat Maduro. In addition to harsh sanctions, the United States went so far as to draw up military options, but never took any action.”

Comment: Looks like Bolton takes the fall for inept U.S. meddling in Venezuela.  Guess what?  It’s all about the oil — and the money.

Of course, FP: Foreign Policy missed the biggest story of 2019: Consistent, extensive, and persistent lying by U.S. leaders about the course of the Afghan War, as revealed by the “Afghan Papers” published by the Washington Post.

Readers — what do you think about this list?  In the holiday spirit, I see much naughtiness here, and no niceness.  Santa won’t be pleased.

Shaking the Money Tree in the Wine Cave: The Democratic Debates, Part 6

W.J. Astore

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Andrew Yang: Not about to shake the money tree in the wine cave

Yes, there was yet another Democratic Debate among the remaining presidential candidates.  I gutted my way through most of it, gritting my teeth every time Mayor Pete opened his mouth to spout pious bromides.  In no particular order, here’s my quick take on the remaining seven candidates who made the debate stage:

Bernie Sanders: Passionate.  Bernie remains committed to a progressive agenda that will truly change lives for workers in America.  His consistency of vision is his biggest strength.

Joe Biden: Angry.  I may be biased, but when Joe tries to match Bernie’s passion, he comes off as angry instead.  There’s just nothing new here.

Elizabeth Warren: Competent.  Warren is always prepared and is capable of delivering a memorable one-liner, especially her quip that she’d be the youngest woman elected to the presidency.  But she may be the candidate least equipped to match Donald Trump in a debate.

Amy Klobuchar: Milquetoast Moderate.  Klobuchar is trying to present herself as the level-headed voice of reason between Trump’s followers and the “radicals” on the side of Sanders and Warren.  This has been tried before (anyone remember Hillary?), and it didn’t work out so well.

Tom Steyer: Earnest.  He’s putting his money where his mouth is.  I just don’t see him being a serious contender for the nomination.

Andrew Yang: Revelatory.  Yang had his best performance in this debate.  He’s shown an ability to think on his feet, and his answers are unconventional and thoughtful.  I hope he stays in these debates and wins more support.

Mayor Pete: Wine Cave.  Poor Mayor Pete.  He’s so desperate to appear serious and important.  But he’ll sell his soul for the big money (not that he’s alone here), including a big fundraiser in a wine cave, which led to the best line of the night, by Andrew Yang, when he quipped about those who are so willing to “shake the money tree in the wine cave.”

Way to go, Andrew Yang.

An Open Letter to Tulsi Gabbard on Voting “Present”

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Tulsi Gabbard misses the mark with her move to the “center” and her weak vote of “present”

W.J. Astore

On hearing that Tulsi Gabbard voted “present” on Trump’s impeachment, and after reading her statement about that vote, I sent the following note to her campaign:

Dear Tulsi:

I respect your vote of “present” on Trump’s impeachment, but I think it was the wrong choice. Here’s why:

1. Censure is too weak. Trump’s actions are deserving of impeachment.
2. Of course it’s a partisan process, but this is because Trump dominates the Republicans. They all fear a negative tweet from him. Much more than the Democrats, the Republicans are failing their oaths to the Constitution.
3. Your move to the “center” will please few people. Where is this “center”? Both parties are too far to the right, especially when it comes to the forever wars being waged in places like Afghanistan.

You have spoken eloquently about the need to end regime-change wars, and I support you for this reason. But your “present” vote on impeachment was poorly judged, in my opinion. Yes, the impeachment process was partisan and imperfect, but it has always been thus through our nation’s history.

With respect to Trump, I’d say the following: he is not a public servant. He never has been. Trump is a businessman who knows the art of the con. He conflates his own self-interest with that of the country. For Trump, service to self is the only service he understands. This may not be treason, but it is nonetheless dangerous in the extreme. It’s the attitude of a wannabe king, and we already fought a war against that back in the 18th century.

END OF LETTER

The choice now is obvious: Bernie Sanders.

Rewarding the Pentagon for Lying

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Nothing to see here, people!

W.J. Astore

The Afghan Papers have revealed widespread, systemic, and enduring lying about the course and progress of the Afghan War by U.S. military and civilian leaders.  So, what’s the punishment for all this lying?  Record-setting Pentagon budgets!  The more they lie, the more money they get.  Is it any wonder why these wars persist, without apparent end, when no one is punished for lies that lead to the death of American troops (not forgetting all the foreign innocents who are killed and wounded because of these lies)?

This may seem hard to believe, but “Integrity First” is the fundamental core value of the U.S. Air Force.  But what happens when the system is revealed to have no integrity? When the system sends young Americans to die in a lost war, a war that our most senior leaders have lied about since almost the very beginning?

I know we’re all jaded and cynical, but this is a monstrous failure, a horrendous betrayal of trust.

The entire military leadership at the top should be gutted. Anyone implicated in these lies, distortions, etc. should be cashiered. That’s what a real president and commander-in-chief would do. Heads should roll!

But the Pentagon prefers to obfuscate and pretend that the Afghan Papers are old news, and pretty much meaningless at that.  Meanwhile, fake tough guy Trump (along with the Congress) kowtows to the Pentagon, giving the generals everything they want as next year’s Pentagon budget soars to $738 billion, including money for a “Space Force,” among many other boondoggles.

Endless self-serving lies rewarded by scads of money — small wonder that America’s wars persist without end.

Troop “Reduction” in Afghanistan!

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Photo that allegedly persuaded Trump that Afghanistan wasn’t a lost cause

W.J. Astore

Trump was elected president in 2016 partly because he railed against America’s wasteful wars.  So, what did his advisers talk him into?  A mini-surge of troops to Afghanistan.  I still recall the odd news of Trump being shown photos of Afghan women in skirts (vintage 1972) to convince him that westernization and modernization of Afghanistan was possible.

Several thousand additional U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan in 2017, predictably achieving nothing of note.  A little more than two years later, we have another item of “big” news today, according to CNN:

The Trump Administration is preparing to announce a long-awaited reduction of US troops in Afghanistan, a senior administration official confirmed to CNN. There are between 12,000 and 13,000 US troops in the country right now, and the US has maintained a solid presence throughout the 18-year war in the area. This drawdown would remove up to 4,000 troops, with more possible reductions in the future, the official said. That matches the claim Trump made on Fox News Radio in August that his administration would take the number “down to 8,600.” The reduction comes at the same time the US is restarting peace talks with the Taliban, and some worry the troop drawdown could be seen as a concession to the terrorist group.

Where to begin with this CNN snippet?

  1.  The “reduction” is not a reduction but a return to previous troop levels at the end of the Obama administration.
  2. The U.S. “has maintained a solid presence”?  Good god.  You’d never know about all the bombing, droning, and killing the U.S. has done over the last 18+ years.  Or is that the “solid presence” we’ve been maintaining?
  3. The troop “drawdown” as a “concession” to the Taliban?  Guess what: The Taliban aren’t going anywhere, and they’re winning.  A few thousand U.S. troops, either as a “plus-up” or “drawdown,” have had and will have no impact on the reality on the ground.

Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or do both.  Perhaps my dad put it best: “We laugh to hide the tears.”

Update (12/17): Speaking of laughing to hide the tears, the Pentagon has responded to the systematic lying revealed by the so-called Afghan Papers.  It won’t surprise you the response consists of three artless dodges:

  1. We’re looking forward, not backward!
  2. This is all old news.
  3. Nothing to see here, move along.

I kid you not.