With the recent arrest of Julian Assange in London with the goal of extraditing him to the U.S. to face charges, I thought I’d revive this article that I wrote back in 2010. Assange and Chelsea Manning helped to reveal war crimes by the U.S. as well as a pattern of boorish, imperious, “in your face” behavior by its officials and diplomats.
George W. Bush claimed that the terrorists hated us for our freedoms — but maybe they simply hate us for our behavior? If we ride roughshod over the “little people,” they might just remember — and bite back.
Anyway, the main sin of Assange and Manning was embarrassing the powerful while shedding light on their behavior. And the powerful know how to hang on to a grudge…
Written in 2010:
Boorish, “in your face” behavior is everywhere. Most of the time, I’m able to avoid it, or walk away from it. Nevertheless, afoot in America is an astonishing sense of imperious entitlement. People are told they can have it all – heck, that they deserve it all – and to hell with anyone who raises an objection. Rugged individualism is not enough; roughshod individualism is the new American ethos.
Now, what has this to say about WikiLeaks? Take a close look at many of the State Department cables and tell me how you would feel to be on the receiving end of roughshod American imperiousness. So what if we kidnap the wrong German citizen and torture him? Not only do we have no need to apologize: We’ll even bully the German government into silence. And we can bully Spain too, if need be, to inhibit Spanish attempts to prosecute Americans for torture or murder. Need more information about the United Nations and its diplomats? Let’s not only spy on them in traditional ways, but let’s steal their passwords, their biometric data: Heck, let’s even take DNA samples from them. If they complain, too bad: They shouldn’t have taken a drink from the cup we offered them. And the list goes on: We’ll even strike secret deals with Britain to hide our cluster bombs.
In these memos, it never seems to be America’s fault. Being a loud and boorish and imperious American means never having contritely to say you’re sorry.
Are we oblivious? Do we just don’t care? Neither question will matter if the resentments we breed overseas find their way to America’s homeland.
Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com.
The redacted Mueller Report is out, and there’s plenty of evidence that President Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation, which he saw as a partisan “witch hunt.” Indeed, Trump was saved by his aides, who refused to follow his orders to impede the investigation and to fire Robert Mueller. Predictably, Republicans still support Trump, whereas prominent Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are calling for impeachment.
Should Trump be impeached? No, I don’t think so.
I’m no fan of Trump. I think he disqualified himself as a candidate in 2016 when he said he’d issue illegal orders to the U.S. military, which his generals would be obliged to follow. Trump is not a public servant; in fact, he’s not much of a leader, period. His basic instinct is to divide and conquer. He looks for toadies and yes-men. He cares little for anyone but himself and his immediate family. He’s a master of regressive politics, a fomenter of discord. His idea of justice is everything for Trump.
In sum, I don’t reject impeachment because I favor Trump. I reject impeachment since the process will consume Congress and the country.
We have much higher priorities to address in America. People are hurting. Congress should focus (for once!) on helping ordinary people, not chasing Trump down various rabbit holes.
The outgoing French ambassador to the U.S. put it well in a recent interview. Comparing Trump to Louis XIV, Ambassador Araud said “You have an old king, a bit whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed, but he wants to be the one deciding.” Part of his act is to humiliate his subordinates as a way of showing his “mastery” of them. He saves his admiration for other “strong men” like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. That’s who Trump is.
Trump’s an awful president. But impeachment won’t kill him — it will likely make him stronger. Put differently, Trump has already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Even some of his followers recognize that Trump’s a con man who can’t be trusted. The point is not to remove him via impeachment, but to defeat him in 2020 by offering a progressive vision rather than a regressive one.
Focus on helping the American people, Congress. Leave the “old king” to his ignorance and whimsies.
I know: who cares about the education of our kids as the redacted Mueller Report dominates the airwaves on CNN, MSNBC, and similar cable “news” networks?
I care. I spent fifteen years as a history professor, teaching mostly undergraduates at technically-oriented colleges (the Air Force Academy; the Pennsylvania College of Technology). What I experienced was the slow death of education in America. The decline of the ideal of fostering creative and critical thinking; the abandonment of the notion of developing and challenging young people to participate intelligently and passionately in the American democratic experiment. Instead, education is often a form of social control, or merely a means to an end, purely instrumental rather than inspirational. Zombie education.
Nowadays, education in America is about training for a vocation, at least for some. It’s about learning for the sake of earning, i.e. developing so-called marketable skills that end (one hopes) in a respectable paycheck. At Penn College, I was encouraged to meet my students “at their point of need.” I was told they were my “customers” and I was their “provider.” Education, in sum, was transactional rather than transformational. Keep students in class (and paying tuition) and pray you can inspire them to see that the humanities are something more than “filler” to their schedules — and their lives.
As a college professor, I was lucky. I taught five classes a semester (a typical teaching load at community colleges), often in two or three subjects. Class sizes averaged 25-30 students, so I got to know some of my students; I had the equivalent of tenure, with good pay and decent benefits, unlike the adjunct professors of today who suffer from low pay and few if any benefits. I liked my students and tried to challenge and inspire them to the best of my ability.
All this is a preface to Belle Chesler’s stunning article at TomDispatch.com, “Making American Schools Less Great Again: A Lesson in Educational Nihilism on a Grand Scale.” A high school visual arts teacher, Chesler writes from the heart about the chronic underfunding of education and how it is constricting democracy in America. Here she talks about the frustrations of classes that are simply too big to teach:
[Class sizes grew so large] I couldn’t remember my students’ names, was unable to keep up with the usual grading and assessments we’re supposed to do, and was overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Worst of all, I was unable to provide the emotional support I normally try to give my students. I couldn’t listen because there wasn’t time.
On the drive to work, I was paralyzed by dread; on the drive home, cowed by feelings of failure. The experience of that year was demoralizing and humiliating. My love for my students, my passion for the subjects I teach, and ultimately my professional identity were all stripped from me. And what was lost for the students? Quality instruction and adult mentorship, as well as access to vital resources — not to mention a loss of faith in one of America’s supposedly bedrock institutions, the public school…
The truth of the matter is that a society that refuses to adequately invest in the education of its children is refusing to invest in the future. Think of it as nihilism on a grand scale.
Nihilism, indeed. Why believe in anything? Talk about zombie education!
What America is witnessing, she writes, is nothing short of a national tragedy:
Public schools represent one of the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Yet as a society we’ve stood aside as the very institutions that actually made America great were gutted and undermined by short-term thinking, corporate greed, and unconscionable disrespect for our collective future.
The truth is that there is money for education, for schools, for teachers, and for students. We just don’t choose to prioritize education spending and so send a loud-and-clear message to students that education doesn’t truly matter. And when you essentially defund education for more than 40 years, you leave kids with ever less faith in American institutions, which is a genuine tragedy.
Please read all of her article here at TomDispatch.com. And ask yourself, Why are we shortchanging our children’s future? Why are we graduating gormless zombies rather than mindful citizens?
Perhaps Trump does have some relevance to this article after all: “I love the poorly educated,” sayeth Trump. Who says Trump always lies?
Should we have a Department of Offense in place of a Department of Defense (DoD)? Wouldn’t “Offense” be more accurate? Perhaps in more ways than one?
Consider the revival of “great-power rivalry,” meaning China and Russia as America’s main rivals. (Terrorists may be trouble, but you don’t necessarily need nuclear-powered carriers and stealth bombers to neutralize them.) The new “cold war” is all the rage within the DoD, even though China and Russia are regional land powers, having little of the arsenal of global power projection in which the U.S. takes so much pride.
On this subject, the following snippet on Russia’s navy, courtesy of FP: Foreign Policy, is eye-opening:
“The Russian military is considering decommissioning its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet era ship that has been beset by maintenance problems and whose reliability is so questionable that a tug boat follows it around on deployments.”
A sputtering and antiquated aircraft carrier that needs tugboats to get around: not much to fear there, America.
Like Russia, China has a single aircraft carrier, though there are plans to build one or two more. Even if China does, the U.S. will still maintain an enormous lead on its “great-power” rivals. Some rivalry!
The U.S. Navy currently has eleven fleet aircraft carriers, with two new ones under construction and a further two on order. Indeed, to make space for all these new carriers, the Navy has plans to retire CVN-75, Harry S Truman, 20 years early, an idea even Congress finds silly.
But give the Navy credit. They knew Congress would balk at early retirement for the Truman, which doesn’t mean they’re backing off on new carrier orders. Instead, the Navy wants it all: two new carriers and a refurbished and refueled Truman.
Consider the following exchange between a senator and an admiral:
“If we were to give you more money, you’d keep the Truman in place, wouldn’t you? Would that be your druthers?” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked.
“Our druthers would be to not surrender a carrier that has 50-percent of its life remaining, but we would like to not do that at the expense of moving out on these other technologies that every assessment has told us” the Navy will need in the future, [said] Vice Adm. Bill Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems.
“So basically we should consider giving you more money, right?” Hirono asked.
Replied Merz, “yes, ma’am.”
You just have to love these admirals and generals. The answer is always more money!
U.S. “defense” experts have always been most expert at getting the biggest slice of the federal budgetary pie. That, and threat inflation. Hence the appeal to a new cold war with China (primarily an economic juggernaut) and Russia (an energy giant with lots of nukes), even though the U.S. military clearly outclasses both countries in global dominance and “defense” spending.
The world of “defense” is just getting too absurd for me. What next? A U.S. carrier strike group deployed off the coast to defend our border with Mexico? Our president did say we’re being invaded. You heard it here first.
A recent article in The National Interest captured an open secret: Donald Trump has been using drone strikes far more than Barack Obama ever did.
The Pentagon likes to depict such strikes as incredibly accurate, with few or even no innocents killed. Such a portrayal is inaccurate, however, since “precision” bombing isn’t precise. Intelligence is often wrong. Missiles don’t always hit their targets. Explosions and their effects are unpredictable.
Recognizing those realities, are drone strikes also cowardly?
America likes to fancy itself the “home of the brave,” a land of “heroes” and “warriors.” But how heroic is it to launch a Hellfire missile from a drone, without any risk to yourself? Aren’t warriors supposed to be on the receiving end of elemental violence as well as being the inflictors of it?
Experiencing violence, even reveling in it while enduring war’s passions and horrific results was part of what it meant to be a warrior. Think of Achilles versus Hector in ancient days, or knights jousting with knights in the Middle Ages, or men not firing until they saw the white of the enemy’s eyes at Bunker Hill. Even when machines intruded, it wasn’t just T-34 tanks versus Tigers at Kursk in 1943, or B-17 bombers versus Focke-Wulf Fw 190s over Berlin in 1944: it was the men operating those machines who mattered — and who demonstrated heroism and warrior spirit.
But when war becomes robotic and routine for one side, action at a great distance and indeed at total remove from violence and its effects, can that be heroic in any way? Isn’t drone warfare a form of denatured war, war without passion, war without risk to U.S. drone operators?
Don’t get me wrong. Drone warfare has its pains for its “operators.” PTSD exists for these men and women who pilot the drones and launch the missiles; watching other people die on video, when you’re responsible for their deaths, carries a cost, at least for some. But is it not all-too-tempting to smite and kill others when they have no way of smiting you back?
It is not well that war grows less terrible for us – for we are growing much too fond of it.”
That the Trump administration is turning so fondly to drone strikes (following the example of Obama, for once proudly) is yet another sign that America is far too devoted to war. Is it not because war is so profitable for a few, and so painless for the rest of us?
There is no direct pain to America from drone warfare, but there’s also little recognition of war’s horrific costs and the need to end them; there is no immediate risk, but there’s also little recognition that there are ways to triumph other than simply killing one’s perceived enemies.
A final, heretical, question: Are Americans so eager to celebrate their warriors as heroes precisely because they so often practice a form of warfare that is unheroic and even cowardly? If Americans were routinely on the receiving end of drone strikes by a distant foreign power, I think I know how we’d answer that question.
Give me five minutes, and I can tell you exactly what Bernie Sanders believes in. Single-payer health care for all. A $15 minimum wage. Higher taxes on the richest Americans. College education that doesn’t bankrupt families and leave students with crushing debt. Criminal justice reform. Investment in infrastructure and renewable energy. He gives specifics, and he’s walked a principled walk for decades.
But what does the Democratic Partly leadership believe in? As this article at Truthdig put it, “Nancy Pelosi Believes In Nothing.” Of course, she does believe in something: her own power and privilege, which she seeks to maintain and expand. But principles like those held by Bernie Sanders? Forget about it.
I’ve been reading Matt Taibbi’s “The Great Derangement,” a terrific book that came out in 2008, and Taibbi nails it in this passage (pages 243-4):
The Democrats’ error was in believing that people wouldn’t notice this basic truth [that the party’s ideology is driven by power and nothing more] about their priorities. They were wrong on that score. In fact, a Quinnipiac poll taken around that time  found the approval rating of Congress had fallen to 23 percent. Other polls saw the number plummet to the teens. The rating of the Democratic Congress was even lower than [George W.] Bush’s, and it was not hard to see why. Bush was wrong and insane, but he stood for something. It was a fucked-up something, but it was something. The Democrats stood for nothing; they viewed their own constituents as problems to be handled, and even casual voters were beginning to see this.
If you substitute Trump’s name for Bush’s in the above quotation, it makes even more sense. “[Trump] was wrong and insane, but he stood for something. It was a fucked-up something, but it was something.”
This is the biggest issue for corporate Democrats: What do you stand for? For so many in the establishment, what they stand for is themselves. The perpetuation of their own power and privilege. This is the biggest reason why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. It was always all about her.
Another quotation from Matt Taibbi made me laugh out loud even as I winced at the harsh truth of it (page 190):
You don’t elect politicians to commit crimes; you elect politicians to make your crimes legal. That is the whole purpose of the racket of government.
In this case, the “you” in question are all the banks, corporations, and other vested interests that essentially buy our politicians. Until we get big money out of politics, this corruption will persist.
Bernie Sanders doesn’t take corporate money. Neither does Tulsi Gabbard. But most of the current batch of Democratic candidates for president in 2020 do take money from big corporate and financial donors. And that should tell you what they believe in: their own power and privilege, and little else.
Speaking of Bernie Sanders, I recently read a depressing article in the Nation by Eric Alterman who argued Bernie can’t win in 2020. Why? Supposedly because Americans won’t elect a socialist, and also because Trump and the Republican attack machine will convince Americans he’s simply too radical.
WTF? Americans are desperate for leaders who believe in something rather than nothing. That’s why Trump won in 2016. Again, in the spirit of Taibbi, Trump may be batshit crazy, but he does take a stand, e.g. “Build the wall.” The best way to defeat Trump in 2020 is to go bold: to nominate a candidate with strong core beliefs. A candidate who connects with young and old and who inspires enthusiastic participation. That’s Bernie.
But perhaps Jimmy Dore, the comedian/political commentator, is right: establishment Democrats like Pelosi would rather defeat Progressives like Bernie Sanders than win the presidential election against Trump in 2020. Because if Trump wins, they can continue to serve (and profit from) corporate interests while posing as being anti-Trump, i.e. they can continue life as they know it, with all the power and privilege that comes with it.
As my wife quipped today, “They don’t let their beliefs get in their way, do they?” Which is another way of saying they really have no beliefs at all.
I grew up on a steady diet of threat inflation. Before I was born, bomber and missile “gaps” had been falsely touted as showing the Soviet Union was ahead of the U.S. in developing nuclear-capable weaponry (the reverse was true). But those lies, which vastly exaggerated Soviet capabilities, perfectly served the needs of the military-industrial complex (hereafter, the Complex) in the USA. Another example of threat inflation, common when I was a kid, was the Domino Theory, the idea that, if South Vietnam fell to communism, the entire region of Southeast Asia would fall as well, including Thailand and perhaps even countries like the Philippines. Inflating the danger of communism was always a surefire method to promote U.S. defense spending and the interests of the Pentagon.
When I was in college, one book that opened my eyes was Andrew Cockburn’s “The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine.” James Fallows’s “National Defense” was another book I read in those days, together with Helen Caldicott’s “Missile Envy.” Early in the Reagan years, I recall those old charts that displayed Soviet ICBMs as being bigger than American ICBMs, as if missile size was everything. The message was clear: the Soviets have more missiles, and they’re bigger! Yet what really mattered was the accuracy and reliability of those missiles, areas where the U.S. had a decisive edge. U.S. nuclear forces were also far more survivable than their Soviet counterparts, but such details were lost on most Americans.
Throughout my life, the U.S. “defense” establishment has consistently inflated the dangers presented by foreign powers, which brings me to the current Pentagon budget for 2020, which may reach $750 billion. How to justify such an immense sum? A large dollop of threat inflation might help…
With the Islamic State allegedly defeated in Syria and other terrorist forces more nuisances than existential threats, with the Afghan War apparently winding down (only 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed there) and with Trump professing a “love” fest with Kim Jong-un, where are today’s (and tomorrow’s) big threats? Iran isn’t enough. The only threats that seem big enough to justify colossal military spending are Russia and China. Hence the new “cold war” we keep hearing about, which drives a “requirement” for big spending on lucrative weapons systems like new aircraft carriers, new fighters and bombers, newer and better nuclear warheads and missiles, and so forth.
Which brings me to the alleged Russian collusion story involving Trump. As we now know, the Mueller Report found no collusion, but was that really the main point of the investigation and all the media hysteria? The latter succeeded in painting Vladimir Putin and the Russians as enemies in pursuit of the death of American democracy. Meanwhile Trump, who’d campaigned with some idea of a rapprochement with Russia, was driven by the investigation to take harsher stances against Russia, if only to prove he wasn’t a “Putin puppet.” The result: most Americans today see Russia as a serious threat, even though the Russians spend far less on wars and weaponry than the U.S. does.
Threat inflation is nothing new, of course. Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized it and did his best to control it in the 1950s, but even Ike had only limited success. Other presidents, lacking Ike’s military experience and gravitas, have most frequently surrendered to the Complex. The last president who tried with some consistency to control the Complex was Jimmy Carter, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, and his own political fortunes drove him to launch a major military buildup, which was then accelerated by Reagan until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s, I briefly heard about a peace dividend and America returning to being a normal country (i.e. anti-imperial) in normal times, but ambition and greed reared their ugly heads, and U.S. leaders became enamored with military power. Rather than receding, America’s global empire grew, with no peace dividends forthcoming. The attacks on 9/11 led the Bush/Cheney administration to double down on military action in its “global war on terror,” leading to disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that further served to engorge the Complex with money and power.
Today, faced with a debilitating national debt of $22 trillion and infrastructure that’s aptly described as “crumbling,” you’d think U.S. leaders would finally seek a peace dividend to lower our debt and rebuild our roads, bridges, dams, and related infrastructure. But the Complex (including Congress, of course) is addicted to war and weapons spending, aided as ever by threat inflation and its close cousin, fearmongering about invading aliens at the border.
And there you have it: a $750 billion military budget sucking up more than sixty percent of discretionary spending by the federal government. As Ike said, this is no way to live humanely, but it is a way for humanity to hang from a cross of iron.