Because China

Why will this man be happy when Trump vetoes the NDAA?

W.J. Astore

President Trump says he will veto the NDAA that funds the Pentagon at $740 billion for FY 2021. Congress appears to have the votes to override his veto.

What caught my eye was part of Trump’s rationale for the veto: China. China will apparently be outraged when Trump vetoes the bill. Here’s the report (from the Guardian):

Trump says he will veto defense bill

Donald Trump once again said he intends to veto the annual defense authorization bill, setting up a potential veto override by Congress.

“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy,” the president said in a tweet. “They love it. Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands. Thank you!”

We just witnessed four years of red-baiting by the Democrats against the Republicans and Trump (“Moscow Mitch”?) with Russia as the Bad Red Guy. Prepare for four years of red-baiting by Republicans against the Democrats and Biden (“Hunter, Made in China”?) with China as the Bad Red Guy. The winner: the military-industrial complex. The loser: the American people, and perhaps the world.

Actually, Trump has a point about the NDAA inhibiting his ability to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too bad he didn’t focus on that and the issue of bipartisan support of endless wars.

But he had to hit the China gong, and it will resound loudly in the coming years. You know what they say about payback, Democrats …

Biden’s Motto: Same As It Ever Was

Biden: A scold with no vision and no new ideas

W.J. Astore

An old friend and faithful reader sent me this query: Biden’s Defense/National Security Team looks like a tired Obama 2.0 retread. Iran nuclear deal back? Middle East entanglements/deployments suddenly fashionable again? Drone strikes? Russia fixation? Averting eyes from China?

He’s right about the retread. As Biden himself promised to his corporate sponsors, nothing would fundamentally change under his administration. Think about that for a moment. He’s been running for president off and on for 30+ years, and yet when he finally wins, he’s got no vision. None. He just wants to occupy the Oval Office and change nothing.

What’s the point of running for president and being a leader if you want to do nothing? I don’t see the point, but I understand Biden’s corporate sponsors who profit from the status quo. They like America and the way rich people are gaining even more money and power — why change a good thing?

We see this with America’s military-industrial-Congressional complex. A retired general who works for Raytheon is announced as the next “civilian” defense secretary. Men who were for the Iraq war, a disastrous decision that you’d think would be disqualifying, are those who get high positions as national security advisers or as secretary of state. Not a single progressive or skeptical voice against war gets hired, even though the last 20 years of endless wars have been disastrous.

The “defense” budget at $740 billion remains untouchable. It recently passed with strong, veto-proof, bipartisan support in Congress. The main American enemy of the moment is Covid-19 and the collateral damage of deaths, loss of jobs, bankruptcies, and forthcoming evictions and foreclosures, yet Congress can’t pass a stimulus bill to help the working classes. Yet a stimulus bill for weapons makers is easily passed — we just happen to call it the NDAA, or the national defense authorization act.

Remember when there were serious Congressional debates about guns and butter? We settled those in favor of the guns. Domestic issues take a back seat to the need to fund the Pentagon and its global network of bases and installations. We’re so busy exporting money and violence that we don’t even see how we’ve become our own worst enemies.

Biden didn’t have much of a slogan when he ran for president. It was something like “build back better.” It really should have been “same as it ever was,” as in the same “legalized” corruption, the same misguided priorities, and the same stale ideas.

Imagine running for president with no new ideas … forgive me for repeating myself, but how sad is that?

The Military-Industrial Complex Wins Again

Does the Pentagon and its contractors need a stimulus more than the American people?

W.J. Astore

At the American Conservative, I discuss the War on Terror, the nomination of General (retired) Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense, the lack of an American anti-war movement, and why we never see a “peace dividend” in the USA. My discussion begins at the 16-minute point.

Also, articles by Matt Taibbi and David Sirota suggest that the biggest winner of the latest Covid-relief stimulus talks in Congress is, believe it or not, the military-industrial complex. Right now there are no plans to send money to the American people, even as nearly 15 million have lost their employer-sponsored health care and millions more face eviction or foreclosure in the new year.

Here are the headlines:

“Stimulus Bill Bails Out Defense Contractors, Denies Direct Payments to Families,” by David Sirota and Julia Rock at https://www.dailyposter.com/p/stimulus-bill-bails-out-defense-contractors

“Amazing” Hypocrisy: Democrats Make Wreck of Covid-19 Relief Negotiations
Democrats stonewalled all year on a new pandemic relief package. Now they’re proposing a new plan that undercuts even Republican proposals, and screws everyone but – get this – defense contractors, by Matt Taibbi at https://taibbi.substack.com/p/amazing-hypocrisy-democrats-make

Taibbi quotes one aide as saying: “There are no direct payments for regular working people, people living off tips. But they made sure there’s a provision in there to help defense contractors who aren’t working right now. They get what they’re looking for.”

In short, the military-industrial complex wins again. The American people? They lose again.

Pulp Fiction and the Vietnam War

W.J. Astore

Growing up, I watched a lot of James Bond movies. That super-tough, super-sexy, British secret agent, played with such brilliance by Sean Connery, always seemed to have great fun as he saved the world from various dictators, terrorists, and megalomaniacs. I wanted an Aston Martin like Bond had in “Goldfinger,” tricked out with all the latest gizmos and gadgets provided by Q Branch. But more than anything I wanted Bond’s competence, his swagger, his ability to win the day while getting the girl as well. Such movies are harmless male fantasy flicks — or are they harmless?

While Ian Fleming was writing his “Bond” books and Sean Connery was breathing life and fire into the character, another sort of male fantasy was being promulgated and promoted in men’s adventure magazines with titles like “Stag” and “Man’s Life” and “Man’s World.” These pulp magazines appeared at a time when men’s masculinity was threatened (then again, when hasn’t masculinity been under threat?), in the 1950s and 1960s, a new nuclear age in which America seemed stuck behind the Soviet space program and stuck fighting wars (Korea, Vietnam) that ultimately proved unheroic and unwinnable.

It’s easy to dismiss such men’s magazines as a simplistic variety of pulp fiction, but we’d be wrong to do so, argues historian Greg Daddis in his new book, Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men’s Adventure Magazines. Daddis is quite convincing in showing how this pulp fiction advanced a view of Western, and specifically American, chauvinism in which war served as an adventure, an opportunity to demonstrate the innate superiority of the American male over various foreign, often Asiatic, opponents, while getting the girl, of course, with the girl usually scantily clad and stereotyped as vulnerable and/or duplicitous and/or sexually available.

Daddis is careful to say that such magazines, with their often violent and sexist fantasies, didn’t drive or determine U.S. behavior in places like Vietnam. But they most certainly reflected and reinforced the idea of American martial superiority and the notion that foreigners, and specifically foreign women, were both inferior and exploitable. The book is well-produced and well-illustrated, including color plates of a representative sample of these magazines. “I’m not afraid of World War III,” “Castration of the American Male,” and “Beat it Sister, I’ve Got a War to Fight!” are a few of the article titles that caught my eye from these pulp covers.

For me, Daddis hits a homerun as he compares the harsh realities of the Vietnam War to the bizarre fantasies of these adventure magazines. If there were U.S. troops expecting lots of easy victories and easier women in ‘Nam, they quickly learned that pulp fiction had nothing to do with hard reality. In Daddis’ words:

In the macho pulps, brave warriors had fought for honor, for their comrades, for a sense of triumph. In Vietnam, GIs simply wanted to leave the fighting behind … The gaps between truth and fiction seemed insurmountable.

The undiscovered adventure thus generated a lingering sense of anxiety that Vietnam might not be the man-making experience as publicized in the macho pulps. The modern battlefield engendered a sense of helplessness, not heroism …

[M]ore than a few discouraged American soldiers in Vietnam took advantage of wartime opportunities to behave aggressively toward the very people they were there to protect … the pulps played an outsized role in contributing to a portrait of a manly warrior, conquering enemy forces in alien, savage lands, and, frequently, the women who resided there as well. For the men who were schooled by the Cold War pulps, actual experiences in Vietnam proved nothing like what they expected from stories of adventure and domination … [A] climate of deep frustration … might have contributed to violence against Vietnamese people in general and women in particular. After all, had not the macho pulps for years been promising them the sexual rewards of an exotic Orient?

Daddis, pp. 172-73

I’d wager that most men recognized the fantastic elements of the pulps — even laughing at some of the more outrageous stories and exaggerated illustrations. But on some level fantasy has a way of informing the reality that we construct out of the cultural material that surrounds us. Sure, I know I’m not James Bond, and I know that real spy work isn’t an adventure-filled romp as in a Bond flick like “Thunderball.” But I still prefer a martini that’s been shaken, not stirred.

The fiction sold by these men’s adventure magazines glorified war and the warrior even as it marginalized and stereotyped and demeaned foreigners of various sorts. Read enough of this stuff (or watch enough Bond flicks) and you’re bound to be influenced by them. Daddis is to be congratulated for writing a highly original study that sheds new light on why Americans fight the way they do, and for what reasons, fictions, and compulsions.

Spilling Ink and Spilling Blood

W.J. Astore (and Danny Sjursen)

Recently, I had a long conversation with Major (retired) Danny Sjursen on our responses to the Iraq and Afghan Wars. The entire conversation is at TomDispatch.com; what follows is an excerpt.

Bill (that’s me!): In the summer of 2007, I was increasingly disgusted by the way the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney was hiding behind the bemedaled chest of Iraq commander General David Petraeus. Our civilian commander-in-chief, George W., was avoiding responsibility for the disastrous Iraq War by sending Petraeus, then known as the “surge” general, before Congress to testify that some sort of victory was still possible, even as he hedged his talk of progress with words like “fragile” and “reversible.”

So I got off my butt and wrote an article that argued we needed to end the Iraq War and our folly of “spilling blood and treasure with such reckless abandon.” I submitted it to newspapers like the New York Times with no success. Fortunately, a friend told me about TomDispatch, where Tom Engelhardt had been publishing critical articles by retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich. Luckily for me, Tom liked my piece and published it as “Saving the Military from Itself” in October of that same year.

That article put me on the path of dissent from America’s forever wars, even if I wasn’t so much antiwar as anti-dumb-war then. As I asked at the time, how do you win someone else’s civil war? Being a Star Trek fan, I referred to the Kobayashi Maru, a “no-win” scenario introduced in the second Star Trek movie. I saw our troops, young lieutenants like yourself in Iraq, being stuck in a no-win situation and I was already convinced that, no matter how much Petraeus talked about “metrics” and “progress,” it wasn’t going to happen, that “winning” really meant leaving, and we haven’t won yet since, god help us, we’re still there.

Of course, the so-called surge in Iraq back then did what it was actually meant to do. It provided an illusion of progress and stability even while proving just as fragile and reversible as the weaselly Petraeus said it would be. Worse yet, the myth of that Iraqi surge would lead disastrously to the Afghan version of the same under Barack Obama and — yet again — Petraeus who would prove to be a general for all presidents.

Lucky you! You were on the ground in both surges, weren’t you?

Danny: I sure was! Believe it or not, a colonel once told me I was lucky to have done “line duty” in both of them — platoon and company command, Iraq and Afghanistan, Baghdad and Kandahar. To be honest, Bill, I knew something was fishy even before you retired or I graduated from West Point and headed for those wars.

In fact, it’s funny that you should mention Bacevich. I was first introduced to his work in the winter of 2004 as a West Point senior by then-Lieutenant Colonel Ty Seidule. Back then, for a guy like me, Bacevich had what could only be called bracing antiwar views (a wink-nod to your Bracing Views blog, Bill) for a classroom of burgeoning neocons just about certain to head for Iraq. Frankly, most of us couldn’t wait to go.

And we wouldn’t have that long to wait either. The first of our classmates to die, Emily Perez, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb in September 2006 within 18 months of graduation (and five more were to die in the years to come). I took a scout platoon to southeast Baghdad a month later and we didn’t leave — most of us, that is — for 15 months.

My partly Bacevich-bred sneaking suspicions about America’s no-longer distant wars were, of course, all confirmed. It turned out that policing an ethno-religious-sectarian conflict, mostly of our own country’s making, while dodging counter-counterinsurgent attacks aimed at expelling us occupiers from that country was as tough as stateside invasion opponents had predicted.

On lonely outpost mornings, I had a nasty daily habit of reading the names of our announced dead. Midway through my tour, one of those countless attacks killed 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich. When I saw that name, I realized instantly that he must be the son of the man whose book I had read two years earlier, the man who is now our colleague. The moment remains painfully crystal clear in my memory.

By the way, Bill, your Iraq War take was dead on. During my own tour there, I came to the same realization. Embarrassingly enough, though, it took me seven years to say the same things publicly in my first book, fittingly subtitled “The Myth of the Surge.” By then, of course, ISIS — the Frankenstein’s monster of America’s misadventure — was already streaming across Syria’s synthetic borders and conquering swaths of northern and western Iraq, which made an anti-Iraq War screed seem quaint indeed, at least in establishment circles.

But Bill, do go on.

Bill: It was also back in 2007 when something John McCain said on PBS really ticked me off. In essence, he warned that if the U.S. military lost in Iraq, it wouldn’t be the generals’ fault. No, it would be ours, those of us who had questioned the war and its conduct and so had broken faith with that very military. In response, I wrote a piece at TomDispatch with the sarcastic title, “If We Lose Iraq, You’re to Blame,” because I already found such “stab-in-the-back” lies pernicious beyond words. As Andy Bacevich noted recently when it came to such lies about an earlier American military disaster: we didn’t lose the Vietnam War in 1975 when Saigon fell, we lost it in 1965 when President Johnson committed American troops to winning a civil war that South Vietnam had already lost.

Something similar is true for the Iraq and Afghan wars today. We won’t lose those conflicts when we finally pull all U.S. troops out and the situation goes south (as it most likely will). No, we lost the Afghan War in 2002 when we decided to turn a strike against the Taliban and al-Qaeda into an occupation of that country; and we lost the Iraq War the moment we invaded in 2003 and found none of the weapons of mass destruction that Bush and his top officials had sworn were there. Those were wars of choice, not of necessity, and we could only “win” them by finally choosing to end them. We lose them — and maybe our democracy as well — by choosing to keep on waging them in the false cause of “stability” or “counterterrorism,” or you-name-it.

Early in 2009, I had an epiphany of sorts while walking around a cemetery. With those constant deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and dozens of other countries globally, the U.S. military, I thought, was becoming a foreign legion, almost like the quintessential French version of the same, increasingly separated from the people, and increasingly recruited from “foreign” elements, including recent immigrants to this country looking for a fast-track to citizenship.

Danny: Bill, one of my own soldiers fit the mold you just mentioned. Private First Class Gustavo Rios-Ordonez, a married father of two and a Colombian national. Partly seeking citizenship through service, he was the last trooper to join my command just before we shipped out and the first killed when, on June 20, 2011, he stepped on an improvised explosive device within sight of the Afghan outpost I then commanded. Typing this now, I stare at a framed dusty unit guidon, the pennant that once flew over that isolated sandbagged base of ours and was gifted to me by my soldiers.

Sorry, Bill, last interruption… scout’s honor!

Surges to Nowhere

Bill: So I wrote an article that asked if our military was morphing into an imperial police force. As I put it then: “Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.” And I added, “Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.”

A few people torched me for writing that. They thought I was saying that the troops themselves were somehow foreign, that I was attacking the rank-and-file, but my intent was to attack those who were misusing the military for their own purposes and agendas and all the other Americans who were acquiescing in the misuse of our troops. It’s a strange dynamic in this country, the way we’re cajoled into supporting our troops without ourselves having to serve or even pay attention to what they’re doing.

Indeed, under George W. Bush, we were even discouraged from commemorating the honored dead, denied seeing footage of returning flag-draped caskets. We were to celebrate our troops, while they (especially the dead and wounded) were kept out of sight — literally behind curtains, by Bush administration order — and so mostly out of mind.

I was against the Afghan surge, Danny, because I knew it would be both futile and unsustainable. In arguing that case, I reached back to the writings of two outspoken opponents of the Vietnam War, Norman Mailer and Mary McCarthy. As President Obama deliberated on whether to surge or not, I suggested that he should confer with broadminded critics outside the government, tough-minded freethinkers cut from the cloth of Mailer and McCarthy.

Mailer, for example, had argued that the Vietnamese were “faceless” to Americans (just as the Iraqis and Afghans have been all these years), that we knew little about them as a people and cared even less. He saw American intervention in “heart of darkness” terms. McCarthy was even blunter, condemning as “wicked” the government’s technocentric and hegemonic form of warfare with its “absolute indifference to the cost in human lives.” Predictably, Obama listened to conventional wisdom and surged again, first under General Stanley McChrystal and then, of course, under Petraeus.

Danny: Well, Bill, paltry as it may now sound, I truly thank you for your post-service service to sensibility and decency — even if those efforts didn’t quite spare me the displeasure of a second stint in a second theater with Petraeus as my supreme commander for a second time.

By the way, I ran into King David (as he came to be known) last year in a long line for the urinals at Newark airport. Like you, I’ve been tearing the guy’s philosophy and policies up for years. Still, I decided decorum mattered, so I introduced myself and mentioned that we’d met once at a Baghdad base in 2007. But before I could even kid him about how his staff had insisted that we stock ample kiwi slices because he loved to devour them, Petraeus suddenly walked off without even making it to the stall! I found it confusing behavior until I glimpsed myself in the mirror and remembered that I was wearing an “Iraq Veterans Against the War” t-shirt.

Okay, here’s a more instructive anecdote: Have I ever mentioned to you that my Afghan outpost, “Pashmul South” as it was then known, featured prominently in the late journalist Michael Hasting’s classic book, The Operators (which inspired the Netflix original movie War Machine)? At one point, Hastings describes how Petraeus’s predecessor in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, visited an isolated base full of war-weary and war-exasperated infantrymen. In one of the resident platoons, all but seven of its 25 original members had “been killed, wounded, or lost their minds.” And yes, that was the “palace” I took over a couple of years later, an outpost the Taliban was then attacking almost daily.

By the time I took up the cause of “Enduring Freedom” (as the Afghan operation had been dubbed by the Pentagon), I had already resigned myself to being one of those foreign legionnaires you’ve talked about, if not an outright mercenary. During the Afghan surge, I fought for pay, healthcare, a future West Point faculty slot, and lack of a better alternative (or alternate identity). My principles then were simple enough: patrol as little as possible, kill as few locals as you can, and make sure that one day you’ll walk (as many of my scouts literally did) out of that valley called Arghandab.

I was in a dark headspace then. I didn’t believe a damn thing my own side said, held out not an ounce of hope for victory, and couldn’t even be bothered to hate my “enemy.” On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, staff officers at brigade headquarters sent a Reuters reporter deep into the boonies to profile the only commander around from the New York City area and I told him just what I thought, or close enough in any case. Suffice it to say that my colonels were less than pleased when Captain Sjursen was quoted as saying that “the war was anything but personal” and that he never “thought about 9/11 at all” or when he described the Taliban this way: “It’s farm-boys picking up guns. How do you hate that?”

Rereading that article now, I feel a certain sadness for that long-gone self of mine, so lost in fatalism, hopelessness, and near-nihilism. Then I catch myself and think: imagine how the Afghans felt, especially since they didn’t have a distant home to scurry off to sooner or later.

Anyway, I never forgot that it was Obama — from whom I’d sought Iraq War salvation — who ordered my troops on that even more absurd Afghan surge to nowhere (and I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him either). Still, if there was a silver lining in all that senselessness, perhaps it was that such a bipartisan betrayal widened both the breadth and depth of my future dissent.

Please read the rest of our conversation here, and our conclusion that, when it comes to resisting America’s disastrous wars, our motto has to be: No retreat, no surrender.

Two Quick Thoughts on the U.S. Military

We’re witnessing the return of the Great White Fleet

W.J. Astore

At TomDispatch.com, Michael Klare has a fine article on the U.S. military’s “all-domain” warfare plans, including nuclear exchanges and big fleet carrier operations against China, among other hair-raising plans of “defense.” I had two thoughts while reading his article:

  1. Remember how, according to the Downing Street Memo, the intelligence was fixed around the policy, thereby justifying the Iraq War that Bush/Cheney wanted? It seems today that U.S. military strategy is being fixed around the weaponry that most profits the MICC (military-industrial-Congressional complex). Of course, strategy is supposed to drive choices in weaponry, but it seems the opposite is true today for the U.S. military. Put differently, the U.S. military is so awash with money, and so enamored with “all-domain” dominance, that virtually any weapons system can be justified in any realm of warfare. Cyber, COIN, fleet operations, nuclear, space, counter-terror, anywhere and everywhere.
  2. Is there such a thing as a true American isolationist? Even in Trumpland? Advocating for a reduction in the U.S. military’s imperial profile doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make you an isolationist. Saying you only want 400, or even 200, overseas bases instead of the 800 the U.S. military has doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make you a crank. Saying you want to wage no unnecessary wars doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make you an isolationist.

There are very few U.S. politicians today who advocate for significant reductions to the U.S. war/imperial budget. It is arguably the new “third rail” of American politics. Consider again the case of Tulsi Gabbard, a U.S. Congresswoman who enlisted in her state’s national guard unit, then became an officer, and currently serves as a major who deployed to the Iraq War. Merely for suggesting an end to disastrous regime-change wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she was smeared by the mainstream media and by Hillary Clinton as a tool of Russia.

As Tom Engelhardt has noted, the U.S. National Security State, with all its branches and services and agencies, represents a “shadow government.” How could it not be so, when more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending goes to that military/intelligence establishment? And when that “shadow government” feels threatened or challenged, it is more than ready to defend its prerogatives and perks.

Update: I should have mentioned that Congress just approved a “Defense” budget for 2021 of $740 billion. No problem with bipartisan support of nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars for wars and weapons! Speaking of weapons, for FY2020 the U.S. has generated $175 billion in authorized arms exports. Yes, the USA remains solidly #1 in both war spending and weapons exports!

Now, what about our response to Covid-19? The USA ranks #18 in that. Wouldn’t it be far better if we ranked #1 in responding to a deadly pandemic?

McGovern versus Nixon: Another Perspective

W.J. Astore

A loser in 1972 but a winner in life

In the presidential election of 1972, Richard Nixon destroyed George McGovern. McGovern won only one state, and it wasn’t even his home state. Of course, Nixon soon experienced his own destruction with Watergate, but the fact remains that McGovern and the Liberal/Left wing of the Democratic party never fully recovered from their drubbing in 1972.

And what a shame that was for America. I’ve been reading “The Liberals’ Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party,” by Bruce Miroff, and the more I read, the more impressed I am by McGovern’s principled stance against the Vietnam War, and war in general.

Miroff cites a Senate speech McGovern made in September of 1970 that deeply impressed me. McGovern didn’t mince words as he called his fellow senators to account for their complicity in approving and continuing war in Southeast Asia:

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval [hospitals] and all across our land–young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces, or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor, or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war, those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

Blunt and powerful words! How refreshing they are compared to the weasel words that come from Congress today. Unsurprisingly, McGovern’s principled stance against the war, and his gutsy call for the Congress to do something to stop it, were unpopular among his fellow senators. He didn’t care about them. He cared about saving lives and ending war.

Now, what was Nixon up to? He’d hoped he’d be running against McGovern, expecting he’d be vulnerable to dirty tricks. Reading Miroff, I discovered that Nixon, among other dirty tricks, actually discussed planting McGovern campaign material in the apartment of Arthur Bremer, the man who’d tried to assassinate George Wallace in May of 1972. Nixon’s scheme was only abandoned when it was learned the FBI had already sealed Bremer’s apartment.

Think of Nixon’s scheme here. He was already well ahead of McGovern in the polls, his reelection a near-certainty, yet Nixon would stop at nothing to tear McGovern down. It was such dirty tricks, of course, that would lead to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate.

History shows that Nixon won the election of 1972, but McGovern was the real winner in life. Nixon continued to prosecute a war with devastating consequences; McGovern fought to stop it. Nixon ran a dishonorable campaign; McGovern a hopeful one, an idealistic one, one that called on Americans to live up to their rhetoric of freedom and self-determination and charity.

Who was the “winner” again?

On War Movies

W.J. Astore

The other night, my wife and I watched “1917,” a movie set during World War I. The Western Front was the setting, and the movie took pains to show the many horrors of trench warfare. Rotting corpses of men and horses. Rats and flies around those corpses. Huge shell craters. Barbed wire everywhere. Broken down tanks and other discarded military equipment. Nature itself blasted. It made you wonder how men could have slaughtered each other under such conditions for so long.

But it’s hard to sustain such horrors, even in a war movie crafted with such care. Because the overall story was a noble one about sacrifice, persistence, and endurance at the longest of odds.

Most war movies are like this. They may show the horrors of war, and do it viscerally and effectively, as Steven Spielberg did in his opening sequence of D-Day in “Saving Private Ryan.” But such horror can’t be sustained in what is ultimately meant as a form of entertainment, so in Spielberg’s film there is meaning and purpose. Sacrifice is ennobling. It is memorable and remembered. The hero does not die in vain.

I’ve seen war movies that have stayed with me, but no war scene in any movie captures the horrors of real life. And if somehow a movie could capture such horrors, who would voluntarily go and see it? Especially if they were not mere spectators but participants — with skin in the game, so to speak.

There are many good war movies out there, but has a movie ever stopped anyone from fighting and dying?

We make war into something larger than life. The irony is that war is most often the negation of life. Too many people die for no purpose and no reason. There is no dramatic arc. Only death and more death.

Yet we remain fascinated by war. Libraries are filled with books on war, and new war movies come out on a regular basis, promising drama and meaning and authenticity.

What was the last peace movie you saw?

Ten Observations on the 2020 Election

No mandate except that nothing will fundamentally change

W.J. Astore

In no particular order, here are ten observations on this year’s election:

  • Trump lost the election more than Biden won it. Trump lost mainly because of the pandemic and the economy. Biden ran on little other than “not being Trump” and squeaked by on that weak message. Sure, he’s president, but he has no mandate.
  • 74 million Americans didn’t vote for Trump solely because he’s racist, sexist, bigoted, and ignorant. Sure, some of them voted due to White supremacy and so on, but some pro-Trump votes reflect the bankruptcy in ideas from Biden/Harris. The Democrats simply offered little to the working class, e.g. the total rejection of Medicare for All during a pandemic. Biden was quoted as saying nothing would fundamentally change in his administration. How’s that for inspiration?
  • To establishment Democrats like Biden, the Republicans may be rivals but Progressives are the real enemy. So far, Biden’s announced staff and cabinet has zero Progressives in it. “Diversity” for Biden and the DNC does not include diversity in policy views. “Good” policies are those that favor the donors and owners. Anyone to the left of Biden need not apply.
  • If the Democratic Presidential primaries taught us one thing, it’s that voters have no say. The DNC has the only say, and they pick the candidate who will best protect their sinecures, in this case Joe Biden. Voters were told, take him or vote for Trump. Or go pound sand.
  • The DNC exists to defeat Progressive challengers like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. Both Sanders and Gabbard refused big cash from big donors, and that is simply not allowed. A “respectable” candidate must be beholden to the big donors, else the DNC simply won’t support you. Indeed, it will do most anything to stop you.
  • Surely one of the most despicable acts I’ve seen in politics was the smearing of Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset by NBC News and Hillary Clinton. They essentially denounced an Army major and Congresswoman as a traitor, or at the very least a useful idiot, a tool of the Kremlin. What was Tulsi’s main message again? Oh, she was against America’s wasteful and wanton regime-change wars.
  • The big winners of the 2020 election were predictable: Big pharma, private health insurance companies, the military-industrial complex, fossil fuel companies, and so on. Biden/Harris will continue to serve their interests.
  • When the senior leaders are Biden, McConnell, and Pelosi, you know Washington is bereft of new ideas and innovative leadership.
  • Even more ignored than climate change in this election was any serious talk of ending America’s wars overseas. Look for them to continue at least until 2024.
  • America remains a country of two parties: A Republican Party increasingly in Trump’s mold, and a Republican-lite Party (otherwise known as Democrats) in service to business and the moneyed interests. In a “pay to play” system, how could it be otherwise? The results of 2020 prove America needs a new party. Call it the Workers’ Party, the Progressive Party, the People’s Party, what-have-you, but recognize that, without campaign finance reform and public funding of elections, 2024 is likely to produce yet another round of a Trumpist candidate against a DNC corporate tool/Republican-lite. And they dare call it “choice”!

Readers: What did you learn from this election?

Biden Rounds Up the Usual Suspects

Biden: Plenty of flags, but no change

W.J. Astore

Surprise! President-elect Joe Biden isn’t listening to progressive voices in his party. Instead, he’s been rounding up the usual suspects for his cabinet and staff. Turns out, progressives, that if you give your support and vote to a Democratic establishment tool like Biden without making firm demands, you won’t get anything in return. Who knew?

Here are a few good articles on Biden’s staff and cabinet:

At TomDispatch.com, Danny Sjursen gives a sharp-eyed summary of the typical Biden operative in the realm of military and foreign affairs. Here’s what Sjursen has to say:

In fact, the national security bio of the archetypal Biden bro (or sis) would go something like this: she (he) sprang from an Ivy League school, became a congressional staffer, got appointed to a mid-tier role on Barack Obama’s national security council, consulted for WestExec Advisors (an Obama alumni-founded outfit linking tech firms and the Department of Defense), was a fellow at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), had some defense contractor ties, and married someone who’s also in the game.

It helps as well to follow the money. In other words, how did the Biden bunch make it and who pays the outfits that have been paying them in the Trump years? None of this is a secret: their two most common think-tank homes — CNAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) — are the second- and sixth-highest recipients, respectively, of U.S. government and defense-contractor funding. The top donors to CNAS are Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and the Department of Defense. Most CSIS largesse comes from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. 

With the news that Tony Blinken will be Biden’s Secretary of State, Caitlin Johnstone makes the following salient point:

Blinken is a liberal interventionist who has supported all of the most disgusting acts of US mass military slaughter this millennium, including the Iraq invasion which killed over a million people and ushered in an unprecedented era of military expansionism in the Middle East. So needless to say he will fly through the confirmation process.

Meanwhile, Julia Rock and Andrew Perez note the incestuous nature of this process, or how the national security revolving door keeps spinning:

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that Biden has chosen his longtime aide, Tony Blinken, to serve as Secretary of State and will name Jake Sullivan, his senior advisor and a former Hillary Clinton aide, national security adviser. Former Obama Defense Department official Michèle Flournoy is considered the favorite to be Secretary of Defense. 

After leaving the Obama administration, Blinken and Flournoy founded WestExec Advisors, a secretive consulting firm whose motto has been: “Bringing the Situation Room to the board room.” Flournoy and Sullivan have both held roles at think tanks raking in money from defense contractors and U.S. government intelligence and defense agencies. 

Biden has been facing calls [Ha! Ha!] from Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups to end the revolving door between government and the defense industry. One-third of the members of Biden transition’s Depart­ment of Defense agency review team were most recently employed by “orga­ni­za­tions, think tanks or com­pa­nies that either direct­ly receive mon­ey from the weapons indus­try, or are part of this indus­try,” according to reporting from In These Times.

Meanwhile, defense executives have been boasting about their close relationship with Biden and expressing confidence that there will not be much change in Pentagon policy. 

Please forgive the “Ha! Ha!” parenthetical, but all this was predictable based on Biden’s record and his statement that nothing would fundamentally change in his administration.

Progressives have essentially no power in the Democratic Party. Look at who the Speaker of the House is! Nancy Pelosi, once again, the ultimate swamp creature.

Expect no new ideas from this bunch, meaning grim times are ahead. Isn’t it high time that progressives take the plunge and start their own party? They are voiceless and powerless within the Democratic Party. Failing that, they had better discover their spines and model themselves on the Tea Party in outspokenness, else they will remain utterly irrelevant.

Bernie Sanders who? Elizabeth Warren who? Progressive reforms? Not with the usual suspects that Joe Biden is selecting and empowering.