As the Senate prepares to acquit Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, I thought it would be a good time for a quick look at his legacy on war and militarism. Trump’s fans like to say he started no new wars. But he was hardly a man of peace, and his legacy on war and militarism is almost entirely negative. Here, in no particular order, are my quick thoughts on this subject:
He boosted military spending and weapons sales. Trump basically bought off the military-industrial-congressional complex by throwing scores of billions of dollars its way while selling weapons around the world. It’s an old formula for U.S. presidents and it worked.
He boosted a militant nationalism vis-a-vis rivals and even traditional allies. Trump was no friend to Russia and aggravated relations with China. Relations with NATO allies were also aggravated as he pressured them to spend more on weapons and wars.
He boosted militarism at home and specifically with police forces. Trump supported and encouraged violent police crackdowns of BLM activists. He called for the deployment of active duty military in the streets of Washington, DC. He even called for a massive military parade (which never happened).
He boosted overseas bombing and drone strikes. Recall the use of MOAB in Afghanistan, or Trump’s missile strike against Syria, and increased bombing in Afghanistan.
He boosted tensions with Iran nearly to the breaking point. Trump’s drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was an act of war; harsh economic sanctions and withdrawal from the Obama-era nuclear treaty with Iran also heightened tensions.
He boosted the chances of nuclear war in the future. Trump was a fan of nuclear weapons; he seems to think of them simply as bigger, mightier bombs. His pursuit of “smaller” tactical nuclear warheads and their deployment on Trident-class nuclear submarines increase the possibility of nuclear war in the future.
He boosted economic sanctions against Venezuela while pursuing a coup. Trump knows Venezuela has vast oil reserves. Why not overthrow their government and take their oil? That was Trump’s policy, more or less. (It doesn’t appear to have changed under Joe Biden.)
Creation of a Space Force. Yet another military competitor for U.S. taxpayer dollars, even as space itself becomes another sphere for the U.S. military to “dominate.”
Failure to end wars that he promised to end. Trump was talked out of ending the war in Afghanistan by generals like James Mattis and H.R. McMaster. Ending such wars was a promise Trump foolishly abandoned.
Reliance on Generals as wise men. Trump, overall a weak and vainglorious man, surrounded himself with generals like Mattis, McMaster, John Kelly, and (briefly) Michael Flynn. Thus he got narrow-minded war-mongering advice.
Seeing the world as a zero-sum game of winners and losers and debasing the art of diplomacy. Putting Mike Pompeo in charge of the State Department was a new low in the pursuit of peace through diplomacy.
Aiding genocide in Yemen while kowtowing to Israel and Saudi Arabia: Trump was a willing participant to genocide in Yemen while pursuing a “peace” plan with Israel that was totally one-sided vis-a-vis the status and rights of Palestinians.
Off the top of my head, that’s my top twelve of Trump’s legacies in this arena. What do you think, readers? Can you think of others? And will any of this really change under Joe Biden?
As a social scientist living through horrific political, economic, and public health crises, I should be embracing with all my might philosophical materialism, the epistemological model behind science. That I don’t could cost me personal and collegial respect, not to mention friendships. So, what exactly is philosophical materialism, and why do I find it ultimately non-collegial?
Philosophy precedes science. It’s impossible to have science (or the sciences) without a presupposition about what is real, which is the arena of philosophy. Philosophical materialism says that all that is real or factual is material or physical in nature. And I find this too limiting.
I am more attuned to the Eastern philosophical model, intellectually supported these days by quantum physics, particularly the early 20th-century German physicist Werner Heisenberg. It holds that non-material phenomena, such as dreams and hallucinations, are as real as physical phenomenon such as rocks and rivers, in one sense, even more real. (My dream is a reality sui generis. It is not electrochemical activity in my brain.) What’s more, all material and non-material phenomena come into existence from individual conscious intention and belief; there is no truly independent universe out there.
The good philosophical news here about the anti-materialist epistemological model is the plausibility of a multi-world or multi-dimensional universe. If reality is a product of consciousness, rather than the other way around, it seems to me Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s claim that we have “nothing to fear but fear itself” is really possible. In fact, the psycho-therapeutic value of that statement is considerable.
But what do I do with my propensity toward progressive activism? And what do I do with those great discussions I have with my friends on how disgusting and horrible the Trump administration is? Can I have both perspectives at the same time? Emerson said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And it seems counterintuitive to be, following the Bible, “in the world but not of the world,” to see everyday life as play, as a sort of game created by me and only for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for “alternative facts,” as the supporters of Trump do. I’m not denying science or the dangers of Covid-19. When I go out, I social distance and wear a mask as needed. But I also believe there is a reality outside of rocks and rivers, so to speak, a reality created by my consciousness, an immaterial realm that has its own existence, whether for me or for all of us. Some might call this a “higher” realm; I prefer to see it as linked to the material, for I myself am both physical and mental, both material and immaterial.
Those epistemological paradigms, material and immaterial, provide me with solace in these dark days. Not everything is controlled by others, and especially not by the Cult of Trump. I decide. And for me that’s an empowering thought at a time when power is being actively denied to so many of us.
Richard Sahn is a retired sociology professor and a regular contributor to Bracing Views.
On the surface, our lives are changing. We’re staying home. We’re practicing social distancing. We’re wearing masks when we go out. Many of us have lost jobs and maybe our health insurance as well. People are suffering and dying. I don’t want to diminish any of this.
Yet how much is really changing? Two of my dad’s sayings come to mind: the more things change, the more they stay the same; and the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. The latter saying defines our coronaviral moment.
The Trump/Congressional stimulus package favors corporations, banks, financiers, and other forms of big business. Ordinary people will be lucky to see a one-time $1200 check, maybe not until this summer. Once again, the trickle-down philosophy rules.
The stimulus bill itself is a grab-bag of special interest legislation. Did you know there’s a “provision in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package [that] allows Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to seek congressional approval to waive parts of the federal law protecting students with disabilities”? Crises are always a good time to attack the most vulnerable while extending the privileges of the most favored.
Meanwhile, truth-tellers are being vilified or punished. Did you hear that “Dr. Anthony Fauci has been given added security after receiving threats”? His “sin” has been to tell the truth about the perils of COVID-19, thereby contradicting all the spin and happy-talk of the Trump administration. That pisses off the most fanatical of Trump’s cult, leading to threats against a medical doctor who’s trying his best to save lives.
Speaking of being punished, consider this report: “The Navy removed the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, saying an outbreak of the virus aboard his ship had ‘overwhelmed his ability to act professionally.’ Days earlier, Capt. Brett Crozier had sent a letter asking for help, using an unclassified email system.” According to Reuters, the move could have a “chilling effect on others in the Navy looking to speak up about issues they are facing at a time when the Pentagon is withholding some of the more detailed data about coronavirus infections for fear of undermining the perception of American military readiness for a crisis or conflict.”
Here’s what Navy Captain Crozier had to say before he was relieved of command: “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors.”
Crozier made two “mistakes” here: he cared too much about his sailors while highlighting the uncaring nature of his chain of command; and he dared to say “We are not at war,” when the accepted wisdom is that America is always at war (how else to justify gargantuan “defense” budgets?). By embarrassing a callous and mercenary military abetted by the Trump administration, Crozier had to go. And as he left his ship for the last time, his crew chanted his name in a rousing sendoff.
Today’s final lesson to illustrate how “the more things change, the more they stay the same”: the story of Christian Smalls, a brave Amazon manager who spoke out against unsafe conditions at a fulfillment center. For his honesty, Smalls was fired by Amazon, which then considered smearing him as not smart or articulate in a leaked memo. Smalls just happens to be Black, so Amazon resorted to racist words (not articulate, not smart) to imply he had nothing to say of any value. Interesting that Smalls worked for Amazon for five years but only became dumb and inarticulate when he began to protest unsafe conditions related to the spread of COVID-19. I watched Smalls in an interview, and he made a great suggestion: stop clicking and buying from Amazon, America. That’s the only language Jeff Bezos understands.
I’ll close with some words of wisdom from one of my readers. This is what she had to say:
No reason to complain however, we are the lucky ones. As with all pandemics, it will be the poorest and weakest in the pecking order who will bear the brunt. People in countries engulfed by war, refugee camps, metropolitan slums, prisoners in overcrowded prisons stand no chance against this medieval plague.
Excuse my French: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
A few thoughts generated by these coronaviral times:
Perhaps in a year, we’ll have an effective vaccine against COVID-19. But developing a vaccine against stupidity will remain elusive.
Perhaps we should redefine COVID-19 as a terrorist outfit, thereby unleashing unlimited funding from Congress to combat it.
People are stunned by this pandemic and the changes driven by it. We’ve been knocked out of our routines and perhaps our complacency. At least some of us are now open to new ideas. Which is precisely why our government is rushing in with old ideas, doubling down on trickle down, telling us to remain in place, not only physically, which is necessary, but mentally. Look at the parade of old ideas trumpeted by the president. And for that matter Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic establishment. Trump and Biden are literally tired old men, not in age alone, but more importantly in how they view the world. There’s nothing fresh or original about them. Nothing. Whereas Bernie Sanders is fighting for health care for all, better pay for workers, and a system that puts people first instead of profits.
The courage and selflessness of doctors, nurses, first responders, and indeed all those who are risking exposure to the virus to help others has truly been inspirational. We’re hearing a lot from the media about our doctors, nurses, etc. being “heroes,” which is encouraging. Far too often in the U.S., and for too long, the concept of “hero” was linked to military service, with all troops being celebrated as “hometown heroes.” Athletes, too, were called heroes for hitting homeruns or throwing touchdowns. Our coronaviral moment is reminding us about the true nature of heroes. As I wrote a decade ago:
Here, then, is what I mean by “hero”: someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place. Heroes, of course, come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors, most of them looking nothing like John Wayne or John Rambo or GI Joe (or Jane).
“Hero,” sadly, is now used far too cavalierly. Sportscasters, for example, routinely refer to highly paid jocks who hit walk-off home runs or score game-winning touchdowns as heroes. Even though I come from a family of firefighters (and one police officer), the most heroic person I’ve ever known was neither a firefighter nor a cop nor a jock: She was my mother, a homemaker who raised five kids and endured without complaint the ravages of cancer in the 1970s, with its then crude chemotherapy regimen, its painful cobalt treatments, the collateral damage of loss of hair, vitality, and lucidity. In refusing to rail against her fate or to take her pain out on others, she set an example of selfless courage and heroism I’ll never forget.
Perhaps it takes a crisis like this for us to recognize the “ordinary” heroes among us, the ones who aren’t “top guns” flying warplanes, the ones who aren’t throwing footballs for multi-million-dollar salaries.
Remember when Trump said: “I could stand In the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”? This moment is proving him right. He has colossally mismanaged this crisis, yet his followers still place their faith in him. For his followers, Trump is the ultimate Teflon president. Nothing sticks to him. Eat your heart out, Ronald Reagan!
Finally, as a pandemic rages, the Trump administration is warning of a possible sneak attack by Iran even as it deploys ships and air assets in the drug war, specifically against Venezuela. Echoing the words of Mehdi Hasan, a journalist at The Intercept, what kind of maniac does this? But maybe it’s not mania; after all, Iran and Venezuela have something in common: huge reserves of oil, and regimes that resist the USA. Once again, old thinking prevails, old scores must be settled, even as a new world order takes shape because of this pandemic.
Of course, Trump has never put America first. He’s always put himself first. He’s given himself an A+ and a 10 out of 10 for his leadership in facing this crisis. Sad to say, his followers believe him. Remember when I said there’s no vaccine for stupidity?
Investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, physicist Richard Feynman reached a famous conclusion: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
The COVID-19 virus is not going to be fooled with lies. It’s not going to be fooled by a denial of medical science. You can’t “spin” the virus away with false information and happy talk. And this is precisely why President Trump (and indeed many other politicians) is uniquely unqualified to handle this crisis.
Trump is the man who sold us a fake university. Trump is the man who’s lied roughly 13 times a day since becoming president. Trump is a fantasist, a fabulist, a con man, a used car salesman, a huckster, an entertainer, take your pick. And he’s good at it. It’s a skill that got him to the White House. But it’s not a skill that works against the coronavirus.
The other day, I was listening to an interview with Noam Chomsky, and he made the point that Trump is a master propagandist. His skill is his shamelessness and sheer extent of his lying. Trump floods the market with lies, so much so that many people, and especially those sympathetic to him, lose the ability to tell truth from lies, fact from fiction. Politically, this helps Trump; but in meeting this medical crisis, it’s a skill that may cost America tens of thousands of lives, and, in worst-case scenarios, perhaps a million or more.
Living by the light of lies is a surefire way to get burned. Last night, I was reading Norman Mailer and came across this invaluable insight:
“Fascism is not a way of life but a murderous mode of deadening reality by smothering it with lies.”
The more lies we tell, the more we open ourselves to fascism. Mailer uses the word meretricious, which combines vulgarity with falseness and insincerity, and he proceeds to denounce our culture, our art, as sickening us because of its ugly dishonesty. (And Mailer was saying this in the early 1960s!)
Again, lies will not defeat COVID-19; they will only speed its spread through America. Lies will only kill us while smothering democracy.
Feynman was right: “Nature cannot be fooled.” So too was Mailer: As a leader, if you think you can deaden the reality of a pandemic with lies, you’re not thinking at all. You’re acting murderously instead.
Update (3/25): Our Dear Leader has decreed America will be open for business again by Easter. Don’t worry: the final decision will be based “on facts.”
They really felt they needed to add that coda: based on facts. And they did, because most of the Trump presidency has been based on lies.
Maybe my title should have been “The Coronavirus Feeds on Lies.” And we are giving it plenty to feed on.
Update (3/26): If America reopens by Easter with crowded churches and the like, prepare for lots of dead people, as this article and graph show (courtesy of the New York Times):
If nothing else is true, COVID-19 is a wake-up call to all of us about the need for strong, smart, and resolute leadership.
Donald Trump is not that kind of leader. He ducks all responsibility for mistakes, provides false information, and blames the crisis on others (Europeans, a “foreign” virus, the Obama administration, and so on). His VP, Mike Pence, has been a non-entity for years and has done nothing to allay the concerns of Americans.
Meanwhile, the Democratic front runner, Joe Biden, has given short remarks read off a teleprompter. I see headlines like “Can Biden handle a two-hour debate?” and I wince. If serious people think Biden may not have the physical and mental endurance to perform well in a staged political conversation, how can we possibly believe he is fit enough to be president for four years? Biden will be 78 in November, and none of us is getting younger. If there are serious concerns about his mental and physical stamina now, when he’s not being pushed, how can there not be profound concerns about his ability to handle the burden of presidential leadership? Severe stress ages everyone, and we shouldn’t close our eyes to this reality.
Roughly the same age, Bernie Sanders appears mentally and physically robust, and his speeches on the pandemic have been sensible, detailed, and smart. But even Bernie isn’t getting any younger.
In Biden’s case, people may argue that Joe can always fall back on his VP if he fails in office. But we don’t elect a president with the idea that he’s infirm and may soon need to pass his duties to a younger man or woman.
There is one presidential candidate still in the running for the Democrats who is strong, smart, and resolute and who is young to boot: Tulsi Gabbard. She is 39 and has dramatic ideas to help ordinary Americans during this crisis. Yet she’s been excluded from the Democratic debate by the DNC that can’t forgive her for supporting Bernie Sanders in 2016 while criticizing corruption within the party.
As Americans, we need to get serious about our leaders. Trump has shown he has no answers. Biden’s debate performances (among other public appearances) raise serious questions about his mental and physical capacity for office.
Yet as of this moment these two men appear to be our likely choices come November. At a time of severe crisis, that’s no choice at all.
If ever there was a time to put aside partisan politics, you’d think it would be now, as the United States faces the COVID-19 virus. (When the American Mecca, Disney World, closes, you know times are tough.) Instead, partisan politics are raging, especially in the White House, as President Trump implausibly blames his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the chaotic response by the Trump administration. (Will “Crooked Hillary” be blamed next?)
Americans need to come together, and I think we are; Bernie Sanders gave a fine speech emphasizing science and teamwork as well as compassion and aid for those who lose their jobs and so on. We need a much better testing regimen and we need to give doctors and health care personnel the resources they need to do their jobs.
But as I read David Lauter (LA Times Essential Politics), I despaired at the games being played as America faces a serious health crisis. Here’s what Lauter had to say:
The Democrats have made clear what their line of attack will be: As Biden showed, they’re poised to say that while Trump didn’t cause the coronavirus outbreak, he made it worse by cutting government agencies designed to deal with epidemics and by refusing to take the advice of health officials and act aggressively to counter the illness when he could.
In his address to the nation Wednesday night, Trump repeatedly used rhetoric of a foreign invasion to describe the virus, as Noah Bierman wrote. His main policy response was to ban Europeans from traveling to the U.S., blaming them for having “seeded” many of the disease outbreaks in this country.
Since the first moments of his astonishing political rise, with his opening blast against Mexican rapists, Trump has campaigned against immigrants and foreigners. And, despite much talk about blue-collar workers voting for him because of economic distress, the overwhelming weight of evidence is that opposition to immigration, concern about the changing demographics of the country and a belief that white Americans face discrimination form the biggest factors in predicting a person’s support for Trump.
In 2018, faced with the prospect that Republicans would lose control of the House, Trump tried to turn the election into a referendum on the supposed threat of immigrant caravans moving north through Mexico — a specter that largely evaporated soon after the election.
In 2020, deprived of the chance to campaign on economic prosperity and a rising stock market, it’s near certain that he will return to the theme that has powered his rise.
That approach might not work. His effort failed spectacularly in 2018 as suburban voters turned against Trump in droves. But Democrats would be wise to avoid overconfidence: The history of epidemics is also a history of xenophobia.
It would be a disaster if COVID-19 led to yet more fears of “foreigners,” however defined.
If anything, a threat like COVID-19 should remind us of our common humanity. We are all vulnerable, and the smart way to meet this threat is to remain calm, to work together, and to listen to the experts.
Sure, the people who’ve botched America’s response so far should be held accountable. But let’s first and foremost get a grip on the virus itself and stop its spread. Because one thing is certain: partisan politics won’t stop a pandemic. It’ll just make a bad situation worse.
I caught this snippet via the New York Times today:
“Border wall funding: President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion from the military for the construction of a wall on the southern border, two people familiar with the plans told The Times. Congress set aside $1.375 billion for it last month.”
Diverting money that’s been appropriated by Congress is an impeachable offense, but the Democrats will do little since they know Trump will spin their opposition as being pro-immigrant and anti-American, irrespective of the lies contained in that spin.
Trump was elected in part through his fear-mongering about immigrants (he spoke of murderers, rapists, gang members, even Muslim terrorists hidden within the “caravans” approaching America’s southern border). “Build the wall” is a popular chant at his rallies, and Trump knows the issue still stirs up his base.
What’s it all about? Recently I was reading “Shadow of the Silk Road,” by Colin Thubron. This is what Thubron had to say about the Great Wall of China:
As a true bulwark the Wall was senseless. Huns, Mongols, Manchus overswept it almost at will. The Sinologist Owen Lattimore proposed that it was built to keep the Chinese in rather than the nomads out. Perhaps, unwittingly, it was less a physical defence than a monstrous definition. It separated civilisation from barbarism, light from darkness. It was an act of shuddering denial: over there is not what we are. And it was steeped in fear. [Emphasis in original.]
“Over there is not what we are”: Trump recognizes how “his” wall serves as a dividing line between the “good” people (Americans) versus the “bad hombres” (his term) seeking to “invade” America. And it is, as Thubron says, both a monstrous definition and an act of shuddering denial.
Of course, the wall already exists, as Greg Grandin notes in his book, “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.” Trump merely wants to lengthen it, mostly in areas where a wall is redundant due to already forbidding terrain.
But the wall is not about protecting America from “hordes” of “invaders.” It’s about defining America in retrograde ways, contrasting the alleged barbarism of brown-skinned people with the civilization of (mostly) White America.
Walls demarcate and divide. They are also a denial of common humanity. They pit us against them in battles over turf. In short, they’re a perfect symbol for Trump’s vision of greatness.
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?
The “reduction” is not a reduction but a return to previous troop levels at the end of the Obama administration.
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?
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:
The current brouhaha in the U.S. Senate (and the larger neocon community) over President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria is a repeat performance of the passion play that the same actors performed earlier this year when Trump first announced his intention to make good on his campaign promise to get our country out of its endless wars. In the leading role for the neocons last time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a speech on the Senate floor on January 19, 2019 excoriating Trump for doing what he told the electorate he would do if he was elected president.
Having been an interloper in our country’s national security state, I know how things work in Washington and the tactics the pro-war political establishment uses to sell the public on its interventionist foreign policy and endless wars. I wrote a book (When Will We Ever Learn?) on this subject based on my personal experiences.
As this drama plays out again, I’ve excerpted passages from my book that reveal the modus operandi the neocons used last time for overruling President Trump in determining U.S. military policy. My critique of Senator McConnell’s speech is as pertinent now in exposing the fallacious thinking underlying the neocons’ current “stay forever” battle cry for Syria as it was in the brawl Trump lost to the neocons earlier this year when he wanted to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan after 18 years. Let’s hope the president learned from that defeat.
It’s now “game on” in round two of this battle. The same players are back. Senator McConnell is even using the word “precipitous” again. Get your popcorn out and let’s see who wins this round in this heavyweight bout.
We’ve already seen [earlier in my book] how the national security state sandbagged a Democrat president in his role as Commander-in-Chief in the conduct of the Afghan war. Let’s now see how Washington elites are trying to sandbag a Republican president in his attempt to end this 18-year long war – despite President Trump’s vow in his presidential campaign and strong public support in the polls for getting all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
The neocon foreign policy establishment used three of its most prominent members to maintain their control over national security matters: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Richard Haass; and James Dobbins, Senior Fellow at the Rand Corporation. Mr. Dobbins was the lead author of the 15-page Rand Report dated January 7, 2019, Consequences of a Precipitous U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Take note of the word “precipitous” in this title.)
For those who don’t recognize the name, Rand Corporation is a charter member of the national security state insiders’ club. Military history buffs might recall Rand wrote the Pentagon Papers for the DoD in the late 1960s. They were the War State’s obvious go-to think-tank for this important assignment on Afghan war policy.
First, let’s see what Senator McConnell had to say about President Trump’s decision to start pulling U.S troops out of Afghanistan and Syria. Below are remarks Senator McConnell made on the Senate floor on January 31, 2019.
“Simply put, while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done,” McConnell said. “And we know that left untended these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities.”
The United States is not the “world’s policeman,” it is the “leader of the free world” and must continue to lead a global coalition against terrorism and stand by allies engaged in the fight. He also stressed the importance of coordination between the White House and Congress to “develop long-term strategies in both nations, including a thorough accounting of the risks of withdrawing too hastily.”
“My amendment would acknowledge the plain fact that al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to our nation.” McConnell said his amendment “would recognize the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlights the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.”
Notice the word “precipitous” in the Leader’s remarks. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the title of the Rand Report is Consequences of a Precipitous U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan? Obviously, Mitch got the memo from neocon headquarters.
He even got in the “we’re not the world’s policeman” line. In Washington-speak, this is called “a non-denial denial.” It translates to: “I’m really doing what I say I am not doing, but I can’t admit it, or you would catch on to how duplicitous I am.” I’ve hung around with Washington swamp creatures too long to know that this professed denial is really an affirmation.
The line “we know that left untended these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities” is also classic neocon-speak. It’s meant to scare the public. But what it really does is reveal the flawed logic in their interventionist foreign policy doctrine. The U.S. builds military bases around the world, starts wars, deposes governments, and occupies other countries – this is the interventionist foreign policy Senator McConnell champions as the head neocon in the U.S. Senate. But the local nationals affected by this U.S. militarism don’t like a foreign power meddling in their part of the world, changing their governments, and interfering with their way of life. (Who would?)
The obvious way to avoid blowback “in our cities” is for the U.S. to stop intervening in centuries-old ethnic, religious and territorial disputes in other parts of the world. Not realizing this cause and effect (or simply ignoring it), Senator McConnell’s solution is to “stay the course.” In neocon-speak, this means sending in more troops, intensifying bombing, and increasing extrajudicial drone killings. These actions only worsen the conflicts, causing the U.S. to sink deeper into quagmires.
Predictably, Senator McConnell’s amendment passed the Senate on a 63-28 non-binding vote, proving that bipartisanship isn’t dead in Washington when it comes to authorizing endless wars. This vote just shows how out of touch our elected officials are with the electorate as well as the power of the pro-military and pro-war lobby in Washington.
The other character on the neocon’s tag-team to undercut the President on his Afghan exit plan is Richard Haass, CFR President. Mr. Haass was a senior State Department official in the first term of the Bush administration when the Iraq war began. He’s one of several media savvy spokespersons for the national security state who apparently was charged with getting the word out on the Rand Report and endorsing its conclusion.
On the day after the report came out, Mr. Haass tweeted to his 150,000 followers:
“This report has it right: winning is not an option in Afghanistan (nor is peace) but losing (and renewed terrorism) is if we pull out U.S. forces any time soon. We should stay with smaller numbers and reduced level of activity.” Twitter, January 18, 2019.
In sum, even though there’s no chance of winning, America needs to keep fighting. How do they sell this nonsense?
This was a three-step process. First, the “let’s stay in Afghanistan forever” doctrine was composed by Mr. Dobbins in the Rand Report. It was next preached by CFR President Haass. And finally, it was ordained by Senate Majority Leader McConnell in his speech on the Senate floor with the hallelujah chorus being the 63 “yes” votes for his resolution.
Picking up the trio’s “let’s stay in Afghanistan forever” cue, guest op-eds and editorial board columns appeared in the usual pro-War State newspapers advocating the neocon position. Media talking heads – as semiofficial spokespersons for the Washington national security state – echoed the neocons’ talking points on this issue.
This modius operandi for keeping the national security state in charge of foreign and military policy – and its untouchable $1-trillion-plus/year War State budget– has been going on since the Kennedy presidency. Michael Swanson documents how this takeover evolved in his book War State. Most times, the story being sold (e.g., keep U.S. troops in Syria; stay in NATO after it became obsolete; continue the DoD’s $300-billion unworkable missile-defense program) is a front for the national security state’s real objectives (e.g., maintain U.S. influence in the Middle East to keep Israel’s supporters happy; keep the Cold War alive with Russia as an adversary; and fund make-work projects for defense contractors).
This duplicity is how business is done in Washington. It’s an insiders’ game where what’s good for the American people and U.S. national security is, at best, a secondary consideration. Among the Washington ruling class, what counts most is retaining power by keeping big donors happy. And if that means endless wars, so be it.
Mr. Enzweiler, who served in the US Air Force in the 1970s, has lived and worked extensively in the Middle East, serving seven years (2007-2014) as a field-level civilian advisor for the US government in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now retired, he has written a book (When Will We Ever Learn?) that critiques US foreign and military policy.