There are some real goodies in the October 4 edition of The Nation which I'd like to work in here before that issue is completely out of date.
I always like William Greider. Witty, mellow, unrelenting, and a good writer, he can be counted on to come up with the goods. Here are a couple of excerpts from his article on the elections, "Eclipsed."
The presidential pageant has now risen full in the sky and is blocking out the sun. Until November, we dwell in a weird half-light, stumbling into spooky shadows but shielded from the harsh glare of the nation's actual circumstances. Down is up, fiction is truth, momentous realities are made to disappear from the public mind. The 2004 spectacle is not the first to mislead grossly and exploit emotional weaknesses in the national character. But this time the consequences will be especially grim.
But the cruel irony of 2004 is that Vietnam is the story. The arrogance and deceit--the utter waste of human life, ours and theirs--play before us once again. A frank discussion will have to wait until after the election.
Meanwhile, Bush's war is destroying the US Army, just as LBJ's war did. After Vietnam, military leaders and Richard Nixon wisely abolished the draft and opted for an all-volunteer force. When this war ends, the volunteer army will be in ruins and a limited draft lottery may be required to fill out the ranks. After Iraq, men and women will get out of uniform in large numbers, especially as they grasp the futility of their sacrifices. Yet Bush's on-the-cheap warmaking against a weak opponent demonstrates that a larger force structure is needed to sustain his policy of pre-emptive war. Kerry says he wants 40,000 more troops, just in case. Old generals doubt Congress would pay for it, given the deficits.
Iraq is Vietnam standing in the mirror. John Kerry, if he had it in him, could lead a national teach-in--re-educate those who have forgotten or prettified their memories but especially inform younger voters who weren't around for the national shame a generation ago.
People naturally are reluctant to conclude that their country did the wrong thing, that young people died for a pointless cause. If the war story does stay hot and high on front pages, a collapse of faith might occur in time for this election, but more likely it will come later. Nixon won a landslide re-election in 1972 with his election-eve announcement that peace was at hand, the troops were coming home. In the hands of skilled manipulators, horrendous defeat can be turned into honorable victory. Temporarily at least. When the enemy eventually triumphed in Indochina, Nixon was already gone, driven out for other crimes.
Jonathan Schell takes on American amnesia. It started, he says, with our inability to accept what had happened in China in the 1940's.
In the 1940s, the US government had in its ranks officers who reported fully on the rot that pervaded every level of the Chinese government and warned of Mao's success. Notable among them were Gen. Joseph Stilwell and his political adviser, John Service. However, when their warnings proved correct, they were not congratulated; they were absurdly excoriated for supposedly having caused the result. Then many were hounded out of their jobs in a purge of the State Department. Leading the purge was Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The idea that a Republican-led America could dominate the world if only weak-kneed, treacherous Democrats did not stand in the way was also to have a long and rich history.
What stands out in retrospect is not that the US government failed to learn the lessons of the Chinese revolution but that it did learn them (from people like Stilwell and Service) and then energetically and successfully banished them from memory.
The amnesia took over again at the end of the Vietnam War. Schell asks:
Did the United States learn the lessons this time? Did it finally grasp that being "physically the strongest nation on earth" did not confer unlimited power over other countries, that their peoples were as attached to independence as Americans were, and as ready to fight, and fight effectively, with and without arms, for their independence? For a while, it did. That was the lesson, after all, that every previous empire had had to learn in the twentieth century. The lessons were perhaps absorbed most deeply by the institution most profoundly affected by the war: the military. It vowed never again to enter a war without an "exit strategy" and never again to address militarily objectives that could only be won politically.
But once again the forces of organized amnesia set in. Before long, the Vietnam lessons were renamed the "Vietnam syndrome"--a mental illness. A series of victories over feeble enemies--the Grenadans, the Iraqi forces in the deserts of Kuwait--restored the illusion of omnipotence set forth by McCarthy. President George H.W. Bush even declared after the victory in the first Gulf War, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome."
Of course, amnesia is greatly assisted by a media which put on (during both invasions of Baghdad) a light show followed by "embedded" commentaries. Schell continues:
The purgation of memory and sense was successful. The United States, ignorance restored, was ready for the next debacle, this time in Iraq. Once again the likelihood and strength of popular resistance, fusing nationalism with ideology (now, religious ideology), is being overlooked. Once again wiser people in the State Department have been stiff-armed by the Pentagon. Once again--in Najaf, in Falluja, in Tal Afar--the United States is destroying cities to save them. Once again, military successes are leading to political defeat. Once again, Republicans are bullying and Democrats are caving.
The case of John Kerry is especially poignant, as well as potentially tragic for the country. As a soldier, he learned the lessons of Vietnam as deeply as any American. He fought the war, he protested the war. For him to forget its lessons is forgetfulness indeed. And there is every reason to believe--though I admit it cannot be proven--that it was done for the same compelling reasons that inspired Harry Truman to purge the State Department and Lyndon Johnson to dig himself deeper into Vietnam. In order to get a hearing in a discussion so thoroughly steeped in fantasy, Kerry must have felt he had to buy halfway into the lie. He, too, played the old game of co-opting the Republicans by halfheartedly adopting their cause. He voted to authorize war. At his convention, he crisply saluted the assembly of ardently antiwar delegates, who, too clever for their own good, roared their approval. He then reaffirmed his vote to authorize the war. Like so many Democrats before them, members of his party are torn between the truths they know and the delusions that, they imagine, are politically necessary--delusions that have been laid down now, layer after layer, for more than fifty years.
In the same issue of the Nation, Robert Dreyfuss addresses the matter of AIPAC's suspected influence on the Pentagon:
Did Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, run a covert program with operatives in high-level US government positions to influence the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq? The FBI wants to know...
[Richard]Perle is demanding that the White House clamp down on the investigators, according to the Boston Globe. "It's pretty nasty, and unfortunately the Administration doesn't seem to have it under control," the Globe quotes Perle as saying. But according to the Financial Times, the White House is quietly doing just that: The London daily reports that the White House is pressuring the FBI and the Justice Department not to issue indictments in the case.
Other voices are also being heard. Democratic Representative John Conyers wrote to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee demanding an investigation into "substantial and credible evidence that Pentagon officials...have engaged in unauthorized covert activities." Conyers specifically cited Feith. And the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is now deep into phase two of its own probe, which includes examining the work of the OSP; its report is expected after the November election.
The FBI has an ace in the hole that may allow it to resist White House pressure. "By now," says a retired intelligence official, "the FBI has gathered up so much material in grand jury records and things like that that they are in a position to push back against pressure from the Administration to back away from this. When they get pressure, they leak to somebody. And the potential of disclosure is a real threat to the Administration." In addition, the counterintelligence probe could spin off investigations in several possibly related scandals, including the Ahmad Chalabi case and the Valerie Plame leak, not to mention the Franklin matter.
"They have no case," says AEI's Michael Ledeen. We'll see.
Finally, Micah Sifry and Nancy Waltzman take on Carl Prine's examination of the security of our chemical plants.
Prine visited another thirty chemical factories, shippers and warehouses in Baltimore, Chicago and Houston. He found "safeguards so lax that a potential terrorist can easily reach massive tanks of toxins that endanger millions." Not only could a stranger enter unmolested, workers often gave him directions to the most sensitive valves and control rooms. More than half the plants had "no noticeable [security] cameras, fences or locks at all." A return investigation found few improvements...
NB: Each article cited is linked. All but one of the links won't work (maddeningly) for non-subscribers. Bummer.