Tilting at Windmills

November/December 2010 Mad money… Regulation by milquetoasts… Pulp this item…

By Charles Peters

“First, there was Pakistan, the heart of many of the problems because of Taliban and al-Qaeda havens there. Second, governance and corruption in Afghanistan—huge problems with no practical fix readily available. Third, the Afghan National Security Forces—army and police—probably could not be fixed even with a decade-long effort costing tens of billions of dollars. Fourth, international support from the 41 U.S. allies in Afghanistan was in peril. 

“‘When you look at these [risks] discretely,’ Lute continued, ‘you might be left with the impression we can manage this risk. But I would offer you another model. Look at them as a set, and then you begin to move, in my mind, from a calculated risk to a gamble.’”

During a crucial White House meeting that led to the major escalation in Vietnam in 1965, Johnson’s national security advisor McGeorge Bundy made a similarly impressive case against getting more deeply involved, only to conclude that we had to do so. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said there were answers to most of the doubts Bundy had expressed, but no one  asked him what the answers were—or what he couldn’t answer.

Opposition research

In early August, four days before the Colorado primary, the New York Times published a front-page story that accused Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of Denver public schools and the incumbent candidate for U.S. Senate, of having made exotic investments that threatened the school system’s finances. On the following Monday, the Times’ correction box noted that Jeannie Kaplan, the author’s original source, who was twice directly quoted in the story, was in fact a backer of Bennet’s opponent. Of course the correction ran not on page 1 but on page 3, and without the multi-column headline that had run over the original. The most disturbing fact here is that Gretchen Morgenson, the story’s author, and its editor had both been told about Kaplan’s opposition to Bennet before the article was published. Indeed, the Denver Post seven months earlier revealed that Kaplan, who as a school board member had twice voted to approve the deal, had only come out against it after she joined the campaign of Bennet’s opponent.

The two other school board members who were sources for Morgenson also supported Bennet’s opponent. Indeed one of them was a paid consultant for the opponent, a fact that had been revealed in the Denver Post before Morgenson published her story.

Meanwhile, while nobody was paying attention …

I am amazed at how little reporting I’ve seen about the danger I mentioned in the last issue that the Republicans could win state legislatures this fall and thus control redistricting next year. This would mean more safe districts for Republican candidates, which in turn means more of the far-right wingers who now usually win Republican primaries. As of the beginning of October, only the New York Times has run a front-page story reminding its readers that redistricting will happen next year and will be determined by this fall’s election. 

Pulp this item

Anthony Schaffer, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a former Defence Intelligence Agency officer, has written a book, Operation Dark Heart, about his experiences doing intelligence work in Afghanistan. The book was submitted for review by the Army, which, after requiring several changes, approved it for publication. Ten thousand copies had been printed and a hundred or so distributed to potential reviewers and others when suddenly the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies decided that 200 passages contained classified information. Now the Pentagon, reports Scott Shane of the New York Times, “is arranging to buy and pulp” all of the 10,000 copies that have not been distributed.

Among the facts deemed dangerous to national security are that the CIA has a training facility at Camp Peary, Virginia; that “SIGINT” means signals intelligence; and that the NSA, which is based in Fort Meade, Maryland, is nicknamed “the Fort.” Each of these facts has been widely known for years. Doesn’t this raise serious doubts about the intelligence of our intelligence agencies?

And as Colonel Schaffer points out with respect to the redacted pages, the intelligence agencies that cut them are in effect putting them in flashing neon lights for foreign agents who compare the new version with one of the already distributed copies.

Don’t ignore the majority

Liberals’ reaction to reproaches from Obama about not “being serious” and from Joe Biden about “whining” have largely consisted of further criticism of the president and his administration. Consider Peter Birkenhead’s quote, “I’ll quit whining when you start fighting,” in Salon.

Birkenhead cites a recent poll finding that 55 percent of likely voters believe Obama is a socialist—and proceeds to blame Obama for their mistake. I blame Wall Streeters, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and his pals at Fox News—and the failure of liberals to care about persuading the majority of Americans that the lies about Obama are indeed lies.

The liberal media tends to dismiss as fools those who believe the lies. Even my favorite comedians, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, are guilty of this kind of condescension.

What Obama needs, and what Franklin Roosevelt was blessed in having, is someone like Will Rogers, a great comedian who spoke down-to-earth common sense and who was loved by the great majority of Americans. His gentle humor about the plutocrats who hated Roosevelt and about our need to help our neighbors who were down and out was much more influential than historians credit with persuading the average man to embrace the New Deal.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


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