Comments: Channeling Orwell

Bernard,
Afghanistan is the one area where the mainstream left's failure to take the bless'd Obama to task disgusts me the most. The media is complicit as well, but there's not much in discussing on that as it's pretty much a given. However, what really surprised me recently was some positive spin regarding the US effort from Rahul Mahajan at Empire Notes.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at August 13, 2009 05:37 PM

You're right the media is hopeless. It's almost like shooting fish in a barrel. But it's hard to resist when you see all the care that must go into spinning simple stories into perfect propaganda pieces. Maybe it's my twisted mind but most such headlines strike me as pure comedy. I imagine the editor. "Let's see, 'Marines ordered to avoid killing kids.' No, do it more upbeat. 'Marines ordered to avoid killing kids despite progress.' No, do it more sympathetic to the troops. 'Poor Marines denied progress by having to refrain from slaughtering kids!' Yeah, that's no bad.

Re the wars in Iraq/AfPak, Obama may be remembered as the great demobilizer of the left.

The great issue today is how to keep health care reform under $100b a year... zzzzzz. Ah, the actuarial passion of the left! To the barricades for fiscal discipline!


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at August 13, 2009 06:25 PM

Naturally, I choose the ethical system which minimizes the guilt I have to feel about people getting bombed by agents who are not me, though economically intertwined with me.

Posted by Cloud at August 13, 2009 07:56 PM

I know I'm ALL about single payer. In fact I've diluted Nell's Honduran Cause down 2 remove their foreign aid and put it to single payer. Af/Pak or bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb, bomb Iran, U&IPAID4A war, and by golly, WE are getting one. MAYBE WE will even leave Iraq?

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 13, 2009 09:51 PM

Apparently somebody over at MSNBC realized that maybe they should change the headline. Click on the link now or you can google it, and the google page title is still the old headline, but the link directs to a new story. The new story headline: "Marines in Afghan town meet fire from all sides." Oh the irony of that re-write.

Posted by Kyle M at August 13, 2009 11:05 PM

Hah!

I think they changed the article along with it. I can't find any of Chazelle's quotes anywhere.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at August 14, 2009 01:30 AM

From the article:

"At sunset, a Humvee mounted with a loudspeaker drove through neighborhoods the Marines had cleared, broadcasting to residents in their Pashto language that they could register complaints and get compensation for damage suffered in the fighting."

Add some rice paddies and that sounds to me like something that could have happened in Vietnam 40 years ago.

Disgusting as it is (the strategy came from the Wehrmacht, so naturally it's disgusting) our traditional counterinsurgency tactics consist of killing civilians, so i assume the Obama administration is trying to put a damper on implementation of that counterinsurgency strategy, and the military is bitching about that to the media because they want results. (By the way, that's all speculation.)

I doubt it's really "US troops" as a whole who are frustrated, though I'm sure some of them are trigger happy. I'd bet most troops don't really like killing civilians, even when they are scared, tired, and angry. It's the officers and Pentagon who probably don't like using ineffective tactics for what they probably consider political reasons. They really hate it when politics and public opinion start interfering with their military strategy and operations.

Posted by N E at August 14, 2009 01:47 AM

Jonathan Versen:

You won't be reading or hearing much criticism of Obama's Af/Pak policy. As you recognize, the media doesn't really do that sort of thing too well. I don't think losing money is changing the print media for the better, and as for TV--well, you know the deal.

I couldn't really even tell what Mahajan thinks Obama (or the U.S.) should try to do in Afghanistan, though his post of a few weeks ago is properly skeptical that it will work out. (Then again, the post immediately below that one showed that he didn't understand Robert McNamara at all or Vietnam very well.) There was a ho-hum quality to Mahajan's post that I think is misplaced. Then again, it's hard to work up the energy to try to stop an earthquake from happening, and we're not leaving Afghanistan whether we all want to or not. I don't know what cracks in "elite" support for the Afghan war that Mahajan sees, but I sure don't see them. The cowboy/energy/military unilateralists and the
banking/trade/intel multilateralists are as united as ever about controlling Central Asia and the FSU states.

What I did find most noteworthy was the absolutely ridiculous conclusion to the Peter Berger article that was the focus of Mahajan's post. Bergen wrote:

"The United States overthrew the Taliban in the winter of 2001. It has a moral obligation to ensure that when it does leave Afghanistan it does so secure in the knowledge that the country will never again be a launching pad for the world’s deadliest terrorist groups, and that the country is on the way to a measure of stability and prosperity. When that happens, it is not too fanciful to think that Afghanistan’s majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and jasmine-scented gardens may once again draw the tourists that once flocked there."

And then right below that there is a little footnote saying basically "Peter Bergen has been to Afghanistan several times." Gee, you think? We're collectively just as stupid as ever. We need to make the Afghanis happy and prosperous so that tourists can return to view the beautiful mountains after all the terrorists ar gone. Of course, the "terrorists" are Afghans, who we have to think we are obligated to kill (out of a sense of duty, no less) in their own country because somebody they like attacked the WTC and Pentagon years ago. We are so screwed.

We would be well served to figure out a way to make the military (or, if you will, military industrial complex) take responsibility for our/their presence in Afghanistan so that they can't hide behind the facade of apolitical patriotism while behind the scenes being very political indeed. The media is their ally in that. It lets us all argue a lot about politicians like the "blessed Obama" who come and go and never really even run the show, except that they are able to complain about Predator attacks and counterinsurgency tactics that kill too many civilians and maybe prevent a little of that for a while(and, of course, have to approve major changes in policy). But the overall policy doesn't depend on the whim of one guy who might not really even be a citizen in the minds of a lot of the military brass, even if he is Commander and Chief and all that.

So let's cut through the crap. Maybe if the military has to accept responsibility for this shit, they'll eventually come to recognize that they have something to lose. They belatedly came to feel that about Vietnam, but that lesson has long since been unlearned. Right now the military has a free ride. They get what they want and run the world and blame the politicians for whatever doesn't work out. I'm sure they believe it to, because nothing is easier than blaming somebody else.

Posted by N E at August 14, 2009 09:04 AM

Thank you again, professor Chazelle, for reminding me I'm not the only one that notices things like this. Sometimes it gets pretty difficult (or to see clearly through the propaganda.

Posted by Pepito at August 14, 2009 09:30 AM

NE,
"I couldn't really even tell what Mahajan thinks Obama (or the U.S.) should try to do in Afghanistan, though his post of a few weeks ago is properly skeptical that it will work out. (Then again, the post immediately below that one showed that he didn't understand Robert McNamara at all or Vietnam very well.) There was a ho-hum quality to Mahajan's post that I think is misplaced."

I agree. I discuss Mahajan and Berger's articles over at Dead Horse, and initially I wrote that Mahajan seemed to be fence straddling, as if he wanted to express criticism of the US being in Afghanistan without seeming to venture too far off the reservation as it were, but then decided to cut that because I thought it would just come off as unfounded snark. Anyway, come visit, there's even a small discussion going.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at August 14, 2009 12:11 PM

Unfortunately Bernard, you are dead right with your comment about healthcare. The fuss over something which will have no meaningful effect on the country is basically a diversion from a concerted plan to lay wast to a country which we have occupied for 8 years. In addition to the slaughter we visit on the Afghanis the country went from being a small producer of opium to the worlds largest by far under our supervision. The parallels with the story of drugs in the golden triangle of SE Asia in the '70s is eerie. And the slaughter of the innocents goes on, financed, I suppose, in part, by the street people of America's once great cities.

Posted by drip at August 14, 2009 04:54 PM

The problem with ANY universal or EVEN a small change in the status quo IS its ties to The Social Security Trust Fund and Medicare/Medicaid. Were Medicare/Medicaid DIVORCED from Social Security and its SS Trust Fund, then politically the chance for change is possible.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 14, 2009 10:08 PM


well this is on topic so i will give the link to Paul Street's latest dismantling of president Hope and Change and his smack down on the New York Times and Frank Rich...

as Street ask further in his article what is with the "Might Be." Maybe the Times can learn the basics of "representative democracy" in the corporate state that is the USA that Street shows a has been well understood by respectable folks for decades. Tony

"OBAMA MIGHT BE JUST ANOTHER CORPORATIST"


Let history record that on August 9, 2009 Sunday New York Times columnist Frank Rich toyed with acknowledging the manipulative, fake-progressive nature of Barack Obama and the broader corporate-managed "democracy" Obama epitomizes.


In an opinion-editorial bearing the provocative title "Is Obama Punking Us?" Rich notes the absurdity of Republican efforts to frighten the electorate by claiming that Obama is a socialist. "They have it backward," Frank observes (without bothering to explain what would be wrong with having a socialist president). "The larger fear is that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy."

http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22319

Posted by tony at August 15, 2009 09:33 AM

tony

of course he is a corporatist. I was kind of surprised that Frank Rich asked that punking question, but it's probably good. Obama needs more pushes to the left.

Posted by N E at August 15, 2009 10:37 AM

And yet, somehow, despite the best efforts of the most charismatic president in recent memory, A majority of Americans now oppose the Afghan war. I'd really love to know how it is that so many people can adopt a position they've never seen represented on their tv's or in their newspapers.

It's like the 59% support for single-payer found in a recent poll. How does that happen? And how can we help make it happen more often?

Posted by SteveB at August 15, 2009 10:54 AM

SteveB:

tony is all over this poll stuff. i'm not sure it's hard to make good poll rsults happen. they don't really change anything, and when the government and media need to move the poll data, it's not that hard for them to do it.

Posted by N E at August 15, 2009 04:40 PM

When the repugnutins "own" the media it's not hard to make anything happen, it all goes back to "manufacturing consent." Liberals are going to have to "own" some media if they want to compete, Bush managed to "neuter" NPR and PBS. My doctor has taken me off them for blood pressure reasons.

Posted by knowdoubt at August 15, 2009 08:49 PM

i'm not sure it's hard to make good poll rsults happen.

I think it's tremendously hard to produce results like the CNN poll I cited above, which is why it's taken 8 years to do so. Americans are bathed in 24-hour-a-day propaganda, and yet, somehow, they come to the opposite conclusion than the one they're intended to come to. I think that's great news, because it means that Americans are more than passive recipients of government and media propaganda. They're still able to speak to one another and draw their own conclusions, and some of us can even seek out alternative sources of information. Wonderful!

they don't really change anything

The popularity/unpopularity of a war has an impact on how the war is fought. The more unpopular the war gets, the more reluctant US commanders are to take actions that might result in US casualties, which leads us to greater use of aerial bombing, which creates more enemies than it kills, which makes the war harder to win, which makes it even more unpopular. All this has an effect on the troops on the ground and their willingness to risk their necks, and "search and destroy" turns into "search and avoid." The war may be unpopular for the wrong reasons - i.e. because "we're not winning" - but the fact of its unpopularity means we're even less likely to "win."

and when the government and media need to move the poll data, it's not that hard for them to do it.

Really? Why haven't they moved the poll numbers on Iraq back to where they want them? And what would they do to "move the poll data" that they're not already doing?

Posted by SteveB at August 16, 2009 09:27 AM

SB:"I think it's tremendously hard to produce results like the CNN poll I cited above, which is why it's taken 8 years to do so. Americans are bathed in 24-hour-a-day propaganda, and yet, somehow, they come to the opposite conclusion than the one they're intended to come to. I think that's great news, because it means that Americans are more than passive recipients of government and media propaganda. They're still able to speak to one another and draw their own conclusions, and some of us can even seek out alternative sources of information. Wonderful!"

well put SB...I could not have said it better myself....The poll results on nationalized health care have been very consistent for well over 20 years...and of course they are significant for some of the reasons you give above...the most significant perhaps being that propaganda does not always work...people can see through it even when basically no one on a national level has been advocating single payer in any way close to the propaganda campaign against it....it just goes to show,in a very minor way, what people can accomplish if they work together...Tony

Posted by tony at August 16, 2009 09:41 AM