Is no one else tired of alternate history politics? You know, how you caused the Iraq War because you voted for Nader in 2000? I would rather jump into a pool of sludge than read more on that one. The entire enterprise is suspect because it involves just making stuff up and once you go there the sky’s the limit so you can blame anyone for anything. That’s why this tactic never dies. We are spared Al Gore in the present instance, but the price is steep.
Now Noam Chomsky has brought a cudgel to this fight. Trust me, it’s a blunt instrument.
Back in ’68, Chomsky says, “the ultraleft faction of the peace movement” caused the election of Richard Nixon by “minimizing the comparative danger” of a Nixon presidency, thereby making the huge strategic mistake of foisting Nixon on the world, prolonging the Vietnam War by “six years” and causing senseless deaths and untold suffering because we voted our hearts, not our minds.
Fortunately for those of us who were running around doing stuff in the antiwar movement and not voting Democrat, not a word of this is true.
The first fail is this: Nixon could not have been defeated even if every last member of “the ultraleft faction of the peace movement” had voted for the Democrat Humphrey, along with all their friends and relations. The devil is in those pesky electoral votes. The difference of .7% in popular vote ballooned to an electoral defeat of 301 to 191 to 46 (George Wallace), so Humphrey would have needed to pick up a bunch of states with 79 electoral votes to get to 270.
Let’s look at one of them: California. This state has a lot of data, a lot of 3rd party candidates and is favorable for Chomsky’s argument since Nixon’s victory margin there was only three percentage points. (His margin was closer in only 5 states totaling 84 electoral votes but greater in 26 others.) Nevertheless, Humphrey came up short by 223,346 votes. Now, if all the votes for all 3rd party candidates are thrown in with an equal number for their friends and family, and if this total is doubled again to account for ultraleft abstentions, Humphrey still loses California by over 10,000 votes. Chomsky’s LEV argument fails the test of arithmetic.
Really? How was it that the combined antiwar forces of 1968 could not marshal another couple hundred thousand votes (if they got their heads on straight) and could only muster 52,000 votes for all the third parties in a very contested election? Well, we didn’t have the vote. The voting age was 21. If you graduated high school after 1965 you were too young to vote in 1968. That was almost everybody in the movement. Repeat: the antiwar movement could not have saved Humphrey if it wanted to, because we didn’t have the vote. Fail.
The second fail is the preposterous charge of extending the war by 6 years. The war only lasted 6 more years under Nixon/Ford, so the Democrat, if elected, would have had to declare not just immediate but instant withdrawal. As we shall see, that is an otherworldly conjecture. Why not just claim to shorten the war by several years? This is not the only time this brief reads like a really sloppy first draft and makes an unforced error.
Chomsky himself has noted elsewhere the manner in which the decision to withdraw from Vietnam was actually made by the rulers of America. Sorry, but background. The single most important event of the Vietnam War occurred on January 31, 1968: the Tet Offensive. An armed insurrection broke out in every major town and every provincial capital and in Saigon itself, where the US Embassy was breached and partly overrun. Though this insurrection was short-lived and massively attacked with the full might of the assembled US military; although the insurrectionary forces were at least savagely repressed if not obliterated almost everywhere, and though it took years to rebuild the networks that were sacrificed in those few days; and notwithstanding the fact that the “insurrection” failed to mobilize any segment of the South Vietnamese society in noticeable let alone decisive numbers and relied instead of members of the NLF; nevertheless, the Tet Offensive is widely understood as one of the greatest military victories of history because it destroyed the will of the American people to pursue the war.
Many colonial powers have endured uprisings by subject peoples and continued more or less unfazed, like the British in India and the French in Algeria, at least for a while. But in America we were fed, for years, the lie that the war was being won and pacification of local hamlets and villages was happily proceeding. The end was in sight. So the shock of Tet in America was total. Suddenly a lot of people stopped believing anything the government said about Vietnam.
President Lyndon Johnson also stopped believing what he heard about Vietnam and in the wake of Tet instructed his new Secretary of Defense, an old pal and Democratic Party fixer going back to Truman, to assess the government’s ability to field the 205,000 more troops requested by Gen. Westmoreland as the way to put Tet behind them and go on winning the war. That was the official task but Johnson was tired of hearing totally different stories from different parts of his government and wanted to put the entire security cabinet, as the Israelis would call it, in the same room where they would be forced to arrive at an agreed assessment with no chance of weaseling out later. After three days the new Secretary of Defense concluded there was no way whatsoever to win the war and the US should adopt the strategy called “Vietnamization,” the effort to turn over fighting to the armed forces of the puppet government Washington had been propping up for over a decade. Everyone understood this could not be an overnight affair like evacuating Dunkirk, for dozens of reasons. Everyone also knew Vietnamization would never work and the real point was to disguise defeat. Whole books have been written about this. Allies had to be placated and lies prepared not just for our own but also the people of the unfortunate countries who followed the US down this rabbit hole and provided troops, like Australia and South Korea, the latter providing 50,000. Withdrawal was never going to happen in less than years, on purpose. Total fail #2.
Oddly, Chomsky’s brief never mentions by name the person we should have voted for back when we doomed the Vietnamese to six more years of war in our ultra-left fever. This is at least consistent with Chomsky’s past practice regarding Humphrey. Between when he started writing on social and political issues in February of 1967 with the explosive publication of “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” and the 1968 election Chomsky penned five important essays that established him forever as a leading American intellectual, scourge of the Vietnam War, and a man who names names. A man who would out the head of his own department in writing as no more than an academic war profiteer.
In those essays he mentions Humphrey twice, both times in passing. First:
[T]he Vice President tells us that we are fighting “militant Asian Communism” with “its headquarters in Peking” and adds that a Viet Cong victory would directly threaten the United States[.]
This is so beyond stupid that the old Chomsky, who knew when a thing spoke for itself, made no comment. Walter Lippmann, a right-wing commentator, did point out that this bespoke an unseemly lack of confidence in the US Navy. In the second mention in this blistering political year, discussing moral choices, Chomsky puts Humphrey in some spotty company thinking very bad thoughts, but also in passing, like Dante might mention some subsidiary clod shivering in a corner of some circle of hell:
Suppose that it were in the American “national interest” to pound into rubble a small nation that refuses to submit to our will. Would it then be legitimate and proper for us to act “in this national interest”? The Rusks and the Humphreys and the Citizens Committee say “Yes”. Nothing could show more clearly how we are taking the road of the fascist aggressors of a generation ago.
Is this really everything Chomsky wrote about the Man who Might Have Stopped the War? When an endorsement, in Chomsky’s mind at least, might have mattered ? Yes. That is all.
We have seen that it was mathematically impossible for Humphrey to win California, one of his better states. We have seen that the decision to exit Vietnam was taken at the level of the deep state with not an elected official in the room. Further, that the necessity to mask defeat birthed Vietnamization, which allowed for blaming everything on the hapless South Vietnamese Army as it visibly disintegrated. All this would take time. Nobody cared.
It is clear that for something other than the slow-assed withdrawal outlined above to occur Humphrey would have had to take on the entire establishment. The final fail is that Chomsky does not argue what he must: that there was something known about Humphrey’s character at the time that might make such a head-on challenge to his own administration plausible. Who, then, was Hubert Humphrey?
First, as Chomsky notes above, Humphrey was first and foremost an anti-Communist. And not just in words: He made his bones in Minnesota politics by helping to destroy the Farmer-Labor Party and fold it into the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. This meant wiping out pockets of radicalism left over from the titanic victory of the Teamsters Strike of 1934, often with the use of thugs. In national politics he sponsored a bill to make membership in the Communist Party illegal, sponsored other outlandish pieces of anti-communist legislation, voted to establish detention camps for people like us, was a founder of the anti-communist Americans for Democratic Action and was at least as full-throated an anti-communist with credentials rivaling Nixon’s.
Second, he was an order-taking schnook, and everybody knew it. It is said he advised LBJ early on that Vietnam was a loser but lost his taste for that truth when LBJ froze him out for a couple of months. Since Humphrey considered Johnson’s favor his only possible road into the White House, in the time-honored way of American politicians he proceeded to say exactly what he was told to say for the next four years, never mind that he didn’t believe it. He thus became the Administration’s foremost spokesperson on the war and gave an astonishing 400 speeches defending the Administration’s Vietnam policy.
Robert Kennedy, smelling blood because Clean Gene McCarthy almost handed Johnson his ass in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, entered the race and chased Johnson out within weeks. Before the public announcement that he would not run Johnson coldly told an ashen-faced Humphrey he would have to run against Kennedy and Humphrey, knowing he was dead meat, obeyed. Only Kennedy’s assassination saved him from utter humiliation. He took not one step to distinguish himself from Johnson’s Vietnam position during the entire campaign.
By the record, no one (except his lawyer) ever considered him a man whose thoughts or actions on the war need be discussed. Everything Chomsky himself said about Humphrey during these tumultuous times is quoted in full above. Gabriel Kolko in Anatomy of a War mentions only “Hubert Humphrey’s faltering campaign for the presidency.” In Fred Halstead’s highly detailed history of the antiwar movement Out Now he is again mentioned only once, in passing, as the evident choice of the Democratic Party machine while Jerry Rubin’s index citations run to half a column.
It is not real to think that such a man might impose his will on the machinery of state and speed up the withdrawal from Vietnam. If Chomsky has reasons to believe this, he has kept them to himself. Nothing in history and nothing in Humphrey’s character bears him out. Third and final fail.
Do you still think I have missed the boat? Let’s finally then let the candidates speak for themselves on Vietnam. Here are their respective positions as delivered from the podium during their acceptance speeches.
“Let those who believe that our cause in Vietnam has been right — and those who believe it has been wrong — agree here and now: Neither vindication nor repudiation will bring peace or be worthy of our country.
The question is: What do we do now?
No one knows what the situation in Vietnam will be on January 20, 1969.
Every heart in America prays that, by then, we shall have reached a cease-fire in all Vietnam, and be in serious negotiation toward a durable peace.
Meanwhile, as a citizen, a candidate, and Vice President, I pledge to you and to my fellow Americans, that I shall do everything within my power to aid the negotiations and to bring a prompt end to this war.”
“We shall begin with Vietnam.
We all hope in this room that there is a chance that current negotiations may bring an honorable end to that war. And we will say nothing during this campaign that might destroy that chance.
But if the war is not ended when the people choose in November, the choice will be clear. Here it is.
For four years this Administration has had at its disposal the greatest military and economic advantage that one nation has ever had over another in any war in history.
For four years, America’s fighting men have set a record for courage and sacrifice unsurpassed in our history.
For four years, this Administration has had the support of the Loyal Opposition for the objective of seeking an honorable end to the struggle.
Never has so much military and economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively.
And if after all of this time and all of this sacrifice and all of this support there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership — not tied to the mistakes and the policies of the past. That is what we offer to America.
And I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next Administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. We shall not stop there — we need a policy to prevent more Vietnams.”
Can’t tell the difference? Neither could we.
The paucity of effort Chomsky expends on this surreal exercise in alternate history politics is notable. He isn’t really trying. He never mentions Humphrey by name. He fact-checks nothing. He does not even appear to know what a Hobson’s Choice is. That’s because all the thinking, if you want to call it that, was done long ago when Chomsky joined the Democrat’s team and stopped thinking about how to actually forge political independence.
The genius of the Democrats is that they will cheerfully allow you to say anything at all, as a Democrat, so long as you toe the line on election day. No harm, no foul. Hence the livelihoods of predictable shills like Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartmann, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales.
It is slightly different with Chomsky because he has maintained the step of organizational independence from the Democrats, does not suggest that the Democrats can be reformed or taken over, and yet still demands we vote for them if a vote against them might actually hurt. He has, by his own admission, voted in this manner for the last 17 presidential elections. In practice he is a Democratic Party dues cheater pretending a political independence he has never demonstrated.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has a penchant for saying smug, self-satisfied and generally stupid things about Iran. She has claimed that the Iranian Revolution in 1979 marked the establishment of a dictatorship in that country, rather than end of one; one that just so happened to be a monarchic dynasty that was proudly supported for decades by the United States government. Just two months ago, she weirdly decided to mock Iranians for their national and religious holidays because, y’know, she’s progressive like that.
Maddow was back at it this week, ending her nightly program on Monday with some juvenile comments about Friday’s presidential vote, when Iranians will elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s successor. Here’s how she began:
The current president of Iran has had the job for the last eight years. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he’s known around the world for defending Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
It took her all of seven whole seconds to spit out that egregious falsehood.
First, Maddow’s premise is wrong. Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. Despite being the single most spied on country on the planet, U.S. intelligence consistently affirms that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and its leadership has not made any decision to start one. Iran has never breached its obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The vast majority of allegations about Iranian weaponization research and testing has been provided by the United States and Israel, has never been authenticated, and refers to long-debunked claims about supposed actions that took place over a decade ago.
Iran does have, however, a highly-developed nuclear energy program and enriches uranium to levels far below weapons-grade under strict supervision and routine inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency has continued to verify – up to four times a year over the past ten years – that Iran has never diverted any nuclear material for military purposes and has also affirmed “it has all the means it needs to make sure that does not happen with Iran’s enriched uranium, including cameras, physical inspections and seals on certain materials and components.”
Furthermore, despite the constant mainstream perception that Iran’s nuclear facilities are opaque and mysterious, the fact is that the IAEA has conducted more inspections in Iran than anywhere else.
Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a lecturer at Princeton University, has noted, “Since 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has implemented the most robust inspections in its history with more than 100 unannounced and over 4000 man-day inspections in Iran.”
Just last year alone, IAEA investigators spent 1,356 calendar days in Iran, conducting 215 on-site inspections of the country’s 16 declared nuclear facilities, and spending more than 12% of the agency’s entire $127.8 million budget on intrusively monitoring the Iranian program, which fields only a single functional nuclear reactor, which doesn’t even operate at full capacity.
By contrast, IAEA inspectors spent only “180 calendar days in France, Europe’s biggest nuclear power,” while “Russia and the U.S., which maintain the world’s biggest atomic-weapon arsenals and aren’t required under rules to allow inspections of all facilities, received 16 and 50 calendar-day visits respectively.”
But Maddow’s ignorance was even more pronounced when she claimed that Ahmadinejad is known for “defending” a program that doesn’t exist.
Never once, in the 34 years since the revolution, has a single government official stated Iran’s intention to acquire nuclear weapons – to the contrary, such a goal has always been explicitly denied on strategic, legal, moral, humanitarian and religious grounds.
Ahmadinejad himself has never strayed from this stance. In September 2005, shortly after his first inauguration, the Iranian president stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed the Islamic Republic’s “previously and repeatedly declared position that, in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited.”
The following year, he stated clearly, “Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine and Iran is not a threat to any country.” Indeed, over the past eight years, Ahmadinejad has lambasted the development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons as “inhuman,” “against the whole grain of humanity,” “obsolete,” “abhorrent,” “disgusting and shameful.” Ahmadinejad has said, “The nuclear bomb is the worst inhumane weapon,” described it as “evil,” and declared anyone who builds an atomic bomb as “crazy and insane,” as well as “politically…backward.”
Nevertheless, American officials and their ventriloquist media puppets like Rachel Maddow continue to claim that Iran is actively pursuing the development of nuclear arms. On June 9, the New York Times stated that one of the most pressing issues for Samantha Power, Obama’s nominee to replace Susan Rice as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, will be to confront “Iran’s apparent attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.”
The very same day, in an interview with the American overseas propaganda outfit, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman expressed, “from a U.S. perspective,” the belief that “Iran’s nuclear program… is headed towards having a nuclear weapon.”
Apparently, the “U.S. perspective,” noted by Sherman doesn’t rely on facts or evidence.
Some officials, however, choose their words more carefully than others. During testimony before Congress on June 11, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “Iran is a threat to US national security in many ways, not simply their move toward the potential to develop a nuclear weapon,” adding, “I choose my words carefully, because the intelligence community has not yet come to a conclusion that they intend to build a nuclear weapon.”
Yet Maddow’s own declaration was even more definitive, echoing, of all things, the words of George W. Bush. In March 2008, Bush, while speaking on RFE/RL’s Persian-language counterpart, Radio Farda, stated that the Iranian government have “declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people — some in the Middle East.”
This statement was so devoid of truth that even former State Department Iran specialist Suzanne Maloney was moved to speak out. Maloney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, noted at the time, “The Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon,” adding that while, in her opinion, “there’s plenty of room for skepticism about these assertions…it’s troubling for the administration to indicate that Iran is explicitly embracing the program as a means of destroying another country.”
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation group, also chimed in to correct the record. Calling Bush’s statement “uninformed,” he explained, “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true. It’s a little troubling that the president and the leading Republican candidate are both so wrong about Iran.”
It is indisputable that Iranian officials have consistently denounced the acquisition, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons.
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski made this point in 2009, stating that Iran has been “publicly affirming for quite some time” three main points: “We don’t want nuclear weapons. We’re not seeking nuclear weapons. Our religion forbids us to have nuclear weapons.”
Brzeneski added, “Note, incidentally, that this stands in sharp, explicit contrast with the position of the North Koreans. The North Koreans have been saying the very opposite: ‘We want nuclear weapons. We’re seeking nuclear weapons. And, in your face, haha!, we have nuclear weapons.'” Brzenzinski also condemned the American penchant for “oversimplification and sloganeering rather than analysis” with regards to Iran.
Early this year, Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, similarly affirmed that the “leadership in Tehran continues to challenge the rationale and morality of nuclear weapons. Although such policy statements are hardly determinative of actual intentions, they do stand in stark contrast to the declaratory policies of other governments of proliferation concern, such as North Korea or Pakistan.”
Unsurprisingly, the rest of Maddow’s segment, solely designed to make fun of Iran for some reason, was rife with worn out stereotypes and mainstream talking points. Even the minutiae of her snide derision were weird. Referring to the current heated presidential race as “amazeballs” – because, y’know, she’s a professional journalist – Maddow found it ridiculous that the three presidential debates, broadcast live on Iranian television, each exceeded four hours. Four hours!, she scoffed. Of course, American debates between only two candidates last roughly two hours. Iran had eight candidates. Quadruple the contenders, double the time. How absolutely insane.
Also, towards the end of her bit, Maddow claimed that Ahmadinejad was recently in a helicopter crash, when – based on the article her own staff shows onscreen – it was an emergency landing due to unspecified technical problems. The article itself states clearly that “the pilot managed to land the aircraft safely.”
Still, Maddow repeats the word “crash” four times in less than thirty seconds and speculates that the reason the helicopter landed hastily was due to foul play. Her evidence? The media put the word “accident” in between quotation marks when reporting on the story. Here’s how she put it, using her most ironic voice:
“The media reports on the Ahmadinejad helicopter crash put air-quotes around the word accident, as in ‘President Ahmadinejad just survived a helicopter crash. It’s reported to have been an accident, nudge nudge, wink wink, yeah right’.”
Ok, first, print media can’t put “air-quotes” around anything, Rachel. They’re actual quotes.
Second, the reason the media put the word accident in quotes is because… wait for it… the reports were quoting from the primary source of the news. And what was that primary source that called the incident an accident? Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s official website.
But, for Maddow and her inept interns, “The media apparently thinks he was set up.” No, the media stated the emergency landing was due to an “accident,” because that’s what the president’s press release said.
Let me begin with some background not covered in the film. Dirty War derives from “La Salle Guerre”, the term the French applied to their counter-terror campaign in Algeria, circa 1954-1961. Algeria wanted independence, and France resisted.
Like subject people everywhere, the Algerians were badly outgunned and resorted to guerrilla tactics including “selective terrorism,” a hallmark of the Viet Minh, who fought the French until 1954, when America claimed Vietnam as its rightful property. Viet Minh tactics were derived largely from Mao’s precepts for fighting a People’s War.
Selective terrorism meant the murder of low-ranking officials – collaborators – who worked closely with the people; policemen, mailmen, teachers, etc. The murders were gruesome – a bullet in the belly or a grenade lobbed into a café – designed to achieve maximum publicity and demonstrate to the people the power of the nationalists to strike crippling blows against their oppressors.
Whether the Great White Fathers are French or American or English, they agree that putting down a People’s War means torturing and slaughtering the people – despite the fact that most people are not engaged in terrorism or guerrilla action and have no blood on their hands.
As John Stockwell taught us years ago, Dirty War means destabilizing a targeted nation through covert methods, the type the CIA has practiced around the world for 66 years. Destabilizing means “hiring agents to tear apart the social and economic fabric of the country.
“What we’re talking about is going in and deliberately creating conditions where the farmer can’t get his produce to market; where children can’t go to school; where women are terrified inside their homes as well as outside; where government administered programs grind to a complete halt; where the hospitals are treating wounded people instead of sick people; where international capital is scared away and the country goes bankrupt.”
Economic warfare – strangling nations like Cuba, Iraq and Iran in Medieval fashion – is a type of Dirty Warfare beloved by the Great White Fathers who control the world’s finances. Though no less deadly than atomic bombs, or firebombing Dresden, it is easier to sell to the bourgeoisie.
You’ll hear no mention of this in Scahill’s film, nor will you hear any references to Phil Agee, or the countless others who have explained Dirty War to each generation of Americans since World War Two.
You will not hear about psychological warfare, the essence of Dirty War.
America’s first was terror guru was Ed Lansdale, the advertising executive who made Levi’s blue jeans a national craze in the 1930’s. He applied his sales skills to propaganda in the OSS and after WW II, concocted a new generation of psywar tactics as an agent of the Office of Policy Coordination assigned to the Philippines under military cover. Lansdale’s bottomless black bag of dirty tricks included a “skull squadron” death squad that roamed the countryside, torturing and murdering Communist terrorists.
One of Lansdale’s counter-terror “psywar” tactics was to string a captured Communist guerrilla upside down from a tree, stab him in the neck with a stiletto, and drain his blood. The terrorized Commies fled the area and the terrified villagers, who believed in vampires, begged the government for protection.
Lansdale referred to his sadism as “low humor,” an excuse borrowed liberally by American officialdom during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Lansdale formalized “black propaganda” practices to vilify the Communists: one of his Filipino commando units would dress as rebels and commit atrocities, and then another unit would arrive with cameras to record the staged scenes and chase the “terrorists” away.
Lansdale brought his black propaganda and passion for atrocity to Saigon in 1954, along with a goon squad of Filipino mercenaries packaged as “Freedom Company.”
Under Lansdale’s guidance, Freedom Company sent Vietnamese commandoes into North Vietnam, under cover as relief workers, to activate stay-behind agent nets and conduct all manner of sabotage and subversion. Disinformation was a Lansdale specialty, and his agents spread lurid tales of Vietminh soldiers’ disemboweling pregnant Catholic women, castrating priests, and sticking bamboo slivers in the ears of children so they could not hear the Word of God.
In the South, with the help of the American media, Lansdale re-branded the heroic Vietminh as the beastly Viet Cong.
Lansdale’s greatest innovation, still used today, was to conduct all manner of espionage and terror under cover of “civic action.” As a way of attacking Viet Minh agents in the South, Lansdale launched “Operation Brotherhood,” a Filipino paramedical team patterned on the typical Special Forces A team. With CIA money, Operation Brotherhood built medical dispensaries that the CIA used as cover for terror operations, as depicted in the book and movie The Quiet American.
Levis never went out of fashion, nor did Lansdale’s dirty tricks. Think Saddam Hussein killing babies in their incubators. Such disinformation invariably works on an American public looking for any excuse to rationalize its urge for racist genocide.
Think Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and every Rambo and Bruce Willis films.
Only Americans were fooled by the propaganda, and the Vietnamese quickly caught on. So the CIA in 1956 launched the Denunciation of Communists campaign, which compelled the Vietnamese people to inform on Commies or get tortured and murdered. The campaign was managed by CIA agents who could arrest, confiscate land from, and execute Communists and their sympathizers on the CIA’s master list. In determining who was a Communist, the CIA used a three-part classification system: A for dangerous party members, B for less dangerous party members, and C for loyal citizens.
As happened later in the Phoenix program, the threat of an A or B classification was used to extort innocent civilians, while category A and B offenders were put to work building houses and offices for CIA officers and their lackeys. And, of course, the puppet Vietnamese President used his CIA created, funded and trained security forces to eliminate his political rivals.
As Lansdale confessed, “it became a repressive tool to liquidate any opponent.”
“This development was political,” Lansdale observes. “My first inkling came when several families appeared at my house one morning to tell me about the arrest at midnight of their men-folk, all of whom were political figures. The arrests had a strange aspect to them, having come when the city was asleep and being made by heavily armed men who were identified as ‘special police’.”
Lansdale complained, but he was told that a “U.S. policy decision had been made. We Americans were to give what assistance we could to the building of a strong nationalistic party that would support Diem. Since Diem was now the elected president, he needed to have his own party.”
How We Got To Scahill’s Dirty War
By 1962, as the US expanded its Dirty Wars in the Far East and South America, the military replaced its Office of Special Operations with an up-dated Special Assistant for Counter-insurgency and Special Activities (SACSA). SACSA assigned unconventional warfare forces to the CIA and regular army commanders, who initially resisted.
In 1965 Lansdale went back to Vietnam to run the Revolutionary Development Cadre Program as the CIA’s “second station” with a staff of CIA officers, Green Beanies, and Daniel Ellsberg. Vietnam was a laboratory and the CIA was experimenting with Pacification, aka “the Other War.”
In 1967, the CIA created the Phoenix program to coordinate everyone in its Dirty War. Phoenix combined existing counterinsurgency programs in a concerted effort to neutralize the civilians running the shadow government. Neutralize means to kill, capture, or make to defect. Central to Phoenix was that it targeted civilians. “By analogy,” said Ogden Reid, a member of a congressional committee investigating Phoenix in 1971, “if the Union had had a Phoenix program during the Civil War, its targets would have been civilians like Jefferson Davis or the mayor of Macon, Georgia.”
Under Phoenix, due process was nonexistent. South Vietnamese civilians whose names appeared on CIA blacklists were kidnapped, tortured, detained without trial, or murdered on the word of an informer. Phoenix managers imposed a quota of 1,800 neutralizations per month on the saps running the program in the field, opening it up to abuses by corrupt security officers, policemen, politicians, and racketeers. One CIA officer described Phoenix as, “A very good blackmail scheme for the central government. `If you don’t do what I want, you’re VC.”‘
Because Phoenix assassinations (totaling 25,000+) were often conducted at night while its victims were home sleeping, Phoenix proponents describe the program as a “scalpel” designed to replace the “bludgeon” of My Lai-style search and destroy operations, air strikes, and artillery barrages that indiscriminately wiped out entire villages and did little to “win the hearts and minds” of the people. But that was just propaganda and Phoenix was, among other things, an instrument of counter-terror – the psywar tactic in which enemy agents were brutally murdered along with their families and neighbors as a means of terrorizing the people into a state of submission. Such horrendous acts were, for propaganda purposes, often made to look as if they had been committed by the enemy.
This practice is at the heart of the film I will be reviewing.
As noted, conventional soldiers hated Phoenix. General Bruce Palmer, commander of the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division in 1968, objected to the “involuntary assignment of U.S. Army officers to the program. I don’t believe that people in uniform,” he said, “who are pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions, should be put in the position of having to break those laws of warfare.”
Palmer’s was such a charming sentiment. By 2004, Obama advisor Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, in an article for Small Wars Journal, was calling for a “global Phoenix Program.” Tom Hayden wrote an article for The Nation about Kilcullen in 2008 titled “Reviving Vietnam War Tactics”.
Fact is, Phoenix never went out of fashion. As McClintock notes, “Counterinsurgency and indeed all aspects of special warfare doctrine had developed a reasonable level of political sophistication by the mid-1970s, acknowledging the necessity of combining military and civil initiatives.”
By 1975 SACSA had expired, the nation had internalized its humiliating defeat in Vietnam, and the CIA, wounded by the Church Committee hearings, went underground. The age of counter-terror began. Central and South America were the new laboratories. The CIA forged secret alliances with proxy nations like Israel and Taiwan, whose agents taught Latin American landowners how to organize criminals into death squads which murdered and terrorized labor leaders, Human Rights activists, and all other enemies of the Great White Fathers.
To compensate for the reduction in size of its paramilitary Special Operations Division, the CIA formed its Office of Terrorism. Meanwhile, the military branches beefed up their terror capabilities, all of which glommed together in December 1980 in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Steve Emerson chronicles this development in detail in Secret Warriors (1988).
JSOC’s mission, conducted on the Phoenix model with the CIA, is identifying and destroying terrorists and terror cells worldwide. Paramilitary personnel are often exchanged between JSOC and CIA.
By the early 1980s, CIA and military veterans of the Phoenix program were running counter-insurgency and counter-terror ops worldwide.
General Paul Gorman, who commanded U.S. forces in Central America in the mid-1980′s, defined this advanced form of Dirty War as “a form of warfare repugnant to Americans, a conflict which involves innocents, in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicit object.” (Toledo Blade 1 Jan 1987)
All of which brings me to my review.
Dirty Wars is a post-modern film by Jeremy Scahill, about himself, starring himself in many poses.
The film owes more to Sergio Leone and Kathryn Bigelow than Constantinos Gavras. Scahill certainly is no Leslie Cockburn: there is no Tony Poe telling how the CIA facilitates heroin shipments; no Richard Secord suing him for unraveling the financial intrigues of the CIA’s secret operators. The CIA is rarely mentioned.
There is no reference to the Guerra Sucia in Argentina.
Scahill is no Franz Fallon documenting the devastating psychological effects of racism on society. There are no cameos by Jean-Paul Sartre advocating violent retribution on Hollywood, no mingling with the Taliban in their caves as they conspire against their Yankee oppressors at the Sundance Film Festival.
We get the first taste of his self-indulgent idiocy when he says it is “hard to tell” when the Dirty War began. He does tell us, however, that he is on the “front lines” of the war on terror.
Scahill (hereafter JS) brags that he wasn’t going to find the front lines in Kabul, although he could have, if he knew where to look. Instead he just looks around furtively on his way to the scene of a war crime. We see a close-up of his face.
The endless close-ups artfully convey the feeling that our hero is utterly alone, on some mythic journey of self-discovery, without a film crew or interpreters. There is no evidence that anyone went to Gardez to make sure everyone was waiting and not toiling in the fields or tending the flocks, or whatever they do. And we’ll never find out what the victims do. The stage isn’t big enough for JS and anyone else.
This is a major theme throughout the story – JS is doing all this alone and the isolation preys on him. He bears this heavy burden alone, with many soulless looks.
Initially, there is no mention that journalist Jerome Starkey reported what happened in Gardez. JS is too busy establishing himself as the courageous super-sleuth. As we drive along the road, he reminds us how much danger he is in. Two journalists were kidnapped here, he says. This area is “beyond” NATO control. He must get in and out before nightfall or the Taliban will surely kill him like the Capitalist dog he is.
In my drinking days, we referred to this type of behavior as grandiosity. Telling everyone how you defied death, so the guys would talk about your exploits in the bars, and the girls would fall at your feet. For JS, this formula is working – a visit to his Facebook page reveals scores of “Millennial girls” wringing their hands and fretting for his safety as he strides across America’s secret battlefields in search of the truth. His carefully crafted Wiki bio furthers the legend.
Using the material gathered by Starkey (whom he eventually acknowledges), JS shows that in February 2010, American soldiers murdered five people in Gardez, including two pregnant women, and tried to cover it up by digging the bullets out of the targeted man’s body. He interviews the surviving family members. They weep. Violin music plays. They seem more like props than human beings.
JS ingenuously asks various Afghan and American officials, why the cover-up? The officials suggest that the targeted man was working for the Taliban – and if you play that double-game, you risk your family and friends. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tells JS they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He says there will be no investigation.
Cut to Capitol Hill where, by his own account, JS has greatness thrust upon him. “It is imperative,” he tells Chairman John Conyers, “that Congress investigates this shadow war to examine its legality.”
What, one wonders, was Conyers thinking? Forty-two years earlier, after hearing testimony from Bart Osborn and Michael Uhl about the Phoenix program, Conyers and three other U.S. representatives stated their belief that “The people of these United States … have deliberately imposed on the Vietnamese people a system of justice which admittedly denies due process of law …. In so doing, we appear to have violated the 1949 Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian peoples.”
His testimony, JS tells us, “throws him into the public arena,” ever so reluctantly. He revisits his Blackwater testimony and shows pictures of himself with numerous celebrities on TV.
B-takes of Scahill walking among the common folk in Brooklyn, plotting his next move. Haunted by the horror of Gardez, he files FOIA requests and discovers that William McRaven is head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). He’s stunned. He’s been a national security reporter for over a decade, and he’s never heard of JSOC before. It’s covert. The story has been hidden in the shadows, he says.
This was the turning point of the film for me. For a National Security correspondent, this is an admission akin to a botanist saying he’d never heard of flowers. It’s an admission that fairly sums up the sorry state of reporting in America today. Has JS ever read a book?
JS discovers that Gardez is not an isolated incident, and that JSOC rampages across Afghanistan with “unprecedented authority.” He talks to a former JSOC soldier about its activities in Iraq, where it had hit lists and conducted night raids. This revelation, and the fact that McRaven took responsibility for Gardez, leads JS to conclude that JSOC is responsible for Gardez. It certainly wasn’t Congress, which according to JS, has no control over JSOC. JSOC money comes from rich donors.
JS learns that JSOC is not only in Afghanistan, but that it operates worldwide, and that its hit lists get bigger all the time. And we hear, for the first time, the catchy phrase, “the world is a battlefield.”
At this point JS decides, with the help of The Nation brain trust, to investigate JSOC in Yemen where CIA drones are wiping out people by the score.
B-take of JS sipping tea thoughtfully. He’s going to talk to the most powerful man in South Yemen. We view the scene of a drone strike: 46 killed, including five pregnant women. A woman in a black veil says her entire family, save one daughter, were wiped out. Violin music. But there’s no cover-up here. In fact, Obama personally kept the journalist in prison who reported the strike.
What will Obama do to JS?
Once again, we fear for JS. Luckily he lives to talk to Rachel Maddow and Morning Joe. The greatness thrust upon him forces him onto TV shows everywhere. There he is with Amy Goodman!
More close-ups. We count the pores on his nose, the hairs in his eyebrows. We feel the fear. He gets a strange call. Someone tells him JSOC tortures people without telling the CIA or regular army, which are too busy torturing people to care.
As he studies the hit lists, he comes across radical America Muslim, Anwar al-Awlaki. After talking to Tony Schaffer, he realizes JSOC targets Muslims and that is why, along with the US invasion of Iraq, Awlaki is pissed off. Awlaki is an American but is inciting people to revolution in Yemen, so Yemen allows the CIA to kill him.
Note – the CIA is mentioned maybe twice in the film. Apparently it is so covert it escaped his notice.
We see JS in an exotic location. An airplane lands. JS is back in the USA. He’s been traumatized by what he’s seen. He tells anyone who will listen that the US cannot kill its way to peace, as if peace is the objective. The war on terror, he concludes, is creating enemies, which of course is the objective.
Before the American people can rally to JS’s clarion call, Obama sends some guys to kill Osama bin Laden. This is too much of a coincidence to ignore. Was it done to subvert his investigation? In any event, McRaven and JSOC are now heroes. He meets a knowledgeable person who tells him the Dirty War will go on forever. He tells us about signature strikes that kill people randomly (but not that the CIA conducts them) and that the war on terror is out of control.
Pictures of JS pointing to countries on a map where JSOC operates. He decides to visit Somalia, where JSOC is snatching bodies and taking them to ships in the Arabian Sea, and outsourcing its Dirty War to mercenaries. He visits mercenaries wearing camo fatigues. There are no other journalists here, it is too dangerous. Someone hands JS a flak jacket. Someone tells him they bury traitors alive. The tension soars. He’s surrounded by armed men. There’s a gunshot. He ducks behind sandbags.
We wonder who arranged for JS to meet these guys? Where did he get an interpreter? What’s the quid pro quo?
JS goes to a hospital morgue and look at a mutilated body. After which he wants to go home. But he learns that Awlaki’s son has been killed and reluctantly he returns to Yemen.
I liked this part of the film. It seemed genuine. We see home videos of Awlaki’s son doing youthful happy things. JS tries to understand why the US would deliberately kill a 16 year old kid? Which is a good question. Perhaps America is ruled by a murderous Cult of Death.
We see pictures of young girls smiling, and we revert back to the contrived scenes and monologue that drag the documentary down into gratuitous self-promotion. JS says he never had any idea where the story would lead, as if all this happened magically, like a rabbit pulled out of a hat.
The film ends and I wonder what he could have produced if he hadn’t melodramatized and spent so much time and film on close-ups. I wonder what he could have done if he’d read a few history books.
Ultimately, the film is so devoid of historical context, and so contrived, as to render it a work of art, rather than political commentary. And as art, it is pure self-indulgence.
And in this sense, it is a perfect slice of modern American life.
Douglas Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel Maddow defended the legally fuzzy bombardment of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, and other nations in an interview with Howard Stern. In Maddow’s words the drones, “don’t change the politics of it [war] that much.” In reality, however, the politics have changed markedly because of the US military’s use of their stable/panoply of death-inducing/mass immolating drones. And it is, moreover, exceedingly unclear what is meant by Maddow’s comments as, for example, families have embarked upon lawsuits against the US government for innocents, non-terrorists, and non-combatants — who have been unceremoniously snuffed out — by the legally hazy, and decidedly unmanned aerial drones.
Additionally and infamously, of course, whole wedding parties have been wiped out, by some detached and far-flung controller in the American Southwest or in Langley, VA. Is this what is meant by making war more and more “hospitable” and “sanitized”? I guess, in a sense, but not; of course, for those at the receiving end of the drone. Such questions, I think, force one to wonder about what Maddow thinks regarding the Constitution — vis a vis the war authorization for the US military conflict — in the so-called Afpak war zone.
Indeed, the aforementioned authorization for the war in Afghanistan, pertains to the US military’s actions in Afghanistan — and Afghanistan alone.  Thus, of course, there is no constitutional basis for any sort of military, or even drone activities in the sovereign nation of Pakistan (or any of the other nations where they have been used). And furthermore, one wonders what Maddow’s position on the two American citizens — executed under unconstitutional bureaucratic fiat is — considering that this was not addressed in the Howard Stern interview. These Americans were, according to the Obama administration, guilty until proven innocent, but; of course, never received anything like their inalienable right to a trial, or the long-hallowed and (previously) integrally American jury of their peers.
International law scholar Richard Falk does believe that drones have changed the idea of war/military conflict seriously, and that their advent should be regarded with grave interest/concern. According to Falk the drones clearly raise questions about national sovereignty, and the parameters about presently held notions — of what are the currently permissible forms of war. Falk likens legal “rationalities” for the usage of the deathly — and indeed death-dealing — military drone technology, as analogous to John Yoo style torture memo-esque scrawlings of the George Bush Jr. administration/cabal. So, if some more mature, rational, and informed legal bases/doctrines, don’t arise regarding present and impending drone technology; Falk envisions a dystopian future scenario of rampant proliferation that will be imposed upon the world, by a small number of select, drone-armed, and exceedingly powerful elite states.
Falk posits that in our Machiavellian world, where a handful of nuclear countries have been able to cajole a vast majority of the world’s nations, into the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that a similar regime could come forward — regarding these still fairly nascent military drones. Falk sees no impediment to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, at present, and says that the same is essentially true of the drones. But the least evil (but still evil) route for the drones may; in fact, end similarly to nuclear armaments, in which the “great powers” — self-chosen — make elaborate and extensive use of their own specific unmanned aerial drones. And by that Falk means that some nations will use drones within their own territory, whilst more powerful international actors, will use them globally (and for attack purposes too).
Falk may be putting his realist hat on, and his spot-on theorizing may be of the Machiavellian reality/order of things, but the actuality of the matter is that the drones are totally (and utterly) illegal and unfair. Like a child in a candy shop, the military-industrial complex’s eyes have bulged out, at the advent of this facile way of grievously and insufferably slaughtering people — and so Falk’s analysis is, positively, very sound in this sense. But truth, facts, and reason, I think, must be defended also, even if they are ridiculed as utopian and overly idealistic, by the egregious, sly, and unscrupulous actions — made by the technocrats, military, governmental and political elite officials — who rule our modern day Oceania-esque nation-state, and evermore integrated world.
One of the most prominent government officials of any position — or any stripe — to come out, and unequivocally attack the drones is Hina Rabbani Khar, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Khar has said that, “Drones are not only completely illegal and unlawful and have no authorization to be used — within the domains of international law, but even more importantly, they are counterproductive to your objective of getting this region rid of militancy and terrorism and extremism. Furthermore she has stated, “if one [drone] strike leads to getting you target number one, or target number three today; you are creating five more targets, or ten more targets — in the militancy that it breeds — in the fodder that it gives to the militants, to join their ranks.”
Earlier this year Amnesty International called upon the Obama administration to demonstrate the legal and factual basis of the lethal use of drones. Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director — at the time — said that, “the US authorities must give a detailed explanation of how these strikes are lawful, and what is being done to monitor civilian casualties and ensure proper accountability. And the director moreover asked, “What are the rules of engagement? What proper legal justification exists for these attacks? While the President’s confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan, is a welcome first step towards transparency, these and other questions need to be answered.”
Thin and paltry “justifications” for the drone attacks have, in the past, been offered by US officials, and are “grounded” upon the spurious legal basis of a US global war on terrorism with Al-Qaeda — a concept that is not accepted or recognized, by international humanitarian or human rights law. Truthfully, the ultimate question is what law — if any — recognizes, or gives any credence to the deplorable bombardments, by these egregious, brutish, feral, and essentially barbaric (and deeply) inhuman drones?
International law scholar Philip Alston has said about the drones, “I’m particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe… this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”
Alston, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has proposed a summit by the “great” military powers to clarify the legal limits, and the boundaries on the extrajudicial attacks by the killer drones. If such a summit doesn’t take place, and define a fixed, immutable, firm, resolute, and unbending (drone) operational blueprint Alston says, “This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defense [used to attempt to legitimize the drone strikes] goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the [Charter of the UN].”
As made clear by Professor Richard Falk, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever, to continue on with these savage, mass slaying, and annihilating — and indeed, authentically diabolical killer drones. Like the opening of Pandora’s box, though, these horrid, reprehensible, and unconscionable technological creations may be with us for good. Professor Falk is a more learned man than I, so sadly, if the forces of peace and justice can’t effectively resist, and potentially put an end to these stealthful mass-murderers — run by cowards who have never even envisaged any battlefields — then they will continue to amass great civilian murder, death, heinousness, invidiousness, and inordinate barbarity too. This will more than likely be done by the nations, and regimes that trumpet human rights, democracy, liberty, transparency, openness, and unregulated; and unrestrained human thought, as articles that are necessary to their very basic foundational civic principles, and integral to their national essence also.
Sean Fenley is an independent progressive who would like to see the end of the dictatorial duopoly of the so-called two party adversarial system.