The Belligerent Bunch: Rabid Journalists and Pundits Push Bush to Extremes
A rabidly pro-war cadre of journalists and pundits have become cheerleaders for an aggressive and expansive war, and increasingly draconian domestic policies, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. As the Bush administration rapidly expands law enforcement power and national security authority, a phalanx of white male commentators with magazines of opinion like the New Republic and the Weekly Standard have become a steady bellicose chorus, flirting with macabre doomsday scenarios. Their voices urge the administration to escalate the battle beyond Afghanistan and to use more force.
By calling for Bush to step up the war effort, curtail civil liberties, consider torture and imagine the deaths of tens of millions of Muslims, these writers and TV personalities have dominated the intellectual debate. By grossly distorting the positions of critics, they have helped to give Bush a free ride and undermine healthy discourse. This pundit group has upped the ante for the Bush administration, either pushing it further to the right, or providing it with cover to keep pushing the envelope. No matter how far the Bush administration goes in expanding security power and remaking the international landscape, the war boys will still be calling for more.
Surprisingly, the Washington Post op-ed page has become what may be the friendliest environment to many of these writers. It used to be the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page was the most reactionary and predictable of the national print press. But it now has stiff competition, as Michael Massing notes in the Nation: "Since Sept. 11, the Washington Post op-ed page has been a playpen for columnist-commanders. No fewer that seven regular contributors compete to offer the toughest, manliest views on the conflict. William Kristol has used the page to attack Colin Powell, George Will to thumb his nose at the State Department and Robert Novak to deride the CIA."
Massing adds that the most ferocious of the bellicose boys writing for the Post is Charles Krauthammer, who expresses "contempt for the administration's food drops and concern for civilian casualties." "Why have we not loosed the B-52s and the B-2s to carpet-bomb Taliban positions?" Krauthammer asks. Evidently six weeks of relentless bombing is not enough. War expansion is a major goal of the belligerent bunch, and now a defacto goal of the Post, "since the paper has run at least a dozen columns demanding the overthrow of Sadaam Hussein, yet not a single one has bothered to consider how daunting the task might be," writes Massing. Nor has the Post considered what an attack on Iraq's impact might be on civilian populations.
No doubt this steady drumbeat for war in the corridors of the capital has its effect on policy makers, as most of the warrior pundits appear regularly on TV and are quoted by newsmen like Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
The far-right hysteria put forth by these militants of the chattering class strengthens the position of the right in the Bush administration. One result, for example is Bush's support of the Ashcroft plan for the establishment of kangaroo military courts to jail or execute non-Americans. President Bush admitted that this plan would involve "dismissing the principles of law and the rules of evidence" that provide the foundation for the U.S. legal system. As conservative columnist William Safire explains in the New York Times, the Bush kangaroo court can conceal evidence by citing national security and make up its own rules. It can find a defendant guilty even if a third of the officers disagree, and execute the alien with no review by any civilian court. In an Orwellian twist, Bush's order calls this Soviet style abomination "a full and fair trial."
Fox News Network, the most conservative of the cable news operations, has also sounded a steady pro-war drumbeat. Here's their star prime-time "go to guy" Bill O'Reilly: "The U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble -- the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, the roads. The Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians, but if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."
Perhaps the most disturbing of the B-Boy habits is their uncontrolled lust for revenge -- revenge for the actual events of 9-11 and for theoretical future attacks. In fact, doomsday scenarios, like terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb in D.C., seem to have been conjured up by the writers themselves to instill fear and justify their positions. The rabid Krauthammer's revenge fantasies are primarily focused on Iraq. As Jonathan Schell reports in the Nov. 26 issue of the Nation "In a 'total war' Krauthammer offered that the distinction of civilian casualties was a 'nicety' that the U.S. could no longer afford. He wanted to know 'if we (the U.S.) were still ready to 'wipe Iraq off the face of the earth.'" Krauthammer believes that "if we are not prepared to wage total war we risk disaster on a scale we have never seen and can barely imagine."
Beyond even Krauthammer, Greg Esterbook at the New Republic fantasized about the destruction of an entire region: "If an atomic device were ever to go off in D.C., in the 24 hours that followed, a hundred million Muslims would die as U.S. nuclear bombs rained down on every conceivable military target in a dozen Muslim countries." As Schell points out, even though the fantasies are in response to a potential attack, this kind of apocalyptic fantasy, "if enacted, would be a crime outside all human experience and would blacken the name of the U.S. in human memory forever."
It is difficult to grasp the depth of pent-up, vengeful emotions that have been unleashed by the terrorists attack in September. It is astonishing that these pundits can make no meaningful distinction between criminal terrorists and suspected terrorists without a portfolio, or between hated despots and the population they oppress. "If the terrorists are Muslims, then all Muslims must pay," seems to be the credo.
The more-militant-than-thou epidemic has even spread to the news weeklies: The normally liberal Jonathan Alter (Newsweek) has apparently caught the disease, raising the spectre of torture as a way to address the problem of terrorism. "OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses," Alter writes, "at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history." In another piece, Alter urged a "left stuck in a deep anti-American rut" to can it, because it's "kill or be killed." In addition, Massing points out that the Washington Posts's Richard Cohen, their "in-house liberal," seems to have joined in the conservatives in an effort to "prove his mettle."
As with Alter pouncing on "reactionary left-wingers," pundits and columnists have red-baited critics, distorting their positions. With their belligerence, and with the cooperation of their editors, they have shifted the debate so far to the right that any sensible critic gets labeled a pacifist or even a traitor. A prime example of this is Atlantic Editor, Michael Kelly, writing in the Washington Post: "American pacifists are on the side of future mass murders of Americans"; they are "objectively pro-terrorist," "evil" and "liars."
The disease isn't limited to the predictably conservative Rupert Murdoch controlled Weekly Standard, either, or even to the newly belligerent Post. The third hot bed of militance is the historically liberal New Republic (which has always been a unswerving supporter of Israel) . Under editor Peter Beinart's stewardship, The New Republic "has enthusiastically and rather unconditionally supported the new patriotism," according to Marc Cooper, writing on WorkingForChange.com. "As ardent a militarist as he (Beinart) has become, his favored target seems be the American Left."
Beinart has kept up a stream of steady attacks on dissidents, arguing that the Left's professed concern over maintaining civil liberties in times of national emergency is disingenuous. In another of his signed columns, Beinart writes: "What distinguishes leftists from other Americans, then, isn't their commitment to civil liberties, but their lack of commitment to the anti-terrorism efforts with which those civil liberties may conflict."
It truly seems like a dark time for debate and dissent in America. Many patriotic critics, who offer complex, nuanced responses, have been shut out of the discourse, despite their willingness to promote military response.
In their war-hungry screeds, the belligerent right seem to be responding to an imaginary leftist drive to sit quietly and do nothing. None of them seem to have heard voices like Texas populist Jim Hightower, who writes:
On the military front, the United States has no choice but to go after the bastards. Terrorism ain't beanbags. The ruthless mass murderers smacked our nation and all of civilization right in the face, and turning the other cheek only means we'll get smacked again.Rianne Eisler, a popular New Age theorist and author of the well-known "The Chalice and the Blade" was interviewed by Helen Knode in the LA Weekly:
There's no subtlety to their agenda. However, there must be subtlety to ours. The trick in smacking back is in knowing who "they" are, where they are and particularly in smacking them without slaughtering the innocents they hide among. This requires a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. Bringing them to justice in a court of law would be ideal, and we should seek their capture, but these are suicidal, doctrinaire diehards, so blood will flow.
Knode: What's your solution to terrorism? How do we fight it?The interview continues:
Eisler: There's a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy -- and they have to be simultaneous. In the short term, I'm afraid that military response against terrorist bases in nations that fund and support terrorism is necessary. Unfortunately, failure to respond will encourage more terrorism. In the dominator mind, there are only those who dominate and those who are dominated. Nonviolence is equated with women, with what's despised, what's controlled and is legitimately, and easily, terrorized into submission.
Knode: But violence only breeds violence, you said it yourself.Bill Moyers in a recent speech adds:
Eisler: If you've got a psychopath lunging at you with a knife, that's not the time to talk about peace and love. It's the time to defend yourself to save your life. The time to talk about peace and love, and to put them into action, is before that person becomes a psychopath. If we're to effectively address the festering problems that breed terrorism, we have to deal with the foundations of violence. We have to think of the long term. Any war on terrorism is doomed to fail, just like the war on drugs, unless we address the deepest historical, cultural, social, economic, political and psychic forces that produce terrorism. This is urgent in our high-technology age.
[The terrorists] real goal is to get inside our heads, our psyche, and to deprive us -- the survivors -- of peace of mind, of trust, of faith; they aim to prevent us from believing again in a world of mercy, justice, and love, or working to bring that better world to pass ... Let's face it: they present citizens with no options but to climb back in the ring. What's at stake is democracy. Democracy wasn't cancelled on the 11th of September, but democracy won't survive if citizens turn into lemmings. Yes, the President is our Commander-in-chief, and in hunting down and destroying the terrorists who are trying to destroy us, we are "all the President's men." But we are not the President's minions.As Marc Cooper writes, "The left contains within it a broad spectrum of views, including on this war. Some honest and sincere, and I would add patriotic, leftists have raised questions and doubts about the prosecution of military action. And just as many, or more, have endorsed the use of force against Bin Laden and the Taliban." Writers like Mr. Beinart and Mr. Alter should know this. For them to claim otherwise tests the imagination.
Military action does not have to mean killing innocent Afghanis, who are clearly overjoyed to be freed from their Taliban oppressors. Civilians, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, are not a "nicety" to be dismissed as inconsequential "collateral damage." And any thinking dialogue should accept the premise that a significant difference exists between "blaming America" and trying to understand how American policies have affected the situation that created this threat. The current public debate needs more light and far less heat, as the future of the globe is at stake. Policy makers need to hear from and understand the wide range of thoughtful patriotic opinion that tends to be able to think short-term and long-term at the same time, a useful skill that is sorely misssing among the impulsive rants currently distorting public debate.