How many Syrians did you vote to kill on Election Day? Thanks to our perverse political system, the answer will be revealed over the next four years if the Biden administration drags the U.S. back into the Syrian Civil War. But there are steps that Trump can take in his final months in office to deter such follies.
Syria was not an issue in the presidential campaign and there were no foreign policy questions in the two presidential debates. That won’t stop the Biden team from claiming a mandate to spread truth and justice via bombs and bribes any place on the globe.
The Biden campaign promised to “increase pressure” on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad – presumably by providing more arms and money to his violent opponents. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris declared that the U.S. government “will once again stand with civil society and pro-democracy partners in Syria and help advance a political settlement where the Syrian people have a voice.” Northeastern University professor Max Abrahms observed, “Every foreign policy ‘expert’ being floated for Biden’s cabinet supported toppling the governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria, helping Al Qaeda and jihadist friends, ravaging the countries, uprooting millions of refugees from their homes.”
Syria policy has long exemplified the depravity of Washington politicians and policymakers and the venality of much of the American media. The same “Hitler storyline” that American politicians invoked to justify ravaging Serbia, Iraq, and Libya was applied to Assad by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013. Once a foreign leader is irrevocably tagged with the scarlet H, the U.S. government is automatically entitled to take any action against his nation that would purportedly undermine his regime. Every side in the Syrian civil war committed atrocities, but the Obama administration acted as if there was only one bad guy.
Trump attempted to extract the U.S. from the Syrian conflict, but his sporadic, often unfocused efforts were largely thwarted by the permanent bureaucracy in the Pentagon, State Department, and other agencies. Considering the likelihood that the Biden administration will rev up the Syrian conflict by targeting Assad, recapping how America got involved in this mess to begin with is worthwhile.
President Obama promised 16 times that he would never put U.S. “boots on the ground” in the four-sided Syrian civil war. He quietly abandoned that pledge and, starting in 2014, launched more than 5,000 airstrikes that dropped more than 15,000 bombs in Syria.
Lying and killing are often two sides of the same political coin. The U.S. government provided cash and a massive amount of military weaponry to terrorist groups seeking to topple the Assad regime. The fig leaf for the policy was that the U.S. government was merely arming “moderate” rebels—which apparently meant groups that opposed Assad but which refrained from making grisly videos of beheadings. U.S. policy in Syria became so bollixed that Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels openly battled CIA-backed rebels. The U.S. government spent billions aiding and training Syrian forces who either quickly collapsed on the battlefield or teamed up with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or al-Qaeda-linked forces.
Federal law prohibiting providing material support to terrorist groups was not permitted to impede Obama’s Syrian crusade. Evan McMullin, a 2016 presidential candidate, admitted on Twitter: “My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.” Most of the media outlets that shamelessly regurgitated the Bush administration’s false claims linking Iraq to Al Qaeda to justify a 2003 invasion ignored how the Obama administration began aiding and abetting terrorist groups. The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan lamented last year that those who warned that the U.S. government “providing money and weapons to such rebels would backfire… were smeared as genocide apologists, Assad stooges, Iran supporters.” A Turkish think tank analyzed the violent groups committing atrocities in Syria after the start of the Turkish invasion in 2019: “Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat [ISIS]. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA.”
American policy in Syria has been incorrigible in part because most of the media coverage of the conflict has been like a fairy tale that sometimes showcased our national goodness. Trump’s finest hour, according to the American media, occurred when he launched missile strikes on the Syrian government in April 2017 after allegations that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons. MSNBC host Brian Williams gushed over the video footage of the attacks: “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan groused that “praise flowed like wedding champagne—especially on cable news.”
That wasn’t the only time that top-tier media celebrated carnage. Later in 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius proudly cited an estimate from a “knowledgeable official” that “CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.” Ignatius did not reveal if his inside source also provided an estimate of how many Syrian women and children had been slaughtered by CIA-backed terrorists.
Capitol Hill has been worse than useless on Syria. When Trump announced plans to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, the House of Representatives condemned his move by a 354 to 60 vote. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blathered, “At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was elected after lying to voters by claiming he fought in the Vietnam War, said he felt “horror and shame” over Trump’s action. Congress showed more outrage about a troop pullback than it had shown about the loss of all the American soldiers’ lives in pointless conflicts over the past 18 years.
Foreign policy “experts” are Washington’s most respected con artists. It will be no surprise if Biden appointees repeat the same too-clever-by-half routine of the Obama years, bankrolling terrorists to torment a nation ruled by someone who Washington disapproves of.
If the Biden administration commences bombing Syria to topple Assad, Americans would be naive to expect to learn the facts from cable news or their morning newspapers. Syrian children who die in U.S. airstrikes will be as invisible as Hunter Biden’s laptop in the vast majority of American media coverage. The media will also continue to ignore the slaughter of Syrian Christians, one of the largest and least recognized victims of the civil war.
The best hope to prevent a new round of mistakes, lies, and atrocities is an epic disclosure of prior U.S. mistakes, lies, and crimes in Syria. There is an old saying that sunshine is the best disinfectant. For U.S. policy in Syria, what is needed is an acid burn that permanently sullies the reputations of any government official involved in creating, perpetuating, or covering up debacles. Any U.S. Government official involved in arming the “moderate” rebels deserves to be ridiculed in perpetuity.
The vast majority of records on U.S. intervention in Syria are likely classified as military or national security secrets. But the president is authorized to disclose as he chooses. Perhaps what is needed is a Wikileaks-style massive dump of documents with only the names of innocent Syrians redacted. Almost 20 years ago, Washingtonians were riveted by the last minute pardons that Bill Clinton uncorked until almost the final moment of his presidency. Trump could do the same thing with deluges of disclosures on Syria and other quagmires until the moment that Biden leaves his basement for swearing-in.
If blanket revelations are not possible, then selective disclosures with high entertainment value would include the cozy ties between federal agencies and journalists and think tanks who won official favor by shamelessly recycling official lies.
Revealing the strings that foreign governments pulled to propel or perpetuate U.S. intervention could vaccinate Americans against similar ploys in the future. The Israeli government admitted last year (after years of denials) that it had long provided military aid to radical Muslim Syrian groups fighting Assad. With the Obama administration’s approval, the Saudis poured massive amounts of arms and money into the hands of terrorist groups fighting the Assad regime. Both the Israeli and Saudi military aid made the Syrian assignment more perilous for American troops. Other governments helped sow chaos and carnage in Syria while the Obama administration pretended that the main or sole problem was Assad.
Sweeping disclosures could also enable Trump to settle scores with appointees who subverted his policies. Trump appointed a Never-Trumper letter signer, Jim Jeffrey, as his special envoy for Syria. Last week, Jeffrey explained how he and others thwarted Trump’s efforts to disengage in Syria: “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” The actual number was far higher than the 200 Trump thought would be left in the country. The charade on troop deployments was a “success story” for Jeffrey, Defense One noted, because it “ended with U.S. troops still operating in Syria, denying Russian and Syrian territorial gains.” But denying “Syrian territorial gains” to Syrians was not the policy Trump touted. Washington Post reporter Liz Sly savored the charade: “US officials have been lying to Trump – and the American people – about the true number of US troops in Syria in order to deter him from withdrawing them, according to the outgoing Syria envoy. Trump thinks it’s 200.” Sly added two laughing emojis after that line. (No word on whether the Post will add laughing emojis to its “Democracy Dies in Darkness” motto.)
Opening the files on Syria would provide the ammo for activism by vast numbers of Americans who vehemently
oppose new wars. In August 2013, Obama was on the verge of bombing the Assad regime after allegations it had used chemical weapons. A vast outcry against intervention, including a dramatic protest outside the White House while Obama was making a Saturday speech on his Syrian plans, temporarily deterred further U.S. escalation (beheading videos were the Aladdin’s Lamp for interventionists). There is far more evidence of the folly of U.S. intervening in Syria now than there was in 2013 and probably more folks today ready to raise hell.
America can no longer afford to cloak its foreign carnage in the shroud of good intentions. There is no transcendent national interest that justifies pointlessly killing more Arabs in Syria or elsewhere. Americans need to scoff at those who portray keeping U.S. boots on foreign necks as a triumph of idealism.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, a conflict from which Washington policymakers learned nothing. Almost 40,000 American soldiers died in that conflict that should have permanently vaccinated the nation against the folly and evil of foreign intervention. Instead, the war was retroactively redefined. As Barack Obama declared in 2013, “That war was no tie. Korea was a victory.”
The war began with what Harry Truman claimed was a surprise invasion on June 25, 1950, by the North Korean army across the dividing line with South Korea that was devised after World War Two. But the U.S. government had ample warnings of the pending invasion. According to the late Justin Raimondo, founder of antiwar.com, the conflict actually started with a series of attacks by South Korean forces, aided by the U.S. military: “From 1945-1948, American forces aided [South Korean President Syngman] Rhee in a killing spree that claimed tens of thousands of victims: the counterinsurgency campaign took a high toll in Kwangju, and on the island of Cheju-do—where as many as 60,000 people were murdered by Rhee’s US-backed forces.”
The North Korean army quickly routed both South Korean and U.S. forces. A complete debacle was averted after Gen. Douglas MacArthur masterminded a landing of U.S. troops at Inchon. After he routed the North Korean forces, MacArthur was determined to continue pushing northward regardless of the danger of provoking a much broader war.
By the time the U.S. forces drove the North Korean army back across the border between the two Koreas, roughly 5,000 American troops had been killed. The Pentagon had plenty of warning that the Chinese would intervene if the U.S. Army pushed too close to the Chinese border. But the euphoria that erupted after Inchon blew away all common sense and drowned out the military voices who warned of a catastrophe. One U.S. Army colonel responded to a briefing on the Korea situation in Tokyo in 1950 by storming out and declaring, “They’re living in a goddamn dream land.”
The Chinese military attack resulted in the longest retreat in the history of America’s armed forces — a debacle that was valorized by allusion in the 1986 Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge. By 1951, the Korean War had become intensely unpopular in the United States — more unpopular than the Vietnam War ever was. At least the war, which Truman insisted on mislabeling as a “police action,” destroyed the presidency of the man who launched it. By the time a ceasefire was signed in mid 1953, almost 40,000 Americans had been killed in a conflict that ended with borders similar to those at the start of the war.
Perhaps the biggest disaster of the Korean war was that intellectuals and foreign-policy experts succeeded in redefining the Korean conflict as an American victory. As Georgetown University professor Derek Leebaert noted in his book Magic and Mayhem, “What had been regarded as a bloody stalemate transformed itself in Washington’s eyes; ten years later it had become an example of a successful limited war. Already by the mid-1950s, elite opinion began to surmise that it had been a victory.” Leebaert explained, “Images of victory in Korea shaped the decision to escalate in 1964-65 helping to explain why America pursued a war of attrition.” Even worse, the notion that “‘America has never lost a war’ remained part of the national myth, and the notion of having ‘prevailed’ in Korea became a justification for going big in Vietnam.” But as Leebaert noted, “in Vietnam, [the U.S. Army] had forgotten everything it had learned about counterinsurgency in Korea as well.”
When the American media noted the 70th anniversary of the start of the war this past June, they paid little or no attention to the war’s dark side. The media ignored perhaps the war’s most important lesson: the U.S. government has almost unlimited sway to hide its own war crimes.
During the Korean War, Americans were deluged with official pronouncements that the U.S. military was taking all possible steps to protect innocent civilians. Because the evils of communism were self-evident, few questions arose about how the United States was thwarting Red aggression. When a U.S. Senate subcommittee appointed in 1953 by Sen. Joseph McCarthy investigated Korean War atrocities, the committee explicitly declared that “war crimes were defined as those acts committed by enemy nations.”
In 1999, forty-six years after the cease fire in Korea, the Associated Press exposed a 1950 massacre of Korean refugees at No Gun Ri. U.S. troops drove Koreans out of their village and forced them to remain on a railroad embankment. Beginning on July 25, 1950, the refugees were strafed by U.S. planes and machine guns over the following three days. Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, were killed. The 1999 AP story was widely denounced by American politicians and some media outlets as a slander on American troops.
The Pentagon promised an exhaustive investigation. In January 2001, the Pentagon released a 300-page report purporting to prove that the No Gun Ri killings were merely “an unfortunate tragedy” caused by trigger-happy soldiers frightened by approaching refugees.
Bill Clinton announced his “regret that Korean civilians lost their lives at No Gun Ri.” In an interview, he was asked why he used “regret” instead of “apology.” He declared, “I believe that the people who looked into it could not conclude that there was a deliberate act, decided at a high-enough level in the military hierarchy, to acknowledge that, in effect, the Government had participated in something that was terrible.” Clinton specified that there was no evidence of “wrongdoing high-enough in the chain of command in the Army to say that, in effect, the Government was responsible.”
But the atrocities against civilians had been common knowledge among U.S. troops 50 years earlier. As Charles Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, and Martha Mendoza noted in their 2001 book, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, the Pentagon in 1952 “withdrew official endorsement from RKO’s One Minute to Zero, a Korean War movie in which an Army colonel played by actor Robert Mitchum orders artillery fire on a column of refugees.” The Pentagon fretted that “this sequence could be utilized for anti-American propaganda” and banned the film from being shown on U.S. military bases.
In 2005, Sahr Conway-Lanz, a Harvard University doctoral student, discovered a letter in the National Archives from the U.S. ambassador to Korea, John Muccio, sent to Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk on the day the No Gun Ri massacre commenced. Muccio summarized a new policy from a meeting between U.S. military and South Korean officials: “If refugees do appear from north of U.S. lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot.” The new policy was radioed to Army units around Korea on the morning the No Gun Ri massacre began. The U.S. military feared that North Korean troops might be hiding amidst the refugees. The Pentagon initially claimed that its investigators never saw Muccio’s letter but it was in the specific research file used for its report.
Conway-Lanz’s 2006 book Collateral Damage: Americans, Noncombatant Immunity, and Atrocity after World War II quoted an official U.S. Navy history of the first six months of the Korean War stating that the policy of strafing civilians was “wholly defensible.” An official Army history noted, “Eventually, it was decided to shoot anyone who moved at night.” A report for the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge justified attacking civilians because the Army insisted that “groups of more than eight to ten people were to be considered troops, and were to be attacked.”
In 2007, the Army recited its original denial: “No policy purporting to authorize soldiers to shoot refugees was ever promulgated to soldiers in the field.” But the Associated Press exposed more dirt from the U.S. archives: “More than a dozen documents — in which high-ranking U.S. officers tell troops that refugees are ‘fair game,’ for example, and order them to ‘shoot all refugees coming across river’ — were found by the AP in the investigators’ own archived files after the 2001 inquiry. None of those documents was disclosed in the Army’s 300-page public report.” A former Air Force pilot told investigators that his plane and three others strafed refugees at the same time of the No Gun Ri massacre; the official report claimed that “all pilots interviewed … knew nothing about such orders.” Evidence also surfaced of massacres like No Gun Ri. On September 1, 1950, the destroyer USS DeHaven, at the Army’s insistence, “fired on a seaside refugee encampment at Pohang, South Korea. Survivors say 100 to 200 people were killed.”
Slaughtering civilians en masse became routine procedure after the Chinese army intervened in the Korean war in late 1950. MacArthur spoke of turning North Korean-held territory into a “desert.” The U.S. military eventually “expanded its definition of a military target to any structure that could shelter enemy troops or supplies.” Gen. Curtis LeMay summarized the achievements: “We burned down every town in North Korea … and some in South Korea, too.” A million civilians may have been killed during the war. A South Korean government Truth and Reconciliation Commission uncovered many previously unreported atrocities and concluded that “American troops killed groups of South Korean civilians on 138 separate occasions during the Korean War,” the New York Times reported.
Truth delayed is truth defused. The Pentagon strategy on Korean War atrocities succeeded because it left facts to the historians, not the policymakers. The truth about No Gun Ri finally slipped out — ten presidencies later. Even more damaging, the Rules of Engagement for killing Korean civilians were covered up for four more U.S. wars. If U.S. policy for slaying Korean refugees had been exposed during that war, it might have curtailed similar killings in Vietnam (many of which were not revealed until decades after the war).
Former congressman and decorated Korean War veteran Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.) warned, “The government will always lie about embarrassing matters.” The same shenanigans permeate other U.S. wars. The secrecy and deceit surrounding U.S. warring has had catastrophic consequences in this century. The Bush administration exploited the 9/11 attacks to justify attacking Iraq in 2003, and it was not until 2016 that the U.S. government revealed documents exposing the Saudi government’s role in financing the 9/11 hijackers (15 of 19 whom were Saudi citizens). The Pentagon covered up the vast majority of U.S. killings of Iraqi civilians until Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks exposed them in 2010. There are very likely reams of evidence of duplicity and intentional slaughter of civilians in U.S. government files on its endlessly confused and contradictory Syrian intervention.
When politicians or generals appear itching to pull the United States into another foreign war, remember that truth is routinely the first casualty. It is naive to expect a government that recklessly slays masses of civilians to honestly investigate itself and announce its guilt to the world. Self-government is a mirage if Americans do not receive enough information to judge killings committed in their name.
This year’s presidential election is the fourth since 2000 to be marred by either widespread allegations of voter fraud or of foreign interference. Politicians and pundits have long counted on elections to wave a magic wand of legitimacy over the reign of whoever is designated the winner. But Americans are increasingly wondering if the endlessly-trumped “consent of the governed” has become simply another sham to keep them paying and obeying.
Twenty years ago, America was in the throes of a fiercely disputed recount battle in Florida. Democratic presidential nominee Vice President Al Gore won the national popular vote but the Electoral College verdict was unclear. Florida’s 25 electoral votes would give either Gore or Republican candidate George W. Bush the 270 votes needed to win the presidency. Six million votes were cast in Florida, and Bush initially had a winning margin of 537 votes. But the count was a complete mess.
Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters, resulting in “dangling chads,” “butterfly” ballots, and other unclear preferences. After the Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes in all counties, the Bush campaign legal team quickly filed briefs with the Supreme Court seeking to stop the process.
In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 ruling, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented: “The Florida court’s ruling reflects the basic principle, inherent in our Constitution and our democracy, that every legal vote should be counted.” No such luck. Two days later, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Sustaining confidence” was more important than counting votes. Justice Stevens again dissented: “We have never before called into question the substantive standard by which a State determines that a vote has been legally cast.”
The 2000 election results seemed almost as shaky as the story of the Lady of the Lake giving the Excalibur sword to Arthur, thereby signifying his right to rule England. At a minimum, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was decided by lawyers and political appointees (justices), not by voters. Former President Jimmy Carter observed in 2001, “As we have seen in Florida and some other states… the expected error rate in some jurisdictions is as high as 3 percent of the [vote] total.”
Four years later, George W. Bush narrowly won reelection after a campaign that was boosted by numerous false terror attack warnings that helped frighten voters into giving him another four years. Ohio was the key state determining the outcome that time, and its results appeared tainted by numerous decisions by Republican election officials who favored Bush. Democrats also charged that the electronic voting machines used in much of Ohio had been manipulated to produce misleading vote totals.
In January 2005, Democratic members of the House of Representatives launched a brief challenge to the legitimacy of the 2004 presidential election. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Cal.) complained that many states used more sophisticated technology for lottery tickets than for elections: “Incredibly even in those few jurisdictions that have moved to electronic voting… we do not require a verifiable paper trail to protect against vote tampering.”
Republican Congressmen went ballistic. Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) accused the Democrats of seeking to “obstruct the will of the American people.” Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) bewailed that the protest “serves to plant the insidious seeds of doubt in the electoral process.” Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House Majority Whip, sought to put the entire government above questioning: “It is the greatest democracy in the history of the world and it is run by people who step forward and make a system work in ways that nobody would believe until they see it produce the result of what people want to have happen on Election Day.” Blunt’s “nobody would believe” phrase was more prescient than he intended.
For tens of millions of Americans and for convention halls full of editorial writers, the 2016 presidential election results were forever tainted by allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to score an upset victory. Those allegations spurred a Special Counsel investigation that haunted most of Trump’s presidency and helped Democrats capture control of the House of Representatives in 2018. In 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally admitted that no case of collusion existed. But we have since learned that there was pervasive collusion between Obama administration officials and federal agencies to target Trump’s 2016 campaign. And, as George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley observed, the media ignored “one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence.”
Instead, the media cheered secretive federal agencies that had interfered in American politics. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson captured the Beltway’s verdict: “God bless the Deep State!” The media’s veneration will make it easier for the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency to meddle with if not fix future elections.
This year’s presidential election may be the most fraud-ridden event since 1876, when four states had disputed results and Congress gave the presidency to Republican Rutherford Hayes despite ample evidence of conniving. Earlier this year, some states mailed ballots to all the names on the voting lists, providing thousands of dead people the chance to vote from the grave. More than 92 million people voted by mail.
President Trump warned that the shift to mail-in voting could result in “the most corrupt vote in our nation’s history.” A 2012 New York Times analysis concluded that “fraud in voting by mail is… vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention.” But that blunt admission vanished into the Memory Hole as the media endlessly derided any apprehension of electoral foul play.
Shortly before Election Day, Democratic candidate Joe Biden boasted, “We have put together I think the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics.” A Reuters “Fact Check” analysis revealed that Biden’s comment was a “slip of the tongue” and that he likely meant “voter protection.” Since Election Day, the same media outlets that insisted that there was no corruption in the Biden family now assure Americans there was no significant voter fraud.
The 2020 election controversies are being fought out by lawyers and judges. The media is hoping that hailing Joe Biden as the rightful ruler will speedily restore legitimacy to the political system. But 70 million Trump voters are unlikely to be swayed by the same media that endlessly belittled both the president and his supporters.
Perhaps the real problem with the current American political system is that elections are practically the last remaining source of apparent legitimacy. Presidents take an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But this has long been a nonbinding throwaway gesture – if not a laugh line for Washington insiders. Elections failed to prevent every recent American commander-in-chief from expanding and exploiting the dictatorial potential of the presidency.
Should we expect anything different from Biden? When he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he co-authored numerous oppressive drug laws and forfeiture laws that helped obliterate much of the Bill of Rights. His political philosophy never went beyond his famous utterance: “Lock the S.O.B.s up!” He supported expanding federal power whenever there were votes or campaign contributions to be pocketed.
Biden has said he would dictate a national mask mandate and could impose a national lockdown if Covid infection rates rise. The same media outlets that served as Biden’s Basement Barricade during the campaign – helping him avoid challenges that might have raised questions about his positions and mental capacity – will cheer any restrictive Covid policy Biden imposes. In lieu of constitutionality, we’ll hear that it is the “will of the people” or some such pablum.
Nor will there likely be any way to constrain Biden if he follows the advice of his bellicose foreign policy advisors. Counterpunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair asked: “Which country will Biden bomb first in order to ‘restore America’s place in the world?’” The Biden campaign promised to “increase pressure” on Syrian president Bashar Assad – presumably by providing more arms and money to the terrorist groups that Obama began aiding almost a decade ago. Biden will sanctify his foreign bombing campaigns with the same lame legal tautology that the Obama administration used to justify killing Libyans in 2011. The Justice Department announced that Obama “had the constitutional authority” to attack Libya “because he could reasonably determine that such use of force was in the national interest.”
The more power presidents capture, the more facts they can suppress. The federal government is creating trillions of pages of new secrets every year, effectively making it impossible for average citizens to learn the truth about foreign policy until long after U.S. bombs have dropped.Biden is unlikely to end the pervasive secrecy that makes a mockery of self-government.
In his victory speech last Saturday, Biden pledged to “restore the soul of America.” But Americans were not voting for a faith healer; they were selecting a chief executive for a federal government. Only 20 percent of Americans nowadays trust the government to “do the right thing” most of the time, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The election results will likely further erode federal legitimacy at a time when Uncle Sam has no trust to spare. How many more election debacles and brazen abuses of power does Washington believe the American people will tolerate?
“The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism,” declared former president Barack Obama two years ago. But as we enter the final days of another demagoguery-drenched presidential campaign, it is time to give cynicism the credit it deserves. In an era of clueless voters, conniving candidates and media bias, cynicism can be one of the most effective checks and balances on political power run amok.
In modern American history, the most audacious liars have been the greatest self-proclaimed enemies of cynicism. “The only deadly sin I know is cynicism,” declared President Lyndon Johnson in a 1967 press conference on how the Vietnam War was going great. In a 1973 nationally-televised speech, President Richard Nixon declared, “I reject the cynical view that politics is inevitably, or even usually, a dirty business” prior to deluging viewers with false claims on the burgeoning Watergate scandal.
In 1994, President Clinton derided citizens who “indulge themselves in the luxury of cynicism” for betraying the American soldiers who died on D-Day in 1944. In 1997, Clinton declared that people can make America “better if we will suspend our cynicism.” This is the Peter Pan theory of public service: if only people believed government has magical powers, politicians could achieve miracles. After his impeachment, Clinton castigated “fashionable cynicism” as “self-indulgent arrogance that has no place in America.” But it wasn’t cynics’ fault that Clinton helped make presidential candor an endangered species.
Barack Obama exploited the revulsion against Bush, proclaiming in 2007 that “my rival in this [presidential] race is not other candidates. It’s cynicism.” Six years later, President Obama exhorted college graduates to beware of the “creeping cynicism” and people who “warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.” He did not seize that opportunity to how he acquired the prerogative to order drone killings of American citizens on his own decree.
Politicians denouncing cynicism are akin to used car salesmen telling customers to ignore the clunking sound from the engine during a test drive. Cynicism is blowback from decades of deceit. Most of the major political power grabs in modern history have been propelled by official falsehoods, as have all the major wars since 1950. Perpetual bipartisan chicanery explains why only 20% of Americans trust the federal government nowadays.
Cynicism often arises because politicians judge themselves by their rhetoric while citizens judge them by their (mis)deeds. The alternative to cynicism is pretending that politicians are more honest than they sound. Are politicians, like underage delinquents, entitled to have all their prior offenses expunged?
Cynicism is necessary because the political playing field is often tilted in favor of servility. Politicians are almost never held personally responsible for their falsehoods, follies and fiascos. Thanks to pervasive federal secrecy and surveillance, rulers hold far more cards than citizens. People have been schooled and hectored to submit, to believe and to reflexively defer to officialdom. Scores of millions of people will unquestioningly obey no matter what Washington commands.
Cynicism is a form of political damage control. An ounce of cynicism can save a pound of repenting. Cynicism functions as a brake on political steamrollers. Timely doubts loudly expressed can stop presidents from driving a nation over a cliff or into a foreign quagmire.
Don’t Intellectually Disarm Yourself for Political Aggressors
Politicians seek to banish cynicism without repenting their rascally ways. Why should citizens intellectually disarm themselves in the face of political aggressors? Why should they accept the passive obedience that was preached for centuries to the politically downtrodden? Are citizens obliged to continually cast their common sense and memories overboard as if they were seeking to placate an angry pagan god?
The derision of cynicism goes to heart of citizens’ role in a democracy. If citizens have a duty to believe, then politicians are entitled to deceive. If citizens are obliged to trust, they become sacrificial offerings for the next political con job. A cynic is often merely someone who trusts politicians as little as politicians trust each other.
Cynicism is simply a discount rate for political honesty. Even cynics should not presume that all politicians are perfidious all the time. There are decent folks in every profession. Instead, citizens should judge politicians like federal judges treat accused criminals—97% of whom are convicted.
Cynicism can be pro-freedom, spurring resistance rather than resignation. Stalwart citizens should be cynical when politicians concoct new pretexts to subvert freedom of speech and press, cynical when politicians conspire to violate the Constitution, cynical when politicians seek to drag America into new foreign conflicts, and cynical when politicians propose sweeping new federal programs to replace disgraced boondoggles. Most importantly, citizens should be cynical when politicians absolve themselves for all the damage they have inflicted on this nation.
Winning politicians often enjoy a honeymoon after Election Day, but neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden deserve any honeymoon from cynicism. “Think well of your masters” will be the death of democracy. The more cynical Americans become, the less power politicians can seize.
This article was originally featured at USA Today and is republished with permission.
Election Day can be the longest day of the year. Especially if the presidential race remains undecided late into the evening, neither Xanax nor vodka may be enough to kill the pain. In lieu of other sedatives, following are some cheerful lines which might blunt the impact of the prattling on CNN or MSNBC, though there is no known antidote to PBS’s piety.
The most dangerous political illusion is that votes limit politicians’ power.
Nowadays, we have elections in lieu of freedom.
The defects in any system of choosing rulers outweigh the risks of letting people run their own lives.
People are entitled to far more information when testing baldness cures than when casting votes that could lead to war.
What’s the point of voting if “government under the law” is not a choice on Election Day?
Having a vote does nothing to prevent a person from being molested by the TSA, spied on by the NSA, or harassed by the IRS.
Politicians are increasingly dividing Americans into two classes—those who work for a living and those who vote for a living.
Voting for lesser evils makes Washington no less odious.
Politicians have mandated warning labels for almost everything except voting booths.
On Election Day, Americans are more likely to be deluded by their own government than by foreigners.
Politicians talk as if voting magically protects the rights of everyone within a fifty-mile radius of the polling booth.
Political consent is defined these days as rape was defined a generation or two ago: people consent to anything which they do not forcibly resist.
Modern democracy pretends that people can control what they do not understand.
We have a drive-by democracy where politicians wave to voters every few years and otherwise do as they please.
The more power politicians capture, the more illusory democracy becomes.
A democratic government that respects no limits on its own power is a ticking time bomb, waiting to destroy the rights it was created to protect.
The surest effect of exalting democracy is to make it easier for politicians to drag everyone else down.
The Washington Post’s motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” But democracy also dies from too many Iron Fists.
The phrases which consecrate democracy seep into Americans’ minds like buried hazardous waste.
Rather than a democracy, we increasingly have an elective dictatorship. Voters merely designate who will violate the laws and the Constitution.
Democracy unleashes the State in the name of the people.
The more that democracy is presumed to be inevitable, the more likely it will self-destruct.
America is now an Attention Deficit Democracy where citizens’ ignorance and apathy entitle politicians to do as they damn well please.
Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
Americans now embrace the same myths about democracy that downtrodden European peasants formerly swallowed about monarchy.
Instead of revealing the “will of the people,” election results are often only a one-day snapshot of transient mass delusions.
Nothing happens after Election Day to make politicians less venal.
A lie that is accepted by a sufficient number of ignorant voters becomes a political truth.
America is increasingly a “Garbage In, Garbage Out” democracy. Politicians dupe citizens and then invoke deluded votes to stretch their power.
Promising to “speak truth to power” is the favorite vow in the most deceitful city in America.
Truth delayed is truth defused.
A successful politician is often merely someone who bamboozled more voters than the other liar running for office.
The biggest election frauds usually occur before the voting booths open.
Politicians nowadays treat Americans like medical orderlies treat Alzheimer’s patients, telling them anything that will keep them subdued. It doesn’t matter what untruths the people are fed because they will quickly forget.
When people blindly trust politicians, the biggest liars win.
Secrecy and lying are often two sides of the same political coin.
The more powerful government becomes, the more abuses it commits, and the more lies it must tell.
Government et Cetera
America is rapidly becoming a two-tier society: those whom the law fails to restrain, and those whom the law fails to protect.
Idealism these days is often only positive thinking about growing servitude.
It is naïve to expect governments to descend step-by-step into barbarism—as if there is a train schedule to political hell with easy exits along the way.
The first duty of today’s citizen is to assume the best of government, while federal agents assume the worst of him.
America needs fewer laws, not more prisons.
Every recent American commander in chief has expanded and exploited the dictatorial potential of the presidency.
Many people reason about political power like sheep who ignore the wolf until they feel its teeth.
Political saviors almost always cost more than they deliver.
There is no such thing as retroactive self-government.
The arrogance of power is the best hope for the survival of freedom.
Washingtonians view individual freedom like an ancient superstition they must pretend to respect.
Paternalism is a desperate gamble that lying politicians will honestly care for those who fall under their sway.
Citizens should distrust politicians who distrust freedom.
The Night Watchman State has been replaced by Highway Robber States in which no asset or right is safe from marauding politicians.
P.T. Barnum may have been thinking of Washington journalists when he said there’s a sucker born every minute.
Trump’s attack on the debate commission is an attack on the election itself,” blares the headline from today’s Washington Post op-ed page. That article was written by former senator John Danforth, who has been a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates since 1994. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest whose piety earned him the derisive nickname, “Saint Jack,” is one of Washington’s favorite useful idiots of Leviathan. It is no surprise that he would be a permanent fixture on a commission that appears determined to perpetuate the swamp.
Danforth wails in the Post that accusing the debate commission of favoritism “destroys public confidence in the most basic treasure of democracy, the conduct of fair elections” and “paves the way to violence in the streets.” Danforth warns that the “damage to our country is incalculable” if Americans lose faith in “the fairness of our presidential debates, and, in turn, the presidential election.”
The usual Twitter mob quickly affixed a halo over Danforth’s head for his proclamation. But few people remember how Danforth previously appointed himself as the nation’s political faith healer after the biggest federal law enforcement debacle in modern times.
On February 28, 1993, 70 federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents launched an attack on the home of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas. After the assault was rebuffed, the FBI arrived and, on April 19, 1993, sent in tanks that demolished much of the Davidians’ home before a fire broke out. Eighty corpses of men, women, and children were discovered in the wreckage.
Trump had no connection to the plot, and at least one of the alleged plotters denounced Trump as a “tyrant” and “the enemy.” But Trump’s condemnations of lockdowns was enough for Gov. Whitmer to denounce Trump yesterday as “complicit” with the plotters. She derided Trump for spending “the past 7 months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” Former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC that Donald Trump should be investigated for “aiding and abetting” the Michigan plot.
Whitmer, one of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s favorite governors, enraged many Michiganders by locking down the state after the outbreak of COVID-19. Whitmer placed almost the entire state under house arrest, dictating a $1,000 fine for anyone who left their home to visit family or friends. Business owners faced up to three years in prison for refusing to close their operations. Whitmer severely restricted what stores could sell and prohibited purchasing seeds for spring planting after she decreed that a “nonessential” activity. (Purchasing state lottery tickets was still an “essential” activity.) Though Covid infections were concentrated in the Detroit metropolitan area, Whitmer shut down the entire state—including northern counties with few cases, boosting unemployment to 24 percent statewide. In a tweet yesterday, Trump said Whitmer “has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities.”
Whitmer’s actions infuriated many Michiganders and no informants were necessary to spur much of the anti-government rhetoric recited in the federal indictment yesterday. Plenty of hotheads say things online or in allegedly encrypted messages that look menacing or idiotic in cold print afterwards. Threatening violence against government officials—or anyone else—is reprehensible. But how far did those guys move to actually carrying out their plot? Last month, some of the conspirators “drove to the area surrounding the [Whitmer vacation] residence and discussed detonating explosives to divert police—even checking the underside of a bridge for spots to place a charge,” as the Washington Post summarized the indictment.
The FBI admits that it paid one informant $8,600, and there may be other payments that are revealed in the coming days or weeks. FBI agents have been taught that subjects of FBI investigations “have forfeited their right to the truth,” which helps explain the vast increase in federal entrapment operations in recent decades. Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, estimated that only about 1% of the 500 people charged with international terrorism offenses in the decade after 9/11 were bona fide threats. Thirty times as many were induced by the FBI to behave in ways that prompted their arrest. The bureau’s informant program extends far beyond Muslims. It bankrolled an extremist right-wing New Jersey blogger and radio host for five years before his 2009 arrest for threatening federal judges. A long-term FBI informant organized the Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in July 2017.
The alleged Michigan plot is almost too idiotic to believe. The alleged conspirators purportedly planned to kidnap Gov. Whitmer and take her to Wisconsin for a private trial. This is on par with the 2006 FBI-fabricated terror plot of the Liberty City Seven, where an informant swayed a bunch of dimwits to babble about blowing up government buildings. That group was so knuckle-headed that they asked the informant for military uniforms and wanted to conduct a parade.
The Michigan conspirators are receiving vastly more coverage than a recent Michigan Supreme Court decision, which effectively labeled Whitmer a lawless dictator who had extended a “state of emergency” far beyond what an unconstitutional state law allowed. Instead of obeying the ruling of the highest state court, Whitmer responded by having the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issue “new COVID-19 emergency orders that are nearly identical to her invalidated emergency orders,” as the Mackinac Center noted.
Four months earlier, the Michigan Court of Claims condemned Whitmer for contorting a Michigan workplace safety law to unjustifiably inflict additional penalties on businesses and individuals who failed to submit to her pandemic commands.
But, according to the media, locking down Michigan isn’t tyranny—it is public service.
Anyone who protests or heartily condemns lockdowns will also be presumed collectively guilty with the Michigan plotters. The same media moral framework will likely be used to exonerate new lockdowns that may be imposed in the name of curbing COVID-19. Earlier this week, many pundits denounced Trump as a would-be Mussolini for his statement on the White House balcony after he returned from Walter Reed Hospital. Commentators were horrified that Trump, who was standing outside not close to anyone, removed his facemask.
If Biden is elected president and fulfills his promise to impose a national facemask mandate or dictates a national shutdown of the economy, such actions will be portrayed as benevolence at its best, rather than the most foolhardy federal interventions since the 55 mile per hour speed limit.
Will the Michigan plot be touted by the media to valorize every government official who placed any American under house arrest in response to the pandemic? It is possible to heartily condemn both nitwit conspirators and oppressive politicians. Unfortunately, the media will likely pay far more attention to the bluster of boneheads than to actual devastation produced by unjustified shutdowns.
Nineteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror is still the biggest sham of this century. President George W. Bush promised to “rid the world of evil” and instead unleashed war and carnage. American troops are now fighting in 14 nations as part of an endless crusade against “extremists.” President Obama provided massive military aid and other support to Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Libya and Syria—and the Trump administration continued the Syrian idiocy and has repeatedly veered close to war with Iran. Trump talks of “ending endless wars” but he has failed to deliver on one of his most important 2016 campaign promises.
The terrorist watchlist has over a million names compiled in a process that is a parody of due process. The feds claim a right to treat every American like a terrorist suspect every time they buy an airplane ticket. The National Security Agency has ravaged Americans’ privacy but supposedly the real villains are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
Will America ever politically recover? Politicians have perpetually exploited 9/11 to kill foreigners and to repress Americans. Will this constitutional travesty never end?
*The Patriot Act treats every citizen like a suspected terrorist and every federal agent like a proven angel.
*Most of the homeland security successes in the war on terrorism have been farces or frauds.
*Nothing happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.
*The worse government fails, the less privacy citizens supposedly deserve.
*The U.S. government is far more efficient at making enemies than at defending Americans.
*Killing foreigners is no substitute for protecting Americans.
*Perpetual war inevitably begets perpetual repression. It is impossible to destroy all alleged enemies of freedom everywhere without also destroying freedom in the United States.
*A lie that is accepted by a sufficient number of ignorant voters becomes a political truth.
*Citizens should distrust politicians who distrust freedom.
*In the long run, people have more to fear from governments than from terrorists. Terrorists come and go, but power-hungry politicians will always be with us.
*The word ‘terrorism’ must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all limits on government power.
From the Bush Betrayal (St. Martin’s, 2004)
There are no harmless political lies about a war. The more such lies citizens tolerate, the more wars they will get.
The myths of 9/11 continue to threaten American safety.
Following are some of my early attacks on the War on Terrorism:
Investor’s Business Daily October 2, 2001
Government Trust Grows Despite Its Inability to Protect
by JAMES BOVARD
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Americans’ trust in government is soaring after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The number of people who trust the government to do the right thing has doubled since last year, and now is more than three times higher than in 1994. According to a Washington Post poll released on Sept. 27, 64% of Americans now “trust the government in Washington to do what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time.”
Ronald Brownstein, a Los Angeles Times columnist, declared on Sept. 19: “At the moment the first fireball seared the crystalline Manhattan sky last week, the entire impulse to distrust government that has become so central to U.S. politics seemed instantly anachronistic.” Brownstein’s headline – “The Government, Once Scorned, Becomes Savior” – captured much of the establishment media’s response to the attacks.
It is puzzling that trust in government would soar after the biggest intelligence/law enforcement failure since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. At least in the first weeks after the attack, the federal government’s prestige appears higher than at any time since the start of the Vietnam War.
The Post poll also revealed that the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 greatly increased Americans’ confidence that government will protect them against terrorists. From 1995 through 1997, the results consistently showed that only between 35% and 37% of Americans had “a great deal” or “a good amount” of confidence that the feds would deter domestic attacks by terrorists. In hindsight, the public was far more prescient than were the Washington policy-makers who chose not to make defending against such attacks a high priority. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, confidence in government’s ability to deter terrorist attacks has soared – clocking in at 66%, almost double the percentage in the most recent previous Washington Post poll on this question in June 1997.
The bigger the catastrophe, the more credulous many people seem to become. The worse government failed to protect people in the past, the more certain most people become that government will protect them in the future.
Prominent liberals are capitalizing on the new mood to call for razing the restraints on government power. Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt says it’s “time to declare a moratorium on government-bashing…. For the foreseeable future, the federal government is going to invest or spend more, regulate more and exercise more control over our lives,” he rejoices.
“There is no real debate over expansion (of government power) in general.” Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland snipped, “Ideologues on the right saw government as an evil to be rolled back.” In a breathtaking leap of logic, he reasons: “The terror assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon … should profoundly shake the less-is-more philosophy that was the driving force for the tax-cut politics of Bush and conservative Republicans.”
But there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden targeted the U.S. because of ire over George Bush’s proposal to reduce the estate tax. Hoagland’s effort is reminiscent of liberal efforts after the assassination of John F. Kennedy to paint right-wingers everywhere as unindicted co-conspirators in Kennedy’s killing.
It is difficult to understand how the failures of the CIA, the FBI, and the Federal Aviation Administration could generate a blank check for all other federal agencies to exert more control over 270 million Americans. The success of the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 were due far more to gross negligence and a shortage of competence than to a shortage of power. The federal government needs sufficient power to protect Americans against terrorist attacks and to harshly punish the perpetrators of the recent attacks. But such power shouldn’t place a golden crown on the head of every would-be bureaucratic dictator, from the lowest village zoning enforcer to the most deluded federal agency chieftain.
The blind glorification of government, now popular, puts almost all liberties at grave risk. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average – either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power. The best hope for the survival and defense of liberty is that enough Americans will recall the type of history lessons that public schools never teach.
At this time of national crisis, we must forget neither our political heritage nor the inherent limits of any governmental machinery. Government has a vital role in defending Americans from deadly foreign threats. But nothing that happened on Sept. 11 or since changed the fundamental nature of American government.
James Bovard is the author of “Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years”(St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
In late September 2001, Reason magazine asked a handful of folks “to discuss which civil lliberties they thought were most at risk in what has been called America’s first 21st century war.” They published the responses in an article entitled, Guarding the Home Front: Will civil liberties be a casualty in the War on Terrorism?” in their December 2001 issue.
Here was my take a few weeks after 9/11:
Lessons Never Taught Jim Bovard
The blind glorification of government currently prevailing puts almost all liberties at grave risk. Most of the media and most of the politicians are stampeding behind the notion that the greatest danger is any limit on federal power. The Justice Department wish list of remedies invokes the danger of terrorism to seek sweeping new powers to be used against all classes of alleged criminals.
The determination of some members of the Bush administration to use the terrorist attacks to wage wars against a laundry list of “rogue nations” could mean that aggressive military action continues indefinitely–along with the pretext to suppress Americans’ freedom of speech and movement. And if there is another successful terrorist attack that kills many Americans, the pressure for severe crackdowns will probably be irresistible–regardless of how badly government agencies screwed up in failing to prevent the attack. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average–either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power.
The best hope for the survival of liberty is that Americans will finally learn the history lessons public schools never taught.
Jim Bovard is the author, most recently, of Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years (St.Martin’s Press).
President Bush recently declared: “So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war.” Bush rightfully sought international support for the campaign to put the al-Qaeda terrorist network out of business. But the war on terrorism threatens to become a license for tyranny.
The United Nations is concerned that an expansive call for governments to crack down on terrorism — a crime that is not clearly defined — is spurring a surge of oppression around the world. Los Angeles Times writer William Orme detailed some of the ways governments are exploiting the new war to repress their citizens:
The Cuban government, as part of its war on terrorism, added a new law allowing the death penalty for anyone who uses the Internet to incite political violence.
Zimbabwe’s war on terrorism includes a proposal to criminalize any critical comment about President-dictator Robert Mugabe.
Syria bragged to the U.N. that financial support for terrorists was effectively curtailed by the absence of any private banking system or independent charities, Orme reported. In other words, a government that totally destroys freedom expects to be applauded as an anti-terrorist superstar.
Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a chief U.N. human-rights officer, recently complained: “In some countries, non-violent activities have been considered as terrorism, and excessive measures have been taken to suppress or restrict individual rights, including the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture, privacy rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to seek asylum.”
Here at home
Many of these complaints, in fact, apply to the actions of the Bush administration. A new law decimates individual privacy by giving the FBI the de facto right to vacuum up practically anyone’s e-mail. Permanent resident aliens who publicly criticize the U.S. government’s war on terrorism can be banned from re-entering the United States. Some have floated the suggestion that permitting the torture of suspects could help avert future terrorist attacks. And Bush’s executive order for military tribunals threatens to bring unsavory aspects of Third World “justice” to American shores.
A myopic focus on private-sector criminals risks giving a green light to more dangerous government abuses. A core fallacy of the war on terrorism — as opposed to attacking and destroying al-Qaeda — is that terrorism is worse than anything else imaginable. Unfortunately, governments have committed far worse abuses than al-Qaeda or any other terrorist cabal.
Mass murder was the most memorable achievement of some 20th-century governments. The Black Book of Communism, a 1997 scholarly French compendium, detailed how 85 million to 100 million people came to die at the hands of communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. In Death by Government, R.J. Rummel declared that some 170 million people were killed in one of “the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.”
By raising terrorist attacks to the pinnacle of political evil, the war on terrorism implicitly sanctifies whatever tactic governments use in the name of repressing terrorism. But, in the long run, people have far more to fear from governments than from terrorists.
Bush’s labeling of attacks on any “established government” as a justification of counterterrorism ignores the fact that some governments are little more than criminal conspiracies against their victims. The United States was created as a result of popular uprisings and attacks on an established government that was far less oppressive than many current regimes in Africa and Asia.
The Bush administration must find a way to fight terrorism without sanctifying tyranny. The word “terrorism” must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all existing limits on government power. The fact that governments such as Syria and Zimbabwe can justify their oppression by invoking the war against terrorism is an embarrassment to anyone who both opposes terrorism and favors human rights.
James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights and Freedom in Chains.
Playboy April 2002
HEADLINE: Terrorizing the bill of rights.
BYLINE: BOVARD, JAMES
How do you find a needle in a haystack? Set fire to the haystack.
Following the September 11 attacks, Congress joined the largest manhunt in history by passing a 342-page bill called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The bill’s acronym, USA PATRIOT, revealed the depth of feeling, if not thought, that had gone into the measure. In support of the bill, House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner declared, “The first civil right of every American is to be free of domestic terrorism.”
USA PATRIOT rewrote laws that had been put in place to curb past government abuses. It gave Attorney General John Ashcroft powers that would have been unthinkable a few months before. Lawmakers claimed they were bringing the Bill of Rights up to date, allowing law enforcement to operate efficiently in the age of the cell phone and laptop.
Thanks to USA PATRIOT and the flurry of executive orders that have followed, our government now can more easily conduct secret trials, listen to privileged conversations between prisoners and their counsel, imprison people indefinitely on minor charges without even confirming they are being held, eavesdrop on any telephone that a suspect may use (including those in public places such as airports), sort through thousands of private e-mails while promising not to read “content” (a term left undefined), conduct “sneak and peak” searches for physical evidence without notifying the suspect at the time, rummage through school records of foreign students and appoint bank clerks and employers as deputy counterterrorists (with no training). The CIA and other intelligence groups have been allowed back into the domestic arena. All manner of checks and balances, of oversight, have been tossed onto the bonfire.
In some cases, agencies seeking wiretaps in criminal investigations no longer need establish probable cause. A month after Bush signed USA PATRIOT, the administration went even further. It proposed “fill-in-the-blank” wiretaps on suspects when federal agents do not know the person’s name. The Bush administration also wanted to allow agents up to 72 hours after conducting an “emergency” wiretap or search to request ex post facto permission from a judge for the intrusion.
USA PATRIOT is a classic bait and switch. Although its stated purpose is to defeat domestic terrorism, the government’s new power reaches far beyond box cutters. For starters, the law defines domestic terrorism as activities involving “acts dangerous to human life” that, among other things, may “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Perhaps the lawmakers saw only images of airliners flying into skyscrapers, but the language is broad enough to encompass many less-extreme activities. It may take only a few scuffles at a rally to transform a protest group into a terrorist entity. The new thinking would allow the government to drop the hammer on environmental extremists (even those who are not spiking trees), anti-trade fanatics (even those who don’t trash Starbucks) and anti-abortion protesters (even those who don’t attack doctors). Even if the violence at a rally is initiated by a government agent provocateur–as happened at some Sixties antiwar protests–the feds could still reap the power to treat all of a group’s members as terrorists.
And it will not be necessary to have participated in a rowdy street demonstration to be indicted under this act. If you provide a demonstrator with a place to sleep, you could be found guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism. Likewise, if you donate to an organization that may in the future be classified as a terrorist entity–including Greenpeace, the Gun Owners of America and Operation Rescue–you could face prison. Are such concerns far-fetched? Unfortunately, no. The Philadelphia Inquirer examined terrorism prosecutions from 1997 to 2001 (before the definition of terrorism was expanded). Among the supposed acts of terror were a tenant who impersonated an FBI agent in a call to his landlord protesting an eviction, an airline passenger who got drunk on a flight from China and demanded more liquor in an unruly fashion and a guy who asked his shrink for medicine because voices were telling him to kill George W.
Many of the bill’s provisions are not bound by definitions of terrorist. New powers can be used against those suspected of breaking a criminal law, be it wearing the fur of an endangered species or being less than truthful to an IRS agent. As for the roving wiretaps and e-mail surveillance, you don’t even have to be a suspect to have your right of privacy sacrificed.
The idea that sacrificed civil rights are the price we pay for security in times of crisis is hardly new. Such thinking seeks to justify the perpetual detention of terrorist suspects and the incarceration of those who criticize homeland security or disagree with Ashcroft’s designation of certain groups as terrorists. There are historical precedents. President John Adams used sedition laws to lock up dissenting newspaper editors and the occasional congressman. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. World War I gave us the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of government of the United States.” And the list goes on. How far will we go?
The Bill of Rights does not distinguish between citizens and immigrants; it protects individual rights, not those of a privileged class. But the Attorney General now needs only to certify that he has “reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is engaged in any activity that endangers the national security” to detain an alien. But, we were proud to learn, those who are in custody still have some rights. When the Justice Department refused to disclose the names of its detainees, Ashcroft explained that the silence was necessary to protect their privacy.
Speaking before Congress, Ashcroft defended the secrecy of military tribunals thusly: “Are we supposed to read them their Miranda rights, hire a flamboyant defense lawyer, bring them back to the U. S. to create a new cable network of Osama TV or what have you, and provide a worldwide platform from which propaganda can be developed?” Well, yes. Better that than taking them into a soccer stadium and executing them without a trial, without evidence–or, worse, with secret evidence. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect individuals (not just citizens) from such overzealousness–or is it arrogance?
USA PATRIOT treats every American as a potential suspect, every federal agent as an angel. It asks us to ignore such dark episodes as the surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr., Cointelpro, the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the Red files of the McCarthy era. Ashcroft scoffs at criticism and says simply, “Trust me.” But already, the definition of the enemy has changed. In the hearing before Congress, the attorney general chastised potential critics, saying, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”
The Bush doctrine that “you’re with us or with the terrorists” has come home.
This article was originally featured at James Bovard’s blog and is republished with permission.
Four years ago, Donald Trump electrified campaign audiences by denouncing “Trigger Happy Hillary” Clinton. Trump bragged in 2016 that his advisers knew “how to avoid the endless wars we are caught in now” but he has yet to deliver on what many voters believed was his most important campaign promise. Can he revive his faltering reelection bid by boldly withdrawing American troops from much of the world?
Perhaps Trump did not recognize how steeply the deck is stacked in Washington. For more than a hundred years, starting with Woodrow Wilson, presidents have lied America into foreign wars. In the landmark 1971 decision permitting The New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black declared that a free press has “the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers & foreign shot and shell.” Unfortunately, especially since the 9/11 attacks, the establishment American media has been among the biggest warmongers in the nation, dishonestly promoting wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and championing perpetual U.S. intervention practically everywhere. The same media that perpetually slams Trump canonized the late Sen. John McCain, the patron saint of Know-Nothing Bombing.
“Consistent” is the least likely description for Trump’s foreign policies. Prior to taking office, Trump vigorously opposed the Afghan war. In 2013, Trump declared that the U.S. “should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.” By the time Trump took office, Afghanistan was America’s longest war and had dragged on longer than World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. Thousands of U.S. troops had been killed there with nothing to show for their sacrifice except flags to drape their caskets.
However, in August 2017, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster persuaded Trump to announce a “surge” of new troops in part by showing him a 1972 photo of women in miniskirts in Kabul. Trump appeared to have gotten rolled by the Pentagon on this issue the same way that President Barack Obama was rolled to support a much larger Afghan surge in 2009. Trump’s surge did nothing to stop the advance of the Taliban. The Pentagon continued violating U.S. law by ignoring the pervasive child rape by Afghan forces subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction concluded that U.S. policymakers had been brazenly lying about progress in the war almost from its start. The United Nations reported last year that “more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents.”
In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump reversed course on Afghanistan, declaring, “As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.” Shortly before the speech, the vast majority of Senate Republicans voted for resolution rebuffing Trump’s attempt to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria. The resolution non-ironically praised U.S. troops for “protecting human rights” and warned that “withdrawal … could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.” But Trump proceeded with negotiations with the Taliban, resulting in an announcement in February 2020 that U.S. troops could be withdrawn within 14 months.
Congress was outraged. Last month, Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney partnered with Democrats to craft a resolution denouncing “a rapid [sic] military drawdown” and blocking spending any tax dollars for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan unless a list of damned unlikely benchmarks are first achieved. Almost all the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee voted for Cheney’s amendment. Cheney named her legislation the Afghanistan Partnership and Transparency Act, which was a hoot, considering that the U.S. government has perpetually covered up its Afghan debacles. There was a smattering of congressional opposition but, as journalist Glenn Greenwald noted, it was “no match for the war machine composed of the establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community that continue to use selective, illegal leaks to sabotage any plans to reduce the U.S. military presence around the world.”
Syria is the biggest and least recognized U.S. foreign policy debacle of the past decade. In 2013, as the Obama administration was ramping up support for mythical “moderate rebels,” Trump tweeted: “We should stay the hell out of Syria.” Obama’s policies were such a tangled mess that Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels were openly battling CIA-backed Syrian rebels. However, after taking office, Trump was swayed to support continued U.S. meddling. In April 2017, Trump launched a missile attack on the Syrian government based on less evidence than required for a jaywalking ticket in New York City. The following year, Trump launched another round of missile attacks based on even flimsier allegations that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Top officials with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons leaked information showing that the charges against the Syria government were false but the U.S. media and American politicians mostly ignored their evidence.
Trump eventually again recognized the folly of U.S. intervention and announced last October that he was shifting some U.S. troops out of eastern Syria. Trump’s political opponents quickly portrayed the move as the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Congress showed more indignation about the troop pullback in Syria than it has over the loss of American soldiers’ lives over the past 18 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The House of Representatives quickly voted 354-to-60 to condemn President Donald Trump’s pullback as “beneficial to adversaries of the United States government.” But the U.S. intervention has been a disastrous failure that perpetuated a civil war and provided zero benefit for the Syrian people.
But Capitol Hill’s biggest anti-Trump absurdity was yet to come. Seventy-five years after Gen. Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine, Congress is panicking about Trump’s proposal to shift 12,000 U.S. troops (out of 34,500) out of Germany. The House Armed Service Committee voted 49-to-7 last month to prohibit “lowering troop levels below current levels [in Germany] until 180 days after Pentagon leaders present a plan to Congress and certify it will not harm U.S. or allied interests.” Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney denounced Trump’s proposal as “a gift to Russia” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally.” The Soviet Union has not existed for almost 30 years, yet congressional policymakers apparently cannot give up the fantasy of hostile tanks facing off across Checkpoint Charlie.
In considering Trump’s foreign policy record, recall that the finest hour—or perhaps finest minute—of his presidency occurred in June 2019 when he canceled just before launch a barrage of Tomahawk missiles against Iran. After the Iranians had shot down a U.S. drone either over international water (according to the U.S.) or over Iranian territory (according to Iranians), National Security Advisor John Bolton and a neoconservative chorus howled for massive retaliation. Bolton later denounced Trump’s refusal to start a war with Iran as “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.” Trump groused that if he had listened to Bolton, “we would be in World War Six by now.” Trump hugely blundered by appointing Bolton, but firing him and refraining from a massive escalation with the Iranians were two of the most positive signs from his presidency.
Trump’s attempts to withdraw troops have been vehemently opposed by the type of Washingtonians whose only “combat experience” consisted of having their lunch money stolen in elementary school. But America can no longer afford to indulge its laptop bombardiers. We are spending money we don’t have to fight conflicts we don’t need to impress people who despise us.
Can Trump save his presidency by running against the warmongering Washington establishment, which includes most of Congress, as well as Joe Biden and his brigade of bellicose advisors? Would voters trust and reward Trump if he carried through with his initial preference for pulling out all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Election Day?
This article was originally featured at The Daily Caller and is republished with permission.
I was born in Iowa, raised in the mountains of Virginia, and attended Virginia Tech sporadically from 1974 to 1976 before dropping out to try my luck writing. At some point in the late 1970s, individual liberty became my highest political value and I resolved to do what I could to defend it. I had seen the federal government sabotage the currency, ravage southeast Asia with an unjust war, and tumble into disgrace with the Watergate scandal. The pratfalls of the Carter administration, following the depravity of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, spurred a sense of impending political and economic collapse.
After moving to the Washington area in 1980, I was appalled to see what passed for good writing inside the Beltway. The prevailing standards seemed designed to make magazine and newspaper subscribers regret ever learning to read. Many articles resembled a numbing four-hour politburo speech. Voiceless prose with a low-watt righteous drone was the tacit ideal. “Go team, go!” was the epitome of literary excellence. There was nothing to learn from the vast majority of pieces except which side of a dispute the author favored. Alternatively, some writers prided themselves on being perpetually overwrought—a blight that reached epidemic levels after the election of Donald Trump.
If I was expecting mental stimulation in Washington, I came to the wrong place. “Political thought” consists of making accusations or making excuses, and not much more. DC’s “mental currents” usually let only the froth rise to the top. Any idea not immediately profitable to one of the political parties or major interest groups usually sinks without a trace. As French essayist Paul Valery warned, “At every step, politics and freedom of mind exclude each other.”
I was astounded at the paltry evidence used in Washington controversies. Policy clashes were dominated by competing groups of know-nothings or know-almost-nothings. Combatants seemed unable to comprehend anything that happened prior to the most recent congressional recess. Perusing federal audit reports from prior years was considered akin to excavating an ancient Egyptian tomb. Because few people bothered becoming well informed, the city was easy prey for intellectual con artists.
According to politicians and their media collaborators, government is practically a hovercraft floating along and gently guiding and assisting people on the road of life. The state that I had met on my life’s pathways was often oppressive, incompetent, and venal. I saw no profit in delusions about the benevolence of officialdom. Instead, I realized that idealism on liberty demands brutal realism on political power.
“A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case,” according to nineteenth-century humorist Finley Peter Dunne. Similarly, I assumed that if only folks knew the facts of the matter about the government, they would rise up and demand an end to the injustices they suffer daily. Did I presume that political truth would set Americans free? Maybe I was not that naïve, but I still thought that damning facts would wake up enough Americans to stop government from destroying everyone’s freedom.
Floundering programs survived in part because critics’ prose was often more impenetrable than a Federal Register notice. I savored the challenge of translating federal idiocy from tangled jargon into plain English. My goal was to write “not that the reader may understand, but that he must understand,” as the ancient Roman rhetorician Quintilian advised. If I could lucidly explain government shenanigans, perhaps people would finally recognize how political and bureaucratic racketeering were leading the nation astray.
Some editors appreciated how I scavenged up hard facts to buttress hardline views. Spending time in federal agency libraries and rifling through their archives, I saw how government power was stockpiled by lie after lie. While the specific deceits vanished into the memory hole, politicians’ prerogatives continually grew. I saw that, time and again, early opponents foresaw and forecast how new programs would crash and burn but their alarms were ignored. The system seemingly conspired to bury all evidence of its debacles.
In ancient Greece, the famous cynic philosopher Diogenes scoffed at a rival who had “practiced philosophy for such a long time and never yet disturbed anyone.” I had the same view on writing, though admittedly I’ve been biased toward raising a ruckus since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. But in Washington, much of what passes for journalism is simply shilling for Leviathan. It was impossible to overstate the servility of reporters proud to serve as “stenographers with amnesia.”
In contrast, I was one of those philistines who gave no credence to an agency’s mission statement. After I wrote a piece in 1983 lambasting a new program to lavish subsidies on businesses purportedly to train workers, an assistant secretary of labor denounced my “callously cynical concept of the American free enterprise system” and wailed that “Bovard was determined to disparage all government efforts without giving President Reagan’s reforms a chance.” Actually, I was happy “to disparage all government efforts” doomed to repeat past failures.
I learned how to smell a “policy rat” and relished hounding and pounding wayward federal agencies and vexing scoundrels of all political parties and creeds. If you could make government a laughingstock, then the battle is half won. As H.L. Mencken quipped, “One horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” From a federal jobs program that built an artificial rock for rock climbers to practice on, to federally paid “artists” who groped each other’s naked bodies to recognize “male and female characteristics,” to AmeriCorps recruits releasing masses of colored balloons to fight child molesting, I showcased rollicking absurdities wherever I could find them.
My efforts to expose the worst federal abuses have often run afoul of the gatekeepers of big government’s reputation. In 1985, I pitched an article to the Washington Post’s Outlook section on federal agriculture committees confiscating up to half of farmers’ crops to boost prices for the remainder of the harvest. My piece was rejected, because, as one editor told me, federal policies could not possibly be that bad. Almost 30 years later, the Supreme Court finally heard a case challenging the USDA Raisin Administrative Committee’s commandeering of farmers’ harvests. Supreme Court justices were shocked to learn about the tyrannical regulatory regime. Justice Stephen Breyer declared: “ I can’t believe that Congress wanted the taxpayers to pay for a program that’s going to mean they have to pay higher prices as consumers.” Justice Elena Kagan suggested that the statute authorizing crop seizures could be “the world’s most outdated law.” The Supreme Court was oblivious to this particular federal outrage in part because papers like the Washington Post rarely highlighted the worst bureaucratic transgressions.
After a dozen years of battering boondoggles, I shifted away from stories on wasteful spending and nitwit regulations. Instead, I began targeting the aura of legitimacy that sanctified almost everything the feds were doing. As Albert Jay Nock wrote in 1942, “How little important it is to destroy a government, in comparison with destroying the prestige of government.” Arbitrary power was multiplying, turning officialdom into an ever greater peril to domestic tranquility. Citizens faced legal perils without end, including more than four thousand federal criminal laws and hundreds of thousands of regulatory offenses. I sought to spur folks to ask: What gives some people the right to subjugate and punish other people, especially for peaceful behavior that harms no one?
Washingtonians can always find excuses to absolve the government. In 1993, the Washington press corps responded to the fiery finale of the FBI’s assault on the Branch Davidians at Waco by conferring instant sainthood on Attorney General Janet Reno. Congress’s response was captured by House Judiciary Committee chairman rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas), who said the eighty men, women, and children who were killed were “despicable people. Burning to death was too good for them.” In a 1994 book and subsequent articles, I assailed DC’s knee-jerk “nothing to see here, move along” reflex and exposed lies and contradictions in the feds’ Waco storyline. Six years after the final assault, the FBI was forced to admit (after endless denials) that it fired pyrotechnic grenades at the Davidians’ home before the fatal fire.
I recognized that atrocities that went unchallenged set precedents that could haunt Americans in perpetuity. After I wrote a Wall Street Journal piece detailing how an FBI sniper had gunned down Vicki Weaver, a mother holding a baby in a cabin door in the mountains of northern Idaho, I was denounced by FBI chief Louis Freeh for “misleading or patently false conclusions” and “inflammatory and unfounded allegations.” Five months later, I procured a copy of the confidential Justice Department investigation into Ruby Ridge, which obliterated Freeh’s whitewash. My articlesadded to the pressure that resulted in the Justice Department paying a multimillion dollar settlement for the wrongful killings of Vicki Weaver and her son. But the FBI’s long record of outrages did not deter conservatives from exalting the agency after 9/11 or deter liberals from conferring sainthood upon the bureau for its efforts to undermine Trump.
My disdain for prevailing pieties spurred plenty of denunciations. After I dedicated a 1995 book to “The Victims of the State,” Entertainment Weekly scoffed that that I was “paranoid.” So I should have written “lucky beneficiaries” instead? In 1999, a Los Angeles Times book review castigated me as an “unvarnished example of the contemptuous attitude toward the American political system” and implied that ideas like mine were to blame for the “bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.” Similarly, after I mocked the Customs Service for paying “night pay” bonuses to agents who were on vacation, the American Federation of Government Employees denounced me for “senselessly vilifying government workers” and planting “seeds in the minds of sick people such as Timothy McVeigh, resulting in tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing.” Hell, I have never even been to Oklahoma.
At some point, government became so large and powerful that its abuses were effectively irrelevant. By the late 1990s, being an investigative journalist was akin to plinking at a rigged carnival shooting gallery. Each time you scored a bullseye, three more targets quickly popped up. I wrote plenty of pieces debunking both the Clinton administration’s “New Liberalism” and the Gingrich Republican Revolution’s pledge to rein in rampaging agencies. Despite growing distrust of Washington, the vast majority of floundering federal programs seemed impervious to criticism.
Just as I was zeroing in on George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” hokum, the 9/11 attacks unleashed havoc. After the biggest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor, craven media coverage helped consecrate federal power across the board and the percentage of Americans who trusted the government quickly doubled. Bush lost me three days after the terrorist attacks when he pledged to “rid the world of evil.” I favored tracking down and terminating the terrorists who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. But when Bush proclaimed, “So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war,” I recognized that the War on Terror would become a license for tyranny.
The more oppressive the government acted, the more slavish the press became. Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed in late 2001: “Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty… only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and… give ammunition to America’s enemies.” Critics were correct that the government was ravaging freedom but we were still damned traitors. One of the nation’s most prominent pundits, Michael Kinsley, admitted in 2002 that he had been listening to his “inner Ashcroft”: “As a writer and editor, I have been censoring myself and others quite a bit since September 11.” Kinsley conceded that sometimes it was “simple cowardice” that sparked the censorship.
I didn’t censor myself and quickly found that the harder I hit, the less newshole I got. Even after the appalling Abu Ghraib photos and a “presidential torture entitlement” memo leaked out, most publications shirked the issue or simply printed increasingly far-fetched official denials of barbaric interrogations. My submissionslambasting Bush‘s torture regime were as popular with editors as if I had been advocating cannibalism. A 2006 book review in the Washington Times, where I had been a contributor for more than twenty years, derided me as a “bombthrower” who was guilty of “character assassination” of President Bush. So was it my fault that George never found those weapons of mass destruction that supposedly justifiedblowing Iraq to smithereens?
In the Trump era, journalists have a blank check for attacking the president, but most government abuses continue to be ignored or downplayed. I have enjoyed thumping the FBI , TSA, CIA, and other agencies whose rascalitiespoppedonto the radar screen. While Trump’s tweets regularly detonate his credibility, much of the media has shredded the remnants of its own credibility with one wild goose chase after another, including the RussiaGate debacle that preempted intelligent political analysis for years.
Over the years, federal chieftains have provided my favorite accolades, including denunciations of my work by the secretary of labor, the secretary of agriculture, the secretary of housing and urban development, the postmaster general, and the chiefs of the Transportation Security Administration, International Trade Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. On the flip side, a federal maritime commissioner liked a 1991 article I wrote. High-ranking federal officials have also directly pressured newspapers to stop publishing my work, sometimes more effectively than I ever knew.
Happily, I continue to find some editors undaunted by the rage my articles sometimes evoke. I continue to despise politicians, because most people can thrive as long as they are not pillaged by their rulers. One of my early lodestars was Edmund Burke’s maxim: “People never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” But what if the media fosters delusions that lull people into ever greater submission? And did I greatly overestimate how many people would make any effort to defend their own rights? Either way, it is vital to maintain an intellectual skirmish line against Leviathan’s worst excesses and boldest offenses.
Twenty-five years ago, I taped on my office wall a New York Times article headlined: “For Chechens in Mountains, Fighting Is Winning.” I have no sympathy for Chechen terrorists but respect Chechens’ doggedness in defending their homeland first against the czar, then the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation. That 1995 headline, which remains on my wall, is a reminder that as long as we keep fighting for freedom, we are winning. Politicians will never be able to outlaw the spirit of liberty.
The American political system may be on the eve of its worst legitimacy crisis since the Civil War. Early warning signals indicate that many states could suffer catastrophic failures in counting votes in November. The election will occur amidst the vast economic devastation inflicted by a political class that responded to COVID by seizing almost unlimited power. And Deep State federal agencies have already proven that they will trample the law to sabotage election results.
America could soon see a hundred-times worse replay of the Florida presidential balloting 20 years ago in the Bush-Gore showdown. Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes but the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Two days, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Unfortunately, “legitimacy via blocked recounts” may also be the epithet for the 2020 presidential election.
Because of the pandemic, many states are switching primarily to mail-in voting even though experiences with recent primaries were a disaster. In New York City, officials are still struggling to count mail-in ballots from the June primary. Up to 20% of ballots “were declared invalid before even being opened, based on mistakes with their exterior envelopes,” the Washington Post noted, thanks largely to missing postmarks or signatures. In Wisconsin, more than 20,000 “primary ballots were thrown out because voters missed at least one line on the form, rendering them invalid.”
Some states are mailing ballots to all the names on the voting lists, providing thousands of dead people the chance to vote from the grave. President Trump claims that the shift to mail-in voting could result in “the most corrupt vote in our nation’s history.” Trump is often wrong on issues but even a New York Daily News article tagged the recent primary results a “dumpster fire.” Delayed election results and potentially millions of disputed ballots could minimize support for whoever is designated the next president.
Elections supposedly choose which candidates are selected to follow the law and uphold the Constitution, but COVID shutdown dictates vividly how political power is now practically unlimited. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer prohibited “all public and private gatherings of any size” (prohibiting people from visiting friends) and also prohibited purchasing seeds for spring planting in stores after she decreed that a “nonessential” activity. Oregon Governor Kate Brown banned the state’s four million residents from leaving their homes except for essential work, buying food, and other narrow exemptions, and also banned all recreational travel – even though much of her state had almost zero COVID cases.
In the name of reducing risks, politicians entitled themselves to destroy tens of millions of jobs. Permitting governors to shut down churches was not on the ballot but that didn’t stop many states from banning worship services at the same time politicians cheered mass protests that scorned “stay-at-home” orders.
The media has often whitewashed the damage from COVID power grabs in part because every restriction was supposedly justified by “science.” After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dictated that nursing homes must admit COVID patients, more than 6,000 elderly nursing home residents were killed by the coronavirus. Cuomo has yet to reveal which “science” textbook spawned this policy (which several other states also imposed). Were those state governments grossly incompetent or were they murderous? It doesn’t matter because Trump made rude comments about N.I.H. honcho and media darling Anthony Fauci. What’s the point of voting for politicians who merely need to invoke dubious statistical extrapolations to sow death and economic devastation?
Finally, does the presidential election even matter? Deep State federal agencies are a Godzilla that have established their prerogative to undermine if not overturn election results. The FBI has achieved saint-like status among many liberals for its efforts to topple Trump. For almost three years, the nation’s political life was roiled by an investigation driven by false allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. As George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley observed last week, the media continues to ignore “one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence.” Obama officials who exploited the CIA and other intelligence agencies to illicitly target Trump campaign officials have laughed all the way to million-dollar book advances.
During the Trump impeachment effort, the establishment media openly cheered the Deep State. New York Times columnist James Stewart assured readers that the secretive agencies “work for the American people,” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle hailed the Deep State as “a collection of patriotic public servants,” and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson captured the Beltway’s verdict: “God bless the Deep State!” The media has almost completely abandoned its watchdog role, and its veneration will make it easier for the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency to ravage not just elections but also Americans’ rights and liberties in the coming years.
Even before the voting starts, surveys show that for the first time “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with their system of government,” the Atlantic reported. The percentage of Americans who “expressed trust in government in Washington” has fallen from 73% in 1958 to only 17% now, according to the Pew Research Center. But those numbers could quickly become far more ominous for our political ruling class.
What happens if Trump continues to repel many if not most potential voters, and then Biden comes across in the presidential debates as clueless and doddering as did Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a congressional hearing last July? How many Americans will feel forced to choose between a scoundrel and an idiot?
Many pundits and professors presume that a Biden victory in November will magically re-legitimize the American political system. But almost all the problems of recent years will continue or intensify. The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, both of which horribly botched the nation’s response to COVID, will continue bollixing public health crises. U.S. foreign policy will continue to be reckless and self-defeating, with American pretensions to global hegemony becoming ever more ludicrous. Deficit spending will continue to spin out of control, spiraling closer to the day when the Federal Reserve’s sorcery fails to entrance financial markets. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans appear willing to bankrupt the nation to perpetuate their own power.
Federal legitimacy hinges on the Constitution, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that either Trump or Biden will “make America constitutional again.” As Thomas Jefferson declared in 1786, “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” What’s the point of voting if “government under the law” is not a choice on Election Day? American political legitimacy will continue plummeting as long as politicians scorn any legal and constitutional limits on their power.
Almost 400 years ago, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote a book scoffing at tyrannophobia—the “fear of being strongly governed.” This was a peculiar term that Hobbes invented in Leviathan, since civilized nations had feared tyrants for almost 2000 years at that point. But over the past 150 years, Hobbes’ totalitarianism has been defined out of existence by apologists who believe that government needs vast, if not unlimited power. Hobbes’ revival is symptomatic of the collapse of intellectuals’ respect in individual freedom.
Writing in 1651, Hobbes labeled the State as Leviathan, “our mortal God.” Leviathan signifies a government whose power is unbounded, with a right to dictate almost anything and everything to the people under its sway. Hobbes declared that it was forever prohibited for subjects in “any way to speak evil of their sovereign” regardless of how badly power was abused. Hobbes proclaimed that “there can happen no breach of Covenant on the part of the Sovereign; and consequently none of his subjects, by any pretense of forfeiture, can be freed from his subjection.”
US News Texas police arrested a man for walking in the street during the Texas freeze. [Link] The Los Angeles school district will cut the number of police officers in schools by a third. The cuts will allow $25 million to be redirected towards support services....
Nathan Robinson shares his story of being fired from the Guardian after posting a sarcastic tweet about Israel. After joking about the amount of military aid the U.S. government sends to Israel, Robinson was immediately labeled an anti-semite and swiftly fired from...
Phil Weiss is back to discuss Israel, beginning with the observation us that now that the two-state solution is essentially off the table for good, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Israel is an apartheid state that has enshrined in law its subjugation of the...
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71 Minutes Some Strong Language Scott Horton is Managing Director of The Libertarian Institute, host of Antiwar Radio for Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles and KUCR 88.3 in Riverside, podcasts the Scott Horton Show from scotthorton.org, and is the Editorial...
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On COI #71, Kyle and Will discuss the Biden administration's continued push to extradite Julian Assange. Picking up where Trump left off, Biden's DOJ has submitted an appeal to UK judge Vanessa Baraitser to challenge her January ruling against extradition on grounds...
On COI #70, Kyle discusses several key Biden policies he will keep from Trump. Biden's Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the US will continue to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The announcement signals the US will maintain many of the increasingly...
On COI #69, Joanne Leon, host of Around the Empire, returns to the show to discuss the 2020 election. A new Time magazine article - The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election - explains how an 'elite-cabal' 'saved democracy' by 'influencing...
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https://youtu.be/S2c8lqfL6CU A final word about conscription: of all the ways in which war aggrandizes the State, this is perhaps the most flagrant and most despotic. But the most striking fact about conscription is the absurdity of the arguments put forward on its...
https://youtu.be/s63mgqnkqLI If all States are evil, some are more evil than others, some particular States have engaged in enormously more aggression, both internally against their subjects, and externally against the citizens of other States. ... If we libertarians...
https://youtu.be/Ut4X7B1sHII Keith Knight and I tag teamed an interview with David D. Friedman about his newest book, "Legal Systems Very Different From Ours." I asked him some burning questions I had from what I consider to be a Liberty Weekly Classic--"Non-State...
https://youtu.be/kyuxnMc-NSc In this episode of the podcast, Drew Cook joins me to share his story of recovery and to explain his first hand account of how the state creates addicts. Drew is the host of The Clean Libertarian and has been a long time listener of the...
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