Slacker Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column, "Of Filibusters and Stunts: Then and Now," here, a new Nation column, "All Rupert, All the Time," here, and I have a Guardian post up about Hillary and Obama here .

From TomDispatch:

No book in recent memory has done such a superb job of illuminating the roiling, disastrous, thoroughly destructive path through history of America's top covert-operations agency over the last six decades as Tim Weiner's just published history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes. Chalmers Johnson has often called the CIA "the president's private army." Johnson himself was an outside consultant for the Agency from 1967 to 1973 until, as he writes in his latest book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, "this consulting function was abolished by [national security adviser Henry] Kissinger and [CIA Director James] Schlesinger during [President Richard] Nixon's second term precisely because they did not want outsiders interfering with their ability to tell the president what to think."

Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com thought that Johnson was the perfect reviewer to set loose on Weiner's book and so he has proved. His "Life and Times of the CIA" is a superb essay in its own right on the agency of rogues, who made "blowback" such a reality for us from Iran to Afghanistan. Johnson considers the agency's general incompetence over six decades (and its rare skill in using money to suborn democratic governments), its uncanny ability to let itself be penetrated by other spy agencies, and its greatest clandestine skill of all -- its ability to hide its own failures from the American people.

Johnson writes: "Nothing has done more to undercut the reputation of the United States than the CIA's 'clandestine' (only in terms of the American people) murders of the presidents of South Vietnam and the Congo, its ravishing of the governments of Iran, Indonesia (three times), South Korea (twice), all of the Indochinese states, virtually every government in Latin America, and Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The deaths from these armed assaults run into the millions. After 9/11, President Bush asked 'Why do they hate us?' From Iran (1953) to Iraq (2003), the better question would be, 'Who does not?' "

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"Let's see action. Let's see people. Let's see freedom in the air./Let's see action. Let's see people. Let's be free and see who cares."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Baptized In Dirty Water" (Chris Thomas King). Once again, I have failed to hire a choir of Trappists to sing in the purest Gregorian chant how much I love New Orleans.

I have had some real fun the last couple of days imagining the staff meeting at which the sprightly little Heathers at The Politico dreamed up the absolutely darling notion of having Tom DeLay -- who is currently under indictment and who presided over the most corrupt governing body since the death of the last Borgia pope -- write a critique of the current congressional majority. This isn't a column, This is a get -- journalism as One Big Green Room, unencumbered by even the faintest whisper of a professional conscience. Nice work, kids. Let the rest of us know when recess is over, OK?

Once, when a famously truculent ballplayer died, a wise old tabloid editor of mine refused to let anyone go soft on the deceased in his obit. "You know what you get when a pr**k dies?" he asked. "A dead pr**k." So, in that spirit, may I say for the record that Tony Snow always was insufferably smug and mendacious. He remains that today, serious illness or no. Sorry if that disrupts the Beltway Christmas card list, but that's the truth of it. He puts a revolting public face on revolting public policy and he's done so for his whole sorry career. Look at his performance on Wednesday, when the Attorney General of the United States got caught telling lies to the Senate that would shame a 4-year-old at preschool. He suggested that Congress get on with the "people's business."

Leave aside the fact that this administration has from Day One defined "the people's business" as that which placates the base while benefiting the bagmen. Leave aside as well the fact that the game plan for two years of lame-duckery seems to be legislative delay backed up with a sudden delight in the veto power. Let's concentrate mainly on the notion that what occurred in the Senate on Wednesday was somehow not "the people's business." A corrupt AG and a corrupted Department of Justice is not "the people's business"? A renegade Executive branch is not "the people's business"? An utter ongoing defacement of the constitutional order is not "the people's business"? Where'd this wretched third-rate Peronist talking-point drift in from? I'm sure that, somewhere in the White House, Tony can find a tattered document, probably in use as a placemat, that begins with the words, "We, the People." The "people's business" in this country is in governing themselves, within a constitutional framework, through their elected representatives. The brass ones it takes to say this as the mouthpiece of this particular administration must keep him awake at night with their clanging.

Name: Jonathan Dyer
Hometown: Napa, California

Reading your comments about the debate in South Carolina reminds me of the limits the mainstream media have tried to put on this election. What about what Bill Richardson said? What about what Dennis Kucinich said? What about the others? You also strangely focus on some sort of transcendent qualities of Barack Obama, rather than anything substantive (although the guest blogger you quote does a fair job in that regard, but even she says nothing about anything any of the other candidates are saying).

So, there it is. When you mention only Edwards, Obama, and Clinton, you fall into the same trap that the possibly beyond reach national press corps has.

Name: Alan T.
Hometown: Holland PA

Lt Col. Bateman:

In order to accept the premise that leaving Iraq will necessarily lead to "ethnic cleansing" and that "You must acknowledge that you value American lives at some much higher ratio than you do Iraqi lives," one must be absolutely sure that first, US Forces are currently preventing such an event, and that second, somehow, by keeping our forces there, it can be prevented in perpetuity. Otherwise, you are simply claiming an unproven fact, or that today's Iraqi children are more valuable than tomorrows.

I am not sure whether or not US forces are actually currently preventing, or encouraging such ethnic slaughter, but I am fairly certain that nothing that the US is doing can prevent Iraq's future from unfolding into separate areas of influence. As one who supports the removal of US troops from Iraq, I hope that either cooler (Iraqi) heads will prevail, which is unlikely, or that other nations, less guilty of creating this mess than ours (Europe, Saudi Arabia, Iran), will step up and protect the innocents and prevent such a thing. I also hope that such a withdrawal will make Americans (and our government) more cautious before using our military power to unleash forces that we do not understand and can not control (thus showing that I value innocent lives, American, Iraqi, Iranian, Viet Namese and others equally). In point of fact, it is innocent lives that I value most, and not those of armies (ours, Sadr's, Bin Laden's) and that is why I want this occupation to end.

Your premise that only our presence can prevent such a genocide, or that it will somehow prevent an inevitable one, is simply the type of failure of imagination and hubris that led us into this mess in the first place.

Having said that, I greatly appreciate your writings, and your sharing your first hand knowledge, even on the rare occasion that you try to tell me that innocent blood will be on my hands no matter what I do. It is, but only because I am an American, not because of my preference to end this war.

With respect for your experience and service....

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: http://ichingcounseling.com

"You must acknowledge that you value American lives at some much higher ratio than you do Iraqi lives."

This is somewhat myopic. Getting out of Iraq is not an us vs. them issue, Lt. Col. Bateman. I don't place any greater value on American life than I do on any other human life on this planet. I want to see an immediate withdrawal, starting tomorrow, because I'd rather my 13-year-old daughter didn't grow up to live with WW3. The longer we're there, the more unstable it becomes -- not just in Iraq, but all around that region. The longer we're there, the more unstable America becomes: our military gets weaker; more social programs are lost or defunded in favor of profit-and-run contractors; more geopolitical capital is lost as allies are estranged and enemies encouraged. To remain in Iraq is to put the region on a fast lane to Hell and America on roller skates into second-class nation status. Both outcomes are dangerous beyond expression. If you think that people who are against this insane war oppose it only because they think American life is worth more than Iraqi or any other life, well, then you have my sympathies, and my pity.

Name: Seth Chandler
Hometown: Stockholm

Lt. Col. Bob Bateman may be correct when he writes "The cold, really cold, hard truth: If we leave Iraq, there will be something approaching genocide. There will certainly be what can only be called 'ethnic cleansing.' If you advocate our departure, you must accept this as a reality of your moral choice."

However, he draws the wrong conclusion when he continues: "You must acknowledge that you value American lives at some much higher ratio than you do Iraqi lives."

Something approaching genocide may well occur when the U.S. withdraws its forces from Iraq. But that may be true whenever we withdraw them.

Bateman seems to be under the illusion that our presence there is laying the foundations for a stable Iraq in which genocide would not take place after our withdrawal. Yet it seems inarguable that Iraq has become less stable and more murderous with every year of occupation.

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY

As an ex-Army Aviation officer trained at the Infantry School, I usually finding myself nodding to LTC Bateman's posts. Not at every point, but generally. But in his recent post was this:

"If we leave Iraq, there will be something approaching genocide. There will certainly be what can only be called "ethnic cleansing." If you advocate our departure, you must accept this as a reality of your moral choice. You must acknowledge that you value American lives at some much higher ratio than you do Iraqi lives."

First, I'd have to say that based on all available information, if we stay there will still be a genocide and/or "ethnic cleansing" in Iraq. It will just be in slow motion, like the decay of a dead body; too slow to see at any particular moment, but happening nonetheless.

Second, as hard as it might be to admit, I think most Americans *do* value American lives more than Iraqis. This is not to say that there is some evil, callous calculus in the publics' minds. Rather, the lives they value are those of their sons, daughters, husbands and wives (and the more-than-occasional grandparent). It may sound ugly on the face of it, but could it really be any other way?

It's time to leave, LTC Bateman. Whether the Iraqis destroy themselves ten or twenty at a time or by the thousands quickly, our presence will only prolong the agony. Theirs and ours.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

LTC Bateman,

It is indeed tragic and ridiculous that discrimination against gays and lesbians continues.

I have been taught a simple point about democracy and equality that all those holding such prejudices would do well to keep in mind: We can never expect to enjoy a liberty we are unwilling to extend to others.

Denying this, in the short run, one is merely a hypocrite and a tyrant (for this is the very definition of tyranny)...in the longer run, I'd submit, one is a suicide.

Name: Mike Shirley
Hometown: Eureka, Ca

As a baby boomer I am insulted by the implication of The Weekly Standard's latest cover story, "The 9/11 Generation: Better Than the Baby Boomers."

I, like many of my peers, served in the military during the Vietnam era but am totally against what is happening now. Becuase the US population is larger that it was back then and the military is smaller than it was back then, it is obvious that more of my generation served than are serving today. How this makes us less "better" escapes me.

Keep reminding the world that those who most are cheering for this war are those who did not serve with me in Vietnam.

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York

Woodstock took place in August 1969, about a year and a half after the Tet Offensive, eight months into the Nixon administration and five years after the Tonkin Gulf incident that began the long escalation of the war. By then, a million and a half boomers had already served in Vietnam. Many of the people committing the "excesses of Woodstock" had already been to Vietnam.

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