The Baghdad Bobification of The NPR-Americans

Take a little trip back to the Dark Bush Days with me. I’m talking peak chauvinist American hooting. 2003-2007 in particular. If you are too young to remember, just humor me here. No matter our opinions on the Iraq War, we all appreciated Baghdad Bob. The Iraqi Information Minister whose hyperbolic claims of American defeats at the hands of victorious Iraqi Army forces in 2003 came in the face of obvious and mounting evidence that his government lived on borrowed time and that he was either willfully or ignorantly shouting a propaganda rear guard action into the howling void of events beyond his control.

Fast forward just a year or two later. The general consensus among everyone not on the political right or center at that time was that our own government was made up entirely of Baghdad Bobs. If you lived through this period, you might remember that liberals back then were kind of cool, even if you already knew you weren’t really one of them. We were all in the anti-neoconservative boat together, those who thought ill of Bush and company. Humor was meant to offend the delicate Christian sensibilities of republican wieners. The Daily Show had yet to lose its teeth and was a better critical news source than network TV, and Stephen Colbert was playing an amazing parody of an ironic hyperbolic conservative (the only kind you saw back then) who had yet to slip into his more depressing current phase of playing an unironic hyperbolic liberal. In general, liberal culture (though not politicians) were kind of cool. They were at least playing at being anti-establishment. Common things you would hear from them would be phrases like ‘You can’t trust intelligence agencies, its their job to lie’, and ‘Obviously the government lies all the time, so you can’t trust what they say about foreign countries.’ The most pertinent to those of us- like myself- fighting for gay rights and to defend secularism at the time was ‘the government is overrun by religious ideologues, and therefore must be treated with skepticism.’

Such sentiments are common place in most parts of the world. But not the North Atlantic. Most people are naturally suspicious of their own government first and foremost and it is a testimony to a few centuries of riding high that Anglos don’t often share this vital skepticism. And, as we have seen since about 2014 if not earlier, this brief moment of Bush Era liberal clarity was lost. What events like the Iraq War taught the tastemakers that occupy the overlapping space between mainstream media and the military is that the yokels don’t need propaganda to whipped up against foreigners. Wave a cross and a flag around and holler about foreigners marrying their daughter and they are good. No, the section of the population you really need to convince is the fence-sitting highly educated liberal elite. Gain them, like in 2001-2, and you gain the media. Lose them, like after 2004, and you lose the information war. Obama was the master of manipulating these people, hence why the media tacitly dropped coverage of the Libyan War once that went as bad as Iraq did. ‘Reasonable People’, you know the type: Doonesbury, NPR, Saturday Night Live, Hamilton, etc, never became bothered about Libya because the media effectively covered up the failure there. An unprecedented effort was unleased to sway these people, especially about foreign countries. Something pioneered by their most trusted news sources, PBS and NPR. These are, to use a term introduced to me by Shant Mesrobian, the NPR-Americans.

These people, who once let out tiresome sighs when people around them were too patriotic, suddenly began to take up the mantle of American Exceptionalism with the coming of Trump. They were the true guardians of the republic, and thus they stood against him. When he said (falsely) that he would scale down the military interventions abroad they opposed it reflexively. When he said he opposed giant free trade deals, they announced they were for it. When a newly resurgent paleocon right became one of the factions pointing out we were on the same side as Al Qaeda in Syria, they took this as evidence that blockading and occupying Syria was now good. The one time they praised him was when he bombed Syria in a pique of virtue signaling by cruise missile. Perhaps it reminded them of the Clinton Administration. Granted, many had already imbibed those opinions from their Tulpa, Hillary Clinton’s super hawkish campaign promises the year before.

But what was the reason Hillary lost to Obama in 2008 (in a campaign far nastier than the 2016 primary against Sanders)? That she was too much like Bush and McCain. Of course, so was Obama secretly but he hid it at that time. These opinions had passed the point of heyday. Liberals no longer fought the Bush establishment, they had become it. Makes you wonder how much of that old Gen X coolness they had in 2005 was all just show. Do they really just believe in Team Blue Yay, Team Red Boo and not care about actual policy? It is looking more and more like it every passing year.

Could an average liberal today hold those same positions about distrusting the media and intelligence agencies that they once had? After staging larger protests for Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions than for any actual substantive cause they believe in that was trampled on then, the answer seems to be no. Question any state narrative and you are a ‘conspiracy theorist’ as if uncritically reported false claims about Tonkin Gulf, Iraqi WMDs, and Libyan Viagra Militia never happened.

The ultimate article of faith for these people seems to be RussiaGate. A farcical conspiracy theory in its own right but one supported by influential actors within the state. It is constantly used as a litmus test to affirm loyalty to the state and to what is considered respectable discourse in the media ecosystem. I have consistently and since the very beginning called these claims either exaggerated or fully bogus, as can be seen going through the archives on this site. A clearly designed program to ingratiate liberals and democratic party partisans into being a strong support base for neoconservative policies and spending priorities they once would have opposed. Last week, this story that was hyped for years finally and obviously collapsed. Granted, if you had read the book ‘Shattered’ back in 2017 like I had, you could have predicted this turn of events easily, but apparently most had not or missed the part where its revealed Podesta and company cooked up the whole thing to excuse their epic, historic, and humiliating surprise loss to a carnival barker.

There have been no mea culpas from the RussiaGate obsessed media for this. Not even from the supposedly objective news organizations that Very Serious People take as objective purveyors of truth. There has only been a constant doubling down akin to faith based sectarianism, as much with the NPR set as with the cable news people. Russel Brand, of all people, brought up the collapse of Russiagate and faced an immediate swarm of liberals denouncing him and comparing him to Alex Jones.

These are not the liberals I grew up with.

Often I think, maybe its me that has changed. Liberals are the first to accuse people they used to get along with of changing when they no longer tow the BlueAnon line, as I have seen happen to the few journalists who have kept their sanity amid a profession riddled with Trump Derangement Syndrome. I have, in fact, changed a lot since then myself. But the core of me is not that different. I was then a realist (if far less sophisticated) of a socially libertarian but still community policy oriented bent who really *really* hated neoconservatives and theocrats. Those things are all still true today. My only really big change are my views on economics, which have become far more left-wing now than they were then. This means the liberal canard that everyone who crosses them is a secret conservative now cannot possibly carry water. Sure, I am philosophically if not politically ‘conservative’ (anti-progressive would be a far better term for me) in many ways, but this was also true back then. So it is they who have changed. For the worse. This makes it far more difficult for them to keep making that ‘lesser evil’ argument they are so fond of. At this point, Pompeos and Cottons aside, I fear more about their vision of the world than the other guys on more than a few issues.

I blame supposedly trustworthy news organizations like NPR more than most things for this shift. The ones with a supposedly objective front who lie via omission and selective fact presentation while being unaware that what they think is sensible is an ideological as any other position. Gwen Ifill’s death removed one of the last straight-up great reporters and the space she left behind has been filled by utter mediocrities and occasionally outright malignancies (such as the apparently Thalmor-named Yamiche Alcindor who serves, perhaps, as the ultimate example of a commissar figure in the guise of an objective reporter). I will always champion the right of PBS to exist, with its excellent science and nature documentaries, but every year since about 2016 it has continually lost what once made its news section great. NPR, with its strange frenetic jazz and morphine addict-sounding monotonal inflections, has always been a waste and could be cut for the benefit of taxpayers. Add on to this the ultimate irony of the fans of these state-funded media enterprises being the first criticize foreign countries with powerful state media organs as always being suspicious or illegitimate and…well, you get the point.

While it is one’s credulousness that is ultimately responsible, the unholy alliance of liberals and media sets the tone for so much of the cesspit of dialogue we are forced to wade through regularly today. This has an extra and hysterical quality because it is becoming increasingly apparent that, philosophically speaking, the 21rst Century has not been kind of the ideology of liberal-humanism. America’s special role of spreading its mode of government and its ideals around the world have led to instability and sectarian conflict, as well as given its rivals strong cards to play as reactive oppositional forces. Inevitable results of overreach for any hyper-expansionist state, regardless of its self-proclaimed ideology. Populist causes of both substantive and non-substantive issues rebel constantly at home. Supposed expertise leads to nothing but decaying infrastructure, declining living standards, and perpetual imperial expansion to benefit only defense contractors and ideologues who wish to play missionary. The market does not liberate but enslaves. Social media no longer serves a counter-cultural role as it did in the Aughts but is now a rigid tool of world wide homogenization into Anglo-American culture wars. The liberal dream is dying because it succeeded. We are now atomized little market-humanists screaming into echo chambers and regulated by human resources rhetoric.

They weren’t supposed to be the bad guys. History wasn’t supposed to keep going. But they are and it did. They cannot allow themselves to question the ideology they have buried so much of their life into, so they lash out, defiant and angry. How dare the very real forces of the disaffected interrupt brunch? Don’t those unwashed masses know that it is the liberals who are always on The Right Side of History?™ Steven Pinker is there to provide the citations to the thesis, you know.

And Baghdad Bob would be so proud of them for holding the line doggedly in the face of reality.

The Ball Most Media Dropped

We called Russiagate being more dud than bombshell here on Geotrickster a while ago. But rather than take a victory lap as the issue was always peripheral to my interests, I just want to acknowledge the proper and professional skepticism shown by actual journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Mate, Matt Taibbi, and others. A small group who were all but barred from mainstream media outlets for sober critiques while the only Russiagate skeptics given airtime were Trump partisans and hacks who obviously had a vested interest in their arguments. We see the price for that exclusion now. But among such people defending Trump was never the point. It was wanting to remain focused on a variety of other issues that got swept under the rug by the spiraling spy thriller narrative spun by various grifters.

As it is, one would think Americans would be relieved to see no evidence of the subversion of their entire political system by a foreign power.

My concern both before and now are the stories given short shrift by many in the media because of this obsessive focus. Even leaving aside the intense irony that the most Russiagate invested Democrats are the ones that tend to be most offended by Ilhan Omar’s critique of Israel’s overwhelming and proven influence on the DC establishment, I feel like so many stories were short shifted or just plain lost in the noise.

Because of the foreign policy focus of this blog I will simply state the issues more relevant to that field, lest we be here all day. The Pentagon budget and accountability problems, which predate the 2016 election, are still largely unremarked upon as if we have decided en masse that this state of affairs is simply acceptable. Directly connected to that is of course the fact that the wars Obama expanded from Bush Jr have been further expanded even more by Trump. With little oversight into these policies of an endlessly growing military commitment to more and more peripheral conflicts where the national interest becomes yet more opaque. The biggest single coverage loss in the shadow of Russiagate, however, has clearly been Yemen. The American media has both downplayed the devastation there as well as the American role in enabling it. The local complexities of the conflict, when mentioned, get boiled down to some trite and not entirely accurate narrative of simply being a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Multiple stories over the past 2 years have pointed out MSNBC in particular for this coverage gap, FAIR running one of the more recent ones.

I remember the first year of news before 9/11. It was the first year I ever really paid attention to news or politics. American news, lacking a real threat of a fear based enemy, decided to invent them while ignoring real world issues. Fear sells after all. We were fed a diet of then Congressman Gary Condit’s affair with a murdered intern, a supposed (but not really) ‘epidemic’ of shark attacks across the world, and discussions of the public morality of Brittany Spears performing with a live snake. Real things were, of course, still happening. Despite the then dominant mythology of ‘The End of History’, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first staring matches between major powers across the South China Sea, and the ever tempestuous India-Pakistan relationship, and so on, showed the world was still moving onwards. This complacency apparently was also shared by the government then, as they ignored warnings about Al Qaeda’s plots towards the United States. Until it was too late of course. Then policy elites and the legacy media they consumed alike were not thinking rationally and behaved in a purely reactive capacity. We see the results of that today.

Context is important, and so is a good quality standard of coverage of world issues. My main problem with Russiagate was not even its implicit xenophobia applied to its critics or its fuel for money making interests, but rather that in the future things will happen to take the public and possibly even policymakers by surprise for the simple fact that they stem from events that saw little to no coverage before they could no longer be ignored.

‘Russiagate’ Will be Terrible for Everyone (Except Geotrickster and Independents)

mccarthy

So far in the unfolding saga of The Election That Never Ends two members of the Trump Administration have been found pretty much dead to rights on being guilty of collusion with a foreign power. One, with Israel. One with both Israel and Turkey. Their names are Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, so far, Russia has only been found to have spent a few hundred thousand dollars on facebook ads almost no one clicked on and smugly giggling as America’s political system melts down in a way that gives the Kremlin inordinate credit.

Is it possible that that Russia had sketchy contacts with Trump campaign, for sure. It is more then justified to have an investigation into this issue given its potential importance. It is not, however, something to A. assume is true with what little we know now, and B. assume is a unique event. The way the partisan ‘return to the status quo at all costs’ types of the Democrats and disaffected rump Republicans act about this issue, one would assume Pearl Harbor and 9/11 just happened at once but no one can see it except people who get Verrit verification codes and write tired and scolding op-eds.

So far, we have been given far more evidence of collusion with foreign governments for Israel and Turkey than Russia, yet this elicits next to no reaction in the mainstream press. The reason is, well, the main topic of this blog: Geopolitics, baby. Turkey and Israel are allies of the United States, if awkward ones. As such, they have numerous think tanks and lobbyists, along with the far more odious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to shape a narrative and be part of the networked in-crowd. I even remember (though sadly cannot find right now) a commercial from around the time of W’s re-election campaign that ran which was just a really blatant and gross ‘your friends in the KSA are your strong allies in the War on Terror piece of propaganda.

It would cost too much to go after these countries, as they have friends in both major parties. Russia, however, has few friends in America outside the diseased corners of the alt right and edgy conspiracy theorists. It is an easy to target to go after, and it is certainly not an ally in any capacity. It is a deeply unsympathetic nation to most people, and, after the invasion of eastern Ukraine, rightly so. Russia further likes to bolster its cred as the anti-west on the world stage by serving as a kind of reactionary foil to the America’s liberal overreach, a set of policies yet to reach the ghastly conclusion I suspect (though we see dark ruminations in Chechnya). There are many points that the U.S. is right to rival Russia on, and other points it should not (such as Syria and combating Daesh). But it should not conduct its foreign policy merely on a popularity contest which as of yet still resides on assertions and not proof.

And then the question is: What if RussiaGate is true? It is still possible, after all. Well then, the problem is that while such proof will obviously necesitate an upgrade in national cybersecurity, it will also count as a well played payback for the late 90s.

time-us-russia-yeltsin-510x673

Whoops.

Turns out, in geopolitics there may be friends and foes, but no one is exceptional unless everyone is. And if everyone is exceptional than really no one is.

For context, as recently as 2012 the Obama Administration (who began as quite naive about the dangers Putin posed to them it must be admitted) was still, rightly, criticizing Mitt Romney and his campaign’s ‘Russia is the real enemy’ line of attack on foreign policy. See below:

At the time this was an example of rote-wisdom hawkishness from the Beltway war lobby (which Obama famously referred to as ‘The Blob’) and the Republican Party. But only a year later decidedly unqualified pundits affiliated with the Democratic Party began to take over the exact same opinions they had once mocked of the McCain-Romney wing. I remember the first time I noticed this fixation with Russia was when this clip was brought to attention of a clueless pundit trying to lecture a journalist with on the ground experience in Russia and reporting on Russia based off of bland moralism inheirited from the Cold War:

This has been building for a long time. The neoliberals need a scary and large foreign entity with which to rally support behind them. With the failure of Huntington style ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric to galvanize the right about anything but the Middle East, the center and center-left have taken that tired old thesis and re-purposed it away from culture and into a new cold war narrative about political ideologies.

Considering the low priority this issue carries with most American voters, whose situation only continues to get more dire due to entirely to domestic factors, its already a bit of a trap. If the best it could get us even was a resignation do we then get President Pence? This seems the absolute worst-case scenario to me. Pence, despite being a theocratic dingus and probably a harvester of torsos (male only, I imagine), would then be acclaimed as ‘respectable’ for not being abrasive, which would only allow him more ability to enact his twisted ideologies. This seems a bad move for Democrats.

Even if they got both Pence and Trump, then foreign connections become a major thing looked for as a viable political weapon on all sides. This would benefit me as Saudi Arabia and even possibly Israel would start to become toxic sledgehammers to wield against all sides, but that sure as hell will backfire on the Democrats who are just as in bed, on average, with those countries as the GOP is. So in a sense, even Russiagate skeptics like myself should hope it opens up a big nasty can of worms. The problem though, and its a problem for everyone, is the rank McCarthyism of all of this. I lived over 4 years in a foreign country. I have been to 20 others-including one which (when I was there) the US did not have full relations with yet. I have friends and contacts from all over the world. None of them, Im afraid, are Russian. Sorry Neera Tanden. But still, where does this end? Much of the rhetoric coming out in Democratic circles today is simply blatantly xenophobic ignorance, fearmongering, and redirecting away from obvious explanations for problems closer to home so that vested interests can blame someone else. It really ends up just looking like their side’s version of the infamous Freedom Fries.

If you wish to go further into this topic I recommend some of the episodes of the largely excellent ‘Moderate Rebels’ podcast:

The fact that RussiaGate is most popular with centrist neoliberals also begs one very salient question: If you believe in the free flow of information and capital across borders, then you have to own up that you will have difficulties with fully sovereign elections. And if you want fully sovereign elections you might have to re-think your support of an international system that prioritizes open borders for international finance at all costs.