Where the New York Times Fails to Understand War

Let’s read a New York Times editorial from Monday:

“The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.”

That’s a big “elsewhere” that includes Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc.

“An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as ‘unknown.’ The Pentagon provided no further explanation. There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed,”

The gratuitous claim that what U.S. troops are doing halfway around the globe is defensive helps explain why this extreme militarism is tolerated. This editorial will go on to scratch its head in bewilderment, but the U.S. would not have gotten into these wars without the hard work of the New York Times, which has so normalized the mouthing of patent nonsense in defense of permanent war that it goes unnoticed even in an editorial lamenting permanent war.

“… along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.”

Plus 14,617 in Italy, 12,489 in Afghanistan with 4,000 more on the way, 12,342 in Kuwait, 5,963 in Iraq, etc, etc, plus many more mercenaries and contractors than troops in some of these locations. And of course “has naval bases” in plain English is “props up brutal dictatorships with horrific results to come.”

“America’s operations in conflict zones like Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May. On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.”

The pattern of increased terrorism following the spread of “counter terrorism” can be found, but is never pointed out, in the New York Times.

“Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely. Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.”

When the hell were we asked? Are there polls showing that we’ve embraced these wars and the warmaking that they “require”?

“For that reason alone, it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists.”

How in the world could any of it be necessary? Why must the New York Times create that assumption?

“Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed. Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on a firm legal footing.”

That “broad public support” is very dubious and not documented here in any way. Polls have often shown the same people horrified of ISIS and wanting ISIS destroyed opposing continuing or escalating U.S. warmaking. The “firm legal footing” is a highly dangerous lie by one of its top promoters: the New York Times. None of these wars is legal under the UN Charter or under the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and there is nothing that Congress can do to make them legal. If some foreign nation attacked this one, the New York Times wouldn’t look into the manner in which that nation’s government decided on war and whether it was in compliance with that nation’s constitution. It would recognize that a criminal cannot legalize a crime through a proper criminal procedure.

“President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for Oct. 30.”

Good god. These wars have been slaughtering people by the hundreds of thousands for 16 years, and only U.S. deaths are tragedies? And a Congressional authorization of a crime will make them less tragic?

“Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that ‘a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.’ The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:

During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.”

In any other enterprise labeled “volunteer” the supposed volunteers would be allowed to quit.

“American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. This year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.”

Wow. If only there were — oh, I don’t know — a newspaper that could report things. And what if it reported those figures, and then reported something beyond those figures? What if the New York Times, which does not technically serve the U.S. government, were to give each war death the same significance as U.S. war deaths? What if people discovered that these wars were one-sided slaughters, and that all the deaths they’d been hearing about made up only a few percent of the total? What if the dead and injured and those made homeless and those crushed by disease epidemics and famine and anarchy were each, by the millions, given the attention that’s given to a U.S. war death?

“Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s scaremongering, have reinforced the public’s sense of siege.”

What if the New York Times were to counter the counter terrorism with the well-established fact that the counter terrorism produces more terrorism? What if war crimes were not simply “led to” by external events, but were the concrete choices of the criminals who made them, and were written about as such?

“The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe.”

This is a central lie. When it falls, the military-industrial-journalistic complex falls.

“So do robust diplomacy and America’s engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons.”

Well who the hell wouldn’t accept that quite passively as long as it’s described, contrary to fact, as improving readiness? What does dumping trillions of dollars on stealth nuclear bombers that can barely fly make one ready for?

“Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.”

The bulk of it goes to things that nobody can seriously argue are “defensive.” This is not a case of using the formal name of the former War Department. The New York Times is choosing to advance the pretense that militarism is all defensive.

“Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.”

Plus the questions not asked: How many of the current ones must be ended, how many bases closed, how many weapons decommissioned, how many conflicts resolved diplomatically, before a reverse arms race is created and all the tired talk of U.S. leadership is actually given some substance.

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