The Anniversary That Must Not Be Celebrated

The end of January and early February mark the anniversary of a stunning coup. Forty years ago, events began unfolding that culminated in the greatest triumph of the US news media since the trial of John Peter Zenger: the journalists reversed US foreign policy. And they did it by telling lies.

That was a breathtakingly bold accomplishment. Today it defines the implicit assumptions of the news media.

The facts are presented in an article by Arthur Herman. Annotated excerpts:

…more than a quarter million North Vietnamese soldiers and 100,000 Viet Cong irregulars … (The) VC had lost 80,000-100,000 killed or wounded without capturing a single province.

The Viet Cong insurgency was in its death throes, just as U.S. military officials assured the American people at the time. Yet the press version painted a different picture.

The Communist offensive was frustrated by US forces because the Communists blundered into resorting to conventional warfare.

In response, the US news media portrayed the defeat of the Communists as a defeat of the USA.

Why? Herman puts it gently: they panicked. “…(Tet) put many reporters in physical danger for the first time.” The VC had scattered their attacks across South Vietnam, hitting targets that were surprised to find themselves under attack. Journalists were often located in such “safe” areas. That shattered the notion that the war was going on some distance away, and created the impression that the VC had the ability to strike freely, and with greater effect than it actually could. To a reporter terrified by bullets whizzing past, defeat and his death can seem all too probable; that is not the perspective of a combat veteran.

Their editors at home, like CBS’s Walter Cronkite, seized on the distorted reporting to discredit the military’s version of events.

…(Consequently) the war in Vietnam was lost on the propaganda front, in great measure due to the press’s pervasive misreporting of the clear US victory at Tet as a defeat. … That picture gave antiwar activism an unwarranted credibility that persists today in Congress, and in the media reaction to the war in Iraq. The Tet experience provides a narrative model for those who wish to see all U.S. military successes — such as the Petraeus surge — minimized and glossed over.

The US public, sickened by the mounting death toll and hammered by ceaseless, biased news reports, was unwilling to support further combat.

The consequences were catastrophic, and almost certainly infinitely more horrible than if the USA had pressed its military advantage.

…the North quickly cheated on the Paris accords. When its re-equipped army launched a massive attack in 1975, Congress refused to redeem Nixon’s pledges of military support for the South. Instead, President Gerald Ford bowed to what the media had convinced the American public was inevitable: the fall of Vietnam.

Southeast Asia entered the era of the “killing fields,” exterminating in a brief few years an estimated two million people — 30% of the Cambodian population. American military policy has borne the scars of Vietnam ever since.

Returning veterans were vilified as “baby-killers,” war criminals, mass murderers and depraved monsters. In a frenzy of self-hatred, the USA savaged its military. Vietnam fell under a tyranny that remains backward and inhumane over three decades later.

Herman: “It had all been preventable — but for the lies of Tet.”

With Tet, the news media demonstrated their power over the ways in which the voters perceive reality. By creating a mood of hopelessness, journalists blunted the impact of facts and reason.

The misrepresentation of Tet is more disgraceful than the unprincipled journalism that pushed the USA into war with Spain in 1898. It surpasses the British invention of atrocities “committed” by the Huns in the First World War.

Its infamy, however, is ultimately of little import.

Because of its consequences, the Tet propaganda campaign may just be the most horrible hoax in modern history.

Thanks to the lies about Tet, the USA appeared to be a quitter that would never see a heartbreaking conflict through to victory. The heritage bought in blood on Iwo Jima was set aside; this was a new USA, a nation that would fight, bleed — and inevitably run.

If you wonder why Islam has attacked the West, you can find part of the answer in Tet. If you are puzzled by the importance jihadis place on the news media, look to the lessons of Tet.

The War in Iraq: Facts, Pessimism, and Realism

1. Fact: Sometimes all evidence leads to a single conclusion. When presented with such logic, conclude at once that you are dealing with a fanatic.

An example: a recent series of intense air attacks — lots of bombs dropped — on a small patch of Iraq. And then comes the predictable howling from the loonies: the return to “shock and awe” bombing proves our strategy is not working and now we are going backwards! It’s hopeless, and this desperate recidivism proves it!

Nonsense. Those who are heavily invested in failure, defeat and humiliation in Iraq can “prove” their case with literally any facts.

2. Pessimism: The Taleban will take Afghanistan back, because the USA is weak. Maybe so; but if there is a commitment to prevent that from happening…. Well, we shall see. But at least we have been warned.

3. Fact: The Libyans are becoming increasingly involved in Iraq.

…the prominent role that Libyans have been playing in recent times inside the al Qaeda structure and on its periphery. It is interesting to note that, in the CTC-West Point study of foreign fighters in Iraq Libyans were second only to Saudis (19 percent to 41 percent) in the number of people sent to fight.

4. Realism: another excellent report from Michael Yon. You should check his weblog regularly for insightful, absorbing news that the major media simply do not carry. Yon is not an optimist, which makes his reportage all the more valuable.

5. Fact: Iran is busy in Iraq. Doing what, and where and how? Answer: they are called “ratlines,” and they may well be in the news in weeks and months to come. For now, we have some sketchy information on these supply routes. Expect the US and Iraq to try to cut them, which will mean Iran will howl like a stuck pig.

6. Fact: it’s easy to predict increasingly intense fighting in and around Sadr City. What and where, you ask? There are some good maps and satellite photos to orient you perfectly. Now you are one step ahead of the news.

7. Fact: the news media are more than two years behind you. Well, at least one news outlet is, and the full story would be funny, if it were not just another example of the biased reporting that continues to insult the intelligence of the public.

8. Realism: “I cannot tell you how many times I heard someone say, ‘Mom, it’s fine here,’ when talking to family members back home on the phone. ‘Don’t believe everything you see on TV.'” Michael Totten’s weblog has lots more on one of the most under- and mis-reported stories of the war: Fallujah. People just don’t know or understand what happened there, and why. As you read, you will want more information about The Daily Kos Bridge in Fallujah, and it’s available, though hard to read without wincing. The attempt to give the bridge that odd appellation is a story in itself; what a pity that so few people have adopted the highly appropriate name.

The Fallujah campaign will be studied for decades to come. You can begin to see why if you have a look at a partial report that does not provide many explanations of why things happened the way they did. Fortunately we have an absorbing and comprehensive account of the military history made in Fallujah.

One of the questions that no one wants to answer — or even ask — is how much help the USA has been getting from the only army in the world that has lots of experience dealing with the worst people in the world. Perhaps you can get an idea by reading between the lines ofthis article. Then for perspective on the Fallujah of today, Michael Totten is again your guide.

Military buffs, dig in — it’s a feast of information that should make you very proud of the US Marine Corps.

When Understanding Islam, The West Has A Peculiar Way of Proceeding

It seems perfectly straightforward: evaluating people and movements and ideologies is a matter of looking at (a) what they say, and (b) what they do.

Whence, therefore, the Western failure to behave rationally toward Islam?

On the one hand, you have views like those of Tom G. Palmer, who bitterly and personally attacks Robert Spencer, author and weblogger. Palmer feels that no one should be a “Muslim-basher,” on the premise that if we make Muslims angry, they will join Al Qaeda — and presumably blow us up. Spencer says we need to understand the Koran and hadith, and then take a good look at the world.

What kind of people do we assume Muslims are, if we believe they will respond to criticism, however unintentional or mild, by murdering innocents? Palmer is off to a bad start in his argument, for its implicit premises refute his conclusions.

Is it the case that the “moderate” Muslims of the world have risen up in their millions to protest the brutality of Al Qaeda? How many Muslims of whatever stripe denounced the fatwah against Rushdie, the author whose novel got him a sentence of death from Khomeini? What was the universal Muslim reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and to United 93? How many Muslim rallies were held to condemn the murder of a nun, killed because the Pope quoted an ancient text?

The answers are not comforting. They only lead to a blunt final question: do we really care about Muslims’ tender sensibilities, or are we concerned about how we can induce them to end their insane attempts to terrorize and weaken the West?

The links above are valuable resources for those interested in such ruminations. Then, for a book that sheds brilliant light on the matter, one cannot do better than Sam Harris’s volume, The End of Faith.

Claudia Rosett May Have Uncovered a Latter-Day Alger Hiss

The UN’s Saddam-enriching Oil for Food scam never received half the press attention it should have, doubtless because it’s naughty to criticize the UN. Too bad; a lot of people, including Kofi, should be in prison now. Well, the brave lady who did all the work in uncovering things that most journalists did not want to see (and still don’t), Claudia Rosett, has a bizarre new tale for us.

The story revolves around some changes in, of all places, The Pentagon. (Do you recall the old joke about the visitors to London who, during WW II, were looking for famous landmarks and got confused about whether they should cross the avenue to get to the War Office? They stopped a uniformed soldier and asked, “Which side is the War Office on?” “Blimey,” was the reply. “Ours, I think.”)

Claudia’s report begins with some fantastic stories, some of which may even be true, and then progresses to a peculiar development.

And Hiss? A 1930s – 1940s Soviet spy, highly placed in the US Dept. of State, as you already know.

News of US Politics You Might Have Missed Because the Media Wanted You To

1. Hillary is running a remarkably self-contradictory campaign, considering she’s ahead of everybody else. Consider, for example, thisunflattering comment on her inability to keep her husband under control:

One of the persons left holding the bag was Hillary Clinton, who was made to look like a chump by her husband’s antics. Hillary had earlier issued dire warnings about about the Kazakhstan’s president. Eleven months later, her husband was lionizing him in public.

Will that leash get shorter when she’s in the White House?

2. The problems with McCain: in a nutshell, the hard-core right wing of the GOP hates his insides. Well, so what? When was the last time those folks decided an election?

3. Exposing the lies candidates tell is always fun. Unfortunately it seldom has anything to do with the outcome of a federal election. In this instance, Romney and Obama grow long, long noses because of their deceit over the hot issue of firearms control. Did you know about this??

4. Why is nobody asking the candidates the really hard — and most important — question? Of all the things the voters need to know about, the willingness of the aspirants to lead a nation that is at war has to be first. This commentary pulls no punches. It’s required reading for journalists, and you should give it a close look, therefore.

5. What is it about Hillary that makes her so unfailingly newsworthy? Some would say it’s her emotional side: “…the subject that brought tears to her eyes wasn’t poverty, health care, or even national defense but Hillary herself. ” Sock!! Was that a blow below the belt? Or does the expression apply?

Free Speech and a Free Press: The Foundations of Liberty Under Assault

How do you demolish a huge building made of top-quality reinforced concrete? You chip away at it. And that’s just what author Lee Harris tries to do to our right to speak our mind and read uncensored reports. His commentary drips with saccharine, slow-acting toxins, and has provoked a weblogging lawyer into responding.

The original article by Harris is long and nuanced; the impatient are cautioned to chew slowly, rather than gobble it up. While it is impossible to summarize Harris’s sophistical argument in a few sentences, a sample serving of the poisoned stew will demonstrate how baneful his food for thought is:

Harris begins by explaining that a Canadian magazine reprinted the famous Mohammed cartoons. The result was that

…not long afterwards, Levant (the magazine’s editor) found himself in hot water. Syed Soharwardy, representing the self-proclaimed Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, filed a complaint with the Calgary police, alleging that Levant was inciting hatred against him–a crime in Canada. … In addition, Soharwardy lodged a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizen Commission.

The story picks up with Levant being questioned by an official of this Commission. The editor lambastes the female tasked to look into his mind and determine his thoughts and motives; video is available.

Here are the vital fragments in Harris’s commentary:

…the threat of ongoing legal action, carried out in a number of different Canadian provinces, might be more than enough to keep less well-known writers and smaller news outlets from exposing themselves to the risk of legal costs that a magazine like Maclean’s can afford to take. When faced with the threat of an endless hassle, draining away limited personal resources, many writers will simply take the safer course of not saying anything offensive about Islam. But since it is difficult to say in advance what will be offensive to men like Soharwardy, the safest course will be to say nothing at all. In short, gagging Canadians may not take a generation. It may work in a matter of a few months.

How’s that for a resounding defense of Western Civilization?

If criticizing Islam promotes bloodshed, then criticizing even more hardly seems like an attractive solution. On the other hand, let us look at the possible upside to the nanny approach.

Let offended Muslims file complaints to their heart’s content. Make outraged imams fill out tedious forms. Require self-appointed mullahs, representing imaginary counsels and committees, to provide documentation of their grievances. Encourage them to vent through the intrinsically stifling bureaucratic channels provided by panels like the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Show them, nanny-like, that you care about their injured feelings. Patiently and silently listen to their indignant complaints, and let them, ideally, get it all out of their systems. Humoring, let us remember, is not appeasement, but often a clever way to coax troublesome children of all ages into behaving like civilized human beings. Every good nanny knows as much.

Rubbish. Harris naively assumes that hard-core Muslims are precisely analogous to spoiled brats who can be cajoled into growing up and curbing their childish peccadilloes. This betrays him as a Utopian romantic who does not at all understand the unalloyed malice of Islam — and gives Islamists a motive to kill him, so insulting is his supposition.

…if enough Muslims continue to react with violence to criticism of their religion and culture, all the other nations of the West will eventually be forced to make a tragic choice between two of our highest values.

…like it or not, it is the choice that we are facing again today.

Let us leave this naif’s fantasy behind and deal rationally with reality. The nanny approach is futile, and the problem of Muslim malice does not have to reduce to an unacceptable dilemma. The West can win — Liberty can be preserved while Muslim outrages are terminated. The proper course of action: when free and legitimate expression offends and provokes reactions all the way from whining to murder, the cure is always to step up the exercise of Liberty. The enemies of free speech must see that their claims of privileged status are stoutly and immediately rejected.

If, for example, pigs offend and produce howls of protest, the civilized elements of society should display astronomical quantities of pictures and statues of pigs, along with as many live pigs as possible. The pig-themed exhibits must be distributed as widely as possible.

The offending words and images must be, in other words, figuratively shoved down the throats of the primitives. The more the barbarians object, and/or the greater their resort to force, the more overwhelming the response must be. If violence is initiated, the authorities should act definitively.

No compromise. Either join in the observance of evolved principles, or depart. Nothing else will be tolerated.

Government agencies should post signs reading, “Now hiring; No nannies need apply.” The gentle, patient approach will inevitably fail, for it will be seen as contemptible weakness. Western Civilization must never apologize for honoring its heritage and firmly rejecting attempts to corrode it.

Obviously.

Some folks agree. It seems Wikipedia has drawn a firm line in rapidly hardening concrete. Have a look, and take heart. Not everyone is a coward like Harris.

Why Didn’t You Think of This?

For years, the threat of nuclear weapons being smuggled into the USA has been an under-reported concern. Once in a while a brief, uninformative article appears; we can only hope that means that intelligent and imaginative people are dealing with the problem, and have put a tight security lid on what they are up to.

If the past is any indication — witness the breathtaking incompetence in the Federal Air Marshals Service — our hope is not likely to be realized.

Now, however, technology may just banish the nightmare.

Imagine: every mobile phone a radiation detector, able to monitor its environment and, if it sniffs anything nuclear and nasty, report its exact location to the authorities. What a nice concept.

The problem? No, it’s not size, power consumption, or even the time lag to deployment. It’s what those government types will do when a mobile phone calls in with a warning.

Rather we should say, it’s what they WON’T do.

The folks running desperately for president should note this news story and comment on it. Yes?

What, Exactly, Is A Think Tank, and Why Do They Exist?

The topic is a bit esoteric, but still — it seems that the various outfits such as the Brookings Institution make a difference in our lives, and we should know something about them. They are staffed by unelected people whose qualifications remain almost unknown to the public; they do all sorts of work in ways they do not reveal; they have the ear of persons in high places, and they exist in order to move the country in specific directions.

Is that what you understand by the word “democracy”??

The subject is explored thoughtfully in a recent article by Alan Wolfe, who takes as his target the views of weblogger Glenn Greenwald, to wit:

The Foreign Policy Community is more secretive than the Fight Club. They believe that all foreign policy should be formulated only by our secret scholar-geniuses in the think tanks and institutes comprising the Foreign Policy Community and that the American people need not know anything about it short of the most meaningless platitudes. They are the Guardians of Seriousness. “Serious” really means the extent to which one adheres to their rules and pays homage to their decrees.

Wolfe informs us that

Vietnam failed because the experts gave the wrong advice. … U.S. policy in Iraq, by contrast, ran into trouble because the experts gave no advice at all.

Washington think tanks are known as intensely political places filled with intensely political people. They do not make claims to be objective or to be bound by the conventions of academic freedom. The whole point of their existence is to influence policy.

…the division of expert labor between universities and think tanks serves the nation poorly. To be sure, the divide allows academics to avoid compromising their objectivity by working for the government, just as it allows think tank experts to avoid the tentativeness and obscurantism typical of so much academic scholarship. But academic research would be strengthened if it had more real-world attachments. And think tank policy recommendations would have more depth if they contained more academic distance.

Does this mean that academics ought to overcome their long-standing opposition to working with the CIA? They should. The war in Iraq proves why intelligence matters, as does the broader interest the United States maintains in combating terrorism.

For the same reason, scholars in think tanks would do well to engage more fully with their academic critics.

Yes, it’s a rather soporific debate. Perhaps too dry and dusty for most folks? Well, one thing is certain: you may not want to get a close look at the think tanks, but they certainly take a great interest in you.