Column by Tim Hartnett.
Exclusive to STR
“How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print.” ~ Karl Kraus
The author of the quote above was an Austrian who vocally criticized his country’s foreign policy at the highly risky period before, after and during the First World War. The way he got away with it was explained in another one of his many famous epigrams: “Satires which the censor can understand are justly forbidden.”
Kraus was a popular entertainer of the early 20th Century whose wry observations on the dangers of concentrated power echo his American contemporary Will Rogers. Rogers was a cowboy as well as a Native American, while Kraus was a master of Germanic language and a Jew. He died of presumably natural causes before Anschluss less than a year after Rogers met his end in 1935. So both men were gone before their rhetorical firepower could be aimed with precision at the coming world catastrophe.
We’ve got nothing like either of them calling the game in the political arena at the moment. Kraus and Rogers became cult figures without the mass marketing advantages enjoyed by professional jibber-jabberers these days. They built empires one column--or even quip--at a time, amassing enormous fan bases that left both men oblivious to the demands of media executives. Neither would fawn over Madeline Albright, Henry Kissinger, John Bolton or any other celeb diplomat if they were alive today and Fox or MSNBC handed one of them a mike reaching a national audience.
Anyone that finds comparing the two a stretch should hear Roger’s take on international conflict: “Take the diplomacy out of a war and the thing would fall flat inside of a week.” He also said: “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you’ve got the whole government working for you.”
Kraus’ most famous quote, taking small liberties with translation, went, “Psychoanalysis is the disease it’s trying to cure.”
An even better case can be made, as far as the US is concerned, exchanging the word “psychoanalysis” for “foreign policy.” The victims of head-shrinking, who pay willingly for their abuse, don’t bear much mention next to the world pandemic brought on by diplomatic malpractice. The medicine shows run from Foggy Bottom make PT Barnum’s wiliest con-jobs look like ran-out-of-gas scams. The human suffering that follows in places where policy practitioners do their doctoring always leaves the attending quacks unscathed. It’s hard to recall an example that fails to bear this out.
Historically, making this case is not much of a challenge. In WWI, we supposedly fought to “make the world safe for democracy.” Britain, the “ally” that dragged us into the fray, had occupied Ireland at the time for over 400 years. A crackdown was continuing on that western isle simultaneous to events on the continent. The French had seized Algeria 85 years before the Great War started because those North Africans were getting lippy over a considerable debt due them that remained in arrears for decades. Russia wasn’t even a poser in the democracy department. A thorough examination of any allied power in the conflict exposes them all as oppressive opportunists with little regard for the rights of native populations. Germany was far behind any of them as an enemy of the human race at the time. Wall Street was actively participating in the Allied effort long before the first Americans were killed when the SS Arabic was sunk on August 19, 1915.
The people who take credit for a WWI slogan that is easily among the phoniest ever, The Inquiry, became the Council on Foreign Relations. They sold America the war and worked at Versailles making certain another one was in the pipeline. All the while they were paid by the same Wall Street figures, Morgan, Rockefeller, and Schwab, who had soaked the highest profits out of all the blood spilling in Europe. Without them, the Nazi rise in interim Germany, which nearly failed anyway, would have been far more difficult.
Journalists have done exactly zero wising up since that time. During the 1950s, guys like Mossadegh and Arbenz were labeled commies to justify covert action against their regimes at Wall Street’s behest. In Viet Nam, volumes of material documenting US double-dealing were bared when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. But that didn’t stop the believing among highly placed members of the Fourth Estate’s in-crowd. Instead, they began dubbing doubters of official word from State “conspiracy theorists.”
Later Saddam became the enemy of our enemy as well as our enemy and so on. Our rulers seldom see a foreign war that the sake of “national security” doesn’t require sticking our nose into. We kept hearing something monumental was at stake over there, and sneaking around with sleaze-balls was the only honorable thing our diplo-spooks could do. Whatever was going on in the Persian Gulf in the '80s somehow required us to be on both sides of the conflict. And now state-crafters are dumbfounded that Iran wants nuclear weapons?
Guys like Tom Friedman get on TV expecting everyone to believe that our participation in Middle Eastern power struggles is saving lives somehow. Sebastian Junger thinks the same thing. Every once in a while, we run across someone stupid enough to accept these words and disbelieve their own lying eyes. Their votes seem to be the only ones that count. When it comes to getting involved abroad, no amount ever seems quite enough. Carpe bellum is the dictum of a class of op-edifiers that dub themselves experts on proper harvest times in the killing fields afar. Unfortunately, no one can seize yesterday to hold before them. It might not help in any case, something reminiscent of the Fillipino massacre under Teddy Roosevelt, the napalming of Vietnamese children, the suicide bombing of a Marine barracks or the downing of a civilian airliner seems to be the kind of future event that Gingrich, Kristol, McCain, et al are dreaming of.
Condoleeza Rice has recently emerged from self-imposed obscurity to lend her own uncompromised credibility to the latest fad in hyper-intervention: Syria. She was on CBS the other day uncontested and uninterrupted, an elder stateswoman above reproach, reproaching the naysayers too callous and inhumane for yet another humanitarian bombing campaign. There is nothing ironic about disdain for the people who bring up civilian casualties once we’re engaged. If we weren’t more human than other nationalities, we wouldn’t have to bomb them out of their troubles all the time.
Some good examples of how these philanthropic military ventures inevitably turn out include Bradley Manning’s famous video, the Robert Bales case, My Lai and numerous other gruesome scenarios that are unavoidable while promiscuous interventionism remains the American game plan. Under the national double-secret probation imposed since 9-11, it’s doubtful we’ve even heard about many similar deeds going on for the supposed sake of our safety and freedom.
Our double-think tanks, from CSIS to the Heritage Foundation, are stalking for rumors of war like a housecat in tall grass. They view the humanitarian bombing industry as something as vital to our economic and political health as housing starts are. Anyone willing to call the racket out, like Smedley Butler did, for what it is they don’t hesitate to brand a traitor.
Long before he became Secretary of State, John Kerry famously posed the question: “How do you ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake?” In his present position, he’ll be asking the first one. Twenty years on in an interview with an esteemed stenographer from the press, we’ll hear Kerry tell us: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” How many times can this cycle be repeated before it qualifies as insanity?