Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shaky Savants

Mimi points out in a comment that many Americans are content to believe that our leaders know better which in turn infers that people must believe that leaders on the national level have a plan or a goal. And not just any old plan or goal but one that is all-encompassing devised by far-seeing leaders who know things, things that we poor laypeople know nothing of. These “things” often fall under the rubric of State Secrets. But what if say, States don’t really have secrets of any great import? And what great secrets could there be -- the secret recipe for the world’s greatest potato salad?

Okay I’m exaggerating here for there might be a State Secret known only to Bush Jr. and his ex-administration concerning 9/11 as well as other skeletons in presidential closets. But what about the gathering of intelligence though before we examine that I think it would be good to recall one thing about intelligence which is intelligence is not used for the formation of foreign policy. Rather the opposite is true. Foreign policy, specifically and especially going to war, is driven by the needs of those in power -- as opposed to the needs of the nation. It is only after the decision to go to war has already been made that intelligence is used where information gathered by intelligence agencies is cherry-picked to suit the needs of those who wish to justify their motives for waging war.

We now know that under W. Bush the CIA was torturing prisoners in order to make them admit that there were indeed WMD and connections to al Qaida in Iraq. Stove-piping is a term used to describe how Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to turn over raw data -- data that had not been vetted though the vetting of information was the normal process used by the CIA -- in order to find the meanest scrap of bogus evidence to prop up their bogus war. The infamous Yellow Cake and Colin Powell’s vial of snake oil immediately come to mind.

All of this clearly belies any belief that national leaders have a strategy, goals, know things that we don’t, which only they in their wisdom are allowed to see giving them a more complete picture. It rather reminds me of that old saw “The Lord moves in mysterious ways.” Ah, but you say Bush was an exception and you would be entirely in error. One need only recall the Mexican-American War or the Vietnam War, both either initiated or augmented with ginned-up lies.


Two months into the war,U.S. representative George Ashmun, from Massachusetts, rebuked the president. "It is no longer pretended that our purpose is to repel invasion," he protested, "The mask is off; the veil is lifted; and we see. . . invasion, conquest, and colonization, emblazoned upon our banners."

Ashmun and other Whigs could not reconcile Polk's course with ideals of innocence and exceptionalism. Democrats, however, replied that Polk was beyond reproach. When the war ended, Sen. Sidney Breese of Illinois argued that his country's historic commitment to peace and national honor had been maintained. "We have never, sir, since the birth of our nation, given occasion for war, not even with the barbarous tribes upon our borders," he insisted. "It is our pride. . . that our whole history may be explored, and no single act of national injustice can be found upon its page-no blot of that kind upon our national escutcheon."


The official story was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an "unprovoked attack" against a U.S. destroyer on "routine patrol" in the Tonkin Gulf on Aug. 2 — and that North Vietnamese PT boats followed up with a "deliberate attack" on a pair of U.S. ships two days later.

The truth was very different.

Rather than being on a routine patrol Aug. 2, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers — in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force.

"The day before, two attacks on North Vietnam...had taken place," writes scholar Daniel C. Hallin. Those assaults were "part of a campaign of increasing military pressure on the North that the United States had been pursuing since early 1964."

On the night of Aug. 4, the Pentagon proclaimed that a second attack by North Vietnamese PT boats had occurred earlier that day in the Tonkin Gulf — a report cited by President Johnson as he went on national TV that evening to announce a momentous escalation in the war: air strikes against North Vietnam.

But Johnson ordered U.S. bombers to "retaliate" for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened.

Prior to the U.S. air strikes, top officials in Washington had reason to doubt that any Aug. 4 attack by North Vietnam had occurred. Cables from the U.S. task force commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick, referred to "freak weather effects," "almost total darkness" and an "overeager sonarman" who "was hearing ship's own propeller beat."

One of the Navy pilots flying overhead that night was squadron commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and then Ross Perot's vice presidential candidate. "I had the best seat in the house to watch that event," recalled Stockdale a few years ago, "and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power."

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson commented: "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there."

The Tonkin Gulf Incident was then used as a justification to greatly escalate the Vietnam War leading to ever greater tragedy. So as we can see using phony or shall we say “edited” intelligence is neither new nor exceptional.

There is very little evidence that national leaders have any far-reaching plan designed for the benefit of all mankind rather there is a preponderance of evidence that nothing could be further from the truth. What we find seems to be rather shallow and shortsighted people whose overriding concern is the gathering and maintaining of their power. If you don’t believe me just look around you, the economy, the housing bubble, high unemployment, the immanent demise of safety net programs like Medicaid and Social Security, the endless mindless war against terrorism or whatever they call it these days. None of this smacks even remotely of some grand overarching plan, just a lot of greedy souls grabbing what they can in the here and the now.


At June 25, 2009 9:30 AM, Anonymous Brian M said...

Awesome analysis, as always.

At June 25, 2009 11:12 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

it's far more likely, as you well know, to be a recipe for fairly ordinary potato salad that just happens to cost, oh, several thousand times more than the one you get at your grocery store deli. And the reason it costs so much is...yet another secret. :^(

At June 25, 2009 5:05 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Brian, Thanks for the kind words.

Jonathan, secrets within secrets?
Very Churchilian. The price often depends on the packaging, eh?

At June 26, 2009 3:39 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

I wish I didn't recognize the utter truth of your post.

At June 26, 2009 9:41 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

actually Rob, as I think about the potato salad metaphor, I think it's more like a recipe for poisoned potato salad, the kind that keeps you sick but doesn't kill you. The kind that keeps you, if not addicted, in a daze in which you think that all people who don't eat potato salad are a bunch of degenerates.

At June 26, 2009 10:08 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

The whole concept of "state secrets" is pretty much a fraud. The people who are bombed know that they are being bombed, the people who are tortured know that they are being tortured. The only people who don't know (or don't know the full story) are the people in whose name the bombing and torture is done.

The whole idea of state secrets, or even vaguer notions beyond actual classification of secrets into just the generalized withholding of knowledge (which, with propagandizing is the media's real job) is the process by which the ruling class continues to rule and to do so without interference in the streets by outraged citizenry.

Which came first, plans for a pipeline through Afghanistan or 9/11? Just imagine if our free press actually asked if there was a relationship between the Taliban's failure to cooperate with the pipeline and the invasion of Afghanistan.

At June 26, 2009 8:41 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

It's amazing how misplaced some people's trust is. From my perspective it's the way things are. Of course I'm sure plenty would not agree.

That’s true in more ways than one. In Vietnam there were a lot of children born with defects from the Agent Orange used by the U.S. so people there are still suffering from that war. In Iraq the place is littered with unexploded bits of cluster bombs just waiting to kill and maim the unsuspecting, the munitions used by U.S. forces were made with depleted uranium which probably peppers the Iraq landscape now. People will still be suffering long after whatever transient victory is declared. And the Federal government will still be addicted to their wars.


I agree with all your points, I think that is all quite true. For those who don’t know, well there might be a baseball game on that must be watched, got to keep those priorities straight. Of course if they ever bothered to go beyond what our free press graces us all with they might know more. But then again maybe not, there is an awful lot of denial going on out there.


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