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Peter van Buren

Hiroshima, Syria, Wherever, What’s Different?

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America doesn’t want to know what happens in its wars. It wants to believe each war starts in righteousness, usually something as lofty a goal as freeing people from oppression or bringing them democracy. It then wants to believe our side is clean, as any force of righteousness must be. And then at some point it wants to forget about it all absent a few Business Class upgrades for soldiers flying home next week over Thanksgiving. But what happens when the truth, the overriding truth bigger than a single atrocity, peaks out from under the heavy cover of lies?

You may remember America went to war in Syria in 2015 under Barack Obama. What was going to happen next there was a major campaign issue in 2016. The catch-phrase was whether either candidate supported “boots on the ground.” Trump, who did not overtly support that, did it anyway, and under now a third president some 900 Americans are still on the ground in Syria on a mission looking for a strategy. It would be surprising if one out of 100 Americans knew today we were still at war in Syria. Don’t ask Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate in 2016. During a recent Senate hearing on Afghanistan, he declared, “I am relieved that for the first time in 20 years, children being born in this country today are not being born into a nation at war.” It is doubtful Kaine or more than one out of ten thousand when told of the ongoing fight in Syria could explain why.

So it is surprising to see the New York Times front page an investigation into a more than two year old US air attack in Baghuz, Syria which killed some 80 women and children. Though the entire strike was preserved on drone video, a precise death count is unlikely because the three weapons dropped, totaling over 2,500 pounds of explosives, would have reduced most of the dead to a fine, pink mist. Hard to count that. The amount of explosives used against these undefended human targets in the open was roughly the equivalent of that carried by a B-25 into actual combat during WWII.
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What’s the Point of Cancellation (Halloween Edition)?

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I’m holding an old Polaroid, taken at a Halloween party at one of my early State Department assignments in the 1980s. One of my diplomatic colleagues is in blackface, done up to look like the minstrel player who was on the “Darkie” toothpaste boxes then for sale in every drugstore in Asia. You can see a photo of the packaging; the white teeth against the minstrel player’s face were supposed to show how good the toothpaste was. My other colleague is dressed as the Frito Bandito, a caricature of Mexicans used to sell corn chips. The costume theme for the night was advertising icons. In the 1980s these were acceptable ways to advertise and acceptable costumes for Halloween.
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Biden’s China Policy is Dangerous

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Joe Biden’s China policy is unnecessarily adversarial. It is impractical and dangerous. It plays out as if US foreign policy is run by WWII reenactors.

China was artificially reimagined as an enemy-in-a-box as the wars of terror sputtered out and America needed a new Bond villian. Biden envisions China as an autocratic foe for democracy to wage a global struggle against. “On my watch,” Joe said, “China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim the world was at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” In Biden’s neo-Churchillian view, the US and what the hell, the whole free world he believes he is president of, are in a death match with China for global hearts and minds.

One problem in this world view is the unbelievable hypocrisy underlying America’s claimed role. Biden seems oblivious the US mows down Muslims by drone and cluster bomb even while it self-righteously tsk tsks China for bullying its Uighur minority. After our two decade hissy fit of invasions and nation building brought kleptocracies and terrorists to lead countries, we dare bark that China is not democratic. We seem not to notice our lack of clothing when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with petty tyrants and dictators strewn around Africa and the Middle East. We see no issues demanding democracy in Hong Kong while ignoring its weakening across the United States (never mind not having had much to say about democracy in Hong Kong when it was a British colony stolen by war from Chinese sovereignty.) A pretty weak resume when you’re aiming at Leader of the Free World.
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The New 9/11 Isn’t 1/6. It’s Covid.

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It is important to stop every once in a while and take stock of things, to lay down some breadcrumbs to refer back to when someone asks, “How did we end up 

In many ways, the story is the same story. The message of 9/11 was: give up freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Now, 20 years later, you realize you went along with it because you were scared, even though the real threat was minimal. The message of Covid is to give up more freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Fear is infectious and now we’re here.

As a young David Petraeus said early in the Iraq War: Tell me how this ends. What is the Covid endgame? Victory was once defined as making testing available to all. Then lockdowns to free up ventilators. Then vaccinations. No one knows anymore what the goal is, but some sort of return to zero infections has about as much a chance as a democratic Afghanistan.
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Who’s To Blame For Afghanistan?

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Did anyone expect the US war in Afghanistan to end cleanly? If so, you bought the lies all along and the cold water now is hitting sharp. While the actual ending is particularly harsh and clearly spliced together from old clips of Saigon 1975, those are simply details.

Who should we blame for losing Afghanistan? Why blame anyone?

Why blame Biden? He played his part as a senator and vice president keeping the war going, but his role today is just being the last guy in a long line of people to blame, a pawn in the game. That Biden is willing to be the “president who lost Afghanistan” is all the proof you need he does not intend to run again for anything. Kind of an ironic version of a young John Kerry’s take on Vietnam “how do you ask the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out, it’s easy: call Joe.

Blame Trump for the deal? One of the saddest things about the brutal ending of the US-Afghan war is we would have gotten the same deal—just leave it to the Taliban and go home—at basically any point during the last 20 years. That makes every death and every dollar a waste. Afghanistan is simply reverting, quickly, to more or less status quo ante September 11, 2001, and everything between then and now, including lost opportunities, will have been wasted.⁠
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General Milley’s Imaginary Coup

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We need to clear some things up before they get any further out of hand, as the Dems insist on making this stuff every day’s front page. For starters, stop saying “Reichstag moment.” And when Grandpa Simpson and Kamala “Silent Shadow” Harris tottered into the White House, they became president. Between the two of them they’ll get their four years. Done.

Some 500 protesters taking selfies inside the Capitol building is a tantrum, not a coup. Among other things, a coup must have some path towards success, in this case, preventing Joe Biden from becoming president. The rioters at best might have delayed the largely ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes until the next day. Done.

Not done. The latest addition to Coup Canon comes from then—and somehow still—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley. Milley was so shaken Trump might attempt a coup or take other illegal measures after the election that he and other top officials planned to stop Trump. Neither Milley nor any of the others actually spell out what Trump might have realistically done in some Calvinball-like way to make said coup happen. Milley’s Strangelovian performance art is based on nothing but the spittle running down his chin. American soldiers have been required to refuse illegal orders at least since Biden wore diapers, so Milley’s histrionics are just that.
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CIA (Dis)Information Operations Come Home to the US

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Reporters joke the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions and say “No comment’ before heading to Happy Hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information about itself. They meanwhile choose to profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.

Leon Panetta, the Director CIA from 2009 to 2011 explained bluntly his CIA did influence foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method, Panetta said, was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.”

The CIA has been running such information ops to influence foreign elections since the end of WWII. Richard Bissell, who ran the agency’s operations during the Cold War, wrote of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A report on the CIA in Chile boasts the Agency portrayed its favored candidate in one election as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.” At one point in the 1980s foreign media insertions ran 80 a day.
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COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

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In the post-vaccination era, why don’t people remove their masks? Learned helplessness, employed as a control tool.

Learned helplessness is well-documented. It takes place when an individual believes he continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to improve his circumstances, even when he has the ability to do so. Discovering the loss of control elicits a passive reaction to a harmful situation. Psychologists call this a maladaptive response, characterized by avoidance of challenges and the collapse of problem-solving when obstacles arise. You give up trying to fight back.

An example may help: you must keep up with ever-changing mask and other hygiene theatre rules, many of which make no sense (mask in the gym, but not the pool; mask when going to the restaurant toilet but not at your table, NYC hotels are closed while Vegas casinos are open, Disney California closed while Disney Florida was open) and comply. You could push back, but you have been made afraid at a core level (forget about yourself rascal, you’re going to kill grandma if you don’t do what we say) and so you just give in. Once upon a time we were told a vaccine would end it all, yet the restrictions remain largely in place. You’re left believing nothing will fix this. Helpless to resist, you comply “out of an abundance of caution.”

American psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier created the term “learned helplessness” in 1967. They were studying animal behavior by delivering electric shocks to dogs (it was a simpler time.) Dogs who learned they couldn’t escape the shock simply stopped trying, even after the scientists removed a barrier and the dog could have jumped away.
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The COVID Response Disaster

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If only we’d been able to see sooner that the disease wasn’t the hoax, the response was.

How do we even know now? Pigs are flying everywhere. The media are fessing up. After fanning COVID panic for a year, Democratic newsletter Salon admits it was all for partisan purposes: “Americans have been sucked into an all-or-nothing approach, with your choice of all or nothing depending largely on your partisan identity.” Salon continues:
Trump’s rejection of sensible precautions caused many of his political opponents to run hard in the opposite direction, embracing the lockdowns as if they were a point of personal virtue and inherent good, instead of a temporary and deeply unpleasant measure necessary to contain the virus. Worse, liberals were so protective of lockdowns that even sensible criticisms were ignored, and liberals often acted like, well, cops. There was a lot of social media shaming for any activity, no matter how safe it was. And in behaving this way, a lot of well-intentioned people made the pandemic much worse.
The Hill confessed:
Lockdowns don’t work: Remember 15 days to slow the spread? Well, since those fateful words were uttered, we have had a year of various efforts to slow down a virus that has an infection fatality rate of less than one percent. And what we have learned is that viruses are gonna virus. California, the United Kingdom, Florida and Sweden show the futility of lockdowns.
The Hill adds “The media is complicit in furthering the Panic… how you could die tomorrow, from a virus that kills virtually nobody healthy under the age of 70.”
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