Sunday, March 30, 2008

Our problem with Jeremy Scahill

That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.
Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: we'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices -- from to the Nation, the magazine we both write for -- have gone down this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.
This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway US policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.
And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They could, however, be forced to change their positions, thanks to the unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.

The above should strike many of our regular readers as both reasoned and a tactic to pursue. None of the community sites highlighted and not because they somehow missed the article but because we have a policy of not promoting garbage. When absolutely required to, something will get a link that is trash. That's generally because it's so unbelievable, no one will believe it happened without a link. But this article appeared everywhere and it could have been highlighted without a link but was avoided.

The article's entitled "Anti-war Campaigners Have To Change Electoral Tactics" and one of the writers is Naomi Klein. You'll find no author more praised here or at any community sites than Klein. To focus on The Common Ills, because ombudsperson Beth tracks it, the most cited (and linked to) article in 2004 was "Baghdad Year Zero" (Harper's magazine). That was also the most cited (and linked to) article by C.I. in 2005, 2006, 2007 and, Beth guesses based on the year so far and the pattern, will be the most linked article in 2008. The author of that important article is Klein. That's just at The Common Ills (Beth is only the ombudsperson for The Common Ills, not for any other community site, and only tracks that site). But all praise Naomi and when she writes about Iraq and it doesn't get a link, when it's flat-out ignored, you can guess that the reason has nothing to do with Klein.

That is the case with the above article (hence, no link). Klein's co-author is Jeremy Scahill. Scahill is mainly known for his work on Blackwater and he's earned much applause for his work at community sites. He was also called out for an era that seems forgotten now but offended many (including Wally and Cedric who lost their fathers at young ages) when he took to Democracy Now!, Law and Disorder and other programs to argue sympathy for the poor mercenary workers. Specifically the ones slaughtered in Falluja. They didn't have this, they didn't have that blah, blah, blah and more blah. Guess who else didn't have armor (a point Klein was making in 2004)? Iraqi citizens. And, unlike the 'poor' workers for Blackwater, Iraqi citizens didn't go to Iraq in the hopes of milking the Cash Cow that the White House created over there. Wally and Cedric repeatedly noted in real time (to many times for individual links) that a parent who puts greed above parenting, isn't much of a parent and they had and have no sympathy for the tales of "he had a child and was trying to make money." As Cedric famously noted, get a job at McDonalds because it's more important that you're around to raise your child than that they get every hot fad that can be mass marketed. (A point later echoed very strongly by Three Old Guys in their gina & krista round-robin column.)

Rosa Brooks, apparently heeding the questionable heart strings, would go on to argue last year that the mercenaries should be included in the 'fallen' as 'heroes.' Setting aside the issue of heroics, mercentaries choosing to go to Iraq to make a quick, big buck are not the same as service members. Service members are ordered to go to Iraq. Some refuse to and good for them. Some don't refuse for a number of reasons including (but not limited to) the fact that they are unaware of how much of a difference their resistance would make, that they are unaware others are resisting, that they do not believe any have the right to resist or refuse, that they support the continued war in Iraq. Regardless of their reasons, they were ordered to go and they went and there's a huge difference between that and choosing to go to Iraq to make some quick, big bucks. A big difference between those taking part in military service and those attempting to profit from a war (illegal or legal). Regardless of what they think of the illegal war, our sympathies lie with those serving in the military and not with those enlisting as mercenaries for their own profit.

The reality is that if all civilians working as contractors (mercenaries or non-security) didn't go over to Iraq, if everyone grasped how offensive it was for American civilians to take part in that slaughter, the illegal war would stop immediately. The way Bully Boy's structured it, the war can't continue without the American civilians.

Some try to argue that's because Bully Boy was attempting to avoid the draft. That's a complete lie and misreading of everything we know about the illegal war (due to Klein and Antonia Juhasz' work largely). The Iraq War was about gain and profit. That was the plan, the one liars like Charlie Ferguson try to ignore and claim "There was no plan!" There was a plan. Mercenaries were yet another 'thriving' business to be rewarded in the outsourcing that passes for modern day government. (Or modern day delivery of The New York Times, which we may get to another article this edition.) The American mercenaries in Iraq, in fact all American contractors, not only chose to go there, they made more money than the enlisted and yet the enlisted was supposed to bail them out and protect them everytime they got into the least bit of a trouble including a flat tire, as Kelly Dougherty pointed out earlier this month at Winter Soldier. So we don't have a lot of sympathy for them, in fact we have none. When Scahill's book came out on Blackwater, it may have seemed a natural for a book review here. It wasn't. Wally and Cedric were adament about not wanting to read it after the 'poor fathers trying to support their children' line trotted out by Scahill in that not forgotten period (or the 'wowing' nature of 'One of them was a trainer on Demi Moore's G.I. Jane!'). So the book only got mentioned here once, by Ava and C.I. naturally. It was an offensive period and no one else wanted to risk revisiting it.

But with that single exception, Scahill's been noted plenty of times positively. And the sentiments he expresses with Klein in their joint-piece are sentiments we were in fact operating upon until we grasped that Hillary wasn't getting a fair shake. Neither candidate was promising to end the illegal war yet, as Klein and Scahill note in the excerpt at the top, Barack Obama was getting a pass. Not noted is that Hillary Clinton was getting crucified.

Ava, Kat and C.I. attended the first day of Iraq Veterans Against the War's Winter Soldier. We had all early on hoped to attend (and, in fact, Trina was invited by an organizer to attend) but then came the decision to limit public access and it became just the press and members of IVAW largely. As all community sites picked who to note and who not to note, we did seek input from the three of them (especially after it turned out everyone was planning to write about the first panel, Rules of Engagement). Ava and C.I. were very adament that Jeremy Scahill should NOT be noted. Nobody questioned that. They were there. If they say "don't," we listen. Most of us assumed it was because he was a civilian and one whose work has already received ample attention. There were many other stories to get out and, honestly, those of us listening weren't all that impressed with what seemed a weak rehash of the interviews he already gave to Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, et al. The only point he made -- to large applause -- was that neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama were going to end the illegal war, that people end the illegal war and that both candidates need to be pressed. Again, we did just that for month after month here until it finally became obvious that the press -- Real Media or Panhandle -- was never going to vet or press Bambi while any lie, smear or distortion was a-okay about Hillary and became aware that many in Panhandle Media enlisted in the Bambi campaign without informing their audiences of that.

But that applause line by Scahill might have gotten noted by at least one site were it not for Ava and C.I. saying "don't." It was only later that we learned why.

See Scahill makes pretty words. He says them at Winter Soldier to mass applause and cheers. He repeats them in his joint-piece with Naomi Klein. But Scahill did something else at Winter Soldier, off the stage, he gave an interview to The Real News network that Ava and C.I. watched happen in open-mouth surprise.

Scahill argues in the joint-piece and onstage at Winter Soldier that the peace movement needs to pressure both candidates on Iraq. So if you're pressuring them both and one makes any overture, you would logically support that overture and press for even more. For the argument Klein and Scahill present in their article to work, when one of the candidate responds to pressure, the peace movement's response is praise for that overture and pressure on other Iraq issues.

If you're not offering that praise, then the message the two candidates take away is not the one you want to send. The message to Hillary is, "I can't win for losing. They raise an issue, I incorporate it into my plan for Iraq and I'm still slammed. And slammed for incorporating something they asked for." The message to Barack is, "Don't worry. We'll keep attacking Hillary and giving you a pass."

That message was sent loud and clear by Scahill in his Real News interview. It was so appalling that it quickly became a big topic at Winter Soldier.

You can watch, read or listen to Scahill make an ass out of himself here. You can see that while Scahill sometimes wants to maintain that both need to be pressured and that is the only way to get results, when Hillary responds to pressure, the reality is she still gets slammed and Barack (who didn't respond) gets excuses.

Jeremey Scahill made an ASS out of himself. Made a FOOL out of himself. And it's public record now and there's no taking it back.

What follows, in bold, is Scahill speaking to The Real News. Our comments are not in bold.

I mean, for most of the election campaign, private contractors, whether they be armed security contractors like Blackwater or the larger army of 180,000 contractors hasn't been an issue at all. None of the candidates have really been asked about it in the debates. Occasionally they've been asked about it by voters, but it really hasn't become a premiere issue.

So far, so good.

About two weeks ago I did a story about Barack Obama's position on contractors called "Obama's Mercenary Position" for The Nation magazine.

Yes, he did do an article. And he offered a minsicule update to the interview which was also insulting to the one candidate that bothered to respond.

And basically what I did was I interviewed senior foreign policy advisors to Barack Obama and said to them, "What are you guys going to do about the contractors?"

Notice who Scahill ran to: Bambi. He mainly spoke to Samantha Power, whom he cornered when other advisors blew him off. Power was with the campaign when he interviewed her.

And what I found out is that Barack Obama's people are saying that they will not rule out the use of private security contractors like Blackwater in Iraq, and that Barack Obama will not sign on to legislation seeking to ban them or to force them out of Iraq.

He found that out? When's Scahill going to find out that any withdrawal Obama makes, he's comfortable rescinding to send the same troops back into Iraq? A transcript of interview with The New York Times in 2007 bore that out. But Scahill, like Tom Hayden, apparently missed that. Reading is hard. But fundamental. And C.I. was commenting on the transcript, on what Bambi actually said, the day the carefully culled article ran on the front page of the paper.

And the reason is actually kind of complicated.

Woah. Sounds like we're about to get a defense of one candidate which IS NOT holding both accountable.

Barack Obama has been, actually, a leader on the issue of contractor reform in the Senate: he introduced legislation to try to regulate and oversee them months before the Nisour Square massacre happened in Baghdad in September of 2007. But his people realized that because they have an Iraq plan that requires keeping 40,000 to 80,000 US troops in Iraq and a massive diplomatic force, they're going to need these forces. So they don't want to be nailed on this later. So they were quite honest about their intent to use it.

Yeah, the candidate himself was "honest about" his intent to use mercenaries when he spoke with The New York Times. Read Jeremy Scahill (above) offer defenses and excuses for the use of contractors. And wonder how the hell he thinks he's holding Barack Obama accountable? He's not. But he did have time for some harsh words. You know he did. And he saved them for Hillary Clinton -- the one candidate who did respond to his article.

Hillary Clinton has been eight years on the Armed Services Committee. She's never done anything to try to crack down on contractors, never made any statements, except condemning Blackwater after Nisour Square, which everyone and their grandmother did.

No, Jeremy Scahill, "everyone and their grandmother did" not condemn Blackwater. The New York Times offered excuse in real time (and undercounted the dead) Washington Week went so far as to justify it. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress offered excuses. When Congress had Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, before them to testify about Nisour Square, they agreed ahead of time not to ask about that incident. So get your facts right. But he needs to push the LIE that "everyone and their grandmother" condemned Blackwater at that time to undercut that Hillary called them out. It's not fair, it's not holding both to the fire. But he wasn't done pimping for Bambi.

The day after my story comes out, which hit Obama pretty hard, Hillary Clinton released a statement saying that she's going to cosponsor legislation that Bernie Sanders had introduced last November that would seek to ban Blackwater and force them all out of Iraq within six months. So she now becomes the most significant political figure in the US to call for a ban on Blackwater, and she did it after Barack Obama's people came out and said, "Yeah, we're probably going to be forced to use them."

His story did not hit Bambi "pretty hard" and it's only an indication of how PATHETIC Panhandle Media is that Scahill thinks his scribble (which none of us linked to because it was so damn pathetic) was "hard" on Bambi. (Maybe Scahill was packing a hard on for Bambi and that confused him?)

"She did it after Barack Obama's people came out"? What? You wrote an article and you only went to Bambi's people (and really only two advisors spoke to you at any length, if you want to get honest, which we know you don't). Since you never went to the Clinton campaign, it's kind of hard for you to ascribe the motive to Clinton of only doing it because Barack wouldn't. Since you never spoke to them, you don't know what their answer would have been. What did happen was that you wrote an article and one candidate responded. There was nothing to prevent Bambi from agreeing after your article was published (online). Only one candidate stood up.

Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill argue that pressure needs to be applied to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Iraq. Why? We believe Naomi Klein but Scahill's actions beg any one with a brain to question his motives.

So why should we pressure the candiates on Iraq, Jeremy Scahill? According to you, they both need to be pressured and we need to make them move closer to our positions on ending the illegal war. But how do we accomplish that when Hillary Clinton moves on one issue and the response from YOU is to discredit her and to offer excuses for Bambi not making a move?

That's not holding both feet to the fire. It's the same CRAP Panhandle Media has offered all along. It's excuses for Bambi and hisses for Hillary. Even when she does what Scahill claims to want, she's still attacked and smeared and libeled by Scahill -- who is not an accredited psychic and has no way of knowing why she decided to come out against Blackwater.

No offense to Naomi Klein, who we'll assume was sincere in the column everyone ignored, but it's BULLS**T. As a solo column from Klein, it would have had meaning. But the co-author's own actions have demonstrated that, for him, it's nothing but another LIE.

For Klein's column to work, we have to pressure both candidates. For Klein's column to work, when one responds to pressure, we hail that victory (that's what it is) and move on to another aspect of the illegal war. For Klein's column to work, we do not attack the only candidate who responded, we do not question her motives.

Most importantly, we don't care why the illegal war ends at this point. We just want it to end. If Hillary was as calculating as the stereotypical comments Scahill asserts on her were true, who gives a damn? Do you want purity or do you want the war over? The peace movement is in shambles and it's largely because they're becoming SO DAMN PATHETIC.

The bulk of politicians are not going to call the war illegal while it's going on. That's for the people to do. And that's for them to continue to do when the illegal war ends. That point doesn't need to be dropped by the left as it was post-Vietnam. We need to end the illegal war NOW. Where John Murtha was when it started is no concern for us. Where he is now, is. We may not agree with everything he says or does, but he wants to end the illegal war and we support that. (Unlike The Nation magazine which ripped him apart when he -- and not Steny Hoyer -- could have been the second in charge of the House. Why is Nancy Pelosi unable to do anything on Iraq? Pelosi bears some fault, no question. But she is daily undercut by Hoyer and you can thank The Nation magazine and there little smears on Murtha for that. Strangely, War Hawk Hoyer has not been the focus of The Nation.)

You want purity, have at it. Seal yourself in an envelope and mail yourself to nowhere. But in the real world, the illegal war is not going to end because every member of Congress starts calling it "illegal." They are going to shape their messages. The bulk of the American people do not grasp that the Iraq War was illegal. (You can thank Panhandle Media for that because they soft-pedal that point.) The bulk of the people against the Iraq War today do not grasp that is illegal. Politicians are NEVER going to make points that are that far ahead of the public's recognition. The people have turned against the war, no question. But the words they use are "wrong." So when an idiot (and that's the only word for her) attempts to rip apart Hillary's call for the troops to come home, she's playing purity police and ignoring reality. But that's another feature. Scahill, if you want people to take your suggestion seriously, you need to take it seriously and thus far you've provided no indication that you do.
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