Tag Archives: military

What Can We Do About Fox?

I subscribe to a newsletter from Tom Nichols, a non-crazy conservative who writes for the Atlantic, among other outlets. Nichols recently addressed a problem that pretty much everyone who isn’t crazy recognizes: Fox “News.”

Nichols taught at the Naval War College for 25 years; he worked closely with many American military officers, and he has become increasingly worried about the danger of extremism in the ranks–a situation made worse, in his view, by the fact that Fox is the “default channel in so many military installations.

The overlap between Fox and even more-extreme outlets such as Newsmax and One America News Network, a slew of right-wing internet sites, and talk radio is part of a closed information ecosystem that affects the military no less than it does American society at large. Many years ago, I defended the emergence of Fox as an antidote to the politically homogeneous center-left tilt of the established American media. (Please spare me too much caviling here about media bias back in the Good Old Days; it was less of a menace than conservatives depicted it, but more of a reality than liberals were sometimes willing to admit.)

But things change: Fox is no longer an additional source of news and opinion. It is, instead, a steady stream of conspiracy theories and rage-bait, especially in prime time.

As Nichols explains, there is a significant and important difference between different views held by people who have reached opposing conclusions about various issues and people whose opinions aren’t derived from anything that might remotely be considered evidence or fact.

I am increasingly concerned, however, that what comes from Fox and similar outlets these days is not a “view” so much as an attack on reality itself. As Russian dissident Garry Kasparov has noted, modern propaganda isn’t designed “only to misinform or push an agenda”; it is meant to “exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth,” a good description of how Fox and similar outlets now present their programming… …To watch Fox for an extended amount of time is to go on an excursion into an alternate reality of paranoia and fury, to plunge into a hurricane of anger that shapes views by defying logic and evidence.

I agree. So–I repeat the question with which I’ve been approaching most of the issues of our day: what can/should we do?

Nichols’ response echoes generations of First Amendment case law: the answer to bad speech is more and better speech. More openness, not censorship. Nichols insists that the  answer to an authoritarian challenge cannot be more authoritarianism. (He also dismisses the predictable calls to bring back the Fairness Doctrine–calls from people who clearly don’t understand what that doctrine did and didn’t do. The Fairness Doctrine was a  1949 rule, finally discarded in 1987, that applied ONLY to broadcast channels owned by the government. Ownership allowed government to attach conditions to the lease of those airwaves–attempting to apply it to cable or other privately owned means of communication would violate the First Amendment.)

I used to share with students something I called my “refrigerator theory of Free Speech”–like the forgotten leftover in the back of your refrigerator now covered in green fuzz, suppressed ideas will eventually smell the place up. Put those same leftovers in bright sunlight, and their stench is baked out.  The marketplace of ideas can’t function properly unless there’s verbal sunlight, and freedom of speech requires that We the People participate in that marketplace and produce that sunlight–in this case, more and better speech.

As Nichols says,

No matter how much you don’t like it, you cannot ban, censor, or silence Fox. It’s that simple. You can choose not to watch it and encourage others to do likewise—which can have more impact than you might think. Another possibility is for businesses and institutions to choose neutral programming in common areas such as sports or weather, as military exchanges (stores for military personnel) did in 2019.

He is absolutely right–and that’s what’s so incredibly frustrating. Bottom line, rescuing our democracy necessarily depends upon the efforts of millions of reasonable Americans to combat the hatreds, fears and racial grievances that motivate the members of today’s GOP cult and provide the content of its propaganda arms.

Ultimately, America’s survival as a democratic republic will come down to whether good people–including genuine conservatives–outnumber, outvote and occasionally out-yell the White Nationalists, theocrats and other angry, frightened people who are the target audience of outlets like Fox “News.”

There’s no guarantee those good people will prevail…..and that’s what is so terrifying….

 

The Military And January 20th

In passing, during their most recent New York Times “Conversation,” Gail Collins and Bret Stephens wondered whether the American military would remove Trump from the Oval Office if he loses but refuses to go. 

Stephens emphasized the importance of having a secretary of defense who puts the Constitution first, and dismissed the widespread belief that “the upper reaches of the armed forces are one uniform bloc of Trump voters.”

Most general officers I know are pretty moderate in their views and deeply committed to the idea of a depoliticized military and civilian control. I’m also guessing they weren’t exactly impressed by the bone spurs deferments.

Stephens also reminded Collins that most of the people who see Trump up close and personal come to really hate him, an observation supported most recently by the very public resignation of one Kyle Murphy from a position as a senior analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Murphy wrote about it for an industry publication, Just Security, “after experiencing firsthand the actions of U.S. government leaders to suppress nonviolent dissent during the recent nationwide protests for racial justice.”

But it was an open letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, written by John Nagl, a retired Army officer and veteran of both Iraq wars, and Paul Yingling, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served three tours in Iraq, another in Bosnia, and a fifth in Operation Desert Storm that really displayed the commitment to the Constitution and civilian control that Stephens referenced.

That letter pulled no punches.

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you are well aware of your duties in ordinary times: to serve as principal military advisor to the president of the United States, and to transmit the lawful orders of the president and Secretary of Defense to combatant commanders. In ordinary times, these duties are entirely consistent with your oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” 

We do not live in ordinary times. The president of the United States is actively subverting our electoral system, threatening to remain in office in defiance of our Constitution. In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your Constitutional oath. We write to assist you in thinking clearly about that choice. If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order. 

Due to a dangerous confluence of circumstances, the once-unthinkable scenario of authoritarian rule in the United States is now a very real possibility. First, as Mr. Trump faces near certain electoral defeat, he is vigorously undermining public confidence in our elections. Second, Mr. Trump’s defeat would result in his facing not merely political ignominy, but also criminal charges. Third, Mr. Trump is assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement. When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the U.S. military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.

The letter–which I urge you to click through and read in its entirety–then proceeds to list the President’s criminal behaviors and to enumerate his efforts to subvert the election.  Nagl and Yingling write that America’s political and legal institutions “have so atrophied that they are ill-prepared for this moment. Senate Republicans, already reduced to supplicant status, will remain silent and inert, as much to obscure their complicity as to retain their majority.”

At this moment of Constitutional crisis, only two options remain. Under the first, U.S. military forces escort the former president from the White House grounds. Trump’s little green men, so intimidating to lightly armed federal law enforcement agents, step aside and fade away, realizing they would not constitute a good morning’s work for a brigade of the 82nd Airborne. Under the second, the U.S. military remains inert while the Constitution dies. The succession of government is determined by extralegal violence between Trump’s private army and street protesters; Black Lives Matter Plaza becomes Tahrir Square….As the senior military officer of the United States, the choice between these two options lies with you. 

For 240 years, the United States has been spared the horror of violent political succession. Imperfect though it may be, our Union has been moving toward greater perfection, from one peaceful transfer of power to the next. The rule of law created by our Constitution has made this miracle possible. However, our Constitutional order is not self-sustaining. Throughout our history, Americans have laid down their lives so that this form of government may endure. Continuing the unfinished work for which these heroes fell now falls to you. 

When the rubber meets the road…..

Walmarts Of War

The words used by knowledgable people to describe the size of America’s military budget  range from “bloated’ to “obscene.” The United States spends more on military hardware, troops, bases and the like than most of the rest of the world combined. Even the Pentagon recommends significant cuts, including base closures.

So why doesn’t it happen? Why does Congress routinely vote more money for the Department of Defense than the Department requests?

The answer is in that famous James Carrville motto: It’s the economy, stupid.

Manufacturers who contract with Defense are significant employers in numerous Congressional Districts. Anyone who was paying attention several years ago when there was a round of base closings can attest to the howls of anguish emanating from the local proprietors of businesses that depended upon those defense workers to buy their goods, patronize their bars and restaurants and rent or buy housing.

The reality of that dependence is daunting enough; it has prevented us from paring back a no longer necessary, too-costly war machine that is increasingly focused on fighting the last war. (The Russians are currently demonstrating that cyberwars are much less expensive…) But so long as our tax dollars were supporting a wide range of manufacturers pumping money into an equally wide number of communities, it was possible to understand–if not approve– the justifications offered.

Now, however, we’re just enriching a shrinking number of plutocrats, as Mark Thompson has reported.

The merger mania that surged as the Cold War wound down—when 51 aerospace and defense companies shrank to five—is making a comeback. The “military-industrial complex” that President (and five-star Army general) Dwight Eisenhower warned us of in 1961 has funneled down to a few “Walmarts of war,” as Daniel Wirls, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, quoted defense researchers calling the surviving contractors in a June 26 Washington Post column. Less competition can drive up costs while dampening innovation. Backers counter that efficiencies, job cuts, primarily, lead to lower costs that can save the Pentagon money—rarely—or let it buy more for the same price—also rare. And the middlemen—the lawyers and financiers who nurture these deals—do just fine, thanks.

Thompson detailed the defense mergers, and reported on their consequences.

In May, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) notedthe dire effect of consolidation. Even though the Pentagon has cut four programs from its must-have list, the GAO said, its remaining 82 major programs had grown in cost by $8 billion, to a cool $1.69 trillion. “Portfolio-wide cost growth has occurred in an environment where awards are often made without full and open competition,” the Congressional watchdog agency added. “Specifically, GAO found that DOD did not compete 67 percent of 183 major contracts currently reported for its 82 major programs.” Nearly half of those contracts—47 percent—went the current Big 5: Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop, and United Technologies (the numbers are even grimmer for taxpayers if supposedly “competitive” bids lead to only a single bidder)….

Worse, the Pentagon pipeline for missiles and munitions is plagued with problems, including “material obsolescence and lack of redundant capability, lack of visibility into sub-tier suppliers causing delays in the notification of issues, loss of design and production skill, production gaps and lack of surge capacity planning, and aging infrastructure to manufacture and test the products,” the report warns. “Production gaps for munitions and missiles directly reduce the U.S. capability to deliver kinetic effects against adversaries.” In October, a second report from the Trump Administration saidthe nation has an increasingly “fragile” defense-industrial base with “entire industries near domestic extinction” and growing reliance on foreign sources.

It is increasingly obvious that the United States needs to rethink virtually all aspects of our approach to national defense–to determine what is really needed to keep the nation safe from foreign attack in the 21st Century, a time when danger comes less and less from state actors and more and more from terrorist cells and internet bots.

The kind of rethinking that is needed will require the best efforts of men and women who are experts in international relations and the intricacies of warfare–not simply military hardware, but strategy and especially the changing nature of the threats we face.

This is a particularly unfortunate time to be governed by corrupt buffoons who have no understanding of government, economics, foreign affairs or science.