Calling Bullshit on America
Ten or so years ago, during a short stint on active duty with the United States Army, a group of medics taught me a phrase that has resonated ever since:
“I call bullshit on the entire operation!”
It's one of those timeless bits of military wisdom applicable to many, if not most, of the things soldiers are sent to do by their generals.
For these particular soldiers it encapsulated their experience of one mission in particular. Two years into the occupation of Iraq, some brilliant mind somewhere in the Baghdad Green Zone decided that a Vietnam-style air assault mission into some outlying Sunni town or other would be a fun idea. So a couple hundred soldiers get packed into a couple dozen helicopters, and off they go.
Fortunately, it was one of those days when nobody decided to shoot at the “Amriki Jundi”, and the soldiers searched the village for whatever insurgent leader or weapons cache “intelligence” thought was in the place, while the Iraqi residents did their best to stay out of the way.
Thing is, in all the planning and preparation, someone in the chain of command forgot to plan out exactly how they were supposed to get home in the event that the helicopters weren't available. For hours they sat around, avoiding the burning desert sun, surrounded by people who likely harbored at least one insurgent informant savvy enough to realize that an isolated group of soldiers makes for an excellent target.
Someone did eventually work out how to get a convoy of Humvees down to the village, and the soldiers made it back to base without casualties. Some had been ordered to simply start walking to the nearest Forward Operating Base (many miles away), with transport only showing up halfway through a hike that very nearly resulted in casualties not from insurgent attack, but dehydration in the bitter heat.
Naturally the mission was reported as a smashing success in the press - with that last bit conveniently forgotten. And so veterans of this absolutely typical military experience taught me that unforgettable and perpetually applicable bit of soldier's wisdom: “I call bullshit on the entire operation.”
It effectively sums up the way I feel about the United States of America in 2017.
There is no point in mincing words: America is dead. The 2016 election killed it as surely as an IED or a sniper's bullet. Nazis – Nazis – are now killing people. In America. with only lukewarm condemnation from the President and his loyal republicans, and another round of impotent verbal protests by the leadership of the democratic party.
The only question that truly remains is how the American corpse will be carved up at the end of the day.
This, of course, isn't something that you will hear from the Beltway elites, who day in and day out spare no effort in their ongoing campaign to shape our perceptions of the disaster that D.C. has become, always trying to convince us to keep playing the same old rigged game. The game that keeps them personally rich while preventing us from engaging in public debate about the real questions that matter. The kind of questions that, merely by being asked, violate the silent taboos that keep us locked in the futility of endless cycles of partisan warfare. Simple questions, like:
- Can either of our existing ideological parties actually govern a huge, diverse nation?
- Will their wars that now consume more than half of our federal income taxes ever end?
The answers are, of course (or why else would I write this?): No, and No. So, very much in the spirit of Thomas Paine: I call bullshit on the entire operation. I call bullshit on this version of America.
The two-party system is so empirically broken that if Americans on either side of the political spectrum had any decent leadership in the higher echelons of the party elite someone would have long ago figured out how to build a viable centrist party. The fact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became the presidential candidates for their respective parties is all the evidence anyone should need to realize that both parties are functionally dead on their feet. These were the two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern American history. Both parties had alternatives with far broader public appeal, both failed to notice or care.
They remain locked in their perpetual war of attrition. And, as typical in such a fight, continuation of the battle has long since become its own justification. It is useful to apply a biological view here: each party as an organism. While it appears that they are in constant and direct competition, in fact they've long since evolved a form of mutualism. Each party survives by extracting resources from a coalition of social groups held together mostly by fear of the consequences of the other major coalition winning in any given round of the endless game.
Consider the rhetoric of “resistance” the democrats have employed since the 2016 election. They call for it, but what do they actually do? One only has to look at Tahrir in Egypt and Maidan in Ukraine to see that people can defeat a standing government, by physically engaging in mass civil disobedience that directly impacts the government's ability to operate. Sure 2020 hopefuls like Terry McAuliffe can rattle off focus-group approved slogans to Trevor Noah, and Bernie Sanders is out there agitating for single-payer healthcare, but while they play the game by the old rules the Trumpists remain in total control of the federal government, hindered only by their own incompetence and disorganization.
The leadership of the democratic party does nothing but offer hope of change in 2018 and 2020. But the hard truth is that the democrats have learned nothing from 2016. If you want to understand why Clinton lost, simply look at her response to the poisoning of the water in Flint, Michigan. Look at how it was received by residents. Look at how many votes the democrats shed in Flint – and Detroit - between 2012 and 2016.
A sign of how little we can trust their judgment: there were clear signals in middle of summer 2016 that the democrats were extremely vulnerable in the rust belt. They completely failed to realize that polls in Iowa and Ohio – which Obama won handily in 2012 yet where Clinton was perpetually tied with or behind Trump throughout 2016 – reflected something important happening in neighboring Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. That the post-recession “recovery” had only really happened on the coasts. That too many people in the “Blue Wall” didn't believe in the democrats any more.
The democratic party's track record in crucial elections is simply abysmal. Gore, in 2000. Kerry, in 2004. Clinton, in 2016. In all three the republican candidate made it into the White House after winning swing states where voter suppression efforts were observed. The democrats have however never made a serious issue out of the repeated incidence of voter suppression in crucial swing states, despite both the clear evidence that it is taking place, that is has terrible effects on turnout among non-white voters, and that the scale of the suppression is rapidly increasing.
With a man in the White House proclaiming that the popular vote was, in effect, illegitimate (after proclaiming during the campaign that he wouldn't necessarily respect the official outcome), with voter roll purges and federal funding shifts now underway that are designed to restrict voters' access to polling places in crucial 2020 swing states, it is for the first time in modern American history reasonable to assume a serious risk of a rigged election. Very possibly one where we see large-scale violence in places where the Nazi and KKK decide they can operate freely.
History does not show that the democrats can be trusted to mount an effective resistance.
Look at them at this very moment, months into this nightmare. Where are the calls for protestors to encircle the White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and Wall Street, to refuse to budge until the entire Trump administration – anyone having signed on to this administration sharing in culpability for his actions – resigns? Where are the plans for launching national strikes? You know, the things that people in the rest of the world have always had to do whenever their government has gotten out of control? The things that actually make the politicians accountable?
V for Vendetta put it best. People shouldn't be afraid of their governments - governments should be afraid of their people. Until the democratic party leadership can demonstrate the ability and will to organize an effective counterattack, I am done with them. I call bullshit on their entire operation.
America doesn't work anymore. The root cause is obvious. Vast sums of tax dollars are hoovered up by the federal government, which then manages to waste tremendous quantities of it while perpetually under-funding the programs needed to keep the most vulnerable Americans afloat. It is instructive to look at how much Americans spend per person on healthcare, education, and the military, and compare how much value we get per dollar compared to our counterparts abroad. Typically, we spend 2 or 3 times as much per person only to achieve worse results than other advanced economies like those of Germany or Japan or Canada.
Despite the fact that America is the world's largest economy with control over a disproportionate share of global wealth, despite our pointlessly massive military budget, despite the soft power that comes with having our currency serve as the world's replacement for the Gold standard, life for a rapidly growing subset of Americans has been getting harder for decades and is set to get much worse in the near future. We are rapidly moving towards a point where it takes almost as much energy to get the next barrel of oil as it required to obtain the last one. This “energy gain” crisis will produce inflationary effects that will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable. The first effects of climate change will likely be increased frequency of unusually intense weather events, which will create increasing pressures on the global food system, which will also be felt as inflationary pressure by those least able to bear it.
America's leaders have been playing history on easy mode for more than a generation, and yet have manged, since the 1990s to completely compromise America's international position.
Which, in the coming decades, will prove increasingly consequential. In the 20th Century, the United States became an empire. At the end of the Second World War, American diplomatic and military elites quite literally decided that America's borders ran through Germany and Korea. That we had the right and responsibility to police the world. That we would be the inheritors of the then (still?) crumbling British Empire, and pax Brittania would become pax Americana.
Sustaining that empire since the end of the Second World War has cost the lives of tens of thousands of American militarypersonnel and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Sanctions and other foreign policy fiascoes have resulted in the death of millions more, in total absence of evidence that our national security has improved. Like the Germans who were forced to tour the concentration camps in 1945, all Americans should have to go through Wikipedia and count the dead. There is a strong empirical and legal case to be made that the United States of America has become the single greatest threat to global stability. And the rest of the world has noticed.
This is so desperately important for Americans to understand. Our empire's past prosperity is a result of the fact that it was originally far more benign than the one it replaced. The British Empire was willing to starve the people of India in two world wars. The American Empire, at least initially, emphasized a stable world economic order, where independent nations would be free from direct control so long as they were willing to trade with us. We became interdependent with the rest of the world, and this created the foundation for our prosperity. Then and now. By grace of our literally writing the rules of the global economy in the 1940s, we set the stage for our own ability to grow economically and provide for our citizens. We became less and less benign over time, because that is a consequence of the logic of empire – it always tries to expand. And destroys itself in the process.
But look at the world post-2016. The signs are everywhere. When a French president publicly states that “China leads”, when the US president is threatening military action almost at random, how long does it take until the uncertainty and fear starts to spill over into the economic sphere? What happens when US companies start to lose key contracts to competitors, when movements to divest and boycott the US gain steam, when China leads an effort to formally de-emphasize the dollar in international transactions? Flailing some cruise missiles at Syria won't solve those kinds of problems. Boosting the military budget by another one or two hundred billion dollars won't help.
Another truth that the Beltway establishment won't voice: America's military power is ephemeral. Vulnerable. Dependent on a network of alliances and bases around the globe. Our ability to threaten North Korea and Iran depends on willing allies who provide bases and transit for supplies. The idea that America can act alone is a total myth. So all this uncertainty, instability, and questioning of America's future that even our closest and oldest allies are now engaging in as a matter of self-preservation? There is only one way this can go: a slow, steady decline in America's influence, power, and capability to defend its interests abroad.
The root cause of this decline is two-fold: the “War on Terror” and the incestuous merger that has taken place between the Pentagon and the defense industry. How this works is well understood: to get promoted to a senior position, candidates are assessed by a board comprised of senior officers. Generals make generals, like Ph.D.s make Ph.D.s. But senior generals have a strong incentive to make sure they promote subordinates who won't threaten the status quo. A status quo where generals get to retire with a full pension, then work as highly-paid 'consultants' for the rest of their lives, regardless of their performance after promotion.
Anyone who believes that this isn't a fundamentally corrosive relationship is kidding themselves. Consider the case of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project. Almost a decade behind schedule and nearly two hundred billion dollars over-budget, the aircraft costs two to three times (there's that ratio again) more to operate per-hour than aircraft it replaces and possesses truly dubious combat capabilities compared to the initial objectives set for the platform. But the way the program has been set up ensures that it is un-killable by either party, and will function until 2070 as a veritable dollar farm for Lockheed Martin – and, of course, the congressional districts where subcontracting for the program takes place.
At the same time, the US Army can't come with replacements for its aging fleet of vehicles and the US Navy continues to spend huge sums on massive supercarriers that may not even be able to operate close enough to the coast of a future adversary to be of any military use. Ever since US President Bill Clinton sent a threatening fleet through the Taiwan Strait, China has steadily built up the capability to physically prevent such a thing from happening again. They now possess hundreds, perhaps thousands of cruise missiles that can fly farther than combat aircraft operating from our supercarriers, and have deployed hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of striking US bases throughout the western Pacific. Other nations, like Iran, are also pursuing this strategy.
The truth of the matter is that major conflict between great powers is no longer a viable means of solving international disputes. It simply can't work anymore: too many key players have nuclear weapons. The risk to the global economy is too high. If another general conflict on the scale of the World Wars were ever to break out, everyone would lose, and humanity itself might never recover.
And yet, this is never acknowledged by America's political elites. Americans do not truly comprehend, because our leaders never admit, how much our inability to pursue defense reforms is damaging our economy. By definition, resources spent on defense are effectively wasted. Build a bridge, and that is embodied capital that can be productively used for decades. Build a tank, and it gets used up, then has to be replaced. Over and over, so long as there is another “threat” to scare people with. The Soviet Union failed to learn this lesson, and eventually defense expenditures consumed their economy from the inside.
Every American should take a moment, every tax season, and give some thought to that line on their W-2 that shows the amount of federal income taxes withheld. Take that number, and divide it in half. That's your direct monetary contribution to the base defense budget. Works even if you aren't an American, but pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. That's your share of the empire. Of all the bombs and all the blood. Year after year after year. Even as half of Americans would seriously struggle to deal with a $400 expense without falling into debt.
You'd think that after the past sixteen years we'd have risen up as Americans to demand that every general who has ever set foot in the Pentagon be fired for sheer incompetence. How many years do you give to a military establishment before deciding that enough is enough and that they've completely, totally failed in their fundamental mission?
I call bullshit on the entire operation.
To be frank, I write this in a spirit of absolute despair. And disgust. Our Constitution has been trampled, our flag and the sacrifices of our grandparents – many of whom died to defeat the Nazis of their time, have been dishonored. And yet our supposed leaders do nothing but keep playing the same stale partisan game. We are all colonized subjects of the American Empire. Some more than others, but to paraphrase Tolkien, writing of his time as a soldier in the service of his Empire in the First World War: We are all Orcs.
The only viable way forward involves a complete dismantling of our Imperial Capitol, Washington D.C. Probably by porting the entire thing down to a set of six or eight or nine regional federal governments, each with the right to interpret the Constitution as its citizens prefer. In essence, the same sort of process that resulted in Canada and Australia and the other members of the Commonwealth receiving political independence. I say, Let the Pacific States take over all responsibility for managing America's affairs in the broader Pacific. Let the Texas Republic go free. Make Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi their own republic. Free Miami (until it is swallowed by the Atlantic in 2053). Let Oklahoma be Oklahoma and Oregon be Oregon. Let us all pay taxes to a federal government over which we can actually exert meaningful control.
It will require a Constitutional Amendment to get the job done. But frankly, a Constitutional Amendment is probably what is required to take America back anyway. To make it happen, a non-partisan movement, or some sort of union of movements, will be necessary.
But now that neo-Nazis are on the march, and neither party is capable of producing a leader on par with a Roosevelt or even an Eisenhower, the fact of America's death should be obvious to everyone. The question is now how long the charade continues before some major crisis erupts and spirals totally out of control.
So I call bullshit on America, the two party system, and the military-industrial complex in general. We need to come up with a plan for fighting back. And we need a champion.
But not a white guy like myself. The leader we need is young, competent, and bold, and she is also a combat veteran, who has lost friends and possibly bits of herself in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other forgotten battlefield. She is probably some shade of brown, perhaps a child of immigrants. She may have served as an officer, though I personally hope that she hails from the enlisted side, because sergeants and other non-commissioned officers: they know how to get things done. She must be, in every way, the anti-Trump.
I don't know who she is. Or where she lives. But I hope she reads this, and hears the call. And I hope that she isn't alone. Because to win this war, to take our country back, we will need an army.
EDIT in 2019 - heh, so not only did Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez make it into Congress (I voted for her even though she wasn't running in my district, but to hell with Kurt Schrader), but Tulsi Gabbard is running for President, and Ilhan Omar continues to stand firm despite vicious attacks on her character by Islamophobic trolls. Progress is good to see. Unfortunately, the Democratic establishment is roaring down its usual self-destructive path, and will do all it can to silence their voices. But hey, at least I've got some people to root for.