Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- On Monday of this week, both The New York Times and USA Today published anonymously sourced stories reporting that the Department of Defense (news - web sites) was considering plunging deeply into the disinformation business.

Richard Reeves
Richard Reeves

"Such missions," said The Times, "could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations."

The timing suggests these stories were leaked by people in the Pentagon (news - web sites) trying to stop the military before it kills again -- or simply shoots itself in the foot. The idea suggests there are crazy people in the Department of Defense. Criminally insane, in this case.

By mission and nature, the military in a democracy exists in an alternate universe. President Richard Nixon, for one, brought as many officers into his White House as he could because they followed orders and kept their mouths shut.

Still, he was not surprised in 1972 when he learned that military liaison officers were emptying in-boxes and wastebaskets at night in the White House and taking the contents over to the Pentagon for surreptitious inspection. "You have to assume that the military serves itself," Nixon said to his civilians at the time. "They're watching you all the time."

Having less to hide than Nixon did, I doubt I've been watched very closely by anybody. But I have watched the military closely, and like many reporters of my generation I believe that officers lie as a matter of course -- about death counts, about weapons testing, about torture. They see themselves under siege by naive outsiders, distrusting the press to the point of considering reporters the enemy.

That view, which condones lies both casual and critical, tends to produce short-term gains and long-term disaster. It can be funny when you're there. Covering the covert wars of Central America in the 1980s, I stayed for a time at the Maya Hotel in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Each morning handsome and athletic young Americans with boots tied together by their laces flung over their shoulders would crowd into the elevator. "What are you doing here?" I would ask.

"Vacation, sir!" they would answer.

Sometimes it was not funny at all. In September of that year, 1983, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Paul Kelley, appeared before a congressional committee questioning the mission and safety of a Marine peacekeeping force in Beirut, Lebanon: "There is not a significant danger at this time to our Marines ... no evidence that any of the rocket or artillery fire has been specifically directed against Marines."

That was not true. The 1,200 Marines, training the Christian-led Lebanese armed forces, were being attacked constantly by Muslim militias. The reason Kelley was lying -- or was totally incompetent -- was to protect President Reagan's fiction that his men were not in a "hostile situation," which would have triggered provisions of the War Powers Act of 1973 and could have forced the commander in chief to withdraw the Marines within 60 days.

Ordered to pretend that they were not in a combat zone, those Marines were under rules of engagement prohibiting perimeter guards to have cartridge clips in their weapons. Four weeks after Kelley's appearance, a suicide bomber in a truck full of high explosives drove over and through those guards and blew up himself and his load in the lobby of American headquarters. Two hundred and forty-one Americans, most of them Marines, were killed.

Now someone is talking about lying not as a military defensive mechanism but as strategy, as policy. I could go on -- about Vietnam or about Baghdad -- but I hope the point is made. Lying kills.

In the end, it is the young men and women of the military who suffer. Theirs is not to question why -- although a couple of foot soldiers did last week in asking Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld why there was no armor on their vehicles. Higher-ups might have asked why there are not more troops on the ground there, but they have followed White House orders and kept their mouths shut.

For the historically minded, President Reagan's special representative to the Middle East, appointed just after the Beirut bombing, was the same Donald Rumsfeld. Though there are many who think the man is nuts, few consider him a criminal. But if he lets this go ahead, he will be judged as both -- and Americans in uniform will never be believed abroad or at home.


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