Same Old, Same Oldtags: Murray Polner Dick Cheney Tom Engelhardt
Same Old, Same Old.
By Murray Polner
Dick Cheney is my favorite political figure. Who else but our secretive, still influential uber-hawk who managed to obtain five draft exemptions and then famously bragged to the Washington Post’s George C. Wilson, “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service” could have been so upfront and meant it? But gee, Dick, so did I and millions of others have “other priorities” but we still had to show up and learn to march, salute and do KP.
“Game Change,” that razor-sharp film (based on the Heinemann and Halperin book) about the McCain-Palin presidential race in 2008 is an even better Cheney story, apocryphal or not. Centering on Palin’s astonishing lack of knowledge, the film has McCain’s dejected inner circle sitting around trying to fathom what went wrong when Jamey Sheridan, the actor playing McCain speech writer Mark Salter, suddenly speaks up.
“You know what Dick Cheney said when we picked her?”
“What,” asks Woody Harrelson playing campaign boss Steve Schmidt.
“Said we made a reckless choice.”
Long, pregnant pause.
And then “Salter” adds, “When you lose the moral high ground to Dick Cheney you have to rethink your entire life.”
But never underestimate Cheney. He’s a shrewd survivor. His vision of an America strong enough to police the world and take on all comers still commands extensive support. Tom Engelhardt is his complete opposite. In his latest book Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars and a Global Security State in a Single-Power World, he writes that Cheney and his friends and allies were convinced that Watergate and Vietnam had placed the president in “chains” and after 9/11 they set out to “take the gloves off.” And then, “From this urge flowed the decision to launch a ‘Global War on Terror’—that is, to establish a ‘wartime’ with no possible end that would leave a commander-in-chief president in the White House till hell froze over.”
Engelhardt’s estimable online TomDispatch is a valuable source for anyone desperate for alternatives to America’s historic addiction to war. It publishes writers rarely read or viewed in mainstream media and, very much in the hallowed tradition of George Seldes’s “In Fact” and I.F. Stone’s weekly -- or for that matter, the contemporary libertarian Antiwar.com and the smart anti- neocon The American Conservative. Reading TomDispatch and like-minded sites we can visualize the infestation of our Capital City with its bought and sold politicians, predisposed think tanks-- many subsidized by foreign governments according to the New York Times – and its multitude of pundits and lobbyists, all doing quite well financially, thank you, engaged in what Engelhardt charmingly calls the “national and homeland security racket.” It’s also what he puts down as the “Lockdown State,” where secret people run secret wars using secret torture hideouts with secret torture chambers.
But in the end, we cynics need to say: Great stuff, Tom, far better than Cheney’s take, but what do we do with all this information and criticism, a rough cross between Ron Paul and George McGovern? How do we change things? Engelhardt offers several ideas but one in particular stands out as absurd as anything our ex-VP ever uttered. To Engelhardt. the move to a volunteer army was a grave error since it detached the military from the rest of us, rendering our military a sort of “foreign legion.” Vietnam’s disproportionately conscript army was “at the edge of rebellion,” he says, quoting one source, and was “voting with its feet against an imperial war.” With the advent of the volunteer army, Engelhardt continues, a “1 percent version of American war was coming to fruition, “unchecked by a draft Army” [my italics]. A new book, The Invisible Soldiers by Anne Hagedorn, confirms the continual and growing use of private contractors – according to a 2013 Congressional Research study they comprised half the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and they’re a lot cheaper than a draft in the long run since they receive no lifetime medical care or pensions. What then?
When I first read those words – unchecked by a draft Army-- I thought he was kidding. I don’t know if Engelhardt ever served on active duty in a conscript army but he needs to explain how 20 year old draftees can “check” warmakers dead set on making war. A new draft, some on the left have argued, will help keep us out of war or at the least help close it down. Too fast.
How so? I assume Engelhardt and advocates of a draft mean by a return to passionate sixties-style marches, fiery demonstrations, aroused college students, and discontented voters. I have my doubts, but preventing or stopping wars certainly won’t come about by drafting a new generation of kids while the rest of us stay-at-homes hope they’ll rise against their masters once they put on a uniform. Yes, there was “fragging,”underground newspapers, discontent, and lots of dope smoked in Vietnam but millions of draftees and short term enlistees had little to do with ending the war, which eventually came about when powerful political and economic interests chose to call it quits. And while the draft was still on, Nixon called on “silent” Americans to speak up in defense of the war and Americans voted overwhelmingly for him against McGovern, a genuine peace candidate.
It’s a sixties fantasy that our bellicose hawks can be intimidated by shanghaiing a new generation of our into the military rather than countering them by working very hard educating, organizing, voting, building constant pressure and offering serious, realistic antiwar alternatives. Lib-left dreamers to the contrary, if you give our homefront warriors a million or more draftees a year a chance to show the world who’s still boss, they surely will, Remember Madeleine Albright’s gem when she challenged Colin Powell, advocate of more limited military interventions: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
All a draft can ever do is whet the appetite of those always ready to reach for their guns. The truth is we had a draft before Korea and Vietnam and we know how much that accomplished to prevent or shorten those wars, where 100,000 GIs, so many of them draftees, were killed while so many others were damaged in body and mind.
Cheney preferred working the sidelines but he recently reminded his fellow Republicans that the true path to victory in the GWOT is to keep strengthening the military and battling the [alleged] growth of American isolationism at home. That’s our policy and will be even after we choose a new president in 2016 who, you can bet, will end up following the same old, same old, track, pretty close to Cheney’s views. I wouldn’t want to hand the next man or woman in the White House a million or so draftees to play around with.
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