Beware savvy, sophisticate liberals bearing gifts of evasive and ethically empty prose. Having, for my sins, spent a few weeks reading just about everything on offer from what unrepentant neocon zealot – and born-again Washington Post columnist – Max Boot dubbed Joe Biden’s foreign policy "A-Team," I can vouch for the new transition team’s vapidity and verisimilitude. Put another way, Boot’s favored Biden Posse – the Iran nuke channeling, P4 (Tony Blinken, Avril Haines, Jake Sullivan, and Nicholas Burns) +1 (Michèle Flournoy) – have a rare gift for typing tons but saying little.
Worse still, what they do let slip drips with subtext of status quo-hawkishness – Biden’s shadow team of five ground hogs spotting their shadows and predicting four more years of warfare winter. Moreover, these aren’t just any Washington lowland creatures – they’re being groomed, respectively, for national security adviser, director of national intelligence, a senior diplomatic role, possible secretary of state, and probable secretary of defense.
Only you’re not supposed to look under the lid of Biden’s national security transition team, because, well…uh, Trump was worse, and…there’s, like, lots of ladies in the lineup. No really, "serious" people are saying that. With straight faces. And clear consciences. With no consequences. What a world!
This column’s immediate genesis, though, was Glenn Greenwald ’s vicious and vital responsive-evisceration of MSNBC contributor – and self-described "thriver on chaos" – Mieke Eoyang’s recent nonsense Newspeak tweet. Here’s her attempt to silence through shaming – and signaling by buzzword:
White progressives training their fire on women and women of color who are under consideration to lead the nat sec departments makes me deeply uncomfortable about their allyship for those communities.— Mieke Eoyang (@MiekeEoyang) November 13, 2020
Especially when the nat sec community is dominated by white men.
Turns out war-enablers and war-profiteers are kosher – so long as they’re "woke" warmongers!
Given her background – "professional staff member" on congressional intel and armed service committees – it’s hardly a shock to find Eoyang shackled to the classic Democrat’s dilemma: we must war, so as to be credible enough to peace. Proving that point, her co-authored 2016 article, asked of Hillary Clinton’s assumedly impending election: "This year, will Democrats finally reclaim their mantle as the party of national security?" Or, as her bio describes, once the life was technocrated out of the language: Eoyang’s "committed to crafting a national security strategy that is both tough and smart." Gotta hedge with that T-word, after all, if one’s to play a passable liberal on TV – or open (revolving) doors to future think tank, consultancy, or transition team gigs!
However, it’s what she next tweeted – offering further explanation – that mandated some serious corrective:
Efforts to tar @micheleflournoy and @AmbassadorRice as warmongers or in the pocket of the defense industry belittles their expertise and experience. Further, it mistakes their personal views for the contexts in which they served and the President whom they served.— Mieke Eoyang (@MiekeEoyang) November 13, 2020
To summarize the absurdity of what Eoyang posits: Progressives, or any antiwar activists, can’t criticize Biden transitioner’s – especially female – records, nor their demonstrable blood money-ties because it "mistakes" the "personal views" of these expert, experienced insiders for the "contexts" and "president" they served.
Brilliant, that. Since, after all, one can’t really know those views – or "tar" their holders according – without stretching the very definition of personal. Hail Yossarian! Or, if you’ll indulge my imaginary Joe Heller-like exchange with Ms. Eoyang:
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22” Danny observed.
“It’s the best there is” Mieke agreed.
Nevertheless, though one doubts she’d count them as strictly "personal," we do have a rather sizable body of the P4+1 posse’s published prose and public pontification to draw from. Thus, tabling, for now, the transition team’s intense and incestuous ties to the think tank-consulting [paid] subsidiary of the weapons industry – though keep an eye out for my subject deep dive in TomDispatch.com next Sunday – let’s try a different tack. Consider this cursory survey of some influential issues – sticking mainly to the Mideast – facing the next administration, a sort of predictive record of Biden’s bunch in their own words:
It all starts, and flows downward with from the metaphysics inherent in this clinical cult of delusion. In early 2019, Obama’s ex-director of policy planning at the State Department, Jake Sullivan, recommended not ditching, but "rescuing" American exceptionalism. Got that? I’ll resist the temptation – and time-save – of stopping here, and proceed with some specific policy.
Intel community accountability and detainee abuse
Let’s start with the first female deputy director of the CIA, Avril Haines. In 2015, she approved the recommendations of then CIA chief Johns Brennan’s "accountability board," in the wake of stunning Senate Intelligence Committee torture revelations – dramatized in the 2019 Amazon original The Report. The board defanged the CIA’s own inspector general’s assessment, and decided against disciplining even those agents who’d spied on their Senate overseers. After Brennan recused himself, Haines accepted the board’s conclusions, unapologetically explaining:
"I found the Board’s review and conclusions to be persuasive and consequently, I accepted their recommendations. I have no trouble believing that people disagreed with the Board’s conclusions or, for that matter, my acceptance of them."
Then, in 2018, Haines publicly supported the torture-implicated Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In doing so, she joined an infamous crop of fellow formers:
- CIA Directors George Tenet, Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and John Brennan;
- CIA National Clandestine Service chief [and torture "architect and champion“] Jose Rodriguez;
- Directors of National Intelligence James Clapper and [Contra death squad-enthusiast] John Negroponte;
- And Secretary of State Henry "real life ‘realist’ war criminal” Kissinger.
Damned if this company [wo]man wasn’t in good company with a veritable who’s who of American torture, coup-fostering, drone assassination, and general destabilization.
Muddled meddling and U.S. adventurism blowback
Thanks to WikiLeaks and Max Blumenthal’s key opening plug in his book The Management of Savagery, we’re now aware – though hardly enough of us – of an infamous February 2012 email that pilot fish Jake Sullivan offhandedly fired off to his patron shark, Secretary Clinton: "AQ is on our side in Syria. Otherwise, things have basically turned out as expected."
Well, it was perfectly predictable how careless catalyzing intervention in another messy Mideast civil war would turn out. American troops are still there – guarding oil old school empire-style and "balancing Iran,” in the guise of fighting an ISIS-monster US aggression helped create. Still with me?
On top of his callous Syria-catalyzing via email, ole Jake was also knee-deep in a disastrous Libyan regime change. In fact, he recommended his boss be publicized as "a critical voice" and "the public face of the US effort in Libya" – bragging that Clinton was "instrumental in…tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime." Perhaps that explains why a Vox profile dubbed Sullivan “the man behind hawkish Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy."
Looking back on the bloody debacle in a 2019 interview at Dartmouth College, Jake still wouldn’t cut the Obama-Clinton Libya policy loose, explaining: "I’ve struggled with the question of if we had it to do over again would we have participated in the Libya intervention. And I don’t have a definitive answer on that yet." Let us know when you’ve decided, Jake – of course, by then you’ll likely be at the top rungs of American diplomacy.
Yemen war crime-enabling and Gulf State Support
As if he wasn’t unapologetic enough about the Libya fiasco, Sullivan offered this casual and lifeless evasion regarding his big boss approving and supporting a Saudi terror war that’s starved about 100,000 Yemeni children to death, and killed a couple of hundred thousand other people:
"The view of the [Obama] Administration at the time was that our participation would be a net positive to reducing the worst potential outcomes of the military action. After now going on four years of that experiment, it’s clear that that calculus did not bear out in practice."
When the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing was first kicking off in 2015, the George W. Bush-retread, former ambassador Nicholas Burns, argued that the Obama administration’s "tough challenge” in Yemen, was to to "lend our support to try to stabilize the situation a little bit to allow diplomacy to take place to separate these warring parties." How’d that turn out? And, side note: I wonder how Washington’s genteel hawks would feel if their own children and gated communities were "temporarily" subjected to exploding U.S.-manufactured munitions in order to allow a bit of diplomacy to [maybe] to take place?
More recently, in a June 2020 interview, Sullivan doubled-down on Saudi-support, even responding to questions about the kingdom’s brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi: "I think we should deepen our support for Saudi in terms of the legitimate threats it faces…I think the United States should go even deeper from the point of view of its technical assistance and security cooperation on that set of issues."
Nor was Sullivan alone in his autocrat-enabling behavior – in 2019, four years into Saudi crimes against Yemen, Flournoy argued against a ban on weapons sales to the kingdom. The more things change…am I right?
Reflexive resorts to force
Here’s how even fellow tribe member, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, assessed Jake Sullivan – though it reads more like an indictment: “On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive US engagement on issues” and “responses that would incorporate some military element." Longtime Biden hand, and former deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken, agrees wholeheartedly. He concluded his 2015 keynote address at the Council on Foreign Relations – titled "Identifying a Strategic Approach to the Middle East" – by arguing the US"should lead from a position of strength with unrivaled military might."
But let’s the frontrunner for secretary of defense, and Obama’s former undersecretary of defense for policy, Michelle Flournoy ring in the new year of mannered militarism. In 2016, when she was first rumored as a (Clintonian) Pentagon top prospect, she co-authored a report – for a war funded think tank she co-founded – titled “Expanding American Power." Her writing team included such hawk-classic’s as former Dick Cheney aide Eric Edelman, neocon brainchild Robert Kagan, and George W. Bush-era national security adviser Stephen Hadley. The report sought to differentiate Clinton’s foreign policy from Obama’s – including "significantly increased" military spending, arming Ukraine, and"stronger efforts to counter" Iran.
Funny: Didn’t The Donald do all three?
That this Biden bunch was preemptively cheered by Max Boot – the ghost of Rudyard Kipling’s ghostwriter in a fedora – probably should’ve given progressives more pause. (This, something less than hyperbolic: Boot’s 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace peddled unapologetic neo-imperialism – with its title lifted from Kipling’s poem, “White Man’s Burden.") Anyway, the guy whose book was basically a shameless recruiting manual for his recommended reboot of European colonial constabularies, just gushes over the incoming Biden squad.
That tainted endorsement recalls the retort of a famous future general – World War I supreme commander John J. Pershing – after an infamous massacre in a US Philippine-occupation full of massacres (that Max’s book pitched as a modern model): "I would not want to have that on my conscience for the fame of Napoleon."
There you have it, America: meet your new crop urbane imperialists!
And, for Ms. Eoyang’s sake, please mind your manners…there’re ladies in the [war-]room!
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at Antiwar.com, and director of the soon-to-launch Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, Scheer Post and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge and Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War. Along with fellow vet Chris "Henri" Henriksen, he co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and on his website for media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen