Beltway Bunkum

It has been observed that the elites that prowl the streets of the nation’s capital and proliferate in the universities and think tanks nationwide have little in common with most of the American people.  The talking heads whose fraternal banter can be best observed on Sunday morning television represent the inner circle punditry, all of whom embrace the view that the United States should be engaged worldwide and forever for the good of mankind, a view that large portions of the public do not necessarily share as the economy sinks and boys and girls from small towns are increasingly coming home in coffins.  Of course, among the advantages in being a television personality are a high income and status, good benefits, and relative job security, particularly if one is prepared to stroke the powers that be, underlining the fact that inside-the-Washington-beltway reality has little to do with the rest of the world.

It is sometimes quite astonishing how ridiculous the opinion makers can be as they argue that black is white.  Sunday’s Washington Post featured a front page article on WikiLeaks.  The sub-headline in the print edition described WikiLeaks as an "anti-privacy group."  It is a curious turn of phrase, particularly as it is the US government that has invaded the privacy of every citizen and millions of others around the world in its global crusade to root out terrorists.  One can only assume the authors of the piece, Ian Shapira and Joby Warrick, were seeking to personalize what they perceive to be the international threat represented by WikiLeaks by equating privacy with secrecy.  Or perhaps deliberately confusing privacy with secrecy.  Was the intention to make the Post reader feel threatened, as if Julian Assange is invading every American home?  Perhaps.

Flipping over to the Post‘s opinion page, one also found "right turn" commentator Jennifer Rubin singing the praises of incoming Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  Rubin believes that Ros-Lehtinen will "scrutinize the gap between rhetoric and results."  She asks "Why are we giving $1.5 billion to Hosni Mubarak…why aren’t we more robustly supporting Iran’s green movement?"  Why indeed.  But she fails to ask why are we giving Israel $3 billion when Tel Aviv continues to pursue policies that are more directly damaging to the United States than anything being done by Egypt or Iran? It is a question that Ros-Lehtinen and Rubin will no doubt avoid raising and symptomatic of the blinders that are on regarding the issue of Israel.  It also reflects the fact that the inside the beltway crowd approaches United States foreign policy from a fixed status quo perspective that is essentially Manichean, framing every issue in black and white terms.  It makes for good theater but bad policy.

And the idiocy is not restricted to newspapers as the inner circle nomenklatura and the outer-circle wannabes jockey for position and pecking order inside the beltway.  Over at The Washington Note the always striving Steve Clemons reports, based on a high level administration source whom he does not name, that Obama is really serious about peace in the Middle East.  He cites the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy over a year ago as a "defining first move" and proof of the seriousness.  Well, if Steve had dug into his sources a little more assiduously he would have discovered that George Mitchell’s numerous trips to the Mideast region have made no progress whatsoever because of lack of backing from an unfocused Obama in the near continuous guerrilla warfare with Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.  Mitchell’s staff reports that he makes his trips, comes back, and shares nothing with them because there is nothing to share.  To complete Mitchell’s isolation, the ubiquitous "lawyer for Israel" Dennis Ross, a presumed source for The Washington Note, has accomplished an end run on the former senator from Maine, shaping the policy directly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton without so much as a boo to Mitchell.  Ross and Clinton were the sources of the recent astonishing $3 billion bribe offered to Israel in a desperate attempt to get Netanyahu to behave (somewhat) for ninety days.  Mitchell was nowhere to be found.

To his credit, Steve Clemons has thought long and agonizingly about the Middle East imbroglio and has done some excellent work in debunking the global war on terror but his desire to craft a solution based on accepted notions about the Palestine-Israel conflict means that he will never grasp the nettle. The Washington Note should not really be blamed for its failure to understand that there is no peace process apart from a permanent bureaucratic engagement intended to go nowhere while Israel steals more Arab land. Even if there were such a thing, no one in Washington would be serious about it anyway.  The Note‘s failure is intrinsic in that it does not dare to challenge why Washington should be involved in the conflict in the first place. To do so would question the fundamental operating principle of Washington’s elites, always eager to back global interventionism and the huge cash flows that imperialism generates.  To discern what everyone outside Washington sees clearly requires stepping back and observing that Emperor Obama has no clothes, and nor does anyone else in the Washington establishment, something difficult for a beltway insider to assimilate.  It means admitting that there is no longer any rational and sustainable foreign policy being generated by the elites who surface in The Washington Note and just about everywhere else in the media.  If the Note were to make that indigestible point, all the obliging insiders that currently provide their valuable insights to give the blog its gravitas would melt away, so it is an observation that will never be made. 

In a moment of high drama, half way through his article Clemons asserts his status as an insider who is nevertheless unafraid to challenge the status quo, buttonholing his unnamed source: "My question then was, what next? And the response was incomplete but probably sound. ‘We are studying options.’"  And if the recollection of all the Mideast peace options that have been studied over the past forty years was not enough to cauterize one’s prefrontal lobes, Clemons magisterially concludes his brief piece with "my sources say that the door is open for new frames that could capture the day and change the current paralyzed standoff."  Wow. Obviously inside-the-beltway well-wired sources talking about "new frames."  Does anyone understand what that is supposed to mean apart from a confirmation that Clemons gets to use arcane expressions with really important people?  It is all a bit of nonsense that truly qualifies for the Beltway Bunkum award for this week.

Clemons might also note that his piece about Obama being serious about peace and intending to persevere was followed on the next day by a Washington Post article by Glenn Kessler saying pretty much the same thing from the perspective of Hillary Clinton.  I wonder if someone in the White House was promoting a narrative that he knew would be picked up by Clemons and Kessler to show that Obama is really on top of things?  Is it possible that they were being used to help a president who is in deep kimchi?  Just speculating, mind you. 

Both Clemons and Kessler know very well that presidential elections are coming up in two years and there is no way in hell Obama is going to make pro-Israel donors and media gatekeepers angry, so why are they floating something that they know is fluff?  Are they angling for an invitation to the White House Christmas Party? They might also have noted the December 8th Congressional appropriation of $205 million more in aid for Israel, hardly a sign that anyone is about to talk tough or go about making "new frames" with Bibi.  The fact is that the United States has exactly zero leverage with Israel and Netanyahu knows it. Interestingly, the appropriation for Israel was not reported by the Washington Post or by any other mainstream newspaper or news service, nor mentioned in The Washington Note.  It is the usual and expected downplaying of any and all information that might lead the American public to question the Israel relationship.  It has been plausibly suggested that the money will be used by Israel to develop missile defense systems that it will sell on the world arms market, in direct competition with US companies, which makes the story even more than usually unsavory.

And so the cycle continues with another year nearly gone, Scott Fitzgerald’s "boats against the current borne back ceaselessly into the past."  A perpetual flow of garbage in and garbage out with more wars to keep the Washingtoncrats talking to and through each other on Sunday mornings.  If there has been any lesson emerging from WikiLeaks it is that the corruption in Washington goes down to the bone, starting with the politicians, working its way through the bureaucrats, and ending up with the enabling media and think tank experts. It would be worthwhile listening to some of them if they were making sense but their real objective is to sell the establishment line, a viewpoint that they passionately share because it gives them their status and a high standard of living.  Time to turn off the TV and radio, throw away the newspaper, and remove The Washington Note from the computer bookmarks.  Seeking to find enlightenment in any of those places is a complete waste of time.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.