The problem with writing a weekly column is that when the new piece has finally appeared you have to sit right down and start thinking about what you might be able to do by the next deadline. Sometimes a story is obvious based on what is taking place in the world, but occasionally there is nothing going around that appears to be worth 1500 words. That’s when I say "Thank God for the Washington Post!" As I am unwilling to pay to read the Wall Street Journal and cannot stomach the in-your-face neoconnery of the New York Post, the good old WP has become my resource of choice whenever I want to read something that is truly idiotic.
The Post has always been, shall we say, idiosyncratic, generally favoring progressives who use phrases like "undocumented immigrants" in its local and national coverage while employing a hawkish perspective in its reporting of international news. This split personality even manifested itself in its editorial cartoons where Herb Bloch would lambast President Richard Nixon for his various illegalities from a liberal perspective while also drawing cruel stereotyped caricatures of Arabs in robes wielding knives dripping blood.
I still recall my shock at reading the Post after I moved to Washington back in 1976. Having been nurtured on the more serious British media and The New York Times it seemed to me that nearly every Post news story was bordering on being an editorial in that it mixed presumed fact with conjecture and opinion. Frequently it just flat out made things up.
The Washington Post’s editorial page has been neocon controlled territory since Fred Hiatt, who has been with the paper in various capacities since 1981, was promoted to oversee it back in 2000. Regular contributors to the op-ed page include the completely rabid Charles Krauthammer and the occasionally sane David Ignatius, but the best measure of where the opinion page sits politically is the host of Washington establishment guest contributors who regularly appear on it. This includes high profile folks like Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham as well as an impressive list of luminaries coming from the American Enterprise Institute, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policies, the Hudson Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. All are reliably neocon when it comes to foreign policy.
Even given my normally high expectations to stumble across something completely insane on any given weekend, I found the Post print edition of February 16th to be a real treasure trove. An op-ed preceding the editorial page by Samuel R. Berger demanded that "The US must take action to deal with al-Qaeda in Syria." Yes, it was an article by THAT Samuel "Sandy" Berger, the commercial lawyer elevated by the esteemed Bill Clinton to be his National Security Adviser from 1997 until 2000. The same Sandy Berger whose firm hand was on the helm when Bill blew up a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan and some mud huts in Afghanistan to deflect attention away from his Monica Lewinsky indiscretion. And yes, the very same Sandy Berger who was later caught stealing documents embarrassing to him personally from the National Archives by stuffing them in his pants and then cutting them up. Yes, THAT Sandy Berger.
Sandy watchers will be happy to know that he is doing just fine since inexplicably (or perhaps explicably) avoiding jail time over the Archives heist. He is now a Chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG). Yes, THAT Albright. The Madeleine Albright who thought that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children because of sanctions was worth it. Good to see that Madeleine and Sandy are back in harness working for an evidently prospering "global strategy company" where Sandy "is actively involved across the firm’s engagements and regions, with a strong focus on Asia, Russia and Central Asia, and the Middle East. Drawing on experiences at the highest levels of government and in the private sector, Mr. Berger helps clients successfully navigate emerging economies and beyond." And he can always rely on Madeleine if he gets confused. The ASG website notes that "As Secretary of State, Dr. Albright reinforced America’s alliances, advocated for democracy and human rights, and promoted American trade, business, labor, and environmental standards abroad."
No mention of dead Iraqis, Sudanese, Serbs or documents tucked down trousers, but one presumes that everyone is entitled to a little slack when they are talking about themselves. In any event, Sandy’s article details the "depravity" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and calls for action to empower the moderate opposition, which, fortunately, he makes no effort to define. He also starts out with a bit of a fantasy fudge, asserting both that the Syrian government is the only problem in the ongoing peace talks and that it is al-Assad’s bombing of moderates that has opened the door for al-Qaeda and the extremists. And, as it is always is desirable to tell Americans that the bad guys are out to get them, Berger observes that these newly arrived jihadists are "a threat to us" and "aspire to attack our homeland."
How to deal with both al-Qaeda and the Syrian government? "We must strengthen the relatively moderate elements among the opposition…who speak and fight for the majority of the population." It is another novel idea from Sandy as credible evidence suggests that the government is supported by most Syrians, including minority Christians, Alawites, and Shiites who will be wiped out when the wild men take over.
And how to strengthen the moderates? Give them lots and lots of money so they can set up an alternative government in the areas they "liberate." And how about putting pressure on al-Assad simultaneously? Sanctions. And a no-fly zone. "Core US interests are at stake" Sandy warns though he is a bit vague in explaining what they might be. Oh, and he wants to stop the "butchery," which is all the fault of the Syrian government.
The word "inane" comes to mind immediately and the complete idiocy of Sandy’s plan is surely evident to readers of antiwar. When I first saw the article there were 58 comments attached to it, nearly all critical. So let’s see what some of the Washington Post’s own readers think of Sandy Berger and his plan to bring down the Syrian government:
- Forward American-Israeli Empire! God is on our side! I can’t believe this scumbag Berger has never spent a day in prison for destroying those National Archives documents…
- Sandy Berger should personally take his male family members over there along with the male members of the know-it-all staff of the Washington Post
- Hummmm…another of the old white chicken hawks…they just don’t seem to learn from the mistakes we have made…
- What a weird idea. Here we are supporting al-Qaeda and now were supposed to fight them? Didn’t we do that in Afghanistan already?
- Mr. Berger has presented an excellent plan of national destruction…haven’t these ‘experts’ learned anything?
- I’ve been wondering for some time what [these core US interests] might be…
- Okay Sam, how much of your bank account are you willing to fork out for this project?
- Please can we have people of some other nationality, heritage and cultural background writing these warmongering articles in WP?
- …Syrian rebels [have] committed most atrocious crimes in recent history and completely ethnically cleansed areas under their control.
- What moderates?
Other commenters noted that the actual interest of the United States is to support a unified and governable Syria if one does not wish to see Afghanistan Redux, which would mean retaining al-Assad. Some mentioned the fact that this civil war is in reality a creation of Washington, which has been working for years to weaken and delegitimize the Syrian regime.
I would suggest that the next time the Washington Post wants to feature an article by Sandy Berger it should place the piece on the comics page or possibly on the bottom of those sports pages where they try to hide the ads on erectile dysfunction. I would also add in passing that the Post on the Sunday when the Berger op-ed appeared was an embarrassment of riches, with a piece by Michael Rubin called "The high price of negotiating with bad guys." Michael is a "scholar" and (per the Post) a "foreign policy expert" at the neocon American Enterprise Institute. He refers to talking to the Iranians, Palestinians and Syrians as the "Obama dialogues" which he then likens to "dancing with the devil." And he also mentions the Nazi (not German) invasion of Poland in an admonitory way, to somehow support his expressed belief that negotiating with Hitler would have been a bad idea. I could say more about Rubin, but it probably would be a waste of time. Maybe I will save it for next week.