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The Kingpin Strategy
Assassination as Policy in Washington and How It Failed, 1990-2015
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As the war on terror nears its 14th anniversary — a war we seem to be losing, given jihadist advances in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen — the U.S. sticks stolidly to its strategy of “high-value targeting,” our preferred euphemism for assassination. Secretary of State John Kerry has proudly cited the elimination of “fifty percent” of the Islamic State’s “top commanders” as a recent indication of progress. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself, “Caliph” of the Islamic State, was reportedly seriously wounded in a March airstrike and thereby removed from day-to-day control of the organization. In January, as the White House belatedly admitted, a strike targeting al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan also managed to kill an American, Warren Weinstein, and his fellow hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto.

More recently in Yemen, even as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took control of a key airport, an American drone strike killed Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, allegedly an important figure in the group’s hierarchy. Meanwhile, the Saudi news channel al-Arabiya has featured a deck of cards bearing pictures of that country’s principal enemies in Yemen in emulation of the infamous cards issued by the U.S. military prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an aid to targeting its leaders. (Saddam Hussein was the ace of spades.)

Whatever the euphemism — the Israelis prefer to call it “focused prevention” — assassination has clearly been Washington’s favored strategy in the twenty-first century. Methods of implementation, including drones, cruise missiles, and Special Operations forces hunter-killer teams, may vary, but the core notion that the path to success lies in directly attacking and taking out your enemy’s leadership has become deeply embedded. As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in 2010, “We believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component” of U.S. strategy.

Analyses of this policy often refer, correctly, to the blood-drenched precedent of the CIA’s Vietnam-era Phoenix Program — at least 20,000 “neutralized.” But there was a more recent and far more direct, if less noted, source of inspiration for the contemporary American program of murder in the Greater Middle East and Africa, the “kingpin strategy” of Washington’s drug wars of the 1990s. As a former senior White House counterterrorism official confirmed to me in a 2013 interview, “The idea had its origins in the drug war. So that precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking. We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

Had that official known a little more about just how this feature of the drug wars actually played out, he might have had less confidence in the utility of his chosen instrument. In fact, the strangest part of the story is that a strategy that failed utterly back then, achieving the very opposite of its intended goal, would later be applied full scale to the war on terror — with exactly the same results.

The Kingpin Strategy Arrives

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was the poor stepsister of federal law enforcement agencies. Called into being by President Richard Nixon two decades earlier, it had languished in the shadow of more powerful siblings, notably the FBI. But the future offered hope. President George H.W. Bush had only recently re-launched the war on drugs first proclaimed by Nixon, and there were rich budgetary pickings in prospect. Furthermore, in contrast to the shadowy drug trafficking groups of Nixon’s day, it was now possible to put a face, or faces, on the enemy. The Colombian cocaine cartels were already infamous, their power and ruthless efficiency well covered in the media.

For Robert Bonner, a former prosecutor and federal judge appointed to head the DEA in 1990, the opportunity couldn’t have been clearer. Although Nixon had nurtured fantasies of deploying his fledgling anti-drug force to assassinate traffickers, even soliciting anti-Castro Cuban leaders to provide the necessary killers, Bonner had something more systematic in mind. He called it a “kingpin strategy,” whose aim would be the elimination either by death or capture of the “kingpins” dominating those cartels.

Implicit in the concept was the assumption that the United States faced a hierarchically structured threat that could be defeated by removing key leadership components. In this, Bonner echoed a traditional U.S. Air Force doctrine: that any enemy system must contain “critical nodes,” the destruction of which would lead to the enemy’s collapse.

In a revealing address to a 2012 meeting of DEA veterans held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the kingpin strategy’s inauguration, Bonner spoke of the corporate enemy they had confronted. Major drug trafficking outfits, he said, “by any measure are large organizations. They operate by definition transnationally. They are vertically integrated in terms of production and distribution. They usually have, by the way, fairly smart albeit quite ruthless people at the top and they have a command and control structure. And they also have people with expertise that run certain essential functions of the organization such as logistics, sales and distribution, finances, and enforcement.” It followed therefore that the removal of those smart people at the top, not to mention the experts in logistics, would render the cartel ineffective and so cut off the flow of narcotics to the United States.

Pursuit of the kingpins promised rich institutional rewards. Aside from the overbearing presence of the FBI, Bonner had to contend with another carnivore in the Washington bureaucratic jungle eager to encroach on his agency’s territory. “DEA and CIA were butting heads,” recalled the former DEA chief in a 2013 interview. “There was real tension.” Artfully, he managed to negotiate peace with the powerful intelligence agency, “so now we had a very important ally. CIA could use DEA and vice versa.”

By this he meant that the senior agency could use the DEA’s legal powers for domestic operations to good advantage. This burgeoning relationship brought additional potent allies. Not only was his agency now closer to the CIA, Bonner told me, but “through them, the NSA.” A new Special Operations Division created to work with these senior agencies was to oversee the assault on the kingpins, relying heavily on electronic intelligence.

This new direction would swiftly gain credibility after the successful elimination of the most famous cartel leader of all. Pablo Escobar, the dominant figure of the Medellín cartel, was an object of obsessive interest to American law enforcement. He had long evaded U.S.-assisted manhunts before negotiating an agreement with the Colombian government in 1991 under which he took up residence in a “prison” he himself had built in the hills above his home city. A year later, fearing that the government was going to welsh on its deal and turn him over to the Americans, Escobar walked out of that prison and went into hiding.

The subsequent search for the fugitive drug lord marked a turning point. The Cold War was over; Saddam Hussein was defeated in the first Gulf War in 1991; credible threats to the U.S. were scarce; and the danger of budget cuts was in the air. Now, however, the U.S. deployed the full panoply of surveillance technology originally developed to confront the Soviet foe against a single human target. The Air Force sent in an assortment of reconnaissance planes, including SR-71s, which were capable of flying at three times the speed of sound. The Navy sent its own spy planes; the CIA dispatched a helicopter drone.

At one point there were 17 of these surveillance aircraft simultaneously in the air over Medellín although, as it turned out, none of them were any help in tracking down Escobar. Nor did the DEA make any crucial contribution. Instead, his deadly rivals from Cali, Colombia’s other major trafficking group, played the decisive role in the destruction of that drug lord’s power and support systems, combining well-funded intelligence with bloodthirsty ruthlessness.

His once all-powerful network of informers and bodyguards destroyed, Escobar was eventually located by homing in on his radio and gunned down as he fled across a rooftop on December 2, 1993. Though the matter is open to debate, a former senior U.S. drug enforcement official assured me unequivocally that a sniper from the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Delta Force had fired the killing shot.

Following this triumph, the DEA turned its attention to the Cali cartel, pursuing it with every resource available: “We really developed the use of wiretaps,” Bonner told me. Patience and the provision of enormous resources eventually yielded results. In June and July 1995, six of the seven heads of the Cali cartel were arrested, including the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez-Orijuela, and the cartel’s cofounder, José “Chepe” Santacruz Londoño. Although Londoño subsequently escaped from jail, he would in the end be hunted down and killed. Continued U.S. pressure for the rest of the decade and beyond resulted in a steady flow of cartel bosses into prisons with life sentences or into coffins.

Cartel Heads Go Down and Drugs Go Up

The strategy, it appeared, had been an unqualified success. “When Pablo Escobar was on the run, for all practical purposes, his organization started going down… ultimately it was destroyed. And that’s the strategy we have called the kingpin strategy,” crowed Lee Brown, Bill Clinton’s “drug czar,” in 1994.

In public at least, no officials bothered to point out that if that strategy’s aim was to counter drug use among Americans, it had achieved precisely the opposite of its intended goal. The giveaway to this failure lay in the on-the-street cost of cocaine in this country. In those years, the DEA put enormous effort into monitoring its price, using undercover agents to make buys and then laboriously compiling and cross-referencing the amounts paid.

The drugs obtained by these surreptitious means, however, were of wildly varying purity, the cocaine itself often having been adulterated with some worthless substitute. That meant that the price of a gram of pure cocaine varied enormously, since a few bad deals of very low purity could cause wide swings in the average. Dealers tended to compensate for higher prices by reducing the purity of their product rather than charging more per gram. As a result, the agency’s price charts showed little movement and so gave no indication of what events were affecting the price and therefore the supply.

In 1994, however, a numbers-cruncher with the Institute for Defense Analysis, the Pentagon’s in-house think tank, began subjecting the data to more searching scrutiny. The analyst, a former Air Force fighter pilot named Rex Rivolo, had been tasked to take an independent look at the drug war at the request of Brian Sheridan, the hardheaded director of the Defense Department’s Office of Drug Control Policy who had developed a healthy disrespect for the DEA and its operations.

Having tartly informed DEA officials that their statistics were worthless, mere “random noise,” Rivolo set to work developing a statistical tool that would eliminate the effect of the swings in purity of the samples collected by the undercover agents. Once he had succeeded, some interesting conclusions began to emerge: the pursuit of the kingpins was most certainly having an effect on prices, and by extension supply, but not in the way advertised by the DEA. Far from impeding the flow of cocaine onto the street and up the nostrils of America, it was accelerating it. Eliminating kingpins actually increased supply .

It was a momentous revelation, running entirely counter to law enforcement cultural attitudes that reached back to the days of Eliot Ness’s war against bootleggers in the 1920s and that would become the basis for Washington’s twenty-first-century counterinsurgency wars. Such a verdict might have been reached intuitively, especially once the kingpin strategy in its most lethal form came to be applied to terrorists and insurgents, but on this rare occasion the conclusion was based on hard, undeniable data.

In the last month of 1993, for example, Pablo Escobar’s once massive cocaine smuggling organization was already in tatters and he was being hunted through the streets of Medellín. If the premise of the DEA strategy — that eliminating kingpins would cut drug supplies — had been correct, supply to the U.S. should by then have been disrupted.

In fact, the opposite occurred: in that period, the U.S. street price dropped from roughly $80 to $60 a gram because of a flood of new supplies coming into the U.S. market, and it would continue to drop after his death. Similarly, when the top tier of the Cali cartel was swept up in mid-1995, cocaine prices, which had been rising sharply earlier that year, went into a precipitous decline that continued into 1996.

Confident that the price drop and the kingpin eliminations were linked, Rivolo went looking for an explanation and found it in an arcane economic theory he called monopolistic competition. “It hadn’t been heard of for years,” he explained. “It essentially says if you have two producers of something, there’s a certain price. If you double the number of producers, the price gets cut in half, because they share the market.

“So the question was,” he continued, “how many monopolies are there? We had three or four major monopolies, but if you split them into twenty and you believe in this monopolistic competition, you know the price is going to drop. And sure enough, through the nineties the price of cocaine was plummeting because competition was coming in and we were driving the competition. The best thing would have been to keep one cartel over which we had some control. If your goal is to lower consumption on the street, then that’s the mechanism. But if you’re a cop, then that’s not your goal. So we were constantly fighting the cop mentality in these provincial organizations like DEA.”

The Kingpin Strategy Joins the War on Terror

Deep in the jungles of southern Colombia, coca farmers didn’t need obscure economic theories to understand the consequences of the kingpin strategy. When the news arrived that Gilberto Rodríguez-Orijuela had been arrested, small traders in the remote settlement of Calamar erupted in cheers. “Thank the blessed virgin!” exclaimed one grandmother to a visiting American reporter.

“Wait till the United States figures out what it really means,” added another local resident. “Hell, maybe they’ll approve, since it’s really a victory for free enterprise. No more monopoly controlling the market and dictating what growers get paid. It’s just like when they shot Pablo Escobar: now money will flow to everybody.”

This assessment proved entirely correct. As the big cartels disappeared, the business reverted to smaller and even more ruthless groups that managed to maintain production and distribution quite satisfactorily, especially as they were closely linked either to Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas or to the fascist anti-guerrilla paramilitary groups allied with the government and tacitly supported by the United States.

Much of Rivolo’s work on the subject remains classified. This is hardly surprising, given that it not only undercuts the official rationale for the kingpin strategy in the drug wars of the 1990s, but strikes a body blow at the doctrine of high-value targeting that so obsesses the Obama administration in its drone assassination campaigns across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa today.

Rivolo was, in fact, able to monitor the application of the kingpin strategy in the following decade. In 2007, he was assigned to a small but high-powered intelligence cell attached to the Baghdad headquarters of General Ray Odierno, who was, at the time, the operational U.S. commander in Iraq. While there he made it his business to inquire into the ongoing targeting of “high-value individuals,” or HVIs. Accordingly, he put together a list of 200 HVIs — local insurgent leaders — killed or captured between June and October 2007. Then he looked to see what happened in their localities following their elimination.

The results, he discovered when he graphed them out, offered a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars of the 1990s. Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target’s base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: “Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated.”

As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection. Dead commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors, eager to “make their bones” and prove their worth.

Rivolo’s research and conclusions, though briefed at the highest levels, made no difference. The kingpin strategy might have failed on the streets of American cities, but it had been a roaring success when it came to the prosperity of the DEA. The agency budget, always the surest sign of an institution’s standing, soared by 240% during the 1990s, rising from $654 million in 1990 to over $1.5 billion a decade later. In the same way, albeit on a vaster scale, high-value targeting failed in its stated goals in the Greater Middle East, where terror recruits grew and terror groups only multiplied under the shadow of the drone. (The removal of al-Baghdadi from day-to-day control of the Islamic State, for instance, has apparently done nothing to retard its operations.) The strategy has, however, been of inestimable benefit to a host of interested parties, ranging from drone manufacturers to the CIA counterterrorism officials who so signally failed to ward off 9/11 only to adopt assassination as their raison d’être.

No wonder the Saudis want to follow in our footsteps in Yemen. It’s a big world. Who’s next?

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine . An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years. In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino . His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. I wonder how Cockburn could travel through all of that business and not stumble across the elephant in the living room; Department of Defense and CIA are/have been in the business of international narcotics trafficking themselves, and for a very long time. It’s not about eradicating the drug trade, it’s about eliminating the competition. If there were a strategist went from the DEA to working Ray Odinero in Iraq, the first thought to cross my mind would be ‘war zones are perfect places to process raw product on a large scale.’

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2013/05/08/heroin-bags-of-cash-the-cia/

    And point out our government assassins double as cartel hit-men:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/the-terrifying-background-of-the-man-who-ran-a-cia-assassination-unit/259856/

    How can responsible reporting miss that s**t?

    • Replies: @matt
    , @matt
    , @Bill Jones
  2. matt says:
    @Ronald Thomas West

    Andrew’s late brother Alex cowrote a book about that, so I doubt that Andrew is unaware of it.

    You’re “How come [author] didn’t write about this other, semi-related topic?! He must be a controlled-opposition shill!”-shtick is getting very old.

    • Replies: @Ronald Thomas West
  3. Mr Cockburn might also like to acquaint himself with the work of Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott for an insight into the integral links between the CIA and the drug cartels throughout the world.

  4. matt says:
    @Ronald Thomas West

    In fact, Andrew’s wife Leslie also wrote a book on the subject. I seriously doubt he is unaware or trying to cover anything up.

  5. Renoman says:

    The World is waking up to War on Drugs BS. It’s just a big lie that doesn’t work, Portugal is proving that every day. There is no way to stop the trade in easily transported items that cost 5 cents and sell for $2.00, it will never happen.
    As for Drones in the Middle Eat, well the whole Middle East is just like the Drug wars – useless. They have been fighting for 3000 years and will continue to fight for another 3000. Get out, to Hell with the Jews, focus on making the American homeland strong, the rest will fall in line no problem. You have the tar sands, the fracking and soon Venezuela, you don’t need Mid East oil.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  6. Tom Welsh says:

    “…the path to success lies in directly attacking and taking out your enemy’s leadership…”

    Whereas all America’s enemies realised long ago that it is much to their advantage to leave the current American hierarchy unharmed. They do far more damage to America than any foreign attacks or terrorist operations possibly could.

  7. Adar. says:

    1. Cockburn is part of the famous/infamous English Cockburn family. NOTED left wing apologists and propagandists.

    2. Phoenix Program must have worked. otherwise the commie and their lackey fellow travelers would not have complained about it.

    3. The drones must be working. Otherwise the left would not be complaining about them.

    4. Right! Drones make people mad [the jihadi]. As if they are not already mad.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Adar.

    Seems the argument of Cockburn is working ( means it is proving to be accurate and valid) since you are getting all shook up and upset !
    Hitler must have been a success since neocon still sense his presence in the most of the foes and enemies. So must have been Chamberlin in Munich since Weekly Standard can’t stop obsessing about what Churchill would have tried different .

    • Replies: @guest
  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Renoman

    You need ( keep control) China India S Korea,Japan and S Europe . They need oil . That’s what motivate now US to make sure the flow of oil is in the direction that it wants .
    Is ME fighting for 3000 yrs? Well. That is a news but what is not news that America has been fighting non stop since Pilgrims showed up on Mayfair , that’s about 500 yrs .

  10. @matt

    If he knows about it, it’s irresponsible to paper over it. What are we dealing with, ‘degrees’ of legitimacy in these agencies? They’re corrupt to the core and that is what people need to know.

    http://www.narconews.com/

    What’s old is the kitsch journalism

  11. rod1963 says:

    Taking out HVI’s in local organized crime rings work, but it doesn’t scale to cartels or Islamic Jihadis who can easily replace the local headman when he gets whacked. Because there are always other guys waiting for the big boss to take a tumble and step in.

    Also over time new organizations form where the older ones failed. AQ was superseded by ISIS who went beyond being two bit terrorists into the country making business and having a recruiting model that is very attractive to Muslim males all over the world. Something that AQ failed at.

    ISIS is now big enough to absorb all those half-assed drone strikes and keep on chugging. Killing Al-Bagdadhi won’t change anything, because there will be a new leader/martyr to take his place.

  12. @Ronald Thomas West

    You can’t have all the government criminality in one article. It would be a book- or series of volumes.
    Why didn’t you mention that?
    Are you a tool of the state?

    • Replies: @Ronald Thomas West
  13. KA says:

    Let’s not forget of the fact that the drug war became a rallying cry for a new battle in NY state in 70s Rockofeller wanted to become president . He wanted a new talking point . He chose drugs as the new scourge . He turned personal foibles and proclivities into a crime to be addressed and contained by laws .
    But drug has never left the economic political landscape of Anglo Saxon outfit since the days of British . British forced Indian farmers to grow opium . British sold those opium in China . Roosevelt ‘s grandfather made tons of money from the trade . New class of newly rich people grew into aristocrats in India ( Some of their accomploshments include museuem ,school,universities,art center and beautiful buildings in Bombay and Calcutta and gavecrise to other commercial enterprises.
    HSBC bank originated from the economic need to bring the opium money into main market . Summer palace of Chinese empire was burnt in the opium war .
    Close on the heels of many anti communist wars in this century ,drug has followed America. There was no golden triangle . There was no Afghanistan poppy. Drug has surfaced in Africa . Kosovo is another route for drug to penetrate Europe .

  14. Failed? It has been a roaring success! The Pentagon’s budget has nearly doubled, and those of the “intelligence” agencies. Profits for the major military contractors are at record highs. The USA has more “enemies” than ever. Our global empire continues to expand. Does anyone think the objective of our Pentagon is peace?

  15. ua2 says:

    The best thing Andrew ever made…..Olivia.

    WB with the force of a thousand suns

    • Replies: @Escher
  16. Flower says:

    I live in Colorado. Pot is legal here. As a resident, and user of Pot, this subject of the illegal drug industry interests me. So, as a self-proclaimed amateur historian, I took it upon myself to try to monitor this world’s apparent first occurrence of sanity and pragmatism. What particularly came to my notice, as I sifted thru the internet getting opinions and ideas about legal marijuana, was that an impossible number of American citizens believe that marijuana did not exist before Colorado legalized it. Read that last sentence again. I know it sounds impossible, but, unfortunately, it is not.

    As for the govt eliminating the competition, this is not exactly correct. There is no “competition”. There may be some who wander off the reservation (and they, too, shall pass), but there is no competition. The best explanation for this was given by the president of a bank. A great BIG bank. “Look, these countries (that generate the drugs), they are up to their eyeballs in hock to the western countries. (Read IMF) Now, how do you suppose these countries are going to pay that money back? By selling sombreros and tamales to the tourists?”

    This article is interesting, but as close to reality as the ditzed out housewife crying, “But what about the children!” (The easiest place to get pot (legal or otherwise) in this country is via your local high school.)

    Here is an excellent documentary about this subject: Drug Lord The Legend of Shorty. It’s about Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the undisputed leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Watch this movie and then decide whether assassination is necessary, other than as a statement of power.

    America, you really, really, really need to grow up.

  17. guest says:

    “Monopolistic competition” may be “arcane” because it’s part of an historical school, neoclassical economics, that’s been out of power for a while. But it’s common knowledge, still taught to young, vulnerable minds in college, and not particularly helpful to understand the cartel business (or anything, really). The tricky part is that “monopoly” doesn’t mean here what it means in everyday parlance. Drug cartels are, of course, monopolies in the everyday sense, since they literally kill their competition. Monopolistic competition could be going on in the soft drink industry as easily as the cocaine industry. All it means is that there’s more than one business selling comparable (though not identical; the public must be able to differentiate) products, each with the ability to affect price. That’s it.

    I don’t think the cartel business qualifies, as monopolistic competition requires low barriers to entry for new market participants. Certainly you can’t say that the price of any product in a market with monopolistic competition varies the way this guy says it does. Price isn’t divisible by the number of producers. And however much nonsense we speak of “market share,” what the share will be after one producer or another changes is up in the air. Just because the number of producers gets doubled doesn’t mean the price of any particular product would be cut in half. That’s ridiculous. This “number cruncher” may be the world’s foremost authority on whatever it is he does (crunching?), but he’s like the retarded kid with a shiny new toy as concerns economic theory. He’ll have some meaningless, innocent fun, but watch out, he may also poke his eye out!

    What all this has to do with the effectiveness of assassinating the Rockefellers of cocaine is nothing. It has just as much to do with Coca Cola as cartels, both being “monopolies” in the neoclassical sense. The government’s stupidity can be well illustrated by thinking of coke, however. Imagine I were to murder the CEO of Coca Cola. Would that interrupt the supply of coke? Why on earth would it?

  18. @Bill Jones

    You can’t have all the government criminality in one article. It would be a book- or series of volumes.
    Why didn’t you mention that?
    Are you a tool of the state?

    Oh yeah, Bill the state just loves me:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/02/03/people-who-behave-as-stupid-as-they-look/

    ^ Maybe a future satire will be something like ‘people who look as stupid as they comment’

    The more serious can have a look here:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2014/12/24/americas-deep-state-corporate-oligarchy/

    ^

  19. guest says:
    @Anonymous

    I always wonder why neocons and everyone who sees phantom Hitlers (not the real Hitler, but the fictitious propaganda Hitler, who would’ve enslaved the world had it not been for Gallant Little Britain) wherever they want to start wars, conveniently, see 1938-39 through British or British-French eyes. It’s debatable whether Britain/France came out of WWII better or worse. (France was liberated, yes, but she started it; Germany might’ve started it anyway, but we’ll never know.) I say worse, considering the death, destruction, economic cost, loss of empire/prestige/independence, but you can’t put a price on the self-satisfaction of being the heroes of a grand drama of your own invention. But what about the rest of us? The US and Britain are still seperate countries, anglophilic sentiment notwithstanding. Whatever was at stake in Munich, it wasn’t our business. (It wasn’t Britain’s or France’s business, either, since the most a world war could do to alter conditions in Eastern Europe was replace the Nazis with the commies.)

    The supposed proof of the pudding in Hitler’s eating half of Poland disproves isolationism, if you believe a neocon. But why? What had we to do with Czechoslovakia or Poland? Even less than Britain, which had no business pretending it could defend them. When did our retrospective consciousness overleap the Atlantic and merge with Churchill’s? (Like Obama’s whiteness, Churchill’s American half doesn’t count.) This is a giant, gaping hole in the neocon worldview.

    I imagine the rationalization runs something like the emancipation justification for the Civil War. We know it wasn’t a war to free the slaves, but slaves were freed as a result of it, so it’s a good war because slavery is bad. Likewise, America didn’t want to be World Police, but after Pearl Harbor it found itself in a multicontinental total war, victory in which left it one of two countries capable of pretending to run the world. So now when we look back at the runnup to WWII we naturally look at it as World Police, and since the British ran “Pax Britannica,” had set themselves up as Continental Police, speak our language, share common history, and have since become our lapdogs, we tend to see things from their point of view.

    Lazy argumentation!

  20. Escher says:
    @ua2

    Dang, I did not know that. Andrew, you’re the best.

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