Unless otherwise directed …

I’ve worked in journalism for 35 years. I did graduate study in journalism, I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter and I’ve freelanced magazine articles and newspaper op-eds. Now I blog.

I’ve learned that certain ideas are not permitted in the mainstream press. Well-paid gatekeepers might say these ideas are misguided, wrong or irresponsible, but that’s not really the reason. It’s because certain ideas are not in alignment with the middle-brow assumptions our mainstream press operates within. It also has to do with a commercial inclination for celebrity journalism and a fetish for scorekeeping over analysis.

Here’s a personal example. For three weeks, since the Times Square bombing attempt, I’ve been in a back-and-forth exchange with the op-ed editor of a major city newspaper over a 900-word piece focused on the motivations of would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad.

Honduras: Bad faith down in The Gulch

In Spanish, the word honduras means depth. The example often used is meterse en honduras – to go beyond one’s depth. It comes from the adjective hondo – deep or low.

I’ve often wondered what the Spanish conquistador or priest was thinking when he decided circa 1500 to call the place The Depths– or with some liberties, The Gulch.

When I was in Honduras, I recall the capital Tegucigalpa as a series of hills and deep gulches, with the hillsides noted for poor communities of thousands of slapped-together shanties. The Tegucigalpa airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world; it’s a bit like dropping down and circling inside a teacup before landing.

So maybe that old Spaniard was onto something. If Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” maybe Honduras is the gulch where they just get mired in muck.

Mister Obama's War hits a speed bump

Mister Obama’s War has hit a speed bump in Times Square. The question is will the President and members of Congress pay any attention to it and slow down, or will they floor the accelerator and race into Pakistan?

The speed bump is a nobody named Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old, westernized Pakistani, highly educated, and a naturalized American citizen with a wife and two kids. A casualty of the US financial meltdown, a career in the finance industry fizzled and his $285,000 home went underwater and was foreclosed.

Shahzad then trekked to North Waziristan in Pakistan along the Afghan border, where someone allegedly taught him how to make a car bomb. Fortunately, that training was either inadequate or he was a lousy student.

Following on the bloody Fort Hood shooting and the failed underpants bomber, Shahzad’s action has become leverage for greater US military intervention into the rugged Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan.

Saving Face in Afghanistan

In the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America,” Daniel Ellsberg tells about a fellow Rand Corporation war planner circa 1968 who described the US commitment to the war in Vietnam this way:

“We are 10 percent concerned about the Vietnamese; we are 20 percent concerned about the Chinese; and we are 70 percent concerned about saving face.”

The United States has now clearly arrived at the same insidious predicament in Afghanistan.

US soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tameUS soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tame

Sure, we are concerned about al Qaeda and other violent elements hostile to the United States. The threat from al Qaeda is real – as is the fact that a history of foreign, and especially US, intervention in Muslim lands is at the root of this hostility. This backstory, of course, is embargoed from mainstream American minds — as our military policies rely on yet more intervention in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week an Americanized Pakistani who had lost his job as a financial analyst and whose $285,000 home had been foreclosed failed in a bumbling attempt to bomb Times Square. Already, demagogues like Senator Joe Lieberman are working the incident as a means of emasculating the Constitution, calling among other things for revocation of the man’s US citizenship.

Former CIA operative Bob Baer told MSNBC that Americans should not be surprised at attacks like this, given the killing of dozens of Pakistanis by remotely piloted drones each week in the Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan. Former CIA European station chief Tyler Drumheller added this: “We cannot think that we’re going to attack them and they won’t attack us.”

Sure, the nations of the Middle East and South Asia have problems, and many people there are hostile to the US and its ally Israel. Sure, the Taliban are far from free-market westerners. But none of this justifies a military occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban, at least up to this Time Square incident, have never attacked us and had shown no interest in doing so; and al Qaeda has reportedly moved on from Afghanistan.

Besides having no impact on the effort to defeat al Qaeda, supporting 100,000 very expensive US troops and a massive military infrastructure in Afghanistan is actually playing into al Qaeda’s hands, since the tremendous cost of supporting this military bootprint in such an inaccessible, rugged place furthers Osama bin Laden’s clearly expressed desire to drive the US to bankruptcy.

We can quibble about the percentages, but it’s clear the US government and the US military are, again, in the costly face-saving business. The face they are saving has to do with US military prestige and the policy, at a time of great domestic economic stress and need at home, of escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of doing everything possible to ratchet hostilities down and pull the troops out.

SECRECY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS

Forget the PR. The decision to escalate has to do with the fact that the war is not going well and the hope that if they just keep it going long enough, a combination of our immense power and determination will somehow wear the insurgency down and disprove the old notion of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires.”

Meanwhile, it is difficult for critics to get at the truth about Afghanistan thanks to the incredible secrecy of our military operations and our wars. This is one side of a two-sided monster. The other side is the military’s powerful public relations capacity. There’s the secret world of managing the wars, and there’s the PR world of explaining them to the tax-paying public. And never the twain shall meet.

Back in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg blew the lid off this monster when he xeroxed and released the so-called Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, what the government and the military learned was not to let such a thing happen again. The Obama administration is currently going after one New York Times reporter, James Risen, in court and is working in other areas to plug other leaks.