Roaming Charges: Love at First Strike

Photo by Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0


Ivanka, our Park Avenue Electra, did it. She’s the one who softened her daddy’s leathery heart by forcing him to watch those dreadful pictures of dead and dying babies, eyes fixed on the carnage scrolling across the screen like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. The obscene photos made Donald squirm. His eyes even moistened. Then he began to tremble with rage.

“What kind of evil animal could kill innocent babies, Ivanka?”

“A monster, Daddy, a real monster. You must do something! This cannot stand!”

“But do what, Sweetie? I’ll call that guy who works for me, Steve something. He’ll know what to do…”

“No, not Bannon, daddy. He won’t do a damn thing. Call Jared. He’s already talked to the generals. They’re dialing up the targets right now.”

“Ivanka, I’m so glad I picked you to join me in the West Wing. I only worry about the business. Are your brothers really up to it on their own?”

Or at least that’s the story that the press lapped up, from a White House that is springing more leaks than a Texas pipeline. The narrative we are being presented features Ivanka as a civilizing force on Trump’s troglodyte impulses, civilizing in this sense meaning the cavalier use of US military power in one of the most fraught regions of the world in the name of humanitarianism.

Those 59 missiles, launched as Trump dined on chocolate cake with the Chinese president, had an almost aphrodisiacal effect on the liberal press. Ecstatic op-eds gushed forth from papers coast-to-coast, as if they’d been pre-written just waiting for the moment to hit the upload button. An analysis of the top 100 daily papers by Andy Johnson of FAIR showed that 47 papers ran editorials on the bombing of Syria. Thirty-nine of these columns were fervently in favor, seven struck an ambiguous tone and only one, the Houston Chronicle, emphatically opposed the strikes. That’s an 83 percent approval rating from Trump’s former “enemy of the people.” Call it love at first strike.

The war-weary public, however, remained much more skeptical. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted by Gallup showing that 51% supported the strikes, while 40 percent opposed them. It’s now the role of the press to browbeat the 40 percent into submission.

It was the impetuousness of Trump’s missile strike that sealed the deal for the press. He had, in the chill words of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, finally proved himself presidential material, a tribute rendered before even the initial bomb damage assessments had been made. Zakaria had no idea whether those Tomahawks had hit Syrian fighter-jets, a barracks of Russian pilots or a nearby orphanage. And it didn’t matter. Trump’s willingness to act alone without consultation with allies or congress, without caution or the sense of being bound by legal or moral constraints is what turned them on. Trump’s bombing showed that he acted in the visceral-style of American presidents.

Some might generously call the missile strikes “bold,” but it is their rashness that really arouses the pundit class–the instantaneous decision to kill without the slightest tremor of indecision. For the American media, indecision is the ultimate weakness. It’s one of the reasons they turned on Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, who they deemed wimpish.

To give a kill order and then calmly sit down to eat a feast with the president of China is what the establishment wants from our rulers, even if they don’t quite trust them. Character, for them, is action without contemplation, a killer instinct. Justifications can come later, if at all. Nothing quite excites the press like a president who can break the rules and get away with it, a president who swaggers around like the meanest motherfucker on the planet and act like there’s no one to hold him to account.

Having learned no lessons from their pernicious role in fabricating the basis for the Iraq war, the media continues to glorify presidential thrill kills, especially in this age of mouse-click warfare, where the only American blood likely to be shed will be the suspect characters–doctors, nurses and aid workers–caught in the drone zone.


The scenario for Trump’s sudden conversion to push-button bomber closely follows the Al Gore script from the 1990s. Gore, whose team largely ran foreign policy during the Clinton administration, was a chief architect of “humanitarian” warfare. Gore wielded his influence both in the assiduous promotion of his own team and in his one-on-one lobbying of Clinton, often a squeamish warrior. Gore’s people–Leon Feurth, James Woolsey, Les Aspin and William Perry–all shared a propensity for what became the keynote policy of Clintontime: liberal interventionism. It was on display in Bosnia, in Somalia, in Haiti, against Iraq and Serbia. And the commander of in chief of these laptop bombers was Gore.

Gore was still fresh from the cheers of the Democratic Party convention in New York when he first began pressing Clinton into calling for military intervention in the Balkans. He cornered Clinton on the campaign trail in St. Louis and lectured him on the evils of Slobodan Milosevic. He urged Clinton to pledge that the next Democratic administration would be far tougher on the Serbs. He also argued for lifting the arms embargo on the region.

Gore kept up his bellicose barrage after the election, but ran into the reservations of the head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, whose basic position was the reasonable one: why get involved in a messy European affair? Gore sought allies for his militarism in the liberal press. All the interminable rantings in the New Republic against the UN found their echo in Gore’s fulminations about the spinelessness of the UN presence in the Balkans, the “self-delusional” nature of the Europeans and the need to make NATO the supervising force in the region.

By 1995, Clinton was beginning to wear thin from Gore’s sermons and the clamor of liberal columnists, led by the entirely hysterical Anthony Lewis of the New York Times. George Stephanopoulos reported Clinton fuming to him:

“Lewis had to accept the fact that he’s been against every American intervention for thirty years, and he’s the biggest hawk in the world. What would they have me do? What the fuck would they have me do?”

Just as Clinton was digesting Lewis’s latest broadside in the Times, Gore belabored him with news of how his daughter Karenna had a read a news story about atrocities at Srebrenica and asked why the US wasn’t doing something.

Of course, the butchery of the Serbs at Srebrenica were later mirrored on a much larger scale against the Serbs in the Krajina. There the US position was scarcely one of moral sensitivity, but was instead the consummately cynical one of sponsoring what was demurely described as “population exchange” or, as Secretary of State Warren Christopher called it “simplifying matters.” As it turns out, it was the single biggest ethnic clearance of the war, as hundreds of thousands of Serbs were evicted from their ancestral homes.

Gore’s bombastic outrage at what he termed “genocide” in Bosnia was entirely selective. Himself an ardent laptop bombardier, Bob Woodward, chief palace reporter at the Washington Post, described the following scene on July 18, 1995, when Gore made his case to Clinton:

“The worst solution would be to acquiesce to genocide and allow the rape of another city and more refugees. At the same time we can’t be driven by images because there’s plenty of other places that aren’t being photographed where terrible things are going on. But we can’t ignore the images either.”

Gore then flourished a photograph of a young Bosnia woman who had hanged herself. “My 21-year-old daughter asked about that picture. What am I supposed to tell her? Why is this happening and we’re not doing anything? My daughter is surprised the world is allowing this to happen. I am too…The situation underscores the need for robust air power being authorized. The United States can’t be a punching bag in the world anymore. ”

Thus admonished by his vice-president and his daughter, Clinton cast the die and the bombs began to fall.


Roaming Charges

+ I spent an entire year in college doing an independent study on the uses of Freudian theory in historiography with one of my favorite professors, Terry Murphy, who was game for almost anything. I thought I had drilled through most of Freud’s writing, with greater or lesser comprehension. But this week I stumbled across a trenchant essay that I’d never read (or don’t recall having read, the brain cells are dying off day-by-day) titled “The Disillusionment of the War,” published in 1915 about six months after the outbreak of WW I. The writing is clear, direct and, rare for Freud, almost intimate, as in this extraordinary passage:

“People are more or less represented by the states which they form, and these states by the governments which rule them. The individual citizen can with horror convince himself in this war of what would occasionally cross his mind in peace-time – that the state has forbidden to the individual the practice of wrong-doing, not because it desires to abolish it, but because it wants to monopolize it, like salt and tobacco. A belligerent state permits itself every such misdeed, every such act of violence, as would disgrace the individual. It makes use against the enemy not only of the accepted stratagems of war, but of deliberate lying and deception as well – and to a degree which seems to exceed the usage of former wars. The state exacts the utmost degree of obedience and sacrifice from its citizens, but at the same time it treats them like children by maintaining an excess of secrecy and a censorship upon news and expressions of opinion which leaves the spirits of those whose intellects it thus suppresses defenceless against every unfavourable turn of events and every sinister rumour. It absolves itself from the guarantees and treaties by which it was bound to other states, and makes unabashed confession of its own rapacity and lust for power, which the private individual has then to sanction in the name of patriotism.”

+ The main problem with wars of “humanitarian intervention” is that there’s never been one that hasn’t killed more people than it was marketed to save.

+ Leave it to New York Times and Washington Post to describe Trump’s shift from non-interventionism to bomb-first-ask-questions later, as a “moderation” of his policies…

+ Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria, in stating the obvious goes off the Imperial script…

+ According to an analysis by 538, only 6 US senators spoke out against Trump’s missile strikes: 5 Dems (Gillibrand, Kaine, Murphy, Schatz, Udall), 1 GOP (Paul). Note the spinelessly opaque positions taken by Lt. Elizabeth Warren and Col. Bernie Sanders…

+ This has got to be Hitler’s best year since 1941 and the demented invasion of the Soviet Union. The paragon of evil was actually being defended on humanitarian grounds by the White House spokesman during Passover!

+ Give Sean Spicer a break. Hitler may not have dropped chemical weapons from planes, as he alleges Assad did, but Spicer shrewdly avoided creating an even bigger media frenzy. He could have cited a precedent much closer at hand. LBJ and Nixon dropped more than 13 million gallons worth of Agent Orange in Vietnam, on “innocent” men, women, and, yes Ivanka, babies, including “our own” troops. Some of the people who ordered that could probably still be rounded up for trial, if not droned.

+ I’ve always recoiled at the moral distinction drawn between rulers who “kill their own people” and those who kill other people. Why are some dead and maimed bodies more valuable on a moral scale than others? “Other people” could, I suppose, be described as neighbors, who Jesus admonished us to treat as we would ourselves. In this case wouldn’t even the North Koreans or Syrians be “our people” by proxy? Does the distinction have to do with geographical rights? If so, are indigenous people “our people”? America’s most revered ruler, Lincoln, killed a lot of his “own people.” Were the bodies laying frozen in the snow at Wounded Knee somehow of less consequence than those strewn across the fields of Antietam or Chickamauga? What about rulers who send “our troops” into illegitimate wars? Aren’t they killing a lot of their “own people”?

+ Seymour Hersh: “We have this wonderful capacity in America to Hitlerize people. We had Hitler, and since Hitler we’ve had about 20 of them. Khrushchev and Mao and of course Stalin, and for a little while Gaddafi was our Hitler.”

+ In his rambling, incoherent interview with the Fox Business channel’s Maria Bartriromo, Trump contradicts himself often in the course of one sentence, as in his pretzel-like answer to her question about the timing of his tax reform legislation:

BARTIROMO: — corporate tax or individual tax, what’s more important, if you had to do one this year?

TRUMP: Both. Both.


TRUMP: Both. I almost think individual from my standpoint, because, you know, the middle class has just been taken advantage of in this country for so many years. But in terms of jobs, I mean I think both, but I think probably corporate. But they kind of both go hand in hand. It’s not going to matter.

+ It’s hard to assess who is dumber Trump or the former “Money Honey” Bartriromo, who asks the president if the cruise missiles launched against Syria were “unmanned”. When he replies, “yes”, she squeals, “Brilliant!!”

Based on that evidence, you might me tempted to award the honor to Maria. But hold on. Are we entirely sure that Trump knew which country he was targeting when he gave the order to launch those missiles?

Trump: So what happens is, I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this….

Bartriromo: … to Syria?

Trump: Yes. Heading toward Syria.

+ In the interview, Trump reveals that he told the Chinese President about the missile attack over dessert at Mar-a-Lago, prepared in a kitchen that has been repeatedly cited for unsanitary conditions. A drizzle of blood with your Tiramisu, President Eleven?

+ The only way to successfully parody Sean Spicer’s Holocaust Centers press briefing  would be to portray him as being as erudite and all-knowing as Chomsky.

+ The Tillerson Doctrine (a lot like the Bush and Clinton doctrines):

The United States will “hold to account” any government* [See below for Restrictions on this offer] that commits atrocities against innocent people, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday. Tillerson spoke at an Italian war memorial before a meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 nations. “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any* and all* who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” Tillerson said in a statement commemorating the 1944 German Nazi massacre in Sant’Anna di Stazzema.

[* Except Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Honduras (when the Junta runs the show) and the United States, plus others to be determined at the whim of the Secretary.]

+ From Hillary’s State Department Brief on Syria: “The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capacity is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.”

+ The political contributions of Raytheon, maker of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, during 2016 cycle.


Source: Open Secrets.

After the Syria “fireworks,” Trump’s haul might even surpass Sanders’s (a dutiful defender of Raytheon pork) in the next cycle.

+ Last week cruise missiles, this week the “biggest, greatest bomb ever!” On Thursday, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in warfare on a remote region of Afghanistan, the so-called MOAB bomb. Cost of MOAB bomb dropped on peasants living in caves in Afghanistan: $16,000,000. The MOAB has a blast zone of about one-square mile. In a region populated by 190,000 people, there must have been many civilian casualties, including children pulverized beyond recognition. I wonder if Ivanka will request photos of the kill site.

The main strategic function of the bomb seemed to be aimed at exciting people like neocon glamboy Lindsay Graham, who for months had functioned as one of Trump’s fiercest critics. The senator could not contain himself after hearing news of the MOAB bombing of Afghanistan.  “I hope America’s adversaries are watching & now understand there’s a new sheriff in town .” Cruise missiles and massive bombings are like mega-doses of Viagra for these people.

Here’s the MOAB bomb snuff film footage that got Senator Graham so excited:

+ The MOAB bomb reminds me of Saddam’s Super Gun, a made-for-TV weapon meant to intimidate but never be used. Until Trump came along. What’s next in his doomsday arsenal? Will he be dusting off the schematics for the neutron bomb–you know, the one that will kill all of his tenants but keep his buildings standing? One theory advanced by the talking generals, who now proliferate like chittering cicadas across cable TV, is that the MOAB bombing of Afghanistan was meant to intimidate the North Koreans. But next to the frenetic Trump, Kim Jong-Un looks as chill as Cool Hand Luke.

+ Unmasked transcript of NSA recording leaked to Susan Rice this afternoon….

“Hello? Hello, Donald? Is that you, Donald? What is going on, my friend? First you call our friend Bashar evil animal. Next you say Russia plot chemical strike with him. Then you back puny Montenegro entry into NATO club. Today you flip-flop again and say NATO now ‘no longer obsolete.’ I call Bannon for explanation and his line disconnected. They say he sent to dark site. I thought we had deal. Now I see you flirting with Xi, saying he no longer manipulate the currency. Is it over between us? Donald, where is the love?

Mystified in Moscow, Vladimir.”

+ As Trump flips from Russophile to Russophobe, it may be prudent for Putin to hold a press conference announcing that the Russians did in fact help get Trump elected. Either that or release the dirty parts referenced in the Dirty Dossier….

+ Class, today’s assignment is to write a 500-word essay on the topic of “Donald J. Trump as the MLK, Jr. of health care.” Citations please.

+ We have a measure for Gross National Product, but not Gross National Stupidity. Betsy DeVos should get to work on coming up with one. Don’t worry Betsy the Boss will be pleased. The US is sure to rank Number One.

+ Over the last four weeks, US airstrikes in Syria targeted against ISIS have instead struck Syrian troops working with the US coalition. In the latest atrocity, 18 Syrian fighters were killed in an airstrike in Tabqah. Friendly Fire seems to be one of the new Rules of Engagement for Trump’s Middle East wars…

+ Trump’s Deportation Police is gearing up by commissioning 33,000 new prison beds and an expansion of ICE officers. As a cost-cutting measure, applicants for positions in the Deportation Force are encouraged to bring their own uniforms: shirts brown, boots jack…

+ The batty new columnist for the New York Times, Louise Mensch, who sees Russians under every bed but hers (jealous?), now claims that Putin funded the Ferguson protests that broke out after the police murder of the black teenage pedestrian Michael Brown!

Louise Mensch‏Verified account
Louise Mensch Retweeted 0Hour1
That’s because you, Russia, funded riots in Ferguson. See 0 hour I have your connections to Trump archived via Schiller and Scavino

Now if only Putin can be convinced to finance similar uprisings in Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, Compton and Sacramento!

+ The batty “senior reporter” for Mother Jones Shane Bauer in attempting to dismiss comparisons of the Syrian war to the invasion of Iraq made this inane assertion: “Comparing Iraq in 2003, a stable country, to Syria, with 400k dead and 11m displaced, is unbelievably naive” Iraq “a stable country?” By the time of Bush’s invasion  500k-plus Iraqis, many of them children, had died from Clinton’s sanction regime and the country had been bombed every three days since (non)-end of Gulf War.

+ Tulsi Gabbard is being vilified by Democrats for questioning the official story on the chemical weapons event in Syria. Gabbard, who recently visited Syria, wants an independent inquiry. This meager and entirely rational request is being treated as political heresy.  Leading Democrats are now calling for a primary challenger against Gabbard in the 2018 race for her congressional seat in Hawai’i. Where’s Bernie Sanders? He didn’t rush to have the back of the woman who resigned her seat on the DNC to help the Sanders campaign in its hour of need.

+ Instead of defending Gabbard, Sanders was busy sprinting from one camera to another to make premature condemnations like this one: “Syria’s Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the men, women and children of his country makes him a war criminal.”

In an interview with Jake Tapper, Sanders called for Assad’s head through another international Coalition of the Willing:

Let’s all recognize that, in a world full of disgusting dictators, Bashar Assad maybe ranks at the top. This is a guy, in order to hang on to power, has allowed 400,000 people in his own country to be killed and millions to be displaced. Our goal, long term, has got to work with countries around the world. We cannot do it unilaterally. We’ve got to work with countries around the world for a political solution to get rid of this guy and to finally bring peace and stability to this country, which has been so decimated.

+ Let’s accept the fact that a prerequisite for serving as a head of state is the capacity to become a war criminal when presented the opportunity. If you lack that capacity,  your days will be numbered (See the abbreviated tenures of Salvador Allende and Mohammed Mossedegh). In Sanders’s case, even if Congress had authorized the airstrikes against Syria it doesn’t mean those bombs wouldn’t have been war crimes–it would merely have broadened the circle of culpability.

+ Just call them Scumlords. Landlords are now coercing tenants to pay higher rents or be turned over to ICE.

+  In a tweet from the Pentagon, the Air Force brashly brags about carpet-bombing North Korea…with exclamation point:

“Today in 1952 @usairforce, @USNavy & @USMC almost destroyed North Korea! Remembering our #History.

No wonder the North Koreans want nukes.

+ Meet the Brian Williams of North Korea….

+ Chief CIA Mike Pompeo Maximus, portrayed by the press as one of the rational figures in Trumplandia, went off the deep end by declaring Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

+ So now we know. Or we think we know. Carter Page, that amorphous bit player in  RussiaGate©, has been under surveillance by the FBI, authorized by a FISA warrant, since last summer as a probable foreign agent of Russia. This presents Trump with an interesting choice. Does he say, “Aha! I was right. That bad/sick man Obama WAS wire-tapping the calls of my team. Or does he continue to insist that Carter Page wasn’t a part of his team? Knowing Trump, he’ll do both. He has an amazing ability to suspend his own disbelief.

+ Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov sounds more and more like the only adult in the room these days. Reminds me of a Russian Chou En-Lai. Lavrov should watch his back. It’s usually the talented diplomats that they want to knock off.  In 1954, the CIA tried to blow up Chou’s plane on his way to the Bandung Conference. Chou remained unruffled and emerged from the conference as a leader of the non-aligned nations. (By the way, I’m under a lifelong injunction from Cockburn never to use the new orthography for Chinese names. For Alex, the birthplace of his father Claud would forever be Peking…)

+ Meanwhile back on Planet Melting Earth, the Arctic Ocean is literally turning upside down, as climate change forces the warmer subsurface waters toward the surface and the colder waters into deeper layers, thus exacerbating the record melting of the polar cap: “In essence, the feedback between a warmer atmosphere, sea ice, and the underlying ocean weaken the isolation of the large heat source in the Atlantic Water from the sea ice cover,” said Peter Schlosser, an oceanographer at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “If this continues it could accelerate the sea ice decline and also a change of the stratification and general dynamics of the upper water layers in the Arctic Ocean.”

+ Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef has been killed by warming oceans, the coral bleached into a ghostly white death. The extent of the die-off has been called “unprecedented” and it is…until a new precedent is set next year.

+ I now take it as a given that all pipelines lead to Indian land…even in New Jersey.

+ With a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana looming, the Oregon legislature moved this week to shield the names of pot buyers in the state, who are required to sign in at each retail outlet, from the federal government. This rare step by the state to protect civil liberties instead of shred them is a sure sign that marijuana sales tax revenues are way, way up

+ Across a wide swath of America, Lincoln is apparently considered “our Hitler.” Consider this slightly inchoate declaration from a politician in North Carolina named Larry Pittman: “And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it? Lincoln was the same kind of tyrant.” What prompted this outburst from Rep. Pittman? His outrage at the crushing tyranny of gay marriage.

+ I re-watched Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting this week in anticipation of seeing T2 and cracked up all over again at this anti-colonial rant delivered by Rent Boy at the foot of Ben Nevis in the Scottish highlands.

Tommy: But aren’t you proud to be Scottish?

Rent Boy Renton: It’s SHITE being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some hate the English. I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers. Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonized BY. We’re ruled by effete arseholes. It’s a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won’t make any fucking difference!

+ The guitarist John Warren Geils (better known as J. Geils) died this week. A mutual friend says he’d been sick for some time, living reclusively in his home Groton, Mass. Geils was only 71, which seems to be about the age that hard-living rockers check out. Geils’s personality was as raw and abrasive as his playing. I probably saw the J Geils Band 20 times, mostly at clubs in DC when I was in school there. They always had the sound of a garage band, even when after 15 years or so they scored a couple of minor FM hits. Fronted by the great Peter Wolf, J Geils Band where an American version of The Faces.

+ On a positive note, the more time and money local police spend protecting Trump while he plays golf and Melania tans at Mar-a-Lago, the less time they’re out on the streets looking for black kids to shoot.

+ After his ouster from the NSC, Bannon blamed Jared “Hindu” Kushner for his exile, calling him a “cuck.” I always assumed that “cuck” was short for “cuckold,” the tart Elizabeth word for someone who is being cheated. The always useful Urban Dictionary offers another perhaps more spirited interpretation:

“CUCK: A word used by White Supremacists to solicit sex. Because they believe people whom they call cucks would want to fuck them. White Supremacists have no preference whether to be fucked by a flesh penis or a plus-sized strap-on, but black leather is mandatory….”

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Close Ties by Rodney Crowell

Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng by Orchestra Baobab

In Mind by Real Estate

Dance of Time by Eliane Elias

Ruler Rebel by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Ten Myths About Israel by Ilan Pappe

How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows by David Macaray

The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry

Give Me Something Good

Dick Gregory: “I don’t know why America always thinks she has to run all around the world forcing people to take our way of governance at the barrel of a gun. When you’ve got something really good, you don’t have to force it on people. They will steal it!”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3