The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie

Comparing Howard Zinn and Yogi Berra in the same sentence probably leaves most on the left with their mouths wide open. But not so with baby boomers still on the left, and others who cling to sanity near the ninth circle of hell. Historian and Professor Howard Zinn and the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra knew something not only about how history often irregularly repeats itself, but also how consistent that repetition is in general. Howard Zinn said that governments “lie” and Yogi said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

It grieves me greatly that in just over a month the tenth anniversary of Howard Zinn’s death arrives. How can that be? Time does not wait for the great, even great historians and catchers.

Yesterday, December 9, 2019, newspapers (“Afghanistan papers reveal US public were misled about unwindable war”) reported that the war in Afghanistan has been a lost cause from its beginning in 2001, and for anyone with a historical perspective, since the Soviet invasion there in the 1980s and the US support of warlords, many of whom would soon become the Taliban. Well over a trillion dollars of wasted money, over 2,000 US lives, and who knows how many deaths of Afghani civilians. The newspaper of record, that has supported the vast majority of US wars without question, published “Documents Reveal U.S. Officials Misled Public on War in Afghanistan,” (December 9, 2019). Recall that newspaper’s lies about going to war in Iraq in 2002-2003? That paper seems to love to occasionally collude with those in power with the expected outcomes.

Here’s a quote from the article that could have come out of General William Westmoreland’s mouth during the Vietnam War. The words “short-term” may have given way to long-term for Westmoreland:

The United States military achieved a quick but short-term victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda in early 2002, and the Pentagon’s focus then shifted toward Iraq. The Afghan conflict became a secondary effort, a hazy spectacle of nation building, with intermittent troop increases to conduct high-intensity counterinsurgency offensives — but, over all, with a small number of troops carrying out an unclear mission.

Even as the Taliban returned in greater numbers and troops on the ground voiced concerns about the American strategy’s growing shortcomings, senior American officials almost always said that progress was being made.

It’s amazing that US leaders are so consistent. Recall General Colin Powell making the case for war against Iraq at the UN?

Daniel Ellsberg has been in the news lately as the noose grows tighter around Chelsea Manning’s and Julian Assange’s necks. Those in power already have banished Edward Snowden for telling the simple truth that the government of the US knows every single move we make, what that move is, and where we made it!

Ellsberg could have been jailed for life just like so many members of minority groups in the so-called land of the free have been for decades. But Richard Nixon and his cronies were so stupid they broke into Ellsberg’s physician’s office to get dirt on him and so the Pentagon Papers case went down the government’s drain.

Déjà vu, readers? The fools in the government lied about Vietnam from its inception until the last US helicopter flew away from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975. That gave some solace to the war resisters among us from the Vietnam era, but probably little to the memory of over 58,000 US dead and those who cared about them, the masses of the wounded, and the millions who died in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

And so we arrive on the stage of history present for those who enjoy this holiday season. And history present in Afghanistan has been a completely bipartisan effort from Bush II to Obama, and now Trump! The government lied about Afghanistan again and again and that may be why the court jester Donald Trump is trying to negotiate a way out of that debacle. Who will negotiate a way out of the lethal mess that the Middle East is now?

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).