Bounty Tales

The corporate press exploded recently with the dubious story that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. soldiers. This volcanic claim came without one quote for attribution. All sources were anonymous. The New York Times broke the story, but the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN quickly followed suit, boasting that they had confirmed this tale. They had not. They simply parroted the same murky, unnamed, security state sources.

Meanwhile, the CIA was unenthusiastic and the NSA outright skeptical. With good reason. Even your average, media-befogged citizen can see that the Taliban, fighting the U.S. invasion for two decades, does not need bounties from Russia or anybody else as an incentive to kill U.S. soldiers. (And in fact, under Trump, only a few dozen U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, far fewer than under Obama, so arguably, the bounties, if they exist, have not been very effective.)

In the immortal words of one twitter user, “Putin is hiding WMDs in the Gulf of Tonkin.” That this bounty tale was a fabrication of the first order was obvious to many. So was its purpose: to derail Trump’s peace negotiations with the Taliban. These negotiations are key for a desperate Trump. Anti-war voters put him over the top in the 2016 election, and he wants to snatch those votes again and thus must distract from his horrible, war-mongering record: bombing Syria, nearly starting war with Iran, bombing Iraq, sending more troops to the Middle East, assassinating high-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, putting a bounty on the Venezuelan president and on and on.

Trump needs a win to claim he’s a peacemaker. And he may get one with the Taliban. So: enter the corporate media, followed quickly by House Democrats and some Republicans. The war party kicked into high gear. Even though the Times published a “clarification” that the article was questionable some days later (a clarification buried inside the paper), the damage had been done.

On June 30, the House Armed Services Committee voted to block these Afghanistan troop withdrawals. Most votes were Democratic, though some Republicans, notably Liz Cheney, joined in. According to The Hill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “would require several certifications before the U.S. military can further draw down in Afghanistan.” It prohibits expenditures to cut U.S. troop numbers. In other words, the House committee threw sand in the gears of bringing the troops home.

The NDAA also restricted Trump’s plan to remove “9,500 troops from German soil,” Glenn Greenwald wrote in the Intercept, “reducing the number of U.S. troops in this extremely prosperous, rich European nation from 34,500 to 25,000.” Fundamentally, the House committee disgraced itself: it sandbagged two of Trump’s very few decent moves. Hopefully the full House or Senate will strip this amendment out of the bill. If not, maybe Trump will veto it. Then no NDAA until the end of the impasse, which is basically a win for the world.

Meanwhile in South Korea, Trump is accused of letting the U.S. military situation go to seed. But so what? It could be argued that both Koreas should just declare peace and send the U.S. soldiers home. Not, however, according to a recent Foreign Affairs article by Sue Mi Terry, entitled “The Unraveling of the U.S.-South Korean Alliance.” This formerly CIA-associated author cites John Bolton’s new book approvingly, to complain that Trump is more interested in public relations stunts with North Korea than in preserving the military alliance with South Korea.

With this Foreign Affairs article, once again, the security state becomes hysterical at Trump’s very few unorthodox moves – moves which it feared so intensely, from the get-go, that it concocted the whole, phony Russiagate fiasco, which distracted and demobilized people for three and a half years from Trump’s many other atrocious policies, like tax cuts for billionaires, gutting environmental protections, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, and sanctioning countries all over the globe like there’s no tomorrow.

The war party scents danger. But frankly, it can relax. The likelihood that many of the U.S. empire’s over 800 foreign military bases will be closed is very slim. Trump may shutter a few, amid great fanfare about what a nonpareil peacemaker and deal-maker he is, but he is not suicidal. Nor is he up to the task of systematically dismantling the biggest, most aggressive war machine and military empire the world has ever seen, and even if he were, he would not want to become the next JFK. He is a show-man, full of bluster and braggadocio. As he himself has crowed – no president has been harder on Russia than he has.

Trump is more than willing to coddle the pentagon and to shower it with billions of dollars. He just wants fodder for the Trump Show. Alas for him, that show with its public relations stunts involve pentagon interests, and if there’s one thing the military has no sense of humor about, it’s attempts to curb its power. Also, the U.S. military has a very long, tenacious, institutional memory, as countries like Iran, Russia and North Korea can attest. And anyone who dares challenge those grudges, better be ready for the full force of the war party’s wrath and its media’s hysterical prevarications.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.