Naturally, there are factional rivalries among the elite, played out most vividly every four years in the presidential campaigns, where two candidates with mutual assumptions and values split hairs over side issues to get their faction to take a turn at the top; and thus various bits of the corporate media tend to line up more closely with one faction over the other. But on the core values of the modern American power structure -- the use of overwhelming violence to achieve political ends (chiefly, the predominance of the American elite over world affairs as far as possible); the primacy and privilege due to wealth, and the burning need to preserve that primacy at the expense of everyone else, if need be; and the ineffable, ineradicable, mystical goodness of the imperial state, which can never really sin nor err, except, perhaps, from the misapplied excess of its own forever-good intentions (liberating the oppressed, safeguarding national security, etc.) -- there is no genuine disagreement. For the American elite, the principle of governance that Richard Nixon and George W. Bush openly adopted -- "If the president does it, it's legal" -- is always operative on a larger scale: "If America does it, it's good, or was meant to be good, even if it does turn out wrong every now and then" (generally due to the perceived "incompetence" of the particular faction in power, or perhaps the ingratitude and unworthiness of the recipients of America's benevolence.)
With these shared values reaching across the bipartisan divide in politics, and suffused throughout the commanding heights of American society (and through much of general population as well, especially the doctrine of America's mystical goodness), it's no wonder that a high degree of consensus -- a widespread "conventional wisdom" -- is so readily formed on the major issues of the day. Of course, this conventional wisdom shifts over the years, as the agendas of the elite factions shift in response to various events and trends; but at any given time, it is so powerful and pervasive as to be almost invisible.
One of the great bellwethers of conventional wisdom is of course the "paper of record," the New York Times. The paper's factional leaning is well-known -- it tends toward the extremely tame, pro-empire, pro-oligarchy center-right stance known rather laughingly as "liberalism" in the United States -- but that has never prevented it from performing its duty as a pipeline for the propaganda of power. One of the most vivid examples of this was the paper's key role in preparing the public mind to accept, even applaud, an act of naked military aggression against Iraq -- even though this murderous campaign was led by rivals of the Times' factional soulmates among the elite.
Now the Times' faction has one of its own in power, which doubtless makes the stovepiping of propaganda even easier, more congenial -- indeed, even more unconscious -- for the great Gotham bellwether. A story in Monday's paper is a good case in point. Written by C.J. Chivers, embedded with American ground troops in Afghanistan, it shows the "liberal" paper preparing the American public to accept, even champion, a bloody escalation of the conflict -- including a subtle "justification" for the great increase in civilian casualties that will come with Obama's "surge" in Central Asia.
In the horribly stilted, obfuscating prose that characterizes so much of the Times' writing -- especially the more propagandist pieces -- Chivers tries to have it both ways, readying reader for more bloodshed while dangling sugar plums of "hope" to ease the coming pain:
These changing expectations [stemming from the planned surge] have made the soldiers now on the ground a bridge from the older war to a fight that stands to become more invigorated, and hopeful, albeit perhaps more bloody as American units push into longstanding Taliban sanctuaries.
In short, the conflict of Afghanistan is evolving from an "older war" in which a limited number of American troops and airplanes and missiles killed people in a somewhat limited geographical area to a "newer war" in which a greater number of American troops and airplanes and missiles will kill even more people in a somewhat larger geographical area. This will also result in more Americans being killed, but somehow, the extension and expansion of precisely the same failed strategy that has led to the present deteriorating position -- "invigorating" the war, as Chivers calls it -- will make things more "hopeful."
The story is filled with lots of "savvy" tactical talk and "light at the end of the tunnel" boilerplate from military sources that will be dismally familiar to anyone with the slightest memory of the Vietnam War. But what is perhaps most ominous is a passing observation thrown in toward the end of the story, where Chivers rides through a rural Afghan village with soldiers from Company C of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry. First -- 20 paragraphs into the piece -- Chivers finally notes that some of the villagers are less than enamored of the liberator's presence in their land:
What the soldiers do not know is whether more troops will translate to local popular support. In some areas within the gaps, the military says, villagers have asked for more American presence. In others, including around Wanat, villagers have bluntly told the American military that its presence is not wanted.
He then zeroes in on his ride with C Company through the Pech Valley, and the greeting they received there:
The villages vary from tolerant of the Americans to quietly hostile. On six recent patrols along the ridges and roads, many children waved. A few raised their middle fingers as soldiers passed by. A few others threw stones.
Last week, as the company’s Second Platoon returned from a patrol, a rock slammed into the ballistic glass beside the head of the platoon’s forward observer, Pfc. Matthew C. Boyd. "Man, he pegged my window,” he said, chuckling at first, then swearing.
Then comes the money graph:
Stones are a small part of it. In one village, the soldiers found an old woman carrying an assault rifle under her shawl; in another, they found a 12-year-old boy with a rocket-propelled grenade.
He then concludes with a recitation of the casualties suffered by the small company in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.
The "takeaway" at the end of the story seems clear: In order to win through on the president's agenda of hope and transformation in Afghanistan, we must brace ourselves for some tough fighting -- and high costs -- as we face down a ruthless enemy that uses old women and young children to stalk and kill our troops.
So, as the death toll mounts in the coming months and you hear all those overwrought sob stories about "slaughtered civilians" -- including the emotional handwringing about "women and children" among the unavoidable collateral damage that occurs when you are trying to do the right thing for a bunch of ungrateful Muslim wretches -- just remember what the New York Times has told you: some of those collaterals were probably packing heat. They deserved to die. This good, hopeful, progressive war need not trouble your conscience at all.
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This story was published on April 14, 2009.