Monthly Archives: April 2017

THAT bomb. What was it dropped for? Absolutely nothing

Is anyone else disturbed by how the decision of the USA to drop a Massive Ordnance Air Blast  on Afghanistan has disappeared from the news?

A week later (20 April 2017), Malcolm Turnbull said of Donald Trump and the Republican administration: ‘I trust the judgement of the American government… I trust the judgement, the wisdom, of the president’. That is a verbatim quote. How could anyone trust the judgement of President Trump; or surmise he has wisdom?

Even to a hardened politics watcher like me, waking up to the MOAB news on Good Friday was so shocking I spent much of easter scrolling through Trump tweets seeking clues. It is worth noting in this context that Trump will host Palestinian President Abbas at the White House on 3 May. This may be consistent with the observation that Trump’s domestic rhetoric is isolationist, while if anything he is escalating American military interventionism.

War hardware and war software: Bombs and propaganda

The MOAB is horrendous in scale. The Pentagon says it is the largest non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal. It sucks the oxygen from the air and sets the rest on fire. It weighs 10,000 kilograms. It flattens everything within a one-mile radius in every direction. It costs US$16 million just to build. Like most such monstrosities, it was ‘originally’ built ‘as a deterrent’.

‘The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates,’ said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2003.

Predictably, US and other western news sites fawned breathlessly over its size and power; and dutifully reproduced the White House message about precision and firsts (in combat, was the claim) and avoiding civilian casualties.

But the reasons offered were entirely vacuous. Not just strategy-free, like the 59 missiles dropped on a Syrian air-base near Homs on the chemical weapons pretext. The chemical weapons ‘red line’ at least had a history of failed multilateralism and Putin-Obama negotiations. It was anchored in something of substance. In contrast, the two reasons put forward for detonating the MOAB were entirely without substance.

‘The US takes the fight against ISIS seriously’ said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Well, yes, but our leaders have been saying that for years, with no apparent thought to how this plays for ISIS. But what had changed in Afghanistan? Nothing anyone was telling the public. The case is empty. Caves and tunnels. An American soldier was killed in the area last week.

One soldier? ISIS-K? Caves and tunnels?

Who outside of foreign policy circles had heard of ISIS-K before now? It is apparently two years old and operates in country bordering nominal American ally Pakistan. The same ally who sheltered bin Laden and for its trouble saw a US Forces raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, complete with extra-judicial assassination and reported dumping of the body at sea. The same bin Laden who video-taped his ramblings in those caves and tunnels when they were populated by Taliban fighters, like the caves and tunnels fitted out by the CIA courtesy of the American public.

So the usual dishonest and violent American interventionism is present.

But the MOAB is not just another American mess, a real-life scene out of Team America: World Police, the one where Gary the actor is kidnapped in Egypt and US Forces swoop in and blow up half of Cairo, knocking the head off a sphinx. The MOAB is more than disproportionality, a war crime, although it is that. The MOAB is ‘use of force’ so out of all proportion as to be in another category of crime, on another level of wrongness.

There are echoes of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but without the preceding 6-year global bloodbath. That is not to deny the extent of slaughter America brought to Afghanistan and Iraq, but to point to the sheer scale of this horror at this time. Even in the world of an American president who rarely says what he means or means what he says, the MOAB drop seems incomprehensible.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai called out Trump for using Afghanistan as a bomb testing ground. While Karzai is not of clean hands when it comes to brinkmanship, on this occasion he articulated the major issues associated with such an extreme and destructive weapon. Unlike the breathless bomb-porn that dominated coverage in the west, Karzai pointed to Afghani sovereignty – imagine how America would respond to such an attack on its soil – and to the soil itself, to the environmental and inter-generational consequences.

This was an inhuman act, a brutal act against an innocent country, against innocent people, against our land, against our sovereignty, against our soil and against our future… A bomb of that magnitude has consequences for the environment, for our lives, for our plants, for our water, for our soil – this is poison – Former Afghani President Hamid Karzai, 16 April 2017

We could use more truth like this over the endless ‘analysis’ from the no-choice-but-to-bomb school of war journalism, an inherently biased approach which showcases the violent views of military ‘experts’ while ignoring conflict resolution approaches and peace scholars.

One other disturbing observation is that the MOAB has all but disappeared from our airwaves and newsfeeds. The (predicted) North Korean missile ‘test’ (explosion, detonated by North Korea), the Turkish referendum which Erdoğan could only have scheduled for Easter Sunday well in advance, eclipsed the horror in Afghanistan.

Less than a week later, the Pentagon is claiming that ISIS used a ‘chemical attack’ on an Iraqi contingent that included US and Australian ‘advisors’ in Mosul – but they are all unhurt. What even is this? Did the MOAB not warn ISIS off using chemical weapons, then? Oh no, that’s right, that was Assad? Will Trump bomb Mosul back to the stone age too? Oh no that’s right, he bombed caves and tunnels – stone age technology – back to the stone age.

How to make sense of it all?

My instinct was to return to Trump’s words and deeds. Trump is Commander-in-Chief. It is Trump with whom the buck stops for the MOAB, no matter what is reported as to which general gave what order. If Trump really did delegate that level of authority to someone else, that is an abrogation of his responsibility, but it is still his abrogation and his responsibility.

The most obvious Trump characteristic is that his decisions appear largely random, or, if there is any method at all, his decisions tend to further his personal rather than the national or global interest. How to test whether Trump is issuing orders at random? Does he just like blowing up people and their lands, their homes? The record is opaque, and we must assume deliberately so, given the conventions Trump has flouted, the rules he simply ignores, the failure of institutional checks and balances to curb his excesses.

This is not to suggest that Trump is some kind of evil foreign policy genius. Quite the opposite. It is to observe that Trump is doing what he has always done: operating in the interests of Donald Trump.

Abridged Timeline: on Twitter and in real life

It is a truism that the Trump Twitter timeline is as good a window as any into the thinking of the President. I do not follow either his personal or POTUS account, but trump Twitter, and reporting about Trump twitter, is impossible to avoid.

The first thing I noticed was the contrast between domestic and foreign policy tweets.

In the past fortnight, Trump has met with Egyptian President Al Sisi (4 April), Jordanian King Abdullah (6 April), Chinese President Xi Jinping (9 April) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (12 April). Given the general purpose of such meetings, there would be some agenda with individual countries, and some with the relevant region. In other words, Trump here is skirting around Syria, North Korea, and Turkey.

Each foreign policy tweet is interspersed with what in Australia is called feeding the chooks, although in Trump’s case he is feeding the Fox [News]. These domestic nonsense tweets contain shallow statements, heavy with exclamation marks. Each bears the hallmark of Trump self-expression: his unquantifiable relationship with truth. Trump is less reliable than the proverbial stopped clock: he might be right twice a day, but he might not. Whether he is being serious – whether he means X or will change his mind on Y – is so randomised that it is impossible to tell with any confidence.

But those are the domestic tweets.

The tone and spacing of the foreign policy tweets indicate some oversight. There is a whiff of daughter Ivanka about it (see this by Anne Summers on her role). Her husband, Jared Kushner, continues to be promoted. According to the not-credible source Eric Trump, it was a ‘heartbroken and outraged’ Ivanka who persuaded dad to order the 59-missile attack on a Syrian air base. Certainly the missile attack near Homs lacked strategic coherence – the calls for Trump to ‘reveal his strategy’ assume he has one, or one he would reveal to the media and the public. Meanwhile, Jared headed off to Iraq wearing a flak jacket over his Ivy League uniform outfit.

The only real certainty is that Trump is not operating according to conventional priorities. As mentioned, he is in all likelihood operating according to self-interest rather than global or American interests. This is not to say that a Cheney- or Rove-style Washington Consensus is a force for good in the world; only that it is knowable in a way that Trumpism is not.

It was the 6.5 minute Trump speech addressing King Abdullah from the Rose Garden podium – the link posted to Twitter at around 5:00pm on 5 April – that contained the most chilling clues to the MOAB drop. The speech is irredeemably awful, repetitive and garbled. It is also – with hindsight, of course – quite chilling. It is worth analysing even in retrospect, I think, because we now know that the failure to take Trump seriously, to really listen to the meaning of his words, was a major factor in his electoral success.

Annotated transcript, Trump speech addressed to King Abdullah of Jordon.

“…before we begin let me say a few words about recent events. Yesterday chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific, in Syria against innocent people including women, small children and even a beautiful little babies their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous attacks by the Assad regime can not be tolerated…”

Trump then gets back on script, although it seems unlikely the author included quite so much repetition, notably of these terms:

  • Very very
  • Many many
  • I can tell you that
  • Tremendous
  • Believe me

He also co-opts the King into his implied future actions several times. Can we assume the King agreed to this beforehand? That the King knew this co-option would later include dropping the largest non-nuclear US bomb on Afghanistan? For example:

“Your majesty, Jordanians are known …and I have to say this, for their fighting ability. And you are a great warrior, and we appreciate it, thank you.”

Trump goes on: “[The US] has looked to Jordan as a valued partner, an advocate for the values of civilisation, and a source of stability and hope.” This is standard western chauvinism, where civilisation has long signalled the ‘othering’ of the East (or the ‘Orient’), and implies a range of imageries especially barbarism, going back to at least the crusades.

“As you know”, says Trump, “the Middle East and the entire world is faced with one of its gravest threats in many many years. Since the earliest days of ISIS Jordan has been a staunch ally and partner and we thank you for that.”

This is standard wartime propaganda but Trump is also locking Abdullah into a pro-American corner. He goes further:

“In King Abdullah, America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner. He is a man who has spent years commanding his country, special forces. He really knows what being a soldier is that I can tell you. And he knows how to fight… The King has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all. And I am with you on that, we’re both leaders on that, believe me. That’s what we speak about today and that is what we are going to do. And it will be a shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about believe me we’ve made tremendous strides as we discussed.”

These are the key MOAB hints. Trump then brings together the tropes and the hints: “We will destroy ISIS [pause] and we will protect civilisation. We have no choice. We will protect [pause] civilisation. King Abdullah and I also discussed measures to destroy the evil, and ideology, that inspires ISIS and plagues our planet.”

Unless it is referring to an actual disease outbreak, plague is always a red flag term, long used by génocidaires.

Trump then uses the opportunity to speak to his domestic audience: “we also acknowledge the vital role that Jordon has played in hosting refugees from the conflict in Syria. We’ve just announced that the United States will find additional funds to Jordan for humanitarian assistance. This funding will help countries like Jordan host refugees until it is safe for them to return home the refugees want to return home I know that from so many other instances they want to return back to their home and that’s a goal of any [emph] responsible [emph] refugee policy.

Here, Trump is telling his voters that violent raids on undocumented migrants in the US will continue, and that is what the undocumented migrants – ripped from their homes, children left without parents – want.

Jordon is not only host to an enormous number of Syrian refugees. It has a huge Palestinian refugee population, and has had since 1948. This is how Trump segues onto his next chilling hint:

Finally, as we discussed, to advance the cause of peace, in the Middle East, including peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I’m workin very very hard on trying to finally [emph] create peace between the Palestinians and Israel. And I think we’ll be successful, I hope to be successful I can tell you that. The king is been an entire, a really tireless advocate for a solution. He is gonna help me with that, at the highest level, and we will be consulting with him very closely in the days ahead.”

Trump separates the words ‘finally’ and ‘solution’ by a single sentence.

“King Abdullah I wanna take this opportunity to thank you for your partnership, working together, the United States and Jordan can work together, to help bring peace and stability to the Middle East and in fact the entire world and we will do that. Thank you very very much for being with us.”

Not that this analysis is especially revelatory. The US has brought violence and war to bear on the Middle East for as long as I can remember. We already knew Trump is aggressive and dangerous; that he is limited in his thinking, that his central organising principle is self-interest, that he is reckless and highly susceptible to being manipulated by less public characters.

But I am saying this: while the tone and syntax are quite similar, there is a sharp contrast between shallow Trump messaging on domestic policy (Jobs! I won! MAGA!) and his apparently garbled, but deathly serious, pronouncements on foreign policy. As the new week dawned, confirmation of US military aircraft intercepting Russian planes off Alaska was being reported by all major outlets.

The emphasis on confirmation is for a reason. As CNN notes in the first four sentences of its online report – above the fold, as it were – ‘Fox News first reported the intercept’. Maybe Fox just got the scoop, who knows. But I suspect that rather than looking for strategy on missile strikes, this is closer to what Trump strategy looks like.

They do not speak for me and they shit me to tears

This weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald showcased three conservative ‘young’ white women aged 28, 31 and 37 years. Most definitions of ‘young’ fall short of all these ages (and end at 25), but whiteness has long bestowed a peculiar time-machine effect which bears no relationship to reality, although it is closely associated with the shifting goal posts strategy perfected over centuries.

Anyway, the profiles of Daisy Cousens, Helen Andrews, and Georgina Downer generated a lot of comment. Daisy started a twitter campaign using a hashtag inspired by a dead white bloke who drew despicably racist and transphobic cartoons.

Into the fray leapt Caleb Bond, a 17-year-old white boy who has been propelled into the spotlight by Murdoch editors and publishers who for reasons of their own – such as disseminating patriarchal norms via shallow, ill-informed, feminist-hating trash – prefer a proportion of their misogyny and hate to be churned out from behind the face of an arrogant and ignorant school kid.

Where to start with this mess?

Nowhere, some would say. Stop, no more takes, the neocons are just building their brand on lefty outrage. Never feed the trolls.

But I disagree. These women are trolling, but they are not operating from anonymous, 50-follower twitter accounts. They are on our televisions, in our living rooms. And their viewpoints are used in specific ways to troll women like me, because I share a demographic – white, privileged (although a feminist and, as a single mum, not that privileged).

It reminds me of how Mark Latham loves to pretend he is the voice of working mums in western Sydney, as though we could not, given his platform, make a perfectly good case for ourselves.

The kind of cheap, crass argument goes like this: but Ingrid, what about the thing Daisy Cousens said and she is a woman, therefore you are wrong/extreme/isolated in your view. The ‘just ignore them’ school of thought is often said to children who are victimised by bullies, too. It doesn’t work. The same claims also imply that each new crop of nasty conservatives is a product of the left, and that our response determines their position.

These implications are false.

So I will refute the thing Daisy Cousens said as often and wherever I like. Producers and editors provide platforms to Daisy and Georgina to espouse their harmful views irrespective of whether I blog on the topic. This is mainly because our media is inherently conservative, as I wrote during the 2016 federal election campaign.

The racists and the misogynists, the climate-deniers and religious bigots, are not our mess. We did not make them and we can not make them go away. These people are a product of conservative right wing ideology. Their high-platform opportunities to broadcast narrow-minded nonsense are a product of conservative right-wing legacy media (and not of progressive, left-wing, social media).

So why the darling of panel shows status?

Perhaps these people are representative, or popular, or a brave new hybrid of youth representation via social media popularity, savvy and reach?

Nope. Even I have more followers on Twitter than any of the three women profiled. And even with the 100 new conservative trolls and attention-seekers Daisy gained this afternoon (who found her via other conservative trolls and attention seekers, not us), their reach is in the thousands at best. The women I saw who called out her nastiness, who share her demographic but not her politics, women like Asher Wolf (49.3K) and Erin Riley (6.5K) and Clementine Ford (66.7K), have tens of thousands of followers. Their reach is in the millions.

So there is no rationale for conservative white woman elevation there. What about representation?

Nope. As the Jane Cadzow article in Good Weekend reported (and I am not dissing the article, I think the journalist portrayed the three subjects well), the Australian National University found that almost 60% of women aged 18-34 years vote for Labor or the Greens. This is as good a measure as any as to whether an ultra-conservative Trump supporter like Cousens or Andrews is representative of their demographic.

Voting patterns of women in Georgina Downer’s age group were not mentioned, but the short answer is no, these women are not representative. We just hear their views anyway.

Downer claims that more conservatives is a more balanced approach to political discussion, thus simultaneously demonstrating her ignorance of the Australian mediascape, of political discussion, and of the English language.

Then again Downer also says we have an overly generous welfare system of a system which is literally killing people. So she either has no idea how the welfare system operates, which in a rational world would disqualify her from commenting on it; or she thinks life itself is too good for the unemployed, for carers, for people with disabilities, which would indicate that Downer has no humanity and in a rational world – did I mention? – that would disqualify her from commenting.

Andrews says it is a matter of supply and demand. Young conservative women are rare, and value is scarcity. In addition to being founded in free market tropes and lies based on false assumptions, the illogic of this idea is twofold (at least). First, Andrews assumes that their views are of any value at all, when nothing they say stands up to the most cursory scrutiny. Second, predictable and basic conservative views are supposed to be somehow of greater value when voiced by a privileged white woman.

In fact, conservative tropes which bear no relationship to fact or common humanity are a dime a dozen. It is almost impossible on any given day to turn on the television or radio, to open a newspaper or newsfeed, and not be exposed to dishonest and nasty conservative viewpoints.So again, the only rational justification would be if Andrews (or Cousens or Downer) were representative of a much larger population, which we have established they are not.

As old as the hills

There is one other dynamic I want to point to here (and I am using the first person as an iteration of an aggregate progressive experience). I might go on social media and say that Georgina Downer has taken a disgusting stance, that being entirely ignorant of the welfare state, of its origins and purpose, that knowing nothing, absolutely nothing, of hardship or her own privilege, that saying life itself is too good for the poor is repulsive, and that she is repulsive for accepting gigs where she disseminates this heartless, ignorant, arrogance.

In this context, Downer is commonly framed as a perfectly reasonable conservative observer, who is entitled to her view. In contrast, I am framed as part of an online outrage machine (which only exists in the conservative imagination). This framing is itself inherently conservative: it benefits cruel, and wrong, ideological positions. Her view – a view which lacks all moral compass and compassion – is elevated, normalised and validated. My view – which is ethical, logical, and humane – is seen as a bit flaky because – and this is key – my position is coded as emotional.

Coding us as ‘emotional’ – activists for peace, or climate action, sovereign Aboriginal rights and marriage equality, to name a few – is a specific form of gendered garbage that even prominent male thinkers have known is garbage since forever. Military campaigns always include a propaganda component that speaks to ‘hearts and minds’. Every patriarchal political machine plays to emotion, usually fear, while simultaneously holding itself out as the only, the rational, the common sense solution.

David Hume is remembered for his deconstruction of the naturalistic fallacy (and I do not thank him for his role in the rise of positivism) but in some ways he was a proto-feminist. It was Hume who pointed out that, far from the claims of natural law thinkers, men do not make decisions based on a perfectible human reason but are driven by passion. This is true: it is men who bash and kill and maim and stalk at the slightest slight, on the wounded ego. Nowhere is the reality of men driven by emotion more obvious than when it comes to the emotion of anger.

Same conservatism, different year

Yet here we are in the 21st century, with a dominant public discourse which uncritically reproduces and broadcasts untested claims of reason and facts and evidence and Turnbull’s favourite, common sense. These unquestioned claims are made by conservatives who have no knowledge of the subject matter but are entitled to their opinion. It is a central imperative of conservativism to devalue responses based on compassion and empathy, on equality and justice and meeting the human needs of all in a wealthy society. It is central because it is the only way ideological adherents know how to elevate their own cold and inhumane world view (they are not very bright, and are – by definition – unoriginal).

Conservatives quite literally hate the poor: they can not be bothered finding out how the poor live; and they do not care if poor people die as a direct result of their ideology. But they do not want to be seen to hate the poor, or displaced persons, or women and children. In other words, conservatives do not have the courage of their convictions, either. Millions of hours, and dollars, and column inches, and airtime, are poured into dishonestly obscuring the obscene immorality of their ideas.

This is why cashless welfare is called healthy welfare. It is the source of ludicrous posturing on caring about deaths at sea. It is why the label snowflake is applied to those who express concern about the impacts that graphic content – such as stories on rape – may have on rape survivors. It is not humane to care about the damage done by Centrelink, it is ‘social media outrage’. It is not compassionate to express disgust at indefinite detention, it is ‘political’ or pressuring people to self-immolate – an actual claim made by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, so desperate is he to push the line that conservative cruelty is neutral and normal and valid.

We might live in a world run by heartless demagogues who enthusiastically profiteer from misery and death, propped up by a conga line of nasty cheerleaders who are continuously amplified by legacy media. But the real problem, according to neocon ‘commentators’, is that the progressive left are perpetually outraged, we are snowflakes who are easily triggered.

This language is specifically gendered. For over 2,000 years, reason has been attributed to masculinity, while emotion is framed as feminine. And that is why, as a feminist and a woman, I choose to refute the horrible and harmful ideas espoused by the likes of Daisy Cousens, Helen Andrews and Georgina Downer.