White House versus Pentagon: Press Loses

Back in the Sixties, some French auteur – Godard, I believe – had a scene in one of his films about the political uses of anti-Semitism. In the scene, a young rich woman is berating an older blue-collar man, a driver who accidentally killed her young rich boyfriend. The driver fights back. The scene ends, however, with the two heated participants in class warfare walking off with arms around each other, after they reconcile by mutually dumping on “Jews.”


This scene exactly parallels the way the story about Islam’s holy Koran being put into toilets at Guantanamo has played out. In an ongoing but largely sub rosa battle between the White House and the Pentagon, the two antagonists have (temporarily) reconciled by mutually dumping on the press.


Let’s not forget that the item – alleging that military interrogators were under investigation for defiling the Koran — was leaked to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff by a “senior administration official.” This, in the journalistic code for background sources, signifies at least an Undersecretary and should signify a Cabinet member.


The leak comes shortly after the Army took its remarkable step of announcing that all its recruiters are going to “stand down” for one day this month, ostensibly because of abuses (lying) by recruiters. When I heard Bob Schieffer report that on CBS Evening News, I couldn’t help remembering what an uncle of mine once told us about being recruited. He’s my only uncle who wasn’t in World War II – by a lucky break, too young for WW2 and too old for Vietnam – and he was reflecting on the difference between before (getting in) and after. Once in, he said, he “never heard that [recruiter’s] voice again” – “so sweet, kind . . .” And that was in good times.


Not to get anyone into trouble, but the point here is that military recruiters have been lying for years. You pretty much have to shade the truth, if you want people to think that getting shot at is a good way to make a living.


The military is having increasing problems in recruiting; meanwhile, signs are that the White House wants to move on Iran if not Syria; service personnel are on beepers if they’re home and are prevented from coming home if abroad; cuts in pay and benefits for veterans and active duty personnel are constantly being mooted by the White House’s GOP boosters in Congress; another round of base closings is about to begin; and the Pentagon is under constant pressure from the White House and the GOP in Congress to cover up everything from prisoner abuse to security lapses before and after 9/11 to contractor corruption, even while facing public frustration at the cover-ups. That Army recruiters took a collective day off solely because of recruiting abuses is, shall we say, not a given.


My take on all this is (1) that the announced one-day stand-down was a protest, (2) that it got noticed at the White House, and (3) that the White House riposted.


Enter our “senior administration official.”


The Bush White House has evinced intent to dominate and control the Pentagon since first coming into office in January 2000. The story deliberately put out by an administration spokesperson about the Koran being put into toilets is only the most recent chapter in a consistent strategy of keeping a large power base off-balance (parallel to White House strategy of keeping the Fourth Estate off-balance, through a combination of attack, buying off, protective mimicry, infiltration and disinformation). The Pentagon may have bought itself time, temporarily, by joining the White House in an attack on Newsweek. But that superficial unity cannot possibly shore up the armed forces, caught up partly unknowingly and partly knowingly in a demented strategy to heighten and inflame terrorist strikes into “global war.”

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