After a week away, here’s my advice: in news terms, you can afford to take a vacation. When I came back last Sunday, New Orleans was bracing for tough times (again). BP, a drill-baby-drill oil company that made $6.1 billion in the first quarter of this year and lobbied against “new, stricter safety rules” for offshore drilling, had experienced an offshore disaster for which ordinary Americans are going to pay through the nose (again). News photographers were gearing up for the usual shots of oil-covered wildlife (again). A White House — admittedly Democratic, not Republican — had deferred to an energy company’s needs, accepted its PR and lies, and then moved too slowly when disaster struck (again).
Okay, it may not be an exact repeat. Think of it instead as history on cocaine. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, already the size of the state of Delaware, may end up larger than the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and could prove more devastating than Hurricane Katrina. Anyway, take my word for it, returning to our world from a few days offline and cell phone-less, I experienced an unsettling déjà-vu-all-over-again feeling. What had happened was startling and horrifying — but also eerily expectable, if not predictable.
“You’ll Never See It Coming”
I came back from vacation to several other headlines that I could have sworn I’d read before I left. Take, for instance, the Washington Post headline: “Amid outrage over civilian deaths in Pakistan, CIA turns to smaller missiles.” So here’s the “good” news, according to the Post piece: now we have a new missile weighing only 35 pounds, with the diameter of “a coffee cup,” and “no bigger than a violin” — who thinks up these comparisons? — charmingly named the Scorpion. It has been developed to arm our drone aircraft and so aid the CIA’s air war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. According to the advocates of our drone wars, the new missile has the enormous benefit of being so much more precise than the 100-pound Hellfire missile that preceded it. It will, that is, kill so much more precisely those we want killed, and so (theoretically) not spark the sort of anti-American anger that often makes our weaponry a rallying point for resistance.
Talk about repetitious. The idea that ever more efficient and “precise” wonder weapons will solve human problems, and perhaps even decisively bring our wars to an end, is older than… well, than I am anyway, and I’m almost 66. After six-and-a-half decades on this planet and a week on vacation, I know one thing, which I knew before I left town: there’s no learning curve here at all.
Oh, and let me mention one last repetitive moment. You may remember that, in March 2004, just a year after he launched the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush appeared at the annual black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association and narrated a jokey slide show. It showed him looking under White House furniture and around corners for those weapons of mass destruction that his administration had assured Americans would be found in Iraq in profusion, and which, of course, were nowhere to be seen. “Those weapons of mass destruction,” the president joked, “have got to be here somewhere.”
Hard to imagine such a second such moment, certainly not from the joke writers of Barack Obama, who appeared at a White House Correspondents’ Association dinner while I was gone, and garnered this positive headline at the wonk Washington political website Politico.com for his sharp one-liners: “Obama Tops Leno at WHCD.” The accompanying piece hailed the president for showing off “his comedic chops” and cited several of his quips to make the point. Here was one of them, quoted but not commented on (nor even considered worth a mention in the main Washington Post piece on his appearance, though it was noted in a Post blog): “The Jonas Brothers are here!… Sasha and Malia are huge fans but boys don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: Predator Drones. You’ll never see it coming.”
The audience at the correspondents’ dinner reportedly “laughed approvingly.” And why not? Assassinate the Jonas brothers by remote control if they touch his daughters? What father with access to drone killers wouldn’t be tempted to make such a joke?
By the way, don’t mistake repetition for sameness. If you repeat without learning, assessing, and changing, then things don’t stay the same. They tend to get worse. The thought, for instance, that either a giant oil company or the Pentagon will solve our problems is certainly a repetitive one. So is the belief that, when they make a mess, they should be in charge of “investigating” themselves and then responding. While predictable, the results, however, do not simply leave us in the same situation.
And don’t say you didn’t read it here: If American wars continue to exist as if in a galaxy far, far away, and the repeats of the repeats pile up, things will get worse (and, in the most practical terms, life will be less safe). Once we’re all finally distracted from the possibility of the Gulf of Mexico being turned into a dead sea by the next 24/7 crisis, if nothing much changes, expect repeats. After all, what happens when, in the “tough oil” era, the BPs of this world hit the melting Arctic with their deep water rigs in really bad climates?
In such circumstances, repetition doesn’t mean sameness; it means a wrecked world. And here’s the worst of it: predictable as so much of this may be, the odds are you’ll never see it coming.
Read it all here:
All-Volunteer Wars: Yawn… How Many Times Have You Seen This Headline?
by Tom Engelhardt