We need to understand how much Joe McCarthy influenced both political parties before attributing guilt to the other one alone.
After President Donald Trump removed former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, Military Times ran an article on the reaction of William H. McRaven, commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, who accused Trump of “McCarthy-era tactics.” Here are his words addressed to the president: “If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.”
Not wishing to be outdone, Trump has followed up with a tweet comparing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to McCarthy himself.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An all-purpose adjective used by Democrats to express their feeling of victimization at the hands of Republicans (and vice versa)
The media jumped on this story, consistently presenting McRaven in terms similar to those of The Washington Post as the unimpeachable “retired Navy admiral … [who] oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.” What better credentials to prove the man’s integrity than being in some way responsible for the greatest achievement of the Obama administration: the ambushing and assassination of the master of evil in the world, Osama bin Laden?
None of the articles mentions the fact that McRaven was a leading candidate for the position of secretary of defense after Hillary Clinton’s expected election in 2016. Revealing his political careerism might have tarnished the image of moral purity that, as we expected to understand, had fueled the former officer’s indignation at Trump’s impugning the integrity of Brennan. McRaven was a strong supporter of Clinton, whom he praised in public as “one of the finest public servants ever” who wisely, he claims, “listened intently to my advice.”
McRaven thus offered his appreciation of Brennan as “a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him.” The “never” he mentions appears to be something of an exaggeration. An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily offers a little more perspective on John Brennan’s career: “In 2014, he flat-out denied hacking into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee … After the computer break-ins were proven beyond a doubt, Brennan apologized but refused to acknowledge wrong-doing by the CIA.”
Even imagining that a spy organization can be led by someone of “unparalleled integrity” requires a particular form of historical blindness.
Joe McCarthy was a pathologically outrageous communist hunter who famously “saw a communist under every bed.” He left a mark on US political history in the 1950s. Although discredited for his abusive behavior and remembered as a villain, he contributed to establishing the mainstream Manichean ideology of “us vs. them” and founding the belief that would allow Ronald Reagan, decades later, to qualify the Soviet Union as the “evil empire.” Listening to Reagan’s speech today reveals how deeply pseudo-theological and morally absolute was the entire anti-communist movement, which we should not think of as a marginal force at one extreme of the political spectrum of the Cold War years, but rather as the mainstream core of the ideology that governed US policy.
Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
The Democrats of the 1950s and 1960s defended those on the left who embraced the idea of socialism against the McCarthyites who insisted that socialists and indeed “liberals” committed to a strong role for the government in a complex society were communist sympathizers or “fellow travelers,” effectively demonizing them for being worse than communists because they pretended to be patriotic Americans. But the Democrats —starting with John F. Kennedy — not only won elections based on their opposition to communism (“we live in a world that is half-slave and half-free,” Kennedy repeated throughout the 1960 campaign), but their aggressive foreign policy culminating in the war in Vietnam was based on that premise.
The deeper political irony worth noticing today lies in the fact that, if anything, it’s the Clintonite Democrats who have been deploying “McCarthy-era tactics” ever since the 2016 election. They have curiously been playing on the long-standing identification of Russia with communism to demonize anyone who criticizes the Democratic Party establishment, with a particularly egregious attack on left-leaning media.
The ultimate, incontrovertibly logical conclusion must be what Glenn Greenwald suggested, which is pleasing to neither side: The US, like Russia itself, is somehow addicted to the McCarthyite logic of the Cold War. In a debate organized by RT, Greenwald responds to a Russian’s claim that Moscow was a victim of American “fake news”: “Russia is also the perpetrator of such campaigns, and … the history of the Cold War has continued through today: whereby the US and Russia both use the same tactics against one another while claiming to be the victim.”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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