The Politico published a piece on Sunday that really got people tweeting about Russia. “Make no mistake: Russia poses a gargantuan threat to America — and all we have stood for; hacking only a small part,” said former vice presidential candidate Mindy Finn. “Not sure how much of it to buy, but this is the most interesting thing I have read on Trump and Putin,” tweeted media thinker Jay Rosen. “Sharing this again: if you only, for some odd reason, read only one article this year, let this masterpiece be it,” said journalist Andrea Chalupa. Andrea… it’s only Jan. 3… are you sure…
The piece, called “Putin’s Real Long Game,” warns us that “the world order as we know it is already over” and basically declares some kind of war on Russia. It also talks a lot about “hard power” and how that is important, which, well. For some. The writer, Molly McKew, writes of sitting on porches and smoking cigarettes with her Russian and Estonian friends, idly discussing the war Russia is “waging against us” as proof it is happening. (These friends are conveniently not identified, raising the question: What constitutes a friend? What if a tree stump is your friend? And that tree stump declares war on Russia? Are we really at war? Idk I’m still working on my object permanence.) “The fight is the American way. When we stop fighting for our ideals abroad, we stop fighting for them at home. We won the last Cold War,” McKew writes, excellently embodying the voice of a dead WWII general. “We will win the next one too. When it’s us against them, they were, and are, never going to be the winner.”
Screech... Screech... Can you hear the hawks? They are circling, and they want WAR. Paul Wolfowitz has put on his bird suit, and he’s ready to go. Ahmed Chalabi gyrates in his grave. Judy Miller trots to her closet to dust off her WMD detection device (it’s a twig with a magnet taped to it). And Molly McKew calls her pals at The Politico: “Boy, have I got some opinions for you!” War really gets people going.
McKew was previously an adviser to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a Putin enemy, and also worked for the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, so that clears up a lot (when Dick Cheney decides to bless people with a speech, he usually does it for the people of AEI). A good rule of thumb when reading “opinion” pieces is to immediately Google the author and see if they have an association with a think tank, because one of the most pernicious things news organizations like The Politico do is publish this kind of strident claptrap from agenda-driven wonks.
Think tanks work in poisonous concert with the media (#notallthinktanks, before you write me angrily). Journalists are not supposed to have agendas, even though they do deep down under their wigs, but think tankers definitely have agendas, and are paid to promote them, and yet they continue to get published widely in reputable publications that desire content. Nowhere is safe. The Times over the summer followed how think tanks influence corporate spending (they do), employ people who don’t disclose their corporate interests (yes), and essentially run branding campaigns for businesses that give them money (uh huh). This series of pieces made the think tanks very mad, underscoring its worth.
(Luckily, it doesn’t seem that any friendship was lost between the Times and think tanks, at least. The president of American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks (no relation to David), is a contributing columnist who peddles his compassionate-conservative version of the Happiness Project in the opinion pages. “I was lucky — lucky to be able to change roads to one that made me truly happy,” he writes of his life’s path in one column. “After going back to school, I spent a blissful decade as a university professor and wound up running a Washington think tank.” One of my favorite things is whenever a man says he “wound up” in a powerful and influential position. Hard power in action.)
There is no better place for a war hawk to nest than at a think tank. It’s where big money and small brains meet without fear of being checked. Shortly after 9/11, neocon prince Paul Wolfowitz and AEI’s then-president Christopher DeMuth convened a panel of “top thinkers” to “answer the broader questions that the Pentagon was unable to answer, such as ‘Who are the terrorists?’” Wolfowitz hilariously dubbed the group “Bletchley II,” after the British WWII cryptographers who cracked German code. The group included more than a dozen “thinkers” who were sworn to secrecy, a possible violation of Federal Advisory Committee disclosure requirements. The group ultimately decided that Saddam was “a gathering threat — the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat,” as DeMuth later told fellow war-lover Bob Woodward, thus pinning war on the elusive “terror” on an individual and making it easier to understand. According to Der Spiegel, “such a conclusion must have been music to White House ears.”
Under the auspices of “generating ideas and solutions” and “scholarship” think tanks can also use shady money to advance the agendas of their donors. Take our friend the American Enterprise Institute. In 2013, The Nation reported that AEI received a $550,000 donation from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (essentially an embassy), and that the tank had “emerged as one of the Beltway’s most consistent advocates for the sale of advanced fighter jets to Taiwan.” Following the donation, Daniel Blumenthal, AEI’s director of Asian studies, wrote two articles for Foreign Policy. The first argued that “there was an implicit bargain with Taiwan that we are not upholding.” Hmm. The second said, “China has built a military capable of destroying the island if America does not assist Taiwan. Though obligated by law, the Obama administration has not sold a single weapon system to Taiwan.” Oh dear.
I mean, maybe this was Blumenthal’s genuine, individual concern about Taiwan’s arms. And maybe Molly McKew has America’s best interests at heart. Literally anything is possible, I guess. But the new maxim for reading “news” should be: verify then trust. Do a background check on every author and every institution. Hire a private investigator. Unfortunately this puts the onus on the reader to make sure what they’re reading is legitimate, but as McKew wrote in her piece, the world as we know it is over. Which is also weirdly how I felt after I bought a dustbuster.
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