In Defense of the Press

In 1999 I was a young fighter pilot flying over Iraq during Operation Southern Watch. Given the opposing goals of the military and press—one wishing to tell an engaging story to a deserving public and one wishing to maintain security—I did not hold the press in very high regard. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, I was the product of the view that the press reveled in helping lose that war. I was no fan, and so, when a colonel selected me among all the pilots at our base in Kuwait to talk to the Washington Post about our mission, I was less than enthusiastic. He said he needed a “steely-eyed” warrior to explain to them what we were doing. I wasn’t sure I exactly knew. The story completely altered my view of the press and the important job they do.

The reporter was Dana Priest, and she would go on to receive two Pulitzers for later work. This was a front-page story, back when that physical space had gravitas, and it told the clearest picture of no-fly-zone enforcement in Southwest Asia I had read. My pithy quote about how training takes over when the bullets start flying was there, but nothing else I said made the piece. I was just seasoning for an in-depth look at what U.S. air forces were tasked with, why, and their effectiveness in a combat zone almost no one knew about anymore. She nailed it. It was objective, accurate, and important.

Today, far too many people fall for hyper-partisan media outlets or fiction factories meant to drive traffic to advertising sites. Far too many believe outright lies then bounce them around their circle of like-minded people. We care too much about what some celebrity is saying on social media than what disciplined, objective journalists from outlets now known derisively as the “main-stream media” are providing by hard-nosed, intensively researched, multi-sourced, investigative journalism. The incidents over this campaign season of rally-goers threatening violence toward members of the Fourth Estate—the only one capable of ultimately holding their authoritarian candidate in check—were chilling.

Sure, the press gets it wrong sometimes, but more often than not, they get it right. They uncover presidentially-decreed break-ins at opponents’ headquarters. They illuminate philandering in the Oval Office. They report on arms-for-hostages deals and international money laundering run out of the White House. They hold a mirror to our morality and reflect our great failures on the treatment of those we won’t even call prisoners of war. They show us the devastation we failed to prevent in the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

I have dealt with the press many times since my debut on the front page of the Post. They are frustratingly intrusive, constantly inquisitive, and sometimes overly ambitious. We better hope so. They are also very careful, highly protective of their sources, and concerned above all else about their credibility. They are professionals.

Credibility is one thing partisans and news fiction writers scoff. They mock you with their indifference to verifiable fact. Hannity still pulls down millions after failing to vet then siding with an insurrectionist and blatant racist over western land rights. Retired General Flynn is still the National Security Advisor nominee after retweeting a fake feed about Hillary Clinton’s culpability in sex crimes with minors. On the other hand, both Dan Rather and Brian Williams were removed from anchor positions at major networks for propagating falsities. Professionals care when they get it wrong, and such care drives rarity.

Our Founders knew the survival of the republic hinged on a free press, so they enumerated a prohibition about the abridgement thereof. Be thankful they did. And be thankful there are those willing to exercise that freedom in an increasingly difficult and even hostile environment. They stand between you and the tyranny of ignorance. And that is all that stands between you and real tyranny.

 

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Boeing May Have Just Saved the World, Really

Boeing aircraft company just gave the world a Christmas present. On December 11th, it signed a deal with Iran’s state-run airline to sell 80 aircraft at a cost of $16.6 billion. I have been anxiously awaiting this announcement because of the impact it will most certainly have on the multi-lateral deal to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The president-elect has vowed to rip up the Iran deal “on day one.” Boeing made it far more difficult for the new president to carry through on that threat (a dubious prospect given a campaign based almost entirely on outlandish and untenable claims). Republicans should be cheering. This is the free market as policy.

Boeing is the largest aerospace manufacturing firm in the world. According to its corporate communications, it has 160,000 employees in 65 countries. More than 126,000 are employed in the U.S. There are people in significant numbers working for Boeing in nine states, and it maintains its corporate headquarters in Chicago. California and Missouri each house more than 14,000 Boeing workers, while Washington is home to more than 72,000. What this means is there are 18 senators plus two from Illinois with constituents and state economies that just got a boost from a major manufacturing company supporting over 120,000 U.S. jobs, 180 times more than the political stunt of “saved” Carrier jobs in Indiana. Washington would have the most to lose should the new administration do something rash over the Iran deal. Its two senators, both Democrats, along with Illinois’ senators, also both Democrats with one newly elected, will relish the opportunity to paint the new administration as anti-American worker and anti-U.S. manufacturing.

Because the Iran nuclear deal is currently done on executive authority, the new President could back out of it without giving the Congress a say. That would marginalize the power of these Senators, though it would also put the new President in the position of continuing what Republicans have consistently decried about President Obama’s administration, the charge that he has abused executive power. Fortunately, the fate of the nuclearization of the Middle East does not rest solely with the President or the Senate.

According to the Wall Street Journal, large corporations from Germany, France, and the U.K. are also pursuing deals with the Islamic Republic. If you are a student of history, you do not have to look past Iraq in the late nineties to know that when corporations begin foreign direct investment projects or sign deals for products and services, coalitions fall apart and widespread sanctions are no longer an arrow in the quiver of diplomacy. But commerce is. Siemens, Total, Vodaphone, and Boeing are all going into these deals knowing the “snap-back” clause of the Iran deal may impact their future business should Iran again begin to pursue nuclear weapons. They are willing to take the risk, because the economics of these investments make it far less likely.

There is one other side to this story that must be addressed. Boeing has debunked the myth that, more than any other, put Donald Trump in the White House. Boeing’s near $17B deal proves American companies do win. They win often, and they win big. They are capable of making “great deals” without any government interventionism. It also proves American workers compete just fine in the global market when barriers to free trade are removed. Boeing’s deal with Iran is a blow to the narrative—frankly a tacit insult to American business and the American worker—that globalism and free trade are incompatible with the potential of the U.S. economy. There is no return to halcyon days of yore, but commerce—and Boeing—may have just saved the world from a Middle East nuclear arms race. That is one thing to celebrate as we continue to hope for Peace on Earth.

Seventy-Five Years from Infamy

December 7th, 2016 marks the 75th year since Imperial Japan attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor in a surprise event that reshaped the world. A month earlier, the Japanese Combined Fleet released the order that would set the world to war. It read, “The Task Force will launch a surprise attack at the outset of war upon the U.S. Pacific Fleet supposed to be in Hawaiian waters, and destroy it” (Prange, At Dawn We Slept). It is hard to overstate the importance of this day in American history. We are a country that does not celebrate our defeats, but we are a country that looks back in contemplation. This day gives us much to contemplate.

On the 8th of December, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress and declared the day prior to be a “date which will live in infamy.” Just an hour later, Congress sent him a declaration of war against Japan. On December 11th, it sent him a declaration of war against Germany and Italy. Though the U.S. declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania on the 5th of June, 1942 when those nations joined the Axis Powers, historians widely view the declaration against Germany and Italy as the last time the Congress has exercised their solemn duty to begin hostilities. It seems odd, given the U.S. has been involved in at least eight large-scale armed conflicts since that day. Three of those lasted longer than World War II, and one has lasted over twice as long. It is still in progress.

When a president went to a “police action” to hold north Korea at bay, the Congress let him go. When subsequent presidents went to war in Indochina, the Congress passed resolutions and approved budgets; they thought that adequate. They then passed the War Powers Act to give themselves further cover from having to do what they were sworn to do. When the president invaded Grenada to free American students caught in leftist chaos, the Congress did not act. When the president invaded Panama in order to capture a drug lord who also happened to be the head of state, the Congress sat on their hands. When the president decided to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the Congress decided a UN declaration was plenty. When the president went back to Iraq, Congress again allowed a UN resolution to take the nation to war. The president went to war in the Balkans to stop a genocide—a patently just cause if there ever was one—and Congress once again allowed the UN and, this time, NATO to usurp its authority. When the president decided to go to war in Libya to protect innocents threatened by Qaddafi-aligned factions, Congress had nothing of Constitutional magnitude to say. When the president decided to engage in armed hostilities in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Congress neglected to condone or deny it. We are now bombing Syrian targets under the same authorization for use of military force enacted immediately after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. That authorization was meant to allow action against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces—those either directly or tacitly responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Congress has not had much to say about armed hostilities for three quarters of a century now. That is not only inexcusable, it is derelict.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of our beginning of the Second World War ought to also make us contemplate what we fought against. We fought against aggression, imperialism, and authoritarianism. We fought against the idea that any race should be seen as superior to any other. We fought against the idea that one’s religion should make one a target of discrimination, prejudice, or in Hitler’s words, a “final solution.” We fought for the right of self-determination. For the right of every man and woman to raise their voice for a common cause, to cast a vote for their own future, and to never live in fear that their neighbors might turn against them, offer them up for incarceration, or place them in danger for their lives.

And yet we know we are not immune, even here. It is exactly what we did to our own citizens of Japanese descent. The program of placing citizens in internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor is a dark stain on our history that we can never wash clean. That is exactly as it should be, because we ought to acknowledge such appalling acts regularly enough that we dare never to repeat them. Unfortunately, our next head of state thought it a good idea to “look at it” again in discussing how to dissuade lone wolf attacks by those individuals who claim some inspiration from terrorists masquerading as Islamists. A severe sense of urgency during what we term “national emergencies” is often an excuse to further constrict our individual freedoms and, at times, to trample the rights of entire segments of our diverse and thriving society. Let us consider such possibilities on this day, that we never cede liberty to surprise, to terror, or to an authoritarian streak now running roughshod through our electorate.

I have stood in silence at the USS Arizona, cognizant of the 1,102 men whose remains still occupy its bunks, corridors, and turrets. I have visited American Cemeteries the world over. And I have had the great honor of standing shoulder to shoulder with members of two of our greatest allies’ militaries—the Japanese Self Defense Force and the Luftwaffe—in training for a future we all hope will see no more Pearl Harbors, no more soldier’s last resting places, no more internment or concentration camps. If time can turn one-time mortal enemies into great allies, it can surely heal lesser divides. But it can only do so if all parties are willing to look back in deep contemplation. We must insist that elected officials do the duties they are sworn to, particularly when war is at stake. We must remember what we once fought against and have the fortitude to ensure it can never take hold here again. Those are the lessons of this once infamous day. I hope we can all find peace in them.