Caution: Watching US cable news may be hazardous to your health.
Of course, spending any time with the running, New York-based truth and logic allergic circus, otherwise known as Fox News, is likely to cause irreparable harm to your synapses.
But CNN viewers can also risk synapse-sapping damage. Despite the pretence that it acts as a fact-based alternative to its archrival, Fox News, CNN habitually traffics in pundit-produced, state-sanctioned propaganda too.
Not surprisingly, this defining institutional ailment has been on near-continuous display lately. This time, in the aftermath of President Donald Trump‘s quixotic decision to pull American troops out of Syria.
On cue, CNN has paraded – largely unchallenged – the mainly white, male members of the spook, soldier and think-tank industrial complex on TV to share their unanimous verdict that Trump’s gambit constitutes a strategic blunder of singular and historic significance.
Here is CNN’s “global affairs analyst” and the poster boy for the spook, soldier and think-tank industrial complex, Max Boot, decrying Trump’s decision as a “strategic disaster”.
As evidence of this, the 50-year-old military historian and Washington Post columnist pointed to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s sanctimonious criticism over the potential regional and security consequences of the abrupt US pullout.
“You also had Lindsey Graham, who is generally a sycophant for Trump, saying that if there is a revival of ISIS Trump will own that. That’s what’s going on here,” Boot told his fellow CNN panellists, who nodded approvingly.
That Boot invoked a veteran Republican “sycophant’s” broadside to buttress his claim that Trump was guilty of committing a “strategic disaster” that the current Republican president would ultimately have to “own”, was not only serendipitous but a marquee-sized reflection of CNN’s global affairs analyst’s nauseating hypocrisy and the network’s equally-nauseating amnesia.
Here is the instructive record.
Boot has devoted much of his career on and off CNN to promoting and defending the ruinous and discredited geopolitical notion that the US must always act as the “world’s policeman”.
Boot was in full, unforgettable, rhetorical bloom on this lamentable score throughout a lecture he delivered at his alma mater, UC Berkeley, in March 2003. Boot’s address might well be considered a sycophantic facsimile of another, not so distant Republican president’s simplistic and exculpatory calculations about “good” and “evil”.
“Does the world need a police force? To my mind, that’s like asking whether San Francisco or New York needs a police force. I think we’d all agree that yes, they do need a police force, for the very simple reason that as long as evil exists, you have to have somebody who will protect peaceful people from predators. The international system is no different in this regard from your own neighbourhood, except that the predators abroad are far more dangerous than ordinary robbers, rapists, and murderers,” Boot assured his audience.
The corollary to Boot’s evangelical world view of the US as “Globo-cop” is that imperialist “interventions” – a think-tank bureaucrat’s euphemism for war – are not only okey-dokey, but necessary, particularly when the US is waging war and doing the bombing, killing and maiming not as “murderers”, but saintly saviours.
Boot’s boosterism of America as “Globo-cop” translated into a predictably giddy enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq the same month he lectured UC Berkley students and faculty.
“I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there, but I think we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law. In other words, what America is doing now is playing global policeman,” Boot said.
Turns out, those silly, inconsequential “conspiracy-mongers” had a decidedly more accurate and sophisticated understanding of the strategic and humanitarian “disaster” that was to unfold in Iraq after the US’s latest effort at “liberal imperialism” – as Boot described it – than the dismissive, cocksure senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations who was wrong on every count of his obdurate indictment.
Disappointingly, this did not deter Boot from peering into his, by now, broken crystal ball in 2011 and 2012 to urge President Barack Obama repeatedly to attack Iran. “If the US is truly determined to prevent [a nuclear Iran] – and if we’re not, we should be – the most effective option is to use force,” he wrote.
Given this sorry history, you could reasonably conclude that Boot should be disqualified from appearing on any media, at any time, to offer his prescriptions for Syria, Iraq, Iran or any other nation in that complex, combustible region.
Alas, it is plain that beyond their rampant amnesia, America’s cable news networks are a forgiving lot.
In 2018, Boot apparently had an epiphany and wrote a book apologising for his once unwavering allegiance to the Republican Party and the calamitous wars it (and Democrats) have pursued for decades at the urging of the spook, soldier and think-tank industrial complex of which he remains a loyal disciple.
I suppose Boot’s belated mea culpa was an attempt at owning up to his “strategic disasters” and, in so doing, transforming himself from defender of unrepentant, war-mongering Republican and Democrat administrations to a shining avatar of the anti-Trump resistance.
“I regret advocating the invasion and feel guilty about all the lives lost,” Boot wrote. How nice.
Now, while some gullible liberals and CNN editors are prepared to give Boot what amounts to the pundit equivalent of a mulligan because their suddenly enlightened pal said sorry, I suspect families of the countless Iraqi casualties of his persistent, fervid “shock and awe” cheerleading are not as charitable or lenient. Nor am I.
If that makes me a petty “conspiracy-monger”, well then, so be it.
The many observers – with far more impressive credentials than yours truly – who were right about what the American-led invasion was going to do to Iraq and its still suffering citizens are rarely invited to share their wisdom and insight on US news networks today, just as they were verboten in 2003.
Instead, Max Boot and company are welcomed by agreeable hosts when, if common sense had any currency, they should have been consigned, years ago, to pundit purgatory, where they surely belong.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.