The media has been asking all the wrong questions about the unfolding Peyton Place-like Petraeus saga. As I type this, the FBI is raiding Paula Broadwell’s home, and it’s been revealed that the top commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan is under investigation for “inappropriate communications” with Jill Kelley, the local girl made good who dragged this whole sad story out into the light when she told the FBI that she was being cyber-harrassed by Broadwell—so stay tuned. But I’m willing to bet Mitt Romney $10,000 that when this is all said and done, we will be shocked—SHOCKED!—to learn that powerful men have extramarital affairs, the FBI is now in the catfight-referee business, and everyone loves a good Zippergate among the high and mighty. And not much more.
Instead of asking who Petraeus has been fucking—that’s between him and his family—we should be asking who’s really getting fucked? I would argue the list includes: The truth, the Sunnis, the 800 American soldiers who died in The Surge in Iraq, the thousand-plus American soldiers who have been KIA in The Surge in Afghanistan, along with the thousands of innocent civilians—read women and children—killed in both operations, and the American people who suffer through cop-cutting, firemen-firing, teacher-trashing austerity in a moribund economy while untold bajillions disappear down the wormhole of fear, lies and state-sponsored slaughter.
General Petraeus’s carefully cultivated celebrity is the end product of the media’s unholy deification of the avatars of the military-industrial complex. As the architect and prime enforcer of both surges, Petraeus used his celebrity to disarm media skepticism and conscript public opinion to move the White House across what was once a bridge too far. Which is proof that the Pentagon now has the power not just to prosecute wars, but also persuasively promote their escalation and endless perpetuation. That should scare the hell out of everyone who loves democracy and civilian rule of the military.
Here are the five questions the media should be asking:
1. What was the point of the Iraq war? Arguably we’ve left the country in worse shape than we found it, or more accurately, broke it and then bought it—at a cost of roughly $800 billion, 5,000 American dead, and 120,000 to 655,000 dead Iraqi men, women and children. Can anyone please tell me what we got for all that blood and treasure? Anyone?
2. What have we accomplished in Afghanistan? We are about to leave Afghanistan just as doomed as we found it, which is roughly 7,000 times more doomed than most countries. We ran off al-Qaeda back in 2001 and for the life of me I can’t figure out why we stayed another 11 years. Pretty much the only thing we’ve accomplished is making Afghanistan the world’s leading producer of non-pharmaceutical opiates (read: heroin) and cannabis.
3. Why does the Pentagon spend nearly $5 billion annually on public relations, i.e. propaganda? According to the Associated Press, in the last five years, Pentagon spending on propaganda has increased by an astonishing 64 percent. Propaganda is actually the nice word for it. I prefer the more accurate term: bullshit. Five billion worth of bullshit can bury a lot of inconvenient truths and wash a lot of brains. Personally, I think the money would be better spent immunizing children, heating the homes of the indigent elderly, or buying school books for cash-poor school districts. Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, I know, but I’m funny like that.
4. Why the Fox News witch hunt about three dead Americans in Benghazi? Oh that’s right, the three died on The Black Guy’s watch. Don’t get me wrong, three dead Americans is three too many. But these were hardened government professionals who knew the risks and still signed on to be stationed in A Place Where Bad Shit Happens.
5. Why do we spend $711 billion annually on defense? Seriously. That’s five times more than China, the next biggest military spender in the world. That’s 10 times more than Russia, the third biggest spender in the world. Why are we talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, school funding, roads and bridges, police, teachers and firemen when we are spending more on the machinery of death and destruction than all the nations of the world combined?
With $700 billion you could buy seven Mac laptops for every school-age child in the U.S.; you could buy a year’s supply of gasoline for every person in America; you could buy a 60-inch HDTV for every man, woman and child in the U.S.; you could literally buy the world a Coke—one 2 liter bottle per week for a year for everyone on Earth.
Why aren’t we asking any of these questions? Because we can’t imagine two people fucking when we ask those questions, we can’t tsk-tsk others from our high horse when we ask those questions. Those questions don’t make us feel horny and smug; they make us feel bad. And questions that make us feel bad about ourselves don’t sell papers and put asses in sofas where they can be bombarded with soda and burger porn ad nauseum in between episodes of the never-ending, brain-deadening 300-channel un-reality show that is television. Which is just another way of saying this is how empires end.