Ray McGovern's Letter to Bob Parry
Editor’s Note: Over the past weekend, Consortiumnews.com’s editor Robert Parry expressed some discouragement to Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and prominent critic of the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Parry, who played a key role in exposing the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, left mainstream journalism in disgust in the 1990s and has struggled for 14 years to build an investigative news site that’s committed to telling the truth. In response to his laments, Parry received the following letter from McGovern:
At the end of a year that began with such hope, I am struck at how easy it would be to be discouraged.
For me, the temptation to discouragement is almost as strong as it was when other dreams were shattered on Nov. 22, 1963 — the dreams of so many, like me, who were drawn to Washington to see what we might do for our country.
Most of the colleagues who began CIA’s Junior Officer Trainee Program with me earlier in 1963 had been feeling privileged to serve under such a President.
The year before, as an infantry officer at Fort Benning during the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962, I had skin in that game, as they say. And now it is abundantly clear that we were spared war with the U.S.S.R. only because President John Kennedy set the example of a new Profile in Courage.
Yes, he stood up to Khruschchev, but his greatest test was facing down the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I think President Barack Obama is as intelligent as John Kennedy was, but lacks Kennedy’s self-confidence and — let’s just say it — guts.
But in fairness, Kennedy had one HUGE thing going for him — a Fourth Estate, a national press corps that was still doing a fair-to-middling job of informing the American public and had yet to be corrupted by the TV stardom and easy wealth that would come to journalists who position themselves well.
I now have a lot of gray in my hair — and enough years in Washington to point out, as I do in virtually every lecture, that the biggest sea change I have witnessed since arriving here in town 47 years ago is the reality that WE NO LONGER HAVE, IN ANY REAL SENSE, A FREE MEDIA.
You know that far better than I. When you found it impossible to get the truth out, you quit the Establishment; but, thankfully, not the profession.
There are only a handful of able and gutsy investigative journalists like you still around — the Mark Danners, Jeremy Scahills, Sy Hershes, Jane Mayers of this world.
Interesting: While I’m sure there are others who would qualify, those are the only other four that come immediately to mind. They can be numbered, literally, on the fingers of one hand. And one big difference occurs between you and them; and that is that some institution is paying the other four for what they do.
Hopes and Dreams
I imagine you thought back in 1995 that, the need being so transparently great, Consortiumnews.com’s arrival on the Internet would draw the kind of financial support that would enable you to do — and recruit others to do — no-holds-barred investigative reporting.
No doubt, you saw this as a necessary antidote to the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). But I realize the money side hasn’t turned out to be as easy as you envisioned and has stunted the dreams you had for this unique project.
I have had a lot of experience in non-profits, and have done a good bit of fundraising in the process. So I know what it’s like to have to go hat in hand — again and again — to folks who have the wherewithal, and often the desire, to help. But often, for some reason, don’t.
You might have thought that the Right’s impeachment drive against Bill Clinton in the 1990s would have driven home the need for a stronger independent media that would resist stampedes and stay focused on important issues. The same when George W. Bush stole the election in 2000 and the horrors that followed, most notably the bogus case for war in Iraq.
Yet, even today, the FCM refuses to take seriously the need for accountability on the torture and the war crimes that Bush unleashed.
And, now there’s President Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan…. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhh!!! is about all I can say.
The FCM continues with its self-serving slants. Take Monday’s Washington Post, for example. A very smug editorial page editor (Fred Hiatt) lectures us on the virtues of the new “surge” in Afghanistan, drawing on the myth he helped to create about the “success” of the first “surge.”
That, of course, was the one into Iraq in 2007, which – as the conventional wisdom has now enshrined it – tamped down the sectarian and insurgent violence. The price is rarely mentioned: more than 1,000 U.S. troops dead (and countless more Iraqis).
The fuller truth regarding the “successful surge” also is not so neat and tidy.
As an intelligence analyst I always look for hard evidence to explain how and why changes occur. And the evidence about the “surge” shows that some other factors appear to have played much bigger roles than the extra 20,000 U.S. troops dispatched in 2007.
For instance, there was the growing Iraqi revulsion over the bloody excesses of Iraq’s al-Qaeda faction; the willingness of Sunni tribal leaders to take U.S. money and turn their guns on the extremists; and the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. All that happened in 2006 – before the “surge.”
There also was the ethnic cleansing that drove Sunnis and Shiites into separate enclaves, thus lessening the ethnic violence largely because the targets for sectarian militias were no longer easily within reach.
Satellite imagery in 2007 showed that the lights went out — literally — in the Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad after American troops escorted fleeing Sunnis out before letting the Shia in to take over Sunni homes.
That was enough evidence for me to understand how the “surge” helped reduce the sectarian violence – by creating a million new internal refugees (virtually all Sunnis).
Even the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, whose early books on the Afghan and Iraq wars fawned over “war president” George W. Bush, was moved to protest Washington’s simplistic conventional wisdom about the “successful surge.”
In his final Bush book, The War Within, Woodward reported that U.S. military officials privately discounted the significance of the surge.
However, Woodward wrote that in Washington media and political circles, “conventional wisdom translated these events into a simple view: The surge had worked. But the full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge.”
And, Woodward didn’t count what may have been another very important element in Iraq’s declining violence: the recognition inside Iraq that the Americans were finally heading toward the exits. That end game became apparent in 2008 as the Iraqi government insisted on – and got – a firm timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
The American troop pullback to bases in July 2009 has been followed by a further drop-off in violence unseen since Bush invaded the country in March 2003. But the FCM says nothing about these non-surge factors in Iraq when discussing the supposed need for a new surge in Afghanistan.
New Wise Man
Similarly, the FCM has enshrined my old CIA “protégé” Bobby Gates in the pantheon of Washington Wise Men – along with the likes of Colin Powell – without much independent thinking about their actual records of deception and careerism.
In mid-November, after finishing up a week of talks/interviews/etc. in the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia area, I read a press report showing that Gates had let slip something honest: “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?”
Answer: it’s an oxymoron. Get real. No can do!
Yet, if one had an accurate picture of the first “surge,” one would be able to understand that its real purpose was to allow George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to ride off into the sunset in January 2009, not having “lost a war.”
That was the measure of success for them, and with invaluable help from the FCM this has been translated into the conventional wisdom that the surge into Iraq was a huge success. In reality, the surge simply put off for about three years the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq AND the carnage that may still ensue — on Obama’s watch, of course.
That night before I left Seattle I felt driven to write an article on the surge : I e-mailed you the draft just before I rushed off to the airport in Seattle (and sent with it an unspoken wish that you would polish and fill in the prose — which showed the wear and tear of an all-nighter).
When I got home to Washington five hours later and checked Consortiumnews.com, well, I was delighted to see that you had already posted it three hours before WITH the editing and fleshing-out that it needed so badly.
If people don’t “get it” about “surges,” it’s surely not our fault. Those who do read our articles must have been as sickened as we to hear Bobby Gates brag on Capitol Hill last week that “this is the second surge I’ve been up here defending.”
Equally galling was to hear Republican lawmakers quoting not only Gates, but also the man they call the “dean of the Washington press corps” — David Broder — writing on Friday that Gates “is incapable of dissembling.”
That’s a far throw from the Bobby Gates I tried to supervise as a CIA analyst who was already a skilled careerist in the 1970s.
I’ll confess to a little pride in having tried to lay Bobby’s squeaky-clean Eagle Scout image to rest almost 40 years ago. In the Fitness Report I wrote in 1970 on the performance of the exceedingly ambitious young Soviet foreign policy analyst Robert Gates, I tried to be candid, and even to give him a little guidance.
It was my first job as branch chief, and I thought — naively — that Fitness Reports were supposed to be honest. I wrote that his transparent ambition was a divisive influence in a branch of professionals who were his equal or better analysts.
Did that one come back to haunt me when Bill Casey appointed Gates to do his bidding as chief of analysis? No, but there’s a certain serenity that comes of calling a spade a spade, and allowing for the possibility of some kind of vindication from ongoing history.
I’m thinking not only of the Consortiumnews.com’s commentaries on Gates’s real history as he slid from scandal to scandal in the 1980s, but also of the articles by former CIA analyst Mel Goodman on the serious damage Gates did to the CIA’s analytical division’s commitment to supply honest assessments to policymakers – and how he and the sycophants he promoted missed the implosion of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991.
Mel, who served with Gates in the CIA’s Soviet foreign policy branch in the early 1970s, knows him well and has provided a real service in exposing Gates’s true colors. One must do multiple articles when one is dealing with a chameleon — and especially one so beloved by the Washington Establishment as Gates.
And Mel has. And you have. And I have. And Consortiumnews.com has published them. Perhaps practitioners of “real history” will eventually take note….eventually. [See, for instance, Goodman’s “On Bended Knee to Bob Gates.”]
An Old Lesson
On another personal note, retired Gen. Jack Keane — the military “brains” behind surge after surge — was a couple of years behind me in R.O.T.C. at Fordham. He was not the brightest fellow then, either. I regret that I did not gig him when I was Major of Cadets.
Another memory from Fordham: when I was a freshman, all my professors were piling on the work as if theirs were the only course we were taking. Fed up, I went to see my professor of English poetry, the late Tim Healy, SJ, (later President of Georgetown). I explained the situation and told him I was discouraged.
Now, you have to understand: Tim Healy was one BIG guy. He whipped around menacingly: “What did you say?!”
I then got REALLY angry: “I am disgusted,” I said.
“Good,” says Healy. At first I thought you said “discouraged.” “Discouraged” is not allowed. “Disgusted is good!”
That has stayed with me. At this moment, I am thoroughly disgusted with Obama’s cave-in on Afghanistan — and on so many other things.
And I’ll confess to some similar feelings at the failure of progressives (with the very notable exception of those who keep us going — barely) to come up with the financial support needed to put Consortiumnews on a stable financial footing.
But for me, this Advent season is a season of hope. And I don’t believe there is necessarily a contradiction between disgust and hope. As I travel around the country, I find more and more folks are tuning in to Consortiumnews and are finding considerable sustenance there.
Not to mention those many who see our articles repeated on other Web sites, which has become common practice. So there is empirical evidence of some success.
In the end, though, I think it is not so much about being successful as being faithful. Thanks for providing such an uncommon example of what it means to be faithful to your profession. I do hope you can keep going for yet another year.
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