Through a HuffPo headline, I recently came across an article at McClatchy news titled "Obama seeks to expand arms exports by trimming approval process". A disturbing thought. I read the article in full, already preparing my comment in my head. I was going to write something about the fabled War Machine, merchants of death, Obama equaling Bush, et cetera.
However, as I read on, I discovered the foulest piece of non-journalism I've read in a while. Then I went to read the comments that my fellow HuffPo users had written. They were of the most awful, reactionary, apocalyptic sort, and I was disheartened. People had apparently swallowed this article whole. I went to Common Dreams, a site where I can always expect deeply analytical, often leftist writing. It was just as bad - shallow, fear-mongering and calling for a new Democratic candidate in 2012.
So I decided to de-bunk this article in all its fallacious glory. I will be quoting extensively, and I give thanks in advance to author Maggie Bridgeman for providing grist for my mental mill.
- The article's founding claim, stated in the opening sentence, is that "the Obama administration has begun modifying export control regulations in hopes of enlarging the U.S. market share" of weapons sales, "according to U.S. officials." Reading on, I can find no named official who supports this statement.
- The author notes that the administration wishes to simplify the sale of arms, but that there could be side effects, citing Obama's personal desire "to double U.S. exports by 2015", claiming that he said as much in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address. Ms. Bridgeman drags that quote out of the context of his speech in an attempt to paint Obama as an aspiring arms dealer. It's pure invention on her part. Obama made those Jan. 27 comments about overall exports, speaking about the manufacturing sector in general.
- Once she has editorialized and cherry-picked facts to form her pseudo-argument, we learn that Obama's plan is to form a single agency to oversee arms sales, eliminating redundancy and adapting lists of weapons to include new and developing technologies. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. However, this information is also attributed to "top officials".
- Finally, after ten paragraphs, we get an actual quote from a White House staff member, who speaks of making the system "more transparent, efficient, and effective" (familiar words from the health care policy talks) and "improving our ability to administer our controls". These have been common themes since Obama took office: cutting down on bureaucracy and increasing efficiency. Republicans have long cried for smaller government with less bulk. It is one area where I agree wholeheartedly. So what's the problem?
- The following paragraph tells us what's wrong with that: "decontrolling weapons systems could fuel regional arms races", according to faceless, unnamed "critics". Who are these critics? Can you give us one actual human being with some level of knowledge on the matter? No? Then this is what I call a factoid, a bit of unattributed information that could very well be hearsay or, at worst, the author's own unsolicited opinion recycled as support for her argument.
- To be fair, there is a quote from a representative of the Arms Control Association noting the concerns of this new approach to arms-peddling...if that approach existed and were not an invention of Ms. Bridgeman's creative writing skills. This is followed by a charming quote from another unnamed Republican staffer: "We're No. 1 in weapons in the world, so I don't understand what the problem is we need to fix." In other words, it's all about money, and we're making enough, so what's the deal?
- Next we get some more information about the nature of this proposed beast: a multi-tiered classification system that includes both new technologies and timeless classics like the F-16. This information, anonymously contributed, of course, is intercut with more comments from that faceless Republican staffer, who frets about "what China, a terrorist, or even a rogue state would do with these things." In other words, we should be worried.
- After all of the fear-mongering and pseudo-information, we hear from Gen. James Jones, the National Security Advisor, who tells us that the complexity of the current structure, with its many redundancies, "poses a potential national security risk". I don't know about you, but I'd sooner listen to Gen. Jones than to some bed-wetting Republican intern afraid to stand behind his words.
- From this point on, the author seems to come back down to Earth and write coherent sentences, naming her sources and laying out the facts in a responsible way. Amb. Lincoln Bloomfield Jr. notes that it will improve our chances of having capable allies. Rep. Donald Manzullo appreciates the potential for reviving the manufacturing sector, even if the idea of a single agency makes him nervous because "the wrong person" could be put in charge - two valid points that belong in the discussion. And Christopher Wall, former assistant secretary of commerce, stresses the importance of not rushing the process.
- Ms. Bridgeman saves the best for last when she tells us that Clinton and GW tried this before, to no avail. But former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (what a title!) Gregory Suchan notes that passing judgement on the soundness of this program is "premature".
That ending fascinates me. Essentially the author begins the piece by appealing to the public's fears of violence, disorder and more war, undermining her own sources, who counsel vigilance and careful study. Her assertion that Obama wants more than the United States' purported 30% market share is never justified. However, the claims and the language are so upsetting that it is difficult to get to the end of the article without feeling guided toward the conclusion that Obama is just a cynical war-mongering capitalist, like Nicolas Cage in Lord of War.
We must be smart enough to recognize writing like this for what it is: irresponsible, inflamatory propaganda. It will stir up emotion, mix in just enough fact so as not to be a total lie but leave us with the absolute wrong impression about the nature of the issue. Keep your brains on at all times, people. Don't let them make us more paranoid about our president than we already are.
Plenty of the comments on HuffPo and Common Dreams talked about Obama as a one-term president, sounding more like Tea Party rhetoric than anything else the Tea Partiers themselves have given us lately. To all you fair-weather Dems crying about voting for someone else in 2012: Sarah Palin is counting on us to be irrational and easily manipulated by the propaganda machine. We deserve better.
Interesting footnote: In a list of related links at the end of Ms. Bridgeman's article, I found this: Obama's done a lot, but gets little credit for it; why? Irony is alive and well!