revolutionary fact threatens the livelihoods and social status
of journalists, academics, policy wonks, and resident know-it-alls
the world over, and they are fighting back in the only way
they can: with smears and sneers. If disdain were a deadly
weapon, Matt Drudge would have long ago died a thousand deaths.
by universal skepticism and rising technology, the former
aristocrats of the Age of Gutenberg, who wax nostalgic over
carbon paper, are determined to discredit these impudent
usurpers with any kind of innuendo they can dig up. Writing
in the Washington Post [July 5, 1999], William
M. Arkin dredges up the same old charges that have been hurled
at freelancers like Drudge: the Internet is nothing but a
rumor-mill, and its resident experts and chief practitioners
are charlatans all. Exhibit 'A' is a "widely-distributed
fake essay," which was supposed to have been written
by retired General John Shalikashvili, in which the former
head of the Joint Chiefs criticized the Kosovo war. Arkin
reveals that the fake letter was pieced together from an analysis
by the Strategic Forecasting and Intellgence group, known
as STRATFOR, a private foreign policy thinktank that operates
chiefly over the Internet. He then proceeds to link them to
the fake letter, in spite of STRATFOR chairman George Friedman's
disclaimer that "we don't need the publicity." "Well,
sniffs Arkin, "at least STRATFOR doesn't need bad publicity"
and the smears follow fast and furious.
SINS OF STRATFOR
fury is rooted not only in technophobia, and a patrician disdain
of anything that comes off the Internet: he has a clear ideological
agenda. Citing "a number of Pentagon reporters,"
he complains that the conservative STRATFOR has growing influence
among the military. Seeking to mesmerize his audience with
the pure evil of the STRATFOR "would-be pundits,"
Arkin quotes one anonymous journalist who calls their online
analysis "the distilled essence of conventional wisdom
from a conservative military point of view, all processed
in the STRATFOR strategic Cuisinart: KLA bad, Clinton stupid,
[General Wesley] Clark too comfortable with diplomats and
reporters, Albright trigger-happy." Clinton stupid? KLA
bad? How could anyone even entertain such farfetched ideas?
anonymous reporter, says Arkin, views STRATFOR as a purveyor
of "the simple, and simplistic explanations often popular
with disgruntled Washington observers." In the world
of the Washington insiders, to be "disgruntled"
is akin to being called a crank. And of course there can be
no simple explanations, everything is necessarily complex:
far too complex for anyone but journalists liberal
journalists to figure out.
GOVERNMENT WE TRUST?
cites Friedman's view that "governments 'ours
and theirs' are not trustworthy" with evident
distaste. In an era when the lines that used to separate government
and journalism are blurred, with the latter frequently taking
its marching orders from the former or, in Strobe Talbot's
case, the latter becoming the former such a
view is seen as curiously archaic, like the Latin Mass or
INSULT TO INJURY
this were not enough to completely discount STRATFOR and all
its works, we are told that Friedman, adding insult to injury,
"abhors Beltway gossip" the Washington
Post's stock-in-trade and is skeptical of "expert
information." Friedman, in short, is the exact opposite
of what the late Murray N. Rothbard called the "court
intellectual," who "spins the apologia for the new
dispensation in return for wealth, power, and prestige at
the hands of the state and it's allied Establishment."
In understanding where Arkin and his ilk are coming from,
the full citation from Rothbard's classic essay, "Harry
Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War," in Harry
Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader (Ralph Myles, 1968),
is worth quoting:
ON THE COURT INTELLECTUALS
have been, after all, but two mutually exclusive roles that
the intellectual can play and has played through history:
either independent truth-seeker, or kept favorite of the Court.
Certainly, the historical norm of the old and dead civilization
was Oriental despotism, in which serving as apologist and
'intellectual bodyguard' of the ruling elite was the intellectual's
major function. But it was the glory of Western civilization
before this century to develop a class of intellectuals truly
independent of the power structure of the State. Now this,
too, has been largely lost." The growth and development
of the Internet means that this vital independence can be
regained and that is what enrages Arkin and the Washington
Post crowd. No longer bound hand and foot to the State
or its adjuncts in academia and the Establishment media, the
seeker after truth is free to find his own way and
he does not even have to qualify as a professional intellectual.
is intolerable to Arkin and his ilk, whose position and prestige
rest on preserving their claim to a special expertise. Eliot
Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies, derides STRATFOR's
analysis as "information comfort food." In his view,
it is the McDonald's of policy wonkery, "unnuanced"
and "unsophisticated." He denounces STRATFOR for
its "alarmism," and avers that "alarmism hinges
on the idea that there is something really big out there that
others haven't noticed." In other words: If there were
"something big out there," then surely he and his
anointed confreres would have noticed it.
"alarmist" idea, he says, is "the basis of
conspiracy theory and one of the weaknesses in our intellectual
culture. Linking from one juicy bit to another juicy bit leads
to the STRATFOR phenomenon. But it is not the makings of a
complex understanding of anything." By definition, only
qualified "experts" like Cohen have a complex understanding
of anything. All others are believers in "conspiracy
theory" oh no, not that! who have
deluded themselves into thinking that the world is comprehensible.
Never mind those "juicy bits of facts," which feed
the public's insatiable appetite for "alarmism"
only the sober analysis of Establishment-anointed pundits
in the "mainstream" media can be legitimate sources
of news and opinion. This means the big urban dailies have
a monopoly on truth, and the Internet is a sideshow that is
not to be taken seriously. Isn't there something just a little
bit too self-serving in this argument? It is like a union
of quill pen makers denouncing the inventors of movable type
for disrupting the social order and subverting good taste.
Now if I went in for "conspiracy theories," I might
be able to explain this otherwise inexplicable hostility to
a medium with virtually unlimited potential.
WILL IT END?
forbid that anyone should suspect that "there is something
really big out there." Once people get that idea into
their heads, who knows where it will lead? The next thing
you know, they might even want to start taking their destiny
into their own hands.
that linking," sneers Arkin. "All that cutting and
pasting of other people's reporting and opinions. It is, of
course, the lifeblood of new Web intelligence entrepreneurs
and gossip hounds. It is also the instrument that led to the
creation of the Shalikashvili fabrication in the first place."
But the Shalikashvili memorandum could have been forged and
bruited about by more traditional means. The Internet, while
making it easy to produce and disseminate such a document,
also made it relatively easy to track down the deception.
But Arkin, the arch-Luddite, is insensitive to such irony.
importantly, the "instrument that led to the creation
of the Shalikashvili fabrication" was not a computer
or the Internet but a human being. To say that the
ability to cut-and-paste text leads inexorably to a blurring
of the distinction between fact and rumor would also rule
out the use of tape-recorders, or indeed any recording device,
including written language, on the grounds that the truth
could always be edited out of existence.
asks: "Is STRATFOR thus the victim or merely another
player in the dumbing down of independent thinking?"
To any rational person, STRATFOR was and is obviously the
victim in this case: after all, their material was pirated,
and passed off as something it was not. But in Arkin's view,
STRATFOR is guilty by reason of its very existence: as a news
source outside the approved channels, it is not only suspect
it is the enemy. To the Brahmins of the Washington
Post and allied media, information and analysis that originates
outside of their narrow circle of government, ex-government,
and quasi-official sources and, somehow, becomes widely
disseminated is "dumbed down" (and probably
false) by definition.
OF THE NET
policy has traditionally been left up to the so-called experts,
and that is just the way the internationalists like it. The
result has been that the bipartisan policy of globalism and
interventionism has dominated American policy, unchecked and
unchallenged, for over half a century. While I do not always
agree with STRATFOR's analysis, the point is that the rise
of such mavericks is good news for noninterventionists. Anything
that breaks the monopoly of the Court Intellectuals, and creates
space for dissent, is to be applauded and encouraged. Like
Antiwar.com, STRATFOR came into prominence at the height of
the recent Balkan war: as the bombs fell on Yugoslavia, and
the NATO-crats sought to crush the idea of national sovereignty
underfoot, people all over the world began to ask: why?
They began to question the pious pronouncements of their leaders,
and began to suspect, with typical "alarmism," that
indeed "there is something really big out there."
Even more alarming to the Establishment, they began to make
inquiries as to its nature and motives and that
really is something the Court Intellectuals can neither forgive
WAR OF LIBERATION
months, we were told that NATO was fighting a war of "liberation"
but as the reality began to become all-too-apparent,
what was liberated, instead, was the whole realm of foreign
policy. Demystified by the ready access to information made
possible by the computer revolution, the realm of foreign
affairs has now been opened up for a free and wide-ranging
debate. What is America's proper role in the world? Are we
a republic, or an empire? For the first time since the beginning
of the Cold War except for a brief interregnum during
the Vietnam war these questions are being asked not
just by policy wonks and government officials, but by ordinary
people. That is why institutions like STRATFOR and Antiwar.com
are springing up and gaining rapidly, at the expense of more
conventional old-line media, and why they will continue to
grow. With the creation of the Internet, the genie is out
of the bottle, and there is no stuffing it back in. As much
as Mr. Arkin, Elliot Cohen, and their fellow patricians hate
to admit it, their day is over and thank God for that.