Fearing Sanders as ‘Closet Realist’

Exclusive: To Washington’s neocons like David Ignatius, Sen. Sanders should be disqualified as a presidential candidate for being a “closet realist.” Sanders seems not to accept their forced “regime change” in Syria, nor their plans for more “nation building” like the neocon handiwork in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

How little Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy elite has learned from the past couple of decades can be measured by reading the last line of Friday’s Washington Post op-ed by David Ignatius, supposedly one of the deeper thinkers from the American pundit class.

Ignatius writes, regarding the Syrian mess, “It’s never too late for the United States to do the right thing, which is to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.”

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. (Photo credit: Aude)

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. (Photo credit: Aude)

Reading Ignatius and other neocon-oriented policy prescribers, it’s as if Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya not to mention other failed states following U.S. interventions never happened. Just like Iraq was a cakewalk, Syria will be one of those child puzzles with only 24 pieces, easy to assemble and reassemble.

Though Ignatius doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of his nation-building scheme, it should be obvious that for President Barack Obama to “do the right thing” in Ignatius’s way of thinking, the U.S. military would first have to invade and occupy Syria, killing any Syrians, Iranians, Russians and others who might get in the way. Then there would be the tricky process of “carefully” putting Syria back together again amid the predictable IEDs, suicide bombings and sectarian strife.

One is tempted to simply dismiss Ignatius as not a serious person, but he is considered part of the crème de la crème of Official Washington’s current foreign-policy establishment. He’s sought after to moderate foreign policy conferences and he pontificates regularly from the well-read pages of The Washington Post.

But he is really just another example of how dangerous it was for the American people to exact no accountability from the hubristic neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks for their many disastrous miscalculations and war crimes.

If Americans still had pitchforks, they should have chased down this arrogant elite for inflicting so much pain and bloodshed on both the people of these tragic countries and on the U.S. soldiers who were dispatched so casually to make the benighted policies work. There’s also the little issue of the trillions of dollars in taxpayers’ money wasted.

But the neocons are impervious to criticism from the “little people.” Within the neocon “bubble,” the Syrian crisis is just the result of President Obama not intervening earlier and bigger by shipping even more weapons to Syria’s mythical “moderate” rebels.

No one ever wants to admit that these “moderates” were always dominated by Sunni jihadists and by 2012 had become essentially their front men for receiving sophisticated U.S. weapons before passing the hardware on, willingly or not, to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Read, for instance, a remarkable account from veteran foreign affairs writer Stephen Kinzer, who describes in a Boston Globe op-ed the reign of terror that the Syrian rebels have inflicted on the people of Aleppo, while the mainstream U.S. news media painted pretty pictures about these noble insurrectionists.

Kinzer scolds his media colleagues for their malfeasance in reporting on the Syrian crisis, writing: “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.”

Another inconvenient truth is that the “moderate” rebels of Aleppo operate hand in glove with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. So much so that a proposal for a partial Syrian cease-fire failed because U.S. diplomats wanted to extend its protections to Al Qaeda’s forces, also known inside Syria as Jabhat al-Nusra.

As The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung nonchalantly mentioned deep inside a story on Saturday, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of the cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”

In other words, the cease-fire plan is being delayed — and possibly killed — because the Obama administration doesn’t want the Syrian army and the Russian air force attacking Al Qaeda.

This strange reality underscores reporting by Mideast expert Gareth Porter who wrote that “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces [around Aleppo] is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Risking Nuclear War for Al Qaeda.”]

Believing in Unicorns

However, to be accepted in Official Washington as a profound thinker, you must believe in the unicorns of “moderate” Syrian rebels, just like earlier you had to accept as “flat fact” that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was lying when he denied having weapons of mass destruction and that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was lying when he claimed to be under attack by terrorists.

But what is truly remarkable about these Washington “wise men and women” who are so unwise is that they simply move from one catastrophe to the next. The journalists and columnists among them routinely get basic facts wrong but are never fired by their editors and publishers, presumably because the editors and publishers are kindred ideologues.

And the neocon/liberal-hawk politicians also float above any meaningful accountability for their grotesque misjudgments and for their contributions to war crimes. On the Republican side, all the establishment candidates the likes of Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich favor doubling down on neoconservative foreign policies as they prove how “serious” they are.

On the Democratic side, the reputed frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, not only voted for the Iraq War but promoted similar warmongering as Secretary of State, pushing for a senseless escalation in Afghanistan, masterminding the mindless Libyan operation, and blocking any timely peace initiatives in Syria.

Her supporters may call her a “liberal” or “humanitarian” interventionist but there is no discernible difference between her policies and those of the neocons. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton and the Dogs of War.”]

There may be some hope from the anti-establishment candidates Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race but that’s mostly because they have steered clear of precise foreign policy prescriptions. They have, however, decried the Iraq War and suggested that collaboration with Russia makes more sense than confrontation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Not surprisingly then, Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy elite has been scathing toward both men, seeking to marginalize them so far from the mainstream that aspiring pundits and academics with hopes for professional advancement will obsequiously vouch for the diplomatic chops of Hillary Clinton and the seriousness of the GOP establishment contenders.

Sniffing Out ‘Realism’

As for Sanders, David Ignatius has detected a clearly disqualifying characteristic, that the Vermont senator may be, gasp, a “closet realist.”

On Feb. 12, Ignatius raised that shocking possibility in another Washington Post column: “Is Bernie Sanders a closet foreign policy ‘realist’? Reading his few pronouncements on foreign policy, you sense that he embraces the realists’ deep skepticism about U.S. military intervention.”

Having sniffed out this foul odor of “realism,” Ignatius further asks, “Now that Sanders has nearly tied Clinton in Iowa and won New Hampshire, there’s a real possibility that he may emerge as the Democratic nominee. And the question is: How scared should mainstream Democrats be about Sanders as a foreign policy president?”

That’s right, how scary would it be if there was a “realist” in the White House?

But Ignatius observes that President Obama already has demonstrated some of the same disturbing “realist” traits although Sanders might be even worse. The pundit prognosticates, “If I had to guess, I’d say that Sanders would continue and reinforce President Obama’s wary approach to using force, whereas Clinton would be more hawkish. But that’s just a guess. Perhaps Sanders would be far more dovish.”

Like a hapless Inspector Clouseau, Ignatius then presses ahead trying to determine exactly how bad or “realistic” Sanders would be:

“Sanders’s statements on Syria suggest that he would take a position embraced by many self-described realists. His first priority, he has said, would be a ‘broad coalition, including Russia,’ to defeat the Islamic State. ‘Our second priority must be getting rid of [President Bashar al-Assad] through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia.’”

Ignatius, of course, finds Sanders’s priorities troubling and pulls out an old canard to make the point, reviving the long-discredited claim that Assad was responsible for the lethal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?” and “A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack.”]

Ignoring the lack of evidence against Assad, Ignatius writes: “Some critics would argue that it’s immoral to make replacing a leader who used chemical weapons a secondary concern.”

Yes, in neocon land, the moral thing is to accuse someone of a heinous crime without any verifiable evidence and indeed with the evidence going in the opposite direction and then invading and occupying the country in defiance of international law, killing hundreds of thousands of its people, much like neocon policymakers did with Iraq as Ignatius and other foreign policy “moralists” cheered them on.

However, with Syria, Ignatius tells us, it would be so simple to follow up the invasion and occupation with a plan “to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.” No wonder Ignatius and other neocons are so hostile to “realism” and to Bernie Sanders.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

34 comments for “Fearing Sanders as ‘Closet Realist’

  1. dahoit
    February 23, 2016 at 11:22

    Yes,our treasure funds Israel.What a joke,our house depreciation leads to illegal settlements.Trillions to the Israeli national fund;Wall Street.

  2. Mike Meyer
    February 22, 2016 at 21:00

    Why not a fair trial ?
    I’m not familiar with any codes
    concerning expulsion or citizenship revocation!
    Have you identified all the suspects?
    Can you pen a list the most egregious crimes committed?
    What law enforcement organization[s] would you suggest be
    involved in their arrests and detention pending trial or bail ?
    Have you considered a petition?
    I’d sign on…..the cause is worthy.
    ‘Let’s walk our talk’
    I look forward to finding your petition link on this website
    at your convenience.
    Thank you Carroll

  3. NoviHrvat
    February 21, 2016 at 15:46
  4. angryspittle
    February 21, 2016 at 12:26

    Heaven forfend that realism might get in the way of MIC profits!!!

  5. February 21, 2016 at 04:59

    Aleppo has become the destination most corporate media journalists fear to go, but are more than brave enough to write about.

    Peter Oborne and Robert Fisk are two journalists who have made the hazardous journey separately to report back on the true situation. Their stories of the reality on the ground are not ones the neocons will want to hear.

    I link to them, and to the stories of two Russian journalists in Aleppo, on my blog here:


  6. Paul
    February 21, 2016 at 04:28

    Ignatius and his neo-con miscreant buddies should all be made to spend a minimum of three days with needle-nose pliers and a blow torch.

  7. Chet Roman
    February 20, 2016 at 18:26

    “the hubristic neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks for their many disastrous miscalculations and war crimes.”

    One eventually has to come to the conclusion that after so many “miscalculations” by educated (many from the “best” schools) and informed people that they are not errors or mistakes. These may be vile and immoral people whose allegiance to the U.S. is questionable but behind all this chaos they are creating there seems to be a well planned strategy. Gen. Wesley Clark stumble upon it when he was told by a Pentagon employee of a plan to evade 7 Muslim countries in 5 years, not unlike a similar Israeli plan to destroy their neighbors by breaking them up into warring factions. Creating chaos by destroying Muslim countries with secular governments by direct intervention or using proxies is not accidental. These neocons/zionists would disappear if not for some serious backroom political and financial support by the deep state and the oligarchs. Claiming that these neocons/zionists are harebrained incompetents just ignores the long-term agenda.

    • Abe
      February 20, 2016 at 21:51

      Former NATO commander General “Weasely” Clark, known as the guy who almost started World War III in Kosovo in 1999, was fully on board for the old post-1989 “hit list” of eastern European nations targeted for “regime change”.

      The strategic objective of the US-NATO military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia was to destabilize and destroy the Yugoslav Federation using Al Qaeda terrorist operatives.

      In the post-9/11 era, the Bosnia-Kosovo model was replicated in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

      In his March 2007 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Clark detailed the new neo-con “hit list”:

      AMY GOODMAN: “So, go through the countries again.”

      GEN. WESLEY CLARK: “Well, starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon, then Libya, then Somalia and Sudan, and back to Iran. So when you look at Iran, you say, “Is it a replay?” It’s not exactly a replay. But here’s the truth: that Iran, from the beginning, has seen that the presence of the United States in Iraq was a threat — a blessing, because we took out Saddam Hussein and the Baathists. They couldn’t handle them. We took care of it for them. But also a threat, because they knew that they were next on the hit list. And so, of course, they got engaged. They lost a million people during the war with Iraq, and they’ve got a long and unprotectable, unsecurable border. So it was in their vital interest to be deeply involved inside Iraq. They tolerated our attacks on the Baathists. They were happy we captured Saddam Hussein.

      “But they’re building up their own network of influence, and to cement it, they occasionally give some military assistance and training and advice, either directly or indirectly, to both the insurgents and to the militias. And in that sense, it’s not exactly parallel, because there has been, I believe, continuous Iranian engagement, some of it legitimate, some of it illegitimate. I mean, you can hardly fault Iran because they’re offering to do eye operations for Iraqis who need medical attention. That’s not an offense that you can go to war over, perhaps. But it is an effort to gain influence.

      “And the administration has stubbornly refused to talk with Iran about their perception, in part because they don’t want to pay the price with their domestic — our US domestic political base, the rightwing base, but also because they don’t want to legitimate a government that they’ve been trying to overthrow. If you were Iran, you’d probably believe that you were mostly already at war with the United States anyway, since we’ve asserted that their government needs regime change, and we’ve asked congress to appropriate $75 million to do it, and we are supporting terrorist groups, apparently, who are infiltrating and blowing up things inside Iraq — Iran. And if we’re not doing it, let’s put it this way: we’re probably cognizant of it and encouraging it. So it’s not surprising that we’re moving to a point of confrontation and crisis with Iran.

      “My point on this is not that the Iranians are good guys — they’re not — but that you shouldn’t use force, except as a last, last, last resort. There is a military option, but it’s a bad one.”

      In March 2015, a team consisting of Clark, a former supreme allied commander, Europe during NATO’s War in the Balkans on the 1990s; Lieutenant General Patrick M. Hughes (Ret.), former director, defense intelligence agency; and Lieutenant General John S. Caldwell (Ret.), former Army research, development and acquisition chief, went to Ukraine.

      Clark and team met with senior civilian and military officials, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, and Ukrainian ministers, parliamentarians and leaders at all levels of the military, both in Kiev and in the operational area.

      Back home on 30 March for a special briefing to the Atlantic Council, Clark accused Russia of “waging a covert, hybrid war against Ukraine”. He insisted that the Russians were planning a spring offensive (that never happened) and detailed what steps the United States and NATO should take to help Ukraine withstand “Russian aggression” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkQxQTfq5qU

      So much for “you shouldn’t use force, except as a last, last, last resort”.

    • Abbybwood
      February 21, 2016 at 19:10

      Here are the various “CIA regime changes” over the years.

      Make note of how many Hillary Clinton championed:


      A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for the CIA.

  8. Abe
    February 20, 2016 at 17:57

    Is the Sanders campaign a stealth plan to implement the Kosovo Strategy in Syria?


    Will Syria “Feel the Berne” when a President Sanders, as Commander in Chief delivers his “assessment” and “sadly” supports “the NATO bombing of military targets” in Syria?

    • Abe
      February 20, 2016 at 18:02

      It is time for Sanders to come out of the closet on foreign policy and engage his fellow candidates in a real debate on the pressing matters of war and peace that will be faced by the 45th President of the United States.

  9. Pablo Diablo
    February 20, 2016 at 17:55

    “There’s also the little issue of the trillions of dollars in taxpayers’ money wasted.”? Not really wasted, spent on the corporate backers of the “war machine”. they profit (enormously) from war whether the war is won or lost. Enough to buy politicians and op-ed pages that support war. WE PAY. The oil companies made an additional $1.7 Trillion dollars by keeping Iraq oil off the market. How much did the Bushes and the Cheneys make?

  10. Ethan Allen
    February 20, 2016 at 17:53

    While the irony and serial subterfuge parroted by Robert Ignatius and his fellow traveler neocon/lib ideologues, evidenced in this instance by referring to Sen. Sanders as a “closet idealist”, is a remarkable example of their collective hypocrisy and serial habit of deploying weaponized subliminal language to propagandize their uninformed and/or unwitting target audience, I find similar fault with the strange and convoluted notion that there is any factual indication of commonality between Sen. Sanders and Donald Trump; any such conflation of the candidacies of Sanders and Trump, even within the rubric of antiestablishmentarianism, is itself the product of current establishment political disinformation. Of course, any notion that Trump represents any viable or informed political perspective or alternative to neocon/lib governance is patently absurd, and the neocon/lib establishment politicos and their media sycophants in both major political parties know this well. Trump is merely a throw-away media clown, currently being used as a means to distract the willfully uninformed, and disrupt the formation of any substantive and meaningful alternative to the establishment political status quo.
    In my view, at this very early phase of the 2016 campaign, Sen. Sanders, in concert with a compatible electoral shift in Congressional representatives in both houses, represents the only truly progressive change that will begin to put our ‘ship of state’ on a course that places “the public good before private advantage”.
    “Work is love made visible.” KG
    As Usual,

  11. ltr
    February 20, 2016 at 16:27

    Brilliant essay, among your finest.

  12. Tristan
    February 20, 2016 at 16:17

    It is without doubt that people who are critical thinkers and open to real dialogue regarding the nature of American policy, foreign and domestic, are criticized and belittled by the media organs representing the oligarchic elite. This is one function of propaganda which is well known.

    The odd nature of the elite ruling class of the Multinational/U.S. is that the propaganda produced is equally aimed at itself as well as the hoi polloi. This in a way exposes the fragility of the scheme, that the lies supporting policy must be constantly chanted, as if like prayers, in order to reassure all that the religion of free market capitalism is pure, and that the devotions to world order require the subservience of all.

    Wealth concentration, and its consequent power, results in a purity of purpose. The globalized unrestricted free markets promise this to its adherents, if they only remain blinkered to reality, the reality that the world is multifaceted and diverse and that human beings the world over have value beyond monetization and debt service. But greed isn’t pure and it corrupts such as those characters in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” where at first they only sought to make a little money by hard work, but became corrupted by the temptation of huge wealth. Thus the needed religious devotion, which requires distractions as offerings.

    The Washington Post’s Ignatius preforms his function, dancing on the head of a pin.

    • Ethan Allen
      February 20, 2016 at 17:57

      Well said Tristan!
      As Usual,

  13. J'hon Doe II
    February 20, 2016 at 15:38

    The Irony of American History
    With a new Introduction by Andrew J. Bacevich

    “[Niebuhr] is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away [from his works] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and … Read More


    I. The Ironic Element in the American Situation

    II. The Innocent Nation in an Innocent World

    III. Happiness, Prosperity and Virtue

    IV. The Master of Destiny

    V. The Triumph of Experience Over Dogma

    VI. The International Class Struggle

    VII. The American Future

    VIII. The Significance of Irony

    History: American History

  14. Stuart Davies
    February 20, 2016 at 14:11

    As much as one might fervently wish that Sanders will prove to be a foreign policy “realist”, I fear that his pronouncements thus far indicate the contrary. Sad to say, he has plainly been drinking the deep state’s cool aide – the relentless barrage of inverted reality and bald faced lies in their corporate media – in regards to such matters as the purported NATO block “War on Terror”, “ISIS”, and “Russian aggression” in Ukraine and Syria. Unfortunately, in spite of his truth speaking on the Senate floor in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, I see no compelling indication that Sanders’ foreign policy in Syria would be significantly different from that of O’Bomber or Clinton.

    Of course genuine realism is too much to expect from one such as Bernie Sanders (in fact, it would be political suicide for him, so he is understandably allergic to such realism), but I find it interesting to note that even Robert Parry cannot find his spine when it comes to really digging into the mountain of evidence which clearly indicates that “ISIS” – just like the “Muslim Brotherhood and “al Qaeda” before them – is a construct of the CIA, NATO block, and other affiliated intelligence agencies. In fact, the west has been recruiting, funding, training, arming, and deploying these Radical Muslim Bogeymen (RMB) for at least the past six decades – to infiltrate, destabilize,fragment, and/or overthrow target governments throughout the so called “Arc of Crisis”, from Western China, to the Russian Caucasus region, to the Horn of Africa (and now much deeper into sub Sahara Africa) – during this entire period.

    I give Parry credit for giving coverage to the rather obvious fact that the NATO block powers are “once again” giving aid to al Qaeda, but this curious fact deserves considerably more scrutiny than he gives it. The history of “al Qaeda is badly in need of review, because most people seem to have forgotten (if they ever were aware in the first place) that “al Qaeda” was a multinational conglomeration of radical Muslim jihadists (Mujahadeen) guerrillas that were openly acknowledged by multiple mainstream sources to have been recruited to fight the Soviet military in Afghanistan. In fact, we should know that this group was recruited to attack the Soviet backed government in Afghanistan BEFORE the invasion of the Soviet army, with the specific intention of luring the Soviets into invading. We should know this because the mastermind of this scheme – Zbigniew Brzezinski – has bragged about it in both print and video. The conventional view is that this invasion was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which is supposedly what Brzezinski intended (and takes credit for).

    The (generally forgotten) official narrative on “al Qaeda” is that, yes, the west recruited, trained, funded, and armed them to fight the Soviets, but then this Frankenstein we created turned on us. Osama bin Laden and “al Qaeda” turned on their masters and perpetrated a series of terror attacks on the west, including – of course – the attacks on 9/11. If one looks back on this history, as presented in the corporate media and from western government sources, we can see these two distinct earlier phases documented very clearly – no controversy or wild eyed “conspiracy theories” whatsoever.

    So, we can still see the phase in which the west created “al Qaeda. And then, of course, we see the long phase in which “al Qaeda” is the horrifying Radical Muslim Bogeyman responsible for a seemingly endless series of terror attacks against the west – the evil, shadowy, multinational band of bloodthirsty Muslim fanatics that have necessitated the “War on Terror”, right? EVERYONE knows this second phase, at least – even if they never knew or have forgotten the first part of the official narrative, which is seldom (if ever) now mentioned in the mainstream media.

    And now, lo and behold, we see just a wee bit of official acknowledgement that the west is (once again!) supporting “al Qaeda” as they do battle against a targeted government. Now isn’t THAT an interesting turn of events? Al Qaeda is …once again… a military proxy for the western cartel empire. ALL of that, folks, is the historical record and the official story according to mainstream political figures from western nations and the corporate media. And this latest development, this entire history is not front page headlines? It deserves no comment? No questioning? No analysis?

    Well, in fact, it gets a hell of a lot more interesting – curiouser and curiouser – if one makes a modest effort to examine the well documented facts that do not correspond to the already strange official narrative. The truth is this: not only did the west create “al Qaeda” as a proxy military force to be used against the Soviets in Afghanistan – but they have continued to use them against Russia, China, Serbia, India, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, (etc., etc.) AND NOW IN SYRIA – during the entire course of the “War on Terror” since 9/11!

    Here are just a few sources of information regarding this minor aspect of the story that the corporate media has neglected to mention to us all:







  15. J'hon Doe II
    February 20, 2016 at 13:18

    “Fearing Sanders” is an overdue source of vital information. Thank You so much, Mr. Parry. I pray this piece gets abundant circulation if deserves, for the sake of our nation.
    This is an apropos occasion for 21st century Americans to meet John Doe, a WW2 era forerunner to Bernie Sanders depicted in the film, “Meet John Doe.”

    It’s the art of story telling and a fascinating portrait of the American continuum from then to now.
    Capra and Robert Riskin purchased the rights to “A Reputation” and The Life and Death of John Doe in 1939. Capra and Riskin’s final (except for the ending) script begins with the sale of The Tribune newspaper, whose motto was “A Free Press for a Free People,” to tycoon and domestic fascist D.B. Norton. The New Tribune’s motto is “A Streamlined Press for a Streamlined Age.” The first act of ‘streamlining’ is a corporate layoff. Columnist Ann Mitchell retaliates by submitting a final column in which she prints a phony letter from a man signed John Doe who threatens to kill himself on Christmas Eve because he is unemployed. The column creates an instant public sensation. When the editor of another newspaper charges that John Doe is a fake, Ann and her editor Henry Connell hire a vagrant named John Willoughby, who is traveling through town with his hobo friend “the Colonel,” to play the part.

    Through newspaper coverage, Doe becomes a spokesman for a hundred causes. Eventually he attracts the attention of Norton, who arranges for a radio speech by Willoughby. The speech, written by Mitchell, encourages average citizens to act together in a spirit of simple neighborliness. Norton witnesses his servants’ enthusiastic reaction to Willoughby’s speech and immediately announces the formation of apolitical John Doe clubs across the country. Willoughby is persuaded by Mitchell and by the members of the Millsville John Doe Club to embark on a lecture tour. Norton, meanwhile, arranges a national convention where Willoughby will announce the formation of a third political party, with D.B. Norton as its presidential candidate. Willoughby rejects the scheme and heads for the convention to tell the public the truth. Before he can speak, Norton’s private stormtroopers cut the wires to the microphone and distribute papers announcing Willoughby is a fake. Willoughby plans to go ahead with the suicide out of despair and in an effort to redeem himself; members of the Millsville John Doe Club appear on the roof of City Hall and are able to convince Willoughby to abandon his suicide attempt.

    Connell’s 1922 short story of identity as it related to class consciousness evolved into a feature-film length treatment of fascism and the media. Although Ann Mitchell’s original John Doe letter protested four years of unemployment and an inability to get relief from the state government, Doe’s protest, in subsequent tellings of his story, became a more general protest of the state of modern civilization. Frank Stricker argued that Capra thus “retracted the elementary political point” of Doe’s mission, but Stricker misses the fact that Capra turns Doe’s protest towards a more widespread political evil.(6) Morris Dickstein contended that in the years between Smith and Doe, “Capra’s politics have leapfrogged in one bound from the rural evangelism of William Jennings Bryan to the antitotalitarian pessimism of Herbert Marcuse!”(7) Although fascist envoys sit in the Senate gallery in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the real threat Jefferson Smith faces is a domestic political machine headed by greedy capitalists. Within a national framework, Capra contrasted Smith’s small-town, wholesome innocence to Taylor’s big-city, affluent corruption. Doe’s institutional scope was wider ; in it, Capra tackled a pressing international concern. When it was applied to this concern, the American cultural myth of the heroic ‘backwoods innocent’ broke down completely.

    >Reinhold Niebuhr< addressed the failure of American mythic "innocence" during the 1940s and '50s in The Irony of American History. Niebuhr observed that America's "dream of a pure virtue" was "dissolved in a situation in which it is possible to exercise the virtue of responsibility…only by courting the prospective guilt of the atomic bomb." Niebuhr believed that America's "vast involvement in guilt" was especially ironic given the fact that "the two leading powers engaged in [the Cold War] are particularly innocent according to their own official myth and collective memory." In reality, "we could not be virtuous (in the sense of practicing the virtues which are implicit in meeting our vast world responsibilities) if we were really as innocent as we pretend to be." The U.S., argued Niebuhr, was "innocent fifty years ago with the innocency of
    irresponsibility…now we are immersed in world-wide resonsibilities…Our culture knows little of the use and abuse of power; but we have to use power in global terms. Our idealists are divided between those who would renounce the responsibilities of power for the sake of preserving the purity of our soul and those who are ready to cover every ambiguity of good and evil in our actions."

    By the close of World War II, Niebuhr claimed "we had sloughed off the tendencies toward irresponsibility which had characterized us in the long armistice between the world wars." World War II and the Cold War forced Americans to confront governments which "generate more extravagant forms of political injustice and cruelty out of the pretensions of innocency than we have ever known in human history. The liberal world which opposes this monstrous evil is filled ironically with milder forms of the same pretension." Niebuhr was confident this pretension was not really dangerous in America, because "we have not invested our ostensible "innocents" with inordinate power" due to "reservations about human nature which emanated from the Christianity of New England."(8)
    Niebuhr based his remarks chiefly on America's role in the Cold War, but the loss of innocence he described had its birth in the fascist threat of the '30s and '40s. Dixon Wecter observed that during the '30s, communists, fascists, and American democrats all employed the common- man-as-innocent heroic type. In Meet John Doe, Norton recognizes its utility during Willoughby's radio speech, which flatters the public as "simple but wise, big but small, inherently honest with a streak of larceny…the world's greatest stooge, the world's greatest strength… the meek who are supposed to inherit the earth. We raise the crops, we dig the mines..we've been dodging left hooks since history began. In the struggle for freedom we've hit the canvas many a time…The character of a country is the sum total of the character of the little punks."

    Despite the similarities in fascist and democratic rhetoric, Wecter, like Niebuhr, remained confident of America's democratic future. Wecter argued that there are safeguards in America which prevent excessive hero- worship and abuse of power: the American hero must be the people's choice; he must exhibit modesty and a disdain for personal power because "the strong man is unpopular here"; and he will be treated informally, since Americans don't take their living heroes too seriously.(9)
    Capra was much less confident of this in Meet John Doe; his fascist villain was a formidable force. We are well into the film before we ever see D.B. Norton, although his pervasive influence is felt from the beginning of the film in jackhammers, layoffs, and telephone calls. In our first glimpse of him, he is on horseback watching his personal uniformed stormtroopers/motorcycle corps drill in precision maneuvers; Norton commands them with a police whistle. Capra noted in the margin of his shooting script that Norton should be found reading Hitler's Mein Kampf and possessing medals and Legion of Honor ribbons.

    John Willoughby poses with the "little people"

    Meet John Doe was Capra's study of the process of character invention, and by extension, of hero invention. In Doe he moves from mythmaker to mythologist. Capra, like other mythologists like Dixon Wecter and WALTER LIPPMANN, became interested in collective myths and heroes as "strategic railroad centers, where many roads meet regardless of their point of origin or where they are going. A political strategist claiming these junction centers successfully enough to convince the public of his right to be there, controls the highroads of mass policy…With such a fulcrum he can move a hundred million people."(17) In Meet John Doe, Willoughby becomes such a collective symbol: the montage sequence assembled by Slavko Vorkapich shows Willoughby's picture paired with a dozen different causes on the front pages of national newspapers. Later in the film, the press cynically manipulates American symbols by having Willoughby pose with a pair of midgets, who represent American citizens as "the little people."

    Full- http://www.xroads.virginia.edu/~ma97/halnon/capra/doe.html

    • Bob Van Noy
      February 20, 2016 at 15:04

      Nice to meet you J”hon, and thanks for the essay.

      Norton recognizes its utility during Willoughby’s radio speech, which flatters the public as:

      “simple but wise, big but small, inherently honest with a streak of larceny…the world’s greatest stooge, the world’s greatest strength… the meek who are supposed to inherit the earth. We raise the crops, we dig the mines..we’ve been dodging left hooks since history began. In the struggle for freedom we’ve hit the canvas many a time…The character of a country is the sum total of the character of the little punks.”

      Lord help me, this is a perfect description of my 1950’s living heroes…

      • J'hon Doe II
        February 20, 2016 at 15:22

        Bob Van Noy > Lord help me, this is a perfect description of my 1950’s living heroes…

        Yes. They who guided us into adulthood – and those we’ll always remember in the deep corners of our mind.

        • alexander
          February 20, 2016 at 16:03

          Great stuff Mr Van Noy and Mr Doe II,

          I suppose if I stopped to consider who my heroes are today, I would have to say……my son….and my dog.

          • Bob Van Noy
            February 21, 2016 at 10:15

            Great choice, alexander.

  16. Mike Meyer
    February 20, 2016 at 12:53

    Is the “CIA et al” attacking the “Green Berets-DOD” in Aleppo ?
    Domestically,Is the CIA attacking DOD + DHS enlisted personnel
    via covert warfare?
    What are the chances[odds] that this activity will ignite a hot civil war
    within the DMV[District,Maryland,Virginia] ?
    …not just poisonings and assassinations but actual street fighting?
    Very Seriously,Mike

  17. bfearn
    February 20, 2016 at 12:49

    America did, “intervene earlier and bigger by shipping even more weapons to”… Vietnam. Millions killed, millions more displaced and lives ruined. America consciously developed the most reprehensible weapons to kill and torture a people that never threatened or attacked America. 400,000 tons of napalm were dropped on these people and most Americans never thought this was abhorrent. The Washington Post and everyone else were very quick to tell us how reprehensible ISIS was for burning a Jordanian pilot alive. Hypocrisy rules.
    President Reagun told us about the ‘Evil Empire’. We now have a vicious “Bullshit’ empire.

  18. alexander
    February 20, 2016 at 12:14

    Dear Mr Parry,

    Thanks for a fine article.
    But the truth is I am so sick of this insular beltway bubble talk. It feels sometimes that all the narratives being generated seem to bounce around like pin balls in a completely enclosed parlor game, where the parameters of the discussion are eternally limited to a very self serving cloistered ideological space.
    What does Hawkish, Dovish or “realist” truly represent anyway ?

    Our constitution is crystal clear,only Congress has the power to declare war and only on the grounds of invasion or insurrection.

    If there exists a legitimate and non-fraudulent claim to intervention somewhere, on the grounds of R2P , then let the vast majority within the United Nations Security Council say so through an appropriate resolution.

    These are the laws of our land and these are the treatises which we have signed.

    These are good laws, smart laws and just laws.

    Any who seek to embrace a policy or ideology that broaches them, should be viewed with much skepticism and contempt.

    There shouldn’t be much more to it then that….Should there be ?

  19. Bob Van Noy
    February 20, 2016 at 11:04

    Thank you Robert Parry…

  20. February 20, 2016 at 10:56

    I would support rounding up all these “Neocons” [nee Trotskyist NAZIS] and dragging them
    out into the street……very close to some sort of public gallows.

    2LT Dennis Morrisseau USArmy [armor – Vietnam era] ANTI-WAR retired.
    POB 177 W Pawlet, VT 05775
    802 645 9727 [email protected]

  21. February 20, 2016 at 10:05

    Mr Parry, your next-to-last paragraph was spot on. Nothing more needs to be said….


      February 20, 2016 at 19:33

      Bernie Sanders needs to speak with such clarity, early and often, as the pundits will hit back with neocon narrative, like a broken record.

  22. Brad Benson
    February 20, 2016 at 09:58

    Sadly, people within the beltway bubble, read this newspaper on a daily basis and buy into this nonsense. The Post was once a great newspaper and I proudly delivered it as a kid. Unfortunately, like so many other media outlets, the Post is full of paid CIA Media Assets. With 90% of all US Media under the control of six right wing companies, it is not hard for the CIA to get their people placed in key positions and this is what has happened.

    The Israeli Secret Service has also made great efforts to place their own people into our media. One must ask how a guy like Wolf Blitzer, who was an obscure reporter for an Israeli Newspaper, gets hired onto CNN–first as Pentagon Correspondent and then as key anchorman? Should anyone wonder how CNN became the all-Israel-all-the-time network?

    I suppose the good people at Consortium News have certainly benefited by the fact that there is no honesty in the MSM. Thus the number of people on this and other similar sites continue to climb. People now have to search for the truth on the Internet and those that do not are bought into the trash that they get on their TV Sets and their crappy newspapers.

    • philip
      February 20, 2016 at 12:28

      Here, here.

      • Martin O'Hara
        February 20, 2016 at 23:32

        I agree. Hear, hear!

    • Abe
      February 20, 2016 at 17:27

      For those who consider it preposterous to suggest that a pro-Israel bias exists in the mainstream media, Wolf Blitzer is an interesting case in point.

      Blitzer (aka Zev Blitzer and Zev Barak) was a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post from 1973-1990. He also worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the editor of their monthly publication, the Near East Report.

      During the 1980s, Israel had suffered a public relations image problem due to its military aggression in the Lebanon War (1982-1986), Israel’s invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, as well as its treatment of Palestinian people in the Israel-occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. On 16 December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly had condemned the Sabra and Shatila massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide.

      Efforts were made to encourage American Jewish support for Israel and to delegitimize the cause of the Palestinian people.

      In 1984, American author Joan Peters published From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, in which she argued that Palestinians are largely not indigenous to modern Israel and therefore do not have a claim to its territory.

      In 1986, Blitzer became known for his coverage of the arrest and trial of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who was charged with spying for Israel. Blitzer was the first journalist to interview Pollard. The interview was controversial as it was construed as a possible violation of the terms of Pollard’s plea deal, which forbade media contact.

      The New York Times gave Blitzer’s subsequent book, Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a very flattering review and listed it in its “Notable Books of the Year” for 1989. A critical review in The New York Review of Books prompted a letter from Blitzer. Reviewer Robert I. Friedman responded to Blitzer’s criticism by characterizing Territory of Lies as “a slick piece of damage control that would make [Blitzer’s] former employers at AIPAC (not to mention Israel’s Defense Ministry) proud.”

      1989 was a significant year in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

      The First Intifada (1987-1993), the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, had resulted in large number of casualties among the people of Palestine and had provoked huge international condemnation of Israel.

      Numerous United Nations Security Council Security Council Resolutions had demanded Israel cease deportations of Palestinian people. In November 1988, Israel was condemned by a large majority of the UN General Assembly for its actions against the Intifada.

      On 17 February 1989, the UN Security Council unanimously but for US condemned Israel for disregarding Security Council resolutions, as well as for not complying with the fourth Geneva Convention. The United States, put a veto on a draft resolution which would have strongly deplored it. On 9 June, the US again put a veto on a resolution.

      On 7 November 1989, the US vetoed a third draft resolution, condemning alleged Israeli violations of human rights.

      On 8 November 1989, Blitzer participated in a now-famous debate titled “The Intifada within the American, Israeli, Islamic Triangle” took place on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

      The other debate panelists were:

      • Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, who was taken hostage in 1985 while serving as director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut during the War in Lebanon. Jenco was held for 564 days before being released and allowed to return to the United States.

      • Zafar Bangash, journalist and editor of Crescent, one of the most respected publications in the Islamic movement.

      • Norman Finkelstein, PhD, a scholar and educator whose primary fields of research were the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors.

      Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His doctoral thesis was a close examination and systematic critique of Time Immemorial by Joan Peters. Finkelstein proved that Peters’ work persistently misrepresented or distorted the primary documents. He convincingly argued that the “evidence that Peters adduces to document massive illegal Arab immigration into Palestine is almost entirely falsified”.

      Finkelstein concluded that Peters’ claim that Palestinians are largely not indigenous to modern Israel was a “threadbare hoax” supported by the “American intellectual establishment”. At the time of the debate, portions of his thesis were published in “Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial”, Chapter 2 of Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (1988).

      During the debate, Blitzer demonstrated unequivocal support for Zionist entitlement.

      Blitzer stated: “Zionism is an ideology, it’s the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. To deny Zionism, to reject Zionism, is about as racist an element as you can get.”

      Finkelstein responded to Blitzer, directly addressing the illegal Israeli occupation:

      Blitzer’s devotion to Zionist ideology, his advocacy for Israel, and his sympathy for Pollard was rewarded in May 1990, when Blitzer was hired by CNN as the cable network’s military affairs reporter. His team’s coverage of the first Gulf War in Kuwait made him a household name. In 1992, Blitzer became CNN’s White House correspondent, a position he would hold until 1999.

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