Tuesday, February 09, 2016

It's Not a War, Silly; It's Just an Intervention!

Should the west launch yet another war in Libya? You might think not, given how calamitous the last one turned out to be—given, in fact, that the results of the last war in Libya have become the basis for the new one!—but fear not, you can always count on The Economist to assure you of why we need yet another war. You see, what it all really comes down to is that, “In a situation where there are no good options, doing nothing may be the worst.”

This is the kind of thing I’m starting to think of as Peak Economist—when the magazine can’t come up with an argument even marginally new, insightful, or useful about one of the wars it’s constantly calling for, and so defaults to the kind of sober- and serious-sounding but substantively vapid bromides that have become the trademark of its warmongering.

So let’s pause for just a moment—longer, apparently, than the Economist allotted itself before publishing that marvelous bit of self-important onanism—to consider a bit of what’s so embarrassingly stupid about it.

First, why should “doing nothing” be inherently suspect—especially when the only alternatives The Economist seems able to imagine all involve war? Now, in fairness to The Economist, war is only called war with regard to the “Libyan Civil War.” Western bombings and invasions are instead understood to be mere “intervention.” Seriously—“war” is used three times in the article, and only about the Libyan civil war. Intervention is used four times, and only about a western attack. In fact, I just decided on the spot to make “intervention” one of my favorite war-mongering euphemisms ever, reserved only for the noble actions of the beneficent west and denied to our adversaries such as the Iranians, who can only “meddle” in countries adjacent to them after the west has “intervened” there.

(For some of the best war euphemisms ever, including wars that aren’t wars but are instead merely instances of “marching” and “pressing forward” and “continuing,” see former CIA clandestine service chief Jack Devine and former “dean of the Washington Press corps” David Broder in The Definition of Insanity.)

Sorry, I digress…we were talking about why “doing nothing” should be inherently suspect when all The Economist’s alternatives are so demonstrably awful. A question: is The Economist arguing that it would have been worse to have done nothing in Iraq rather than invading and occupying the country, killing well over 100,000 civilians and displacing another four million in the process?

(Think about those numbers for a moment. Even accounting for all our imperialistic privileges and American Exceptionalism and all that, you could argue that’s kind of a lot of human beings to slaughter and turn into stateless refugees, and that it might possibly have been better to “do nothing” instead.)

Or would “doing nothing” have been worse in Libya in 2011, when our war (sorry, “intervention”) destroyed the country and turned it into a breeding ground for ISIS? After all, if we’d “done nothing” last time, we probably wouldn’t need another war this time. Though in fairness to The Economist, which does seem excessively fond of war and frightened of what might happen if we were ever to Do Nothing instead, that last point might not be terribly persuasive.

We have a Hippocratic Oath in medicine. Why would the concept be applicable to medical interventions, but not to military ones?

I know, I know…they never really come out and definitively say “doing nothing” would be the worst option. Instead, it’s “doing nothing may be the worst option.” Sure, it might be! But it might be the best option, too. Or something in the middle. In the vacuum that passes for The Economist’s reasoning, who can really say? But for God’s sake, if you really don’t know, if something “may” be worse, or better, or whatever, what kind of sick mind would want war to be the default option?

Of course, this whole “war or nothing” framework is itself bullshit, driven either by ignorance or propaganda. Now, I don’t think the people who write these articles at The Economist are so dim-witted that they actually can’t imagine a way of conducting foreign policy other than War/Do Nothing. So either they’re so morbidly attracted to war that their desire for more of it is blunting their imagination and occluding their reason, or they know full well that a country as disproportionately powerful and influential as America has countless tools at its disposal—War and Nothing being only two of them—and are deliberately misleading their readers in the hope they’ll be able to gin up another of the wars they seem to crave.

Watch out, by the way, anytime someone tries to limit the discussion to only two crappy alternatives while positioning theirs as the marginally less worse one. I come across this with regard to torture fairly regularly—“Well, if we can’t torture them, what are we supposed to do, offer them tea and crumpets?”— because, right, no one has yet figured out a way to interrogate a criminal suspect or captured enemy that doesn’t involve either waterboarding, on the one hand, or finger sandwiches, on the other. Whether done cynically or clinically, the technique is just a way to pull you into the confines of the box that limits the other person’s thinking, and force a result that logic and reason would otherwise reject.

The final paragraph is like a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the article itself. It quotes a couple of think tank people to create the appearance of balance and a modicum of thoughtfulness, and these people offer the kind of stunningly fresh insights that only a seasoned think tank denizen could come up with, such as that a western invasion of Libya might be “unwise and risky” (Really? Another western invasion of a Muslim country might entail some risks? Are you sure?), and even that the west might “need to proceed carefully” (Solid advice—thank you!). These “balanced” asides are served up not to persuade anyone that another war in Libya might not be such a great idea, but rather to steer readers to the gloriously sane, serious, sober, centrist option The Economist is hankering to make real—air strikes in support of small commando units.

Those are your only options, people: a full-scale invasion and occupation; the dreaded “do nothing” option; or some nice, sanitary air strikes and a handful of semi-secret troops. Which is it going to be—one of the two really shitty options, or the one that sounds a little less shitty by comparison?

If this all feels as manipulative as a game of Three-card Monte, it’s because it is. Pundits who want wars can’t get them unless they convince the public to go along for the ride. And if that involves subterfuge, well, it’s all for the greater good, right?

If The Economist gets its way and the west does another “intervention” in Libya, and the latest “intervention” produces results as horrifically counterproductive as the last one, and ISIS or an ISIS-successor bogeyman then pops up in Algeria or Egypt or wherever, there’s one thing I’m sure we can count on. The Economist will tell us yet again that “doing nothing” will be—sorry, “may” be—worse than yet another of their cherished “interventions.”

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Out Today: The God's Eye View!

Hi all, it’s launch day for The God’s Eye View!

Based on the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the book has been well received so far: a boxed starred review in Publisher’s Weekly ("Eisler’s expert knowledge of spy craft and hand-to-hand combat combine with his ultra-deep distrust of government intelligence to propel this suspenseful yarn into the front ranks of paranoid thrillers”); ); a starred review in Booklist (“When Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was having its run, service people left the theater muttering, 'That wasn’t a satire. That’s what they’re like.' So it is with Eisler’s fine thriller…”); kind words from people like imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown, imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and many others.

Here’s a short interview I did about the book with Kirkus (which also had a great review):

And here’s an interview I did about the book and more with novelist Josie Brown for The Big Thrill, the magazine of International Thriller Writers.

I’m excited to be talking to a number of terrific journalists and activists as part of the tourMike Masnick of Techdirt in San Francisco; Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing and Freedom of the Press Foundation in LA; Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept and Dirty Wars in NYC; Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a few other university people, in Boston. Details below and on my website (with updates as more events get added); hope to see you on the road!


NSA director Theodore Anders has a simple goal: collect every phone call, email, and keystroke tapped on the Internet. He knows unlimited surveillance is the only way to keep America safe.

Evelyn Gallagher doesn’t much care about any of that. She just wants to keep her head down and manage the NSA’s camera network and facial recognition program so she can afford private school for her deaf son, Dash.

But when Evelyn discovers the existence of an NSA program code-named God’s Eye, and connects it with the mysterious deaths of a string of journalists and whistleblowers, her doubts put her and Dash in the crosshairs of a pair of government assassins: Delgado, a sadistic bomb maker and hacker; and Manus, a damaged giant of a man who until now has cared for nothing beyond protecting the director.

Within an elaborate game of political blackmail, terrorist provocations, and White House scheming, a global war is being fought—a war between those desperate to keep the state’s darkest secrets, and those intent on revealing them. A war that Evelyn will need all of her espionage training and savvy to survive. A war in which the director has the ultimate informational advantage: The God’s Eye View.

Kepler’s Books
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025-4349

Wednesday, February 3, 6:30 PM

Conversation with Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
555 Post Street

San Francisco, CA 94102-9824

Conversation with Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing and Freedom of the Press Foundation
William Turner Gallery
Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA  90404

Wednesday, February 24, 7:00 PM
Conversation with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept and Dirty Wars
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003

Conversation with Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy, and Michael Sulymeyer, Director of the Cybersecurity Project, Harvard Kennedy School; and Yochai Benkler, Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School
Malkin Penthouse, Littauer Building, Harvard Kennedy School
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA  02138

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Big Thrill, Unexpurgated

In connection with tomorrow’s release of The God’s Eye View, I did an interview with The Big Thrill, the magazine of International Thriller Writers

Novelist Josie Brown asked a ton of great questionsso many that TBT felt some of the conversation had to be cut. Here’s what didn’t make it in: my thoughts about what we the people can do to safeguard our rights in the face of continual governmental overreach, and on why the whole book ecosystem would be healthier if organizations like the “Authors Guild” would stop pretending to be other than lobbying arms for establishment publishing. Enjoy.

Your background gives you keener insights than most on our government’s geopolitical realities and political fallacies. What do you feel is the future of the US government’s surveillance? What role do you feel the public needs to take in order to safeguard its rights?

...So what is the future of a dynamic wherein the people know less and less about the government and the government knows more and more about the people? That depends on us. If we let propagandists stupefy us with stories about how The Terrorists™ are going to kill us all in our beds unless we surrender even more of our civil liberties (and really, given how much liberty we’ve given up since 9/11, if the “less liberty=more safety” equation had anything to it, wouldn’t the big bad Global War on Terror have long since been won?), the future will be increasingly jingoistic and authoritarian, with the Constitution more and more “just window dressing now, the artifacts of an ancient mythology, the vestments of a dead religion,” as one of my characters put it in Inside Out.

What can we do if we want to maintain the government as the servant of the people, with limited powers? Speak up. Support organizations like the ACLU, EFF, and Freedom of the Press Foundation; independent journalism like Democracy Now and Wikileaks; whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning. Don’t be taken in by “lesser of two evils” bullshit designed to get you to always vote for one or the other wing of the war party (or by the notion that we need a “third party”—sure, maybe, but to start with we could use a second). You’re not “throwing your vote away” if you cast it for an independent. You’re throwing it away if you cast it for one of the two relatively interchangeable candidates America’s oligarchy wants you to believe is your only real choice.

Don’t believe what the government tells you. I.F. Stone said, “All governments lie,” and can anyone deny this is true? When we encounter a liar in our personal life, we know to discount everything he says that hasn’t been independently verified. Yet we continue to uncritically accept the same government assurances, mostly having to do with how we have to give up more freedoms and drone, invade, and occupy more countries, no matter how many times the government is caught lying. But shouldn’t we at least be cautious when someone urges a course of action by which he stands to benefit? When a salesman on commission tells you a suit looks great on you, you know to be suspicious. And yet we’re infinitely credulous when the government tells us how we need to be afraid—even though fear increases government power and frequently leads to war, where fortunes are made by the very people agitating for hostilities. In any other context, fear-mongering and war would be instantly and rightly recognized as a racket. But it’s psychologically painful to accept that the interests in control of your country are other than benevolent, so we shy from the obvious truth and cling to comforting lies.

If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including the comments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice. For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Read the full interview at The Big Thrill.

The US Govt, Practically Writing My Thrillers For Me...

Here's an article I wrote for Salon -- Holy Smokes, This Stuff is All Real? How I Get My Best Thriller Ideas From the Good ol’ US Government.

Whenever people ask where I get ideas for my thrillers, I say, “Direct from the US government.”

They laugh, but it’s true—in a time of indefinite imprisonment without charge, trial, or conviction (“detention”); torture (“enhanced interrogation”); extrajudicial assassinations (“targeted killing”); and, of course, the unprecedented bulk surveillance revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, third-party villains like SMERSH and SPECTRE and the rest can feel a bit beside the point. Indeed, when the NSA, in its own leaked slides, announces its determination to “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and, ultimately, “Know it All,” it’s safe to say we’re living in an age of “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Does that claim sound extreme? Have a look at this National Reconnaissance Office mission patch. What is this Octopus doing to the earth?

Read the rest here.