Earlier this month, the United States celebrated a dubious anniversary. On Oct. 7, 2001, President George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, marking the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom -- a quagmire that continues to this day under the code name Operation Freedom's Sentinel. The war is now the second longest in American history, next to Vietnam, and as Maj. Danny Sjursen noted in a recent essay for Truthdig, "teenagers born after 9/11 will begin to join the military and, eventually, fight" in its battles. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, the conflict remains out of sight and out of mind for an overwhelming majority of Americans.
Lyle Jeremy Rubin refuses to remain silent. A Ph.D. candidate, former U.S. Marine and member of About Face: Veterans Against the War, he contends that the public's poor understanding of the conflict is matched only by that of the country's political and media elite. Rubin has grown especially disillusioned with liberals and Democrats whose purportedly peaceful politics have proved to be anything but. As he tells Robert Scheer, "Celebrated commenters like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell fail to cover America's ongoing wars and the roles some of their favorite guests have played in expanding them."
In the latest episode of "Scheer Intelligence," Rubin expounds on a range of topics including progressive media and the corrupting influence of arms dealing in U.S. foreign policy. "I mean we are by far the biggest arms dealer in the world," he says. "And a lot of the enemies, the official enemies that our government has, [were] in one way or another created by these arms deals. ...We're making a lot of money by selling [Saudi Arabia] arms that are being used in a genocide in Yemen. And the discussion's just nowhere to be found."
Rubin also examines the recent murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, and how the Trump presidency has laid bare the true nature of the U.S.-Saudi relationship for all the world to see, voluntarily or not. "This is where I think Trump was right when he talked about why the United States wasn't going to do much in response to the assassination of the Saudi Arabian journalist," he continues. "There's a lot of jobs on the line when it comes to these arms deals."
Finally, Rubin explores what it means to be a patriot with an unabashed authoritarian in the Oval Office -- one who regularly targets professional athletes for refusing to stand during the National Anthem: "Veteran friends I know, both on the left and the right ... [are all] somewhat disgusted by the way that [they're] used as political props."
Listen to his interview with Robert Scheer and read the transcript below:
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Lyle Jeremy Rubin, who was a young college student when 9/11 happened. He went down in Atlanta and he was really, he'll tell us about the story, he ends up going to Afghanistan. He moves from the right to a more progressive position. And he's written an incredible article about his experience and what he's learned which is a really taking to the woodshed of liberals, pro-war liberals, as well as conservatives, and it's called "The Forever War's Cheerleaders." It was in September 19, 2018, the Nation Magazine. And so tell us how you became, you got involved with the Marines and where this wisdom came from.
Lyle Jeremy Rubin: Well, first of all, thanks for having me. So I guess my story really begins on 9/11. I was two weeks into college. I watched the second tower fall from this massive screen that had been kind of imported into the student union so we could all watch what was happening. And that was really the first time that I thought about putting on the uniform and following in my grandfather's footsteps who was the one military member in my family. He had served during World War II, got shot in the head at Iwo Jima, he was always a hero of mine. So to make a long story short, I became a pro-war voice on campus. I became the opinion editor of the school newspaper. I started my own political magazine with a friend of mine. And by my senior year I realized that I actually had to serve in these wars that I was supporting. So I joined up on June 6, 2006, the day of the devil. I became a marine. And I ended up getting deployed to Afghanistan a few years later actually as a signals intelligence officer. I ended up becoming a commissioned officer a little further down the line. And I got deployed in 2010 and I was in Afghanistan for about a year.
RS: OK. Well out of this experience and you said you considered yourself a conservative in college, right?
LR: That's right.
RS: And in your article you make the point, you sort of, you were at odds with these anti-war liberals. And one of the things you expressed some consternation back having experienced war and feeling this forever war which is what Afghanistan seems to be, you're surprised that people seem to be on the liberal side of it. You mention, well let me quote from your article. You said, "It isn't so much awareness as a memory. The problem with veterans is we keep remembering our wars when we are supposed to join everyone else in forgetting them. Today, I experienced that gap most viscerally in politics and liberal or progressive politics in particular where celebrated commentators like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell fail to cover America's ongoing wars and the roles some of their favorite guests have played in launching and expanding them." Why don't you expand on that notion.
LR: So my formative years as a kind of political person were the early 2000s, and at that point the Democratic party and liberal media in general, at least pretended to be an anti-war force, particularly in relation to the Bush administration. So, while I never really believed that the Democrats or liberals were as anti-war as they always posed themselves as being, I did see them as something of a counterforce or counterbalance to the militarism of the right. So there was a certain kind of disappointment and surprise when I returned from Afghanistan as just another kind of disillusioned war veteran. And I'd be speaking to family members or friends all of whom identified as liberal or progressive or on the left. And a lot of them I didn't seem to think were really understanding what I was saying, not only about the war that I had come from, but overall American foreign policy, and the gap between the rhetoric and the language of the political class and the media class on both the left and the right, and the reality on the ground. So it was a shock for me. It's been a shock ever since. And I think the past few years I've really seen even more of a kind of drift to a militarist status quo on the part of MSNBC and the New York Times page and NPR. There's no real even kind of open questioning or challenge of the kind of post 9/11 status quo that we now find ourselves in.
RS: Well, thing here really is that probably those people cheering the war on are not going to have to go fight it nor people in their family, their children or so forth unless it's some sort of career choice because they don't have certainly the necessity to join. And we don't have a draft. And it's sort of been ever so. I mean it's sort of amazing, the day we're doing this having this interview here in mid-October, the defense secretary was just in Vietnam, Jim Mattis. And it was really interesting. Vietnam is still a communist country. And we fought a war with them because we said if we don't defeat them there, we'll have to defeat them here. And there was an international communist movement and blah, blah, blah. And he's over there saying, hey you know what, we have a lot in common because neither of us" now here's an American secretary defense, neither of us the Vietnamese or the Americans liked being colonized.
Well, when Robert McNamara was secretary defense and he admitted that three and a half million innocent people in Vietnam had been killed in a war that made no sense and that he could possibly had been called a war criminal, still most of this group, the elite and so forth thought whether or not the war was really necessary and if it was sort of a mistake, sort of what the Ken Burns movie basically said. Bad things happen in war. But the idea that this was a calculated effort at control of colonization and so forth. That's not part of the conversation. It's just we make mistakes. Other people commit genocide, murder, invade, and so forth. Is that not sort of the basic lesson here? And you're now I gather getting your doctorate in this stuff. Is this what you're learning as an academic?