FOREVER WARS: The Escalation
I'm going to start writing a column for The Nation. But this newsletter will continue—independently. I'll even reprint the paywalled columns here, for paid subscribers.
Edited by Sam Thielman
IN KEEPING WITH THE THEMES OF MY COVERAGE, FOREVER WARS is about to acquire a foothold within a different media entity. It's time to launch an expedition and secure access to foreign markets.
Starting next month, I'm going to be writing a column for The Nation. That column will also be called FOREVER WARS. But that has zero implications for readers of FOREVER WARS-the-newsletter. This newsletter will remain entirely independent—in spirit, structure and financing—of The Nation. FOREVER WARS is just too good a name, like REIGN OF TERROR, like (frankly) WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, too efficient a mission statement, communicating both the focus and the style of coverage, to make me think I can come up with a better one for my column. Just think of the column as creating Greater FOREVER WARS.
FOREVER WARS-the-newsletter readers will see neither interruptions in coverage nor substantial editorial change. We're going to even make the column an extra for newsletter subscribers. The Nation has a paywall that will inevitably apply to my column. But we've reached an agreement where after the column appears, FOREVER WARS-the-newsletter will reprint it for subscribers. Subscribers will not miss any FOREVER WARS. The empire contains abundance—for its financiers, of course.
I'm going to be open about something. As a recovering newsroom creature, I was very apprehensive about moving over to the substantively-artificial-but-a-professional-fact-regardless "opinion side" of the business. I've never written a column and never wanted to. By the time I was 30, I had burned myself out on blogging, as it felt like drifting in a direction away from what I aspired to do and be in journalism. I consider myself a reporter first, a storyteller second and a pundit never. FOREVER WARS-the-newsletter will continue to reflect that—even as in practice I blend reporting, analysis, essay and opinion, reflecting a commitment to journalism that's richer outside the posture of objectivity adopted by most newsrooms.
But when The Nation asks you to write a column, how can you not do that?
The Nation is the institutional journalistic memory of the American left. I remember how viciously The New Republic hated The Nation back when I worked there, all for the crime of being right about the Iraq War while TNR was wrong about it. When I wanted to go to Dearborn, Michigan in 2006 to report a story about the War on Terror's persecution of the community—the relevant federal prosecutor back then said, about one of the oldest Arab and Muslim enclaves in America, "The question is: Are they loyal to the US or to this terrorist group Hezbollah?"—TNR wasn't interested. The Nation published it. The next year, when I was unemployed, they found the money for me to report from Baghdad for them. I'm grateful for all of that to the recently-retired editor Roane Carey; and now I'm grateful for the column offer from Nation editor-in-chief D.D. Gutenplan.
Writing a column is going to be an experiment. If it doesn't succeed, I'd rather find that out quickly—allowing for some inevitable growing pains, but quickly—and go back to my typical hybrid reporting style, here and elsewhere. Even Mehmed The Conqueror abandoned Otranto. But I want to make it succeed. I want to address not only The Nation's audience but its lineage, and it's an enormous honor to have the opportunity.
I'm only one person, so there's inevitably going to be some overlap between FOREVER WARSes. The way I'm thinking of it, the newsletter will be the place for my reporting-analysis-essay stuff, and the column won't be. The time horizon of the column, which is going to be monthly-ish, is much different than this weekly-ish newsletter, and you'd be surprised how naturally that sorts material into Column or Newsletter. That said, I reserve the right to workshop ideas in the newsletter that might lead into or inform the column. I'll probably also use the newsletter to elaborate upon columns or reply to criticism.
Newsletter readers, and especially subscribers, will only be enhanced by this expansion—you'll read it first, and, if you pay, you'll read it all. After all, FOREVER WARS is nothing if not a growth industry.
WHILE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT JOURNALISM, I joined dozens of respected colleagues in signing this open letter to the New York Times about its recent drastic and alarming drop in editorial standards when it comes to stories about trans and gender-nonconforming people.The letter drew on a Popula column by Tom Scocca describing the Times’s various failures drily and in great detail. It's been about five days since this letter was published and the reaction from the paper has been disappointing. “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums,” wrote the Times's executive editor Joe Kahn and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury, in a staff memo, apparently in reference to a second letter, organized by GLAAD and published the same day as the letter signed by its own contributors.
It's a copout for the leadership to conflate this letter with one from GLAAD, as if the journalists who signed what I think is a pretty restrained letter—the ask is: apply your own stated editorial standards to your trans coverage—are taking orders from GLAAD. (Do note that this response, first reported by my old Daily Beast colleague Max Tani, refers to GLAAD as an "activist group," often a term of derision in newsrooms, rather than, say, civil rights group.) I think all the awards I've won over the course of my career proves that I know what journalism is, and the difference between journalistic criticism and civil-rights-group pressure.
U.S. TROOPS "ENGAGE[D] INSURGENTS" IN SOMALIA on Feb. 10 and Feb. 15. Both were airstrikes, called here by the U.S. Africa Command "collective self-defense strikes," which means the U.S. provided air cover to Somali forces below. (See this post for more on that.) I'm not honestly sure if the Feb. 15 strike, which AFRICOM says was near Bacadweyne, was part of what the Somali government says is a three-province operation (here I use "province" generically, for clarity) that killed "200 al-Shabaab."
Whoever was killed, 200 is a huge number for one of these operations. As I say I don't know if there was any U.S. involvement—right now there's no announcement of that—but whatever happened here, this looks worth returning to if I can get some more reporting.
A YEAR AGO, we noted the sick case of contractor Ross Roggio, whom the Justice Department indicted for allegedly torturing a whistleblower in Iraqi Kurdistan. Zack Kopplin, writing in Rolling Stone, has much more on Roggio's case. "In many ways," Kopplin writes, "Roggio’s twisted and disturbing story is symbolic of all that was brutal, venal, and borderline psychotic about the American adventures in the Middle East." What a lede!
MISSISSIPPI IS RECREATING JIM CROW IN FRONT OF OUR VERY EYES. This is democracy getting shot in the head in broad daylight: The state legislature has voted to create "a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson—the Blackest city in America—that would be appointed completely by white state officials."
Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, who oversees the Capitol Police, watched a portion of the debate from the House gallery, chuckling at times when Democrats made impassioned points about the bill. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the only statewide elected official who owns a house in Jackson, walked onto the House floor shortly before the final vote.
Rep. Blackmon, a civil rights leader who has a decades-long history of championing voting issues, equated the current legislation to the Jim Crow-era 1890 Constitution that was written to strip voting rights from Black Mississippians.
“This is just like the 1890 Constitution all over again,” Blackmon said from the floor. “We are doing exactly what they said they were doing back then: ‘Helping those people because they can’t govern themselves.'”
The one thing we cannot say is that this is un-American, on account of how often throughout its history America does this sort of thing. When foreign-policy commentators—and I guess I'm about to formally become one?—talk about America's great-power-competition purpose of a "democratic"-led world, let's remember that this kind of democracy qualifies.
But we can have democracy in America—real democracy, democracy backed with resources controlled and distributed democratically, democracy with the potential to destroy racial caste as a material fact in American life. The entire point of America's long post-Civil War legacy of formal and informal apartheid, particularly once the Cold War got underway, is to stop that by all means necessary.
PROSECUTORS IN THE PROUD BOYS/JANUARY 6 trial revealed last week that Lt. Shane Lamond, a Metropolitan Police officer (the cops in Washington D.C.), would text the Proud Boys' Enrique Tarrio stuff like this, according to the AP:
In a message to Tarrio on Dec. 11, 2020, Lamond told him about the whereabouts of antifascist activists. The officer asked Tarrio if he should share that information with uniformed police officers or keep it to himself.
So here we have a D.C. cop telling a street-gang leader where the gang's declared enemies are. An attorney for Lamond said the officer "does not condone the hateful rhetoric or the illegal conduct on January 6th and was only communicating with these individuals because the mission required it." “The mission required” a cop to pass what the AP calls "internal information about law enforcement operations" to a right-wing street gang? Not according to an FBI agent who testified that he had "never heard" of that kind of proffer of information from a police officer to an investigative target.
I WROTE ABOVE: "FOREVER WARS is just too good a name, like REIGN OF TERROR, like (frankly) WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, too efficient a mission statement, communicating both the focus and the style of coverage, to make me think I can come up with a better one for my column."
In all honesty, I learned this by trying to think of a different column title. It was an embarrassing attempt at reinventing the wheel. The closest I came was War All The Time. But the thing is, I don't really connect with that Thursday album or that Poison Idea album. (Full Collapse is a different story; also, I never got into Poison Idea.) If I call the column that, then it's sort of inescapably going to create a misleading association to one or both of those records. This, to me, is a factor in column-name choices.
FINALLY, THIS HAS BEEN FOREVER WARS #137. In X-Men terms, we're in very auspicious territory. Should I refer to the Nation column as FOREVER WARS volume two? ADJECTIVELESS FOREVER WARS can't really work because of the adjective. ASTONISHING FOREVER WARS? FOREVER WARS UNLIMITED? MAGNETO & THE FOREVER WARS? Or would that last one imply that The Nation is the Age of Apocalypse? [I vote for FOREVER WARS: 2099—Sam.]