I hate television “experts”, the infamous “analysts” who know all – and support all – about the military, the televisual ex-generals with vain presidential ambitions and the infamous American “think tank” personnel whose right-wing, pro-Israeli beliefs are carefully shielded from viewers by the US networks who employ them. I always characterise the antiseptic and pseudo-academic institutions to which they belong as the “Institute for Preposterous Affairs”.
The Fisk “IPA” contains hundreds of robotic folk who will churn out claptrap about “key players”, “stakeholders” and “moderate allies” and, of course, “world terror”. They turn up on CNN, Fox and Russia Today. And, of course, the BBC.
But William Arkin was always a bit different. This ex-US marine intelligence author of ground-breaking work on secret CIA “black sites” and equally secret US weapons dumps (nuclear and non-nuclear) has a respectful audience at both Harvard and Maxwell US Air Force Base. And when he quits, I take notice.
Here’s a guy the Reagan administration wanted to send to prison for revealing the location of US and Soviet nuclear weapons, and who – in his own words – “had to fight editors who couldn’t believe that there would be a war in Iraq”. He’s just resigned his job as a talking head. Goodbye NBC News. That’s what I call a real story.
And here’s what Arkin told his colleagues about the American military when he left NBC last week. “There is not a soul in Washington,” he wrote to them, “who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the [David] Petraeuses and Wes Clarks, or the so-called warrior monks like James Mattis and HR McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who have sadly and fraudulently done little of consequence.
Arkin’s draw – for me, at least – is that he doesn’t suck on the rubber tube of Wikileaks or social media whistle-blowers. He prefers to dig down through the pages of dull, boring real military information available in serious army and air force journals and official government documents. I came across his work when a reader in Japan sent me pages from Arkin’s book Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans,