“You can’t handle the truth,” Jack Nicholson screams at a crucial moment in a silly 1992 film called, “A Few Good Men.” Nicholson was addressing Tom Cruise for reasons no one can bother to remember. But he may as well have been addressing Donald Trump, who is equally helpless when it comes to the truth about Covid-19.
Brett Crozier, captain of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is the latest example why. Last Monday, he sent a four-page memo to higher-ups warning that the coronavirus was racing through the ranks and that the only solution was to remove all but a skeleton crew and subject them to a two-week quarantine. “Keeping over 4000 young men and women aboard the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care,” he wrote.
This was the simple truth, and yet Crozier’s reward was to be fired on the spot. This makes him the American version of Li Wenliang, the 33-year-old ophthalmologist who in December first noticed that a new virus was making the rounds in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Li, who would later die of the disease, got in trouble for telling officials what they didn’t want to hear, and now Crozier has gotten the ax for doing the same.
But Crozier’s message was not only that the Navy faces a huge problem in terms of disease control. Implicitly, it was that the entire U.S. war machine is effectively inoperable. The military could still “fight sick” in an emergency. But since no emergency exists, its only realistic option is to shut down until the pandemic is under control. Otherwise, the military infection rate will continue to climb, spelling disaster for every civilian population the military comes in contact with.
But faced with the loss of its high-tech toys, the brass responded in typical childish fashion by shutting it eyes, stopping up its ears, and screaming, “I can’t hear you!” Crozier is out on his derrière as a result while the Trump administration is now beating the war drums just to show it can.
The insanity was on full display at an Apr. 1 press conference announcing the White House’s latest military offensive against Venezuela. Trump was his usual Mussolini-esque self while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, was the perfect image of a self-serving careerist whose only concern is winning his next promotion. “At a time when the nation and the department of defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus,” he began, “we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces. Today, at the president’s direction, the department of defense, in close cooperation with our interagency partners, began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This initiative is part of the administration’s whole-of-government approach to combating the flow of illicit drugs into the United States and protecting the American people from their scourge….
“Included in this force package,” he continued, “are Navy destroyers and littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft, and elements of an army security force assistance brigade. These additional forces will nearly double our capacity to conduct counter-narcotics operations in the region.”
All of which was not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense at that. Sure, some illicit drugs enter the United State via the eastern Pacific and Caribbean. But they mainly travel by land and by post, with China far and away the leading source for artificial opiates that have wreaked such havoc in recent years. Yet not only is Fentanyl all but impossible to stop since it’s a hundred times stronger than heroin gram for gram, but it can be easily synthesized from precursor chemicals, according to the Rand Corporation, that are themselves perfectly legal.
A destroyer is as useless against such a threat as a medieval crossbow. Moreover, Venezuela isn’t a major player even when it comes to cocaine since production mainly takes place in Peru, Columbia, and Bolivia, all solidly in the pro-U.S. camp, while transport is chiefly overland via Central America and Mexico. As for good old-fashioned heroin, the world’s leading producer happens to be Afghanistan, a U.S. protectorate since 2001.
If the U.S. wants to blockade someone, it should probably start with itself since it’s the chief source of the problem.
So what’s the real explanation for the latest round of saber rattling? Is it because Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may have begun dabbling in the drug trade like so many others? Or is it because he sits on top of some of the largest oil reserves on earth?
The latter is far more likely, obviously. But with oil already in the mid-$20 range and sure to plunge even lower, even that doesn’t quite make sense.
Rather, the only way to understand it is as a form of imperial madness in which chest-thumping becomes an end in itself. The Trump administration wants to intimidate Venezuela for the same reason that it wants to intimidate Iran or blow up Iraq by launching a military offensive against Shi’ite militias with closes ties to the Baghdad government. It wants to merely in order to show it can. It wants to prove that, virus or no virus, it’s still the toughest guy on block, so everyone else better step said.
But the act rings hollow in an age of Covid-19. A destroyer is more a threat to itself if half its crew is down with corona, and that goes double for an army security force assistance brigade, whatever the hell that is. The Trump administration’s efforts to control the virus have already been a colossal failure domestically while now it’s seemingly doing everything in its power to make the problem worse everywhere else as well. Sending troops into battle, ordering ships to deploy against nonexistent threats, stepping up economic sanctions that cripple efforts to defend against the disease – all of this is merely insures that the disease will intensify and thousands more will die.
An empire that is incapable of responding rationally to an existential threat is not one that’s long for this world. A lot of banks and corporations will go belly up before this crisis is through. But so will political structures, beginning with the rickety structure known as the United States. The gods first make mad whom they wish to destroy.