Kill the Journalists, “The killers without guns,” Ralph Peters Says

by Joshua Foust on 5/21/2009 · 13 comments

(Via Jeremy Scahill, who notes the U.S. military’s undeclared war on Al Qaeda.) Ralph Peters is still an ignorant mess when describing Afghanistan:

Consider the current bemoaning of a perceived “lack of progress” and “setbacks” in Afghanistan. A largely pre-medieval, ferociously xenophobic country that never enjoyed good government or a central power able to control all of its territory had become the hostage of a monstrous regime and a haven for terrorists. Today, Afghanistan has an elected government, feeble though it may be; for the first time in the region’s history, some of the local people welcome, and most tolerate, the presence of foreign troops; women are no longer stoned to death in sports stadiums for the edification of the masses; and the most inventive terrorists of our time have been driven into remote compounds and caves. We agonize (at least in the media) over the persistence of the Taliban, unwilling to recognize that the Taliban or a similar organization will always find a constituency in remote tribal valleys and among fanatics. If we set ourselves the goal of wiping out the Taliban, we will fail.

Yes, those brutal, xenophobic savages will always love medievalism and is lucky to have a government as awesome as the Karzai administration. Argh. But in an essay that would otherwise be standard neo-conservative boilerplate about the joys of killing more people, Peters lets this slip:

Pretending to be impartial, the self-segregating personalities drawn to media careers overwhelmingly take a side, and that side is rarely ours. Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.(Emphasis mine.)

Yes, yes—victory at any cost is a virtue! Let loose the dogs of war! Murder everyone who gets in our way! Break a few eggs to make the world’s most delicious geopolitical omelette!

And this is after he brags about how the U.S. is the world’s greatest terrorist, since “at present, we are terrorizing the terrorists.” Good God. The mind boggles at who would publish this bullshit.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Smalls May 21, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Wow, I can’t believe he wrote………….wow.

Patton May 21, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Mmm…I love me some crazy!

@Smalls: I can. After he claimed that Afghans are like outer space aliens, only no UFOs, I stopped believing that he (Peters) had any sort of decency or restraint.

Transitionland May 21, 2009 at 10:28 pm

BUT BUT BUT…! Ralph Peters just tells it like it is, unlike those wussy liberal journalists, journalists like Pamela Constable and Dexter Filkins and CJ Chivers and Ahmed Rashid, all of whom clearly think we should be giving Taliban back rubs and ice cream cones. No, unlike those appeasers, Ralph Peters writes hard truths about our terrifying hybrid extraterrestrial-Islamofascist enemy.

Fabius Maximus May 22, 2009 at 3:28 am

Great post!

We have been at war for 8 years. That has to affect us, probably in unpleasant ways. I supect the growing blood-thirst seen in Peters and others is just the first visible effects. War, like all powerful social forces, shapes us — often in unexpected ways. Slow to become seen and long-lasting ways.

Chris Mewett May 22, 2009 at 10:14 am

Ralph Peters is an insufferable hack of the highest order. If anyone could point me to something that he’s written that was worth a shit, I’d appreciate it. It seems his entire objective is to be inflammatory and boil up the blood of those readers who don’t know any better.

Josh, I don’t know if you’ve read Nick Schmidle’s book yet, but I was STAGGERED to find Peters cited in the acknowledgments. I will never understand how or why sane people occasionally cite him as “provocative” or “thoughtful.” Sure, he’s provocative, because the stuff he writes is absurd.

Chris Mewett May 22, 2009 at 10:30 am

Also, wtf is this?

The core world of Islam, stretching from Casablanca to the Hindu Kush…

…and leaving out almost 700 million Muslims in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia? Seems like an odd definition of “core world” to me.

Fabius Maximus May 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm

“If anyone could point me to something that he’s written that was worth a shit, I’d appreciate it.”

Many of his professional publications are IMO excelent. To cite just one of many:

“The Human Terrain of Urban Operations“, Ralph Peters, Parameters, Spring 2000


zenpundit May 23, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Peters introduction to The Book of War, an essay on Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz is excellent and entirely free of hyperbolic hysterics.

I second Fabius Maximus. Peters newspaper columns often irritate me but his professional work is first rate – and I’m pretty sure that was the case with his work as an intelligence officer.

I view the “war god” rhetoric that Peters frequently uses in his columns as unserious shtick designed to get attention, speaking gigs and satisfy his employer, the Post. His AFJ pieces, while aggressive, are not exercises in lunacy.

Dennis June 13, 2009 at 8:45 pm

“Yes, yes—victory at any cost is a virtue!”

Sarcasm aside, this comment reveals a very silly attitude, but one that
infects the liberal mindset. Entering a war with less than a determination to
win is suicidal. When Sherman said that “war is all hell,” he didn’t just
describe the cosmetic appearance of war; he described the effect that must be
created by any army intent on winning. It must create hell to win.
If it isn’t hell, the reluctant combatant might as well stay home.

That said, the author above apparently believes that it is better to lose a wary
and, I suppose, a nation, than to be seen as dirty. The rules of engagement
imposed by liberal political regimes generally reflect this mindset, and, too
often, result in unnecessary deaths of our own. Conveniently, the author
doesn’t address this sad fact. Often, those rules are made in a desire to
please the sideline critics like this author. Thus, this type of media busybody
does, in fact, kill friendly warriors.

All of this is okay, as long as confused faux moralists like the author stay out
of the way while a war is being fought. But it’s never enough just to be a
media hack; they must see themselves as important media hacks. And the
measure by which they gauge their importance, how much they can
stymie the war effort, almost always results in friendly deaths.

It’s worth noting something else Ralph Peters observed: The use of the pen is an indulgence we can afford only because better men and women grip the sword on our behalf.

Joshua Foust June 13, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Dennis, who says I’m staying out of the way? And since when were means irrelevant to the ends?

Dennis June 14, 2009 at 3:51 pm

“Dennis, who says I’m staying out of the way?”

You’re not; that’s the problem.

“And since when were means irrelevant to the ends?”

Micromanaging individual actions on the field of battle, with criminal prosecution hovering over every decision, a la Chessani, has a tendency to cause hesitation at crucial moments. Maybe having been an actual combatant would help you understand the point. But, as an academic, it’s just too easy to talk your way through a fight. Now be honest about your own ends, vis a vis thwarting victory, and the means you use to pursue them.

Joshua Foust June 14, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Dennis, the problem with working from emotion above reason is you miss important details:

You assume that calling Ralph Peters morally repugnant for advocating the murder of journalists who don’t report propaganda is ‘micromanaging individual actions on the field of battle”;
You assume I am “thwarting victory” by pointing that out;
You assume I am an academic;
You assume I have never been in combat.

Assumption is a dangerous game, Dennis.

Dennis June 16, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Prove wrong anything you assume I’ve assumed.

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