Thomas Ricks covered the military for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post for more than 20 years, and was, like most such in the DC media Village, supportive of the various wars he reported, and, generally, of the status quo.
Now that he's retired from that and nearing 60, he remarkably finds himself moving left (h/t Ed Kilgore).
Not all the way to becoming a "radical socialist," but enough to write a semi-apologia that was published by the Village's new favorite media outlet, Politico.
What Ricks said, below.
Ricks writes that he is "puzzled by this late-middle-age politicization," and its leftward direction. After all, he was a military/war correspondent who wrote "five books about the Marines, the Army and our wars."
But that experience is what changed him from being a "detached centrist."
He cites five reasons, four in his reporting specialty and one more general. (See update below.)
No. 1 (emphases in the original):
Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.No. 2:
Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century.No. 3:
How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. ... To my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.No. 4:
Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting.No. 5:
Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.I'm sure other Villagers feel the same way, but since their livelihood depends on their pretending they don't, they will not write or say such obvious truths until they are comfortably retired.
UPDATE: My late-night diary was incomplete, as Just Bob notes in comments. There is a second page of the Politico story, with three more (non-military) reasons for Ricks' political change and a proper conclusion.
Bailouts for bankers. When the economic bets made by the wealthiest Americans soured in 2008, the taxpayers picked up the tab. Bankers who got government bailouts continued to award themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses. ... In economic terms, we have seen our system gamed by investment bankers so that their risks are socialized but their gains remain private. In the American system, janitors shouldn’t be paying taxes to support the bad decisions of billionaire financiers.No. 7:
Democracy for sale. The wealthy, abetted by the most out-of-touch Supreme Court in many decades, also have been permitted to purchase an outsized voice in American politics. I am a First Amendment fundamentalist, and I do not think there should be many restrictions on what individuals do and say in the realm of politics. Yet I do not think that corporations are people, or that they should enjoy the full array of rights bestowed by the founding fathers on American citizens.No. 8:
Gun massacres. I am just sickened by our tendency to accept disturbingly more frequent gun massacres as the price of being an American. I don’t know what more has to be said about this. More than any other issue, this makes me despair. It just strikes me as insane to let it go on.Conclusion:
This has all made me shift my thinking, not so much about partisan politics but in feeling a sense of disquiet about both major political parties—and about our entire system. ...Please read the whole thing, as I should have before setting out last night.
We may yet see a leftish generation of senior citizens, a group of aging Baby Boomers who can make common cause with a squeezed middle class and a generation of millennials whose careers have been damaged by the Great Recession while the top 1 percent have grown even wealthier.
If so, we can hope that our new Gilded Age will lead, as the last one did, to a new era of Progressivism when reform and reinvention take hold to restore a democracy gone complacent. But maybe that is asking too much for the new leftie I now seem to have become. At the very least, I hope we will cease to be a nation at ease with torture and inequality, a country that once again steers by its ideals.