Best Dog Whistles of 2012

A dog whistle makes a sound or sends a command that only a canine can hear.  A rhetorical dog whistle is a coded message for select listeners, usually the politically correct. Euphemism is the breath that blows rhetorical dog whistles.  A few examples suffice to make the point.

"Affirmative action" usually means racial or gender quotas. "Revenue" usually means taxes. Calling "addiction" sickness is a dog whistle that allows drunks and addicts to think they are ill, not irresponsible. Glaucoma treatment has become a dog whistle for legalizing pot. "Title IX" is a dog whistle that signals football and basketball to carry all those sports that don't pay their own way -- or subsidize sports that nobody wants to watch anyway. "Nation building" is a dog whistle that summons Soldiers and Marines to do social work. And goals like "stability" or "transition," in their strategic incarnations, usually signal retreat or defeat. You get the idea!

Dog whistles are a way of life in politics. Plain speaking is dangerous, not the way to get reelected in a democracy. The most pernicious political dog whistles are used for national security and economic matters.

In the Mid-East, the "two-state solution" is a dog whistle. Those trills call the West to pander to, or appease; Arabs in particular and Muslims in general. We are led to believe that the UN actually needs more members; especially a Palestinian state, another Muslim basket case. Never mind that there are in fact three Arab claimants; Hezb'allah, Hamas, and Fatah.  None of these represent all Palestinians, or are reconciled to each other, to say nothing of Israel. With which of the three Arab border thugs is Israel supposed to make a suicide pact? Real arithmetic is inaudible in the "two" state whistle.

And speaking of bad numbers, international economic dog whistles are perennials.   Karl Marx and Maynard Keynes are still blowing from the grave. The socialist dog whistle calls for justice, but really signals an attack on success and wealth -- as if economic equality were not an affront to history and common sense anyway.  And the Keynesian whistle would have government provide what the market will not; subsidies, bailouts, stimuli, and deficit spending. Where Marx and Keynes merge, the whistles might even hurt a dog's ears.

Another ugly signal lies under all that noise about justice, fairness, and equality.  A majority of voters in Europe and America have come to believe that a shrinking class of employed or entrepreneurial can support a growing class of dependents, fiscal barnacles. Neither government nor voters believe that they need to separate wants from needs anymore. Yet the free lunch crowd has the vote; and may now have a quorum; enough votes to repeal common sense -- or mandate suicide.

Arts and entertainment too have been infiltrated by dog whistlers. Pussy Riot, Madonna, and Chris Mathews might be symptoms of the slide. Gone are the likes of Twain and Mencken, commentators who would skewer the mendacity of the Right and Left with abandon. Some of the best writers and directors now forfeit their integrity to celebrity, cash, and Hollywood politics.

Remember Elia Kazan? He took on the Hollywood Left and Mob controlled unions in On the Waterfront? Kazan won an Oscar for candor, a feat that might not be possible today.

Before the recent presidential election, there was Act of Valor, a US Navy approved film where real SEALs fight a fake enemy. If you saw that flick, you would never know that all those Muslim wars in the real world feature real Islamists as the real enemy. And why would the military cooperate with Hollywood, in an election year, to produce a "documentary" that might compromise clandestine methods and tactics? Was the Navy brass blowing a bosun pipe for the commander-in-chief's reelection? Hard to imagine!

And now after the election, but before a second inauguration (20 January), Hollywood is about to release (11 January) a film about a real operation played by fake SEALS; the Osama bin Laden smackdown. This film was scheduled for a fall release; however, the blowback from earlier administration/Hollywood politicization of special operations set back the play date for Zero Dark Thirty.

And if you read the early reviews, monitor the awards buzz, see the director/writer interviews, or watch the trailer; the advance dog whistles for Zero are creating a kind of hallelujah chorus.

Pet owners should deploy their dogs now, in December. Here are a few signals they might want to listen for.

First would be the "greatest manhunt" flack. Calling the bin Laden kill the "greatest" anything is a little like celebrating a home run in the middle of a ball game where home team loses ten to one. In the real world, the Islamists are winning, not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in most small wars worldwide. Need we recount how many Arab and Muslim national states have succumbed to Muslim religious fanatics since 1979?

The second signal is a little harder to hear; call it macho feminism or chicks with giblets. The action in Zero Dark Thirty revolves around an acerbic redhead, a girl from the Obama era who prevails against Bush era dinosaurs at CIA.  

Selecting a distaff analyst as the hero, as opposed to one of the guys who actually put their azimuths at risk, is consistent with all things politically correct. Never mind that the film director is a woman. Jessica Chastain actually looks like a younger Kathryn Bigelow. Such plot choices and casting, no doubt, are coincidental.

The writer for Zero is Mark Boal who made his bones at the Village Voice, Playboy, and Rolling Stone. Now there's an apprenticeship where a journalist might cultivate political objectivity. As a reporter turned screenwriter, Boal would not be unacquainted with political spin. Nonetheless, both Bigelow and Boal claim that their rendition of events is "a true story." We shall see, real scholars are still digging.

We shouldn't make too much of the feminist coloring.  But when Kathryn  Bigelow makes a film about the Yemen fiasco, the Lockerbie sell-out,  the Beslan child massacre,  the slaughter of Jews in Mumbai, little girls shot in the face in Pakistan, or the recent Susan Rice/ Hilary Clinton dog and pony show after Benghazi, then we can believe that Ms. Bigelow isn't priming the  political pump.

Recall the food fight that followed the attack in Yemen against the USS Cole. The woman in charge, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, couldn't play well with the boys from FBI or CIA. Now there's a story that wants telling. That great manhunt, and others like the Lockerbie capitulation, was a bust. So before we take Bigelow/Boal hyperbole  on the decade-long bin Laden soap opera too seriously, we might recall  that the Russian FSB killed Shamil Besayev and his lieutenants in less than two years after the Beslan atrocity.

But the true signal behind the wonder-woman whistle in Zero Dark Thirty is the notion that CIA, or the Intelligence Community, is outsmarting or outthinking the unnamable enemy. American Intelligence and the Obama administration have been pedaling this narrative for four years. And now Hollywood has picked up the thread.

Alas, the Muslim wars didn't begin with 9/11 and the enemy was never just bin Laden, nor just al Qaeda. As long as the "one and done" myth prevails, tactical success will be confused with strategic failure. One homer does not win baseball games; and one successful raid doesn't win a war. Special operations warriors probably run a half dozen missions, like the bin Laden hit, in any given week. Yet, the viral spread of Islamism, a global disaster, is ignored -- and that strategic war is being lost. War strategy is made or approved at the White House.

The Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal team did a splendid job on The Hurt Locker (2008), a narrow, claustrophobic look at a small subject, explosive ordinance disposal (EOD). That film won an Academy Award. Zero Dark Thirty is on a similar awards track, but the differences between the two movies are profound.

One is realistic film noir about an obscure specialty; the other is a sleight of hand that ignores a strategic truth. A Barack Obama character never appears in Zero; thus creating an invisible elephant. Nonetheless, in pre-release interviews, the Bigelow/Boal team readily claims that the bin Laden kill was history, a "defining moment" for the Obama presidency. In the Huffington Post, Bigelow claims that the "real hero" is some Intel drone in Washington. WW 2 was fought and won in half the time it took to US Intel to find OBL.  The heroes of special operations are the guys on the pointy end of the spear, not rear echelon paper pushers. 

They also claim that the "hopes of a nation' were carried on the mission. Hopes for what; revenge, victory, summary justice -- or just a second term?

Indeed, Bigelow and Boal have answered that question in advance; they claim "the presidency" was riding on the raid. If Zero Dark Thirty is art and not politics, why are the film principals answering questions about politics; on Obama or his legacy? In a few short years, Bigelow may have sold her soul and gone from promising storyteller to political shill.

The difference between the two Bigelow military action flicks is candor, Hurt Locker had it; and Zero Dark Thirty, if we can believe the pre-release hype, and early reviews, is likely to be just another Hollywood dog whistle for a president's flaccid foreign policy. The high drama in Bigelow's film and the well-crafted action scenes will not mask the truth in a continuing saga of small wars where Osama bin Laden and Barack Hussein Obama are bit players. Ms. Bigelow may get another Oscar in 2013; but in 2012 she will have to settle for best dog whistle.


G. Murphy Donovan is a career military veteran and former Intelligence officer.

"The nature of lies is to please.... Truth has no concern for anyone's comfort." -- Catherine Dunn