Posts Tagged ‘The Iraq War’

Famed American Virtue

August 19, 2011

Graham Greene

Famed American Virtue

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American (29)

The Muslims just need to be shown that it is possible to set themselves free.

President George W. Bush Max Boot

Recently there has been a discussion on Andrew Sullivan’s blog about how Americans should go about thanking our combat veterans. Such spasms of guilt from a populace who mindlessly sent so many off to kill and die for no good reason are not surprising. But I think it would be a lot healthier for everyone involved to say this to our combat veterans: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we made you experience horrific things for no good reason. I’m sorry that I only went to two anti-war rallies. I sorry that, lacking the courage of Henry David Thoreau, I continued to pay taxes in support of the bloodthirsty madness which consumed our nation after 9-11. I’m sorry that almost our entire leadership class chose to plunge its head up its collective keyster instead of exploring reasonable alternatives to war. I’m sorry that George W. Bush had Daddy Issues. I’m sorry that Thomas Friedman wanted to feel fellated.

But Americans, particularly our pundit class, aren’t about to start apologizing for our unjustified invasion of Iraq. Really, how hard would it be to say, “Oops. We accidentally conducted a war in Iraq which led to the death of over a hundred thousand people and the displacement of a few million more. Our bad. Can we get a mulligan on that?”

Our leaders, our institutions, our media, all of us—we failed miserably. And the people of Iraq were forced to pay for it. Yet we rarely even speak these days of the true ramifications of this monumental dereliction of duty. We prefer to exalt and fetishize our troops instead of facing up to ourselves and what we’ve done. If we just keep telling ourselves that the men and women who signed on to defend America did so with courage and purity in their hearts, and if we keep focusing on their sacrifice, we can magically shield ourselves from a horrible truth and regain that “famed American virtue“—our innocence.

This is certainly nothing new. Our Beloved Founders lectured the world on the Rights of Man while enslaving one group of humans and nearly exterminating another.

Lofty words about freedom and democracy notwithstanding, enabling repressive regimes in the Gulf Region has been the unofficial American policy for decades. That’s why we have propped up repressive regimes from Iran to Algeria. That’s why President Obama was so timid and vacillating in response to the recent popular uprising in Egypt.

Brent Scowcroft, a prudent paleoconservative from the Henry Kissinger School of International Realism and a trusted adviser to George H.W. Bush, bragged that American support for tyrannical dictatorships in the Middle East helped ensure “fifty years of peace” in the region and kept the precious oil flowing at reasonable prices. Notable examples this policy include the 1953 CIA–sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran and our longstanding support of the Saudi Royal Family.

In light of this history, it was almost surrealistic to hear George W. Bush declare in 2002 with neo-Wilsonian zeal that it was now America’s duty to usher in a new age of Democracy across the Middle East by unleashing our cluster bombs upon Iraqi conscripts. There wasn’t “much regard for truth in our papers” in the wake of 9-11, as mass amnesia about the true history of America’s relationship with the region miraculously took root among our pundit class (88).

Graham Greene refers to the remarkable American ability to maintain our sense of innocence no matter what we do as “a kind of insanity” in The Quiet American, his 1955 novel about early American involvement in Indochina (155). This brilliant and prophetic book is the story of a world-weary English reporter named Thomas Fowler who is befriended by an idealistic young CIA operative with “pronounced and aggravating views on what the United states was doing for the world” named Alden Pyle (4).

Pyle is a dreamy youth “absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West” (10). Tumescent with high-minded ideas about bettering the lot of the world’s downtrodden, Pyle is haughty with book-learning. He brushes off Fowler’s hard-won wisdom with the brash certainty of true ignorance. If Pyle had been capable of listening, he might have heeded Fowler’s simple truth: “They don’t want our white skins around telling them what they want” (86). The United States might have spared itself the loss over sixty thousand lives and billions of dollars in Southeast Asia if our leaders had been willing to listen to such talk.

Instead, Pyle dismisses Fowler’s wisdom as the voice of a wicked and defeated continent: “You talk like a European, Thomas. These people aren’t complicated” (168). If only Pyle had paid more attention when Fowler wryly noted that the Vietnamese “know enough to turn your exhaust pipe into a mortar” (79).

Deaf to Fowler’s multiple warnings, Pyle is determined to heed Kipling’s call and Pick up the White Man’s Burden in Vietnam. Searching for a pro-American “third force” to shake things up in the region, Pyle ultimately mistakes renegade General Thé, “a bandit with a few thousand men,” for “a national democracy” (149). When Thé uses explosives provided by Pyle to murder several civilians, Folwer confronts Pyle and asks him how he can possibly “justify a child’s or a trishaw driver’s death”(155).

Undaunted, Pyle replies, “In a way you could say they died for democracy” (171).

It was easy for Alden Pyle to drift into support of Thé’s terrorism because Pyle “was determined…to do good, not to any individual person, but to a country, a continent, a world” (10).

America’s perpetual longing for a world that never was, that City on a Hill of our most perfervid imaginings, often has drastic consequences in the real world. When will we ever learn that it is impossible to absolve our own sins with the blood of others?

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on Washington Rules

August 17, 2010

John Quincy Adams

Some Thoughts on Washington Rules

[America] is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only to her own.

–President John Quincy Adam (232)

The Muslim masses just need to be shown that it’s possible to set themselves free.

–President George W. Bush Max Boot(184)

We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

–President Lyndon Baines Johnson (247)

What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?

–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to General Colin Powell (142)

We have to be forward deployed in Europe and in Asia in order to shape people’s opinions about us in ways that are favorable to us. To shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security. And we can do that when people see us, they see our power, they see our professionalism, they see our patriotism, and they say that’s a country we want to be with. So we are shaping events on a daily basis in ways that are favorable to our interests. You can only do that if you’re forward deployed.

–Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (148)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

–President Dwight David Eisenhower (225)

Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations–to make them richer and happier and wiser, to make them, that is, in its own shining image.

–Senator J. William Fulbright (111)

Words uttered in Washington command less respect than once was the case. Americans can ill afford to indulge any longer in dreams of saving the world, much less remaking it in our own image. The curtain is now falling on the American Century

–Soldier and Historian Andrew J. Bacevich (16)

In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, the few thinking Americans who refused to submit to War Fever were prone to feeling the effects of Marilyn Munster Syndrome (MMS). Everyone around us was acting weird, yet we were the ones who were generally regarded as freaks. People who should have known better were saying all kinds of ridiculous things on television. For example, the absurd proposition that Saddam Hussein (or anyone else, for that matter) would go to all of the trouble of developing nuclear weapons and then just give them away to people who thought he was a heretic (thereby relinquishing all the advantages of having such weapons while receiving no strategic advantage) was rarely challenged in world of Serious Washington Punditry.

Enter Andrew Bacevich, paleoconservative soldier and historian who had the wit, wherewithal and wisdom to see through George W. Bush’s harebrained scheme designed to usher in a NeoWilsonian age of perpetual paradise on earth.

Unlike so many commenters, however, Bacevich refuses to pretend that the belligerent foreign policy conducted by the Bush administration represents a substantial departure from policies of every president since Truman. Yes, Bush’s absurdly named and pitifully executed Global War on Terror has become a punchline, “redolent with deception, stupidity, and monumental waste,” but the predilection to seek simple military fixes to complex diplomatic problems has been a feature of every postwar administration (166). (Ford had the Mayaguez Incident and Carter had the failed hostage rescue mission.)

According to Bacevich, America finds herself caught up in two wars without any palatable exit strategy not simply because “the Bush administration had blundered into an immense cul-de-sac, from which it could not extricate itself” (180-181). Rather, a postwar political consensus (which Bacevich dubs the Washington Rules) has created a climate wherein the use of force is our first and favored response to conducting international relations. Thus we find ourselves in a situation where our

reliance on military might creates excuses for the United States to avoid serious engagement: Confidence in American arms has made it unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own (17).

Although the “standard story line, promulgated by journalists and indulged by scholars, depicts that history as a succession of presidential administrations,” Bacevich believes that “when it comes to assessing reality, slicing the past into neat four- or eight- year-long intervals conceals and distorts at least as much as it illuminates” (30, 31). The colossal stupidity and incompetence of the most recent Bush administration notwithstanding, there is overwhelming continuity in the conduct of American foreign policy. Bacevich’s Washington Rules represent a “consensus [which] has remained in tact” for almost the entire postwar era, spanning “[f]rom the era of Harry Truman to the age of Barack Obama” (15).

For most of our history, America has validated our founders’ distrust of Standing Armies by quickly demobilizing after war. But since Harry Truman decided that he needed to “scare hell out of the American people” in order to justify the creation of a permanent military establishment which would be large enough to challenge the Soviet Union for global domination, presidents have demanded a greater and greater arsenal in order to project American power. (Alleged doves like Carter and Kennedy actually expanded military budgets. Kennedy’s military outlays rose 15 during his first year in office (63). This departure from the sensible American tendency to eschew excessive foreign entanglements does not bode well for the future of the American Experiment. This new American ethos is a tradition which

has emphasized activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion (often styled “negotiation from a place of strength”) over suasion. Above all, the exercise of global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense. Prior to WWII, Americans by and large viewed military power and institutions with skepticism, if not outright hostility. In the wake of WWII, that changed. An affinity for military might emerged as central to the American identity (13).

Today America finds herself in a truly distressing situation. Embroiled in two major wars, our soldiers are pursuing a “pipe dream” as they are forced to attempt “social work with guns,” a misbegotten undertaking under any circumstances (204, 201). In Iraq our senseless quest for security has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of noncombatants and the displacement of millions more. And we continue to charge headlong into a quagmire in Afghanistan, ten years of war in search of a justification. Yet,

Whether or not Afghans wished to be saved and exactly how they viewed salvation were matters that attracted scant attention (183).

The greatest and most enduring culprit in this sad, sad, sordid tale is the American defense establishment, a suppurating wound on the body politic which has already spewed trillions of corrupt dollars like so much pus.

This money lubricates American politics, filling campaign coffers and providing a source of largess–jobs and contracts–for distribution to constituents (228).

Sadly, there is little hope that America is prepared confront reality any time soon. Despite promising hope and change, President Obama “forfeited his opportunity to undertake a serious reassessment of the basic approach to national security formulated of the course of the preceding six decades” (220).

America is going down the tubes yet no one has been able to explain “why fixing Helmand Province should take precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit” (220).

by Richard W. Bray