While a frantic Senator John McCain is running around the country trying to link Senator Barack Obama with revolutionary activities that took place when Mr. Obama was eight years old, and while the economy of the U.S. is imploding and taking much of the world down with it, people seem to have lost sight of the fact that there are still two U.S.-spawned wars going on. Certainly, the candidates managed to mention them at their most recent debate, but most of the talk was about how each’s opponent had or hadn’t lived up to the ideal of perfection that citizens seem to want in their elected representatives, an ideal that no candidate has come anywhere near since the nation’s founding.
As tragic as such things as unemployment, bankruptcy and home foreclosure are, perhaps we can once again return to the topic of war. President George Bush’s worn out clichés are still there: the war in Iraq is the central front on the war on terror; that nation threatens the security of the U.S.; more troops are needed for victory; Iraq will become a model of democracy in the Middle East, etc. etc. Each has been completely debunked, but that does not stop the president, on the rare occasions that he comes out of his house, where his lease is fast expiring, to comment to the people he has oppressed these last eight years.
Does it seem that we have heard this all before? Let’s take a look at the latter part of the twentieth century.
In March of 1965, General William Westmoreland cautioned that defeat in Vietnam was imminent, and recommended that the U.S. ‘take whatever actions are necessary’ in order to ‘postpone indefinitely the day of collapse.’ His recommendation included the deployment of additional combat units, what was then called ‘escalation,’ but today is called either ‘augmentation’ or, more commonly, ‘the surge.’ This resulted eventually in the huge escalation of the Vietnam War and the deaths of over 2,000,000 Vietnamese, and over 50,000 U.S. soldiers. The U.S. was nearly bankrupt as a result of that war, the country was polarized between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves,’ and its international reputation was in tatters. Sound familiar?
In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon, well-known for paranoia, saw the probable election of Salvador Allende, an avowed Marxist, as president of Chile as somehow threatening to the U.S. Six years earlier the U.S., through the CIA, had spent millions to defeat Mr. Allende, and now Mr. Nixon was fearful of a Marxist president being democratically elected. With the complicity of his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger he worked to prevent Mr. Allende’s election and, failing that, sought means to prevent his inauguration. Not managing to accomplish that either, he had to be content with destabilizing his nation, and supporting an eventual coup d’etat. So much for democratic elections.
In 1983, the government of the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada was overthrown. President Ronald Reagan, possibly still smarting from the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, needed to flex American muscle to show that the U.S. was still a military leader. In Operation Urgent Fury (why on earth does the U.S. insist on naming its invasions? And who comes up with these idiotic names?), the U.S. invaded Grenada ostensibly to protect U.S. medical students in that nation. However, on October 29 of that same year, the following was reported in the New York Times:
“The formal request that the U.S. and other friendly countries provide military help was made by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States last Sunday at the request of the United States. The wording of the formal request… was drafted in Washington and conveyed to the Caribbean leaders by special American emissaries.”
The U.S. needed a victory, and it would manufacture one, if necessary.
Today, Mr. McCain persists in his opinion that the U.S. must ‘win’ in Iraq. His definition of victory is elusive; he never expounds on it, being content to let the word ‘win’ entice his audience. Even Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, is looking for an end to the U.S. presence in his nation, agreeing with Mr. Obama on a sixteen month timeframe for withdrawal. This is one difference between Iraq in 2008 and Vietnam in 1972. At that time, Vietnam’s president Nguyen Van Thieu predicted to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that “the war would go on for many years and that we should be talking about U.S. participation.”
What can be learned from these few examples of U.S. foreign policy? Perhaps one lesson is how misnamed is the title ‘Secretary of Defense.’ In nearly all situations in which the U.S. has invoked military action, it has been offensive rather than defensive. Even though the mask of defense is generally used to camouflage the real intent, a cursory investigation is all that is required to reveal the truth.
With all the talk about the economy, one still needs to keep an eye on Mr. Bush’s intentions toward Iran and Cuba. And it is not only Mr. Bush who presents a danger there; at the most recent presidential debate, both candidates affirmed their belief that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. It was somewhat ironic to hear Mr. McCain blather on about how the U.S. is the greatest force for good in the world, despite its long and ugly history of racism, genocide and imperialism, and then state that Iran must not have the same weapons that the U.S. has been stockpiling for years. In 1969 Mr. Nixon considered using those weapons during Operation Duck Hook (see comment above about ridiculous names for military operations). Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but why is Iran’s possible possession of nuclear weapons so much more dangerous than the U.S.’s possession of them?
During the debate, Mr. McCain was highly critical of Mr. Obama’s reasonable, sensible statement that the U.S. meet with the leaders of Iran, Cuba and other nations it considers hostile. He said that such meetings should only occur following the agreement of preconditions set by the U.S. Mr. Obama responded by saying it is as important that the U.S. talk to its friends as to its enemies. If one wants to consider the consequences of not talking to the U.S.’s ‘enemies,’ one only has to look at the situation the world is currently in due to the U.S.’s failure to do just that.
The presidential election is less than a month away. Current indications are that Mr. Obama will make history by being the first African-American elected to the presidency. Should that be the case one fervently hopes that he will honor his commitment to withdraw from Iraq; to meet with nations who, frequently with every good reason, are hostile to the U.S., and will take other steps to right the grievous wrongs the U.S. has committed at least within the last eight years. Its long history of crimes cannot be undone by one president, but at least some of the horrific damage inflicted by the incompetent, oil-lusting and power-mad Mr. Bush can be undone.
If, on the other hand, Mr. McCain is elected, the world can expect the same macho belligerency that it has witnessed under Mr. Bush. The nation somehow has survived the eight years of the Bush reign, but with the economy imploding, the outlook for relief dim, and two unwinnable wars raging, four years under Mr. McCain will only prolong the suffering. By then it may be too late to turn back.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.