“The demilitarization of Europe—where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it—has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”
–Robert Gates, New York Times, February 23, 2010
“I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am – like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”
–George W Bush, October 11, 2001
Many of us hoped and even believed that when Bush was replaced by a person whom we considered to be honorable, credible and civilized, then the vicious policies of the lip-curling Cheney regime would not only be discontinued but replaced by strategies aimed at international inclusiveness. Terrorism would of course be dealt with by application of the full force of the law. And there would be firm direction of US foreign policy, but not with knee-jerk contempt for nations that don’t agree with Washington. The poor of America and even the governments of foreign countries would be treated rationally.
We starry-eyed optimists were wrong. We have been shaken and disappointed by Obama and his team because they seem to be near-replicas of the barbaric bunch of malevolent thugs who ran affairs disastrously for eight horrible years. The egregious Robert Gates, for example – he of the undeserved reputation for wisdom – has carried on the policies of the Pentagon War Department from Bush to Obama seamlessly and without the tiniest hiccup.
About 300 years ago the nature of people like Gates was caricatured in verse in the figure of a fictional English clergyman, the majestically hypocritical Vicar of the imaginary village of Bray, who was intent on being all things to all rulers. He swapped religions and his allegiance to monarchs more frequently than he changed his socks. The ditty included the stanza that
And this is Law, I will maintain
Until my Dying Day Sir,
That whatsoever King shall Reign,
I will be Vicar of Bray, Sir.
Which sums up Gates pretty well.
The recent Gates’ criticisms of NATO governments have gone down like lead balloons in Europe’s capitals and especially among ordinary citizens – the you and me team – of the countries he disparaged, many of whom, of course, have friends or relatives fighting in America’s doomed and disastrous war in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon, backed to the dripping dagger-hilt by Obama’s White House, has got countless trillions to spend on war, so Gates insists that European governments must do likewise because they are in an unhappy alliance with the world’s prime Imperial Power.
And to back up his demands, as the LA Times recorded, he said that NATO troops in Afghanistan are incompetent. He declared that “Our [American] guys in the east, under General Rodriguez, are doing a terrific job. They’ve got the [counterinsurgency] thing down pat. But I think our allies over there, this is not something they have any experience with.” This was reported round the world. The oafish and self-satisfied Gates cannot possibly deny that he said what he did. He tried to make a “clarification” later, but his real opinion – the outright and undeniable policy of the US government – was evident in his insulting declaration that the soldiers of US allies are inferior to American soldiers.
His fatuous and insulting comment went round two national contingents (and probably others), very fast, and I have had some communications indicating extreme annoyance on the part of soldiers who have lost comrades in this unwinnable war. It looks as if Gates actually wants to destroy the morale of these hard-fighting army contingents.
Can it be argued otherwise? Because if he doesn’t mean to be insulting, why did he declare that they are incompetent?
Is this any way to get and keep people on the side of the United States?
It is a fact that some NATO countries have to keep their soldiers in less dangerous areas, simply because if they take serious casualties in this fatuous American war then their governments will fall, just as the Dutch government did recently on the matter of Holland’s 1700 soldiers in Afghanistan. It is a matter of political pragmatism – of reality – with which Mr Gates appears to have little if any association. He is very intelligent, make no mistake about that: brilliant, even. But he has no common sense and no knowledge of the world or about how ordinary people think. Surrounded for so many years by academic, military and political sycophants – clever ones, of course – there is little wonder he considers himself a water-walker.
But when the citizens of European Nato countries read and see reports about the US defense secretary telling them that their soldiers are incompetent they begin (or continue) to dislike Gates and, by association, America. This loathing and contempt is growing in Europe, almost as much as it is in the rest of the world.
The pronouncement by Gates that in Europe “large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force” is absolutely right. And in Europe there is a system of government that permits and encourages the general public to make their voice heard against militarism so that the political class will act in their behalf.
It’s called democracy.
Sometimes, however, democracy falters, as happened when the moron Bush went to war against Iraq. Then, to their shame, most European countries, with the major and honorable exception of France, obeyed Washington’s orders rather than paying attention to their own citizens, who were proved to be absolutely right in their “aversion to military force” because the war on Iraq was a disaster.
It has been forgotten that two million British people demonstrated against the war on Iraq, and that their now discredited prime minister brushed aside their well-founded opposition and sent soldiers to their deaths in order to curry favor with the most disastrous president in America’s history.
There were similar expressions of opposition to the war in many European capitals and round the world, but the only important national leader to take note of what was thought by the citizens of his country, was Chirac of France, whose brilliant foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, told the yawning UN and the contemptuous US that “to those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through the action in Iraq, we say they run the risk of failing in their objective. The eruption of force in this area which is so unstable can only exacerbate the tensions and divisions on which the terrorists feed.”
He was so right.
But Washington, in the shape of the new regime, epitomized by Gates and other holdovers, continues to believe that force will work. “We will prevail” wailed Bush; and his doctrinal successors think the same way. They pay lip-service to the lessons of the Vietnam War debacle and imagine that because they are trying to change their tactics in mid-war in Afghanistan they will win the Hearts and Minds of the people.
The Vietnamese – even the non-Communist ones – hated America because they were treated as second class people. Exactly as Afghans are, now.
Just like America’s reluctant allies.
No wonder they hate America.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s website is www.beecluff.com