Do you have an obligation to step in to stop violence inflicted on another? The answer depends in most cases on whether the obligation is legal or moral, and that answer has applicability far beyond the individual, all the way up to entire nation states, involving such crimes as genocide and other forms of mass murder, ethnic cleansing, even enforced diaspora. A city policeman would have a legal obligation to step in, but most individual citizens would not, especially if their action would itself involve violence. In Western philosophical thinking, however, there is the heavy matter of the “moral imperative”, which traces its roots to St. Augustine, a Christian theologian who lived in Roman Africa (in present-day Algeria) as the Roman Empire began to disintegrate in the 4th century AD.
“To expect bad people not to injure others is crazy; it’s to ask the impossible. And to let them behave like that to other people but expect them to exempt you is arrogant – the act of a tyrant.” ― Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), soldier, philosopher and Roman emperor from 161-180 AD.
Borrowing heavily on Roman military ethics, Augustine asserted that Christians should be pacifists as a personal, philosophical posture. However, inaction in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense of one’s self or of others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority.
This is the beginning in Western philosophy of the concept of a “just war”. In essence, the pursuit of peace must include the option of fighting to preserve it in the long-term. Such a war could not be preemptive, but rather defensive – to restore peace, bring an end to the evil, and prevent the evil from spreading. Eight centuries later, Thomas Aquinas, the Italian philosopher and theologian who remains one of the very most important shapers of Western moral thinking, used the authority of Augustine’s arguments in an intellectual effort to define the conditions under which a war could be just. Aquinas argued that pacifism did not prevent the defense of innocents, which is a moral imperative – a social obligation, a duty, that cannot be evaded. The principle extends from the individual, to the state, to all of humanity. In his historic work, “Summa Theologica”, he defined as these the conditions under which a war could be just:
First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than the pursuit of wealth or power. (See Footnote #1.)
Second, a just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
One of many Westerners who held to this basic Christian philosophy in the very early 21st century was ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941-2013), a professor at the University of Chicago from 1995 until her death. She was one of a number of world-renowned thinkers, historians, philosophers, Mid-east experts, theologians and political scientists who were invited into the White House to personally advise President Bush and his closest advisors on the appropriate response in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11/2001. Elshtain expanded on her advise to the President in her 2003 treatise, “Just War Against Terror“, where she argued in favor of global war against Islamic terrorism, including the invasion of Iraq, as a moral imperative “to go into battle against forces of unambiguous evil.” After all, despite all those who like to rewrite history to suit their own cheap purposes of the moment, Iraq had a dictator who openly modeled himself after Hitler, had ruthlessly savaged his own people for decades, had even gassed to death huge numbers of both Iraqis and Iranians, had the capacity and intent to quickly develop or acquire other weapons of mass destruction, had repeatedly waged deadly wars against his neighbors and aggressively threatened his entire region and the stability of the entire globe by striving to place his boot on the global oil jugular vein. (The intelligence service of every major European ally supported the belief of US intelligence officials that the Iraqi dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction and intended to use them against any Western invading force; it turned out that he held only chemical weapons, which were secreted out to Syria as the US-led coalition force entered Iraq.) Following on the grisly experiences of the aristocratic World War I, the use of chemical weapons has been banned by international treaty for a century; Saddam Hussein was the only dictator since the German Nazis and Japanese fascists to illegally use chemical weapons against innocent populations. He did, in fact, constitute “unambiguous evil”.
“Catholics and Communists have committed great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside, like an established society, and been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate.”
― Graham Greene, “The Comedians”
It is the “just war” which those championing “human rights” invoke in the contemporary world; the protection of “human rights” is, in fact, a fundamental centerpiece of US and European liberalism. The “human rights” argument is built on the foundation of the “moral imperative”. The misfortune, of course, is that social wrongs, systematic violation of human rights, great evil, seem to be a permanent human condition, always existing somewhere on Earth, and, in a world where there is only one state willing to sacrifice its own blood and treasure in “just wars”, it becomes a matter of picking and choosing those “just wars” which can be adequately accommodated by its military forces and the citizens who fund and support them. Just what is the West’s “moral imperative” for the permanently imprisoned people of North Korea? This basic reality makes the moral argument subject to all sorts of counter-prevailing self-serving arguments under the heading of “domestic politics”.
Furthermore, those invoking the “moral imperative” are very rarely those actually undertaking their “just wars”; such wars are, naturally, for “someone else” to risk their lives. Very rarely do those advocating “human rights” behind the royal “we” show up as volunteers at US Army induction centers; on the contrary. Those invoking the “moral imperative” to protect and preserve human rights prefer solely to reserve for themselves the “right” to sit in sanctimonious judgment – after the dying has ended – and their first act then is always to absolve themselves of culpability. It is for these reasons that, in today’s world, I would add a
Fourth condition: the just war must demonstrably be in the immediate defense interests, or long-range strategic best interests, of the state undertaking the just war.
And all four conditions must remain constant under both left and right political regimes and succinctly articulated by the state in each instance so that its citizens can fully understand and support, or reject, the specific arguments presented in each case in view of all other relevant factors of the moment, including the number of other states willing to join the effort in an equitably proportionate manner.
The main thing a single super-power military offers to its citizens is
obviate the need for them to think.
One would expect that Elshtain’s book would have been warmly embraced by the politically liberal in America, the same people who are always condemning international inaction in the face of such atrocities as those that took place in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Sudan. Instead, liberal academia brutally attacked her and her argument. Her response was to ask, as Western liberals have asked since the rise of Hitler, “If you have a dictator savaging his own people, does the international community have any responsibility to do anything about that?” Her misfortune, of course, was that her argument was embraced by a President who happened to be a political conservative – which in the liberal world automatically poisoned everything associated with him and his advisors, even sound logic. Today we again have a politically liberal President, one who like Elshtain was also a professor at the University of Chicago, and he and his advisors are making the same Elshtain arguments to support the bombing of Libya and Syria, just as another politically liberal President Clinton and his advisors made twice in the former Yugoslavia in the late-1990s. It’s more than just a little weird listening to President Obama and his foreign policy people use the same rhetoric about Syria that President Bush Junior and his foreign policy people used about Iraq. (Obama and his political party won election, twice, largely by attacking the foreign policy rhetoric of the Bush Administration.) (It’s almost as weird as listening to Baby Boomers today bang on the war drums every time something abroad gets them upset. These are the same Baby Boomers who when they were young were so “anti-war” that they wanted to engineer a revolution from the streets. As it turns out, war is just fine – as long as “someone else” does it. It wasn’t about war at all; it was all about the Draft, about super-spoiled “me”.) There is something about the responsibility of American leadership that seems to rise, of its own volition, above incredibly petty left-right politics, and spoiled children, and shift the real burden of that leadership to the US military. Unfortunately for Elshtain it was all just a matter of bad timing. The invasion of Iraq was, in fact, a “just war” under Western thinking about “moral imperative”. (It was just subsequently screwed up by supremely ignorant American bureaucrats, and then abandoned a year too soon by stupid American domestic politics.)
(Isn’t it wonderful that we real people can pay “special” people to advise us on ethics and govern us with politics after having spent their entire lives devising marvelous theories while ensconced in a utopian socialist academic vacuum – as far from the mud and the blood as it’s possible to get?)
In a world where political dogma has replaced both religion and philosophy, even sound logic, where few know how to think, only self-serving political ‘group think’ decides the day, and that herd mentality is as steady and logical from moment to moment as the whirlwind. The moral imperative becomes, “Whatever I want for “me”, at any given moment in time.” So the “moral imperative” obviously must align with other domestic political objectives, i.e., it’s ok for liberals to invoke the moral imperative, but it’s not ok for conservatives to invoke it. (Yes, it’s often simply that childish and capricious.)
But there’s far more that’s relevant here. Do black Americans consider the American Civil War a “just war”? Was a just war simultaneously warranted also for the Famine Irish? Which of these two groups inherited a just reciprocal responsibility, a moral imperative, for others?
“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm. It’s dangerous because of those who watch and do nothing.” – Albert Einstein
The “moral imperative” for “just wars” does have a legitimate place in the world. But I am very wary of those invoking it from the very safe rear, and primarily for domestic political motives. Anyone can sit in the safe rear and scream orders to others, can sit in the safe rear and judge others, but unless they invoke their “moral imperative” and lead their “just wars” from the risky front, grant their own culpability if they do not, then their words are just empty smoke in the breeze, just more sanctimonious b.s., signifying nothing. And if your allies do not adhere to, and act upon, the same principles that you do, with the same equitable proportionality, then you do not have allies; you have phony strap-hangers exploiting your principles to avoid their just responsibility. It is not the job of American soldiers to provide vicarious self-worth to all sorts of pontificating sideline sitters with their own agendas. In the end, states and their people act in their own self-interests, and should be so judged. Some will even deny known truth so as to apply self-serving rationalization to their own behavior, their own duplicity, their own cowardice. That, too, should be integral to any subsequent judgments rendered. Those with the capability who fail to act to prevent or stop human atrocities do share culpability in those atrocities. Augustine: inaction in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Western Europeans suffering under Hitler’s Nazism had no hesitation invoking the “moral imperative” of “just wars” when they prayed for a savior. The same was true also of huge portions of the globe suffering under the boot of Japanese fascism. And after their savior did come, in the form of American soldiers, they did not hesitate to harshly judge collaborators among their own as culpable in the atrocities.
Did they not then acquire a similar inescapable responsibility, a reciprocal obligation, their own moral imperative, for others?
These are the same judgmental people who later for years sat on their hands watching the atrocities right next door in the former Yugoslavia, until the US military, once again, showed them how to do the right thing.
“The Church is in the world. It is part of the suffering in the world, and though Christ condemned the disciple who struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, our hearts go out in sympathy to all who are moved to violence by the suffering of others. The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly. Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is an imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism.”
― Graham Greene, “The Comedians”
This is NOT a matter solely for the United States of America, arrogantly assuming a role as “World Cop” – who gives everyone else a free pass on their own responsibilities. Why would an American soldier, expected by everyone to do the hard stuff, view “friends and allies”, who so shirk their own responsibility in the world, with anything other than contempt?
American women – the most pampered, protected, promoted, privileged and powerful group on the planet – have never demonstrated a sense of responsibility for anything or anyone beyond themselves, and they’ve been doing an excellent job, by their example, of teaching that sense of unearned “birthright entitlement” to their clones for the past two generations. They get to sit in the safe rear and demand that “someone else” provide them whatever they demand, that “someone else” go fight their “just wars”, as their moral imperative, whenever the emotion so moves them. And so do their clones. Just what is the role of majority women in waging elective “just wars”? American women, under the banner of “feminism”, have shown everyone that, as long as you can continue to wallow in your “eternal victimhood”, you can avoid responsibility for anything, even your own choices, your own behavior.
And that “thinking” has settled deeply into the American culture, as well as into European culture.
Either you adhere to moral principles, or you just exploit them for your own self-interests – and the difference here is really huge.
(See “Terrorist Or Freedom-fighter? Irish” for more on this subject.)
Required Or Elective
Note that a moral imperative is not a legal imperative, and that a “just war” is thus in most cases an elective war. Undertaking a just war will usually require the US military to shift from its constitutionally required role as Defender Of The Nation, in which all restraints are off, to the elective role as World Cop, where the restraints can be significant. This is no small shift for a state whose military forces derive their authority from the people, and not from a dictator. A President who orders the military into action to defend the nation from imminent threat is undertaking a responsibility very different from a President who undertakes a right to order the military into action to defend others from a threat of little or no consequence to America’s national security. The Constitution empowers the President with the responsibility to defend the state; it does not empower the President with the right to play god.
In both cases it is always best if the President obtains the formal approval of the Congress, of the people’s representatives, either before or after the fact depending on the urgency of the situation. Those claiming that the Constitution gives the President the authority to do whatever he or she wants with the US military whenever he or she chooses to do so are simply wrong. (They are also usually quite deficient in their knowledge of history, of why the American Constitution says what it says.) In most cases, such very dangerous “experts” are just mediocre people of limited mental capacity seeking short cuts, quick fixes and easy answers while pumping up their own inflated self-esteem with power commandeered from the people – so as to impose their will on others. Such power-grabbers, of any political persuasion, should ALWAYS be challenged, and especially in a world where there is nothing credible to check the power of the US military. Such power in the hands of one person is inherently very dangerous – and undermines the very reason why there is a United States of America. (See Footnote #2.)
ALL wars are very deadly affairs inherently fraught with unforeseen events, unintended consequences and very considerable risks. And make no mistake about it: When you bomb a country, you have attacked that country, its people and its leaders in unambiguous war. It is totally irrelevant, as it was at Pearl Harbor, whether or not you also introduce ground soldiers into that war. Wars are aggressive military actions that inherently kill people and destroy things. Americans now seem to have a perverse way of requiring others to view actions in a manner entirely different from how they view them; all anyone really has to do is consider how they would view the same actions were they on the receiving end of those actions. But being able to view the board from the other side has all but vanished from self-involved American abilities. It’s all about “me”. How would Americans feel about China remotely killing people with bombs in California for the past ten years? That is what we have been doing in Pakistan. Could we somehow rationalize that and let it slide? “The Chinese say it isn’t war because they haven’t landed Chinese soldiers in San Francisco, so we won’t call it war, either.” It’s all simply ludicrous. A bully brute is someone who makes up his or her own rules solely for their own advantage, at the expense of others. Why do we take affront when countries like Russia try to oppose our behavior? We certainly would oppose Russia were it engaged in the exact same behavior. Any war should ALWAYS be considered the Last Possible Option, undertaken only when all other options have failed, including incompetent diplomacy. (Diplomacy that relies first and foremost on using the US military as a bully club is not competent diplomacy.) (See Footnote #4.) And the American people – not some temporarily enthroned dictator with a political agenda – should always be the ultimate deciders.
If you’ve read this far, you will probably be surprised to learn that the writer is himself a professional American ground soldier, and has been so for a lifetime, that he is actually a well educated man capable of thinking, of understanding, of engaging you or anyone else on matters of weighty philosophy, ethics, history, culture, geopolitics, and, yes, war, that I am not some unthinking inanimate widget for you to cavalierly waste in service of your own delusions. Am I the image you have in mind when tossing around words like “troops”, phrases like “boots on the ground”, as though you were “special” entitled nobility? (If I were in my twenties today I’d find it more than just a little unsettling to learn that 80% of my contemporaries can not meet the minimum physical, mental, educational, moral and psychological requirements to serve as a private in the Regular Army; it would be much more comforting to my self-esteem to view soldiers as “beneath me”.) Come stand with me in the mud and blood and then pontificate, in the real world. Can you even begin to measure up to my standards? If you can, than I welcome you and will entertain your views. If you cannot, then please go find something more useful to do with your life; all you are doing is undermining my efforts on your behalf.
When he saw a US President who launched the US military on a concerted mission in Iraq to remove a powerful and threatening dictator right in the center of the Arab Muslim world – with the approval of Congress, 65% of the American people, the United Nations and “NATO” – a dictator who was even believed to be holding huge stores of weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi in Libya was induced by astute diplomacy at the right moment to offer to surrender his chemical and nuclear weapons to international control and dismantling. Could Assad in Syria also be so induced by competent diplomacy to surrender his chemical weapons to such international control and dismantling? Our diplomacy for the past year has simply assumed that he could not.
(Of course, this whole logical strategy was gravely undermined when Gaddafi was rewarded for “seeing the light” by a stupid emotional eight-month long bombing campaign, engineered by four American women “diplomats”, that resulted in the destruction of both him and his state, and left the US holding the bag. “We” certainly would not have done that if he still possessed those nukes. Assad has to know this. He’ll eventually surrender his chemical weapons only after the United States has solemnly sworn in public, and probably in written international agreement, not to attack him or his country. Thanks to our behavior in Libya, with Russia’s help we may get the chemical weapons, but Assad will be free to continue with his deadly civil war in Syria. It’s impossible to imagine that he does not have ever present in his mind the ignominious end that befell Gaddafi after eight months of “NATO” bombing.)
The keys to such situations are the steadfast application of one clear set of constant American principles (that always rise above the childishness of domestic left-right politics) coupled with very competent diplomacy that can recognize and seize opportunities that arise within a wise overarching long-range strategy. It is possible to invoke the “moral imperative” to protect others without the actual application of military force, but rather as an implied consequence – if the principles applied are constant, and not invoked only when it’s expedient for domestic political objectives to do so. (And if those principles are constant, then the US military should always be fully manned and funded to apply them at any moment, and not dependent on legions of for-profit commercial contractors. Playing Defender of the Nation is a very different mission from playing World Cop; commercial for-profit interests and cheap domestic politics, driven by brainless herds stampeded in social media, can end up driving the latter – with “humanitarian” “human rights” as the phony cover.)
And if the United States wants other countries to refrain from attacking each other in war, then it must play by the same rules that govern everyone else – those rules which the United States has very strongly underpinned in the United Nations since World War II. Under international law, force by one country or coalition of countries (including either “NATO” or the former Warsaw Pact) against others is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the UN Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression. That international law has been widely accepted throughout the world ever since Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan attacked their neighbors with brute force and set off World War II. Those two countries, in their respective regions of the globe, each decided to rely on its superior military might and thumb its nose at international civilized norms – because they could. This is the same argument that many Americans make today – “Because we can.” As with the Nazis, it is not the rationalization that counts; it is solely the act itself. If the United States wants to invoke the “moral imperative” to engage in “just wars”, even when others will not, than it should at least first have its proposed action sanctioned by the international community in the Security Council. (See Footnote #5.) To do otherwise is to deliberately undermine any moral standing the United States seeks in the world with its “moral imperative”. There are many throughout the world today who are beginning to view the United States as similar to both Germany and Japan of 80 years ago: a country which, when it doesn’t get what it wants, simply resorts to brute force. No one likes a bully, including those who nervously and embarrassingly find themselves under his protection.
It’s even far worse when the bully has no sensible overarching strategy and instead makes up its mind with each “shiny object” that suddenly appears in front of its face. There are right ways and wrong ways to do things, and sometimes, when we don’t get our own way, we just have to exercise restraint and wait until international opinion and conditions change – while we use extremely professional, knowledgeable, experienced and astute diplomats to pursue our objectives without war – people fully willing and capable of seeing and understanding the board from the other side. It is the US military that will incur the wrath of others, including of “allies”, if we do not, and this will unnecessarily make its mission that much more difficult. If you want to employ the US military against bully brutes, just what do others employ against bully brute “us”?
A world in which the United States has the only super-power military is a world much more complicated than it appears at first glance. Responsible adults know when and how to exercise intelligent and wise restraint. The US military very rarely undertakes any major action without first “gaming the plan”. This is a highly disciplined intellectual exercise that repeatedly pits two top US military teams against each other in the given situation and has them anticipate and counter each possible and potential action undertaken by the other side with all the knowledge and resources they each have available. Not only does this ensure that as many relevant variables as possible have been included in the plan, but it also is very revealing about the other side. And this revelation is not limited to military aspects, but inherently extends far beyond – to political, cultural, sociological, economic, environmental, meteorological, demographic, aspirational, etc., aspects about the other side that are critical to dealing professionally with the total situation. Any US military commander about to undertake military action wants to ensure that the best people available are “gaming the plan” – for the other side. The first rule of war is, “Know your enemy”. The first rule of diplomacy should be to know the other side even better (and not simply by lazily intercepting in secret and reading their private communications for your own short-term tactical advantage). The worst mistake of war is to underestimate the other side.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato
Wouldn’t it be great if our liberal and conservative politicians engaged in a similar gaming of the plan before deciding whether or not to have its military forces execute some major action?
Liberal American politicians view themselves as professional socialist “elitists”, who alone know what’s best for the helpless and ignorant “unwashed masses”, and therefore tend to view themselves as an entitled nobility class with the “right” to order the government to do whatever it wants it to do, regardless of laws enacted by the lowly elected representatives of those people in the legislature. This is a major reason why the “interpretation” of the US Constitution continues to “evolve”, i.e., come closer and closer to “my” innately superior view of the way things should be done. The “government”, in their minds, extends to the US military – its trained dumb dog-on-a-leash that can be ordered to run around exercising an extension of the same “elitist” arrogance all over the world, usually after first checking with their western European masters, NOT with the US Congress. Liberal presidents prefer to engineer the prior approval of the United Nations, and then to seek whatever other support is out there, including at the US Congress, “NATO”, etc.. For them, far more concerned with the option of “moral imperative” wars, it’s more important to get international sanction before bothering with the approval of the American people.
Conservative American politicians view themselves as professional capitalist “elitists”, who alone know what’s best for a capitalist society of people employed in and by businesses, and therefore tend to view the people as capable of literally anything if allowed to function with the least interference from a tightly regulated government. They thus try to stick to the original intent of the Constitution while finding ways to work within that constitution to fashion approaches that will further capitalism and minimize government. The military, in their minds, offers opportunities to make money from a very big and powerful military machine – which is necessary, in their minds, to defend the nation, not to police the world. Since the military exists only to defend the national defense interests of the United States, the President, after checking with no one except the American people, is allowed to manage military missions after the Congress has signaled its formal approval of the specific mission. Conservative presidents thus prefer to get the prior approval of the US Congress, and then to seek whatever other support is out there, including at the United Nations, “NATO”, etc.. To them, concerned only with the requirement for defending the nation, prior approval of the American people is far more important than the sanction of international organizations.
Unfortunately, rarely do these two sides reach compromise, make serious attempts to understand and accommodate the other side, so the US military ends up permanently caught in the middle of these two very powerful competing self-interests – self-interests that frequently have nothing at all to do with the military itself. Even worse, almost none of our national-level politicians now has any experience with, or decent understanding of, their military, and least of all those politicians who are women. The presidential election of 2012 was the first in all of American history when not one of the final four candidates for President and Vice President had any military service at all. The understanding of military matters by our politicians now comes mainly from silly Hollywood movies and passages in old history books which they barely noted in passing. The US military is rapidly moving far ahead of the civilians who decide its activities, far ahead of their ability to even understand it. Often when listening to “expert” talking heads and politicians on television, I feel like I now live in a universe very different from the rest of Americans.
The People’s Military
It should never be forgotten by anyone that the American military is the people’s military; it is voluntarily manned by them according to very high ethical standards first and foremost to defend them against foreign threats to their continued security. The US Regular military has really great professional capacity that may be used for other purposes – should the people so elect to accept the risks and fully support them in their endeavor. If nothing else, a congressional approval process will ensure that the war has been publicly and intellectually examined in advance by a very wide range of citizen interests and concerns, while also offering the people the opportunity to set parameters within which its military must operate in undertaking the will of the people in elective wars. It will also help ensure that the military has no reservations that it is being used primarily for self-serving domestic political objectives under some vote-buying ”humanitarian” emotional pretext. And it will get slick politicians, expert at verbal ambiguity, equivocation and revisionism, to commit themselves to the record by their vote. Whenever you see pictures of American soldiers deployed in foreign missions, you always see on their shoulder a patch of the American flag, the people’s flag; that is not the flag of any political party, social dogma, celebrity personality filling high position or dictator playing god.
Americans should also be cautious when the executive branch uses a propaganda technique known as verbal sleight of hand: “Boots on the ground”, for example, refers to conventional military ground forces in easily identifiable uniforms, subject to the Geneva Conventions, etc.. It does not refer to covert armed special operations forces or mercenary hires not wearing such uniforms who offer the state both stealth and “plausible deniability”. (It also does not include case officers, either military or civilian, engaged in clandestine human intelligence and related covert operations.) All, of course, are also employees of voting American citizen taxpayers. Most adversaries know such things, so the use of such verbal sleight of hand is designed just as much to deceive domestic political opponents and American citizens as it is intended for any adversary. (However, in a world where a single super-power has nothing significant to fear from any military adversary, the intended domestic targets of the slick propaganda become pretty obvious. The intent is solely to deceive the American people.) In any case, it’s just stupid to broadcast your own operating confines before the fact; the time would better be spent selling to everyone, including Congress, the philosophical necessity of stopping the evil. You use “boots on the ground” to defeat and help re-engineer an enemy state under controlled conditions; you use special operations forces or mercenary hires to pull a key plug out of the enemy’s dyke surreptitiously and watch what happens next. (It’s usually chaos, but it can also assist a favored party inside the enemy state.) When faced with an enemy state employing evil against its own, you usually employ the latter when you don’t want to own what you broke; let’s face it: it’s a little like throwing a rock through the neighborhood bully’s window and then running away before he, or the police, sees you. It’s “war on the cheap”, but at least it’s a little more honorable than killing people by remote control from a very safe distance 8,000 miles away.
And, of course, if the US does all this covert stuff as a matter of routine, it’s pretty hypocritical to fault others, including the Russians, for copying the US playbook. It’s almost always the US that establishes the precedents for actions which the US then condemns when done by others. Since pathetic American politicians like to garner self-aggrandized political benefit from blabbing about the covert activities of American special operations forces, some of us got a really good laugh out of ridiculous European “NATO” politicians when they so indignantly accused Russian “little green men” of operating in the shadows in Ukraine. Were they really that ignorant, or just trying to fool the three or four people in the world who don’t now know that the US does the same stuff all the time? Even worse, it was civilian contractors operating under US State Department orchestration that helped engineer the coup in Ukraine in the first place. You really shouldn’t throw silly stones in glass houses; not only is it unseemly, but you could end up looking really stupid.
Furthermore, no one should ever seek to use the US military to wage war based solely on information that is kept secret from the American people. If it’s important enough to employ the US military in very dangerous and deadly endeavors, then it’s important enough to release previously classified information to the public – before the fact. I remember watching on television as the intellectual and articulate US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, with President Kennedy’s approval, presented the whole world on a global stage with unambiguous photographic evidence that the Soviet Union had been lying about the intercontinental ballistic missiles, with nuclear warheads, it had been secretly placing in Cuba. Until that moment in 1962 no one except a very few inside the US government understood just what the US military could ascertain with stark clarity; the information presented to the world at the UN, the product of U-2 “spy” (reconnaissance) planes, had been classified Top Secret. (That photographic evidence was supported by other even more revealing photographic and communications information that was not released to the public.* But, even at a time when the people justifiably still had genuine trust in their Greatest Generation government, the information that was released was enough to make the case to the American people, and most of the rest of the world, too.) There are ways to release classified information without unnecessarily compromising capabilities, sources and methods – if the situation is really important enough. And nothing government does is more important than war.
*President Kennedy and Ambassador Stevenson also benefited from “The Spy Who Saved The World” – the Soviet Russian Army officer Oleg Penkovsky. GRU Colonel Penkovsky had provided over 5,000 Top Secret Soviet military documents, including information on the nuclear missiles being secreted into Cuba, to the British MI-6 and the CIA in Moscow during 1961 and 1962. His information enabled photo intelligence experts to accurately and fully understand what the photographs were showing. Penkovsky was arrested (22 October 1962) three days prior to the UN speech and subsequently executed in Moscow.
(Because of the ignorance of military matters today among both the people and their representatives, it is very strongly urged that elected representatives constantly seek the advice of senior military professionals in uniform at every step in their deliberations. Those career professionals will answer any and all military-related questions posed to them in as honest a manner as they possibly can, given the extreme complexity of such things in today’s very highly advanced global military. If the direct answers in a public setting will require revealing highly classified information, the questioner should be astute enough to pose the question in a way that will allow some wriggle room in a response that will still be truthful. No one should ever place a US military officer in a public boxed position that will require him to lie, something that is simply anathema to his profession. All Americans, and their elected representatives, should be adult enough to accept that the real world complexity of the professional global US military has moved far beyond what normal citizens can easily grasp or fully understand, and request explanations about anything that concerns them. Having spent many decades in that military, I now have a vague understanding of how much I still don’t really understand about it. And, yes, there will always be some things that the US military can not do in a world made up of the most complex entities in the universe – humans and the dynamics in which they operate.)
Even if it might embarrass some politicians, it is important that the American people know that there are gifted and very knowledgeable career professionals in their military forces just like me, and they can actually think, and firmly within a moral and ethical universe.
“War is God’s way to teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce
Since the mid-1990s, for the past twenty years, the greatest threat facing the United States (and the West, including Russia) is an overarching ideology – Islamic militant extremism (or fundamentalist jihadism) that seeks nothing less than the total destruction of capitalist democracy and the supremacy of fundamentalist Islam. War is not about winning battles; war is about winning the war, by the most effective means possible. The very first step in winning a war (if, in fact, winning is the objective) is to very clearly define the enemy. From that point, you craft a sensible overarching strategy. And then you cobble a new alliance designed for this war, not the last. It is not a simple-minded notion of solely playing whack-a-mole, of attacking this group or that group, this lunatic or that lunatic, of whatever new evil pops up this week or next week. It is not simply a “war on terrorism”. Terrorism is simply one of a wide range of methods and tactics available to an ideology executing an unconventional militant strategy to overcome and defeat an opposing superior conventional military force.
The West is engaged in a war with an ideological enemy – just like was Nazism and Soviet communism. This new ideology has no time table. It has many different players all operating under one ideology. The ideology must be the main focus of the attack, with the intention of confining the spread of the ideology, and choking it off, among a potentially vast support base. The Iraq War was an effort to remove a universally feared and despised dictatorship with enormous power and to firmly establish in its place a viable inclusive, moderate and representative alternative to Islamic militant extremism – smack in the middle of the ideology’s support base. The Iraq War was a just war with a moral imperative. It was the most sensible approach possible to combatting Islamic militant extremism by undermining both the ideology and its support base. It was a most critical aspect of a sensible overarching strategy. And it required at least another decade to complete.
But the US military was pulled out of Iraq by ignorant politicians playing domestic politics before the most important part of its mission was finished, before the alternative was solidly stood up and fully capable, both militarily and ideologically, of resisting the steadily advancing opposing ideology. Then we engaged in a series of really stupid mistakes with extremely short-sighted objectives – by not leaving Afghanistan to the Europeans, by bombing Libya into oblivion, by supporting an Islamic extremist regime in Egypt, by not supporting the Kurds, by turning Syria into a hellish nightmare, by repeatedly alienating the Russians, etc., all without the support or full understanding of the American people. Thanks to “leaders”, bureaucrats, appointees and advisors trying to operate way beyond their competence levels, we have become our own worst enemy.
Furthermore, we have turned America’s wars into Big Business Profits made on the bodies of dead soldiers – which thoroughly violates the first prerequisite of “just wars”.
There’s now Really Big Money to be made in Dead Soldiers.
Note: Side by side among hundreds of others in my well-stocked library-den are excellent leather-bound editions of three great books: One is “Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius“, first translated and published around 1650 by Méric Casaubon; my edition is a 1984 recreation of the famous 1956 edition published by Rand McNally. The second is “The Confessions Of Saint Augustine“, first published around 400 AD; my edition was translated by Edward Bouverie Pusey in 1938 and published by Oxford University Press in 1982. The third is “Saint Thomas Aquinas – Selected Writings“, published in 1995; the selections were made by George Schuster of Notre Dame using translations by Thomas Gilby for Oxford University Press and the English version of the “Summa Theologiae”.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was a Roman emperor-philosopher (161-180 AD) and reluctant soldier constantly required to defend the empire in war, which he did from the front. His position also required him to persecute Christians – who logically represented a danger to the established order of the Roman state. Yet his writings and history reveal that he somehow maintained a basically Christian spirit himself. Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest pagan leaders of all time, died on the battlefield of the plague. It is his Stoicism, humanity and military ethics that led two centuries later to Augustine and from him to Aquinas, to “moral imperatives” and “just wars” and “human rights”. And to American military ethics.
(See also “Politics And Propaganda” and “Smiling Faces and Purple Fingers – And Egypt“, posted separately. Footnote #1 to the latter post illustrates how the profit motive undermines the whole concept of “just wars”.)
See also Footnote #1 to “Getting Gadhafi” (Madeline Albright, The Four Sisters, and Nicolas Sarkozy; ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Responsibility To Protect’. (or How To Subvert The United States Constitution))
P.S. Do not ever expect me to advance a proposition because it is supported by those on the political left or the political right. While I recognize such very confining real world realities in America, I am not concerned with them in formulating my own views. I am an American of Famine-Irish ancestry with an open mind, and I am also a life-long military professional of considerable global experience. I do recognize that there is now a significant gulf between America’s professional soldiers and the rest of American society, and that gulf grows steadily wider. While I was born and raised in a Judeo-Christian society, I do share such values (without seeking to impose them on others), but in what I post here I deal in fact and logic, not dogma. It is philosophy which guides me, not politics or religion or group think.
Footnote #1. The Pursuit Of Wealth. Note that Aquinas’s First Condition precludes profit in “just wars”.
We used to have Big Business and their legions of voting employees just making the toys of war – the huge “military industrial complex” so feared by President Eisenhower (post-Korean War, 1961). But that complex just grew larger. Then, after we bowed to the Baby Boomers to do away with the Draft (post-Vietnam War, 1975) and reduce the number of soldiers in uniform by half – by almost a million men (post-“Cold” War, 1992) – we created a whole new “military industrial complex” to augment and match the former. We now have Big Business also directly involved in waging those wars, even, incredibly, providing their needed “intelligence” and “security” and “technical expertise”. There’s now truly Gigantic Money in America’s wars, from Drawing Board to Bottom Line, from bullets to elections. America’s wars are ALL for Big Profit. The moment when the well-connected proconsul Paul Bremer came out of the civilian woodwork to stand with his ribboned staff in Baghdad and unilaterally fire the entire Iraqi army, he opened the “Gold Rush” floodgates to an army of civilian contractors, all shoveling up wheelbarrows of cash, any way possible. Soldiers in uniform now just provide cover for Corporate America – and keep the old emotional myths going with their steady stream of flag-draped coffins and mutilated broken bodies coming back “home” – while legions of rich weekend mercenaries, everywhere from pristine new Stateside offices to foreign war zone construction sites, pocket the quick cash and walk away whenever they wish. For these “warriors”, it’s “In for a dime; out for a dollar.” Do a tour in uniform and get paid to learn the basics (and qualify for all those life-long benefits); then jump ship for bigger bucks with a commercial company. Take the money and run. Normal American taxpayers are far too naïve or ignorant to get their heads around such things; they’ll stay fine with it as long as those contract companies keep pumping up their 401k funds – with other people’s money and blood – all while waving the American flag, of course.
Duplicitous politicians, prosaic bureaucrats and blustery talking heads keep on using the same old rhetoric with their own herd to “justify” America’s wars using the same old idealistic and “patriotic” emotionalism, while their opponents use similar but slightly different rhetoric to position themselves at a political advantage with their herd. But it’s mostly just obtuse b.s., slickly hiding the real motives, which are entirely pecuniary. Once you have a single super-power military than can easily defend the nation, the opportunities for all sorts of other “just war” adventures on the side are wide open. Does anyone think those companies didn’t profit handsomely building that useless ghost city walled fortress-palace for 20,000 unwanted “diplomats” smack in the center of Baghdad? Iraq and Afghanistan are peppered with such huge monuments to “The New American Way”, to American arrogance, American ten-second attention spans, and colossal waste of the people’s money. The US went into Iraq in 2003 and completed its withdrawal in December 2011. An eight year war that ended less than two years ago is now never mentioned. Does anyone except Corporate America remember what transpired there? Even though China then came in and nailed down most of the oil contracts, Corporate America, and tens of thousands of its mercenaries, are still adding up their profits. Ditto with Afghanistan. Then came Libya. Now it’s all about Syria.
In the world the Baby Boomers have constructed for themselves, companies can now engineer America’s wars from beginning to end – from back-page news item through the Normandy Invasion to ignominious departure as many years later as possible, all while using those honorable men who remain in uniform as the Fall Guys. Such wars are not won on the battlefield; they are won on the Corporate Bottom Line. And, regardless of what takes place on the battlefield, it’s always a “glorious victory” where it counts. If your motives are all about quick cash, you don’t have to consider the long-range effects, the impacts on those who serve the nation for the long haul, who are entirely “expendable”, or those who have to follow you into the arena. Is it any wonder that others, including presidents in countries like Russia, Germany and China keep trying to put the brakes on American stupidity? Americans keep thinking of war in terms of what they learned in history books. But to understand today’s wars you have to study business, economics, and propaganda. Damned the future. Damned anyone else. It’s all about the money. It’s all about “me”. In today’s world, are “just wars” even possible?
Question: Can you really call them “war profiteers” if they’re actually woven right into “the system”? It’s a thoroughly corrupt system, isn’t it? It’s a whole gigantic quasi-official industry existing solely to profit from war, and mostly from the sidelines at a safe distance. Inside and out, from Congress to Wall Street, it’s another of those grotesque inventions of the “anti-war” Baby Boomers, as usual serving themselves.
Footnote #2. Presidential Power. Whenever American politicians talk about “American leadership”, they’re really talking about wasting either taxpayer money or infantry soldiers, and usually both.
Everyone, it seems, likes to play all sorts of games with the US military and the people who man it, as if those people were all dumb morons incapable of thinking for themselves or of doing anything else. It is relevant to remember that US military members are sworn to defend only the US Constitution. They are not sworn to subject themselves and their institution to any political party or person or ideology. Most of them are quite adept at keeping their mouths shut when confronted with civilian stupidity. And ALL of them consider their vocation as “defending the nation”, a logical mission for which they are prepared to sacrifice their own lives in very deadly situations. Anyone taking advantage of that dedication to nation to pervert their purpose so as to unilaterally meet ulterior emotional objectives that have nothing to do with defending the nation are engaging in the most despicable misuse of power. They are also lying to the very people they depend on for their own safety and security. Some such political jerks even have no reservations when handing a folded flag to a father while claiming that his son died defending his nation, when, in fact, he died trying to impose some theoretical political will “according to almighty me” on people who represented zero threat to the United States. They can do such things because they are all pumped up on power knowing they will never be held accountable – which is not the case with members of the military. The US military does not exist to compensate for the lack of leadership abilities of any incompetent figurehead who winds up in the driver’s seat as a consequence of some superficial celebrity popularity contest and all the opportunistic straphangers who then come out of the woodwork along with that figurehead. Nor does it exist to pump up the self-esteem of all sorts of sideline sitters who only engage in blustery bombast, with the royal “we”, while their country steadily disintegrates around them, without the royal “we”.
Some presidents have skirted constitutional law by giving “war” other names (such as “conflict”, “operation”), by engaging in covert military actions kept secret from Congress (as in Cambodia), by committing US military forces to action and then daring Congress not to support them, or by engaging in games of semantics with subtle differentiations made between “total war” and “limited war”, by trying to argue that a bombing campaign isn’t war if there are no “boots on the ground”, etc.. It’s all just self-serving b.s., cheap asinine rationalizations intended to skirt American constitutional law. The “conflict” in Vietnam never was officially designated a “war”, but only a total moron would consider it anything else. (See Footnote #3.) The same applies to Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan. The US military has been involved in dozens of deadly conflicts over the past 70 years, none representing an imminent threat to the security of the United States, but the last time Congress had enough spine to actually pass a declaration of war before-the-fact was 5 June 1942 – for World War II. Congress has passed resolutions approving before-the-fact intended ‘actions’ with respect to some conflicts, such as for the Persian Gulf (1991), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). But if you view a ‘declaration of war’ as a act required in response to an imminent threat to the United States, then every one of those conflicts since WW II were elective actions of little or no consequence to national security. How many human lives and trillions of dollars were expended in the sum of all those “conflicts”? Despite the Constitution, which intended to leave it to the people to decide whether or not to go to war, Congress usually meekly follows the President’s action by subsequently funding military operations already underway. This royal “we”, always fearful of possible future political blow-back, doesn’t even have enough spine to sign its name to a formal declaration of “we”. (“You get the government you deserve.”) A LOT of ignorant civilians, who cringe at the thought of ever getting anywhere near the US military, really get off on that mighty “Commander-in-Chief” title.
And for what? So the US military can run all over the world taking the blame, paying the bills and doing the hard stuff for all our “friends and allies” who do nothing but sit there on their fat asses and offer little more than tokenism – and then throw their silly little stones? Establish a fund. Tell all our “friends and allies” that if they want the Americans to do something, then ante up, “put your money where your mouth is” – in advance. And THEN we’ll decide just what that buys, and for whom. They pay for their city cops, don’t they? If you’re going to play around with things like war, you need grown-up responsible (and accountable) adults who think with sound logic, not mushy emotion. (And you need friends and allies who will stand right there beside you, like actual men. Today I’ll still stand with the Brits and Aussies; after them, I want the Russians.)
It is telling that US liberals usually take greatest exception to unfettered presidential authority in military actions, but are also usually those violating their own principles opposing unfettered presidential authority whenever a liberal is in the White House. (“It’s ok for me, but it is not ok for you”.) As the long and intensely unpopular “conflict” in Vietnam gradually wound down under Republican President Nixon, Congress with very strong Democrat (liberal) support, passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 by a two-thirds vote, enough to override a presidential veto. This is a federal law, based firmly on provisions of the US Constitution, intended to check a president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. It’s usually referred to as “The War Powers Act”. This congressional joint resolution provides that the President can send US armed forces into action abroad only by (1) declaration of war by Congress, (2) “statutory authorization,” or (3) in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
Some flexibility is allowed by the Resolution for exigency or expediency. It requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids those armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. But the War Powers Act was subsequently violated, for example, by liberal President Clinton in 1999 during the bombing campaign in Kosovo and by liberal President Obama in 2011 during the eight month bombing of Libya. All such violations have had congressional disapproval, but none have had any successful legal actions taken against a president for alleged violations. Europeans hate the resolution; it’s a lot easier for them to manipulate one person in the White House to use the American working military dogs for their own purposes and advantages than it is to get a whole Congress to go along with their straphanger duplicity.
And, if you examine the War Powers Act of 1973 carefully, and liberally, it can be interpreted to actually authorize the President to start any wars he or she wants and THEN come back to Congress. Some claim that the “statutory authorization” cited in the War Powers Act is itself the required statutory authorization. Liberal presidents, and some conservatives, view this as an open authorization for war which, once taken, also invites the President to come back to Congress and dare it not to “support the troops”, i.e., authorize adequate funding for the military to do what the President has committed it to do. And for the past thirty years Baby Boomers have been too dumb (or self-interested) to fix what is, as worded, an unconstitutional law. Such things will not be fixed by a Supreme Court because both parties are elected representatives of two separate branches of the government (legislative and executive), so the Court (judicial) would view it as a matter of politics, a problem for politics to decide, and would refuse to consider it. The proper way to fix the law is to pass another law that corrects the language of the first (or, even better, a constitutional amendment which clarifies and updates the original 18th century language). The only way the Court is likely to rule on the issue is if some victim of an American war brings suit against the United States in federal court that raises the legality of the war which victimized him. (Such a victim, under US and international law, would have legal standing (non-political) for the court to be required to hear arguments for and against in the case – and would probably win the support of every libertarian in the US.)
Few Americans today realize that the rules were loosened after World War II to enable a President to order the military to respond to an imminent all-out nuclear missile attack on the United States – before there was no longer an America. But that type of very real threat, requiring immediate action, has not been duplicated in any of the cases in which the loosened rules have been used since then. It’s been the steady “evolution” of a policy originally based on a national life-or-death absolute necessity to one based on little more than a President using the US military to win emotional domestic votes by committing it to purely elective missions whenever it’s expedient. The former is characteristic of a democratic state; the latter is characteristic of a dictatorial monarchy. And every one of our “friends and allies” knows it. The one factor that makes that characteristic so valuable to those “friends and allies” is America’s professional ground soldiers. Almost all Western countries can and do build or buy, and field, the credible machinery they need to meet their own defensive needs, but, since all are dependent on a male-only Draft to field part-time static defensive ground forces, none can commit a large army of professional ground soldiers to anything fluid, offensive and far forward. Only America is willing to sacrifice large numbers of her soldiers in wars that have nothing to do with defending the country – and most especially if others can profit from their sacrifice. (The vast majority of European military forces are similar to America’s state National Guard; Europe cannot field anything comparable to the 101st Airborne Division, much less ten such potent professional infantry divisions. (See Footnote #1 to “Military Fruit Salad“, US Army “Teeth”.) The same, of course, also applies, for different purposes, to America’s 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, built to meet “Cold” War needs. Such infantry divisions, like the carrier groups, are conventional forces.)
Objections raised to unilateral presidential use of military power are usually cases of petty partisan politics rather than matters of grave concern about US rights and freedoms under the US Constitution; mediocre members of Congress fear that successful action on their part may bind the hands of a President of their own party in the future. It’s just more of the usual left-right childish political nonsense, damned its effect on the US military. Think about it: Such fears are a clear indication that America’s wars are now far more about domestic politics, where there are elective choices, than they are about national security, where there are no elective choices – that America’s ground soldiers are being sacrificed much more to further cheap political objectives than to defend the nation. If it was really about national defense, there would be no political hesitation about re-establishing very clear rules applicable to all presidents and requiring the people’s prior approval through their representatives in Congress.
How can Americans contemplate those thousands of young ground soldiers who did not survive Iraq and Afghanistan intact and not feel at least a tinge of shame? Did it really all boil down to nothing more than the cheapest of really stupid domestic politics – wars orchestrated by quite marginal people trying to operate far beyond their competence levels to arrogantly decide the lives of others? Is that something worth dying for?
This problem is becoming ever more worrisome as the US military has become capable of very fast, powerful and precise deadly action almost anywhere on the planet; as the military is forced to make increasing use of profit-motivated contract hire mercenary companies for ground operations; as very many better-schooled immigrants increasingly arrive in the US to assume positions of great influence at or near the top; as Americans become ever less concerned about matters military when they don’t have to worry about a Draft involving “me”; as many “elitist” political leaders around the world increasingly view the US military as the world’s, and thus their own, Police Force, ever ready to relieve them of the burden of doing anything themselves; as so much of our “strategy”, including congressional votes, is driven by huge defense manufacturing contracts employing millions of voters; and as Americans increasingly become alarmingly comfortable with their nation’s ability to simply force its will on the world as a single super-power.
Few now view the presidential military power issue as a matter of history, that the American Revolution was a direct response to a dictatorial monarchy unilaterally ordering its own military forces to embroil the people in oppressive foreign wars, to treat its own citizens as little more than money machines and expendable cannon fodder, and even to use that military against its own people – all to enforce the will of the dictatorial monarchy, almost always for its own profit. Behind it all is now an “evolving” sense of “rights” and “leadership”: Dictators don’t have to lead from the front; they can simply dictate from the very safe rear, i.e., this insidious Hitler-complex nonsense is paving the way for an American “birthright entitled” noblewoman to simply ascend to the throne with all her rights, and no responsibility, and rule by queenly decree.
“What comes next?”
A great nation leads by example, not by force. As America’s military grows ever more powerful, our use of it becomes ever more shameful. And increasingly dangerous. There is something inherently very sick about, “We can even sit in a comfortable office and vaporize humans eight thousand miles away with impunity – based on nothing but an assassination hit list maintained in the Oval Office.” and “We would rather kill people than deal with the ‘messiness’ of taking them prisoner.” Can anyone imagine the outrage Americans would feel if this was not being done by the US, but rather by, say, Russia? Just which twisted lunatic now does our “thinking” for us? There is absolutely nothing “great” here, folks. On the contrary. All you have to do is view, and understand, the board from the other side.
Footnote #3. Vietnam, The Beginning.
It’s often pointed out that the US after 1900 has never laid claim to lands in which it fought wars, and thus has some measure of altruistic purpose and intent to its military adventures. The US did, of course, commandeer territory from Britain as a result of the American Revolution in 1781 and from Spain as a consequence of the Spanish-American war in 1898. But the absence of subsequent claimed spoils of war does not absolve the US of complicity in poorly managed and executed wars that end up doing far more damage than any good they accomplish. Nor does it insure that the US does not repeat its own mistakes of the past.
Immediately at the end of WWII French President Charles de Gaulle actually threatened to join the growing Soviet communist sphere if the US tried to obstruct France’s quest to re-establish its colonial empire, including its rule over Vietnam, despite the Americans calling for independence in all former European colonies. But the Vietnamese, who had fought with American help against their fascist Japanese occupiers, were not about to surrender their country again to a ruthless foreign oppressor, and their Viet Minh guerrillas already in 1945 quickly went to armed opposition against vanguard returning French forces, shrugging off British efforts to assist France in reestablishing control. By trying to broker talks between the French and Viet Minh, the local US OSS found itself vehemently opposed by both British and French military interests. Only a few short months after the surrender of the Japanese, the OSS commander in Vietnam, who spoke fluent French, was mistaken for a Frenchman and killed by the Viet Minh as he was driving to the airport to catch a flight to OSS headquarters. His body was dumped in a river and never recovered. The French were happy to be free of American interference.
Ho Chi Minh, who had been citing the American Declaration of Independence and the writings of Thomas Jefferson in his efforts to inspire a free and independent Vietnam, wrote to the US government expressing his great sorrow over Colonel Dewey’s death, but French military forces immediately began flooding into Vietnam. Knowing he would be fighting the French and not wanting to fight them as an enemy of America, too, Ho Chi Minh’s letters to President Truman, all citing lofty American ideals, apparently never went beyond the OSS (which soon became the CIA). In the ruthless turmoil of post-WWII Vietnam the communists soon superseded the nationalists for supremacy against the French. So, as peacetime occupation forces were settling into destroyed Germany and Japan, Vietnam in 1946 became a three-sided bloody civil war of communists versus nationalists, and both versus the French.
And ALL of the tactics, from napalm to village burnings, used by the French were later copied verbatim by the Americans in what was for the Vietnamese people one long never-ending western-imposed hell on Earth. (From beginning to end, the Americans, despite Robert McNamara’s statistics, never came up with anything new to alter the battlefield; everything the French did from 1945-1955 the Americans did from 1963-1973, with the same results. It’s really hard for conventional militaries, so very heavily invested in enormous quantities of nifty machines made by civilian voters, to think unconventionally. The campaigns in North Africa, Europe, the Pacific and Korea had all instilled a certain inflexible mindset about “military power”. No one seemed to notice that, in all of those cases, the enemy was almost a conventional equal on the battlefield, not a grossly inferior force of very determined fighters operating in their own homeland.) The Vietnamese people were permanently trapped between two brutal oppressors – the unconventional Asian communists and the conventional western colonialists. To secure his country’s independence, Ho Chi Minh turned to communist China and Russia for the help he had hoped in vain to obtain from the Americans – resulting in the exact opposite of American objectives. The Americans, whose ideals instinctively told them that they were backing the wrong horse, nevertheless threw their support to the French.
In July 1950 the US sent in a shipment of planes and jeeps for the French and their Vietnamese nationalist allies, accompanied by 35 military advisors – which marked the official introduction of US military forces in Vietnam. The following year, in October 1951, Massachusetts congressman John Kennedy dined at the Majestic Hotel overlooking the Saigon River and listened to the sound of gunfire on the other side. Senior French officers then sounded exactly like General Westmoreland would sound 17 years later as I, too, listened to the sound of gunfire on the other side of the Saigon River. (“All we need is a few more troops.”) So Kennedy spent a couple of hours listening to a reporter without an agenda (Seymour Topping of AP) to form an accurate assessment. Still, by the time General Eisenhower became President in 1952, American taxpayers were footing over 30% of the bills French forces were running up in Vietnam; two years later that burden was up to 80% – an American “share” that became permanently customary with everything and anything involving the Europeans. After eight years of war and over 100,000 casualties, the French had made zero headway in their mission to re-establish control over their former colony and finally decided to actually talk to their enemy – but only AFTER securing certain desired battlefield advantages. It was the unwisely delayed “last chance” that never came to be.
As the French were making a final stand at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, Eisenhower wrote in his diary that he was convinced that a military victory was not possible in the Southeast Asia theater, and did not send in the American cavalry. Despite covert contract (Air America) airlifts, French forces, arrogantly (and stupidly) situated in an isolated open valley surrounded by well armed and fortified jungle high ground and under constant deadly siege for 55 days, surrendered in May 1954 and withdrew from North Vietnam. But rather than view it accurately as the end of European colonialism in Asia, the US chose to view it as a dangerous victory for communism, a portend of falling dominos. After a century of exploitation, the following year (1955) the French formally left South Vietnam, too, while the Americans suckered themselves in with their superior firepower. The Americans, seemingly oblivious to the long French experience with a determined unconventional enemy, sent military advisors in to help South Vietnamese forces prepare for a conventional invasion from the north. Already at the very beginning, the Americans, most of whom had fought the conventional war in Korea, were on the wrong wave length in Vietnam. No one on the other side, no one in North Vietnam, ever considered a conventional military invasion of South Vietnam that would stupidly expose all that hardware to superior American air and sea power. Instead they naturally opted to continue with unconventional tactics that had already proven successful against conventional French forces.
In 1956 Eisenhower chose to use the crisis over the Suez Canal to finally send an unmistakable message to both the British and the French. He picked up the phone and told both powers to get out of Egypt or the US would call in its debts from both countries. This forced Britain and France to finally come to grips with the fact that their “empires” were living far beyond their means on American taxpayer loans, a situation that was simply unsustainable. Those two phone calls marked the beginning of the systematic decline of both British and French colonialism, a stark reality from which the French never really outgrew their resent of the Americans. But the Americans still had to deal with global communist expansionism – that had been set in inexorable motion largely in response to European colonialism.
In 1959 two US Army advisors would be the first Americans (after the OSS man Dewey) to die in Vietnam, victims of a surprise night guerrilla attack at Bien Hoa. A few months later Kennedy became the President for the next two and a half years, serving until November 1963. He had gradually raised the number of military advisors in Vietnam from 1,000 to 16,000. Five years after his death, in 1968, American force levels in Vietnam reached a peak of 536,100 — 234,000 more than had been used for the major conventional war in Korea. No European forces ever joined the Americans. Kennedy knew full well that the conflict in Vietnam was entirely unconventional and believed that only the US Army Special Forces were properly equipped and trained for such limited warfare, could properly train the South Vietnamese and Laotian forces to defend themselves in such a conflict. But the conventional experts in the US saw things differently. Eventually an Air Force general, steeped in carpet bombing, would proclaim, “We’ll save them alright… even if we have to kill every last one of the SOBs!” It didn’t take long for everyone to lose sight of the primary purpose of it all, in the interest of “winning” at any cost.
The critical mistake was made in 1963 when it became obvious that the ruthlessly oppressive and corrupt Diem regime in Saigon, despite its very strong anti-communist stance, was simply the wrong horse to back. At the very least, Diem’s brother Nhu had to go. But rather than take that opportunity to withdraw, the US condoned a military coup that began with the murder of both Diem brothers. Kennedy himself was murdered just 18 days later, and, in the continued absence of decent leaders for the South Vietnamese people, the US continued for another decade to back the wrong horse in a war that could never be won without the people. No subsequent leader ever emerged who had the better qualities and power of Diem (without his brother and his brother’s exceedingly abrasive wife).
By the 1964 US presidential election campaign, the war in Vietnam had become the proverbial political football, and it became axiomatic from that point forward that any American war had to be decided within 18 months or else run up against the American soldier’s greatest enemy – domestic politics. As also became customary after WWII, the politicians never even had enough backbone to vote a clear formal public declaration of war against North Vietnam, so, despite the Americans insisting otherwise, the rules of war, even the Geneva Conventions, did not apply, even to prisoners of war. Not long after Kennedy’s death, President Johnson changed the character of US involvement in Vietnam from unconventional American assistance to an American conventional military effort announced by US Marines arriving in Da Nang. It mattered not that another army of American soldiers was still on hold 2,000 miles away in Korea awaiting politicians to finally bring an end to the last war – an active war held in place by a cease fire that would remain frozen and forgotten for a whole lifetime. But American politicians want to eat their cake and have it, too – as long as only “someone else” pays the price. The most they are willing to do is pass “resolutions” of support for a president’s imperial actions in a “conflict”, “action”, “dispute”, “operation”, etc., – anything but “war” – resolutions that have little meaning in the broader world and leave American soldiers out there on a very shaky branch. It also allows wars of little or no consequence to American national security to be directed by politicians knowing nothing of military matters and to be fought piecemeal, on the cheap, little by little, ignorant and sloppy, slowly chewing up American soldiers while doing little more than keeping pace with events that unfold before them – until another imperial president decides to say, “Never mind”, and pulls them out, dead and maimed and broken soldiers be damned.
Saigon finally fell to communist forces on 30 April 1975 as the last US Special Forces soldiers flew out, having been in country for just shy of 25 years to accomplish nothing more than the French had accomplished. Some with a good knowledge of history recalled General Cornwallis’ 1781 departure from a war also won by a determined enemy operating on its own turf which he, too, had grossly underestimated and incorrectly engaged. And Americans are still repeating the same ol’ mistakes. Of all the wars both big and small since the end of WW II, they’ve managed to win only one — because the commander-in-chief was wise enough to end it after just 100 hours.
Regardless of your politics, it’s pretty difficult to conclude that the Vietnam War was a just war for the Vietnamese people. And, even considering the support provided to the other side by both communist China and communist Russia, quite obviously Vietnam had zero relationship to American national security. Even George Kennan, the guy who came up with the strategy of “containment” for Soviet expansionist communism, testified in 1966 in Congress, to no avail, against American objectives in Vietnam as futile and of little real significance. Soon after the fall of Saigon Americans turned their attention to the rescue from Cambodian Khmer Rouge of the US merchant ship Mayaquez that resulted in the deaths of 38 Americans. After that, America’s first lost war was put as far out of mind as possible, so her “leaders” were fully prepared to repeat the mistakes of the past when Afghanistan and Iraq came up on their radar 25 years later. This time the Draft was not the biggest problem; it was those who had avoided the Draft who were now calling the political shots.
Footnote #4. Incompetent Diplomacy. In Egypt our diplomats kept blindly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood simply because it had the organizational capability to win election and despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood once in power was steadily moving the country in a definite direction ever stronger opposed by the vast majority of Egyptian citizens. That American intransigence, its obstinate faith in a western-style democracy for Egypt, its failure to recognize popular real world Egyptian dynamics, its inability (or unwillingness) to view the board from the other side, encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood to move even further against the wishes of the population – until there was no option left (short of civil war) except for the US-trained Egyptian military to step in and once again hold the country together for yet another “transitional period”. And once it did step in, neither the military or the majority of Egyptians or the remaining civilian leadership had much regard for the Americans and their crude and inflexible schoolbook dogma. Today America is not welcome in Egypt, and for very good “diplomatic” reason.
The current highly respected and competent military leader, a religious Muslim, who had actually been selected by the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Morsi during his very early purge of the military’s top leadership, had many years earlier provided the Americans at the US Army War College an astute master’s thesis on the type of representative government that would work for Egypt – a “democracy” quite different in several critical ways from that which exists in the United States. (Morsi had quickly purged the top military leadership and installed a religious Muslin to insure himself that he could control the military; following American standards, that top leadership stepped aside without resistance.) An American diplomacy that fails to recognize such local nuances, fails to think with far greater sophistication, fails to accept that what works for Americans may not work so well for others, a diplomacy that fails to encourage those in power to move along lines more appropriate for the people of Egypt at this moment in history, is quite simply an incompetent diplomacy. Representative government does not have to be American democracy. (Besides, American democracy, even for America, has become far too perverted by powerful special interest lobbies, both social and commercial, anyway.) It was simply incompetent United States diplomacy that necessitated the latest military “coup” in Egypt, and left the US with no real friends anywhere in the country – except the ever-steady military-to-military relationships. At least there was no civil war.
Our diplomats have also been supporting the Muslim fundamentalists now trying to run both Tunisia and Libya, and have become, naturally, largely impotent in both of these dysfunctional countries. Just what was the reason for all that use of the US military? Look how fast we turned our back on former “friends” like Gaddafi and Mubarak. What lessons do such acts teach the world? (I wouldn’t trust us, either.) There are astutely smart ways of doing things with finesse, and there are just the dumb bully ways of doing things with crude stupidity and incompetence.
Just consider that monster fortress-palace in Baghdad from where the State Department planned to rule the entire Mid-East. Built during the period 2007-2012 at Secretary Clinton’s urging for a cost of over $1 Billion to accommodate an incredible staff of over 20,000, today it looks like one of those towns around Chernobyl, populated by far less than 2,000, most of whom are contractors. With a huge fortified wall around the whole massive compound, it is the largest and most expensive embassy in world history, a city-within-a-city, not unlike the Vatican. Most of the US government people in the embassy never leave its grounds, their only glimpse of Iraq coming when they arrive and then when they depart. In order for Americans to venture out into the world of Iraq, each person at the embassy needs Iraqi government permission granted by formal application that can take months to decide among a range of bureaucracies. Not only did State diplomats fail to negotiate a Status Of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government that would have allowed a reduced military presence for training, constant pressure, etc., State also never negotiated a formal diplomatic mechanism for its own activities, absurdly thinking it could just dictate such things as its arrogant employees went along on the fly. So the “embassy” is essentially a prison – signifying nothing but Big Bucks for employees posted to a “hardship” assignment in a ghost town with vast expanses, whole buildings, of empty offices and vacant living quarters. Today, Turkey, with ten people at its embassy, has 1,000 times more influence in Iraq than does the US.
(The US Embassy in Baghdad is the biggest diplomatic embarrassment in world history, surpassing anything even the Romans ever invented; only incredibly naïve and ignorant super-spoiled Americans could ever have dreamed up such an asinine creation. Can anyone imagine such a huge walled fortress covering 104 prime acres in northwest Washington manned by an army of 20,000 diplomats operating with full immunity, all being supplied daily by speeding convoys escorted by heavily armed mercenaries wearing black masks in armored vehicles coming and going from the Baltimore docks? The greatest failing of contemporary Americans is their inability, or unwillingness, to view the board from the vantage of the other side. The supreme arrogance is simply breathtaking.)
All those dead and maimed American soldiers….. who conquered and owned the country:
(At the end of the “Cold” War, the US military was eviscerated of 90% of the professional military people who engaged in various aspects of unconventional warfare, such as reconstruction, “nation-building”, stability, human intelligence, peacekeeping, police, health, civil affairs, governance, etc.. At the same time, State and USAID were given huge additional funding and personnel to enable them to do such functions in the future, should that become necessary. When the time came, in Iraq, State and USAID were poised to execute such functions by having government employees, ensconced in a “Little America” fortress unencumbered by the Defense Department, manage a huge army of civilian contractors, whose primary interest is company profit, with tons of US taxpayer dollars. It didn’t work. The moment the Iraqi military was disbanded, you needed a very strong and very large US military to impose its will and maintain order, including establishing and maintaining a safe environment in which such things as “nation-building” can be accomplished. Without a vetted Iraqi army, the US military in Iraq was far short of required occupation capability. Absent that strong military presence, and all bets were off. At least military professionals can defend themselves while they engage in non-combat activities; diplomats and civilian contractors cannot. In World War II, we followed our combat army with an occupation army – made up essentially of government employees with a wide range of expertise placed in the military, handed a rifle – and trained to defend themselves under military command. It was backed up by a strong military presence imposing its authority. There was one military chain of command. It worked. It worked because it made military sense in a military situation.)
The current US ambassador to the UN is the former White House human rights advisor to President Obama – Samantha Power (43), a woman born in Ireland who for much of her life has been dedicated to getting governments to defend human rights with military force, and especially US military force. She began her career as a journalist covering the wars in the former Yugoslavia for several top US news publications, and sees the role of the US military as “diplomacy’s” brute World Cop “negotiating” club – a view she probably learned from the Czech-born and London-raised US Secretary of State Madeline Albright under President Clinton during the 1990s. The far left-wing Power has been criticized as an ideologue who always wants to answer “a problem from hell” with “a solution from hell”; thus her key role in engineering the eight-month bombing campaign in Libya from behind the White House curtains, damned American historical righteous indignation over the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the effect the Libya bombing campaign had on decades of global disarmament efforts. A firm believer in the “moral imperative”, she, like most such ideologues, has never served in or even studied the US military and is known to despise military people, whom she regards as politically “right-wing”. (Military people in such minds are those dumb “someone else” expendable morons useful only for doing the hard stuff ordered up by the “special” people from the safe sidelines. In the end, their emotion-based causes have absolutely nothing to do with US national defense and usually become pretty much a case of “my atrocities are better than their atrocities.”)
The other three like-minded left-wing ideologue women who, until Secretary Kerry’s appointment in 2013, have been responsible for American foreign policy under President Obama since his 2008 election are Susan Rice (49), former US Ambassador to the UN and now human rights advisor on his White House national security team, Madeline Albright (76), the President’s special advisor to “NATO”, and Hillary Clinton (66), former Secretary of State now regarded as the Democrat’s front-runner for the 2016 presidential election campaign. (In the musical chairs shuffle, Power went to the UN, and Clinton began planning to ascend to her White House throne and wield that mighty “Commander-in-Chief” stick.) None of the four women has any credible knowledge of the US military or even of military matters. (Secretary Kerry does.)
(Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (58) under President Bush was equally unqualified; she had been appointed as National Security Advisor shortly before the US was attacked on 9/11/2001. (Her reputation was established during the Bush I Administaration as an academic expert on Soviet Russia.) The US has been able to “afford” having such affirmative action women appointed to such high critical offices without gravely endangering American national security because the US military has been the world’s single super-power unopposed by a credible external threat since 1990 – although some would dispute that assessment in the wake of the 9/11/2011 attacks that should never have been allowed to happen. A quarter of a century of this stuff, however, is enough; any more, and we run the danger of permanent “unearned birthright entitlement” for our “special” noblewomen to such high office of truly great long-lasting impact. The US has been steadily reducing standards everywhere for the past forty years so as to provide women with short-cuts to the top. Now the process is so institutionalized that anyone can enjoy the short-cuts with few standards at all, and no accountability. It’s just figurehead “leadership” by quota, to the nation’s detriment.)
(Rice became famous for stating the absurdity that “no one could have imagined” that people would use commercial airlines as weapons. The simple truth is that she had failed in her job. But, in all fairness, on 1 April 2001, just three months after President Bush assumed office, a US Navy EP-3E spy plane conducting signals intelligence collided with a Chinese jet fighter, which killed the Chinese pilot and forced the US plane to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan. The 24 American crew members were detained and interrogated by Chinese authorities for 11 days while the Chinese military thoroughly stripped and examined the aircraft’s highly sophisticated equipment. This undoubtedly was a rude awakening for a new President and staff with little experience in the international arena in a situation that could easily have spiraled out of control. But it also kept the Bush Administration focused more on “Cold” War-style super-power conflict, at the expense of something even more dangerous lurking in the shadows.)
The notion that American women would know anything about diplomatic negotiation is just absurd. These are “special” people who have spent their entire lives getting whatever they want simply by making demands. In the American Womb they have crafted for themselves over the past half century, they have a wide range of powerful weapons in their arsenal to ensure they do, in fact, realize those demands. These are humans who, having never been challenged, now actually believe that “Everyone thinks just like me.” And if they don’t, they damned well better get with my program, for “To achieve perfection you must become me.” And since they are also “eternal victims”, they can never be held responsible, much less accountable, for anything. These are American princesses who are never told anything they don’t want to hear and expect to have their royal rings kissed three times a day, four times on Sunday. In their minds all males are inherently both evil and inferior; the very last thing these self-involved creatures ever consider is the view from the other side. When they try any of that crap outside the United States, they are very likely to be regarded as mentally deranged. Outside their American Womb, all they have is their “brainless US military hired thugs”. “Do what I want, or I’ll sic these attack dog brutes on you and your pathetic country.” That’s “diplomacy” – privileged American woman style.
I, for one, am very glad that there is one Russian diplomat on the world stage unafraid to challenge the Americans and force them to consider options other than those military. Sergey Lavrov (63) has been a career professional Russian diplomat since 1972 – over 40 years – and has been the hard-charging Russian Foreign Minister since 2004. A graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, fully fluent in English and intimately familiar with American culture, this very intelligent and astute man has spent a career trying to check with diplomacy what the Russian government has long viewed as dangerous American military unilateralism. (For example, “NATO” is just a façade providing cover for US military and “diplomatic” bully activities.) Lavrov has also been trying hard to establish Russia’s role in world affairs based not on the “Cold” War East-West dynamics (as is the common US interpretation), but rather via a strategy that favors state sovereignty and Third World status quo stability over the spread of Western-style “democracy”. In this sense, you could say he is interested in avoiding or mitigating human suffering and death. State sovereignty doesn’t seem to be a nicety that much concerns the Americans anymore (as long as no one is threatening their state sovereignty), so it’s not difficult to grasp Russian fear that one day those Americans, along with that “NATO” anachronism, might just decide to try imposing their military will and political dogma on them, state sovereignty be damned. And, like all Russians, he is deeply concerned about the rise of Islamic fundamentalist extremism over huge parts of the globe, especially along his own southern border, and the threat that unfettered extremism represents not just to the West, but to Mother Russia as well. It is indeed ironic that his approach with Muslim World “stability” today is the same approach taken by the US during the “Cold” War, but for entirely different reasons. Lavrov is also very concerned about what comes after dictatorships are prematurely overthrown with impetuous and naïve Western help. This guy thinks far further ahead than do the Americans. It’s always after the conventional victory that the unconventional mistakes are made, when the requisite patience rapidly declines and the objective becomes to simply walk away from a mess of our own creation.
Lavrov previously served more than a decade as Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, where he developed an intricate knowledge of the workings of the Security Council, as well as deep experience in international disarmament efforts, including in Iraq during the 1990s. Abroad, he is widely considered one of the most skilled diplomatic negotiators in the world, similar to the now-deceased professional American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, although without Holbrooke’s extensive experience with war zones. (See “Just What We Need: More Advice From Europeans“.) I’ve watched Sergey Lavrov several times being interviewed by Charlie Rose. I’ve also read several interviews of him in a number of respected US and British foreign policy publications. A strong and logical voice for Russia and her best interests, he is nevertheless not a member of President Putin’s inner circle. He is far more impressive than any of the affirmative action women appointed to the US State Department for the past quarter of a century; Lavrov firmly believes that one earns their place in the world. The last 12 years of the “war on terrorism” would have been a lot easier and far more effective for the US military if the US had Russia as an equally participating ally, rather than as an insulted sidelined irritant.
Both Foreign Minister Lavrov, like Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, with their very fast and well-trained minds, easily make America’s similar representatives (including many in the US Congress) look like schoolgirl novices. The Americans rely very heavily on using the US military and taxpayer money as their big clubs backed up by the hint of inside information (private gossip) obtained via the all-knowing NSA, to achieve their ends, mainly by brute force and emotional spin, ends which are always short-range. The Russians use intellect, logic and very astute diplomatic negotiating skills to achieve their objectives wherever possible in consideration of the American behemoth, ends which are always long-range. Lavrov and Churkin are supremely confident men in the roles they fill, and they never shy away from very in-depth extemporaneous discussion with anyone on their level about any subject involving international affairs, quite secure in their own knowledge and intelligence. I would much prefer to have men of such caliber on my side. The Russians always ask a question rarely asked by Americans: “What comes next?”
Unlike Lavrov, however, I feel that undertaking the US military intervention in Iraq was critical as an example of the West actively supporting Muslim efforts to overcome previously Western-supported dictatorship and to give the Arab Muslim world a reasonably functioning working model of self-governance in the very center of that world (with the help of a purged Iraqi army). Finally overcoming several years of self-inflicted chaos, that mission would have been largely completed with another year or two of firm US military involvement. But the US thereafter should have taken no further intrusive role in the Muslim World, but rather stood down and allowed them to sort out their own destinies according to their own individual desires and capabilities. (The US mission in Afghanistan should not have lasted longer than one year, with any future objectives there turned over solely to the Europeans as they saw fit and proper. After the Iraq mission was completed around 2016-17, the US military should have assumed a purely defensive, rather than aggressive, posture.) Accomplishing such a goal in Iraq, where the “Arab Spring” actually began (thanks in no small part to a million cell phones and al Jazeera), was a thousand times more relevant to the main issues and important to the strategic future of everyone than anything tactical that could have transpired in Afghanistan over the next quarter of a century. (After routing the Taliban, the chief “accomplishment” of the US military in Afghanistan was to provide a reasonably secure base from which to launch drones operated by the CIA, 8,000 miles away, into Pakistan – all in a rather juvenile “whack-a-mole” approach to “warfare”.) Ditto for Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, Mali, etc.. Lavrov has been saying such things for over a decade. He is correct.
American women (and men) could do far worse than try to emulate the world’s best national leader since 2005 – Chancellor Angela Merkel (59). This East Germany born and raised scientist, now widely embraced by her countrymen as “Mutti” (“Mom”), just easily won her third straight election, ensuring that the first woman chancellor of Germany will serve in that post for the maximum possible twelve years (unless they change Germany’s Basic Law to allow her to serve longer). While it’s rare for her to mention “me”, she did reply to a reporter’s question after her third election, “Those who know me know that I’m someone who seeks compromise, who approaches things creatively, and who tries to understand the interests of others.” Angela Merkel has come to personify for Germans one very important trait: Vertrauen (trust). It seems that most Germans, regardless of their political persuasion, do, in fact, trust this leader. Even though a few around her have faltered, this unassuming and quiet woman has remained strong, smart, perceptive, steadfast and approachable, an adult who listens intently to all sides and knows how to live on a budget within her nation’s means. I don’t always agree with Merkel, but she has fully earned my respect by remaining true to her principles and leading by example, from the front, without fanfare. The best interests of her nation and all its people, both today and tomorrow, always supersede her own. She is also a strong proponent of the long-range future of a united and stable Europe.
Addendum: Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of State Clinton both often expressed frustration when dealing with Ambassador Lavrov. Now Secretary of State John Kerry (70) can add his name to this list of top American “diplomats” who have not been up to Lavrov’s high standards. Kerry recently made an off-hand comment on live US TV about Syria’s chemical weapons, quipping that Syria’s President Assad could avert a US bombing if he gave up his chemical weapons fast, adding, “He isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.” Within minutes Lavrov (not President Putin) was on the phone, taking up Kerry on his offer – which caught Kerry and most American officials completely off-guard. Apparently the American diplomats had never considered such an option, or that anyone could get a quick handle on those weapons. Their position had been the default Baby Boomer position – using the US military as a Really Big Club to achieve objectives by brute force. But almost a year earlier on live American TV Lavrov had revealed to Charlie Rose (PBS) that Russia had been cooperating with the US military or over a year on Syria’s chemical weapons, that professional Russian special forces had been working with professional American Special Forces, along with chemical weapons specialists, in Jordan trying to keep an eye on the chemical weapons in Syria. I saw that live interview, and I know that Lavrov’s revelation has not been repeated by any American official. (Lavrov knew that he was dipping his toe into sensitive waters.) But the fact remains that career military professionals of both countries now have almost two years experience with the chemical weapons in Syria (some of which came from Saddam’s Iraq). Lavrov knew this, and he knew much more, too. Apparently Kerry did not. Lavrov is an expert on unconventional weapons and disarmament issues; my observation is that this man is always very well versed on intimate details of all matters potentially related to the responsibilities of his office – which, along with a very sharp mind, make him a formidable negotiating adversary indeed. I also think Lavrov was throwing out a feeler for possible joint US-Russian military action in Syria long before chemical weapons were actually used. The Americans just weren’t smart enough to pick up on the offer.
Footnote #5. United Nations Approval. This is NOT to imply that US military forces should ever be placed under the command of anyone or any institution that is not 100% American. There are far too many would-be Napoleons in the world who would like nothing better than to use the US military for their own purposes, including pumping up their own unearned self-esteem with only a tiny fraction of the experience, expertise and dedication required for the task. United States citizens help fund the United Nations to maintain its own “peacekeeping” military forces, and those forces should be employed in United Nations missions – without relying on the US military. “Sanction” of the UN does not mean “command” of the UN. It is desirable for the US to seriously seek UN Security Council (“international community”) approval to avoid being regarded as a maverick bully by the civilized world. But UN approval is not necessary for the US to undertake actions which it perceives are in its best national security interests. (The same applies to that silly “NATO” anachronism.)
When I listen to various and sundry talking heads on American TV pontificating with all their immense “military expertise” (always with the royal “we”, of course), and sometimes even with distinct non-American accents, their childish ignorance and naïve simplicity scares the hell out of me. In a nation where less than one-half of one percent (0.5%) of citizens has any credible military experience at all, much less thirty or more years of highly competitive service in just parts of that military meritocracy, everyone, it seems, is an “expert” on that military, never realizing just how much of their vast “knowledge” is actually based on old history books, two-hour Hollywood movies, ancient stereotypes and swapped barroom lies. These are people who can’t repair their own cars but profess to know all about the most complex, advanced and sophisticated global organization in the history of humanity. A small part of that military launches huge satellites into precise orbit; another runs the largest global closed circuit TV, radio and written communications networks on the planet; many of its larger ships constitute floating cities containing their own nuclear reactor power plants; some of its airports are the busiest in the world; its intelligence systems dwarf the largest news agencies on Earth; it can move more people and more stuff quicker, faster and further than the biggest global shipping companies; it constantly operates six huge and enormously powerful carrier battle groups all over the globe; just one of its new cruisers can defend itself against any fleet while destroying any ship on the seas; it has fluent linguists who give it the capability to converse with almost every human there is; its people can step in and quickly run a whole country’s infrastructure; it can launch planes in the US that fly anywhere in the world without landing; it has highly qualified experts in uniform in just about any field you can imagine, etc., etc.. And it runs 24 hours a day, every day of the year, all around the world, never resting for a second. And, yes, many of its members are smart enough (even as they keep their own mouths shut) to know when arrogant others are being just incredibly stupid. Most Americans can’t even think on the level that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) routinely requires to intellectually push desired objectives far beyond perceived human limits through truly brilliant and ingenious innovation.
After a half century in that professional military, working with all four services, I would never make presumptions of knowledge that I hear every day tossed around on American TV. But then, talking heads, politicians and bureaucrats can say whatever they want; the US military actually holds its own accountable, with a body of law that governs even lying, off-duty behavior, negligence, incompetence, dereliction of duty, political activity – with very real consequences that include even prison time. In the US military, responsibilities far over-shadow rights. No other entity in America has such demanding high standards, and few others can meet those standards. Yet everyone believes they can competently sit in judgment of its members, and orchestrate their actions, from the sidelines. I’ve often wondered just what that feels like, to so gloriously pump yourself up, in your own mind.