Archive for the ‘interventionism’ Tag

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I finally finished it. Whenever a Presidential candidate has written a book, I try to read it. I read both of Obama’s books prior to the 2008 election and Obama’s own words (or his ghost writer’s) were the reason I didn’t vote for him.

So, Hillary Clinton wrote “Hard Choices” about her time as Secretary of State. I had previously (back when Bill was King) read “It Takes a Village”. The statist tyrant I found within those pages was one reason I came out early as a “NeverHillary”. But, despite that, I still read “Hard Choices”.

This primary season has been a great example of historical blindness. I winced during the primaries when Republican candidates promised to “kick ass” in Iraq, make the “sand glow” in Syria, and face down the Russians in Europe. The Democratic aspirants came off as a little more measured, but they generally share the pervasive ideology that America has the right and duty to order the world’s affairs. Without us, the world would go to hell in a hand-basket. Yah! Roar!

Hillary Clinton takes on a certain messianic quality when she routinely quotes former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s line about America as “the indispensible nation” whose job is to lead the world. At a rally in Iowa, she said “Senator [Bernie] Sanders doesn’t talk much about foreign policy, and when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he really hasn’t thought things through.”

She was absolutely correct. Sanders considers foreign policy to be an afterthought to his signature issues of economic inequality and a national health care system. Now she’s aiming the same criticism toward Donald Trump, who also considers foreign policy to be secondary to the economy and border security. What I noted was the implication that she has thought things through. Having just finished her book, I don’t think she has. (Note here – my minor in college was political science with a foreign policy emphasis so I read the book from that perspective).

Hard Choices covers Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and tracks a litany of American foreign policy disasters: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, and the “Asia pivot” that’s dangerously increased tensions with China. Maybe she didn’t realize that was what she was doing.

At the heart of Hard Choices is a version of “American exceptionalism” that claims the right of the U.S. to intervene in other countries at will. She attempted to construct a coherent rationale for interventionist foreign policy and to justify her decisions as Secretary of State. The evidence she presented was unconvincing, perhaps because it is built on a shaky rationale.

I think Clinton is intelligent. I don’t think she’s an idiot, so I was surprised at how remarkably shallow the book was. It wasn’t thoughtful in any way. She admitted to some regret for her vote to invade Iraq, but then quickly moved on. She failed to examine how the U.S. had the right to invade and overthrow a sovereign government that hadn’t attacked the US. For Clinton, Iraq was only a “mistake” because it came out badly.

The book shows a deep inability to see other people’s point of view. The Russians are portrayed as aggressively attempting to re-establish their old Soviet sphere of influence rather than reacting to the steady march of NATO eastwards. She utterly ignores that the first Bush administration explicitly promised Russia that NATO would not expand eastward if the Soviets withdrew their forces from Eastern Europe.

In this, Clinton is not different from most of the Washington establishment. They fail to understand that Russia has been invaded three times since 1815 and lost tens of millions of people. Of course, they’re a little paranoid about their borders. Yet, in Clinton’s book, there is no mention of the roles U.S. intelligence agencies, organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, and openly fascist Ukrainian groups played in coordinating the coup against the elected (if corrupt) government of Ukraine.

Clinton takes credit for the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot,” which she boasted “sent a message to Asia and the world that America was back in its traditional leadership role in Asia.” While she’s patting herself on the back, she doesn’t consider how this returned emphasis might be interpreted in Beijing.

Truthfully, the United States never left Asia. The Pacific basin has long been home to major U.S. trading partners, and U.S. military presence in Japan, Korea, and the Pacific is huge. To the Chinese, the “pivot” means the U.S. plans to beef up its military presence in the region and construct an anti-China alliance system. The US has done both.

Clinton often characterizes military intervention in the philosophy of “responsibility to protect,” but her application is selective. She takes credit for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, but in her campaign speeches, she avoids mentioning the horrendous bombing campaign being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. She cites “responsibility to protect” (identified as R2P in the book) for why the U.S. should overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but is silent about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain against the majority Shiite population’s demands for democracy.

Clinton, Samantha Power (the U.S. ambassador to the UN) and Susan Rice (National Security Advisor) has pushed for muscular interventions without considering the consequences, which have been dire.

Afghanistan: Somewhere around 220,000 Afghans have died since the 2001 U.S. invasion, and millions of others are refugees. The U.S. and its allies have suffered close to 2,500 dead and more than 20,000 wounded. You can’t just blame the Bush administration for this. Obama has had seven years to get us out of the war, but it is far from over. The cost to the US Treasury is around $700 billion, not counting long-term medical bill for disabled veterans that could run as high as $2 trillion.

Libya: Some 30,000 people died and another 50,000 were wounded in the intervention and civil war. Hundreds of thousands have been turned into refugees, who are now invading Europe. The cost to Washington was only $1.1 billion, but the war and subsequent instability created a tsunami of weapons and refugees and, though the media has moved on, the fighting continues. To me, nothing epitomizes Clinton’s lack of morality than her tasteless remark regarding Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.” The Libyan leader was executed by having a bayonet rammed up his rectum. Nobody deserves that.

Ukraine: The death toll now exceeds 8,000, some 18,000 have been wounded, and several cities in the eastern part of the country have been heavily damaged. The fighting has tapered off, although tensions remain high. And, yes, the US CIA under Clinton’s watch destabilized the legitimately elected government of Ukraine, which set off the unrest.

Yemen: Over 6,000 Yemenis have been killed and another 27,000 wounded. The UN reports most of the killed and injured are civilians. Ten million Yeminis don’t have enough to eat, and 13 million have no access to clean water. Yemen is highly dependent on imported food, but a U.S.-Saudi blockade has choked off most imports. The war is ongoing.

Iraq: Anywhere from 400,000 to over 1 million people have died from war-related causes since the 2003 invasion. Over 2 million have fled the country and another 2 million are internally displaced. The cost is close to $1 trillion, but it may rise to $4 trillion once all the long-term medical costs are added in. The war grinds on as a bloody turf war with the Islamic State, which emerged from the Sunni insurgency against the U.S.-installed government.

Syria: Over 250,000 have died in the war, and half the country’s population has been displaced. Something like four million Syrian refugees have invaded Europe, destabilizing the EU. The country’s major cities have been ravaged. The war continues.

There are other countries like Somalia we could add to the butcher’s bill, but what concerns me more are the countries that reaped the benefit from the collapse of Libya. Weapons looted after the fall of Gaddafi largely fuel the wars in Mali, Niger, and the Central African Republic.

We can’t yet calculate the cost of the Asia Pivot for the United States and the allies we’re recruiting to confront China. Since the “Pivot” got underway prior to China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, we could start by asking a “which came first” question: Is the current climate of tension in the Pacific basin a result of Chinese aggression or U.S. provocation?

To be fair, Hillary Clinton is hardly the only politician who thinks American exceptionalism gives the U.S. the right to intervene in other countries. That point of view is pretty much bi-partisan. Sanders voted against the Iraq War and has criticized Clinton’s eagerness to intervene elsewhere, but the Vermont senator backed the Yugoslavia and Afghan interventions. The former re-ignited the Cold War and the latter just never ends. At least Sanders seems to recognize what the problem is. He observed, “I worry that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences may be.”

Since she is running for President, it is fair to ask if she would be more aggressive in the Oval Office than other candidates might. The book suggests she would certainly be more aggressive than Obama and Bush. Clinton pushed the Obama White House to intervene more deeply in Syria, and was far more hardline on Iran. On virtually every foreign policy issue, Clinton led the charge inside the administration for a more belligerent U.S. response. As aggressive as the Obama administration was while she was Secretary, it would have been more aggressive had she been in charge.

Clinton has said she’s proud to call Iranians “enemies,” and attacked Sanders for his entirely sensible remark that the U.S. might find common ground with Iran on defeating the Islamic State. Sanders, perhaps intimidated by her “credentials”, backed off and said he didn’t think it was possible to improve relations with Tehran in the near future.

The danger of Clinton’s view of America’s role in the world is that of old-fashioned imperial behavior wrapped in the humanitarian rationale of “responsibility to protect”.  Her rhetoric is more politic than the “make the sands glow” atavism of the Republicans, but it’s still death and destruction in a different packaging.

So, I’m still a member of the Never-Hillary camp because I don’t think we need another warmonger in the White House. The national treasury can’t afford it and increasingly, the government’s muscularity is making things more dangerous here at home. We the people can’t afford Hillary.

I also have no intention of voting for Trump for entirely different reasons. I honestly believe he is not interested in conducting wars around the world because he recognizes that would be bad for trade. That’s not enough reason for me to vote for him, but it’s a plus in his column.

I remain committed to voting for the lesser of available potential tyrants – which remains Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

Lela on Why We Aren’t Better than That   1 comment

Last week Thom Stark gave an impassioned defense for restraint in interventinism. This week I agree with him! Sort of …

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedYou’re right, Thom, we should be better than that. Unfortunately, we’re not … at least not anymore.This is one of those rare instances where you and I are in total agreement. I want to clean up a couple of points and then come back to the main topic.

A writer can be right on some ideas and wrong on others. Hitchens represented that truth. The art for the reader is to glean the wheat from the chaff. In this case, Hitchens is not the only writer to have noticed our entanglement with England in those years nor will he be the last. I could list about 25 academic articles on the subject, all of them pretty dry and boring. The United States and England have long historical ties to one another, obviously, but we were testy with one another from the Revolution right into the end of the 19th century. For most of our history, the US had a strict policy of neutrality. We were willing to export any product to any country and thus avoid war all around the globe. Winning the Spanish American War gave us delusions of grandeur because we suddenly found ourselves with a nascent global empire. Britain was just about the only European power that supported us in that war, by the way. We returned the favor In 1900-01 by joining England to suppress the Boxer Rebellion.

Still, we were all dressed up with nowhere to go if we didn’t assert our strength into global politics.

So, we did — first by chasing Germany out of the Caribbean (TR even threatened war) and giving preferential treatment to England in the collection of war reparations from Venezuela, and then with World War 1, which was the first time a non-European power interfered in a European war. It didn’t really matter which side the US supported. That hop across the pound served its own ends. It didn’t make Europe any safer for democracy, but it proved to the United States that we had the power to affect world politics. Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt before him believed we should take a substantial role in the world than we had previously claimed. Wilson’s stroke followed by the election of McKinley, quickly followed by Coolidge prevented us from becoming the world policeman in 1920, but that was only an intermission.

Every US president since World War 2 has largely operated on the premise that the US is boss of the world. You can’t blame any particular political party. Democratic presidents got us into World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Balkans. Republic presidents got us into Desert Storm and Afghanistan/Iraq. Our current Democratic president has insisted we meddle in Syria and Libya. While neocons are popularly associated with the GOP these days, they were originally Democrats who, frustrated with their historical party’s anti-war stance post-Vietnam, jumped ship to Reagan’s big tent. Neocon warmonging is a trans-partisan issue.

It might be helpful to better explain what that term “neoconservative” means. It predates the current political party platform configurations, but really the media sort of throws the term around in such a loose fashion that it’s difficult to catch a meaning.

“Neocons” believe American greatness is measured by our willingness to be a great power through use of vast and virtually unlimited global military involvement. America is the world’s top authority, so other nations’ problems invariably become our concern. When people like myself (a fiscal conservative) point out that the US cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, neoconservatives say we have no choice because “Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job” (Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe). This is essentially the Republican equivalent of Woodrow Wilson’s “keeping the world safe for democracy.” Wilson was a Democrat, Bush was a Republican … both danced to the neocon tune. As a non-partisan conservative, it’s been illustrative to watch our Democratic president dropping drone strikes across the globe even as many Republicans (Marco Rubio aside) began to question the old neocon foreign policy consensus that dominated Bush’s GOP. It’s not a partisan phenomena. The Democrats just justify their warmongering under humanitarian language while the Republicans point to national security.

“It is a traditional conservative position not to want the United States to be the policeman of the world,” Jimmy Duncan (R) said in 2003, promptly to be shouted down by his party because Republicans at the time didn’t see Iraq as “policing the world”, but as a legitimate matter of national defense. Hindsight being 20-20, they (or really, the “tea party” contingent that has increasingly replaced the old guard in recent years) now recognize we needlessly created another country’s civil war and destabilized an entire region.

That’s always what neocons do, by the way. They see America’s wars as valid simply because we are in them. “As long as evil exists, someone will have to protect peaceful people from predators” (Max Boot, historian). Boot snidely asked the GOP when they declined war in Syria if they wanted to be known as the “anti-military, weak-on-defense, pro-dictator party”. Oddly, that is exactly what the Republicans said about Democrats for opposing the Iraq War. John McCain famously declared Republicans who oppose intervention in Syria as “isolationists”, but really there is a difference between supporting a strong national defense and opposing policing the world in the guise of national defense. We can have a strong defense without posting our army in every country of the globe or meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

And we do need a strong national defense because there are many in this world who do not see our national behavior as friendly.The Czechs protested our troops in their country back in April, Russia is protesting our training maneuvers in Ukraine now. Islamists are currently the most active, and while they do not pose a direct threat to the American mainland at the moment, 911 should remind us that they have those aims. I don’t fear a direct military campaign, but we are so weak in so many other areas — economically, socially, ethically — that another 911-type attack will likely be used to justify a further restriction of civil rights by our own government. That is something we should fear, because we’ve seen that our government is not “better than that,” and is quite willing to ignore the Constitution under the guise of “protecting” we the people.

As for the Islamic State, it seems more interested in securing its territorial gains in the Levant currently, but both they and Al Qaeda (which controls substantial landscape as well) still have the long-term goal of a worldwide caliphate. To the extent that they would impose their ideal by regimenting society under a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, bent upon severe economic and social regimentation with forcible suppression of opposition, Islamists show a great deal of similarity to fascists. That it is motivated by religion rather than nationalism won’t really matter in our daily lives if they gain an upper hand. We will be miserable nonetheless. As long as Al Qaeda and ISIL fight among themselves, the US (if not Europe) is probably fine for the time being, but if they return to pooling their resources …. But I think that our fighting them in the Middle East only helps with their recruiting there … and here.

Thom StarkUltimately, though, our real danger comes from ourselves … from our government — both the elected tyrants an ill-informed electorate keeps putting into office and the unelected tyrants who populate the regulatory agencies, prisons, police forces and social work fields. We think our government is ourselves — what we have chosen to do collectively — but on a whole host of issues, the American people hold vastly different views from the elites who rule us, which suggests that we the people are not in control any longer. While people with short vision would like to blame GWB or Obama, the fact is that this has been in the works since at least President Wilson. Our failure to understand that is why 90% of the voters can say they oppose the US playing “policeman” around the world and yet our supposed employees in the US military still are fulfilling that role.

Yes, we should be better than that … but we aren’t, and sadly, I don’t think our government aspires to be better, though people like you and I might.

The question is — if we the people really want to be better than that — how do we make our government do what we want? I don’t think the solution will be found in partisan politics.


Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author of Transformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

Lela on Nonintervention   Leave a comment

Last week, Thom suggested I had an “unusual” view of history. This is my response.

That “unusual” view of history could be viewed as the side not written by the winners, Thom. I’ve read Rise and Fall, but I’ve also read ChristopLela Markham Davidson Ditch Correcteder Hitchen’s Blood, Class and Empire and Blood, Class and Nostalia. The two books combined are an excellent treatice on the entanglement of the United States with England and deals with how England and our leaders manipulated us into both World Wars by turning the default non-intervention stance of the American people into a pro-war stance through the use of propaganda to play on our fears and engender anger toward Germany. We all want to believe that our side is the “good” side and it is sometimes illustrative to look at an event from the other side … especially if the other side is deemed the enemy by our government. That different perspective may help us see truths we’ve been ignoring for far too long.

Let’s set one thing straight. I never said Hitler was a 10 year old boy during World War I. I said many of the Germans who supported him in World War 2 were young children during World War 1 and what they went through in that earlier war set them up for World War 2. Hitler was a madman. If I could go back in history to execute him before he became Fuhrer, I would gladly do so. My sympathy is for the German people who were as much manipulated by him as the American people were by Wilson and later Roosevelt, Johnson, both Bushes and the current occupant of the White House.

No leader can prosecute war without at least some tacit backing from the citizenry. Hitler needed the Germany people to populate his army, maintain the economy and guard the concentration camps. But would they have been willing to do so if there’d been a negotiated peace with the Allies in 1917 rather than a unilateral surrender in 1919? The only reason why the latter is actual history and the former didn’t happen is that the United States entered World War 1 just as Britain was running out of resources and would have needed to negotiate. This is what made World War 1 different from previous European wars. Britain could demand a unilateral surrender and crush Germany because the United States had resources Germany couldn’t touch or blockade.

If there’d been a negotiated peace, Germany would have been just another country in Europe, enjoying the fruits of economic well-being during the 1920s, instead of paying crushing reparation payments to England. It wouldn’t have needed the loans the United States provided to prop it up, so its economy would not have crashed when our collapse required ending those loans. Like England, France and Canada, who suffered through brief depressions after our stock market crash, Germany would have recovered in months rather than years and Hitler might not have seemed so attractive. I’ve read Mein Kampf too and only people who feel absolutely trapped in a struggle not of their own making could ever embrace its crazy-town concepts.

There’s no strong historical evidence that Germany had planned for war when Archduke Ferdinand was killed. They were sucked into the war by their treaty obligations with Austria (which ought to be a cautionary tale for us). And, by the way, had Austria not annexed Bosnia, the Serbians wouldn’t have wanted to kill the archduke, This was a tale of interventionism gone wild. Had the United States stayed out of World War I, we might not have developed and then introduced the world to a particularly destructive form of propaganda.  President Wilson campaigned on a platform of American non-intervention. He probably would not have been re-elected if not for the theme “he kept us out of war.” Yet, right after his second inauguration, he hired New York Times journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) to develop a propaganda campaign designed to brainwash the American public into entering the war on the side of Britain. This was necessary because of the large percentage of the US population who were either of German or Slavic descent (thus sympathetic to the Germans) or Irish (thus opposed to almost anything England did).

WWI propaganda posterWilson saw opportunity in the European war. Using the fear of war in his 1st term, he’d already rammed through the Federal Reserve, income tax, and re-segregation of the armed forces. One of his early second-term accomplishments was issuing Executive Order 2594 which set up the Committee on Public Information (CPI), whose sole purpose was to generate propaganda to create public support for US entry into the war. The CPI used censorship, coercion and even mass arrests to silence opposition groups. It circulated posters showing German soldiers bayoneting Belgian babies (Belgium was neutral). All this was designed to make Americans afraid that “the Hun” was about to devour American women and children like some raging beast. The laudable and long-standing American concept of non-interventionism was recast as irresponsible isolationism.

Not too surprisingly, by 1917, the public who had abhorred the European war was now clamoring for our entry. Thus softened up, all that was required was a galvanizing event. Wilson issued a line-in-the-sand statement that Germany had better not attack any US ships. The Lusitania was a British ship laden with a 173 tons of munitions provided by JP Morgan. The German high command placed ads in the New York Times warning that the Lusitania was carrying arms and that they intended to sink the armament-laden Lusitania to protect its national interest. The British admiralty had also warned that the Lusitania ought to stay out of the area. The Wilson administration should have known it was going to be hit, but they never issued a warning, so the American public thought it was safe. Viewed with a skeptical mind, it sure seems like Wilson knew what he was doing, that his administration manipulated the American people into willingly going into a war that a year before they wanted nothing to do with. It’s important to state once again, international law did not allow combatant nations to blockade ports to prevent food stuffs from entering. They could stop armament shipments only, but England had maintained a blockade of all goods for nearly two years. With their people starving the Germans were desperate.

It should also be noted that the Lusitania and the 173 tones of British war munitions she was carrying went to the bottom of the ocean in May 1915. The US Congress did not declare war until April 1917 … after Wilson had won the 1916 presidential election. That hardly seems as if they “had no choice.” More like it made a convenient propaganda tool to push us toward a war the people of the United States didn’t want. The public outrage you speak of had died down by the election, Wilson’s keeping us out of war was a primary campaign point and then … suddenly, we had to go to war. I don’t buy it.

So, let’s talk about American post-World War II interventionism.

The CIA involvement in the Ukranian Orange Revolution is well-known, by the way. Considering what we did in 2004, it seems reasonable to suspect us of doing it again. But let’s be honest here. The US doesn’t just destablize leftist regimes. It has been instrumental in the destruction of many democratically-elected regimes that were deemed not pro-American enough. The US propaganda machine convinces us that these regimes are evil, but the fact is that many were elected in free elections by the citizenry of the country who wanted to control their own resources rather than be dictated to by American corporations or the American military. These people did not elect the United States to interfere in their country’s internal affairs, but we have done it time and time again.

The problem with treaty obligations is that we run the risk of being Germany circa 1914. One of our allies does something stupid — invades Russia in a territorial tug-of-war over Ukraine, for example — and now we’re obligated to enter World War 3. When I was taking foreign policy seminars in college, one of the scenarios we discussed was a Middle East color revolution whereby the United States and the USSR ended up facing one another over a country like Syria. The world would take sides and threats would be hurled. Then some minor actor on one side of the other would do something idiotic — kill someone’s prime minister, perhaps. Because of treaty obligations, we’d have to issue sanctions or invade that country. OPEC would embargo American oil shipments and now we would have no choice but to attack or energy starve. The USSR would come in on the side of OPEC and there would be World War 3.

Of course, the USSR collapsed and fracking was developed so that when the color revolution happened in the Middle East, it wasn’t (or isn’t yet) that precipitating event, but it still has that potential. It would seem that our CIA fomenting a revolution might easily lead to a multi-national war, which means treaty obligations that can come back to bite us quickly enough. When our CIA works to destablize a country like Ukraine, what is it up to? When our president draws a verbal line in the sand with Syria, it sure sounds like he’s trying to get us into a war.

We were fortunate with Syria that the US Congress was less than energetic about starting that war, but western society has been here before — circa 1914. If North Korea pisses off South Korea or Japan irritates China or Putin’s planes fly too deep into Alaska air space … and once that big war has started, the nuclear war you keep saying we need to avoid through US intervention around the world becomes a great deal more likely.

What would be so wrong with neutrality? It has worked for Switzerland for almost 200 years. Switzerland is an international porcupine — heavily armed for its own protection, but not messing with other nations. It has been instrumental in the peace process of several international hostilities while not actually suffering any wars itself.

You haven’t convinced me that our aggressive attitude toward other nations really provides stabilization or if it actually risks destabilizing the world. Especially as we are now facing economic implosion due to mounting debt, at some point someone has to ask — when we no longer have the capacity to act as the world dictator, what then happens to the world? Might it not be better to ease off our role as international meddler par excellence now, while we still have the capacity to bow out gracefully?

Thom StarkAlways being on a war footing invites war. In fact, it encourages our leaders to find wars to involve ourselves in or to create conflicts by destablizing regimes so we can have an excuse to use our muscle.  While I see the logic behind maintaining our web of bases just in case something happened, I can’t help but wonder if those web of bases are not viewed as occupying forces that will one day become a focal point for rebellion.

No one likes a tyrant and we sure do act like one.

Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author ofTransformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

Thom Responds on Interventionism   2 comments

The last couple of weeks (Here and Here), I played devil’s advocate by putting on the perspective of the countries we meddle with and asking the question “Might the US be the reason the world is such an unstable place?” This week, Thom replies to me.

Thom StarkYou have an … unusual … view of history, to say the least. I’m afraid it’s also more than a little misinformed – again, to say the least. Two weeks worth of your essays have created quite a collection of topics, so, rather than going through them point by point, I’ll try to confine myself to addressing the major ones.

Except your “sympathy for the devil” discourse on Hitler, that is. That one is simply too egregiously wrong for me to duck.

Adoph Hitler was born in 1889. Far from being a 10-year-old boy, in 1918 he was a corporal serving as an artilleryman in the German army. His experiences on the front lines inspired in him a lifelong hatred of Germany’s officer class, based on his resentment about having been repeatedly passed over for promotion, while officers he considered incompetent were awarded medals and promotions of their own. (He talks in considerable detail, and with great heat about those experiences and his contempt and anger towards the military in his autobiographical book, My Battle, btw.)

Nowhere in your imaginative portrait do you account for the future Fuhrer’s deeply irrational antipathy towards Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and intellectuals, all of whom would be targets of systematic pogroms after he became Reichschancellor. Nor do you seem to in any way acknowledge his galloping megalomania, paranoia, and determination to dominate, control, and modify to his liking every single aspect of German civil life – all of which contributed to Germany becoming a menace to world civilization as the putative Thousand-year Reich. And, again, all of that, along with his blueprint for conquest and subjugation, first of Europe, then of the entire world, I know, not because it was spoon-fed to me by rote, but because, as a teenager, I actually read Mein Kampf. About the same time, I also read Paul L. Shirer’s massive, detailed, and thoroughly-documented The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – a book I also recommend to you.

Likewise, your portrayal of the liberal/corporate elite meeting to conspire to change the character of America seems equally cockeyed to me. Just as a single example, J. Pierpont Morgan’s U.S. Steel cartel was dismantled by Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busters. When Morgan offered to make any changes the Justice Department required (including substantial divestments) in order to allow his steel monopoly to continue, he was informed that there were no changes he could possibly make in order to satisfy the Feds – and that they were determined to end his monopoly, and make a very public example of him in the process. That he would then conspire with Teddy’s cousin to bring about a novus ordum seculorum is risible, at best.

And T.R. himself was a big fan of interventionism, as well. Spanish-American War, anyone? Moro Rebellion, perhaps?

Your explanation of the roots of WWI is equally flawed. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was merely the final act of a long-building confrontation between the Germanies and the allies of Western Europe. When Austria declared war on Serbia over the assassination, Germany was obligated by treaty to follow suit – which then, in turn, brought France and England into the war because of their treaty obligations to Serbia. By the time of the sinking of the Lusitania – the event that precipitated the U.S. entry into active conflict with Germany – it’s true enough that the English were blockading German ports. It is also true, however, that Germany was doing its best to return the favor. It was just a lot harder for them to cut off access by sea to England than it was for the British navy to shut down German ports, because of their respective geographies (England controlled Gibraltar, so it could exclude trans-Atlantic cargo from access to conquered Mediterranean ports, and the German ones were all Baltic-facing, and conveniently close to one another for blockade purposes).

Churchhill’s after-the-fact rationalization notwithstanding, the sinking of the Lusitania is what forced us into the war. It was a passenger liner, and in no sense a legitimate target for the German navy. Public outrage over its sinking left Franklin Roosevelt and Congress no choice but to formally declare war.

Speaking of which, your father knew exactly why we entered WWII – because the Japanese navy conducted a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, in a bid to foreclose our navy from opposing their planned invasion of the Phillipines. (The fact that the Japanese ambassador had orders to present the President with a declaration of war half an hour before the scheduled attack isn’t well-known – he got caught in traffic on the way to the White House, btw – but it wouldn’t have made any difference, because Japan’s formal declaration of war would have obligated Germany to declare war on us, as well.) It was only in the wake of the allied invasion of the German homeland that the reality of the death camps had any meaningful impact on the American public’s perception of the true horrors of Nazism. Before that, they were just “the bad guys” because they had declared war on us after the Japanese surprise attack.

And I know that, because, as a child, I voraciously read my father’s collection of Yank, the armed forces newspaper, with its many first-person accounts of war in Europe and the Pacific, and its detailed portraits of life on the front lines by reporters such as the great Ernie Pyle.

Yes, our Lend-Lease program infuriated Hitler. But, nonetheless, he was never willing to unilaterally declare war on us, because he knew full well that America would add enormously to Allied power, should it become a combatant. The Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field forced his hand.

Treaty obligations, you know?

But let’s talk about American post-WWII interventionism.

If you expect me to defend the CIA’s policy of covertly destabilizing leftist regimes during the Cold War, I’m going to have to disappoint you. It’s important, though, to realize that the Agency’s geopolitical machinations were a product of the Dulles brothers dominance of foreign policymaking at the time. John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, was a rabid anti-communist, and his brother Alan was Director of the CIA. Between them, they managed to create incredible ill-will toward this country in the name of fighting the global spread of communism – and, more importantly, they did so in the most foolishly short-sighted and counterproductive possible manner. And that same policy of destabilizing left-leaning governments and installing repressive, autocratic, often military governments in their place didn’t end with les frères Dulles, either. It continued throughout the Cold War, everywhere from Peru to Grenada.

Nor was that the worst of the CIA’s sins. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion was an Agency operation – and so was the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.” That was a completely manufactured causus belli. It was the pretext on which Congress authorized introducing American combat troops into the Vietnam conflict, and it was a complete fliction. Not even President Johnson knew that the CIA had simply made it up out of whole cloth, manufacturing every bit of evidence, to force us into physical conflict with North Vietnam – whose overtures for American assistance John Foster Dulles had contemptuously rejected when Ho Chi Minh approached the State Department for help in overthrowing the French colonial occupation of the North.

So I think we agree on the issue of CIA culpability for American interventionism during the Cold War.

We’re also in agreement about the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003. About whether we were justified in leading a coalition to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, maybe not as much, though. There, Iraq was, in fact, the unprovoked aggressor, overrunning the country of Kuwait in order to appropriate its oil fields. Our treaty obligations to Kuwait forced us into war with Iraq over that invasion. Yes, it’s true that we had previously supplied Saddam Hussein with weapons and financial support in his wars with Iran. Whether that was a good idea or not is arguable. It certainly kept Iranian expansionism contained at no cost in American lives. What’s inarguable is that our invasion of Iraq to topple his regime was utterly misbegotten. There was no justification for that, Judith Miller’s recent aplogism notwithstanding, because the actual intelligence community assessment was that Saddam’s Iraq posed zero direct threat to the USA. Iinstead, it was the cherry-picked intelligence that the never-to-be-sufficiently-condemned Douglas Feith (the odious Wormtongue to Dick Cheney’s Saruman the Black) dredged up from among the dissenters to the consensus view that was used to justify the invasion to the UN and the American people.

That disastrous adventure was prompted not by the CIA – which opposed it – but by the vision of the neo-con nitwits at the Project for a New American Century. PNAC was a think tank from which emerged most of the staffers for Cheney’s Office of the Vice-President, as well as highly-placed members of the Defense and State departments under the Bush administration. Their thesis was that America should embrace its role as the world’s policeman, and impose regime change on rogue nations by force. One of their central tenents was the the USA needed a permanent military base in the heart of the Middle East from which it could with impunity project power throughout the region. That was music to Cheney’s ears, and, with the lure of all that high-grade Iraqi crude just waiting for Halliburton Corporation to exploit, it constituted the impetus for invasion and conquest of Iraq.

It was the PNAC idiots – Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz among them – who advocated and pushed through that invasion in the wake of 9/11 … which was entirely a pretext, because they’d been plotting the takeover of Iraq since the very outset of the Bush 43 era. Throughout, they remained purposefully blind to the consequences of that entirely-unprovoked aggression: the destabilization of the principal bulwark against Iran, the inevitable disintegration of Iraq as a political entity, and the inflaming of Islamic enmity towards the U.S., despite being repeatedly warned of the probability of those outcomes by CIA and State Department analysts who (unlike the ideologues of PNAC) had made careers out of studying and trying to understand the region. And, likewise, having been repeatedly cautioned that the all-volunteer military’s strength was completely inadequate for the task of occupying a hostile country the size and unruliness of Iraq (cautions that cost a number of highly-capable generals their careers under Rumsfeld, who demoted or reassigned them to dead-end postings, replacing them with bootlickers and yes-men).

So that, too, is an area on which we agree.

However, you’re way, way off base in asserting that the CIA was behind either the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or the toppling of Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Yanukovich was the architect of his own downfall, as documented in the New York Times investigative piece titled Ukraine Leader Was Defeated Even Before He Was Ousted:

It was Yanukovich’s fateful decision to order his police to fire on peaceful, unarmed protesters that lost him the support of his own allies, including the Ukrainian military. And his ouster was not illegal under Ukrainian law, because Ukraine’s parlaiment voted to remove him from office. In other words, Ukraine’s elected government declared him unfit to be President and removed him from office, not the CIA. Only Putin and his propaganda organs insist the CIA was involved – and Putin, as you well know, has a long history of lying with his bare face hanging out whenever it’s politically convenient for him to do so.

On the other hand, I can’t blame him for taking advantage of the situation to take control of Crimea. It had always been part of Russian until Nikita Khrushchev (who, let’s note, was himself Ukranian) transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. Nor do I disagree that a partition of modern Ukraine into a rump state and a Russian province is unlikely. In fact, that’s probably been Putin’s goal all along.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedNone of which invalidates my central thesis that the current balance of world power, in general, is a product of the Cold War-era global American military empire. I’m not now, and never have been, an advocate of military interventionism, except as required by our treaty obligations. I’m convinced that we shoud go to war only as a last resort, and only against an active aggressor’s actual military invasion of an allied nation’s soil. However, as a lifelong student of history, I well understand that creating a power vacuum inevitably leads to armed conflict among nations that might benefit from attempting to fill that vacuum. That’s why I advocate keeping our military empire, purely as a deterrent to such would-be opportunists. If we should abandon our military presence in Europe, it would unquestionably provoke war between Germany and Russia over the historic buffer state of Poland. Likewise, if we pulled out of Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, that would precipitate a war between Japan and China for control of the Spratly Islands in the North China Sea. In both cases, treaty obligations would force us to intervene. Without the bases necessary to effectively project conventional military power in those regions, nuclear war would result.

And that would be the ultimate – and final – intervention.

Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author ofTransformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

Lela Answers on Interventionism and World Wars   3 comments

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedThom Stark and I are continuing our conversation. Last week he upheld the progressive position on interventionism. This week, I’m examining some history on that and then probably coming back for a double dip tomorrow because HUGE subject. Lela

We are in total agreement that the country is in serious trouble, Thom. We experiencing the consequences of a national addiction to spending, but this addiction has been going on so long that it’s hard to remember where it started. We don’t even remember that spending is actually the symptom of a larger issue, not the real issue at all. Maybe some self-awareness and historical perspective would help.

We don’t remember that there was a time when Americans, individually and collectively, minded their own business. It’s been more than a 100 years since we’ve done that. You and I belabored the War for Southern Independence to death, so we shouldn’t return to it except to say that it was a watershed event in our national history that still negatively affects us today. We learned to interfere and to reap the benefits of our interference.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was a movement afoot in the elite classes of the United States. Rich men and well-to-do intellectuals like Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and John Dewey were meeting casually in Catskills and Smoky Mountain resorts and discussing what they thought was wrong with society. It’s a big topic, but you can boil it down to “the elites aren’t in control, the unwashed rabble don’t know their place and they are leading us over a cliff.” You can’t completely hang it on Woodrow Wilson, but he’s the face of the Progressive movement, which started with elitists who used propaganda techniques to convince populists to get on board with programs we never would have agreed to if we hadn’t been manipulated into it.

Before becoming President, Woodrow Wilson was a political scientist who wrote in praise of the administrative state operating in Europe at the time. Over the years, he was greatly admired for his “clear view” of what the United States needed to bring her into the “modern” era. In 1887, he didn’t have the power to institute what he suggested and the people of the United States would have rejected it soundly. As a country, we were individualists who preferred to make our own decisions. We could starve or become wealthy; what mattered was that our life circumstances were within our power. We were also inveterate “neutralists.” The US did not involve itself in the wars of other nations, which was largely the normal state of affairs in the world in general. International law favored neutrality and expected warring countries not to involve neutral nations in their conflicts.

By the early-1910s, there was a growing movement of progressives including intellectuals, big business interests, mainstream Protestants and government cronies. Wilson was both an intellectual and a Protestant pietist, but he certainly had friends in business and government and they helped him get elected. The idea was that Big Government and big business would form a coalition with technocrats and intellectuals to create a “progressive” state government. Big business would use the government to cartelize the economy, restrict competition, regulate production and prices and wield a militaristic and imperialistic foreign policy to force open markets abroad while protecting foreign investments. Intellectuals would be able to use the government to restrict entry into their professions and to assume jobs in Big Government to help plan and staff government operations. These groups believed that this fusion would create a Big State that could harmonize and interpret the “national interest” and provide a “middle way between the extremes of laissez faire and the bitter conflicts of Marxism. The Puritan pietists would also be able to use government to coerce those around them into being “good”. It’s all in the history books, but is not a popular view today that Wilson and his friends staged a coup.

Never let a serious crisis go to waste, a famous politician of our own time said. Well, if there isn’t a crisis … create one or get yourself involved in one. The people of the United States liked the system they had. Maybe it didn’t have all the soft feather beds of the European system, but you were largely free to make your way in the world. Starve or become insanely rich … it was all up to your individual effort. Results would indeed vary, but hard work and out of the box thinking would often lead to a vast improvement in your standard of living.

There’d been some legislative reforms in the early 1900s that had entangled Big Business with government. Trust me, anti-trust legislation worked out well for the big corporations. In Wilson’s first administration he worked on getting an income tax and providing for direct election of Senators. These were keys to the progressive agenda, which needed more money than excise taxes could raise and a Congress not beholden to the state legislatures when asked to declare war. The elite knew that war offered a unique opportunity to move the country in the direction they wanted it to go. Most of them had lived through the Civil War and knew that militarism, conscription, massive intervention at home and abroad, a collectivized war economy all became allowable during times of war. What better opportunity to create a mighty cartelized system and to convince people to walk in lockstep against their own interests? Find a threat, create a crisis and make full use of it.

The progressives tried to substitute war with other threats, usually stemming from the risky behaviors made possible by personal liberty. Not just Wilson, but men like Josiah Strong insisted that personal liberty destroyed the social conscience and must be dampened in the interest of protecting society from itself. Of course, government couldn’t leave people to their own devices because only the elite really understood the world and the unwashed masses needed guidance. The problem was that the unwashed didn’t agree and they voted.

World War I started … oddly. Seriously, a guy with no real power gets killed and half the world goes to war? Sounds like a conspiracy theory when you look at it rationally.

Congress adopted a policy of neutrality, which was fully supported by the American people. While Wilson certainly acted like he agreed with this policy, many of his cronies were making bank on selling arms to both sides of the conflict. Under international law, neutral country merchants were allowed unrestricted shipping to all ports of call, except for arms and ammunitions. The United States got away with it because they were selling to both sides, but then a British blockade of Germany meant American vessels couldn’t reach Germany. Was that our fault? No, but under longstanding international law we should have stopped shipping to Britain as well and we didn’t, even though Britain’s blockade was in clear violation of international law.

Wilson, the political scientist, believed that nations (the US) had an obligation to determine “aggressors” and “victims” in a military conflict and “good” nations had a higher moral obligation to come in on the side of the “victim” against the “aggressor”.  This discussion was academic unless he could manuever us into war. Propaganda films and yellow journalism assured that Americans would see that Germany was the “aggressor” and Britain and France were the “victims” despite the actual reality. As soon as Wilson won reelection (ironically on the slogan “he kept us out of war”), he began working to involve the US in the war, because war gives government special powers and they needed that unique opportunity to change our political dynamic.

It didn’t completely work … not immediately. People objected to the progressive tax structure that took as much as 68% from high-income earners. It’s really hard to get rich … or even financially comfortable –when a large percentage of your income is taken from you before you even have a chance to use it. Seeing that acted as a disincentive to low-income earners to strive to enter that class. The Depression of 1920 gave a clear warning sign that taxation was harming the economy, so taxes and government spending were rolled back by more conservative presidents and advisors. However, the experiement was largely a success for those patient enough to wait for their next turn. War allows government to get away with all sorts of nasty behavior – shutting down dissidents, conscripting people into military slavery (uh, service), controlling the economy, even stepping into people’s daily lives to dictate what they eat and drink.

When we turn to World War 2, however …

Can war ever be just, Thom? Like that California death penalty you mentioned, there’s more than a single side to murder and war and it’s hard for mere observers or even participants to parse the fact from the fiction. Heck, we’re 70 years removed from the events. Are you sure your high school history teacher knew what the heck he/she was talking about?

One of my history professors was from England and he had a different view of the American Revolution. I’m not saying he was right. I’m simply saying that we aren’t always told the full story.

Let’s get this straight. I am not a pacifist. If someone attacks me I will fight back, including using deadly force. Until Alaska secedes from the union, I value living in the United States and if the United States is attacked, I think we should fight back. But … when is the United States being attacked and when are countries simply defending themselves from our aggressions?

What Hitler did and the people of Germany let him do was horrible, but we need to recognize our own culpibility in that series of events. A 10-year-old boy starving in Munich in 1918 was a 22-year-old man in 1930. He watched siblings and friends die as hunger gnawed at his belly because of the British blockade of Germany which lasted years, not months. All the propaganda in the world wasn’t going to wipe away that memory. England (and by extention, her ally the United States) starved him!

England then further ruined his young life by imposing crushing economic sanctions after the war. The country never really recovered – industrial production in 1923 was only 54% compared to industrial production in 1914. The loss of land under the Treaty of Versailles saw 10% of Germans living outside of the borders of Germany. The Weimar Republic, new and fragile, overspent and caused a hyperinflation crisis in 1923. Unemployment was almost 30%.

The US did somewhat make up for our part in the mess by propping up the Weimar Republic with loans throughout the 1920s, but when the Great Depression started, those loans stopped, sending Germany into a deeper depression that even we were in. Maybe we had no choice, but maybe that’s not how a 20-year-old German felt about it.

And it’s not like we weren’t, once again, providing food and arms to Britain while allowing Germans to go hungry. We supported the English blockade of Germany, once again. We also provided pilots for the RAF. The Rhineland had been German before the Treaty of Vesaille. Germany and Austria shared a language and so many family connections that many Austrians considered themselves to be Germans – including Hitler himself. Part of Germany had been ceded to Poland in 1919 and some ethnic Germans there were persecuted by the Poles. That doesn’t excuse the abuses Hitler committed. I’m just trying to show that there was some legitimacy to the actions of Germans in the early years of the war.

From their perspective, we were aggressing on them. Damned right, they had a right to defend themselves. Maybe if we had stopped that – or acted like an actual neutral party before World War 1 – Germany and England would have worked it out among themselves and we wouldn’t have set up World War 2 to happen.

Of course, we don’t think like that.  Since 1914 it has been standard practice for every fight between countries to be considered the business of all other countries. We insist that it is our moral obligation to get involved, figure out which country is the “bad guy” and then rush in on the side of the “good guy” country and beat the stuffing out of the alleged “aggressor” in defense of the alleged “victim.” It’s led to ridiculous scenarios such as where the US first funds Iraq to fight Iran and then declares Iraq to be an aggressor state, thus giving us an excuse to invade it twice, destabilize its government and then blame it for the ensuing civil war.

In that toxic soup of inventionism, neutrality gets a bad name, but prior to 1914 the charge of “he kept us out of war” was high tribute. Neutral states had “rights” which were mainly upheld since almost every warring country knew that someday it would be neutral once more. Under international law, a warring state could not interfere with neutral shipping to an enemy state, so long as the neutral shipping did not include arms and ammunitions. So countries had an incentive to make peace, but they also had an incentive to not start wars.

Then along came Woodrow Wilson with the the idea of “collective security against aggression.” Every war must have one “aggressor” and one or more “victims”. Nations obligated to “collective security” arrangements (League of Nations, United Nations, NATO) identify the “aggressor” nation and then join together in an “international police action” to stop the aggression.

Of course, in real life, it’s not that easy to identify one warring “aggressor”, which is why Wilson’s second rationale of foreign policy is so dangerous. The idea that the United States and other countries have a moral obligation to impose “democracy” and “human rights” throughout the globe has led to our perpetual wartime footing since World War 2. We must bring Utopia to the world with guns, tanks and bombs. Remember our “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia. The United States hadn’t a scrap of national interest in the “civil war” there. It wasn’t even really a civil war, just a collection of tribal alliances we insisted upon calling a country. But, hey, we had to establish peace there by imposing universal love at the end of a bayonet. We were ging to sort out the situation and bring governmental order back to Somalia … even if the Somalians didn’t want that. My, were we surprised when the “good” guys and the “bad” guys in Somalia joined forces to shoot down our helicopters using American guns and then expelled us from their city so they could go on conducting their tribal interests their own way! The international community has since managed to enforce a federal government that is rumored to be as tyrannical as the Somali Democratic Republic was. But, hey, we can tell the “good” guys from the “bad” guys and we know better than other countries how they should conduct their internal affairs because we’re standing on high moral ground. Our moral clarity justifies mass murder, destruction of institutions and property and general wreaking of havoc.

Thom StarkThe United States was anything but a neutral power prior to World War 2, despite our official stance. I’m not arguing that Hitler wasn’t an insane dictator who needed to be stopped by someone. My uncle was front lines in Europe, including liberating one of the concentration camps. My father was a mercant mariner who worked in the Pacific and got to see Nanking, the brutality of which shocked him, but didn’t change his general view that war is rarely the answer to anything. Like most of his generation, I don’t think he really understood why we got into the war. He felt guilty that we hadn’t entered the war sooner to save the lives of Jews and Chinese. He told me about the German sub war on Eastern Merchant fleet 30 years before any history books were talking abou it.

Thom StarkThe question we should ask ourselves is what was the US doing prior to our entry into the War to piss off Germany and Japan? Like before World War 1, we were providing arms to combatant nations, but this time round we were picking the winners and losers. I don’t think that is the action of a neutral nation and when you’re taking sides, you got to expect the “enemy” to start taking pot shots at you.

I am WAY over the word limit on this, so I will tackle how American interventionism does NOT make the world a safer place in a separate post.

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