Point of View Columns

War is No Game

In the military, efficiency is based upon training, practicing and training and practicing. Some of that practice involves simulations of combat and those are called “war games”. However, it is clear to anyone and everyone connected to the military that war is not a game.

That particular wisdom has not seeped into the American bunker also known as the Trump White House. It appears that Trump and his enablers, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, have concocted an international policy modus operandi that entails threats and faux confrontations, goading and threatening adversaries and then stepping back from the brink of actual confrontation and combat….just…. in…. time.

But if anyone seriously thinks that tightrope diplomacy is a good thing in these days and times of instantaneous communications and response, they also think that dancing on active airplane runways is a good thing.

What is most disturbing in the recent near-clashes with Iran is that there are people in the Trump administration who think that a war with Iran is a viable option and that it is “winnable”, whatever that means. Even more disturbing is that some of these people are the same people who said that a war with Iraq was “winnable” and that a war in Afghanistan was a viable option.

How these advisors can be credible after a trillion dollars of expense and the loss of life of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children is a wonder in an of itself. One would think that John Bolton and his running partners – like Mike Pompeo and Liz Cheney – should be banned from ever advising anyone about anything, much less advising the President of the United States on matters involving war and peace.

Mike Pompeo is graduate of West Point and served in the Army for five years. He never went near a combat theater and left the military to pursue a career in business and politics. John Bolton was eligible for the draft during the tail end of the war in Vietnam and joined the National Guard as a way of assuring that he would not have to go into combat. Research does not indicate any military service by Liz Cheney.

So the three loudest voices in favor of military action against Iran have never been in combat and have avoided combat when there was any opportunity to do so (Pompeo could have re-enlisted in participated in Desert Storm, the war in Afghanistan and the 2003 war in Iraq). They are certainly intellectually capable of understanding the human and financial costs of war, but they ignore these costs so as to support a world view that could turn apocalyptic in a literal nanosecond.

It almost seems that these pseudo-war hawks look at war as being part of some great global game where they get to play Masters of the Universe. But in fact, they are playing with the lives of Americans and men, women and children all over the world. And if they think for even a brief moment that America is not vulnerable to a counterattack by Iran then they clearly have managed to erase 9/11 from their collective memories.

But Americans in New York and Washington remember 9/11. Americans who are in veteran’s hospitals suffering from PTSD and countless other injuries and disabilities remember the cost of war. And if these pseudo war hawks think that bombing Iran today and North Korea tomorrow will make America safe they are either stupid or deranged or both.

America and Americans have interests all over the world – therefore we are vulnerable all over the world. No American city will be safe in the event of another conflagration along the lines of an Iranian war. No American who travels anywhere in this world will be safe at a time when America is at war with the world.

Trump has shown some signs of baseline intelligence and common sense by calling off a missile strike against Iran – 15 minutes prior to launch. How close did we come to Trump Induced Trauma throughout the world, we may never know.

But Trump cannot continue to play with fire without America getting burned.

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Point of View Columns

Cuba Si! Finally!

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War also granted the people of Cuba independence. However, from that day until January 1, 1959, the United States continued to alternatively treat Cuba as a colony, protectorate, playground and private plantation. Ironically, when Cuba achieved true independence; that is when the real conflict between Cuba and the United States began.

When Cuba achieved its true independence, first from Spain and then from the United States, the United States acted like a spoiled child that had been deprived of a favorite toy or plaything. And, despite the fact that this country has a long history of embracing its former enemies (England, Germany, Japan and Vietnam come to mind), there has been something about Cuba that has precluded reconciliation for over a half century.

The British committed war crimes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Thousands of American men, women and children were murdered, abused and subjected to incredible hardship as part of the military policy of the British. Yet Great Britain has become America’s closest ally and it is considered poor taste to reference past crimes.

During the Civil War that was started by the treasonous Confederate States of America. Over one million people died in that war – which represented 3 per cent of the country’s population at that time (that number would be over nine million today). At the conclusion of the war, even though a supporter of the CSA killed the President of the United States, even though the CSA was clearly guilty of war crimes like the death camp in Andersonville and the slaughter of black troops at Fort Pillow, despite all of these offenses (and many more) there were no mass war crime trials attempts at systemic punishment.

Despite all the justification for retribution there was Reconstruction instead. Despite the horrific results of the Civil War the former CSA states are allowed to fly their flag of rebellion and celebrate their treason without fear of punishment to this very day.

Total American casualties in World War II exceeded one million with over 400,000 members of the military killed. Yet, within a few years of the cessation of hostilities the United States helped to rebuild Japan and Germany, their defeated foes. Within 15 years Americans were buying Toyotas and Volkswagens and all was forgiven.

Over 200,000 members of the American military were killed or wounded in the Vietnam War. Today members of the American military wear clothing made in Vietnam and American tourists travel to Vietnam for holidays on a daily basis.

The People’s Republic of China is unapologetically communist. With a population of over one billion people it is clearly, and obviously, the largest communist country in the world. Yet China is also one of America’s largest trading partners and an embargo against that country would be unthinkable.

Although the current Cuban government has never attacked the United States (although the U.S. has attacked Cuba, i.e. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961) an embargo has been in place for over 50 years. The level of American governmental hostility and animosity directed against Cuba has the feel of a David and Goliath scenario except that this David has neither stone nor slingshot and this Goliath possesses nuclear weapons and the largest economy in the history of the planet.

There are so many reasons why the characterization of Cuba as an enemy of the United States is wrong and illogical. And that is why it is a sign of long overdue progress that, due to the leadership of President Obama, the commencement of diplomatic relations and the resumption of trade with Cuba has begun.

Progress long overdue is still progress.

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Point of View Columns

On the Eve of Infamy

With a twist of irony that could come straight from a Robert Ludlum novel, the President of the United States will address the nation on the eve of the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, proposing that this country once more engage in military action even though there is no direct threat to the security of the United States. That Senator Barack Obama was elected because of his commitment to non-military solutions makes the irony even more tragic.

The reasons why “limited military action” in Syria has been proposed by the Obama Administration have been echoed literally around the world. But upon reflection and consideration they still sound like rehashed versions of stories that have been cobbled together to send this country down the path to war and bloodshed and death and destruction in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And each time the American people are promised that it will be different this time.

The “difference” this time is that the military action will be “limited” and there will be no American “boots on the ground”. But with American bombers and planes flying over Syria and bombing that country is it impossible to imagine American planes being shot down (or just crashing by accident) and surviving American crews being paraded on Syrian television or simply executed? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

Does it require a leap of imagination to envision American naval vessels being attacked by Syrian missiles – or just a motor boat as in the case of the U.S.S. Cole? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

There are hundreds of American embassies and consulates (remember Benghazi) around the world. There are hundreds of thousands of American corporate offices and facilities around the world. There are millions of Americans living and visiting outside of this country at any given moment. With the proposed attack on Syria they all become more inviting targets than they already are. If any of these targets are attacked then how “limited” will the military action be?

And on the eve of yet another anniversary of another day that will live in infamy in this country, is it hysterical overreaction to imagine that the bombing of Syria could inspire a Muslim jihadist or Syrian nationalist to engage in a counterattack that could mimic or surpass 9/11 in horror and death and destruction? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

For President Obama to advocate a unilateral military action by this country with no direct security threat to this country is sadly stunning and horrifically mind boggling. It is almost as if President Obama is channeling his inner Ronald Reagan or his Dick Cheney alter ego.

Taking failed foreign policy advice from the likes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham and John Boehner is not what President Obama was elected to do. Making this country a more dangerous place in which to live is certainly not what any president is elected to do. And yet the Obama Administration continues to pound the bloodstained drums of war.

The horrors of the chemical attacks in Syria are sickening and saddening. But the horrors committed by humanity do not justify the United States being the self-appointed Policeman of the Planet. This is especially true when evil doers know where this Policeman of the Planet resides.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League have not organized military action against the Assad regime in Syria. These facts alone make it clear that this is not a battle that the United States should take on unilaterally. What ever happened to multilateral action and strategic alliances?

We are now left with the hope that the United States Congress will listen to the overwhelming opposition to this unnecessary act of war and reject President Obama’s proposed attack on Syria. We will then have to hope that President Obama will then heed the will of Congress or else he will risk the twin consequences of entangling this country into another bloody morass and possible impeachment proceedings from Teapublicans who would love nothing more than to cripple the remainder of his presidency.

The only good thing about this entire crisis is that President Obama, by seeking Congressional approval for this misguided bit of strategy, is resetting the precedent whereby future presidents will not be so quick to unilaterally engage this country militarily without the support of Congress. That is thin gruel in light of the towering dangers that the Obama Administration is courting.

Let us hope that it is not too late for President Obama to change his course.

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Point of View Columns

None So Blind

The fact that John Boehner, John McCain and Lindsay Graham think that bombing Syria is a good thing should be all the warning that President Obama needs to know that his proposed military action is absolutely the wrong thing. Instead, in what seems like some improbable horror movie, President Obama continues to slip slide towards a bloody precipice that promises no reward but an outcome that will indelibly stain his legacy as president and while endangering Americans for years to come.

For anyone with an attention span greater than that of a goldfish, it is pretty simple to remember the young Senator Barack Obama voting against the entry of the United States into a war with Iraq. It was this principled – and intelligent – stance that served as one of the foundations of his successful candidacy for president. Indeed, it is not exaggerating to say that if Senator Obama had voted for the war in Iraq he never would have become President Obama.

We now watch the grotesque irony of President Obama going to Sweden (where he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just four short years ago) to encourage Europeans to join the United States in a military attack on Syria. And just to twist the barb of irony a bit deeper, we should remember that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize primarily because of he represented the promise of peace and a new direction in international relations.

We listen to the Obama Administration advocate this military disaster waiting to happen and have to wonder when did Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham and House Speaker John Boehner become foreign policy beacons for this country to follow.

John McCain was soundly rejected by the American people when he ran for president so why is his judgment and advice so meaningful to the Obama Administration?

Lindsay Graham will probably not be reelected in South Carolina, a state that hardly represents the mood of this country. And John Boehner is the leader of a Teapublican majority in Congress that represents less than half of the American people.

With his typical eloquence President Obama has presented the horrific images resulting from the chemical weapons attacks in Syria that were supposed to have been perpetrated by the Assad regime. This latest outrage is, we are told, the trigger for the United States to take military action – not to overthrow Assad – but presumably to punish him.

One has to wonder what was it about the other 80,000 plus deaths in Syria that did not warrant a military response? The use of chemical weapons is horrific but bullets and rocks leave their victims just as dead. And remember that over 250,000 people were killed in Rwanda over a thirty day period, most of the dead being victims of machetes.

The point, of course, if that this world is full of horrific incidents and violent outrages. As you are reading this column someone is probably being killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in South Sudan and who knows where else. Should the United States take on the role of roving Global Marshal punishing evildoers wherever they might be?

Taking the Obama Administration’s proposition to its logical extreme there will always be a reason for the United States to violently intercede in this bellicose world. This notion is already the leading purveyor of weapons in this world. Will the United States also be the leading violent actor on the world stage?

Americans should also be careful to note that the United States has spent more than two decades bombing and killing the people in Arab and Muslim and Middle Eastern nations. This has built up resentment and a thirst for revenge that will only be satisfied with the death and destruction of Americans. The fact that there are no American “boots on the ground” will mean little to the vengeful jihadists and nationalists who will perceive the proposed Syrian bombing campaign as one more example of The Great Satan at work.

The ultimate irony is that the Teapublicans, including Senator Rand Paul, seem to be the only opponents to this Syrian warfare who have found their voice. But one does not have to be an isolationist to realize that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans do not have the protective power of ancient moats. One does not have to be a Teapublican to understand that when American interests are not directly threatened bombs and missiles are not viable options.

There has been so much that has been good about the Obama Administration. It is truly sad to see this president sucked into the groupthink that has misguided this country into Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and now Syria.

And once the missiles have been launched, once the bombs have been dropped, the consequences will flow inexorably to the shores of this country.

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Point of View Columns

Muffling the Drums of War

For almost three full years we have heard the squawks and screeches of the chicken hawks with Iran as their target. These are politicians, pundits and commentators who never hesitate to send young men and women to die for causes that are false, worthless or ultimately irrelevant to the security of the United States. For these fake Bravehearts, maintaining the image of this country as an invincible warrior nation is worth the sacrifice of someone else’s blood and the treasure of this nation.

Now we are starting to hear otherwise reasonable leaders speaking about all options being “on the table” as if we were engaged in some three dimensional global chess match. The so-called threat of Iran coming into possession of nuclear weapons is morphing into a cause worthy of yet another American Crusade, even though such a venture would make prior incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan seem like basic training in comparison.

This is all starting to sound like “Ground Hog Day” with gunfire as a soundtrack. During the run up to the war in Vietnam Americans were told that national security was at stake. If the communists weren’t stopped before they got to Hanoi they would be scurrying through the streets of Los Angeles in the blink of an eye.

During the first war in Iraq we were told that the future of America rested with our ability to help a distinctly non-democratic monarchy withstand Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army. How Kuwait became so important was never cleared up, even after the war that was fought to save it.

Before the second war in Iraq we were told that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. We were also told that he was an ally of Al Qaeda which had infamously attacked the United States in Kenya, Tanzania and on American soil. These turned out to be outright lies – not mistakes in intelligence. The Bush Administration never had any proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the alliance with Al Qaeda was a complete fabrication.

The harm done by these lies, fables, fabrications and deceptions is virtually incalculable. Over 50,000 American troops died in Vietnam. Trillions of dollars were spent on the two Iraqi wars with close to 5,000 military deaths and tens of thousands of permanently maimed men and women. And, of course, there is the devastation and ruin that has been visited upon the people of Iraq.

We are being told that a military option is “on the table” when it comes to Iran because it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear power. If Iran were to actually “weaponize” nuclear materials and if it were to develop a nuclear bomb and if it were to successfully build a reliable delivery system (a lot of “ifs”), how does that automatically translate into Armageddon?

After all, not every country that owns nuclear weapons is a friend of the United States or its interests. Keep in mind that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan within site of the Pakistani equivalent of West Point. Although it receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States, elements of the Pakistani government regularly express their displeasure with this country. And Pakistan is a nuclear power. And military options are not “on the table” when it comes to its nuclear capacity.

Keep in mind that the People’s Republic of China is a nuclear power. This would be the same China that regularly engages in espionage against the United States. This would be the same China that is very clear in stating its opposition to American interests in venues around the world. And military options are not “on the table” when it comes to Chinese nuclear capacity.

For the United States to take military action against Iran to keep it from possessing nuclear weapons would create an especially satanic version of irony. After all, for all its proclamations regarding the horrors of nuclear weaponry, the United States is still the only country in the history of the Planet Earth that has ever used nuclear weapons against another country.

Bully boys like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney can bellow about going to war against Iran (although I doubt that either of them has ever been in a real fight in their lives) while Michele Bachmann plays the role of over the hill cheerleader in this cheerless battle. But the awful reality of war looms like a nightmare over this country and over this world.

Perhaps after ten years of continuous war in Iraq and Afghanistan the American people have become anesthetized. Perhaps after over 3600 consecutive days of war in the news we are simply desensitized to the prospect of yet another war so we won’t really feel the death and destruction that it brings.

It is time to wake up.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 11, 2011

The weekend begins with an earthquake in Japan and a tsunami in Hawaii. The week concludes with Libya in flames, passionate revelations by Newt Gingrich and increasing demands for a Donald Free March.

Fantasyland Foreign Policy

Senator John McCain and Senator Joseph Lieberman took to the microphones last week and criticized President Obama for not involving the U.S. military in Libya. These scions of the Senate seem to feel that the United States should support the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi by committing troops, materiel and imposing a “no fly zone” over Libya.

Senator McCain flew a jet that was shot down over Vietnam and he spent 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war. While his courage in the face of adversity should not be questioned, I am not clear as to why that experience makes him an expert on military affairs. Senator Lieberman has no military experience although he has a tremendous amount of experience in betraying his political allies when it is convenient.

I don’t think that one has to be Sun Tzu or Metternich to recognize the dangers of easing onto the slippery slope of “limited” military engagement for unclear purposes. The lessons of Vietnam, Iraq and Pakistan are quite clear.

Additionally, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been adamant in advising against this country stumbling into yet another quagmire.
The American military resources do not include magic wands.

There is also a whiff of politics in the air around Messrs McCain and Lieberman. During the past year hundreds of defenseless citizens have been killed by government forces in the Ivory Coast. During this same time frame there have been countless thousands of men, women and children slaughtered by soldiers in the Congo.

I can find no record of a call to action from the offices of the gentleman from Arizona or the gentleman from Connecticut. But now, Libyan liberation is the cause du jour and they perceive another opportunity to pillory President Obama.

I would also remind Senators McCain, Lieberman and others (like Senator John Kerry) that careless commitments of the military have resulted in disasters and too many men and women have already died, too much treasure has been needlessly wasted, because there was never a clear goal.

Let us hope that it doesn’t happen again in Libya.

The Passion of St. Newt

The G.O.Tea Party continues its race to the bottom with a gaggle of presidential candidates that can only help Barack Obama sleep better at night. The retreaded Newt Gingrich has made faux news by announcing that he will announce his candidacy for president sometime in May. I do not recall hearing a collective gasp of anticipation from the America public when he uttered these words.

Mr. Gingrich also stated that he has engaged in some moral indiscretions for which he is sorry. Presumably these indiscretions would include serving his wife with divorce papers while she was recovering from breast cancer surgery.

Another indiscretion would be the extramarital affair in which he was engaged while he was calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
If you are scoring at home that would be – infidelity, hypocrisy, and just plain meanness. That’s quite a trifecta for the Newt Who Would Be President.

And there’s more. Mr. Gingrich blamed his “passion” for working so hard for America for causing him to lose his moral compass. This is a new and refreshingly inane excuse for poor behavior.

I don’t think that this lead balloon will ever fly.

A Donald Free March

During the past week Donald Trump announced that he would make a decision about whether he would run for President of the United States at the conclusion of the season of his “Apprentice” program.

It is good to know that The Donald has his priorities in the right place.

It is now time to proclaim a Donald Free March. It is too much to ask that he go away. But we don’t have to listen to him, do we?

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Egypt – Obama’s Bitter Harvest

That President Obama inherited a perfect storm of economic catastrophes is without question. The collapse of the stock market, the evaporation of the housing market and the evisceration of over 8 million jobs from the American workplace has all been sadly documented.

It is not without value to point out that the witless and venal policies of the prior administration of President George W. Bush contributed greatly to this catastrophe.
The fact that the Obama Administration has begun to stem the damning tide of disaster is a testament to the ability to think strategically and plan for success rather than simply react with empty rhetoric.

Every president of the United States inherits the results of prior policies. They take credit for the successes and are roundly criticized for the failures. Fairness is never part of the political equation and we should give President Obama credit for adhering to the “never complain” part of Benjamin Disraeli’s famous quote.

And now there is Egypt – and Tunisia – and Yemen – and……..? The cause of the turmoil that swallowed up the decades-old regime in Tunisia didn’t begin overnight or during the Obama administration (or the Bush Administration, for that matter).

The fuel for the civil conflagration in Cairo has been gathering in Egypt for over thirty years. The regime in Yemen is tottering only now, but its foundation has always been hollow.

The common thread in these countries is a record of American financial and military support for the ruling regimes. The support has been forthcoming to the tune of billions of dollars – in exchange for “strategic alliances”.

The American policies in support of Israel, against terrorism and in support of the wars against Iraq and in Afghanistan have been buttressed by these and other dubious alliances. But there is a problem.

In signing over blank check after blank check to oppressive regimes (sometimes with only fig leaves of fake democracy), the United States has gained strategic partners but has lost credibility with the people who have had to suffer under the dictator’s boot.

Instead, this country has supported bloated and sclerotic regimes. Like gangsters from any era, they have drained national treasuries of money and depleted the national reserves of hope. And all the while they have done far too little to provide for a better way of life for their people.

This has been a bipartisan global disaster as Republican and Democratic presidents have followed this bizarre and benighted policy over the years and around the world. It didn’t work in Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti or Chile, and it isn’t working in Egypt, Yemen or Afghanistan.

It is truly ironic that a country projecting itself as a beacon of freedom has paid for the extinguishing of freedom’s flames in too many countries. In Cairo and Alexandria these flames are now consuming the rickety and aged structures of a regime that has outlived its time. The bearers of these torches may not be so inclined to forgive and forget American complicity in their misery.

The Obama Administration must now work on parallel tracks. There are the immediate infernos in Egypt that must be attended. The United States cannot sit by. It is a daunting task to be sure.

But it is also important for President Obama to get it right going forward. The policy of paying for strategic support and turning a blind eye to injustice was doomed from the start.

At some point people who are denied progress and change through peaceful means will resort to violent means. And in many instances that violence will be directed not only against the oppressor but also against the paymaster.

To make sure that Americans do not continue to reap the bitter harvest that comes from supporting dictators, plutocrats and oppressors the Obama Administration must find a new way of going forward.

Just like the economy, the old ways just won’t work anymore.

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