Anyone who remembers World War Two recalls Republican resistance to Roosevelt’s effort to arm the nation. He was accused of leading the US to war, was called a Communist, a Jew, and his wife, Eleanor, was rumored to be a Negro.
Pearl Harbor caught the nation unprepared. The war ended with victory but the US and England needed the Soviet army on Hitler’s eastern front, and before Hiroshima they believed they needed the Soviets in the war against Japan. Stalin dropped an Iron Curtain over the nations it occupied but we owned the world’s only atomic weapons. Hawks called for war against the Soviet Union but the people told Congress, “bring the boys home.” Demobilization was so rapid that General Marshall said, “It was no demobilization, it was a rout.”
Republicans who had claimed Roosevelt was soft on Communism turned their accusations on Truman because of his support for the United Nations. In 1948, Truman revived the draft, organized NATO, supported Greece, Turkey and Iran against Communist insurgents. In 1949, China fell to Communists. In 1950, Truman ordered US troops to the defense of South Korea and persuaded the UN to offer military assistance.
After a disastrous beginning US and UN forces chased the Red army out of South Korea and were nearing the Manchurian and Soviet border. Gen. MacArthur threatened to invade Manchuria, claiming the Chinese army would disintegrate in 24 hours. China entered the war and routed US and UN forces. MacArthur called for a blockade of China, bombing of Manchuria and for the return of Chiang Kai-shek to mainland China with US support. Truman removed him from duty for insubordination and was charged with appeasement. Some Republicans and pundits called for impeachment. Joe McCarthy claimed Truman was drunk when he fired MacArthur. Despite almost losing his army MacArthur charged that politicians lost the war when he was ten days from winning it.
Our superior technology and deadly nuclear weapons made us more insecure than ever. Joe McCarthy and his ilk turned the home of the brave into the land of Chicken Little. Before the internet, before 24/7 radio and TV, the Red scare was as hyped as the terrorist scare after 9/11. Television was new but TV news was not popular until it discovered the power of scandal-mongering. With exceptions TV news was a virtual lynch mob. Anchors screamed “Reds in State Department,” “pinkos, fellow travelers and Communist sympathizers” were under every bed. State and local governments, colleges and corporations required “loyalty oaths.” “Better dead than Red,” was a bumper sticker. McCarthy charged Democrats with “twenty years of treason.” Truman was perhaps the toughest president the US ever had; nevertheless, the Big Lie “Weak on Security” began on his watch. He did not run for reelection in 1952.
After Eisenhower was elected he discharged almost 7,000 “security risks” from government agencies although none was found guilty of any crime. Having tasted unconditional surrender, Americans wanted to stand on the neck of the vanquished. What they got was “brinkmanship,” going to the brink of war then flinching. Like Truman, Eisenhower knew that war in Korea was not “winnable.” Many were relieved but few were pleased when Eisenhower agreed to armistice with North Korea. Shortly thereafter an agreement between France and the Viet Minh called for the withdrawal of France from Southeast Asia and temporary division of Vietnam until reunification elections.
Eisenhower refused to sign the agreement and a month later organized the Southeast Treaty Organization (SEATO), similar to NATO, committing the US to defend South Vietnam. In 1956, President Diem refused to permit elections in South Vietnam declaring free elections were impossible in North Vietnam. Eisenhower supported the decision and sent military aid and advisers. Despite the SEATO agreement Eisenhower told Kennedy the only way to save South Vietnam was to occupy Laos. He did not do so because he feared China would not accept an American army on its border and a Chinese army could not be contained in Southeast Asia without nuclear weapons.
When Egypt’s Gamal Nasser seized the Suez Canal, England, France and Israel invaded Sinai. Eisenhower supported the Soviet Union in demanding an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign troops. Hungary temporarily gained freedom and expelled Soviet troops; Eisenhower offered only moral support. Kruschev demanded withdrawal of the West from Berlin and shot down a U-2 spy plane deep in Soviet territory. Eisenhower first denied, then admitted US spying. It will be unbelievable today but a newspaper headlined a story, “Why this newspaper lied,” furious that they had reported an untruth because a president misled them. That newspaper would decades later forbid its writers to say a president lied after they slavishly repeated his lies.
Eisenhower proposed “Atoms for Peace” whereby the US made available to other nations nuclear material for energy to be administered and supervised by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Ironically, Eisenhower gave the first nuclear materials and/or encouragement to Iraq and Iran. In his farewell address, Eisenhower warned of the military/industrial complex that was spreading its tentacles into every neighborhood and would require wars or threats of wars to maintain.
Kennedy replaced Eisenhower in the White House and was immediately challenged by Kruschev who placed missiles in Cuba. Kennedy negotiated a settlement with the Soviets removing missiles from Cuba and the US removing missiles from Turkey. Kennedy could have rejected the SEATO agreement. Instead, he assented to the assassination of President Diem because Diem wanted financial and military aid but he did not want a foreign army in his country. Before his death JFK renewed his pledge to save South Vietnam. Some say that had he lived another term he would have withdrawn US troops but it seems overly cynical to believe he would acquiesce to the removal of South Vietnam’s leader and then tell them they were on their own.
Kennedy was more popular in death than in life. It would have been unthinkable for Johnson to repudiate an agreement ratified by two presidents. Democrats would have accused him of betraying Kennedy’s promise and Republicans would have accused him of betraying South Vietnam. Like Eisenhower and Kennedy he knew the war in Vietnam was not “winnable” but believed he could save Southeast Asia. For that he organized the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The president of ASEAN would later state that those nations owed a debt to Johnson for giving them time to strengthen their governments and militaries so that after Cambodia no other nations would fall to Communism. Nevertheless, in the media Vietnam became Johnson’s war.
Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam and did end American involvement, March 1973. For many, like myself, the collapse of South Vietnam was unfathomable and we blamed a Democratic Congress for cutting funding. However, declassified documents reveal that in 1972, Kissinger told China that the US would accept a Communist Vietnam. The war would continue for three more years but Nixon had surrendered.
Nixon ended Truman’s “Containment Policy” and went to China to reach an agreement that the two nations would normalize relations. Soviet Premier Brezhnev came to the US to reach an arms agreement. The Iron Curtain remained but the Cold War was over and it was clear the West had won. I don’t believe that political or military leaders should be credited with winning a war. It takes a nation to win a war. However, it is clear that the political leaders in winning the Cold War were Truman, Johnson and Nixon.
Ford replaced Nixon in the White House and named Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense and Cheney chief of staff. The CIA believed that the Soviet Union was in chaos and would collapse. Rumsfeld and Cheney disagreed. Ford appointed a commission, “Team B,” including Paul Wolfowitz to investigate Soviet intentions. Team B found the Soviets scarier than ever and wanted the Cold War kick-started.
Like Eisenhower, Carter saw the danger of the military/industrial complex that co-opted corporations, contractors, small businesses, schools, cities, churches. He inherited Eisenhower’s blunder--overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran and putting the tyrannical Shah in power. During the OPEC oil embargo America got most of its oil from Iran until the Shah was overthrown. Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader, held American hostages and stopped oil sales to the US. Carter kept the US out of war and substantially increased US military spending but was never forgiven for saying that Americans had "an inordinate fear of communism." His attempt to rescue the hostages failed. “Free the hostages” became the slogan for the next election.
The day Reagan was inaugurated the hostages were freed, Reagan released frozen Iranian assets, and lifted the arms embargo for Israel so they could ship weapons to Iranian terrorists. The US replaced the Israeli weapons. The Iranians took more hostages, blew up two US embassies and a barracks killing 241 Marines but nothing stopped the arms sale until Israel sent Iran missiles that didn’t work. Reagan began direct sales to Iran but because he was giving aid and comfort to the enemy, he also sent weapons, intelligence and agents necessary for the production of WMD to assist Saddam Hussein in his war on Iran.
In direct violation of the Constitution, Reagan used money from the arms sale to Iranian terrorists to buy a private army to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. He also signed illegal quid-pro-quo agreements with Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other governments to support “Contras” and death squads. Some of the Contras were drug dealers, other Contras used drug smugglers to smuggle guns into Nicaragua. Dealers and smugglers who were caught, such as notorious “narco-terrorist” José Bueso Rosa, were defended by Reagan and Bush. When Congress began an investigation Reagan lied repeatedly then deployed CRS, (Can’t Remember Stuff) the legal defense for his and later Republican politicians.
A Senate subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, chaired by Senator John Kerry, was the first to document Reagan’s knowledge of, and tolerance for, drug smuggling. Lead investigator Jack Blum testified, “if you ask whether the United States government ignored the drug problem and subverted law enforcement to prevent embarrassment and to reward our allies in the contra war, the answer is yes.” He also detailed Reagan’s obstruction of the Kerry investigation. The Kerry subcommittee concluded that the Reagan administration “abandoned the responsibility our government has for protecting our citizens from all threats to their security and well-being.” The committee’s findings were ignored by the media but would cost Kerry the presidency as the “Religious” Right resorted to false witness to vilify a hero who brought crimes of the disgraced Reagan and Bush1 to light.
Reagan was called the “teflon president” but it wasn’t teflon that protected him but a complicit media that papered over his crimes and what otherwise would be called treason. Reagan would escape impeachment but the International Criminal Court found the US guilty of international terrorism. The US vetoed an otherwise unanimous Security Council call for US compliance with the Court's ruling. Reagan withdrew the US from the court, claiming exception to the laws that governed other nations.
To thwart talk of a “peace dividend” that would suck profit from what had become the military/industrial/media complex Reagan began the one-sided “arms race.” As the CIA had repeatedly stated, the Soviet Union was falling apart and could only pretend to be a dreadful enemy as Saddam Hussein would later do. Reagan faced charges of international crimes, Gorbachev presided over a dying regime, both looked for a place to fall and they fell into another arms treaty. Because of Nixon’s dishonor the media championed the more dishonorable Reagan as “winning the Cold War.”
Reagan tried to restore US prestige by attacking Grenada, an island with no army, no navy, no air force. The Pentagon would later reveal that most US casualties were caused by “friendly fire.” Grenada became the model for quick, successful attacks on defenseless or near-defenseless “enemies” to demonstrate American might and feed the military/industrial/media complex.
Bush1 continued Reagan’s partnership with Saddam. When Saddam sent troops to the border of Kuwait, Ambassador April Glaspie met with Saddam to ask his intentions. Saddam said, “If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab...we will make concessions. But if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (Kuwait was part of Iraq until 1961), then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait...” Glaspie responded, “Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”
Two days before Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told Congress the “United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait and the US has no intention of defending Kuwait if it is attacked by Iraq.” When the US asked other nations to join an invasion of Iraq, Saddam thought he had been tricked by Western perfidy. Perhaps he had been. After destroying the infrastructure, military hardware and WMD that Reagan/Bush had helped Iraq build, the US and its allies withdrew. Desert Storm was not to free Kuwait or Iraq from tyranny but to “save” Saudi Arabia that Saddam had not threatened. Bush arranged for US troops to be based there, a tragic error that would be one of the reasons for 9/11.
Bush also invaded Panama and seized Manuel Noriega. For assistance in the war on Nicaragua the US agreed to “clean up Noriega’s image” as a narco-terrorist. After the exposure of Iran/Contra and guns for drugs, Noriega became a liability. Bush also inherited the Islamic extremist “freedom fighters” that Reagan had recruited to fight the Soviets. After Soviet withdrawal, the US wanted them to return home but their native countries feared them. Bush left more than 30,000 trained terrorists unemployed.
Clinton opposed the Vietnam War and avoided military service. Bush2, Cheney and other “chicken vultures” supported the war as long as they didn’t have to serve in it. Clinton saved Bosnia from aggression and captured and convicted those guilty of the first bombing of the World Trade Center. Clinton’s effort to cut off funding for al-Qaida was thwarted by Senator Phil Gramm. Enron used the same banks to launder money and Gramm’s wife was on Enron’s board of directors. To Republicans, and their media, the only threat to national security was Monica Lewinski.
Most US aid to Afghanistan went to Taliban because it seemed the only force likely to stabilize Afghanistan and because Taliban prohibited opium production. By 1999, the policy had changed and the US, Russia and India planned to destroy Taliban but could not find a government to replace it.
Bush2 tried to appease Taliban, offering them a carpet of gold if they did US bidding but warned of a carpet of bombs if they did not. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave Taliban $43 billion saying, “We will continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans.” Nevertheless, 19 hijackers inflicted the most humiliating defeat in US history. The Bush administration was helpless and for almost an hour and a half the only response to the attack was by civilian airline passengers.
It’s unnecessary to point out the incompetence and futility of the Bush2 administration. The world has become a more dangerous place. National security is scarcely better than on 9/11. Billions of dollars worth of tanks, airplanes, aircraft carriers did not protect us on 9/11 and have been ineffective in combating terrorism. They have had the same placebo effect as seeing “smart bombs” make direct hits. Bush2 said he had inherited the greatest military the world had ever known. The next president will not say that.
Both political parties have avidly fed the military/industrial/media complex. Not to do so would destroy or nearly destroy the US economy. Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state said, “Since 9/11 our principal export to the world has been our fear.” Fear is a symptom of weakness and the Republican party is the party of fear.
By Robert Flynn