"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's the Worst That Could Happen Anyway?

For the record, this famous photo isn't of the US embassy in Saigon, but of an apartment house where CIA types lived. They took as many of their Vietnamese allies with them as they could, but that wasn't many. What happened to the rest, we can only guess, but an informed guess isn't pretty.

Now, it's getting to be our perception that there are no good guys left among the Iraqis, so when we leave and our putative co-workers for peace and freedom are slaughtered, we shouldn't feel too bad about it.

Besides, the United States has a history of this sort of thing:

---In 1956, encouraged by John Foster Dulles, not to mention President Eisenhower and Radio Free Europe, the people of Hungary revolt against their Soviet masters. The CCCP's tanks roll in, 4000 die, and the US does nothing.

---In 1961, John F. Kennedy and the CIA send a band of Cuban exiles onto the beach of the Bay of Pigs to reverse Fidel Castro's revolution. Kennedy gets cold feet, the exiles are left on the beach, and they either die on the spot, get shipped off to Castro's prisons or are simply executed.

---American troops had actually been withdrawn from Vietnam by 1973. "Vietnamization," the people defending themselves, was actually a success for 2 years at least. It was the US Congress' (to this day inexplicable, except that we got bored and tired) cutoff of funds to South Vietnam that led to the events in the above photo in 1975. Then boat people, re-education camps, death.

---In 1979, Jimmy Carter not only withdrew support from the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Carter threw him over the cliff, to the shock and awe of the West, including even France. The Shah was not only a US ally, he helped out in defeating Hitler back in the day. You could look it up.

Not only did Carter withdraw US military and political support, and forbid the Shah's forces from confronting his Khomeneist enemies, but the leftists who went along in the name of freedom got slaughtered by the new Islamicist regime, and you could look that one up, too.

---In 1991, the Bush41 administration gave nods, winks, and open encouragement to an uprising against the same Saddam Hussein whom the First Gulf War had left in place. The people rose up, the US did nothing, and slaughter ensued.

---We might also add that Ronald Reagan put US troops into Lebanon in 1983, 241 US troops got killed in a bombing, and the US withdrew 4 months later. Hezbollah, whether responsible or not, takes fortification to this day that they defeated the United States, and particularly Reagan, who is otherwise reputed to have never lost a tussle. And Bill Clinton sent a skeleton crew of US Army Rangers into Somalia in 1993, they were killed, and we promptly quit the country. Osama bin Laden crowed about our defeat and withdrawal often as a sign of our weakness, and the movie Black Hawk Down became one of Saddam's favorite flicks.

But never mind that last bit. The US quits all the time and leaves allies and other good people out to dry, so why not bail this time, too? It's in our character. I'm bored and tired with Iraq, who isn't, and what's one more betrayed ally among friends, or to our enemies?

Bin Laden is a student of history, and so is the entire Muslim world. They sussed out the paper tiger long ago, and that's what makes Islamism go. Their faith tells them that Islam must someday become the way of the world, but that could be in a 1000 or 10,000 years, sort of like Christianity's prophesized Second Coming Of Jesus. But the fecklessness of the west tells the Muslim world that that day, the end of times, might be right frigging now.

But, hey, the United States survived all those other regretful embraces of realpolitik, so one more won't make any difference, right? We still have our toasters and our TVs and our steel-belted radials, after all, so why should we say anything? Surely we can survive one more betrayal in the name of realism.

Iraq is boring, let's face it. To those Iraqis who actually believed we were liberating you and would get your back as you risked your lives for peace, freedom and human decency, sorry, you're on your own. You screwed up---you trusted us. You should have known who and what we are. Bin Laden understands us, far better than we do ourselves.

12 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

Foreign policy is absolutely the weakness of the American system. It's a freakin' miracle that we overcame the Soviets in that little chess match we played for the globe a few years back. Well, that and the fact that Communism is a ridiculous and unworkable ideology.

Anonymous said...

I think, Tom, that your critique of realism in foreign policy is an attempt to boil down a confluence of factors into an illustration of moral bankruptcy. It’s an oversimplification that is appealing but, in the end, insufficient.

Many of the ventures you criticized were begun under ideological, not realist, banners. The Domino Theory - at its heart an irrational fear of the efficacy of Stalinist aspirations - undergirded almost all of the incidents you cite, from Hungary to the Shah. If the twentieth century has shown us anything, it is that conflicts undertaken for ideological gain tend to be run politically, and those politicians must then be rescued from their decisions by the ruthlessly pragmatic. The question then is if those pragmatists are loyal to their nation, or to the ideology that began the quixotic undertaking.

Modern media and the shrinking size of the U.S. family since WWII have led to an understandable (and in my view laudable) reluctance among the U.S. populace to tolerate the costs of war. Vietnam, the birth of modern media’s ability to communicate information faster than government can sanitize it, is a prime example. We are seeing its effect in Iraq today. The salience of a goal to our national interest is now of crucial importance to any foreign policy undertaking. The populace is increasingly educated and increasingly able to inform itself, making its ability to weigh their leaders’ decisions all the more terrifying. Once the legitimacy of a venture fades - or the veneer hiding its illegitimacy is stripped away - the populace turns against it. And in a democracy, this is a good thing. In history, the many were beholden to the few for information, leadership, and direction. This is no longer the case.

National security is not about idealism or moral legitimacy. National security is about the most basic of needs - survival. Violent conflict is a marvelous method for fleecing the golden sheep of ideology, piety, and moral sanctimony. War strips illusions away from those who have to bear its scars. Safely ensconced here at home, the populace is finally given to understanding a small portion of those horrors, and will not stand for them without a worthy cause.

The realists you critique, pragmatists all, understood this. They made simple economic calculations, and once the costs outweighed the benefits, they chose the more economical path - as was their duty as stewards of the national interest. Applying moral critiques to the nature of conflict is ridiculous - violence has no morality, and it has the unique quality of stripping it from ideals, laying bare the bone. War puts the lie to everything everyone believes. The truths of war are far more basic.

The “will to win” is nothing. It holds no value. Further, the bottom line is that the case has not been made: Islamism is no more an existential threat now than when Qutb first began to put his fevered scratchings on paper. Is it a danger? Sure. But not the danger. There is no the danger.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, I was just writing about deserting the guys who put their faith in you.

The yearly stipend for Vietnam was a lousy $220 million, yet congress yanked it. Our allies in Vietnam took it in the shorts, and domino theory or not, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, and we know what happened there.

Anonymous said...

Are you actually blaming the Khmer Rouge on Vietnam? Because that's the worst sort of historical revisionism.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you head here for another angle on the matter.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I do not agree with the now-conventional wisdom that the Domino Theory was mere paranoia, but the Khmer Rouge question is tangential.

"At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis," [Thieu] said. "But the United States did not keep its word. Is an American's word reliable these days?"

He continued: "The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men."


This was not atypical of our history. That was the point.

Matt Huisman said...

The realists you critique, pragmatists all, understood this. They made simple economic calculations, and once the costs outweighed the benefits, they chose the more economical path - as was their duty as stewards of the national interest.

Without commenting on its validity, that is just one flat out depressing statement.

Anonymous said...

Without commenting on its validity, that is just one flat out depressing statement.

Yep.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We're all realists now.

Evanston said...

Tom, thank you for the recap on our nation's failings. When I joined NROTC in 1980, I was well aware of this history. I was a political moderate back then. A backer of John Anderson.

Still, as a child of the 1970s I knew better than to trust the willpower of the American people. The Vietnam veterans I worked for knew it and lived it.

We knew, and know, that this nation is full of JFEs. Always has been. It is pointless to break down his dissertation in detail. One comment that gets to the crux of the issue: JFE says that "The 'will to win' is nothing. It holds no value."

You're right, it intrinsically means nothing. Winning gains meaning from the context. Moreover a proper perspective on "winning" is necessary. There is, in reality, no such thing as winning a war. But you damn well know when you lose. Ask the Vietnamese, or people from the next dominoes that fell (Cambodia, Laos, and almost Thailand). Oh sorry, the domino theory was discredited. I have to remind the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua about that. Communism would have stopped spreading of it's own accord, just like a summer storm, right? Or did it lose out in the end because the Soviets lost the will to win after seeing the West outdistance it in every meaningful aspect of human achievement, including military strength? Oh, sorry sorry sorry, the will to win "holds no value" and should not be mentioned.

And asking JFE to talk to the current residents of Cambodia, Laos, or Vietnam is silly, since we need to concentrate on the real issue. The wisdom proferred by JFE is that there is no "the danger."

Now THAT is a doozy. A seemingly meaningful statement that is, as a practical matter, quite useless. Is this how we now define "realism" or "realpolitik?" By the ability to sell out other people and justify it as another "oh well, too bad, let's go golfing" (or "whatever")? Because, after all, there is no "existential threat" to us from Islam. Nice assertion, but it hardly constitutes an argument.

Followers of Islam have demonstrated the willingness and ability to kill 3,000 Americans in 1 day. What do you believe would happen if Al Qaeda had a nuke? According to JFE, Islam is no greater a threat than when Ibn Qutb held a pen. Or perhaps I am overstating the case. JFE qualified his remark by stating that Islam is not an "existential" threat. Well, that's a pretty high standard. I guess we should do nothing, then, about anything. Tell the cops to go home and stop arresting people. After all, no single crime represents an "existential" threat to us, does it? Close down the military, the CIA, and anything else dedicated to national security. After all, there is no "existential threat."

OK, enough typing and probably no one reading. I truly don't mean to critique JFE, I respect him as a person based on many of his previous comments, but today's edition is not worthy of him.

Hunter Baker said...

We're always reading, Evanston.

Hunter Baker said...

And keeping out list of who's first up against the wall when the revolution starts. Buh-ha-hah.