When the so-called “Bin Laden Hunter,” Gary Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan and returned to the United States last week, the media had fun lampooning the Colorado resident with his heart set on taking out Al-Qaeda’s top man. But Faulkner’s foreign policy is far more sensible than anything Washington continues to promote, and if forced to choose between the colorful construction worker and Obama—it is the president who is acting crazy.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, its alleged mission was not unlike Faulkner’s—to exact retribution against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for 911, including capturing or killing terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden. For most Americans, and indeed most of the world, the reasons for going into Afghanistan made sense.
Today, that war doesn’t make any sense. While there might have been near unanimous support for a kick-ass-and-come-home approach in 2001, almost nine years later, good reasons as to why we are still in Afghanistan are in short supply. Are we there to fight Al-Qaeda? According to Gen. David Petraeus, Al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan, a point reiterated last week by CIA Director Leon Panetta. Are we in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban? According to the Los Angeles Times in March, “The Afghan Taliban does not want to be seen as, or heard of, having the same relationship with AQ that they had in the past,’ said (a) senior official, who is familiar with the latest intelligence and used an abbreviation for Al Qaeda. Indications of Al Qaeda-Taliban strains are at odds with recent public statements by the Obama administration, which has stressed close connections among militant groups…”
Last week, after he announced the replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Petraeus, President Obama was asked by a reporter as he exited the Rose Garden, “Mr. President, can this war be won?” Of course, with a very serious war on his hands the president had no time for such an elementary inquiry. Neither does he have time or patience for, what he called on Sunday “a lot of obsession” about ending the war in Afghanistan, as he keeps getting nagged by the press and the entire world about when the US might finally withdraw some 100,000 troops from that nation.
Though the main focus of the controversial Rolling Stone article on McChrystal was the tension and disconnect between the now former Afghanistan commander and the Obama administration, the article was primarily about the utter futility of the war. Author Michael Hastings wrote “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. ‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win’ says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. ‘This is going to end in an argument.” Retired Col. Douglas MacGregor, an architect of Operation Desert Storm, was even more blunt about our prospects in Afghanistan, telling FOX News host Judge Andrew Napolitano, that our presence is a “hopeless endeavor” and a “bottomless pit.”
Today, it is almost considered impolite to bring up our original reason for going into Afghanistan, and such bothersome questions have obviously become annoying to the president. Yet, what is crazier—a man still so enraged by 911 that he insists on going after the top Al-Qaeda terrorist all by himself, or a government that has largely forgotten about Bin Laden and is far removed from its original, stated mission, yet still keeps fighting? Faulkner had a definite and clear cut goal that directly targeted our primary enemy. Our government’s commitment remains unclear and indefinite, yet it bizarrely still claims to be focused on enemies our top leaders admit are no longer in Afghanistan. If it is true that Faulkner embarked on a highly improbable mission, it is even more true that America foolishly continues on its mission impossible.
Our foreign policy is more like a foreign permanency, something columnist George Will breaks down well, “Those Americans who say Afghanistan is a test of America’s ‘staying power’ are saying we must stay there because we are there. This is steady work, but treats perseverance as a virtue regardless of context or consequences, and makes futility into a reason for persevering.”
If there was ever a good reason for going into Afghanistan, we can be certain our leaders have forgotten it at this point, and it’s amusing to see so many now laughing at the one man who insists on remembering—even if to a ridiculous fault. On June 13, Pakistan officials found Faulkner in the woods of northern Pakistan with a pistol, a sword and night vision equipment, trying to help fight the war on terror. The saddest part is that this isn’t even true, as although we are certainly at war and Islamic terrorists still exist—what one has to do with preventing the other is something this president and his officials still can’t make clear. And Faulkner’s approach might have been crazy but this government’s approach is damn near criminal—as we continue fighting the longest war in American history for no apparent reason at all.
On an episode of MSNBC’s “Hardball” in April, host Chris Matthews excoriated politicians who attempt to run as independents, using consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential bid as an example of how third parties muck up the two party system. Disgusted, Matthews concluded that “third parties suck!” Not long after that diatribe, when Florida governor and current candidate for US Senate Charlie Crist left the Republican Party due to the surging popularity of a Tea Party-anointed challenger, Matthews did not criticize Crist’s decision to run third party, but he did bash the GOP half of his formerly beloved two party system. Remarked Matthews, “What happens to Republicans who don’t march to the right wing tune? Well they’re getting purged. This is Stalinesque, this stuff.”
Despite his rhetoric, Matthews’ aversion to third parties is not the mere possibility of voters having more than two choices on a ballot, but the promotion of any candidate who might disrupt the political center of either party. Matthews seeming comfort with Crist’s decision to run third party reflects not only this same attachment to the political status quo and his love affair with the Washington beltway—but his nasty reaction to anything outside of it.
Matthews’ visceral attitude toward populism was the subtext to his recent MSNBC special “The Rise of the New Right,” an hour long program intended to “expose” the Tea Party, talk radio and conservative activists for what they “really are,” or at least what Matthews and his liberal friends think they are. For example, the special began by focusing on protesters who hold signs that liken President Obama to Adolph Hitler or other tyrannical dictators. Mind you, this is the same Matthews who recently accused Florida Republicans of adopting the violent tactics of communist dictator Joseph Stalin, by allegedly “purging” Crist from the GOP.
In Matthews’ mind, the Left is represented by families like the Kennedy’s, the Right by families like the Bush’s, and anyone outside this Washington-wide circle of elites is not only too fringe, but a threat to America as we know it. In a sense, Matthews is right. America as we know it is literally bankrupt—this is what the Tea Party and so many Americans now sympathetic to them are so angry about, as they continue to agitate against the old politics. Illogically, Matthews is not only appalled but disturbed that this populist anger might actually be directed toward the same elites who got us into this mess.
In his special, Matthews draws a line from Senator Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society to today’s grassroots conservatives and talk host Glenn Beck, outlining the alleged dangers of populism without bothering to consider whether any of these protests from the Right have been, or could ever be, justified. If in the past, McCarthy and John Birch Society founder Robert Welch were mistaken in their belief that our government had been infiltrated by communists, Matthews fails to mention that such paranoia was often born of wider conservative concerns about the massive growth of the state in a post-New Deal, and later Great Society, America.
Today, there is widespread bipartisan consensus concerning the insolvency of decades-old programs like Social Security and Medicare. Were conservatives in the ’40s ’50s and ’60s wrong about the inevitable dangers of such programs, despite the eccentricities of some right-wing leaders? Are today’s Tea Partiers wrong to be concerned about a $13 trillion national debt—of which Social Security and Medicare contribute greatly to—despite the eccentricities of some its members or the outlandish language of some talk radio hosts? Is it possible that Matthews is just as paranoid about the “danger” posed by talk radio or the Tea Party as McCarthy and John Birchers were about the “danger” posed by the US government? Matthews would like us to believe that such right-wing anger, past or present, is always born of irrational fear—so is the Left’s fear of conservative anger often paranoid and irrational, per Matthews’ example.
Columnist E.J. Dionne notes the connection between yesterday’s conservative populists and today’s, writing for Real Clear Politics, “The rise of the Tea Party movement is a throwback to an old form of libertarianism that sees most of the domestic policies that government has undertaken since the New Deal as unconstitutional.” Indeed. Since the Cold War, the mainstream conservative movement has exhibited an uncharacteristic comfort with bloated federal government, something evident during the Nixon years, the budget-busting Reagan era, and perhaps most bizarrely during the George W. Bush administration. Thankfully, today’s Right has far more in common with the libertarian philosophy of Barry Goldwater or even some of the more radical anti-FDR conservatives who preceded him.
As Matthews longs for the GOP of Nelson Rockefeller and Mitt Romney, this writer continues to take heart that more conservatives than ever do not, as an older, more traditionally conservative and libertarian philosophy continues to reemerge. An establishment man like Matthews is scared—and should be. And in fearing today’s feistier conservatives, if liberals continue to insist that Goldwater’s proclamation that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” set dangerous precedent, perhaps Chris Matthews should finally consider whether his ongoing extremism in the defense of the status quo is any virtue—not to mention, far more dangerous.
One of my least favorite things about conservatives is their tendency to think of themselves as more patriotic than everyone else by virtue of their politics. When Americans concerned about the wisdom of waging certain wars or the loss of civil liberties dare speak out, conservatives who spend most of their time bashing Washington, D.C. not only give the federal government the benefit of the doubt—but viciously bash those who would dare doubt the government, calling such dissenters un-American, unpatriotic and even undeserving of a hearing. It’s sickening. Wrapping one’s self in the flag is no substitute for debate and an unquestioning devotion to government is never conservative.
Likewise, one of my least favorite things about liberals is their tendency to think of themselves as smarter than everyone else by virtue of their politics. I’ve always believed a large part of Barack Obama’s appeal is that the image he projects reflects how liberals see themselves—cool, calculated, intellectually serious, high-minded, politically practical, above the fray—and certainly nothing like the Republican rubes who vote for dopes like George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. If the conservative FOX News regularly blasts the Left for its “radical” or “socialist” ideas, the liberal MSNBC seems offended that conservatives are even part of the discussion, portraying Tea Partiers as whacked-out interlopers who contribute nothing and only muck up the democratic process. Describing this patronizing attitude, TIME noted in a February cover story, “The notion that liberals are smarter than conservatives is familiar to anyone who has spent time on a college campus.” This notion is also familiar to anyone who has spent time around liberals.
Alvin Greene is an unemployed man who lives with his father in Manning, South Carolina. Currently facing felony charges for allegedly showing pornography to a young college student at the University of South Carolina, Greene was involuntarily discharged from the Army last year for what appears to be mental health issues. Having no political experience, Greene did virtually no campaigning, has no website, no name recognition and seems to have the intelligence of a pet rock—he’s also South Carolina Democrats choice to challenge incumbent Republican Jim DeMint for his US Senate seat come November, winning the primary by a whopping 60%.
This surprising victory instantly became a national story, with House Majority Whip, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), state and national Democratic operatives, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann and other prominent liberals smelling a rat, or to use Clyburn’s phrase, “elephant dung.” Greene had to be a Republican plant, cried the liberal media, without a shred of proof to support such an allegation.
Comedy Central funny man Jon Stewart spelled it out for his liberal friends: “This is the Republicans’ fault? Really? Even if they fronted the patsy, y’all voted for him. They didn’t trick you. Did the Republicans spend a lot of money on ads for Alvin Greene? No. Did they spend any money on ads for Alvin Greene? No. Did they ask Alvin Greene to leave his father’s basement once during the campaign? No. This is a prank? No.” Greene is certainly a joke, but this prank is entirely self-inflicted, or as Stewart aptly put it, “This is the political equivalent of running yourself a warm bath, falling asleep next to it with your hand in the tub, wetting yourself, and then blaming the Republicans.”
In most interviews, Greene could not answer the most basic questions or even name his Republican opponent. Olbermann asked Greene if he had campaigned, and the candidate replied that he had, statewide. Olbermann then asked his guest to name one city in which he campaigned. Greene replied “no comment.” Greene quickly proved to be a complete idiot and continues to do so in a national spotlight that could get brighter.
Liberals are accustomed to being accused of many things—“socialist,” “bleeding hearts”—but “stupid” is not one of them, as they now wrestle with the reality of their problematic Democratic candidate. If conservatives love to pose as superior patriots, liberals love to pose as superior intellects, and when I point out the countless policy similarities between Bush and Obama to my liberal friends, this president’s defenders typically either go into denial or just talk about how stupid Dubya was. CBS News host Katie Couric once asked Sarah Palin what newspapers or magazines the former Alaskan governor read as sort of an impromptu intelligence test. Could you imagine Couric, or any liberal pundit, asking the same of Democrat Clyburn, whose insistence that Greene is a Republican plant is only the latest in a long line of dumb statements?
If the GOP had indeed wanted to “plant” a stealth candidate in a Democratic primary, why would they bother with such mischief to help DeMint, one of the most popular conservative Republicans in a deep red state, making him also one of the safest incumbents in the nation? Like Greene’s victory, it just doesn’t add up. Democrats will continue to make accusations and act outraged, but the truth is they’re just embarrassed—embarrassed of looking lazy, uninformed and worst of all, stupid. And they do.
Even among Israel’s harshest critics, I’m not aware of anyone serious who believes or espouses what veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas said recently—that Israeli Jews should return to their nations of origin in Poland, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, where they or their ancestors resided prior to World War II. Such a statement grossly ignores the almost unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and Thomas should be ashamed and embarrassed for even making it.
But if we are to be honest, Thomas’s sin had more to do with who she dared to criticize than what she actually said. For instance, what if Thomas had suggested white Australians should return to where they came from, out of respect for the occupied Aborigines? Or perhaps white Americans should vacate parts of the Southwest United States that once belonged to Mexico, or even go back to Europe altogether, giving the Chicora and the Cherokee back their rightful land? Of course, these suggestions are as silly as what Thomas said, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being forced to resign over them. It’s also not hard to imagine some pundits on the Left, or perhaps leaders for Hispanic-advocate groups, making such statements about the U.S. in particular, with little or no repercussions.
Writing for the LA Times, UCLA professor Saree Makdisi notices a blatant double standard concerning the Thomas controversy, “(If) it is unacceptable to say that Israeli Jews don’t belong in Palestine, it is also unacceptable to say that the Palestinians don’t belong on their own land… Yet that is said all the time in the United States, without sparking the kind of moral outrage generated by Thomas’s remark.” Makdisi notes that when Israel was created in 1948 “Europeans and Americans were, at the time, willing to ignore or simply dismiss the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians, who, by being forced from their land, were made to pay the price for a crime they did not commit.” Makdisi then goes on to outline many instances of well-respected pundits and politicians making the same sort of harsh and unreasonable—and outright racist—comments Thomas did, only with the criticism directed at the Palestinians, concluding, “An endless deluge of statements of support for the actual, calculated, methodical dehumanization of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular goes without comment; whereas a single offhand comment by an 89-year-old journalist, whose long and distinguished record of principled commitment and challenges to state power entitles her to respect — and the benefit of the doubt — causes her to be publicly pilloried.”
My purpose here is not to defend Thomas, or even Israel or Palestine, but free speech. Being politically incorrect should mean more than a politician’s willingness to oppose some liberal policy or some shock jock’s eagerness to make a crude remark. Political correctness implies many things, but perhaps the best definition is that some subjects are so beyond reproach that to even “go there” means the inquisitor should be immediately discredited, read out of polite society, or as in Thomas’ case, forced to end their career. Challenging the status quo—the alleged role of the press—necessarily requires questioning the very premise upon which our conventional wisdom rests. How can anyone possibly challenge the status quo without occasionally saying, thinking or writing things that sometimes stray outside the limits of respectable opinion? The very notion seems impossible.
While I don’t condone her controversial comments I also don’t condone the overreaction to them, and I’d rather have an army of Helen Thomas’s speaking their minds and saying plenty of stupid things, than a press so constricted by fear that it never challenges convention. Liberal columnists at the New York Times and elsewhere have made sport out of saying horrible and nasty things about white Southerners—people like me and my family—and pundits on the Right have been known to say horrible and nasty things about blacks and gays and others. Yet, it’s hard to recall a reporter of Thomas’ stature being taken down for one admittedly dumb comment, which leads me to believe her greatest sin was “going there,” or going too far, on a subject that is widely considered no-go. This is unacceptable and like white Southerners, blacks, gays, and all the rest, Israel too, should not be beyond reproach.
Defending the importance of having a free press if not Thomas, “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart recently asked, “When does America’s unwavering defense of Israel begin to compromise our unwavering defense of free speech?” Answer: with the forced resignation of Helen Thomas.
In the upcoming runoff for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, the losing Tea Party-anointed candidate in that race, attorney Larry Kobrovsky, has said that both primary winners—Charleston County Councilman Tim Scott and fellow Councilman Paul Thurmond—are too “establishment” to deserve an endorsement from grassroots conservatives. This is true, but there’s also another reason to be reluctant to endorse such Republicans: Because neither one of these men is really as conservative as he claims to be—and not just in the obvious ways establishment-weary Tea Partiers might think.
In his recent column “A Tea Party to Nowhere” former CIA counter-terrorism specialist Philip Giraldi writes “Most Tea Partiers claim to want smaller and cheaper government, less interference from Washington in their daily lives… (but) Most also want a strong, assertive national defense and are supporters of an aggressive foreign and security policy.” Giraldi notes the incoherence of conservatives holding both positions:
“They fail to understand that it is precisely the interventionist defense and foreign policies that are driving the bad things they see in government… Ballooning defense and security spending… all accomplished without raising taxes, has been the engine of growth for a $13 trillion national debt, a total that increases by $4 billion every day. The United States now accounts for 45% of the entire world total for military spending, euphemistically referred to as ‘defense.’ The Pentagon budget has gone from $432 billion in 2001 to a projected $720 billion in 2011, not including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Federal Government is twice as big as it was in 2001… Tea Partiers have unfortunately been fed a line of hokum by politicians aided and abetted by the mainstream media.”
The good news is conservative voters are not as emotionally wedded to the pro-war insanity that characterized the George W. Bush years as they once were. The bad news is most GOP politicians still are, and remain just as pro-war, any war as ever, while simultaneously pretending to be for smaller government and less spending. In SC, congressional candidates Scott and Thurmond are perfect examples of this, where both men claim to be more conservative than the other, yet are still enthusiastic about spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on the most expensive government program in this country’s history—American global empire. Liberal Congressman Barney Frank complained last year that if we hadn’t wasted so much money on the Iraq War we would have enough for national healthcare. The problem with “conservative” Republicans like Scott and Thurmond is that they essentially agree with Frank on the need for astronomical government spending—they just disagree on where to spend.
It would be helpful if Tea Party folks reluctant to endorse men they perceive as establishment candidates, like Scott and Thurmond, would finally make the connection that the most crucial membership requirement for being part of the Republican establishment is a politician’s support for the foreign policy status quo. The reason so many GOP bigwigs went after Rand Paul in his bid for US Senate in Kentucky recently was not simply because Paul has an interest in smaller government, but because he is comprehensive enough in his conservatism to be willing to look at all of government spending—including the Pentagon. This is the same reason the GOP establishment does not attack Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin to the extent that they do Paul, as Palin’s foreign policy views differ little from Dick “deficits don’t matter” Cheney—who understandably, has admitted to being a Palin fan.
True to form, the establishment always tries to frame any criticism of our national security status quo as unrealistic and coming from those who don’t believe in having any defense at all. This is preposterous. There’s a world of difference between actually defending the nation and trying to defend the entire world, our current policy and never-ending predicament. But it is true that we do have a disproportionate view of the actual terrorist threat versus what we sacrifice, or as Giraldi notes “The Tea Partiers should instead understand that terrorists will only tear down the United States if we Americans help them to do so. Irrational fear of a small group of men hiding in a cave in Asia is what drives larger government, the infringement of civil liberties, and more taxes and regulation.”
Giraldi spells out what’s at stake: “So how can the Tea Party turn things around? It can only do so by realizing that the first thing that must be done to fix the government in Washington is for the United States to end its wars overseas and dramatically scale back on its international commitments. There is no good reason for Washington to serve as the world’s policeman and many good reasons why it should cease and desist from doing so.”
For all their conservative rhetoric, today’s establishment Republicans are no more willing to question the efficiency and cost of our national security state than liberals are to question the social welfare state. And arguments about spending and “earmarks” are pointless distractions until conservatives first get serious about addressing America’s two biggest economic drains—unsustainable entitlements and an equally unsustainable American empire.
South Carolina State Senator Jake Knotts made national headlines last week when he said in a radio interview: “We already got one raghead in the White House, we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion.” Knotts was referring to President Obama, who he obviously believes is a Muslim, and SC Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent. That Knotts—a mealy-mouthed moron who looks like Boss Hogg—would criticize anyone’s ethnicity or appearance is amusing. That Knotts and so many other SC Republicans would attack Haley as viciously as they have, tells you all you need to know about that state’s politics—or the state of politics in general.
The last time Knotts made national headlines, he was grinning ear-to-ear on CNN, FOX News and other outlets, practically giddy over Governor Mark Sanford’s admission of adultery. One of the first to call for the governor’s resignation and like most SC Republicans, Knotts had long been at war with Sanford, whose pesky habit of demanding government accountability and fiscal responsibility had ticked off a GOP dominated state legislature accustomed to being as unaccountable and as irresponsible as they pleased. The same Knotts and the same GOP legislature have long had the same antipathy toward Haley who is widely seen as the handpicked successor to Sanford—and she has caused as much friction since the day she stepped foot in state government. Haley entered the governor’s race last year with the least famous name, the least amount of money and was last in the polls. Haley has not only been attacked by Knotts, but more famously by two prominent SC politicos who claimed to have had sexual affairs with the married mother of two, something she has emphatically denied and for which her accusers have yet to offer any solid proof. Despite, hell, high water and haters galore, as of this writing it is the eve of the June 8 SC primaries—and Haley is first in the polls with a shocking double digit lead.
The political upheaval occurring in SC at the moment is a microcosm of disenchantment with the status quo nationwide, where the old Republican guard is shocked to learn that voters are finally beginning to take conservative rhetoric—to date, just a campaign tool—seriously. Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida basically forced Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP in that Senate race. That decades-long US Senator Robert Bennett of Utah had always been considered a “conservative Republican” was not enough to save him from a voting base that no longer considered him conservative enough, and effectively ended his political career in May. Two weeks later in Kentucky, Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Dick Cheney were singing the “conservative” praises of Senate candidate Trey Grayson, who was trounced in that state’s Republican primaries by a newcomer further to his Right, Rand Paul, son of libertarian godfather Ron and the Tea Party’s main man.
When Sanford was battling the Obama administration by refusing to accept federal stimulus dollars, he was not only fighting against a Democratic president but most Republicans in his own state, virtually all of whom campaigned as “conservatives.” Haley, the only SC GOP gubernatorial candidate to stand by Sanford’s rejection of the stimulus, is also being challenged by three men, all of whom claim to be “conservative Republicans.” In the past, the average Republican politician would call himself “conservative,” say the right things about guns and gays, and skate through elections where he would go on to become as fiscally liberal as any Democrat. This is certainly true of the majority of Republicans in Washington and also the majority of Republicans in SC state government, who are about as adored by their conservative base right now as their Capitol Hill counterparts.
During a Tax Day, Tea Party rally in Charleston, SC in 2009, the only two prominent Republican politicians welcome at the event were Sanford and fiscal hawk, Sen. Jim DeMint. One of Haley’s gubernatorial opponents, Congressman Gresham Barrett, attempted to attend a Tea Party in Greenville, SC that same day and was booed off stage. Like Sanford used to be, and DeMint still is, Haley has been embraced by the Tea Party. What this tells us is that whether by taking the temperature of the Tea Party or gauging the election results for candidates like Bennett, Paul and now the promising Haley—rank-and-file GOP voters are beginning to distinguish between real conservatives and conventional Republicans who use such language to pacify voters.
Haley is a prime example of this new, more genuine crop of grassroots conservative candidates, who in trying to cut through the BS has found even more of it lobbed her way and by her own party—and yet she still keeps coming out on top. The Republican establishment, whether at the national or state level, has never taken conservatism seriously and now that so many grassroots candidates and voters are, the old guard is desperate to play catch up. Too late. It’s time to mow down the old guard and let conservatism, finally, take root.
If I had my druthers, the never ending conflict between Israel and Palestine would be but a small news brief in American newspapers. But since we police the world we must always monitor our global police scanner, where not only Israel’s conflicts, but those of Korea, the nation of Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, now Turkey and pretty much everywhere else becomes the United States’ business because we insist on making it such. What many Americans bizarrely consider national “defense,” is actually an aggressive and enduring offense—and yet we are always surprised when other nations get offended.
This week, Israeli soldiers raided a Turkish “flotilla” seeking to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza—or from Israel’s perspective, illegally broke a blockade. When the Israeli soldiers boarded the flotilla, they were attacked by those on board—something the flotilla passengers called self-defense and Israel deemed reason enough to open fire. The end result: Nine passengers dead, many soldiers wounded, 700 activists arrested or “kidnapped” (depending on your perspective), an irate Turkey and an indignant Israel. Many nations have condemned Israel for these actions—and have condemned the United States for not sufficiently condemning Israel. Washington, DC is over 5,000 miles from Tel Aviv, and yet somehow Israel’s controversies always automatically become ours. Why?
This basic question is not simply, so-called “isolationist” naiveté, something critics would no doubt charge. Quite the opposite—it is human nature to have a blindness toward the big questions because we get so caught up in the little ones. The average idiot couple arguing on the Maury Povich Show get so caught up in their own “he said, she said” white trash narrative they never stop to consider whether there’s any real value to their obviously, irreparably damaged relationship. The same goes for America’s relationship with not only Israel, but much of the globe, where our foreign policy is eternally bogged down by the same sort of well-meaning, but ultimately idealistic minutia. Writes foreign affairs analyst Andrew J. Bacevich: “The bedrock assumption to which all of official Washington adheres, liberal Democrats no less than conservative Republicans, is that the United States itself constitutes the axis around which history turns. We define the future. Our actions determine its course. The world needs, expects, and yearns for America to lead, thereby ensuring the ultimate triumph of liberty.”
Bacevich gives a fairly accurate description of America’s view of itself and its place on the world stage, and also how the US insists only it can play the lead role. Continues Bacevich, “For the United States to shrink from its responsibility to lead is, at the very least, to put at risk the precarious stability to which humanity clings and in all likelihood would open the door to unspeakable catastrophe. Alternatives to American leadership simply do not exist.”
When there was a skirmish between Russia and Georgia in 2008, then presidential candidate John McCain exclaimed “we are all Georgians now.” No we’re not. I don’t know any Americans who think that. The Korean War ended a half century ago and yet we still have nearly 40,000 troops stationed there, something that takes on a special significance given the recent actions by North Korea. Defenders of the foreign policy status quo maintain the North Korea’s aggression only underscores the need for a US presence there. Really? For how much longer? Another 50 years? Afghanistan is now the longest shooting war in American history. When the shooting finally stops—a highly improbable scenario—how long will American troops remain? 50 years? How long will they be in Iraq? McCain famously said troops could be in Iraq for up to “a hundred years” during the election.
Consider this—Israel’s recent attack or interception was on a Turkish ship in international waters. Turkey is part of NATO, Israel isn’t. According to that charter, the US must now go to war with Israel. No one is suggesting any such insanity, but it is worth noting in the sense that anyone who suggests NATO is a Cold War relic that should be scrapped, is typically ridiculed or marginalized for making such a suggestion. America simply has to be everywhere and at all times because, as Bacevich sarcastically describes, it could “put at risk the precarious stability to which humanity clings.” Some call such idealistic claptrap “strength.” It’s stupid.
To question any of this is to be called an “isolationist,” to question our special relationship with Israel is to be called “anti-Semitic,” and to ask questions, period, about one of the most expensive, damaging and irrational foreign policies in history is politically taboo. The seemingly hopeless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should have never been our fight, but we’ve made it ours, a point driven home by the events of this week. How many more such lessons must we be taught and will we ever learn them?
By the time I was ten years old I already hated the government. When I was eight, they almost killed E.T. When I was nine, they wouldn’t let Kevin Bacon dance. At ten, I watched Rambo attempt to bring home prisoners of war from Vietnam only to be refused and left for dead by government bureaucrats. Long after outgrowing my concern for aliens and dancing rights, the cheesy, over-the-top 1985 “Rambo” movie still stuck with me because the plot was at least plausible. Would our government knowingly leave POWs behind? Did they?
In the introduction to a symposium in the latest issue of The American Conservative, TAC publisher Ron Unz confirms my childhood suspicion. In a piece titled “Was Rambo Right?” Unz writes:
“(T)he average teenage moviegoer of the 1980s watching mindless action films such as ‘Rambo,’ ‘Missing in Action,’ and ‘Uncommon Valor’ was seeing reality portrayed on screen… as the years and decades went by, and various schemes to ransom or rescue the POWs were considered and rejected, their continued existence became a major liability to numerous powerful political figures, whose reputations would have been destroyed if any of the prisoners ever returned and told his story to the American people. So none of them ever came home.”
Unz’s claims are based on the investigative work of Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Sydney Schanberg. No slouch, Unz notes that Schanberg was a high ranking editor for the New York Times, his book on Cambodia was made into the 1984 Oscar-winning movie “The Killing Fields,” and he is considered to be one of America’s foremost Vietnam War journalists. Schanberg makes a very detailed case that our government—including presidents, congressman and other officials—either had knowledge or were presented with evidence on numerous occasions pointing toward the existence of hundreds of American POWs left behind in Vietnam, and did little to nothing about it. Unz describes one of Schanberg’s allegations as “a story that if true might easily represent the single greatest act of national dishonor ever committed by our political leaders.”
Other than The American Conservative, Schanberg’s expose has only been published online by The Nation Institute and that was in 2008. But if his story is true, only half true, or even ten percent true, why isn’t this a major news item? If President Obama makes a joke at a White House dinner, it makes headlines. If U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul takes a fairly conventional conservative position concerning illegal immigration, it becomes a controversy worthy of coverage. But the possible betrayal of hundreds of our soldiers in Vietnam orchestrated at the highest levels of government for decades? We hear nothing.
On Memorial Day it struck me that a holiday intended to honor the memory of those who served their country, might also be a good day for Americans to reflect on what their government does to its soldiers. Writes Pat Buchanan “While Americans this Memorial Day put flags out for all of their war dead, the arguments do not cease over the wisdom of the wars in which they fought and died.” But today, what I see is a glaring lack of argument with too many Americans simply assuming their government knows what it’s doing when it comes to foreign policy. Americans pay taxes, but still raise hell about it. They become involved in electoral politics, but still bash politicians. But when it comes to foreign affairs, it’s as if the same government everyone knows to be incompetent domestically gets a pass internationally. As we ask America’s bravest to put their lives on the line, something we salute, admire and memorialize—but are still reluctant to ask “why?”
Vietnam veteran and author Andrew Bacevich suggests that this lack of reflection concerning foreign policy is a well-established part of our national psyche, writing in the The American Conservative: “The practice of publicly displaying the POW/MIA flag… represents a lingering communal acknowledgment of loss and more broadly of massive national failure. On the other (hand), it sustains the pretense—utterly illusory—that a proper accounting, not only of the missing but of the entire Vietnam experience, is still forthcoming… Few Americans are willing to confront such questions… So we salve our consciences by flying flags, sustaining the pretense that we care when what we desperately want to do is to forget as much as possible. The feeble public response elicited by Sydney Schanberg’s reporting on the fate of American POWs testifies to our steely determination to ignore whatever we find unwelcome or inconvenient.”
We honor wars and the warriors who fight them—but are reluctant to think about why we fight or even the particular plight of certain fighters, including often overlooked issues like the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military or the alarmingly high suicide rate. It’s easier to raise a flag than an objection. And if Schanberg is even partially right about American POWs left in Vietnam, not only is it a national disgrace—so is the fact that no one wants to talk about it.