I wonder when…

Lamonte - July 12, 2007

It is not my intention to make this a right vs. left discussion and frankly, if it is possible, I would like to keep politics out of the discussion.  But I’m not sure that will be possible.  But I can hope for the best.

 

A couple of years ago my wife and I visited her younger sister and family who live in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam.   “I wonder what it will take for Americans to feel shame.” 

That question posed to me was the only bit of animosity I experienced during a two week stay.  The question was uttered by a woman sitting across the aisle from me on a bus tour of the city.  Her words came just after the tour guide had stated that more than 3 million people lost their lives, including 58,000 American soldiers, in the civil war that began in 1954 and lasted until the North Vietnamese Army entered Saigon in April of 1975.  The woman spoke English with a slight German accent.  I assumed that she, like so many Germans I know, had learned English as part of her elementary and secondary education and now had a strong command of the language.  But I was wrong.  She explained to me that she grew up in Nebraska and in 1970 she met and married a German citizen and had lived in Germany ever since.  Her question prompted a spirited discussion between the two of us about American foreign policy, past and present, and we found common ground on several issues.

That exchange took place on the second day of our two-week trip and my thoughts returned to that question many times during the trip and have continued to bother me since the trip.  And so I did some research to further develop my understanding of the issues surrounding the Vietnam War and considered what kind of response I would give if such a question is ever asked of me again.  I realize that by staying in Ho Chi Minh City I was surrounded by the most pro-Western area of the country, the former capital of South Vietnam.  My experience was pleasant for the most part with only that one question as a reminder of the once hostile relationship between our counties.  But experiences related to me by other Americans now living in Vietnam, who have traveled throughout the country, would seem to indicate that the friendly attitude exists elsewhere, including in Hanoi, the capital of that now unified communist country.

In anticipation of the trip, I imagined an oppressive communist government and police force looking over my shoulder wherever I traveled.  But the reality of what I found couldn’t have been further from that image.  The city is vibrant with what seem to be thousands of small merchants selling their wares.  Most often they live in the floors above their shops and there were fewer beggars on the streets than almost any American city I have visited in recent years.  It is an urban area and as such has the same blight and disrepair observed in most large cities.  But there are also beautifully manicured and maintained city parks and tree lined boulevards.  Overall my stay in Vietnam was one of pleasant surprise and unexpected pleasure.

I was an adolescent during the height of the Vietnam War and I received a draft lottery number in 1971 high enough to keep me out of the service as the war efforts drew to a close during the early 70’s.  I’m sure my limited research might be challenged by scholars with a differing opinion but briefly stated, what I have learned is that after World War II there was a civil war that rid the country of the 100 year occupation of the French government and ended in 1954 with what was known as the Geneva Accord.  This agreement stated that the country would remain divided, at the 17th parallel, until 1956 when an election would be held and the people of Vietnam would choose between the communist government of North Vietnam and the anti-communist, capitalistic government of South Vietnam.  As the months drew closer to the election, it was apparent that the sentiment was in favor of the communist government of the North as most of the people remembered the unpleasant occupation of another Western power, the French. But the Geneva Accord was never signed by the South Vietnamese Government nor was it signed by their primary supporters, the United States government, because they had evidence that the political leader, Ho Chi Minh, and the government of the North enjoyed overwhelming support from the people on both sides of the partitioning.  And so it was the South (and their Western sponsor) who rejected the free elections and the civil war erupted again over the ideological differences of the two governments.  After many years of small skirmishes, full-scale war broke out in 1964.  In 1972 the two sides negotiated a peace agreement but fighting continued until the communist takeover of Saigon in 1975. 

After several years of struggling with strict Soviet –style communism, some restrictions were lifted allowing for a more free market society in the mid-1980s and within a decade the United States established diplomatic relations with the government of Vietnam and opened an embassy in Hanoi. After this transformation Vietnam went from being a rice importer to being the world’s largest rice exporter.  There are still some restrictions indicative of a communist government – on the practice of religion and on travel and immigration, in particular – but it seems that the country is making efforts to emulate the United States in economic matters.  Trade talks have continued since the United States established diplomatic relations and there is every indication that those talks will result in policies beneficial to both sides.

And so the question needs to be asked, “Why did 3 million people have to die over ideology?”  After all those deaths, tragic for all countries involved, the communist government seems to be inching ever closer to a western style capitalistic government.  Would they have eventually ended up in that condition had the elections of 1956 been carried out?  Or would they have floundered for years in the bankrupt ideology of the Soviet Union and eventually collapsed and died only to struggle for years after, trying to establish a free market society such as Russia is doing today.  We will never know the answer to these questions and speculating on them is probably a waste of time.  Would the United State’s acceptance of free elections in the Vietnam of 1956, no matter which type of government was supported, and then engaging in sincere trade talks with that new government have proven more successful in bringing the Vietnamese government to a free market society than waging a violent war did?  We stood side by side with another communist government in defeating fascist Germany in World War II.  Would it have been better to engage Vietnam diplomatically and through trade than it was to attack them with our army?  It is a question worth considering as our country continues to intervene around the world in the stated policies of bringing democracy to everyone. 

I am reminded of a child’s hymn I learned as a youngster:  

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?

A simplistic thought to be sure, but one worth considering in all that we do.  And wouldn’t it be worthwhile for those in the highest ranks of government to consider those very thoughts as they determine our place in the world and our relationship with other nations?  Have we done well by our interventions or have we done harm
“I wonder what it will take for Americans to feel shame.”  If there is shame to be felt it is in not recognizing when a bad decision turns disastrous.  It is in letting ideology stand in the way of pragmatism.  It is in seeing only the forest and forgetting that the trees are really what count, especially when it comes to human existence.  Individual citizens have limited control over the actions of their governments and sometime political ideology overpowers even those who impose it.  Shame should not be displayed by hanging our heads in defeat but rather in committing ourselves to seeking truth and telling it no matter how painful or what the consequences.  The lessons that should have been learned by our experience in Vietnam have long been forgotten it seems.  Today the headlines in the newspaper and on the television news would seem to indicate we haven’t learned a thing. 

So what are your opinions about international intervention?
Is isolationism better?
If there are some reading this that live outside the U.S. what is your opinion?
How does your church membership and commitments affect your opinion?

63 Comments »

  1. So what are your opinions about international intervention? Very Gray Area

    Is isolationism better?
    Never

    How does your church membership and commitments affect your opinion?Always. It’s who I am.

    fwiw–My brother is about to go to Iraq. He leaves in 4 weeks after “climatizing” in Texas. So, all issues surrounding the USA’s involvment in any foreign affair is personal to me.

    Comment by Cheryl — July 12, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  2. You are right, it is difficult to keep politics out of a discussion on essentially political questions.

    Having said that, I think that whether one supports or rejects international intervention, one had better be ready to accept and deal with unintended consequences, since what seems like a great idea one day can come back to haunt you the next.

    For example, toppling the Iranian government probably made a lot of sense in the 1950s, but is also one of the root causes of the problems the US has with Iran today. On a smaller scale, the case for US Treasury sanctions on North Korea was probably pretty compelling back in 2005, but ended up delaying progress on the far more important issue of denuclearization in 2007 when the sanctions hindered a deal with North Korea to release frozen assets in return for shutting down nuclear facilities.

    Comment by Peter LLC — July 13, 2007 @ 4:01 am

  3. (shamelessly cribbing from americablog)

    LBJ on Vietnam:

    “I can’t get out. And I can’t finish it with what I have got. And I don’t know what the hell to do.”

    Shoulda stayed away in the first place, but not entirely your fault, LBJ. Never.had.to.happen. Wouldn’t have happened if Vietnam was some country in Europe. Oh well, how to believe an Asian when he tells you he’s fighting a war of national liberation when there’s all these dominoes stacked up everywhere?

    Now just blatantly cutting and pasting from the aforementioned blog:

    In what will be seen as an assertion of the importance of multilateralism in Mr Brown’s foreign policy, Mr Alexander said: “In the 20th century a country’s might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st century strength should be measured by what we can build together. And so we must form new alliances, based on common values, ones not just to protect us from the world, but ones which reach out to the world.” He described this as “a new alliance of opportunity”.

    He added: “We need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests.”

    Anyway, days like today, I miss Brasil. Viva Lula.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 4:27 am

  4. A lot of our foreign policy decisions of the 40s, 50s, and 60s were based on fear, fear of the spread of communism, and not on rational thought. It is unfortunate because really, 3 million people did NOT have to die in Vietnam. In fact Ho Chi Minh a truly fascinating individual asked the Americans for help to free the Vietnamese from French colonial rule during the 1940s. Truman, in one of his many mistakes, turned Minh down. This could probably have avoided much of the problems of the sixties.

    We currently continue to have a policy based on fear towards a particular country close to our Florida coast, a country that, if we had engaged economically a whole forty years ago would not have Castro as a leader today. It was economics that defeated the Soviet Union, not military prowess.

    So what are your opinions about international intervention?

    There is no one right answer to international intervention. Getting involved in Kosovo was the right thing to do. Somalia is a country we never should have bothered with, because we weren’t and will never be willing to go all the way for an African country. Y’all of course know my views on Iraq so I won’t even mention them. There are times for international intervention and there are times where we stir a hornet’s nest unnecessarily.

    Is isolationism better?

    No.

    How does your church membership and commitments affect your opinion?

    Well our doctrine states that we are all children of God, and that all souls are great in the sight of God. This should have a profound effect on how we view other people.

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 4:37 am

  5. Sorry, didn’t answer the questions:

    So what are your opinions about international intervention?

    It’s always personal.

    Is isolationism better?

    It’s about time to put this term to bed, unless it’s being used to define a strategy of developing country-specific media content designed to promote antagonism between nations. Even the hicks who watch FOX understand they need their cheap imports. Pity they’re being taught nothing about the folks who supply them, except maybe to fear them.

    If there are some reading this that live outside the U.S. what is your opinion?

    That I am shrill. Oh, sorry, I was reading my previous comment. That America is still a beautiful idea.

    How does your church membership and commitments affect your opinion?

    Another beautiful idea in need of good people to enable its expression in the world.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 5:01 am

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments so far and I’m sorry for the redundant parts of the post. I think I fixed that problem now.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 13, 2007 @ 5:37 am

  7. I don’t think the U.S. should have just opted out of the Cold War. The communists were oppressive expansionists, and without opposition from the U.S., they would have oppressed many millions more, and perhaps for much longer. North Korea shows us that a fairly disfunctional state can keep rolling along for some time. Thanks to U.S. intervention, at least South Korea didn’t spend the last half century also subject to Kim Jong Il and his father.

    All the effort and death in Vietnam seems like a waste largely because we failed to hold back communism. Efforts to make a difference should experience some degree of failure; if not, they aren’t trying hard enough.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 13, 2007 @ 6:32 am

  8. It was not our lack of good intentions that made us pause at the 38th parallel.

    Power, whether China’s or our own, is something to marvel at, and perhaps understand.

    To admit to certain mistakes in no way nullifies the good we have done.

    Nor does the good we have done somehow erase the history of our bungling overseas.

    You can find much more of my good advice at:

    http://www.foreign-policy-fortune-cookie.com

    Or not.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 6:45 am

  9. All silliness aside, I don’t think Ho Chi Minh’s red government, left to its own devices, would’ve killed anything like 3 million people. More importantly, I suspect a lot of Vietnamese would agree.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 6:51 am

  10. John – I agree that the communists were oppresive expansionists that needed to be resisted by the United States. My point is that when all is said and done the communist experience has proven to be a failed ideology that is falling apart everywhere. Even China has made great strides towards capiltalism and the Russians….well, I don’t know what to think about them. It seems like economic reality has been a greater factor in the downfall of communism than any superpower army ever was. And the damage done to the U.S. image abroad by these interventions, whether in Vietnam or in Iraq, has been almost irreparable. Coudn’t we – shouldn’t we – have looked for better ways – more civilized ways – to stall the expansion of communism? I know it’s easy to look back with 20/20 vision and say we made a mistake but I think there were, and are, many voices who have said we are wrong in the midst of the expansion of war.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 13, 2007 @ 6:55 am

  11. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t think Lamonte is alone in feeling amazed that a country can rebuild and move on as Vietnam has.

    What have you had to forgive and forget in your life that compares?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 6:56 am

  12. Some Mormons oppose any intervention whatsoever, on the grounds that their reading of the Book of Mormon allows for defensive wars only. I argue that our intervention on Europe in WWII was justified.

    The costs of intervention are easier to see than the costs of non-intervention. Let’s take at face value the assertion that American policy in Viet Nam cost 3 million lives. Perhaps, if we hadn’t intervened, 6 million people would have lost their lives. Who knows?

    I think there are good reasons to oppose U.S. policy in Iraq. Let’s keep in mind, though, that the U.N. estimated that Hussein’s Baath government was killing civilians at the rate of approximately 80,000 per year, all through the decade of the nineties. If, in 2002, we take military intervention off the table as an option, what should the U.S. have done?

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 6:56 am

  13. Sadly, too many of our own families are having to find out the answer to that question.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 6:57 am

  14. A democracy that rewards failure with re-election puts us all in the unenviable position of having to explain away the fatal mistakes of those we installed in power, but ultimately it is our country, our war, and our fault. Who knew? We did, or didn’t, either too scared, too unconcerned or too convinced by notions of American infallibility. We are not responsible for hypothetical non-events, but this thing, we own it.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 7:11 am

  15. Respectfully disagree, hermano Blanco. 800,000 civilians dead in one decade is not a hypothetical non-event. It calls for some kind of a response. Perhaps the only real response we had was to do nothing. But shouldn’t we then be big enough to admit it, and say we don’t give a damn?

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  16. Sorry Chino, I just re-read your comment 14 and realized you had reference to Viet Nam, not Iraq.

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 7:35 am

  17. MArk IV – I hate to remind you that our stated reason for intervention in Iraq was that WMDs were threatening our way of life, not that we were saving iraqi lives. It seems that every middle eastern country we count as an ally knew Hussein was systematically killing his own citizens and I wonder why we and those allies could not have some other way of removing Hussein from power – why couldn’t our diplomats have been more persuasive in marshalling all the forces of the countries that surrounded Hussein? It didn’t seem like military intervention wass our last resort but rather our first option.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 13, 2007 @ 7:42 am

  18. Respectfully, the planning and execution of this intervention has so far not provided any discernible evidence that we went in with the idea of making things better for ordinary Iraqi civilians.

    Maybe I missed the part where Rumsfeld expressed concern for the little people, but from the bits I’ve managed to catch of him selling his operation, the plan seemed to be:

    1) Remove Saddam

    2) Sh*t happens

    If we truly gave a damn, we would’ve asked what force was necessary to actually secure the country, rather than simply marvel at our “shock and awe” capabilities …

    And, yes, I thought our sanctions had become a travesty, it went on far too long, and I would’ve welcomed almost anything that got us away from that and involved removing Saddam from power … Hence my regret and guilt for giving too many people the benefit of the doubt and not figuring out earlier how badly we were being led …

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 7:55 am

  19. Lamonte, you are right to point that out, but I’m going to discount it nonetheless. At the outset of the civil war, it was not Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves. My point is that there are always unintended consequences, both good and bad. There are always lots of wild cards, and just as we should be cautious before intervening, we ought to exercise care in assigning blame afterwards. Monday morning quarterbacks are some of the most annoying people I know, and they are usually wrong.

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  20. Mark IV, no need to apologize, I think I was referring to Iraq. It doesn’t matter in my case, I see both conflicts as being equivalent in too many ways … if we’d had more folks in-house who understood what the Vietnamese aims were, I think we could’ve avoided that conflict. Likewise, I don’t think we tried to assemble the best and brightest who could’ve guided us in the run-up to the present conflict, but rather our leaders took us in with guns blazing and motives that were just too awful to come out and level with us about. Hence the lies.

    You never need to apologize for disagreeing with me, but I think our political leadership owes both you and me an apology. Big time. They figured us for suckers.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  21. It is our duty to assign blame, fire those responsible for the mistakes made, and work to right our wrongs. As things stand, Monday morning is 2009. Afterwards ain’t here yet, the game is on now.

    Being annoying should be the least of our worries at this point.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 8:16 am

  22. Shame is usually felt when one goes against what one believes to be the correct course; when one abandons, for convenience or to avoid ridicule, the values that have guided one’s life. Since you are going to be criticized, might as well be for honoring the correct principles that have produced peace of conscience.

    For Dan (#4):

    It was economics that defeated the Soviet Union, not military prowess.

    I think it is more proper to say that it was the military build-up, instituted by Pres. Reagan, that led to the defeat of the Soviet Union because:
    1) the Soviet Politik and military strategy was to match the West;
    2) much of Soviet military technology was stolen and they could not compete;
    3) the anemic Soviet economy could not support it;and
    4) all of the foregoing were based on incorrect political, economic, and eternal principles – the major one being coercion.

    To the questions:

    Church membership – this is the basis for answering the other questions. I like D&C 134:2 “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”

    International intervention – Only if by treaty or by threat to our peace, to our free exercise of conscience, to our right and control of property, or to the protection of our lives.

    Isolationism better? – Yes, unless as just mentioned.

    America, individually and collectively, should feel shame to the degree that they poo-poo the wisdom of D&C 134.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 8:18 am

  23. Whereas apologists usually get it right, eh?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 8:18 am

  24. I guess I stop short of calling them liars. I think they were acting cautiously, which required them to assign disproportionate weight to the bad news. If there is only a 1 in 5 chance that your neighbor is a child molester, you are still well-advised to keep you children away. Remember, as late as last October, Hillary admitted that, given what was knowable at the time, if she had been president she would taken the same action as GWB.

    For that matter, I’m glad FDR “lied” us into WWII.

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 8:20 am

  25. Hindsight is 20/20. I wonder what Cambodians would think of this post.

    Comment by a random John — July 13, 2007 @ 8:24 am

  26. Mark IV – Your point is well taken – especially about the unintended consequences. That is why it IS so important that we are careful before we destroy another oountry and our own image.

    I think the thing that disturbs me most is that since the fall of the Soviet Union the United States stands alone as the only superpower in the world. I would prefer if we used that position to further good will everywhere, that we used peaceful means to persuade the majority of the world’s citizens that peaceful co-existance is the best approach for all of us. It seems that instead, we have been promoting the idea that we are the toughest kid on the block and nobody should mess with us.

    I think that as followers of Jesus Christ we should be first in line to promote a peaceful persuasion over a destructive dominance.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 13, 2007 @ 8:25 am

  27. Chino,

    …our leaders took us in with guns blazing and motives that were just too awful to come out and level with us about. Hence the lies.

    Could you please enumerate for me what you think some of those awful motives were?

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  28. That I honor the good we did during and after WWII helps me forgive FDR’s lies. I’m glad, too. There were plenty of Americans prepared to sit out the conflict. I guess that’s what’s called leadership. Nothing succeeds like success. Achieve it and all the lies and shenanigans get tossed out with the confetti. Too bad there’s no parade in Bush’s future.

    In any case, at what point do we stop talking about WWII, and Korea, and Vietnam, and the Cold War and start truly beating each other up over the ongoing fiasco we’re in?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 8:29 am

  29. First tell me why we are in Iraq.

    Then we get to probe my own views on the subject.

    But first I want to hear it again. Why are we there?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  30. “How long will it take for the US to feel shame?”

    I don’t think they ever will.

    America has a blessedly short memory both as an empire and as a people. It often serves us well, but it also comes with real drawbacks.

    As far as gen X-ers are concerned, Vietnam never happened except as a historical footnote that is occasionally useful for debate purposes when blogging or arguing with your drinking buddies.

    There were no lessons learned from it. Americans have always taken the approach to foreign policy that reality need not get in the way of our dreams. If you have an impassioned call to arms, and a can-do attitude, the facts simply don’t matter. I think this has been true of every international war America has jumped into – both World Wars, Vietnam, Spanish-American, 1812, and today. Korea is the exception that proves the rule – Americans hated that war precisely because Truman failed to use the usual clarion trumpet to call Americans to the Great Crusade.

    Ironically, Korea was probably the most useful war America ever fought outside of World War II.

    But America’s short memory is also something for which the world can be grateful. How long did it take us to forgive the Germans? Probably less than 5 years. Japanese? Same story. Former Soviet Union? Same story (although here I think the quick forgive-and-forget attitude has seriously damaged things). And yes, Vietnam too.

    Americans, as a nation, have a lousy sense of history, and a wretched memory.

    This makes us extremely forgiving (perhaps moreso than any powerful nation in world history). But it also leads us to often run the world much like an absentee landlord.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  31. Here’s the best case I can make.

    1. GWB sees terrorism as a serious threat to the country.

    2. GWB believed Iraq was a particulary virulent threat, not only to the U.S. but to our allies in the area, especially Israel.

    3. Iraq was seen by everyone, with quite a bit of justification, as an exporter of terrorism.

    4. He, and Bill Clinton before him, thought Iraq had WMD and would not hesitate to use them.

    We can disagree with any or all of those claims. Nevertheless, that is how I believe GWB sees the situation.

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 8:46 am

  32. I don’t see the implosion of the Soviet Union as having been inevitable. There were children who grew up knowing nothing else and died of old age as Soviet citizens. If Gorbachev had been a harder man, more like Putin, he would cracked down in the needed ways to see the empire through economic troubles. Worse economic troubles sure didn’t bring down Stalin. We are all fortunate that Gorbachev let the empire go.

    In the context of the 1950s and 1960s, it doesn’t seem that Johnson had much chance of staying out of the Vietnam conflict. Truman started containment of communism, then the country elected a five-star general to keep it up. Kennedy campaigned on the idea that Eisenhower wasn’t doing enough to build the military strength of the U.S. So, there was nothing partisan about checking communist expansion with our military strength; it was the American way.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 13, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  33. Even the hicks who watch FOX understand… (#5)

    Ahhh, condescension–one of the best ways to win converts.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 13, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  34. Lamonte,

    I would prefer if we used that position to further good will everywhere, that we used peaceful means to persuade the majority of the world’s citizens that peaceful co-existance is the best approach for all of us.

    Me too. I wish we had the ability and the imagination and the will to always be at our best. I guess this goes to your question of how my understanding of the gospel influences my view. I believe that part of mortality is learning how to handle sub-optimal situations. In a fallen world we won’t always have our best choices available, and even if we do, we won’t know what to do with them. If the only choices that I see are bad choice # 1, bad choice # 2, and bad choice # 3, is it fair to excoriate me for making a bad choice?

    Comment by Mark IV — July 13, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  35. Even the hicks who watch FOX understand… (#5)

    Hey, I was paying the hicks a compliment.

    I grew up on a farm 10 miles north of the Arkansas border.

    Sure we were the hicks, but it was our condescension that kept those Arkansas rubes from moving up north.

    And, anyway, who said I was trying to win converts, city boy?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  36. We can disagree with any or all of those claims. Nevertheless, that is how I believe GWB sees the situation.

    But how do you see the situation?

    What does it matter how GWB sees the situation?

    Yes, we can absolutely disagree with any or all of those claims, and if we do, we have every right to demand leadership that plots a course based on our best reading of reality. Never mind what the fellow who got us into the mess thinks, what do you think?

    No one’s going to excoriate you for making a bad choice, but after several bad choices, it’s fair for reasonable people to begin to wonder:

    Bad Choice #1: Elect Bush (it’s OK, really, who knew?)

    Bad Choice #2: Support the war (it’s OK, really, who knew?)

    Bad Choice #3: Re-elect Bush (OK, that one had us scratching our heads)

    Bad Choice #4: Dither about now opposing the war because it might make the folks who made the first 3 bad choices feel bad.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  37. I’m gonna take a stab at these:

    1. GWB sees terrorism as a serious threat to the country.

    After watching the towers come down on his watch, I’d say that’s a reasonable view for him to take.

    2. GWB believed Iraq was a particulary virulent threat, not only to the U.S. but to our allies in the area, especially Israel.

    Threat to the US? Not so much, unless you’re defining threat very broadly here. Threat to Israel? OK, I’ll grant that, but then we’d need to talk about this whole theory of pre-emptive warfare. If you’re gonna justify our being in Iraq as a pre-emptive measure for Israel’s benefit, we’ve got a lot more pre-empting to do in that neighborhood.

    3. Iraq was seen by everyone, with quite a bit of justification, as an exporter of terrorism.

    If that’s true, then it couldn’t have been only the hicks who were watching FOX news, now could it? There just aren’t that many of us to call us ‘everyone’. Scary to think the rest of the country was tuned in, too.

    Anyway, help me out here, when was the last time we got hit by Iraqi terrorists? Did I miss something? Not even FOX would go so far as to fabricate something like that out of whole cloth, would they?

    4. He, and Bill Clinton before him, thought Iraq had WMD and would not hesitate to use them.

    Well, at least he got that one right. Oops.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  38. What happens if we leave Iraq now, as many want us to?

    I agree that we own it. BUT, are we sure there will be less blood shed if we leave now – in Iraq, in Israel, in Europe, in the Phillipines, in the US, etc? Asking the question of why we are there is only useful if employed in securing peace through the 3 fundamental purposes of government. What we do now IS separate from why we went there. If the carpet is stolen and, while trying to rectify the situation, one steps in it and leave tracks all over the carpet, I think one has some responsibility for cleaning up the mess. Shouldn’t we feel shame if we don’t?

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 9:39 am

  39. Yeah, I always wondered when Europe was gonna thank us for staying on in Iraq until we’d made darn sure the continent was safe from extremists. Heaven forbid what Europe’s Muslims might do if we were to ever leave …

    Come again, what are the 3 fundamental purposes of government?

    For all those too shamed to leave until the country is repaired and secure, are you prepared to see the draft reinstated in order to get the number of boots on the ground that we’d need to achieve your stated intention?

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  40. I enjoyed your post, Lamonte, 9Moons rocks. I’m now droning alone in my timezone and time to go home, cheers.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — July 13, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  41. A brilliant non-answer!!

    “Just get out now. We made a mistake going there and are making mistakes being there, so leaving now is THE only thing to do. Nobody else will die (no evidence for that), no religion or freedoms will be extinguished (no evidence for that), and no disruptions of individual or world commerce would ever occur (no evidence for that either).”

    What difference did American presence in Europe make in Naziism and Soviet collectivism? What difference did American presence in Kosovo make – when we were protecting European Muslims?

    No, really… What happens? Which is worse: going into Iraq without thinking it through or leaving Iraq without thinking it through? We can’t undo the first.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  42. I think terrorism is a threat to national security the same way that hurricanes are a threat to national security.

    You beef up emergency response, educate the public on how to cope, build a few good levies and then you get on with life.

    You don’t make it a centerpiece of your foreign policy.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  43. Hey, does anyone here know what the Marines are doing in Anbar right now? Anyone? More importantly, do you think it would change your opinion on whether they should be there – doing whatever it is they’re doing – if you knew?

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 13, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  44. I know, Eric.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  45. I don’t.

    Comment by Cheryl — July 13, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  46. Mondo Cool,

    #22,

    I think it is more proper to say that it was the military build-up, instituted by Pres. Reagan, that led to the defeat of the Soviet Union because:

    The Soviet Union was already in decline by the time Reagan took power. There was really not much in addition that Reagan could do or did that led to the Soviet Union finally collapsing.

    It was most certainly not Reagan’s military build up that “cowered” the Soviet Union. Heck if they wanted to they could have launched all their nuclear weapons and ended the world. A few extra airplanes here and there would not have changed that.

    The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.

    As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive.

    [The Soviet leadership was then faced with three options: start charging hard currency for oil exports, reduce food imports, or cut back military spending. None of them were seriously considered.]

    Unable to realize any of the above solutions, the Soviet leadership…started to borrow money from abroad while its international credit rating was still strong. It borrowed heavily from 1985 to 1988, but in 1989 the Soviet economy stalled completely….The Soviet Union then received a final warning from the Deutsche Bank and from its international partners that the funds would never come from commercial sources. Instead, if the Soviet Union urgently needed the money, it would have to start negotiations directly with Western governments about so-called politically motivated credits.

    ….When the situation in the Soviet Union is examined from financial and hard currency perspectives, Gorbachev’s policies at the time are much easier to comprehend (see figure 6). Government-to-government loans were bound to come with a number of rigid conditions. For instance, if the Soviet military crushed Solidarity Party demonstrations in Warsaw, the Soviet Union would not have received the desperately needed $100 billion from the West.

    The only option left for the Soviet elites was to begin immediate negotiations about the conditions of surrender. Gorbachev did not have to inform President George H. W. Bush at the Malta Summit in 1989 that the threat of force to support the communist regimes in Eastern Europe would not be employed. This was already evident at the time. Six weeks after the talks, no communist regime in Eastern Europe remained.

    As Kevin Drum states: “Twas oil that killed the beast, not Star Wars.”

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  47. Anbar has been seeing significant improvements and the locals are largely happy we’re there last I heard.

    By the way, the President’s stonewalling on Iraq is actually making it more likely that any withdrawal will be rapid, disorganized, and ill thought-out.

    By taking such an extreme position, Bush is making the only alternative the other extreme end of the spectrum. He’s making Iraq an all-or-nothing proposition.

    On the other hand, it is encouraging to see many in the administration trying to find a more moderate way to stay engaged in Iraq and working for a good compromise.

    But I’m not holding my breath. This president has a history of obliviously ignoring his own people and hanging his own cabinet members out to dry.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  48. Mondo Cool,

    #42,

    What difference did American presence in Europe make in Nazism and Soviet collectivism? What difference did American presence in Kosovo make – when we were protecting European Muslims?

    No, really… What happens? Which is worse: going into Iraq without thinking it through or leaving Iraq without thinking it through? We can’t undo the first.

    Well it is mighty kind for war supporters to finally want to think through our actions before we rush to any decision. Too bad you guys didn’t take this strategy BEFORE we caused the hell we’re seeing now.

    The problem with the question is that it doesn’t raise the most important point about the violence in Iraq. Most of that violence stems from our presence there. Most of the violence is actually directed at us. Our troops are being hit on average about 900 times a week from insurgents. Remove our presence from Iraq and what happens? Well, I frankly do not see insurgents turning those 900 attacks per week towards the rest of Iraqis. And I certainly do not see them leaving Iraq to come to our shopping malls, as the always Orwellian Tony Snow attempts to scare us into believing.

    The other problem with your first two questions regarding Nazism and the Soviet threats is that Iraq was not a threat to us. We went into Iraq. We started that war. We’re on the side of Nazism and the Soviet threat in your first two questions, Mondo.

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  49. Eric Russell,

    #43,

    Hey, does anyone here know what the Marines are doing in Anbar right now? Anyone? More importantly, do you think it would change your opinion on whether they should be there – doing whatever it is they’re doing – if you knew?

    Yes, I know what they are doing in Anbar right now, and I still think they will not come off conquerors, if I may borrow from scripture. It is really sad, but that’s the reality, and it needs to be said.

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  50. But I’m not holding my breath. This president has a history of obliviously ignoring his own people and hanging his own cabinet members out to dry.

    Right, it is always someone else’s fault in this administration. Take the poor surgeon general. It was his fault the administration muzzled him!

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  51. Most of that violence stems from our presence there. Most of the violence is actually directed at us.

    If I may add, let’s not forget the amount of people we kill needlessly in Iraq. A few months ago, the Pentagon was forced to release just how much money they have had to give Iraqis for civilian deaths. The number was a paltry $34 million, an inconsequential amount in terms of the whole cost of the entire war. But if you look at the details of that number, you’ll find just how many innocent civilians the Americans killed. These are Iraqis not counted by the death tolls from insurgents. The US government apparently pays out up to about $2500 per person killed wrongly by the military. If we do a straight count, $34 million divided by $2500 equals 13,600. That is 13,600 Iraqis the United States military acknowledges that it killed accidentally. That’s not all. That’s ONLY 40% of the total number of Iraqis who apparently made a claim to the Americans that their relative was murdered by the Americans. And of course, we do not know the count of Iraqis who refuse to go to the Americans to get reimbursed for the deaths of their relatives. But let’s put the numbers up. If 13,600 is only 40%, what is the number of Iraqis that Iraqi kin claim were wrongly killed by Americans? 34,000.

    No wonder the Pentagon is averse to releasing actual numbers. That’s nearly over 8000 Iraqis killed per year since the war began by the Americans. And most likely innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Let’s not even mention the amount of Iraqis killed by the Americans who were legitimate targets.

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  52. Mondo Cool – Certainly the we have an obligation (like it or not) to leave Iraq in a systematic way that will not just leave them holding the bag. But I’m not sure your examples prove the point you want to make.

    What difference did American presence in Europe make in Naziism and Soviet collectivism? The majority of the people of Europe were glad to have us there and we were in business with an allied group of countries. (Yes, I know we aren’t the only country in Iraq but for all intents and purposes we are – even the British have only about 7000 troops compared to our 150,000)

    What difference did American presence in Kosovo make – when we were protecting European Muslims? How many of our troops were on the ground in Kosovo? And once again, NATO forces play a major role in that conflict.

    I think we’ve had 4 years to think about leaving Iraq – something the adminstration should have done before they ever went in. It’s high tie we started making serious plans and holding the Iraqi leadership to some sort of benchmark schedule.

    You are right in your sarcasm about the fact that we don’t have evidence of what will happen if and when we leave. Most likely it will be disastrous. The only thing we can prove is that the current situation is not getting any better and our presence there may be making things worse.

    By the time we leave there – if we do – we will have spent almost a trillion dollars. And the only reason our death toll is not ten times greater than it is is because of the miracle of modern medicine. Prosthetic legs and other limbs may be a satisfactory substitute to losing ones life but it scews the evidence for stopping the war. Certainly I don’t wish for more dead to simply prove a point but I wonder how much support would be left of the paltry number who now support this war if we had 30,000 dead instead of 3,500.

    4 years after we invaded North Africa in 1943 to begin full scale assault on Nazi Germany the Nazis had been defeated and Western Europe was in relative peace. 4 years after we invade the slimy rat we later found in a hole in his little backward country we are only beginning to realize the hole we have dug for ourselves.

    Seth R. – I like your way of thinking. Despite the naysayers’ claims to the contrary, it is intellignce and police operations that have resulted in the capturing of terrorist leaders.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 13, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  53. “It is really sad, but that’s the reality, and it needs to be said.”

    Well. It’s a relief to know that someone is saying it. Thank you for your courage, Dan.

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 13, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  54. Dan:
    I really have no argument with you about the Soviet demise except that I believe the Reagan build-up was the “proverbial straw.” Their economy was in the toilet – swirling. And, they couldn’t rely on the threat or coercion of military force to conquer other areas for gain as they had after WWII. They couldn’t compete.

    Yes, it is too bad. I don’t like war. But, I don’t want more hell – multiplied – exponentially. Saddam was not guiltless. We won that war. But, we were STUPID by thinking the Iraqi mindset would immediately fall in line with ideas of liberty.

    How many Americans go to Mosque and attend funerals in Iraq?

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  55. These types of threads are a waste of time.

    Next….

    Comment by bbell — July 13, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

  56. Mondo,

    If the only options are either more war or more hell, then frankly I want out of this life.

    Thankfully there are other options. We are not limited to one or the other. In fact, tragically, the one (more war) leads to the other. War supporters keep trying to justify current action by attempting to equate Bin Laden to Hitler or Stalin. The comparisons are scarce in reality. Yeah, Bin Laden is a bad guy, but his goal is NOT world domination, and he knows it. Why? Because he’s not using tools that would get him world domination. Terrorism is the tool for the weak, not for the strong. He’s nothing more than a piranha in the water, without the ability to control the direction of the river.

    The problem, and the reason why he has done so much is that we overhype his power and his influence. Our actions are the very things that bring him recruits. The CIA has said this. Why can’t we see this yet?

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  57. bbell,

    It’s like the occasional bowl of ice cream. Not that good for you, but one of life’s little indulgences nonetheless.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  58. Seth, I agree. I like it. It’s way better than CNN or CSPAN. Of course, it might help me to understand these things better if I actually watched CNN or CSPAN…

    Comment by Cheryl — July 13, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  59. I agree we should leave.

    But, I believe there is plenty of evidence that the Gadiantons in Iraq will turn those 900 attacks per week towards the Iraqis. They are bombing mosques and markets and funerals now – without an American soldier in sight!

    Terrorism is weak when analyzed in terms of military campaigns. It is not primarily a military tactic. It is a propaganda tactic. If we just up and leave with the only concern being “we ain’t there,” the 8000 dead / yr. by American hands, or the 80,000 dead / yr. by the Saddamites, may well be chump change.

    What were “our actions” in Bali; in Thailand; in the Phillipines? In the Bin Laden view, “our actions” go back to the Crusades. You might say they have an eternal hatred towards us, or anyone else who doesn’t accept their terms. (Jacob 7:24 & Mosiah 10:17.)

    I won’t find any comfort with the disaster in Iraq and the rest of the region following a ill-conceived pull-out. We can expect things from the Iraqis and I think it perfectly acceptable to cut support for them if they are unwilling to accomplish those things. And, I agree they need to hurry. But, I feel because we are there, we have a responsibility to do the best we can. And, I agree that we need to hurry.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 13, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  60. Mondo,

    But, I feel because we are there, we have a responsibility to do the best we can.

    But we have never been doing the best we can, not even with this “surge.” General Petraeus’s own counterinsurgency field manual recommends for any successful counterinsurgency at least 50 combat soldiers for every 1000 civilians. For Baghdad alone that means 120,000 combat troops. Before the surge, in the ENTIRE country we had only 70,000 combat troops (the remainder were support troops). The surge increased the number by about 20,000 combat troops. But even if you were to put all 90,000 combat troops in Baghdad, you are still 30,000 short. And that is just Baghdad.

    We’re basically playing whack-a-mole right now in Iraq. If this is the best that we can do, then we better just quit now, because there is nothing good coming out of this.

    Comment by Dan — July 13, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

  61. On shame – I’m sure anyone who read this article felt it. It’s a long article from maybe four months ago, describing the pathetic treatment of the Iraqi interpreters who have been left out to dry once they are no longer useful, their loyalty not reciprocated. The sorriest facts were that while a million refugees crowd into Syria, the US is granting asylum to only around 500 a year. By contrast, over 20,000 have received asylum in Sweden since the begninning of the war.

    Comment by Bill — July 17, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

  62. Bill – Thanks for the link. I just finished a letter to my congressman because I was incensed after a conversation with a friend last night. Her son is serving in Iraq. He has had his enlistment extended by a year, which has now turned in to 15 months. But that’s not the bad part – he has accepted all of that as part of his obligation.

    He was seriously injured in May and saw his best friend literally blown into pieces from an IED explosion. He has lost part of his hearing but he’s back on patrol in the outskirts of Baghdad. Now he has learned that many soldiers who have served, in the thousands, and who have experienced combat like him, have been designated as “mentally unstable” as they leave the service which allows the Army to deny benefits for Post Trumatic Stress Disorder. These same soldiers have been asked to repay their signing bonus that the Army used to get them to join in the first place.

    I am stunned that I live in a country whose leadership allows such a thing. I ask everyone who has one of those “Support the Troops” magnets on their car, and all the rest of us as well, to write their congressman and demand that this practice stop immediately and we get those soldiers and former soldiers the help they need.

    Comment by Lamonte — July 18, 2007 @ 6:45 am

  63. Now he has learned that many soldiers who have served, in the thousands, and who have experienced combat like him, have been designated as “mentally unstable” as they leave the service which allows the Army to deny benefits for Post Trumatic Stress Disorder. These same soldiers have been asked to repay their signing bonus that the Army used to get them to join in the first place.

    This is stunning.

    Comment by jjohnsen — July 19, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

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