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Posts Tagged ‘VIETNAM WAR’

JFK’S LEGACIES: FIFTY YEARS LATER

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

Fifty years ago this November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would have almost certainly won re-election as President of the United States.

But one year earlier, Lee Harvey Oswald–an embittered ex-Marine and fervent Communist who idolized Fidel Castro–picked up a sniper’s rifle and changed the course of history.

It has been said that Kennedy left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.
  • From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was an additional legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Contrast that with today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

MINDING OUR OWN BUSINESS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

On the September 28 edition of 60 Minutes, President Barack Obama spoke about his recent decision to commit American troops to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Steve Kroft: I think everybody applauds the efforts that you’ve made and the size of the coalition that has been assembled.

But most of them are contributing money or training or policing the borders, not getting particularly close to the contact. It looks like once again we are leading the operation. We are carrying…

President Obama: Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world.

And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us. That’s the deal.

President Obama

Steve Kroft: I mean, it looks like we are doing 90 percent.

President Obama: Steve, there is not an as issue … when there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge making sure Haiti can rebuild. That’s how we roll. And that’s what makes this America.

* * * * *

President Obama is right: “When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing.  They don’t call Moscow.  They call us.”

And, according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, that’s the problem: America can’t learn to mind its own business.

Scheuer is a 20-year CIA veteran–as well as an author, historian, foreign policy critic and political analyst.

Michael Scheuer

From 1996 to 1999 he headed Alec Station, the CIA’s unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

He is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.

He’s also the author of two seminal works on America’s fight against terrorism: Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror  (2003) and Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq (2008).

Scheuer says that Islamics don’t hate Americans because of “our way of life”–with its freedoms of speech and worship and its highly secular, commercialized culture.

Instead, Islamic hatred toward the United States stems from America’s six longstanding policies in the Middle East:

  • U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments
  • U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula
  • U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall
  • U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low
  • U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants

Scheuer contends that no amount of American propaganda will win “the hearts and minds” of Islamics who can “see, hear, experience, and hate” these policies firsthand.

But there is another danger facing America, says Scheuer, one that threatens “the core of our social and civil institutions.”

And in Marching Toward Hell he bluntly indicts that threat: The “profound and willful ignorance” of America’s “bipartisan governing elite.”

Scheuer defines this elite as “the inbred set of individuals who have influenced…drafted and conducted U.S. foreign policy” since 1973.

Within that group are:

  • politicians
  • journalists
  • academics
  • preachers
  • civil servants
  • military officers
  • philanthropists.

“Some are Republicans, others Democrats; some are evangelicals, others atheists; some are militarists, others pacifists; some are purveyors of Western civilization, others are multiculturalists,” writes Scheuer.

But for all their political and/or philosophical differences, the members of this governing elite share one belief in common.

According to Scheuer, that belief is “an unquenchable ardor to have the United States intervene abroad in all places, situations and times.”

And he warns that this “bipartisan governing elite” must radically change its policies–such as unconditional support for Israel and corrupt, tyrannical Muslim governments.

Otherwise, Americans will be locked in an endless “hot war” with the Islamic world.

During his September 28 appearance on 60 Minutes,  President Obama admitted that the mostly Sunni-Muslim Iraqi army had refused to combat the Sunni army of ISIL.

Then followed this exchange:

Steve Kroft: What happens if the Iraqis don’t fight or can’t fight?

President Obama: Well…

Steve Kroft: What’s the end game?

President Obama: I’m not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We’re just getting started. Let’s see how they do.

It was precisely such a mindset that led the United States, step by step, into the Vietnam quagmire.

As in the case of Vietnam, the United States lacks:

  • Real or worthwhile allies in Iraq or Syria;
  • A working knowledge of the peoples it wants to influence in either country;
  • Clearly-defined goals that it seeks to accomplish in that region.

America rushed to disaster in Vietnam because its foreign policy elite felt it had to “do something” to fight Communism anywhere in the world.

And it is continuing to rush toward disaster in the Middle East because its foreign policy elite once again feel is must “do something.”

SEVERED HEADS IN SYRIA: LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In History, Military, Politics on August 14, 2014 at 10:57 am

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has some advice on Syria.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, 2013, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

Anyone who doubts the wisdom of this should look at a photo now making the rounds on the Internet.

Taken in Syria, it shows a seven-year-old boy, wearing a baseball cap and, with both hands, holding aloft a severed head.  “That’s my boy,” reads a caption underneath.

It may been written by Khaled Sharrouf, a wanted terrorist who fled Australia to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It is ISIS that now threatens to overwhelm Iraq and re-establish an Islamic Caliphate.

Click here: Seven-Year-Old Jihadi Poses with Severed Head

That photo is the real face of Syria.  It’s worth remembering as Democratic and Republican politicians seek to prove their toughness to voters.

One of the Democrats is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who blames President Obama for not sending military forces to Syria.

“I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton recently said.

There’s an old saying: When your enemy is digging himself into a hole, let him keep digging.  And that is exactly the case with those groups now waging all-out war against each other in Syria.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 Marines.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of Islamics.  Intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims, it has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

In a June 1, 2013 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warned:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”  [Emphasis added.]

But Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one urging Obama to waste American lives in a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Republican U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to wage war on Syria.

He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, served in Vietnam as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

President Obama is reportedly weighing his options for intervention in Syria.  But it’s not too late for him to draw back from the brink.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can especially offer the same opportunity to tough-talking politicians eager to put others’ lives in harm’s way.

Finally, Obama can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

NO “VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER” IN IRAQ

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

With forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launching a blitzkreig throughout Iraq, President Barack Obama seems to have caught the “Victory Through Airpower” disease.

ISIS has thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.

This has led Republicans to accuse the President of being about to “lose” Iraq.

As a result, Obama has shipped at least 300 American “advisors” to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad.

And on August 7 he authorized “limited airstrikes” against ISIS forces in Iraq, to prevent the fall of the Kurdish capital, Erbil

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help,” said Obama.  “Well, today America is coming to help.”

By August 10, the United States announced a fourth round of airstrikes Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Irbil.

Yet giving that order will not alter the balance of power in Iraq.  It didn’t work for America in the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq.

Both wars opened with massive barrages of American missiles and bombs.  The 1991 war saw the first use of the vaunted “stealth bomber,” which could avoid detection by enemy radar.

The 2003 war opened with an even greater bombardment to “shock and awe” the Iraqis into surrendering.  They didn’t.

Baghdad under “shock and awe” bombardment

Nor did air power prove effective on the Iraqi insurgency that erupted after American forces occupied Baghdad and much of the rest of the country.

That war had to be fought by U.S. Army regulars and Special Operations soldiers-–especially Navy SEALS.  It was a dirty and private effort, marked by nightly kidnappings of suspected Iraqi insurgents.

Here’s where fantasy became fact for America’s military–and p0liticians.

Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 Walt Disney animated Technicolor feature film released during World War II.  It’s based on the book–-of the same title–-by Alexander P. de Seversky.

Its thesis is summed up in its title: That by using bombers and fighter aircraft, the United States can attain swift, stunning victory over its Axis enemies: Germany, Italy and Japan.

Although it’s not explicitly stated, the overall impression given is that, through the use of air power, America can defeat its enemies without deploying millions of ground troops.

 The movie has long since been forgotten except by film buffs, but its message has not.  Especially by the highest officials within the U.S. Air Force.

Although the Air Force regularly boasted of the tonage of bombs its planes dropped over Nazi Germany, it failed to attain its primary goal: Break the will of the Germans to resist.

On the contrary: Just as the German bombings of England had solidified the will of the British people to resist, so, too, did Allied bombing increase the determination of the Germans to fight on.

Nor did the failure of air power end there.

On June 6, 1944–-D-Day–-the Allies launched their invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

It was the largest amphibious invasion in history.  More than 160,000 troops landed–-61,715 British, 73,000 Americans, and 21,400 Canadians.

Allied air power bombed and strafed German troops out in the open.  But it couldn’t dislodge soldiers barricaded in steel-and-concrete-reinforced bunkers or pillboxes. Those had to be dislodged, one group at a time, by Allied soldiers armed with rifles, dynamite and flamethrowers.

 This situation proved true throughout the rest of the war.

Starting in 1964, the theory of “Victory Through Air Power” once again proved a dud–in Vietnam.

From 1964 to 1975, 14 million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia–-more than five times as many as it dropped in World War II.

Yet the result proved exactly the same as it had in World War II: The bombing enraged the North Vietnamese and steeled their resolve to fight on to the end.

The belief that victory could be achieved primarily–-if not entirely–-through air power had another unforeseen result during the Vietnam war.  It gradually sucked the United States ever deeper into the conflict.

To bomb North Vietnam, the United States needed air force bases in South Vietnam.  This required that those bombers and fighters be protected.

So a force to provide round-the-clock security had to be maintained.  But there weren’t enough guards to defend themselves against a major attack by North Vietnamese forces.

So more American troops were needed–-to guard the guards.

North Vietnam continued to press greater numbers of its soldiers into attacks on American bases.  This forced America to provide greater numbers of its own soldiers to defend against such attacks.

Eventually, the United States had more than 500,000 ground troops fighting in Vietnam–with no end in sight to the conflict.

If American troops once again face off with Iraqis, “Victory Through Air Power” will prove as hollow a slogan as it has in the past.

PC: CONCEALING THE TRUTH WITH LIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics on July 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

On June 8, 2010, newspapers around the world headlined the latest triumph of Politically Correct language.

The Israeli government had apologized for circulating a video parodying the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s hit, “We Are the World.”  Its purpose: To mock terrorists from the Gaza flotilla smuggling arms into Gaza.

In early June, 2010, six Hamas ships set out in defiance of the Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  One of those ships, the Mavi Marmara, suffered nine casualties during a subsequent Israeli raid on the flotilla.

In the video, Israelis dressed up as activists offer their own take on the incident through song.

Among its lyrics:

We’ll make the world
Abandon reason
We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas
Is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
We’re waving our own knives
The truth will never find its way to your TV

Click here: The Flotilla Choir Presents We Con The World – YouTube

The Israeli Government Press Office distributed footage of the music video to foreign journalists on June 4, but then sent an apology to reporters just hours later, insisting it had been an accident.

“The contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the Government Press Office or of the State of Israel,” Israel’s Government Press Office later told CNN.

But the retraction did not stop “We Con the World” from becoming an Internet hit, getting over three million views in less than a week

By issuing such an apology the Israeli government forfeited a vital weapon in its ongoing struggle for not simply sovereignty but survival: Ridicule.

Every great tyrant has feared the laughter of his enemies. For that reason, the Roman Emperor Augustus banished the satirical poet, Ovid, from Rome and the KGB worked overtime to suppress anti-Communist jokes.

It’s clear that Israeli bureaucrats–like American ones–have caught the Political Correctness disease, where even the most criminally depraved are off-limits as targets for satire.

During most of the eight-year Presidency of Bill Clinton, the State Department applied the “rogue state” moniker to nations like Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

In a 1994 lecture, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defined a rogue state as one that actively tried to undermine the international system.

But in 2000, the State Department declared that it would no longer refer to such nations as “rogues.” Instead, they would now be referred to as “states of concern.”

“Rogue,” said a State Department spokesman, was inflammatory, and might hamper the efforts of the United States to reach agreements with its sworn enemies.

In short, it’s become Politically Incorrect to refer to even our sworn enemies as enemies.

As Steven Emerson, president of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) puts it: “If you can’t name your enemy, how can you defeat him?”

During World War 11, GIs–and their commanders–routinely referred to German soldiers as “krauts.”  Japense soldiers were universally referred to as “Japs.”

Throughout the Vietnam war, North Vietnamese troops were called “gooks,” “dinks” and “Charlie.”  During the 1991 Gulf War, American soldiers called Iraqi soldiers “ragheads.”

Admittedly, that’s not the sort of language to use in polite company.

But there is nothing polite about war, and it’s unrealistic to expect those whose lives could be snuffed out at any moment to be Politically Correct in talking about their enemies.

The United States has been at war with Islamic nations since September 11, 2001.  But terms such as “jihadist,” “jihadi” and “mujahedeen” are now officially forbidden by the Pentagon.

So is “Islamofascism,” a term often used to describe Islamic aggression against other countries–especially non-Muslim ones.

Similarly, the American government now seeks to impose the same Political Correctness restrictions on how to refer to daily invasions of its sovereign bordeers.

“Illegal alien” is taboo–although totally accurate.   An “alien” is defined as “a foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living.”

And a foreigner who violates another country’s immigration laws is in that country illegally.

“Undocumented immigrant” is the new fashionable term to be used by all federal agents charged with enforcing our immigration laws.

Liberals feel that this sounds nicer, and won’t offend our “little brown brothers” south of the Rio Grande.

“Undocumented immigrant” makes it seem as though the mass violations of America’s national border are no big deal.  You might even think the illegal alien simply lost his legal papers while sneaking across the border.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science, laid out the guidelines for effective propaganda.  In his notorious book, The Prince, he wrote:

…Men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.  Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are….

Apparently, many people in government are now convinced: If you don’t admit there is a problem, the problem doesn’t exist.

THE LIE OF “VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER”

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on July 9, 2014 at 10:35 am

Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 Walt Disney animated Technocolor feature film released during World War II.  It’s based on the book–of the same title–by Alexander P. de Seversky.

Its thesis is summed up in its title: That by using bombers and fighter aircraft, the United States can attain swift, stunning victory over its Axis enemies: Germany, Italy and Japan.

Although it’s not explicitly stated, the overall impression given is that, through the use of air power, America can defeat its enemies without deploying millions of ground troops.

The movie has long since been forgotten except by film buffs, but its message has not.  Especially by the highest officials within the U.S. Air Force.

Although the Air Force regularly boasted of the tonage of bombs its planes dropped over Nazi Germany, it failed to attain its primary goal: Break the will of the Germans to resist.

On the contrary: Just as the German bombings of England had solidified the will of the British people to resist, so, too, did Allied bombing increase the determination of the Germans to fight on.

Nor did the failure of air power end there.

On June 6, 1944–D-Day–the Allies launched their invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

It opened shortly after midnight, with an airborne assault of 24,000 American, British, Canadian and Free French troops.  This was followed at 6:30 a.m. by an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the French coast.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in history.  More than 160,000 troops landed–73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians.

Allied air power bombed and strafed German troops out in the open.  But it couldn’t dislodge soldiers barricaded in steel-and-concrete-reinforced bunkers or pillboxes.  Those had to be dislodged, one group at a time, by Allied  soldiers armed with rifles, dynamite and flamethrowers.

This situation proved true throughout the rest of the war.

Then, starting in 1964, the theory of “Victory Through Air Power” once again proved a dud–in Vietnam.

Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay said, “We should bomb Vietnam back into the Stone Age.”  And the bombers under his command did their best to achieve this.

From 1964 to 1975, 7 million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia–more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II.

Yet the result proved exactly the same as it had in World War II: The bombing enraged the North Vietnamese and steeled their resolve to fight on to the end.

The belief that victory could be achieved primarily–if not entirely–through air power had another unforeseen result during the Vietnam war.  It gradually sucked the United States ever deeper into the conflict.

To bomb North Vietnam, the United States needed air force bases in South Vietnam.  This required that those bombers and fighters be protected.

So a force to provide round-the-clock security had to be maintained.  But there weren’t enough guards to defend themselves against a major attack by North Vietnamese forces.

So more American troops were needed–to guard the guards.

North Vietnam continued to press greater numbers of its soldiers into attacks on American bases.  This forced America to provide greater numbers of its own soldiers to defend against such attacks.

Eventually, the United States had more than 500,000 ground troops fighting in Vietnam–with no end in sight to the conflict.

Now, with forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launching a blitzkreig throughout Iraq, President Barack Obama seems to have caught the “Victory Through Airpower” disease.

ISIS has thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.

This has led Republicans to accuse the President of being about to “lose” Iraq.

As a result, he has shipped at least 300 American “advisors” to Iraq, to  provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad.

And he has authorized American Predator drones to traverse Iraq, keeping tabs on the advancing ISIS forces.

So far, no American aircraft has fired on the insurgent army.  But this could happen at any moment that Obama gives the order.

Yet the giving of that order will not alter the balance of power in Iraq.  It certainly didn’t work for America in the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq.

Both wars opened with massive barrages of American missiles and bombs.  The 1991 war saw the first use of the vaunted “stealth bomber,” which could avoid detection by enemy radar.

The 2003 war opened with an even greater bombardment to “shock and awe” the Iraqis into surrendering.  They didn’t.

 

Baghdad under “shock and awe” bombardment

Nor did air power prove effective on the Iraqi insurgency that erupted after American forces occupied Baghdad and much of the rest of the country.

That war had to be fought by U.S. Army regulars and Special Operations soldiers–especially Navy SEALS.  It was a dirty and private effort, marked by nightly kidnappings of suspected Iraqi insurgents.

If American troops once again face off with Iraqis, “Victory Through Air Power” will prove as hollow a slogan as it has in the past.

ONE DAY, TWO ANNIVERSARIES

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 6, 2014 at 12:01 am

“For it is the doom of men that they forget.”
–Merlin, in “Excalibur”

June 6–a day of glory and tragedy.

The glory came  70 years ago–on Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

On that morning, Americans awoke to learn–from radio and newspapers–that their soldiers had landed on the French coast of Normandy.

In Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force was American General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Overall command of ground forces was given to British General Bernard Montgomery.

Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion to liberate France from Nazi Germany, proved one of the pivotal actions of World War II.

It opened shortly after midnight, with an airborne assault of 24,000 American, British, Canadian and Free French troops.  This was followed at 6:30 a.m. by an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the French coast.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel–the legendary “Desert Fox”–commanded the German forces.  For him, the first 24 hours of the battle would be decisive.

“For the Allies as well as the Germans,” he warned his staff, “it will be the longest day.”

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in history.  More than 160,000 troops landed–73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians.

Initially, the Allied assault seemed likely to be stopped at the water’s edge–where Rommel had always insisted it must be.  He had warned that if the Allies established a beachhead, their overwhelming advantages in numbers and airpower would eventually prove irresistible.

German machine-gunners and mortarmen wreaked a fearful toll on Allied soldiers.  But commanders like U.S. General Norman Cota led their men to victory through a storm of bullets and shells.

Coming upon a group of U.S. Army Rangers taking cover behind sand dunes, Cota demanded: “What outfit is this?”

“Rangers!” yelled one of the soldiers.

“Well, Goddamnit, then, Rangers, lead the way!” shouted Cota, inspiring the soldiers to rise and charge into the enemy.

The command also gave the Rangers the motto they carry to this day.

The allied casualty figures for D-Day have been estimated at 10,000, including 4,414 dead.  By nationality, the D-Day casualty figures are about 2,700 British, 946 Canadians and 6,603 Americans.

The total number of German casualties on D-Day isn’t known, but is estimated at 4,000 to 9,000.

Allied and German armies continued to clash throughout France, Belgium and Germany until May 7, 1945, when Germany finally surrendered.

But those Americans who had taken part in D-Day could be proud of having dealt a fatal blow to the evil ambitions of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

So much for the glory of June 6.  Now for the tragedy–which occurred 46 years ago, on Thursday, June 6, 1968.

Twenty-four years after D-Day, Americans awoke to learn–mostly from TV–that New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy had died at 1:44 a.m. of an assassin’s bullet.

He had been campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and had just won the California primary on June 4.

This had been a make-or-break event for Kennedy, a fierce critic of the seemingly endless Vietnam war.

He had won the Democratic primaries in Indiana and Nebraska, but had lost the Oregon primary to Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.

If he could defeat McCarthy in California, Kennedy could force his rival to quit the race.  That would lead to a showdown between him and Vice President Hubert Humphery for the nomination.

(President Lyndon B. Johnson had withdrawn from the race on March 31–just 15 days after Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16.)

After winning the California and South Dakota primaries, Kennedy gave a magnaminous victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles:

“I think we can end the divisions within the United States….We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country.  And I intend to make that my basis for running over the period of the next few months.”

Then he entered the hotel kitchen–where Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian from Jordan, opened fire with a .22 revolver.

Kennedy was hit three times–once fatally in the back of the head.  Five other people were also wounded.

Kennedy’s last-known words were: “Is everybody all right?” and “Jack, Jack”–the latter clearly a reference to his beloved older brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Almost five years earlier, that brother–then President of the United States–had been assassinated in Dalas on November 22, 1963.

Then Robert Kennedy lost consciousness–forever, dying in a hospital bed 24 hours later.

Kennedy had been a U.S. Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator (1964-1968).  But it was his connection to  President Kennedy for which he was best-known.

His assassination–coming so soon after that of JFK–convinced many Americans there was something “sick” about the nation’s culture.

One of the best summaries of Robert Kennedy’s legacy was given in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s, by historian William L. O’Neil:

“…He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and, through error and tragic accident, failed at….He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time.

“That too must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing.  With his death something precious disappeared from public life.”

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

In 1972, 41 years before Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on the Internet, David Halberstam issued a warning about government secrecy.

As a young reporter for the New York Times covering the early years of the Vietnam war, Halberstam had repeatedly confronted government duplicity and obstruction.

David Halberstam (on left)

Halberstam arrived in South Vietnam in 1962.  Almost at once he realized that the war was not going well for the United States Army and its supposed South Vietnamese allies.

The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was ill-trained and staffed with incompetent officers who sought to avoid military action.

Reports to military superiors were filled with career-boosting lies about “progress” being made against Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers.

“Screw up and move up” was the way Americans described the ARVN promotion system.

Halberstam soon learned that the phrase applied just as much to the American Army as well–for reasons of the same incompetence and duplicity.

Returning from Vietnam and resigning from the Times, Halberstam set to work on his landmark history of how the United States had become entangled in a militarily and economically unimportant country.

He would call it The Best and the Brightest, and the title would become a sarcastic reference to those men in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations whose arrogance and deceit plunged the United States into disaster.

Halberstam outlined how the culture of secrecy and unchecked power led American policymakers to play God with the lives of other nations.

Out of this grew a willingness to use covert operations.  And this meant keeping these secret from Americans generally and Congress in particular.

This ignorance allowed citizens to believe that America was a different country.  One that didn’t engage in the same brutalities and corruptions of other nations.

Thus, President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed to be the peace candidate during the 1964 election.  Meanwhile, he was secretly sending U.S. Navy ships to attack coastal cities in North Vietnam.

When North Vietnam responded militarily, Johnson feigned outrage and vowed that the United States would vigorously resist “Communist aggression.”

The history of covert operations has had its own in- and -out-of seasons:

  • During the Eisenhower Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the governments of Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).
  • During the Kennedy Administration, the CIA repeatedly tried to assassinate Cuba’s “Maximum Leader,” Fidel Castro.
  • During the Nixon Adminisdtration, the CIA plotted with right-wing army leaders to successfully overthrow Salvador Allende, the Leftist, legally-elected President of Chile (1973).
  • In 1975, the CIA’s history of assassination attempts became public through an expose by New York Times Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh.
  • Following nationwide outrage, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning the agency from assassinating foreign leaders.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to “take off the gloves.”

The CIA drew up an ever-expanding list of targets and used killer drones and Special Operations troops (such as SEALs and Green Berets) to hunt them down.

Predator drone firing Hellfire missile

And when these weren’t enough, the CIA called on expensive mercenaries (such as Blackwater), untrustworthy foreign Intelligence services, proxy armies and mercurial dictators.

In his 2013 book, The Way of the Knife, New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti traces the origins of this high-tech, “surgical” approach to warfare.

Within the course of a decade, the CIA has moved largely from being an intelligence-gathering agency to being a “find-and-kill” one.

And this newfound lethality came at a price: The CIA would no longer be able to provide the crucial Intelligence Presidents need to make wise decisions in a dangerous world.

While the CIA sought to become a more discreet version of the Pentagon, the Pentagon began setting up its own Intelligence network in out-of-the-way Third World outposts.

And, ready to service America’s military and Intelligence agencies at a mercenary’s prices, are a host of private security and Intelligence companies.

Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel, warns of the potential for trouble: “There is an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie.  Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Mazzetti warns of the dark side of these new developments. On one hand, this high-tech approach to war has been embraced by Washington as a low-risk, low-cost alternative to huge troop commitments and quagmire occupations.

On the other hand, it’s created new enemies, fomented resentments among allies and fueled regional instability.  It has also created new weapons unbound by the normal rules of accountability in wartime.

Finally, it’s raised new and troubling ethical questions, such as:

  • What is the moral difference between blowing apart a man at a remote distance with a drone-fired missile and shooting him in the back of the head at close range?
  • Why is the first considered a legitimate act of war–and the second considered an illegal assassination?

In time, there will be answers to many of the uncertainties this new era of push-button and hired-soldier warfare  has unleashed.  And at least some of those answers may come at a high price.

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2014 at 1:03 am

Millions of Americans are outraged to find that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been running a program to spy on the Internet.

National Security Agency

Created in 1952, the NSA is the largest signals-intercepting and code-cracking agency in the world, using specially designed high-speed computers to analyze literally mountains of data.

Headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA dwarfs the better-known Central Intelligence Agency in both its budget (which is classified) and number of employees (40,000).

NSA’s program–entitled PRISM–collects a wide range of data from nine Internet service providers, although the details vary by provider.

Here are the nine ISPs:

  • AOL
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Skype
  • Facebook
  • PalTalk
  • Apple
  • YouTube

And here is what we know (so far) they provide to the ever-probing eyes of America’s Intelligence community:

  • Email
  • Videos
  • Stored data
  • Photos
  • File transfers
  • Video conferencing
  • Notification of target activity (logins)
  • Online social networking details
  • VolP (Voice Over Internet Porocol)
  • Special requests

“Trailblazer,” NSA’s data-mining computer system

The program has been run by the NSA since 2007.  But its existence became front-page news only in early June, 2013, when a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked its capabilities to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

While millions of Americans were surprised at this massive electronic vacuuming of data, at least one man could not have been.

This was Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter who, in 1971, broke the story of the Pentagon Papers.  A secret Pentagon study, it documented how the United States became entangled in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

Its existence had been leaked by Daniel Ellsburg, a former defense analyst for the RAND corporation.

Among the Pentagon Papers’ embarrassing revelations:

  • Four Presidents–Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson–had misled the public about their intentions.
  • At least two Presidents–Kennedy and Johnson–committed increasing numbers of ground forces to Vietnam out of fear.  Not fear for the South Vietnamese but fear that they (JFK and LBJ) would be charged with being “soft on Communism” and thereby not re-elected.
  • Kennedy knew the South Vietnamese government to be thoroughly corrupt and inept, and plotted to overthrow its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, to “save” the war effort.
  • During the Presidential campaign of 1964, Johnson decided to expand the war but posed as a peacemaker.  He claimed that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, wanted to bomb North Vietnam and send thousands of American soldieers into an unnecessary war.

A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration summed up the duplicity behind the war.  It listed the real reasons for American involvement: “To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”

  • 70% – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.
  • 20% – To keep South Vietnam and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands.
  • 10% – To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
  • ALSO – To emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
  • NOT – To ‘help a friend’.

The study implicated only the administrations of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

But then-President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, saw the release of the papers as a dangerous breach of national security.

After the New York Times began publishing the study, Nixon ordered the Justice Department to intervene.

For the first time in United States history, a federal judge legally forbade a newspaper to publish a story.

The Times frantically appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post (having gotten a second set of the documents from Ellsburg) rushed its own version of the story into print.

On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government had failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of press freedom.

For Sheehan, reading the Papers was an eye-opener, a descent into a world he had never imagined possible.

As David Halberstam wrote in The Best and the Brightest, his best-selling 1972 account of how arrogance and deceit led the United States into disaster in Vietnam:

Sheehan came away with the overwhelming impression: that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was.

Sheehan felt that he had discovered an inner U.S. government, highly centralized, and far more powerful than anything else.  And its enemy wass not simply the Communists but everything else–its own press, judiciary, Congress, foreign and friendly governments.

It had survived and perpetuated itself, often by using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press.  And it served its own ends, rather than the good of the Republic.

This inner government used secrecy to protect itself–not from foreign governments but to keep its own citizens ignorant of its crimes and incompetence.

Each succeeding President was careful to not expose the faults of his predecessor.

Essentially the same people were running the government, wrote Halberstam, and so each new administration   faced virtually the same enemies.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

Fifty years ago this November 22, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.  From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Contrast that with today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

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