Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


June 23, 2014

Stumptalk: Whose war is it now?

CROSSVILLE — During the 2004 Presidential campaign Democratic Party nominee John Kerry referred to Vietnam as “Nixon’s war.” At first I thought calling Vietnam Nixon’s war a mistake because the first escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam began with John F. Kennedy when he increased U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam to 18,000, then continued after his death with Lyndon Johnson’s increase to 550,000 full combat troops. Vietnam had then become Johnson’s war. When Nixon took office in January 1969, Johnson’s war had gone on since 1965. However, it took Nixon until 1973 to remove all U.S. troops, which, as the rule in politics usually operates, made Vietnam Nixon’s war.

Almost every president inherits the problems or messes of his predecessor. If not quickly resolved, the previous president’s problems become his. Not fair perhaps, but that’s the way politics operates, especially when the problems get worse. The ignominious end of Nixon’s war in 1975 (by that time Gerald Ford was president) is still firmly etched in the minds of those alive at the time: a U.S. Army Huey helicopter evacuating people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

Other presidents are more fortunate. President Harry Truman inherited World War II from Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, but the war ended that same year. But then he created his own war when he sent U.S. troops to Korea in 1950. As Lyndon Johnson did later in 1968, Truman declined to run for a second term in 1952; widespread dissatisfaction with their wars was the reason. 

President Eisenhower took office in 1953 while war on the Korean Peninsula continued. Fortunately for Eisenhower, the Korean Armistice was signed that year allowing Eisenhower to concentrate on other things for the rest of his administration. Truman’s war never became Eisenhower’s. 

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly belonged to President George W. Bush. But for some time now — the current President has been in office since 2009 — the wars have become the sole property of President Obama. As Iraq disintegrates into political chaos, in the minds of the general public much blame will unfairly descend upon the current president.

As readers of my columns know, I have never agreed with much of anything the current president has done, but he inherited a Bush-created Middle Eastern foreign policy mess that any president would have difficulty managing and untangling. Anticipating this, in 2003 I wrote a letter to the Chronicle opposing the impending Iraqi intervention, for which I was severely criticized by an enthusiastic President Bush supporter, the implication being that I did not realize that “freedom is not free” and did not know who “had my back.” In other words, I was unpatriotic. Nonetheless, based on failed American post-World War II military interventions, and especially the Vietnam debacle, I knew that President’s Bush’s naïve political objectives would never be achieved and would create more problems than they would solve.

President Bush’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq followed a Wilsonian model of liberal internationalism, adopted by both political parties, that has dominated 20th and now 21st century foreign policy. After Vietnam one would have thought that leaders had finally learned something, but they hadn’t. 

They should have heeded the wise words of John Quincy Adams in his 1821 Independence Day Speech: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her (America’s) heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Further on he says this, “… by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication ….” That is exactly what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the way in other places around the world including Europe and Korea. America still has military forces all over the world, which in the opinions of many military and foreign policy experts much smarter than I, more often weaken rather than strengthen U.S. national security. Contemporary neocons would probably call Adams an isolationist, but history has shown the wisdom of his warning.

Intervention into the problems of other nations, no matter how noble the motives, frequently ends badly. Whose war is it now? It belongs to President Obama. He should have withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq immediately. (And incidentally, should have immediately closed the Guantanamo Bay detention center.) He would have caught a lot of heat then, but that would have been long forgotten by now.          


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