Archive for July 21st, 2011
DE BORCHGRAVE: ‘Haunting Legacy’
Vietnam syndrome’s effect on presidential decision-making is beginning to wear off
If journalism is the first draft of history, the current phase of journalism with blogs, tweets and miscellaneous bells and whistles is once-over-lightly history that bears little relation to reality. Mercifully, there are exceptions. Some journalists still spend five or more years researching a subject they already know well and that has already generated scores of books – but the brass ring on history’s carousel is infuriatingly elusive.
This time, nonpareil journalist and scholar Marvin Kalb and daughter Deborah Kalb have documented how Vietnam ‘s “Haunting Legacy” has spooked every U.S. president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama. And the richly deserved brass ring is in the family vault.
Most Vietnam War books have been written by journalists who were part-time war correspondents who had made up their minds – many of them before their first reporting stint in the rice paddies or the highlands – the United States did not belong in Vietnam . They saw the U.S. as a clumsy, purposeless giant grinding up poor, defenseless Vietnamese whose only ambition was freedom and democracy.
The 1968 Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster for North Vietnam . But it was reported as a mitigated disaster for the United States . When Walter Cronkite, with helmet and flak jacket, reported from Saigon at the end of Tet that the war was lost (it went on for another four years), President Lyndon Johnson decided he had lost the heartland and would not run again.
What LBJ once called “a raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country” inflicted on a global superpower the first defeat in American history. (1812 is still contested between the U.S. , Great Britain and Canada ).
That is the genesis of the Kalbs’ “Haunting Legacy.” In 1970, Richard Nixon was next up and tried to gain a little space and time by invading southeastern Cambodia where North Vietnam ‘s supply line was closest to Saigon . To no avail.
The last U.S. combat soldier left Vietnam in March 1973. Of more than 3 million who served in the 11-year war, 58,000 were killed, 1,000 were missing in action and some 150,000 were seriously wounded.
The “Haunting Legacy” began in earnest with President Ford and continues under President Obama. America ‘s spectacular, bloodless geopolitical triumph over the Soviet Union , whose dividends obliterated Communist parties the world over, still did not erase a legacy that continues to haunt the Oval Office.
Whatever the specific issue or provocation, write the Kalb duo – whether the capture of the Mayaguez in 1975 under Ford, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 under Jim my Carter, the deaths of 241 Marines in Beirut in 1983 under Ronald Reagan, the Persian Gulf War under George H.W. Bush or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under George W. Bush and Barack Obama – “Vietnam always seemed to have a seat in the Oval Office, playing a surprisingly critical role in many presidential decisions.”
This razor-sharp, self-analysis “profoundly changed how presidents decide questions of war and peace and how they interact with Congress, the public and the world. In short, Vietnam has infiltrated the presidential DNA, even though presidents have struggled with this DNA in different ways.”
Up until 1992, the Kalb duo reminds us, every successful presidential candidate since World War II had served his country in uniform during wartime. That is, until baby boomer Bill Clinton, “who had danced through hoops to avoid service in Vietnam , upset the traditional pattern by defeating a World War II hero, George H.W. Bush.” And four years later, Mr. Clinton beat another Second World War hero, Robert Dole, who was gravely wounded in Italy .
Then again in 2000, George W. Bush, who served at hom in the National Guard, beat incumbent Vice President Al Gore, who had served in Vietnam as an Army journalist. And Bush 43 repeated this feat by beating Sen. John Kerry who had fought in Vietnam as a Swift boat skipper, earning a Bronze star and Purple Heart, before becoming an anti-war activist.
Then in 2008, as “Haunting Legacy” reminds us, then-Sen. Obama, who was 13 when the Vietnam War ended, beat Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War pilot shot down over Hanoi, who spent five years undergoing multiple beatings, in a North Vietnamese prison camp.
War heroes were no longer in demand. In fact, they had become a liability. But each new president still had to face the war-peace dilemma, irrespective of his convictions.
Reagan didn’t retaliate after the loss of 241 Marines in Beirut even though U.S. warships were off the Lebanese coast. Two days later, he ordered the invasion of Grenada .
In 1990, Bush 41 deployed a half-million-man-and-woman army and persuaded a large coalition of allied and friendly nations to join the effort of kicking Iraqi troops out of Kuwait – but the Vietnam syndrome counseled prudence. He declined to chase Saddam Hussein’s troops all the way back to Baghdad .
Mr. Clinton was anti-war and declined to send ground troops anywhere. He had hated the Vietnam War and escaped service with student deferments. One helicopter down in Somalia and Mr. Clinton ordered an immediate troop withdrawal. In the Balkans, he authorized air power only. His aides had been selected for their well-known anti-war proclivities.
Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon pushed the Vietnam syndrome aside. The original retaliatory attack against Afghanistan was a measured response with 410 Special Forces and CIA personnel. But caution was soon displaced by a major invasion assisted by NATO allies, who reckoned they would be in theater for six to nine months, not six to nine years.
Disenchantment, with no prospect of defeating Taliban’s fighters, soon led back to the Vietnam syndrome. Sixty-five percent of Americans want out.
The muddled thinking on Iraq , coupled with appallingly erroneous intelligence, inexplicably overlooked that Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, was still the best defense against the pariah regime of medieval, anti-U.S. mullahs in Iran . Last week, a ranking Iraqi official on a trip to Washington , sheepishly conceded that Iran now has more influence in Iraq than the United States .
The Iraq invasion and decade-long war was a trillion-dollar mistake. Too bad the Vietnam syndrome did not prevail.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and United Press International.
Billions missing in Afghan quagmire as US states go broke!
But first, a disturbing new report now revealing — get this — billions and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars missing in Afghanistan — billions of …dollars.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has got the details for us.
Chris, at a time of economic difficulty and they’re looking to save money, all of a sudden billions are missing in Afghanistan? What’s going on?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, basically, this federal audit shows that about 10 years in, the U.S. still only has limited visibility of what happens to billions of dollars once we send it to Afghanistan. That makes it not only vulnerable to fraud, but in some cases even being diverted to insurgents who are fighting American troops.
How much money are we talking about? Well, the U.S. has spent about $70 billion, sending it to reconstruction and security projects in Afghanistan. And what the audit finds is that as much as $10 million may be leaving Afghanistan, smuggled out of Afghanistan every single day.
Why is that? Because when Afghan government officials leave the country, no one is checking how much money they have with them. And the audit shows that Afghan government officials are refusing to put their money through these electronic currency counters.
Could the U.S. check it? Hard to do when U.S. officials are denied access to that part of the airport where the VIP’s are getting screened. And President Hamid Karzai has now banned U.S. Treasury officials from working with the Afghan central bank.
Look, the Obama administration has now requested another $17 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction next year. But even some Democrats are now wondering, are we throwing good money after bad.
We spoke with Senator Claire McCaskill who has been tracking government waste and these contracting issues for several years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: We had palates of cash walk away in Iraq, and I was hopeful after doing a lot of oversights in Iraq that we had learned a lot of lessons from that. This report says all those lessons have not been learned, because clearly we have to be able to track the currency as it flows to contractors as it flows to subcontractors.
And the lack of cooperation in the Afghanistan banking system is not helping us with our oversight responsibility. If they’re not willing to allow us to look over their shoulder as this money flows into the Afghan economy, then we ought to say to them, maybe it’s time we don’t let that money flow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: One of the problems is they use what’s called hawalas (ph), these are sort of informal financial institutions that operate sort of outside the law. They’re not like official banks.
One of the — when you look at the audit, they found one case in which U.S. contractor, you know, tried to send out about $3 billion, but it got tied up with his hawala who refused to disburse the money, and there’s no way to get that back — Wolf.
BLITZER: And this latest bombshell coming from the U.S. government, the special inspector general’s report, and it’s a shocking report. It’s going to put added pressure on the Obama administration to start getting out of Afghanistan even more quickly, especially since there’s no evidence the Afghan government is doing what it needs to do to prevent these millions and millions of dollars getting out every day. Some of that money, presumably, as you point out, going to terrorists and extremists who want to kill Americans. Shocking report.
LAWRENCE: Exactly, Wolf. I mean, just one more thing. I mean, when you look at it, there’s an agency that tracks this. And they even said 21 leads to Afghan government officials on potential crimes. Do you want to know how many of those leads the Afghan attorney general’s office followed up on? Four.
BLITZER: Yes. It’s a shocking, shocking development. All right. Thanks very much. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.
Hillary Cracks the Whip
Posted By Philip Giraldi On July 20, 2011 @ 11:00 pm In Uncategorized | 16 Comments
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at it again last week. She was in Turkey attending a NATO gathering dealing with what to do about the succession in Libya, based on the perhaps erroneous assumption that Muammar Gadhafi is on his way out. Clinton and NATO decided, based on their own admittedly partial view of the situation, that the Gadhafi regime is no longer legitimate and that the rebels who are trying to topple him are now to be regarded as the legal government. The “international recognition” will enable them to use the roughly $30 billion in frozen Libyan government assets, mostly located in American and European banks. Hopefully, things will go better than they did in Iraq back in 2003. Washington sent in a proconsul supported by a host of neocon Myrmidons to make sure things would run smoothly. More than $20 billion of Iraqi state “reconstruction” funds were unfrozen and then went missing after liberation took place. The Iraqi people are still waiting for the electricity to come back on.
Clinton also took some heavy-handed swipes at Syria, making clear that both she and her boss want to see regime change. Three hundred fifty representatives of Syrian dissident groups were perhaps not coincidentally present in Istanbul for a “National Salvation Conference,” so Clinton took the opportunity to denounce President Bashar al-Assad’s government as having “lost legitimacy.” The White House backed up Clinton’s possibly impromptu comment, and over at Foggy Bottom, Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s neoconnish press spokeswoman, made the case more explicitly, denouncing “a Syrian government that continues to beat, imprison, torture, slaughter its own people.”
If Syria sounds like any number of regimes that the United States has quite comfortable relationships with, it should. While it would seem that international conferencing and seeking to overthrow two regimes would make for a busy weekend for even the most peripatetic secretary of state, Hillary also decided to take on her host, Turkey. She lauded Muslim Turkey as a model for the future development of Arab Spring states but then whacked its government for imprisoning journalists. Whoever was briefing her from her staff or from the Embassy evidently neglected to describe how Turkey has a wide open and fairly raucous press that often is very critical of the government. Most of the 60 detained journalists are reported to have close and continuing ties with separatist groups, including the terrorist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Others are believed to be linked to right-wing extremists who have been advocating a military coup to overthrow the civilian government. Turkish sources make clear that there is little doubt that the authorities have quite likely overreacted and used sometimes flimsy evidence to concoct their cases against at least some of the journalists, but the political engagement of many of those arrested might suggest that there is more to the story than meets the eye.
I will confess right here that I have a particular fondness for Turkey, having lived and worked there, and I continue to have many close Turkish friends. Turks are particularly stubborn and extremely loyal, but my recent trips to the country have revealed that they are also utterly fed up with United States policies in the region. The Turkish media is full of the latest missteps by Washington, with particular emphasis on how the entire Near East has been destabilized through U.S. military action and the “war on terror.” Even shopkeepers are caught up in the outrage. On my last visit I was harangued for 30 minutes on U.S. policy by a rug merchant whom I have known for 30 years, a man who has visited the United States and who has many American friends. Even though I agreed with nearly everything he said, he insisted on explaining things in some detail “in his own words,” a prolonged tale of Washington’s arrogance and ignorance.
The U.S. media fans the flames and reciprocates by frequently reporting on Washington’s disenchantment with Turkey and the direction it is moving in, but they are really only expressing their own biases, which are generally measured through their consideration of what Israel appears to want. Recently, two American senators have indicated that they will work to derail any planned NATO missile defense deployment in Turkey unless Ankara agrees to share all information with Israel. Perhaps someone should point out to Sens. Jon Kyl and Mark Kirk that Israel is not a member of NATO and is not in any formal alliance, with the United States or anyone else. Which means that the United States would be compelling NATO to participate in the defense of Israel without any apparent reciprocity on the part of Tel Aviv.
In the middle of all the finger pointing, the United States seems to have lost sight of its own national interest. It is true that Turkey did not support the invasion of Iraq, but it was the right decision not to do so. If a few more countries had also said “no,” perhaps the United States would not have killed a couple of hundred thousand people and wasted more than $1 trillion dollars while accomplishing absolutely nothing.
It is also true that Turkey has condemned Israeli policies and its occupation of the Palestinian territories, but most of the world would consider that a perfectly legitimate viewpoint. Turkey is also derided for becoming more religious even though most of its people have always been devout, and the open expression of belief is also part of its becoming more democratic. In addition, the mainstream media frequently claims that Ankara is soft on Iran sanctions and aligning culturally and politically with its eastern neighbors. Critics forget that Turkey’s attempts to become part of the European Union have been consistently rejected while the country itself is geographically mostly in Asia and sharing borders and trade relationships with quite a lot of the rest of it, including Iran.
To my mind, Turkey is far too nice to Hillary and to Washington. Rather than be lectured, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan might suggest that Clinton go away and find another bone to chew. If the Middle East is in a catastrophic state, it is precisely because of Washington’s meddling and its perennial tilt toward Israel. Erdogan might note that Turkey’s economy is booming because it takes pains to remain on good terms with everyone, and he might reasonably ask why Washington cannot recognize its own failure to put its house in order. How many congressmen are suggesting that the costs of empire be cut to help pass a federal government budget? Only a handful, while to virtually everyone else in the world watching the spectacle of American impotence on display, the mailed fist and the angry frown of Hillary Clinton are what the United States represents.
What is going on in Syria is another poster child for what is wrong. I have no particular insight into what is occurring in Syria except for my belief that the United States government quite likely knows little about what is taking place and is probably wildly wrong about what the dissidents represent and what they would be likely to do if they were to seize power. There might be a few Patrick Henrys among them ready to go all out for the cause, but I doubt there is a Thomas Jefferson who can pick up the pieces and put Humpty Dumpty back together. Would a destabilized Syria be a precondition for an Israeli attack supported by Washington? You heard it here first.
In the case of Syria, the United States has made plain right from the get-go that it is supporting dissidents through training and provision of technology and infrastructure to enable them to communicate and organize. On July 7, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford traveled with full ambassadorial entourage to the city of Hama, believed to be a hotbed of resistance to the government. He did so to express his support for the rebels. When he returned to Damascus, an angry crowd, no doubt egged on by the regime, attacked and entered the U.S. Embassy and was eventually driven out of the building by the Marine guards. At the end of it all, it was difficult to discern what the ambassador’s trip was intended to do apart from increase tension. It did produce a tit-for-tat that benefited neither Washington nor Damascus, nor, insofar as can be determined, the rebels or reformers, depending on how one regards them.
The examples of Libya, Syria, and Turkey reveal that the United States persists in thinking that it can lead the world by intimidation rather than by example. One hesitates to construct an analogy, but if the ambassador of an unfriendly country, Venezuela perhaps, were to publicly announce that his country would support separatists in the United States with training and communications equipment and, furthermore, that he would travel to attend an anti-government rally in Texas or Alaska, it would certainly cause considerable heartburn, and I can well imagine President Barack Obama taking aggressive steps to stop the activity. The United States is ever the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, acting out in ways that it denies to others. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are no strangers to the word “hypocrisy” in their dealings all around the world. Yes, it is certainly true that people are protesting and dying in Syria, but it is not our quarrel. It is something that the Syrians themselves will have to sort out.
But perhaps there is a more fundamental question. Who is Hillary Clinton to pronounce on the legitimacy of any foreign government? Victoria Nuland’s condemnation of Syria cites “beating, imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering,” but doesn’t Washington do all of that and more? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA secret prisons, and Predator drone strikes surely tell the tale. No other government claims that it has the right to kill its own citizens anywhere in the world based on secret evidence. Isn’t it time for Washington to recognize that it has become a rogue state and for Hillary to come home, sit down, and stop talking?
Read more by Philip Giraldi
Unfolding the Syrian Paradox