After a respectful pause for the ninth Anniversary of 9/11, it seemed to me vital that we review the history of flawed outcomes from our imperial war-making.
Ever since the American Presidency became truly imperial under LBJ, we have been treated to an endless parade of majestic media images—meetings, speeches and other events which likely would have made Mark Twain cringe. We increasingly kowtow to the office as if its occupant were somehow operating under the Divine Right of Kings.
But how have our Presidents performed on national security, which is certainly related to how they have mishandled immigration?
As so beautifully described by Andrew Bacevich in his book, Washington Rules: America's Path To Permanent War, America has become an Empire. Two key architects of that empire were Allen Dulles, who planned the Bay of Pigs disaster (which cost him his job), and General Curtis LeMay who drove the Strategic Air Command to obtain nuclear weapons could have blown the planet to smithereens many times over.
This book by a 20-year military officer, now a professor at Boston University, ranges over the decades since WWII to describe the process whereby America became an Empire, developing what Bacevich calls the "sacred trinity"—global military presence, global power projection and global intervention as exemplified by Korea, Vietnam and finally the Bush-contrived "preventive war" in Iraq.
This book joins two others just published on the American Empire.
One,The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, by Tom Engelhardt, is a little-heralded paperback masterpiece of only 216 pages which should enlighten anyone who has not already come to the sad conclusion that the US has turned into a dangerous empire.
From its first line, author Engelhardt sets the tragic scene: ''War is Peace' was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth or Minitrue in 'Newspeak' the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel, 1984". [America's Tragic Descent into Empire, July 9, 2010]
From there Engelhardt's readers are tutored in how our fear of attack was obsessively co-opted by our government and its willing military suppliers.
This author plausibly describes the spread, like an octopus. of America's presence around the world, in the form of over 700 military bases—most in places where our security clearly wasn't then and/or is not now at stake.
In retrospect our forays into Korea, Vietnam and now in the Middle East, proved that war was not the answer. The cost in human lives and treasure and the escalating threat of terrorism cry out for a new evaluation of our present imperial policies, But they have been embraced by all Presidents since WWII—including Obama, who has now bought into Bush's ultimate folly, continuing that "preventive war" in Iraq with no real end to our occupancy there and around the world in sight. For example, we have built our largest overseas embassy in Bagdad and have other large permanent military facilities in Iraq.
After noting Obama's submission speech to his military industrial advisors at West Point, Engelhardt, in perhaps the book's most brilliant writing, imagines the policy speech he hoped Obama would have made upon beginning his Presidency.
The author has Obama reciting the facts of the present situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he has Obama saying we will not continue to fight a counter-insurgency war, which cannot be won. He has Obama state: "It's time for a change.....I expect anger and debate. I take full responsibility for whatever may result from this policy of departure." [The Afghan Speech Obama Should Give (But Won't), By Tom Engelhardt, November 19, 2009]
As in Vietnam, we will eventually come to this point of withdrawal, after the loss of hundreds of lost lives on both sides later and trillions in wasted money. We can hope that point in time will be ASAP.
Again, in fairness, all Barack's predecessors since WWII have folded to the wishes of the powerful military-industrial complex, about which President Eisenhower warned us in 1961.
The third book is Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling The Empire: America's Last Best Hope.
Of the three books, Johnson's represents the best overview of how we got here and the most dramatic recommendation—do away with the CIA. The section on "The Legacy of the OSS" (the OSS was shut down in September 1945 and the Central Intelligence Agency started in 1947) should be enough to persuade our government to shut down this incompetent agency, which has been allowed total secrecy on how it has wasted our tax dollars (between $44 and $48 billion a year) and covered up dangerous and outrageous initiatives after they have failed. (Johnson's analysis of "Charley Wilson's War" should be mandatory reading for all Americans.)
Yes, we lost 3000 lives on 9/11, plus over 4,000 men and women in the current wars. But we killed three million in Vietnam, then hundreds of thousands in Cambodia and now hundreds of thousands in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, including many women and children.
Our Cold War motivations may have had some validity at an earlier time. But the alleged threats that prompted our military escalations clearly need reassessment now.
Looking back on the dreary ninth Anniversary of 9/11, and at the decades of bad policies which preceded that "blowback" (a term invented by Chalmers Johnson), we are reminded of what Pogo said long ago: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.