Thursday, February 14, 2013

Interventionism from America


Your humble blogger is often amused by accusations made in my direction of being, what most idiot insult-hurlers these days like to call, an interventionist neo-con warmonger. I can only find this funny because, focusing on the United States, I can see no legitimate justification for the vast majority of conflicts the USA has fought. However, to many people, that does not seem to matter because I do support a strong military and because I will not renounce the principle of interventionism itself. Sometimes, in my view, it is necessary. There are occasions when coming to the aid of one country is not only humane but also in the vital interest of the intervening country. There are also some movements which are so poisonous and so vile that I would stop at nothing to see them resisted to the utmost. The best example of this would be communism, which appeals to all people everywhere and which must be universal in order to be fulfilled, hence the Marxist cry for “workers of the world” to unite. This really makes me the odd man out as the most unpopular wars America has fought have been the wars fought against communism and these are ones that I do support because I will always be in favor of fighting communism, regardless of the circumstances. However, even that is not quite so simple, because many of the communist enemies the U.S. has fought have only arisen because of inept American intervention in the first place and this brings us to my main point.

It is not that I oppose any and all American interventionism around the world but I do think, and it seems extremely obvious to me, that the United States does not have a very good track record when it comes to picking the right side to intervene on. Sometimes, undoubtedly these interventions are done with the best of intentions but still, one could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. seems to go out of its way to pick the worst side to get behind. As with most global problems of our day, the first major U.S. intervention overseas was World War One and there is plenty to work with there. It would not be the first time that a U.S. President elected on a promise of peace and neutrality took America into war. I am more forgiving on that score than many people today, because the U.S. had nothing to do with starting the war that was going to be disastrous no matter how it turned out and also because the infamous Zimmermann Telegram has to be one of the most mind-numbingly stupid acts ever committed by a foreign minister in world history. However, for good or ill the United States entered the First World War and the bad decisions were already racing ahead of events. In the first place, the U.S. purposely held off until the 1917 Revolution in Russia because the self-righteous Democrat Woodrow Wilson did not want to be allied with an autocracy like Imperial Russia. That, from an Allied perspective, was a major mistake.

Contrary to what many think, the Russian Empire showed numerous signs of being on the verge of a military comeback prior to the revolution and had the U.S. come in earlier, the war might have been ended sooner in their favor. By waiting, the Russian war effort collapsed and Germany was able to shift forces to the western front for a major offensive that was nearly disastrous for the Allies. Additionally, it was very stupid for the United States to have cheered the downfall of the Russian Empire because, as we all know, it was replaced by a weak government that proved incapable of standing up to the Bolshevik menace. It would not be the first time that the United States backed the downfall of one regime, considered unsavory, only to see the “good” regime that replaced it be overthrown by another that is truly horrific. Yet, American (and plenty of other) leaders never seem to learn the lesson. It would happen again in countries from Germany to Iran. One of the first big mistakes Wilson made was in refusing to talk peace with Germany so long as there was no radical change in government. This made those Germans desperate for peace willing to depose the Kaiser in return for an end to the fighting. So, the monarchy was gone and, again, a government took its place that would prove unable to stand.

This mistake was compounded by the controversy of Wilson’s famous “14 Points”. Many blame the fourteen points for being absurd just as they were but, that doesn’t really matter as they were never implemented and it was actually the Germans who were most upset about it. The Allies never took them seriously and Wilson, despite all his self-righteous rhetoric, went along with the other Allies in the re-drawing of the map of Europe which in no way followed the demographic guidelines he had originally called for. By the time it was over, there were Germans in Denmark, Belgium, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungarians in almost every neighboring country (Hungary was positively butchered in the peace settlement), there were Austrians in Italy and Italians in Yugoslavia and so on. It was a big enough mess that the U.S. Congress wanted nothing to do with it, repudiated Wilson’s double-dealing, refused to sign the Versailles Treaty and refused to join the League of Nations. Americans were so thoroughly disgusted that the country recommitted itself to a (somewhat) isolationist perspective, determined to never again make the same mistake of getting involved in a foreign war. It probably also didn’t help that there were people like Winston Churchill who had begged, cajoled and schemed endlessly to get the U.S. into World War I only to then blame every problem that arose from it on American intervention. The U.S. said, “no more”.

When the build-up to World War II came, American opinion had not changed. Some Americans volunteered to fight the Italians in Ethiopia, the nationalists in Spain and the Japanese in China but as far as the general public was concerned they wanted none of the emerging conflict. Just like Wilson before him, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for President on the promise that he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war. However, pretty soon after war broke out in Europe, he began trying to figure a way to get the United States involved. American aid went to Great Britain and American ships even attacked German submarines in the Atlantic but, despite his best efforts, FDR could not bring sufficient pressure to bear on Adolf Hitler to make him take a swing at the United States. All of this was going on while the Congress had passed special legislation designed to keep America neutral in World War II but, of course, America was nothing of the sort. No one should be fooled either that FDR was motivated by concern from Great Britain. He positively despised the British Empire and seemed downright obsessed with ending British rule in India (the “capstone” of the empire) in particular. Take from it what you will but things really seemed to get moving around the same time that Hitler and his allies invaded the Soviet Union. Not getting anywhere with him, FDR turned to the east.

This is still controversial today, when it is talked about at all, but the facts are clear and plain for all to see. First, there was the McCollum memo, dated October 7, 1940, which outlined a plan for provoking Japan into committing an act of war against the United States that would turn public opinion in favor of intervention. Some dismiss the document but there is no denying the fact that the FDR administration eventually adopted virtually every recommendation made. However, there is also no denying the fact that Roosevelt was not against making the first aggressive move himself so long as he had “plausible deniability”. On July 23, 1941, five months before Pearl Harbor, FDR signed a top secret plan to launch a surprise bombing attack on Japan, a plan not declassified until the 70’s and then buried for decades after that. The plan was put forward by the commander of the American air force unit, the “Flying Tigers” who were American volunteers employed by the Republic of China in their war with Japan. The “Tigers” were secretly funded by the U.S. government to the tune of $50 million. It should be noted that sending U.S. personnel to fight under a foreign flag was a blatant violation of American neutrality laws passed by Congress; a body that did not share the desire of the President to intervene in World War II.

On July 25, 1941, only two days after signing off on the plan to bomb Japan, FDR signed the embargo against Japan in an effort to provoke them into firing the first shot in an attack that would incite the American public to not only favor entering World War II but immediately demand it. The secret plan called for an additional air fighter and bomber group to be sent to China to attack the Japanese home islands with incendiary bombs to cripple the Japanese infrastructure while “officially” under the flag of republican China. The plan, called JB-355, targeted Nagasaki, Osaka and Tokyo from bases in eastern China. It is also worth remembering that, in July of 1941, the Republic of China had not yet officially declared war on Japan either. It was only because of logistical delays that the plan had still not been carried out when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Aside from these plans, and unlike in the First World War, the fact of the matter is that Axis personnel were being killed by American air and naval forces in American planes and American ships long before the United States had declared war on anyone and was still claiming the status of a neutral power. Why is all of this significant to us today? The simple answer is because of the aftermath of World War II. Who came out ahead of the game when it was all over? Certainly not the French or British who, even in victory, were ruined by it and, in the long-run, not even the United States.

During the war the Allies (primarily Britain and the United States) made some serious mistakes in choosing who to support and who to oppose. Churchill made the decision (which the U.S. went along with) to cut off support for the royalist resistance in Yugoslavia and shift that support to the communist partisans. There were massive amounts of aid that went to the Soviet Union, which had, under Stalin, invaded numerous neighboring countries and massacred hordes of people, either outright or through enforced starvation. In the Far East the primary beneficiary of American aid were the Chinese republicans who had previously been supported by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. In fact, the Nazis had been some of the staunchest allies of the Republic of China before the signing of the Berlin-Tokyo Axis. By the time World War II was over, Nazi Germany was destroyed but Communist forces ruled all of Eastern Europe which doomed benevolent and pro-Allied monarchies such as Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. It meant death and oppression for millions of people and a military stand-off in Europe for decades to come. In the Far East, the defeat of Japan allowed for communist takeovers in North Korea, North Vietnam and, eventually, the communist takeover of mainland China. Each side in the civil war and certainly the subsequent Maoist regime, each killed far more Chinese people than even the most extravagant claims of the numbers killed by the Japanese. In Vietnam it was the United States which armed and trained the guerilla fighters of the man later known as Ho Chi Minh, to fight the Japanese, but who later expanded into the VietMinh which fought the war against France and later became the Viet Cong which killed so many Americans in the U.S.-Vietnam war.

In Europe, the U.S. took a more moderate stance. Having aided in the abandonment of Eastern Europe, a line was drawn and so long as it was not crossed the U.S. took no action in response to Soviet murder and oppression. East Asia was a different story. The U.S. backed Ngo Dinh Diem in overthrowing the former Vietnamese emperor only to later look the other way as Diem was deposed and assassinated. This brought about a series of coups and short-lived governments none of which benefited anyone but the communists. The U.S. turned on a wartime ally, The Netherlands, over their war in Indonesia which did not result in a regime that was friendly or even effective. In Cambodia the U.S. was complicit in the coup by General Lon Nol to overthrow King Norodom Sihanouk which forced the popular monarch into the camp of the Khmer Rouge, all but guaranteeing that Pol Pot would finally take power, which he did after the U.S. abandoned South Vietnam, in spite of earlier promises of support. Aside from the right or wrong of these decisions, a practical question that Americans should ask is, when has such meddling ever worked out for the better? Did America benefit by turning against the British in the Suez crisis? Did America benefit by supporting Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese and the Emperor of Vietnam? Did America benefit by withholding support for the Shah of Iran and thereby allowing the Ayatollah to seize total power?

Another case, very pertinent today, would be Afghanistan. Things were stable, peaceful and moving slowly forward in Afghanistan under the reign of King Mohammed Zahir Shah until he was overthrown by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan which the U.S. knew about but did nothing to stop or even warn the King of the danger. The result was that Afghanistan moved closer to the Soviets and began making trouble for Pakistan. Eventually there was a communist revolution and a Soviet invasion. The U.S. responded by sending weapons to the anti-Soviet mujahideen, many of whom would later fight against the United States and which included a certain Osama bin Laden. Of course, today most also know that the United States once aided and supported Saddam Hussein who would later become an enemy of America. This was done because of shared opposition to the regime in Iran but, as stated above, that regime in Iran might not have ever existed at all if the administration of President Jimmy Carter had done more to support a man who had been a faithful and helpful American ally. We can go back even so far as the Mexican-American War when the United States paid a hefty sum (a bribe effectively) to the former dictator and perpetrator of several massacres Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and shipped him back to Mexico in the hope that he would end the war to America’s benefit. Shockingly (yes, that’s sarcasm) it turned out that Santa Anna was rather untrustworthy and he ended up leading the war against the United States until his own people finally overthrew him again.

The fact of the matter is simply that the U.S. does not have a great record when it comes to picking foreign powers to support. Nor have many of the American administrations been as peace-loving and innocent as they claim to be. Given such a record, while not embracing strict isolationism (which, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. never did at any point in her history), it might serve America and the rest of the world if the U.S. simply took a step back from getting involved in almost every international situation and think through carefully any foreign intervention. If it seems difficult to know which is the lesser of two evils to choose, perhaps the best thing to do would be to not choose at all and leave foreign peoples to work out their own problems for themselves. Just a suggestion.

4 comments:

  1. In my view the interventions are specifically anti-monarchist. It is an ideological obsession of the US government to remove monarchies wherever possible, even if it means backstabbing allies and making strategically unwise decisions. Ever since the end of the Civil War it has been overthrowing existing monarchies and preventing restorations to the best of its ability.

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  2. Why should the Czechs and Slovaks have been forced to live any longer under the Austrians and Hungarians? They both did much better after 1920 than they did before; look how well even the relatively poor and uneducated Slovaks have done compared to their former colonial masters, the Hungarians.

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  3. He's not necessarily saying that there shouldn't be a Czech or Slovak nation, but rather that the way the borders were drawn resulted in certain nations getting lands where they didn't even form the majority. Were the Slovaks and other minorities in Royal Hungary mistreated? Most would say yes, but that's no reason to simply ditch the Habsburgs entirely. A compromise for a more federated empire with more fairness to the Slavs was already in the making when the revolutionaries tore it down. Today, the various Slavic nations might have equal status and rights with the Germans or the Magyars as part of a great empire if only they didn't betray their King. (Not that they all did of course. There were a great deal of loyal Czechs especially.)

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