Tuesday, August 21, 2007

United We Stand, but Can We Stand United?

KGB-trained former Romanian intelligence officer Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa defected to the U.S. in 1978. It was a serious blow to the communist Romanian government, and particularly to President Nicolae Ceauşescu, to whom Pacepa had been serving as adviser for national security and technological development while simultaneously acting as deputy chief of the Romanian foreign intelligence service. Following his defection, Pacepa spent years with millions of Dollars in bounties on his head, sponsored by Ceauşescu, Yasser Arafat, and Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Pacepa writes of his gratitude for his adopted nation in this WSJ op-ed article. “During these years I have lived here under five presidents--some better than others--but I have always felt that I was living in paradise. My American citizenship has given me a feeling of pride, hope and security that is surpassed only by the joy of simply being alive.”

But the gist of Pacepa’s article is the assertion that President Bush’s harsh critics are following the old KGB game plan for beating America, and that they are doing so very effectively. Pacepa is talking about “top political leaders [that] can dare in a time of war to call our commander in chief a "liar," a "deceiver" and a "fraud."” His basis for this claim is his observation that “international respect for America is directly proportional to America's own respect for its president.”

Let me point out that in our democratic republic, we are completely free to criticize our government and our political leaders. We encourage debate about the issues of the day as a way of working out acceptable courses of action. The idea that we should remain mum about perceived leadership deficiencies is … well … un-American.

But has the rhetoric gone too far? It’s interesting to read Pacepa’s recounting of various KGB-sponsored efforts to discredit whoever happened to be our president at a given time in order to discredit America. For example he notes with sorrow the communists’ success in using propaganda during the Vietnam War to convince millions of Americans “that America's presidents sent Genghis Khan-style barbarian soldiers to Vietnam who raped at random, taped electrical wires to human genitals, cut off limbs, blew up bodies and razed entire villages.”

While Pacepa is enthusiastic about competition, he asserts that “unity in time of war has made America the leader of the world.” For example, he notes, “Republican challenger Thomas Dewey declined to criticize President Roosevelt's war policy [in 1944].” He parallels this with today’s situation:

“Now we are again at war. It is not the president's war. It is America's war, authorized by 296 House members and 76 senators. I do not intend to join the armchair experts on the Iraq war. I do not know how we should handle this war, and they don't know either. But I do know that if America's political leaders, Democrat and Republican, join together as they did during World War II, America will win. Otherwise, terrorism will win. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi predicted just before being killed: "We fight today in Iraq, tomorrow in the land of the Holy Places, and after there in the West."”

While I believe that Gen. Pacepa’s observations are highly valuable, I can’t help but think that he’s comparing apples and oranges. We did not get directly involved in World War II until Congress formally declared war against Japan and Germany. It took a lot of sacrifice, but we won the war decisively. Since that time our nation has avoided direct declarations of war, opting instead for resolutions such as the one that authorized the president to use “necessary force” to combat terrorism that threatens the U.S. or its interests.

Oh, we’ve done alright in some small military actions, such as Grenada and Panama, but other larger actions haven’t been so successful. The Korean War ended in a draw. We allowed ourselves to be defeated in Vietnam. We won decisively in Gulf War I, but failed to eliminate the threat, resulting in a decade and a half of problems. A dozen years after starting to bomb, we’re still hanging around in Kosovo keeping people from killing each other. It’s not clear if we’re going to ultimately achieve a stable situation in Afghanistan or in Iraq.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX, current GOP presidential candidate) contends that the U.S. tends to win when it formally declares war and tends to lose when it takes military action without declaring war. (I’m not sure how he thinks the War of 1812 fits into this assertion.) While Paul was opposed to war in Iraq, he “introduced legislation in October 2002 for Congress to declare war on Iraq. He said he would not vote for his own bill, but if his fellow members of Congress wished to go to war in Iraq, they should follow the Constitution and declare war.”

Paul understood that declaring war requires more than a simple majority; it requires a relatively broad consensus. When a consensus of this nature exists, political leaders and citizens are willing to line up behind the effort and make the sacrifices necessary for success. When a declaration of war can be achieved, then the unity that Pacepa observes with respect to WWII is a natural result.

Congress would have voted overwhelmingly to declare war on Afghanistan. But does anyone think that it would have declared war on Iraq? Although 296 representatives and 76 senators effectively voted to allow the President to invade Iraq, this move afforded members of Congress that were lukewarm to the idea cover for their ambivalence. It gave them flexibility to be fluid in their support of the war. But the main point is that a declaration of war could not have been achieved because there was no broad consensus among the American people to do so.

When Ron Paul wanted an up or down vote on declaring war on Iraq, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) responded, “There are things in the Constitution that have been overtaken by events, by time. Declaration of war is one of them.” There are people on the other side of the aisle that also believe that some elements of the Constitution are outdated. They might disagree with Rep. Hyde on what those elements might be. But the point is that leaders in both major political parties are willing to toss the Constitution aside whenever its provisions seem inconvenient.

We have, for example, Senator Hatch (R-UT) who is willing to ignore constitutional provisions so that Washington, D.C. can have a full voting seat in the House of Representatives. He notes the injustice of the District’s plight, and makes convoluted arguments suggesting that the plan is actually constitutional. Like Rep. Hyde, he is willing to ignore the Constitution when its provisions seem inconvenient.

Constitutional injustices or inadequacies should be repaired per the provisions in the document. That is, the document should be amended. Yes, it’s almost impossible to amend the Constitution. The Founders purposefully set a very high bar for achieving amendments. That is one of the Constitution's great strengths, but only if we actually honor it in deed.

Back to Gen. Pacepa’s point. Regardless of how we ended up in Iraq, the fact of the matter is that we are there now. We have to deal with the situation we have rather than the situation we wish we had. Pacepa is surely correct when he opines that if political leaders from both sides of the aisle line up behind victory, we will win. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we’re suddenly going to get the President’s opponents to stop their anti-Bush rhetoric. While their gnashing may diminish our nation’s stature abroad, the fact is that this is a natural result of going to war without sufficient consensus to achieve a formal declaration of war.

But we can’t go back to what should have been. Since we are now at war in Iraq, political leaders should ask themselves what outcome would truly be best for America. They should approach this question with a blind eye as to who controls the White House, because in a little over 16 months it will be somebody else and we will still likely be in Iraq. And then they should consider how to best achieve what is best for our nation. Is it too much to ask that politicians put the welfare of their nation ahead of their own political careers?

8 comments:

Democracy Lover said...

These are thoughtful points, and you are certainly correct that the current aversion to the Iraq war and by extension the Bush Presidency is at least in part "a natural result of going to war without sufficient consensus".

But that is only part of the problem. Our government has pursued a policy that can only be described as imperialist since the end of World War II.

I recommend this post and those following it from Glenn Greenwald at Salon. As he says, the dominant (and virtually only) establishment voices on foreign policy in the US have a "dominant bipartisan ideology ... defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force."

He goes on to say that the notion that "the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country."

We have never had a serious political discussion in this country about whether this is a valid, useful, moral, or intelligent policy for our nation. It is simply assumed that the US should be able to do whatever it wants anywhere in the world at any time, and that any nation or national leader who opposes that policy is a valid target for "regime change".

No nation can sustain a democratic form of government and individual freedoms while pursuing a policy of military domination of other states. We need to decide what is more important: our Consitutional form of government and our rights as citizens, or the continued domination of the world. We cannot have both.

y-intercept said...

That was a powerful article by Papeca. I especially like the quote:

"The final goal of our anti-American offensive was to discourage the U.S. from protecting the world against communist terrorism and expansion."

It is amazing how easy it is, with just a few paradoxes, to label anyone who stands against terrorism as a terrorist. The same logically fallacies shows that freedom is slavery and slavery freedom.

My criticism of Papeca is simply that he underestimated the importance of open discourse in American society. The real damage of the left wing smear campaigns is not that it undermines the president, the real damage is that it undermines our ability to engage in discourse. The extent to which the left has smeared the president is really just one manifestation of a much deeper rot.

What is really bizarre is that DL responded to your post with blatant propaganda. The absolute statement "can only be described as imperialist" is clearly just a slogan as there are different ways to describe what Bush is doing.

The Salon article is a silly thing where they create a bugaboo called a neocon. Bush's neocons are former Marxists who, on realizing that the tides of history were against socialism, switched to the right. Since there are former Marxists in the administration, you can then project Marxist ideology onto the Whitehouse. The Salon article is just a sickening propoganda piece.

I felt that Bush's decision to go to war when diplomacy was succeeding was a big blunder. The only way out of the blunder is discourse. We need to be engaged in discourse, the Iraqis need to be engaged in discourse, and the international community needs to be engaged in discourse.

The whole world is in a very dangerous situation because the radical left does not engage in discourse, they undermine. This is made worse because the reactionary right does the same.

Preserving civilization is a matter of identifying and rejecting the extremes.

Speaking of identifying extremes, the Bush administration is not as extreme as the Left makes out. Misidentifying a group as extreme undermines discourse as effectively as any propaganda tool. Bush is no more the extreme right than the Democratic Party is the extreme left.

Democracy Lover said...

The left has not "smeared the President", we only point out what he is doing and what the implications of his acts are. In a free society, it is imperative that citizens be able to criticize their leaders, particularly when they are exceeding their Constitutional authority and undermining the nation's moral authority.

I agree that we need to engage in discourse, but accusing those who were right about Iraq from the beginning of being silly, bizarre and Marxist is not the way to go about having discourse.

The first thing that the right wing has to do is admit that their President has made a series of colossal blunders and does not have the intelligence or integrity to admit his mistakes and try to correct them. The next thing they have to do is pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and protect it from its domestic enemies in their own ranks.

Then we can begin a discussion of America's role in the world - which can, as you say Y, be described in terms other than imperialist - although those other terms would be less honest and less descriptive.

y-intercept said...

The task is a lot more difficult than simply having Bush admit to his collossal blunders. For one thing, even among the people who see the Iraq War as a blunder, I don't think you could ever get consensus on just what the blunder was. I am quite sure that what I think Bush did wrong is different from what you think Bush did wrong.

I would not be surprised to find neocon hawks thinking our problems resulted from our failure to take out Iran and Syria along with Iraq. Even in 2003, Iran was more of a threat to our interests in the Middle East than Hussein.

Bush might think the problems resulted from the failure to dispose Hussein in the Gulf War.

An Islamists sees the sin as gentiles fighting against the righteous. Others see the problems as the result of conspiratorial Jews.

I have never entertained the illusion that the US is the be all and end all of the world. Many of the problems are the result of things outside Bush's sphere of influence.

Much as I would like Bush to stand up and say the things he did wrong, anything he says would probably be based on a faulty model of history.

BTW, I don't think that the entire peace movement is Marxist. I agree with Papeca that the Marxist have manipulated the discussion.

Practicianers of the dialectics have have manipulated the debate not only here but in the Mideast. Hussein was, after all, was a Stalinist.

The suicide bombings pretty much fall straight out of the revolutionary manual of style.

All the labels like calling Bush's war an imperial aggression, calling the elected Iraq and Afghanistan governments occupation governments, labeling the people trying to stand against terrorism as terrorists, and so forth, are out of propagandist manuals.

There are similarities to imperialism and occupation, and some differences.

Efforts aimed specifically at discrediting Bush, and increasing division in the name of peace irk me to no end not simply because they discredit Bush. They irk me because they also discredit legitimate peace efforts.

The hope for the Middle East lies in the peace effort and not in the war effort. When you really get down to the brass tacks, Bush's war effort is failing becuase it does not lay a solid foundation for a peace effort. Since the peace effort is preoccupied with discrediting Bush we are in a mire at the moment.

Reach Upward said...

Actually, I think Bush tried to move to the peace effort far too early. Let me restate that. He tried to move to the peace effort the wrong way (i.e. the Bremmer period).

I understand Y's criticism that Bush has never properly planned for the peace effort. That's because those that prevailed in the administration assumed that peace would just break out. Of course, it didn't work out that way.

I also agree that we need open discourse and that factors that inhibit that open discourse are highly problematic.

Frank Staheli said...

I'm about half way through a book called "The Shadow Party". It indicates that George Soros was one of the leading Bush haters employing the tactics that Mr. Pacepa talks about.

In addition to “international respect for America [being] directly proportional to America's own respect for its president”, I think Iraq's vision of its own success is directly proportional to the American people's vision that Iraq can succeed.

The digestions of the schemers are now forming bricks in their intestines, which they will soon crap when Petraeus indicates that things are beginning to improve quite a bit in Baghdad and her environs. At which point they'll turn up the Bush hatred another notch.

Democracy Lover said...

Any discussion about how Bush went wrong in Iraq is meaningless. It was wrong to go into Iraq, period, end of discussion. It is clear now that this was not an intelligence failure or a situation in which Bush/Cheney were misled, it was a deliberate invasion without provocation in absolute and clear violation of international law and the US Constitution.

The only solution is to get out as soon as possible in a way to minimizes further casualties and insures that a minimal amount of weaponry is left behind.

Then we need to have a national discussion about our role in the world and whether we are ready to give up democracy and freedom in order to retain the ability to intervene overtly or covertly anywhere in the world.

America, thanks to Bush/Cheney, has lost any remaining prestige or moral authority it may have had left in the world. We can regain it only by totally repudiating the crimes of this regime, impeaching Bush and Cheney, and turning them and their inner circle over to the International Criminal Court for war crimes prosecution. Since we aren't going to do that, we need to get used to be an international pariah.

Alienated Wannabe said...

Scott,

I love your blog. Thank you for yet another excellent article.

A.W.