Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


Entries in Lyndon Johnson (3)


Matlin's America: So What is This "Special Relationship" with Britain?

Every time there is a change of leader in the United Kingdom or the US, the British media jump to the question of when the new man (or woman) will meet his or her counterpart and the extent to which the so-called “special relationship” between the countries will benefit or suffer.

Hence when Bill Clinton, with whom Tony Blair seemed to enjoy the best of relationships, was succeeded by George W. Bush, the media expected the “SR” to be damaged. Blair, by then everybody’s friend (at least in the West), did his “May I call you George?” bit, and all seemed to be well.

This special relationship between Britain and the US is much misunderstood and misinterpreted. The term attempts to encapsulate close political, cultural, and historical tie, yet it did not exist, even as media commentary, at the end of the First World War. Let us not forget that part of America’s price of entering the war was the sharing of British bunkering ports throughout the Pacific and elsewhere, a privilege previously denied to the US. The aim was to break the trading power of the British Empire.

America repeated its assault at the end of World War II. Certainly, Britain was the largest recipient of aid under the Marshall Plan but much of that was passed on to other European countries. And, boy, did we pay for the support in higher interest rates and stricter terms than other recipients. Indeed, we only repaid the final installment of Marshall aid a few years ago.

Let me be clear. I don’t object to what the US did in exacting a price from its allies. Business is business. What needs to be said is that in the days of world conflict and its aftermath, America’s overriding policy was free trade; the British Empire’s policy was preferential trade. The economic difference between the two nations mitigated against any so-called special relationship.

One cannot ignore the personal. I am positive that Franklin D. Roosevelt liked Winston Churchill, whilst resisting the latter’s overtures to join in the fight against Germany before December 1941. I have no doubt that Harry Truman liked Winnie, too. Indeed, it was during Churchill’s famous 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri that the expression, “special relationship” was allegedly coined. But can anyone point me to US policy decisions, in those first years after World War II, that demonstrate the existence of this special relationship?

In the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan thought John F. Kennedy was wet behind the ears and a man who could be led by them. Even after Kennedy showed Macmillan the error of this judgment, the two men remained on good terms. However, Lyndon Johnson's relationship with Harold Wilson was strained. LBJ tried to get Wilson to send a small, token force to Vietnam, in exchange for which he would help bail the Brits out of yet another economic crisis, but for once Johnson’s charm offensive failed. Wilson would not play ball in Southeast Asia.

And now? President Obama demonstrated his disdain for Prime Minister Gordon Brown by refusing one-to-one meetings or even a photo call.

At the highest levels, the special relationship doesn’t really exist, except as a personal link, and even then, nothing is certain.

Take an occasion two weeks ago. A U.S. Senate committee called in the Chief Executive Office of BP America to explain the company’s role in the explosion and leak of the Gulf of Mexico oil wellhead. The CEO found himself facing a firing squad, with one senator after another seeking absolute confirmation that BP accepted full liability for the leak and would pay all claims, regardless of actual fault.

The senators did not like the CEO’s response that BP would pay all claims for which it was legally responsible. The US legislators were out for blood and I’m sure they were even keener than usual to get a foreign company spiked. (I have not seen American corporations, even US commercial bankers, treated this way by the Senate.)

I do not seek to excuse BP in any way from their acts or omissions. But let's be clear --- as many of the senators involved knew full well that an admission of liability would negate insurance policies, enabling BP’s insurers to walk away, as the company tried to protect its shareholders --- during the hearings, no one referred to any special relationship between the US Government and a British company.

I believe in the existence of the special relationship. It is at grassroots level. The British and Americans share a common language, or at least a resemblance of a common language. of sorts. Generally, the people of each nation are pro-famil and centre of the road politically, have a keen enjoyment of sports and arts, and are charitably and socially minded.

I have relatives in New York and Miami. I have an American wife and enjoy seeing her extended family, be they in Minnesota, Oregon, Arizona, California, or New York.We have close American friends from Vermont to Colorado. I visited the on business for more than 40 years, probably more than 150 times. Since retirement, I have had extended stays for academic research. On all such visits, and I do mean all, I was treated as a friend should be.

US ideology is often quite different to ours. The British, by and large, are not hung up on issues such as abortion or creationism, nor are we troubled by same-sex unions. And we don’t want to carry guns. In return, some Americans might say we Brits have no concept of advanced citizenship.

But these differences are outweighed easily by what I like. In their locality, Americans tend to be socially-minded. They care about their neighbours and friends. They are amazingly charitable. Their restaurants (excluding the fast-food empires) usually serve great food at reasonable prices. I have a list of places to recommend from Miami to Seattle. And there’s so much space in America, as opposed to the little island where I live.

Freedom is a reality. And because our two peoples have so much in common, the special relationship is alive and well, even if our governments are at each others' throats.

US Politics: The Tea Party and the Dangers of a "Leader" (Haddigan)

Lee Haddigan draws a lessons from this week's primaries for the US Congress:

On Tuesday night Rand Paul, the son of Congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, won a stunning victory in the Republican Party's primary for a US Senate seat from the state of Kentucky. By Wednesday morning, there were mutterings in the US press that the win marked the emergence of a potential national leader for the Tea Party movement. And by Thursday Paul --- like his father, a staunch libertarian --- was the target of a Democratic-led campaign to discredit him and, by association, the Tea Party.

Paul’s experience, and the example of conservative leaders of the past, are a warning for the Tea Party not to unite behind one "leader".

Paul got into hot water on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday night (part 1 and part 2 of video)  when asked to explain comments he made to a Louisville, Kentucky paper last month. Paul had explained to the Courier-Journal why he would have opposed one of the ten provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, specifically the clause that allows the federal government to enforce anti-discrimination laws on private property.

Paul's position is based on libertarian principles. For most libertarians, private property rights override the rights of any government in all circumstances. Thus in this case, a restaurant owner has the right to serve, or not to serve, any customer.

In a series of interviews Thursday Paul was at pains to insist he is no racist and supported the nine provisions of the Act that enforced anti-discrimination regulations on public property. But, as Paul recognized in an appearance on the Laura Ingraham show, he had made “a poor political decision”. The Democratic National Committee immediately seized upon the mistake by sending out nearly 30 emails on Thursday to the media attacking Paul and, by association, the Tea Party.

Haven’t We Been Here Before?

In 1964, conservatives backed the Presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, a Republican Senator from Arizona. Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act and voted against it.

Like Paul, Goldwater was no racist, and he disagreed with the Act over the principle that anti-discrimination laws were a matter for the individual states to decide. But that principled stand/"poor political decision" allowed the Democrats to flesh out their portrayal of the Senator as the representative of "extremism" in America (The iconic image of that extremism, although it was not seen widely at the time, was the Democrats' commercial of a small girl and a daisy, which linked Goldwater to the use of nuclear weapons.)

For those who don’t know:  Goldwater lost by a landslide to Lyndon Johnson.

The conservative campaign that ended with the defeat of Goldwater shares many similarities with the current Tea Party movement. His candidacy was the result of several years of grassroots campaigning to get a President who supported free markets, less taxes, a limited Constitution, and the prevailing liberal orthodoxy (of both parties) in Washington.

Even the symbol of the tea bag is not new. In January 1959, Willis E. Stone reported in his column, "Organized Tax Protests", that a group in New Orleans, “headed by Kent Courtney, is using the Boston Tea Party theme in their tax protest, sending teabags with their protest to members of Congress and the State Legislatures”.

In the vanguard of that grassroots effort to see conservative values reestablished in government was the John Birch Society, led by Robert Welch. They disavowed any connection to the Republican Party and took no position on partisan issues. Their focus was to educate the public in the reasons why America needed “less government and more responsibility in which to create a better world.” The John Birch Society called for the election of politicians, Democrat or Republican, who believed in those principles. And their primary tactic was the mass mailing of letters and postcards (the ancestor of the Tea Party's faxes and e-mails) to politicians in Washington.

The relevance of the John Birch Society to the Tea Party? Both offer warnings about the dangers of becoming identified with a national leader. In March 1961, Time magazine revealed to the nation that Welch had claimed a few years earlier that President Eisenhower was “ia dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy”. It was a revelation (along with some falsehoods in the article) that crippled the effectiveness of the Birchers. It also helped establish the validity of Democrat depictions of conservatives as "paranoid" members of a "lunatic fringe".

(How the letter became public is another caution for Tea Partiers.Welch made his statement about Eisenhower in a private letter to several hundred individuals he wanted to contribute to the John Birch Society. Frederick C. Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, nominally committed to the same principles as the Birchers, made a copy of Welch’s letter available to the press. Welch believed Schwarz did so from resentment at the popularity of the new organization, which continued donations to Schwarz’s Crusade.)

A last consequence of the controversy that erupted as a result of Welch’s indiscretion was the infighting it provoked within the conservative movement. Welch and his Society polarized Goldwater supporters. Many defended him, but many, notably William F. Buckley, attacked him.

Risks of mutating into a unified national organization are widespread within the Tea Party movement. Shelby Blakely, Executive Director of the New Patriot Journal, advised readers in February, "Tea Party Not Interested In Media Appointed Leaders" (especially if that leader was to be Sarah Palin). Blakely’s opposition to a national leader rests on the conviction that from the beginning, “Those opposed to tea party ideas have tried to bait our movement into becoming something they could destroy: a top-down group with a visible (and therefore reachable) leader to focus on.”

The example of Rand Paul –-- and Goldwater and Welch before him –-- suggest that Ms. Blakely was correct.

Afghanistan & Pakistan Analysis: Obama on a Road to Ruin? (Englehardt)

Tom Englehardt writes for TomDispatch:

On stage, it would be farce.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s bound to play out as tragedy.

Less than two months ago, Barack Obama flew into Afghanistan for six hours -- essentially to read the riot act to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom his ambassador had only months before termed “not an adequate strategic partner.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen followed within a day to deliver his own “stern message.”

Afghanistan-Pakistan Revealed: America’s Private Spies

While still on Air Force One, National Security Adviser James Jones offered reporters a version of the tough talk Obama was bringing with him.  Karzai would later see one of Jones’s comments and find it insulting.  Brought to his attention as well would be a newspaper article that quoted an anonymous senior U.S. military official as saying of his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a reputedly corrupt powerbroker in the southern city of Kandahar: “I'd like him out of there... But there's nothing that we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency, then we can put him on the [target list] and capture and kill him."  This was tough talk indeed.

At the time, the media repeatedly pointed out that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, had consciously developed a standoffish relationship with Karzai.  Meanwhile, both named and anonymous officials regularly castigated the Afghan president in the press for stealing an election and running a hopelessly corrupt, inefficient government that had little power outside Kabul, the capital.  A previously planned Karzai visit to Washington was soon put on hold to emphasize the toughness of the new approach.

The administration was clearly intent on fighting a better version of the Afghan war with a new commander, a new plan of action, and a well-tamed Afghan president, a client head of state who would finally accept his lesser place in the greater scheme of things.  A little blunt talk, some necessary threats, and the big stick of American power and money were sure to do the trick.

Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, the administration was in an all-carrots mood when it came to the local military and civilian leadership --- billions of dollars of carrots, in fact.  Our top military and civilian officials had all but taken up residence in Islamabad.  By March, for instance, Admiral Mullen had already visited the country 15 times and U.S. dollars (and promises of more) were flowing in.  Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Forces were arriving in the country’s wild borderlands to train the Pakistani Frontier Corps and the skies were filling with CIA-directed unmanned aerial vehicles pounding those same borderlands, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other insurgent groups involved in the Afghan War were located.

In Pakistan, it was said, a crucial “strategic relationship” was being carefully cultivated.  As The New York Times reported, “In March, [the Obama administration] held a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan’s government, which officials said went a long way toward building up trust between the two sides.”  Trust indeed.

Skip ahead to mid-May and somehow, like so many stealthy insurgents, the carrots and sticks had crossed the poorly marked, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan heading in opposite directions.  Last week, Karzai was in Washington being given “the red carpet treatment” as part of what was termed an Obama administration “charm offensive” and a “four-day love fest.”

The president set aside a rare stretch of hours to entertain Karzai and the planeload of ministers he brought with him.  At a joint news conference, Obama insisted that “perceived tensions” between the two men had been “overstated.”  Specific orders went out from the White House to curb public criticism of the Afghan president and give him “more public respect” as “the chief U.S. partner in the war effort.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Karzai of Washington’s long-term “commitment” to his country, as did Obama and Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal.  Praise was the order of the day.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, interrupted a financial reform debate to invite Karzai onto the Senate floor where he was mobbed by senators eager to shake his hand (an honor not bestowed on a head of state since 1967).  He was once again our man in Kabul.  It was a stunning turnaround: a president almost without power in his own country had somehow tamed the commander-in-chief of the globe’s lone superpower.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who had shepherded the Afghan president on a walk through a “private enclave” in Georgetown and hosted a “glittering reception” for him, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to flay Pakistan.  In the wake of an inept failed car bombing in Times Square, she had this stern message to send to the Pakistani leadership: "We want more, we expect more... We've made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences."  Such consequences would evidently include a halt to the flow of U.S. aid to a country in economically disastrous shape.  She also accused at least some Pakistani officials of “practically harboring” Osama bin Laden.  So much for the carrots.

According to the Washington Post, General McChrystal delivered a “similar message” to the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army.  To back up Clinton’s public threats and McChrystal’s private ones, hordes of anonymous American military and civilian officials were ready to pepper reporters with leaks about the tough love that might now be in store for Pakistan.  The same Post story, for instance, spoke of “some officials...weighing in favor of a far more muscular and unilateral U.S. policy. It would include a geographically expanded use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan and pressure for a stronger U.S. military presence there.”

According to similar accounts, “more pointed” messages were heading for key Pakistanis and “new and stiff warnings” were being issued. Americans were said to be pushing for expanded Special Operations training programs in the Pakistani tribal areas and insisting that the Pakistani military launch a major campaign in North Waziristan, the heartland of various resistance groups including, possibly, al-Qaeda.  “The element of threat” was now in the air, according to Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador, while in press reports you could hear rumblings about an “internal debate” in Washington that might result in more American “boots on the ground.”

Helpless Escalation

In other words, in the space of two months the Obama administration had flip-flopped when it came to who exactly was to be pressured and who reassured.  A typically anonymous “former U.S. official who advises the administration on Afghan policy” caught the moment well in a comment to The Wall Street Journal.  “This whole bending over backwards to show Karzai the red carpet,” he told journalist Peter Spiegel, “is a result of not having had a concerted strategy for how to grapple with him."

On a larger scale, the flip-flop seemed to reflect tactical and strategic incoherence --- and not just in relation to Karzai.  To all appearances, when it comes to the administration's two South Asian wars, one open, one more hidden, Obama and his top officials are flailing around.  They are evidently trying whatever comes to mind in much the manner of the oil company BP as it repeatedly fails to cap a demolished oil well 5,000 feet under the waves in the Gulf of Mexico.  In a sense, when it comes to Washington’s ability to control the situation, Pakistan and Afghanistan might as well be 5,000 feet underwater.  Like BP, Obama’s officials, military and civilian, seem to be operating in the dark, using unmanned robotic vehicles.  And as in the Gulf, after each new failure, the destruction only spreads.

For all the policy reviews and shuttling officials, the surging troops, extra private contractors, and new bases, Obama’s wars are worsening.  Lacking is any coherent regional policy or semblance of real strategy -- counterinsurgency being only a method of fighting and a set of tactics for doing so.  In place of strategic coherence there is just one knee-jerk response: escalation.  As unexpected events grip the Obama administration by the throat, its officials increasingly act as if further escalation were their only choice, their fated choice.

This response is eerily familiar.  It permeated Washington’s mentality in the Vietnam War years.  In fact, one of the strangest aspects of that war was the way America’s leaders -- including President Lyndon Johnson -- felt increasingly helpless and hopeless even as they committed themselves to further steps up the ladder of escalation.

We don’t know what the main actors in Obama’s war are feeling.  We don’t have their private documents or their secret taped conversations.  Nonetheless, it should ring a bell when, as wars devolve, the only response Washington can imagine is further escalation.

Washington Boxed In

By just about every recent account, including new reports from the independent Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is going dreadfully, even as the Taliban insurgency gains potency and expands.  This spring, preparing for his first relatively minor U.S. offensive in Marja, a Taliban-controlled area of Helmand Province, General McChrystal confidently announced that, after the insurgents were dislodged, an Afghan “government in a box” would be rolled out. From a governing point of view, however, the offensive seems to have been a fiasco.  The Taliban is now reportedly re-infiltrating the area, while the governmental apparatus in that nation-building “box” has proven next to nonexistent, corrupt, and thoroughly incompetent.

Today, according to a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), the local population is far more hostile to the American effort.  According to the ICOS, “61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after Operation Moshtarak than they did before the February military offensive in Marja.”

As Alissa Rubin of The New York Times summed up the situation in Afghanistan more generally:
Even as American troops clear areas of militants, they find either no government to fill the vacuum, as in Marja, or entrenched power brokers, like President Karzai's brother in Kandahar, who monopolize NATO contracts and other development projects and are resented by large portions of the population. In still other places, government officials rarely show up at work and do little to help local people, and in most places the Afghan police are incapable of providing security. Corruption, big and small, remains an overwhelming complaint.

In other words, the U.S. really doesn’t have an “adequate partner”, and this is all the more striking since the Taliban is by no stretch of the imagination a particularly popular movement of national resistance.  As in Vietnam, a counterinsurgency war lacking a genuine governmental partner is an oxymoron, not to speak of a recipe for disaster.

Not surprisingly, doubts about General McChrystal’s war plan are reportedly spreading inside the Pentagon and in Washington, even before it’s been fully launched.  The major U.S. summer “operation” --- it’s no longer being labeled an “offensive” -- in the Kandahar region already shows signs of “faltering” and its unpopularity is rising among an increasingly resistant local population.  In addition, civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO actions are distinctly on the rise and widely unsettling to Afghans.  Meanwhile, military and police forces being trained in U.S./NATO mentoring programs considered crucial to Obama’s war plans are proving remarkably hapless.

McClatchy News, for example, recently reported that the new Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), a specially trained elite force brought into the Marja area and “touted as the country's best and brightest” is, according to “U.S. military strategists[,] plagued by the same problems as Afghanistan's conventional police, who are widely considered corrupt, ineffective and inept.”  Drug use and desertions in ANCOP have been rife.

And yet, it seems as if all that American officials can come up with, in response to the failed Times Square car bombing and the “news” that the bomber was supposedly trained in Waziristan by the Pakistani Taliban, is the demand that Pakistan allow “more of a boots-on-the-ground strategy” and more American trainers into the country.  Such additional U.S. forces would serve only “as advisers and trainers, not as combat forces.”  So the mantra now goes reassuringly, but given the history of the Vietnam War, it’s a cringe-worthy demand.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has officially widened its targeting in the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands to include low-level, no-name militants.  It is also ratcheting up such attacks, deeply unpopular in a country where 64% of the inhabitants, according to a recent poll, already view the United States as an "enemy" and only 9% as a “partner.”

Since the Times Square incident, the CIA has specifically been striking North Waziristan, where the Pakistani army has as yet refrained from launching operations.  The U.S., as the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reports, has also increased its support for the Pakistani Air Force, which will only add to the wars in the skies of that country.

All of this represents escalation of the “covert” U.S. war in Pakistan.  None of it offers particular hope of success.  All of it stokes enmity and undoubtedly encourages more “lone wolf” jihadis to lash out at the U.S.  It’s a formula for blowback, but not for victory.

BP-Style Pragmatism Goes to War

One thing can be said about the Bush administration: it had a grand strategic vision to go with its wars.  Its top officials were convinced that the American military, a force they saw as unparalleled on planet Earth, would be capable of unilaterally shock-and-awing America’s enemies in what they liked to call “the arc of instability” or “the Greater Middle East” (that is, the oil heartlands of the planet).  Its two wars would bring not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but Iran and Syria to their knees, leaving Washington to impose a Pax Americana on the Middle East and Central Asia (in the process of which groups like Hamas and Hezbollah would be subdued and anti-American jihadism ended).

They couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong, something quite apparent to the Obama team.  Now, however, we have a crew in Washington who seem to have no vision, great or small, when it comes to American foreign or imperial policy, and who seem, in fact, to lack any sense of strategy at all.  What they have is a set of increasingly discredited tactics and an approach that might pass for good old American see-what-works “pragmatism,” but these days might more aptly be labeled “BP-style pragmatism.”

The vision may be long gone, but the wars live on with their own inexorable momentum.  Add into the mix American domestic politics, which could discourage any president from changing course and de-escalating a war, and you have what looks like a fatal --- and fatally expensive --- brew.

We’ve moved from Bush’s visionary disasters to Obama’s flailing wars, while the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq continue to pay the price.  If only we could close the curtain on this strange mix of farce and tragedy, but evidently we’re still stuck in act four of a five-act nightmare.

Even as our Afghan and Pakistani wars are being sucked dry of whatever meaning might remain, the momentum is in only one direction -- toward escalation.  A thousand repetitions of an al-Qaeda-must-be-destroyed mantra won’t change that one bit.  More escalation, unfortunately, is yet to come.