Posts Tagged With: middle-east

THE GREAT DIVIDE

Last week’s tragic events at the Boston marathon was a perfect example of what happens when religious fundamentalism converges with one’s sense of delusional victimization. Two young brothers, with virtually their entire lives ahead of them, decided to destroy those lives as well as the lives of as many innocent victims as they could kill. They were immigrants from Chechnya; but had been in this country for about 10 years and seemed to be melding into the the mores and activities of our society. The younger brother had even become a naturalized citizen. But somewhere along the way, the older brother allowed himself to be deluded by Islamic jihadist religious fundamentalists. The only true objective of these jihadist imams is the destruction of western society. To accomplish that, they preach the vilest hatred toward anything western, and by the force of their “religious” preachings, are able to convince scores of young, vulnerable minds to destroy themselves while committing acts of terrorism. Chechnya has been fighting decades-old wars with Russia to gain independence; so it would appear that the older brother’s beef would have been with Russian domination and suppression of Chechnya’s quest for for freedom. But young, vulnerable minds can be so easily manipulated, apparently, to the point of where the U.S. instead of Russia become the evil villain in the older brother’s delusional thinking process. He then, obviously, brainwashed the younger brother into also destroying his life through some holy grail act of terrorism.

There is a great divide in values between western society and those of mid-eastern Moslem nations. Osama Bin-Laden said it best when he stated that western societies value life, while mid-eastern Islam values death above all else. Thus, the highest honor for a jihadist is to become a martyr by killing others and himself in an act of terrorism. (Notice I made the distinction between mid-eastern jihadism and the beliefs of other Moslem societies. For example, Indonesia, which is the largest Moslem nation in the world, seldom indulges in such jihadist fantasies.) The delusions that fuel jihadist terrorism probably go back a thousand years to the time of the crusades; when Christian knights from Europe set off on a “religious” mission to rescue the “holy” land of Jerusalem from the Moslem “infidels.” Grievances can be nursed a long, long, time, and the human tendency to play the victim is woven into the very fabric of the human condition. But what the jihadists really despise, is how much more advanced western society is, when compared to most Moslem societies, in every aspect: scientific, technological, economic, cultural, living standards, and so on. So instead of working to bring Moslem nations up to levels achieved by western societies, jihadists act to do just the opposite. Destroy western societies through acts of terrorism so they descend down to Moslem-nations standards. Which is generally where the west was about 700-800 A.D. Although this will never happen, that bit of reality will never be allowed to enter the jihadist’s planet of delusion.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Russia brutally invaded Afghanistan and took over control of that country. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he decided that the U.S. should provide military aid to Afghan freedom fighters fighting a guerilla war against the Russian invasion. In particular his administration provided Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the Afghans which was especially effective in bringing down Russian fighter planes. Eventually, Russia found it too costly to continue the occupation, and withdrew their troops back inside Russian borders. One of the Afghan freedom fighters was a tall, lanky guy named Osama bin-Laden. The Reagan Administration never considered what the follow-on consequences would be once the Afghans obtained their freedom. It never considered that once the Afghans, and the Islamists that came from other Moslem countries to join the battle, gained their freedom, they would then turn their wrath on the west and the U.S. in particular. It took less than a decade for the Islamists in Afghanistan to reset their focus away from Russia and toward the United States. By the mid-1990s various terrorist activities began cropping up in different parts of the world, including in this country, often as the result of a group no one had heard about before. They called themselves Al-qiada, but who cared about some obviously deranged individuals who were killing innocent victims just for the pleasure of it. Until 9/11/2001. Then the whole world took notice.

The terrorist mindset is always one of victimization seeking revenge. We, of course, know that in this country we have have our own breed of murderous nut cases. Less than a decade-and-a half ago, our own home-grown Timothy McVeigh, because of some imagined, delusional grievances against the Federal Government, managed to slaughter 168 people going peacefully about their business, by blowing-up a Federal office building in Oklahoma City. Scores of these victims were very young children attending a day-care center. On a slightly smaller scale, we’ve experienced a series of recent heinous murders in Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona because of deranged “victims” that were out for revenge.

We all know that delusional nut jobs exist in our very midst. Some of us may even know some one like that. Law enforcement can only provide so much protection. Since law-enforcement officials are still just human beings, people with murder on their minds will fall through the cracks. As the 2 brothers did in Boston. Eventually terrorism, either home grown or imported, will strike despite our best efforts at prevention. Yes, the FBI was provided certain information that might have prevented the Boston tragedy. But since FBI agents are also human, mistakes were made.With the enormous proliferation of hand guns, rifles, bomb-making materials and other weapons so readily available in our society, terrorist acts become ever more easy to pull off. So welcome to life in the early 21st century. Where terrorism, serial killings, revenge killings, or just plain, good old-fasioned acts of murder become the new norm; to live with on a day-today basis.

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WAR AND PEACE

No, this is not about Leo Tolstoy’s timeless masterpiece, which was required reading when I went to school, although that, in itself, would be worthy of serious commentary. (The book was so long, that the word going around school was that students were reading just every other page.) Instead this piece will be about war as being the ultimate failure of the human condition, and yet extremely necessary at times. Americans, as a rule, like to revel in peaceful pursuits such as making a living and trying to have fun whenever possible. We carry on about the Super Bowl (just completed in a very exciting game,) or other sporting events; go to shows, movies, or nightclubs; dine out frequently; or just have neighborhood parties where the booze flows like the River Ganges. We keep up with the Kardashians or the exploits of such tabloid stars as Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan. All extremely superficial but harmless, peaceful pursuits. But while we’re pursuing fun or otherwise going about our daily routines, something like 9/11 01 comes crashing down on our heads, as 3000 Americans are murdered without the slightest forewarning. Suddenly life isn’t so much about having fun anymore. Suddenly we shift from being a nation at peace to one going on a war footing. Suddenly, we’re a nation in mourning, soon to be followed by a real shooting war in some hellhole part of the world called Afghanistan, that many people barely knew existed or heard of, as we seek justice for the events of 9/11. Sometimes, war just comes wether we want it or not.

While war is an abomination for those involved, not going to war can lead to even worse consequences. I’ve written before about how the French and British were asleep at the switch as Hitler built his military machine in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The French could have gone in as late as 1937 or 1938 and destroyed Hitler’s army and the Nazi regime, with little effort. Instead they did nothing. Instead, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich in1938, and attempted a policy of appeasement. Hitler, of course, saw this as a sign of weakness, which it was, and plowed ahead with his plans to conquer all of Europe by force. And the French and British, who tried to avoid war at all costs, soon were involved in the greatest war the world had ever seen. Over 60 million people died in Europe alone, as a consequence of the Allied policy of appeasement. In a human history filled with evil acts by evil tyrants, the Nazi’s were able to pull off the most evil event of all time, the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people opposing Hitler’s policies, were slaughtered in the gas chambers. The magnitude and extent of such evil is still more than the mind can comprehend for many people.

On the other hand, an example of where force was unwisely used was the fiasco known as the Viet-Nam war. It was a direct result of our paranoia and fear of world communism. Although none of our vital interests were even remotely threatened, the John Kennedy administration decided to consign hundreds of thousands of troops to another planetary hellhole-the jungles of Viet-Nam. The Eisenhower administration had initially got us involved in what was an essentially a civil war against a corrupt regime. But Eisenhower had sent over only a few hundred men to assist the corrupt government in office in its fight against the Communist rebels. However, when Kennedy, and then Lyndon Johnson became presidents, somehow, vital interests were manufactured, and up to half a million American troops were sent over to fight in Viet-Nam’s civil war. And unlike now, a draft existed in those days. So young men, often against their will, were drafted into the military and sent to die in the rat-infested, hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. In the end it took Republican Richard Nixon to extract us from this folly created by Democratic presidents. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and extensive commercial ties. Which is of little consolation to the near 60 thousand  Americans that perished in those jungles, or the tens of thousands of American lives ruined because of severe injuries. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.

After 9/11, war and peace were again major issues as the newly installed George W. Bush presidency took office. As I said earlier, we went to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, ostensibly to seek justice for the slaughter of 3000 Americans on 9/11. It was, however, really a quest for vengeance, because the Taliban had fully supported Osama bin-Laden and his band of lunatic terrorists and the havoc they wrecked on American soil. What at first appeared to be an easy and quick victory over the Taliban has now turned into an on-going war almost 12 years in the making. It has been like death by a thousand cuts, as the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than first contemplated. President Obama has stated his intent to pull our troops out of the war zones by next year, so that the Afghan army will supposedly be doing all the fighting. But will this lead to a resurgent Taliban taken back the country, so that all our sacrifice will be for naught? In any event, the American public is sick of the Afghan war, and by large majorities wants us out of there.

The Bush administration also went to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretext that Saddam was harboring chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Now there’s no question that Saddam was a very evil guy, and would have no compunctions about using WMDs;  but imagine everyone’s surprise when no WMDs were found after Saddam was driven from office. Overwhelming support for the war quickly crumbled, especially as it dragged on and on for years. President Obama finally extracted us from that one, but again not before the loss of about 6,000 American military and civilian lives; and the expenditure of almost a trillion dollars. Today a very fragile “peace” exists but widespread terrorist acts are committed almost on a daily basis. Will this country also descend into terrorist hell, making all our sacrifices be in vain?

Now the main evil threatening civilization on this planet is Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Their fundamentalism and hatred of Israel are like bottomless pits. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs running the country, creates the very real possibility of using those weapons against U.S or Israel. This would result in nuclear retaliation by Israel and the entire planet would descend into a nuclear conflagration. Even the roaches would not be exempt from extinction. So do we go in and take military action by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities before they develop the bomb. The way the French should have gone in and wiped out Hitler’s army in 1938. Or, as is most likely the case, do we do as the French did, which is nothing; because neither the American public nor the present administration has the stomach for another war. Then we would have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Like marriage, war and peace go together like a horse and carriage, don’t they.

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CRUMBLING OF THE ARAB SPRING

What came to be known as the “Arab Spring” can be traced back to December 17, 2010. On that day, a young man living in Tunisia, named Mohamed Bouaziz,  came to the conclusion that Tunisian politics were so corrupt, and his economic and other life prospects were so hopeless, that all he could do was go into the streets and protest the sheer bankruptcy of Tunisian living conditions. Being possessed of such total hopelessness and despair, he felt that his only option of protest was self-immolation. Yes, he set himself on fire and burned to death, so the world could see the absolute depths of despair that people living in much of the Arab world had to undergo on a daily basis. And the world did take notice.

Tunisia, as with almost all of the Arab nations in the Mid-East, had been ruled by a dictatorship for decades, which maintained power by paying off the military and other elites, in a corrupt relationship that benefited the few at the top, and caused the masses to live in squalor with no hope of a better life. Some dictators were more corrupt than others; some were more brutal and ruthless, while others were slightly more benign. However, the common thread running through all these Arab states was how horrible their economies were, and the vast extent of poverty and squalor that the masses of people had to live with, throughout their entire lives. But as I’ve said , the world finally did take notice, and the self-immolation of that one person started a wave of protests, demonstrations, revolutions, and civil wars that are on going to this day.

In Tunisia, people took to the streets by the thousands, and then tens and hundreds of thousands, protesting the despotic rule and brutal poverty that existed in their country.  Finally the dictator that had ruled them for decades was forced to leave, and free elections were held in 2011, for the first time since 1956. This was soon followed by more mass demonstrations and new heads of states in Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and Jordan, as protests spread throughout the Mid-East. Most protests did lead to new, but not necessarily, improved governments. But, perhaps the largest upheavals occurred in Egypt and Libya. Egypt had been ruled for over 30 years by its President, Hosni Mubarak, who, as dictators go, was probably more on the benevolent side. But the dire poverty and lack of civil rights in Egypt was just as extensive as any other Arab nation. Massive protest began taking place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Mubarak, now in his 80s, and sick with cancer, was forced to resign in February 2011, with the military taking over the reins of power, and promising free elections. Today, Mubarak is still alive, but too sick to be tried for war crimes, as is the current government’s desire.

Libya had been ruled since the 1970s by one of the more brutal and ruthless tyrants, Muammar Gaddafi. As in the other countries, massive demonstrations took place in Tripoli and throughout Libya, but Gaddafi refused to leave. As a result, civil war broke out between the poorly armed rebels, and Gaddafi’s forces who were militarily superior. When it appeared that Gaddafi’s military would crush the rebels, President Obama vowed that such an outcome would shock the conscience of the world. The U.S. provided military support to the rebels, who were then able to turn the tide in their civil war and defeat the dictator’s army. Gaddafi, to the bitter end, refused to leave Libya, and was eventually killed by rebel army. Elections were held soon after, but today there is now a very weak central government in Tripoli. Most of the country is currently being controlled by rival tribal leaders, with Islamic extremists and terrorists gaining more and more influence and power. Sometimes, a revolution doesn’t turn out well, and can leave a country and its people in even worse shape.

Of course, a discussion of the Arab Spring cannot leave out Syria’s role. Syria has been ruled by a very despotic dictator, Bashar al-Assad for avery long time. His father had despotically governed Syria for decades, and when the old man died, Bashar took over the reins of power. As in Libya, peaceful protests were of no use, so those in rebellion took up arms. Bashar’s response to the rebellion was to start slaughtering unarmed civilians who he felt had colluded with the rebels. His favorite tactic was to drop bombs on apartment houses he believed these people lived in, killing hundreds at a time. Women, children, unarmed men, it really didn’t matter. If Assad believed that you were on the rebel”s side, you became fair game for murder. To date, it’s been estimated that between 60,000-100,000 thousand people have been slaughtered in Syria’s on going civil war. To make matters even worse, Assad’s government has stockpiles of chemical and biological warfare weapons, and threatens to use them on the civilian population. Instead of killing hundreds at a time, chemical or biological weapons can kill tens of thousands or more with one shot. Unlike Libya, however, President Obama has (unwisely in my estimation) refused to provide an form of military assistance to the rebels, so the deadlocked civil war and daily slaughter goes on, uninterrupted.

In the meantime, events have been unfolding in Egypt, but not in a good way. The people eventually forced the military to provide free elections, after Mubarak’s fall. But then, in what was considered a reasonably honest election process, the people chose as their president, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood; a man named Mohammed Morsi. Those of you unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood should know that at best, it’s considered a highly Islamic fundamentalist organization, and at worst, an Islamic jihadist party. The candidate that Morsi defeated was of secular beliefs. It never ceases to amaze me that entire populations will, in effect, voluntarily enslave themselves by allowing religious fundamentalists to take control of their lives. Now, as Morsi seeks to extend his power and spread the Brotherhood’s fundamentalist Muslim beliefs throughout Egypt, massive protests have begun once again. It’s gotten so bad that the military chief has stated that Egypt is descending into chaos and anarchy; and their economy, which was barely functioning on life support, is now in a full-force crash. So the people, who voted for a man that promised to enslave them in religious fundamentalism, are deeply upset that he’s actually making good on that promise. Such are the foibles, dysfunctions and irrationalities, that comprise the human condition in this day and age.

Things aren’t so hot in Tunisia, either, where it all began. Massive protests are starting to take place because there’s been no real economic improvement. In Libya, while it was great getting rid of Gaddafi, the resultant government has been almost completely ineffectual. That lack of functioning partly led to the killing of our Ambassador and three of his aides last September, by murderous Islamic terrorists. The war also goes on without missing a beat, in Syria. In Mali, the French are fighting al-Quida terrorists that threaten to take over the country. So the Arab Spring, which started out with such promise, especially after old despotic tyrants were thrown out of office, is basically crumbling before our eyes, as new tyrants, or ineffectual governments take their place. The only country in the Mid-East that has a democratic, free society, with a first world economy is Israel. But outside of the United States, who doesn’t hate Israel?

 

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THE ASCENT OF EVIL

Shortly before his death in 2007, writer Norman Mailer in one of his last interviews, stated that he believed that “evil was on the ascent.”  Worldwide, according to Mailer, the forces of evil were triumphing over the forces of good. Judging by recent events, and going far, far back into history, who can deny the validity of his statement. The horror the world has just witnessed in Colorado is but the latest example of evil spreading over the globe like a deranged but insidious blob. About a week and a half before the Colorado slaughter, another insanely murderous young man got on a bus in Bulgaria that was filled with young Israeli tourists going to the beach for a holiday, and detonated a bomb that killed six people. Supposedly a terrorist attack arranged by Iran to murder as many Jews as possible. As I’ve written before, a terrorist is just a serial killer looking to pile up more bodies. And the massacre in Colorado is almost one year to the date, that another lunatic in Norway went about the methodical process of slaughtering 77 people in a murderous rampage.

Of course, the murderous slaughters carried out by lone individuals is small potatoes compared to the activities of evil, brutal, government dictatorships that exist in far too many countries. In Syria, for example, the people’s efforts to bring down the tyrannical dictatorship of the Assad regime has resulted in in swift reprisals by the dictator’s military forces that have led to the killings of between an estimated 15-20 thousand people fighting for their freedom. The situation in Syria has been going on for over a year and has now developed into a full-fledged civil war, with unbelievable massacres and destruction of entire cities, but Basher Assad, a cold-blooded murderous dictator, refuses to give up power. The U.N. and world leaders, including our own, have routinely condemned the actions of the Assad regime, but refuse to take any action that would remove him from power. So Assad goes on slaughtering his own people, many of them unarmed civilian bystanders, while the rest of the word’s Gullivers look on as if helplessly pinned down by this despot, and take no action. In the latest developments, Assad is now threatening to use chemical warfare if the opposition appears to be achieving too much success. Won’t that be a joy.

Tyrannical despots rule many other countries besides Syria, but all have one thing in common. If there is any opposition to their regimes, the first impulse is to jail or murder the “troublemakers.” Freedom as we know it, doesn’t exist in places such as North Korea or Iran, or even in several countries in Latin America. It’s estimated that both N.Korea and Iran have murdered tens if not hundreds of thousands of their citizens who might have protested their dictatorships, while thousands more languish in their prisons, for simply advocating for free speech or press.  Iran also is the largest state sponsor of Islamic terrorism, mostly directed against Israel and the U.S., and is rushing ahead in a frenzy to develop nuclear weapons. Both presidential candidates have vowed to take action to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear bombs, but don’t hold your breath. Only military action can prevent that from happening. My reading is, that, whichever one is elected president will not have the fortitude to undertake such military actions, and the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. If we don’t go in there militarily by sometime before the middle of 2013, Iran will almost have nuclear bombs. And their hatred of Israel and the U.S. is so intense that they’re just crazy enough to use them. Of course N.Korea already has nuclear weapons so it’s something the entire world has to live with. A highly paranoid, fascist, tyrannical regime with the power to destroy the world as we know it. I’ve written before about the evils of fascism, and we call all witness them currently on display in both N.Korea and Iran.

We don’t have that kind of tyranny in this country, but we do have a penchant for violence and paranoia. Some author once said that violence is as American as cherry pie. He might have also said that the guns to commit such violence are as available as cherry pie. The murderous tragedies in the U.S., just going back about 15  years from Columbine to the latest in Colorado have all been made possible by the wide availability of guns, ammo, bomb making materials, etc. to just about any individual, sane or deranged. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, there was an immediate surge in gun and bullet buying throughout the country. Guns (which are not cheap by any measure) and ammo were flying off the shelves. Gun store owners couldn’t keep up with the demand. There was, apparently, a wave of paranoia and fear throughout a large chunk of the population, that a liberal Democrat would somehow take everyone’s guns away, and people would be defenseless. Let’s face it, this country has a gun fetish.

The source of that gun fetish is, of course, is the National Riffle Association(NRA) which wields enormous political clout. Both Republicans and Democrats running for every political office, from president on down to dog catcher, pays homage to the NRA. Its been said that Al Gore lost to George Bush in 2000, because the NRA promoted the idea that Gore would confiscate all private guns if elected. The NRA avidly believes that every adult should own at least one gun, if not more. So in even the poorest slums, almost every individual possesses firearms which cost at least several hundred to over a thousand dollars. Guns are as prolific in America as candy. Any attempted discussion of even modest gun control legislation is met with fierce opposition by the NRA. Hence, we have a society where guns are readily available to any nut-case who has any real or imagined grievance against any persons or organizations they feel did wrong by them. What better way to relieve these grievances than to start randomly shooting innocent, unarmed people. It’s so easy too, thanks to the wide availability of weapons.

As long as the the NRA is allowed to wield the huge clout it currently has, we can look forward to more Columbines or killings at the movies. We’ve got a big problem in this country  due to the wide availability of weapons and it’s not going to get any better until the population’s attitude toward gun control and distribution begin to change. That may be never, at least not in my lifetime.

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FOREIGN POLICY FOLLIES

The U.S. has been in several wars and other foreign entanglements since its founding in the late 18th century. Some have turned out well and beneficial to our interests while others have had disastrous results. (Think the bombing of Pearl Harbor.) Today, however, we stand on the brink of what could be the most colossal blunder of all time, and that would be letting the terrorist state of Iran develop nuclear weapons, if we fail to act militarily in taking out Iran’s nuclear development plants. That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, however, no matter who is elected president in November. So lets recap a history of our foreign affairs exploits and failures.

Throughout the 19th century the U.S. adopted mostly an isolationist stance when it came to dealing with foreign countries. We were protected on 2 sides by huge bodies of water, which were considered too big for any foreign aggressor to overcome if they considered attacking us. Canada, to the north, was believed to be just like us (and would have been part of us if not for the betrayal of Benedict Arnold) so there was no worry on that front. We did have conflict with Mexico to our south, during which Mexico lost a chunk of their territory to us, and there was a dust up with Spain during which we acquired (and subsequently relinquished) the Philippines, but by and large we managed to stay out of all the messy entanglements Europe was continually involved in. Our only real serious engagement in the 19th century was when we decided to kill each other during the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans lost their lives in that debacle, which would be equivalent to the loss of over 6 million American lives today.

So we entered the 20th century with pretty much a strong belief in isolationism. All that would have worked out well, except all those messy European entanglements I mentioned above finally burst out into shooting affairs and came to be known as World War I. Our policy was that this was Europe’s problem, and we were determined to remain isolationist and stay out of the war. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in1916 on the slogan: “he kept us out of war.” However, the war soon stalemated as France with England’s support dug huge trenches in Eastern France, and Germany did the same on their side. Both sides kept firing at each other from these trenches killing soldiers by the thousands, while tens of thousands more died in these trenches from cold, hunger or disease. Woodrow Wilson was no sooner re-elected in 1916, then he decided to break the stalemate by sending U.S. troops “over there” to fight for the first time in a European war. It worked and the Allies were successful in defeating Germany. And no sooner had the the troops returned after the war, than much to our subsequent regret, we retreated back into a policy of isolationism.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise to power of of brutal and aggressive dictatorships with a thirst for conquering their parts of the world, such as Hitler”s Nazi regime in Germany, and Tojo’s warrior regime in Japan. There was little doubt early on, that both of these savage dictatorships had a lust for power and military aggression, but, we nevertheless, were determined to remain to remain strictly neutral and isolationist, as if we could some how avoid been dragged into the coming conflicts. President Roosevelt was an internationalist, and did manage to ship large quantities of armaments to England which enabled its survival, but he could not convince an isolationist Congress to declare war on Germany and Japan, even after the outbreak of hostilities started in 1939. It finally took the bombing of Pearl Harbor late in 1941, for us to enter World War II, and even at that we were woefully unprepared. We labored for 2 years, or until 1944, to amass the military strength in manpower and armaments needed to finally start turning back the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific. Millions of additional lives were lost due to our unpreparedness, which was in turn due to our policy of isolationism.

After WWII, isolationism as a foreign policy was thoroughly discredited, as we instituted the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, an also took the necessary steps to institute democracy in Japan. But soon the pendulum swung completely in the opposite direction, as a huge fear of the Soviet Union and Communist China (our allies inWWII) gripped the nation. As the USSR took over most of Eastern Europe, and the Red Army was triumphant in China, it looked like communism was on the march throughout the world. Then when Russia successfully tested a nuclear bomb, the fear in this country of the spread of communism became hysterical and neurotic. It gave rise to shameful events such as McCarthyism, as people were hauled before Congressional committees and designated as traitors, if they ever showed sympathy for our WWII allies, or ever had communist tendencies. I won’t get into all the horrors of the McCarthy era, but it certainly was one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history. It was a time when anti-communist extremists established the slogan of “lets kill a Commie for Jesus.” All this resulted in the “Cold War” between us and Russia, which was particularly exploited by President Reagan in the 1980s. The Cold War lasted over 40 years or until about 1990 when the USSR collapsed under the burden of its own weight. Experts have estimated that we spent an estimated one trillion dollars in arms that we didn’t have to (more like 2 or 3 trillion in today’s dollars), fighting the Cold War instead of letting the communist regimes collapse on their own.

After the Cold War our foreign policy seemed to be getting back on an even keel, except that we were ignoring the rise of militant Islamic terrorist groups. Again, our unpreparedness in the face of this new form of evil led to the loss of 3,000 lives on 9/11. As I mentioned at the outset, today our main foreign policy threat is the growing power of the terrorist state of Iran, which is feverishly working to develop a nuclear arsenal. Will President Obama, or President Romney (as is more likely), take action to foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Or will no military action be taken against Iran, as the French and British failed to take action against Hitler when they could have, before 60 million lives were lost in Europe. If no action is taken what are the odds that Iran will one day hand off a small nuclear device to some terrorist group, who could then plant it in a hotel rome in Tel-Aviv, or Houston, or Atlanta, or New York, or Washington before detonating it. It would kind of turn the world upside down, wouldn’t it.

 

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HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART III)

This is the last one in this series, I promise. We left off last time when Jimmy Carter assumed the Presidency in 1976 after a narrow win over Gerald Ford. Interestingly, Carter is still alive today and pushing near 90, while Ford made it well into his 80s, before saying sayonara. Being president seems to promote longevity. In any event, Carter’s presidency is often deemed a failure by most historians, but like Nixon, he did make some significant accomplishments.

James Earl Carter started off the 1976 race with like a 30 point lead over Ford according to reliable polling data. This was primarily due to how adversely the Watergate scandal had affected the GOP. By election day, however, Carter appeared to be in over over his head and entire lead had evaporated, leaving him to win by the slimmest of margins. He did this by carrying every southern state except Virginia, in a complete role reversal of today’s voting patterns. This occurred because Carter was a southern Governor with evangelical religious beliefs. Now, a Democrat can’t get elected dog catcher in the deep south. His presidency was marred by a poor economy, as evidenced by high rates of inflation and fairly high unemployment. They called it stagflation at the time. Nevertheless, there was considerable achievement.

Carter, using personal diplomacy, managed to pull off a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt, who had been in a virtual continuous state of war since Israel’s founding in 1948. In what came to be known as the Camp David accords, Carter got both sides to not only make peace, but to establish diplomatic relations, which was unthinkable in the Arab world at that time, and even to this day. He also turned over control and ownership of the Panama Canal to Panama where it belonged, despite the howls of protest from the Rush Limbaugh-types, that such action would allow Red China and Russia to invade and conquer the U.S. at will. These accomplishments paled, however, because during Carter’s presidency, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the country was taken over by the fanatical mullahs that run the government to this day. One of their first actions was to invade the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and take all personal assigned there as hostages. As negotiations for their release dragged on and on, Carter authorized a daring covert rescue attempt. But 2 of the rescuers’ helicopters crashed in the air over Iran during this botched attempt, killing all on-board. It seemed to symbolize all the ineptitude of the Administration, and doomed Carter’s chances for re-election.

In 1980 Carter ran for re-election against a second-rate movie actor, who had managed to become Governor of California, named Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan talked as a tough conservative, but had a huge gift of gab, including a lot of self-deprecating humor, and had actually governed California as a moderate. In any event, due to the poor economy, the botched hostage rescue, and Reagan’s highly skilled campaign abilities, Carter lost the election in a landslide. Reagan set out to quickly change the political landscape by sharply increasing Defense spending, cutting social spending, and significantly reducing income taxes, especially for the wealthy. In the end, his cuts in social spending were modest and around the fringes, but his Defense  increases and tax cuts sharply led to huge deficit spending. The accumulated deficit from George Washington through Jimmy Carter was one trillion dollars when Reagan took office, but mushroomed to four trillion in the following 12 years, or a 300% increase. Today Republican candidates for President all hail Reagan as their model, but the truth is that the tea-party dominated GOP would never allow Reagan to be their candidate. He had too much common sense and pragmatism. Reagan eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease which started appearing late in his second term.

Reagan was followed into the presidency by his Vice-President George H. W. Bush, a very decent, honest and down-to-earth individual. The year was 1988, and the Democrats put up the Governor of Mass. named Michael Dukakis to oppose Bush. But like the George McGovern candidacy and the Carter years, the Democrats and Dukakis went into a full incompetency mode, and Bush won the election easily. His 4 years in office were generally unremarkable, but he did agree with Democrats to a small increase in income tax rates, for which his was branded a traitor by right-wing Republicans. He also led us into the first Gulf war against Iraq, when Saddam Hussein tried to take over oil rich Kuwait. Bush was successful in freeing Kuwait, but he let Saddam stay in power, which we paid for dearly soon after.

In 1992 the economy experienced a slight down-turn, and it cost Bush his re-election bid to another southern Democrat Governor named William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton ran on a platform of: “It’s the economy, stupid,” and the country seemed to believe him, as he won easily despite a reputation of sexual affairs outside of marriage. The 8 Clinton years (he won re-election in 1996 against a hapless Bob Dole) were probably the best era of peace and prosperity in my lifetime, and I’ve been around over three-quarters of a century. We had a booming economy, low interest rates, low inflation, and except for a relatively brief scuffle with Serbia, the absence of war.  Of course, in Clinton’s second term, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, and Clinton became only the second president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. But Clinton survived the scandal, and because the times were so good, his approval ratings were through the roof when he left office. To this day, there are still those that bemoan the fact that he’s no longer president.

I’ve already written about how the election of 2000 was taken away from Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, despite his winning at the polls, and how this led to the second Gulf war with Iraq and the ensuing huge loss of life and destruction. George W. Bush, son of the former president, George H.W. Bush, assumed the Oval Office, only to be hit with the tragic events of 9/11, eight months later. He is a decent man like his father, but he got us into a highly questionable second war with Iraq which took about eight and a half years to extricate ourselves from. Under his presidency the prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare, another huge accomplishment on the road to try to achieve universal health care. But the economy took a huge hit starting in 2007 and the country soured on the second Bush presidency. This paved the way for the first black president elected to the Oval Office in 2008, Barak Obama. We all pretty much know how it’s turned out since then. In 2013, either Obama will be back in office, or we will have the newly elected Mitt Romney.

In any event let’s drink a toast to those that made it, but , more so to those that tried and failed. How much different would our lives be, or would the nation’s affairs be, if the other guy had won instead. It would be interesting to theorize about it.

 

 

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