"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 29, 2021

American Pie In The Sky Idealism–Seeing Only What You Want To See

Joe Biden is not the first president to fall prey to Utopian selective vision.  He is but the last American leader to put hope above reality, illusion over fact, idealism over truth.  Ever since the American victory in World War II, the routing of Nazi armies, and the defeat of Hitler and National Socialism, American foreign and military policy has become flaccid and idealistic.  

American military and political planners refused to see the defiant nationalism of Ho Chi Minh, his victories against the Chinese, and his determination to extend his own particular, homegrown, and appealing nationalistic Communism.  They refused to see the corruption of their puppet regime in South Vietnam and the disaffection of its people, and underestimated their nationalism and political defiance. 

 They refused to see the strategic brilliance of General Giap and dismissed out of hand the black-pajamaed, sandaled, bowl-of-rice-and-a-little-rat-meat Vietcong, as the most determined, implacable, and steadfast enemy they had ever faced. 

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Worst of all, they overestimated what they assumed to be the irresistible allure of democracy, compassion and Christian goodness.  Once the Vietnamese were exposed to such righteousness, fairness, and equality, Americans believed, they would turn their backs on Communism and support the American liberators and embrace their principles. 

It came as a surprise to them that few Vietnamese were tempted by this foreign vision because Vietnamese nationalism was so deeply-rooted in Vietnam’s two thousand years of social, cultural, political, and religious history. Americans ignored the importance of such historical destiny, the nature of patriotic will and determination, and the willingness to die in great numbers to preserve their nationhood.

American military planners grossly underestimated the defensive prowess of the Vietnamese; and how the mightiest American weaponry would be no match for the ingenuity and courage of an enemy which hunkered down in simple but deep tunnels as Rolling Thunder passed and emerged to fight a canny guerrilla warfare on the ground.  These same planners underestimated the American electorate's impatience with war and longstanding belief in innate American might and quick results.  They misread the conflicting signals from Congress and the increasing public anger with the war.

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The war was unwinnable from the start – a misadventure of epic proportions, a conflict characterized by American idealism, political myopia, and historical ignorance.  Only Clark Clifford, close friend and advisor to Lyndon Johnson, expressed his conviction that neither was North Vietnam the dangerous enemy that the President thought but a proud nationalistic nation; nor was the political strength of Ho Chi Minh and the military mind of General Giap to be underestimated.  But Johnson was swayed by the political ideologues surrounding him, convinced that America had a moral responsibility to defeat the Communists and had the might to do so.

Despite the ignominious defeat of the United States in Vietnam, its foreign and military policy never changed.  George Bush I who successfully led an invasion of Kuwait to remove Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army and end its occupation, halted American armies short of Baghdad, believing that it had destroyed enough of Iraqi military strength without having to cause civilian casualties.  This so-called compassionate military decision left Hussein’s Republican Guard intact and left Hussein in power with enough resources to continue his aggressive attempts at regional hegemony.

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When George W. Bush, decided to finish his father’s business, invade Baghdad, and topple the dictator, he too stopped before the job was done.  When the statue of Hussein was toppled to cheering crowds, Bush assumed that the country would quickly adopt liberal democracy and become a loyal partner if the United States; and there would be no need for a military occupation and martial law.  Once again classic American idealism trumped reality, and soon after the United States withdrew from the country, it quickly reverted to tribalism, violent internal struggles for power, and a new, Islamic radicalism.

American foreign policy regarding Iran has been as fanciful and idealistically ignorant as any.  State Department planners assumed the basic reasonableness of the ayatollahs, and that despite their revolutionary religious fervor and intent, they would stop the development of nuclear weapons.  What the nuclear treaty did not do was to address Iran’s support for regional Islamic terrorism, its intent to destroy Israel, and its willingness to wait out the treaty, conduct undergrown, clandestine nuclear development, and emerge stronger than ever. 

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The United States with a vain, hopelessly idealistic view of Palestinians' desire to create a modern, democratic state, poured billions of dollars into the territories, only to see most of it siphoned off for terrorism against Israel.  Despite whatever economic resources remained after the investment in warfare, the Palestinian territories remain backward, undeveloped, poor, and corrupt.

So, given this history of American failed engagement, Joe Biden should have seen that a precipitous pull-out of all military forces in Afghanistan would usher in the Taliban who would then rout the Afghan army, expropriate millions of dollars in arms and materiel for the new Islamic regime, and ensure that the few, largely cosmetic changes to traditional Afghan society would be dismantled and forgotten.

Biden should have seen that the puppet regimes of the country put in place by America were as corrupt and venal as those in South Vietnam only a few decades before.  He should have seen that the Taliban were little different from the North Vietnamese in terms of will, purpose, and intent; and that with the added ferocious belief in radical Islam, their desires to establish a ruling caliphate in Kabul from which to extend hegemony through out the region they would be unstoppable.

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It is no surprise that most Americans watched the chaotic exodus of Americans, British, and their Afghan collaborators and saw a replay of the final days of the Vietnam war – helicopters on the roof of the American Embassy while thousands of South Vietnamese clambered to get aboard.  Nor is it any surprise that the Taliban immediately declared their intentions to restore a fundamentalist Islamic society and to undo all that the American-supported secular governments had begun.

This fantastical imagination is by no means restricted to foreign policy.  The current domestic agenda to reform American society into a gender-neutral, race-dominant, feminized brew of identity politics is equally idealistic and Utopian.  The automatic support of Black Lives Matter as an organization supposedly representing the legitimate claims of minority, inner city communities ignores their dysfunction, and the endemic subcultural isolation that are the real factors limiting social mobility and integration.   

The equally automatic support for gay and transgender politics similarly overlooks the legitimate objections of most Americans to the lionization and imposition of the claims of a tiny, statistically insignificant community.  Worst of all, the deliberate move to remove, expunge, and ignore history is not an anodyne for ‘systemic racism’ but an ignorant attempt to assume racial identity rules all considerations.

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Donald Trump fought the tide.  He proudly declared that his foreign policy would be ruled by ‘America First’ considerations; that wars were for winning; and that the foundational principles of Jefferson, Hamilton, and the Founding Fathers were still valid; that religion, especially Christianity must be at the very core of the American ethos; and that individualism without regard to race, gender, or ethnicity would return as the essential sine qua non of American life.  

However, true to form, Biden and his progressive supporters in Congress, intend to roll back all of Trump’s conservative policies, programs, and initiatives.   American politics is back to normal – idealistic, historically myopic, and hopelessly Utopian.

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American citizens are used to the swing of the American pendulum, but they are smart enough to see the similarity between Democratic and Republican regimes – both are imbued with Exceptionalism, idealism, and pie in the sky fancy.  We are far from European realism, Russian imperialism, Iranian Islamic fundamentalism or Chinese nationalism and we will never close the gap.  We will always be behind, trailing the Machiavellians, hustling to catch up, and always mired in fanciful aspirations.

The chaotic denouement American twenty year involvement in Afghanistan is just the latest example of a country which has still no learned how to act.

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