Monday, December 28, 2009

Good reasons and real reasons

Dave Collins

It is generally held that George Santayana’s observation that “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” has merit, whether the powerful, or even the powerless, hearken to it. But, it is also true – and equally frequently ignored – that absent an some knowledge of history, the affairs of the moment cannot be accurately understood. As the world enters the second decade of the 21st century, two horrid, fetid, cesspools; reeking of death and ruin serve to illustrate this corollary to Santayana’s admonition – the war and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems all but certain that if the citizens of the United States had a clear and sufficient understanding of the history – just contemporary history would have been more than adequate – this country would not today be responsible for the conditions of these two horribly damaged nations and people.

It is not uncommon in the history of the United States, and indeed the world, that wars are sold to the public for reasons quite apart from the real reasons. Governments, being the creatures of man, often behave as J.P. Morgan once described: “A man has two reasons for doing anything; a good reason and the real reason.” He failed to add that those “good” reasons often turn out to be lies.

Since September 12, 2001, we have heard a constant stream of reasons and rationales for the invasion and occupation of these two countries. Despite the unequivocal evidence that most of the reasons in the case of Iraq were false, and known at the time promulgated to be false, many still cling to them. Most important among these “good reasons” is “defeat of terrorists” and revenge against Osama bin Laden, whether offered as rationale for invading Iraq or Afghanistan. The fact is that the first of these justifications is ludicrous on its face. It is not possible to wage war on a tactic, as has been repeatedly noted and ignored over the past 8 years. The second rationale is open to more than a little skepticism. It is noteworthy that while, 8 years on, bin Laden remains on the FBI “Most Wanted” list, the Department of Justice has still not filed any indictment of the former CIA-paid terrorist. In any case, it has long been asserted that bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan and US intelligence agencies estimate that only 100 of his followers remain in that country, as was even noted in the most mainstream of media.

For those with a little knowledge of contemporary history, Mr. Morgan’s real reason for these wars should stand out with crystal-like clarity. In his 1980 State of the Union Address, President Jimmy Carter established what came to be known as the “Carter Doctrine.” Carter declared that the natural resources of the region, dubbed the “arc of instability” by his National Security Advisor, to be of critical, strategic national interest to the US. He pledged the use of all US power, to include military power, in protection of those interests. This doctrine was motivated in part – at least publicly – by the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (an invasion we now also know as “Charlie Wilson’s War,” named for Representative Wilson (D. TX)). However, the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran most certainly played key roles, as well.

Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, described a geographic “arc” extending from the oil rich countries of the Middle East, through Central and South Asia. The concept has morphed to include the oil rich nations of Western Africa and beyond the Persian Gulf into the Pacific. If one is to examine the actions and policies of each Presidential Administration since Carter’s 1980 declaration, a consistent pattern is unmistakable. For examples, we have the Reagan Administration’s encouragement and support of the regime of Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran and of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, George Herbert Walker Bush’s 1990 invasion of Iraq, referred to as “Operation Desert Storm,” and Clinton’s relentless pursuit of aerial bombardment of Iraq (on a near daily basis) paired with sanctions that further crippled the civilian infrastructure of that country.

It is all but certain that the death, destruction, cost and greatly aggravated regional instability that has followed in the wake of Carter’s 1980 declaration was never imagined, much less intended, by him at the time. It is also important to note that the Carter Doctrine, like its far better known early predecessor, the Monroe Doctrine, was not a one-sided policy. Monroe’s declaration during his 1823 address to Congress was balanced in terms and intent. Simply stated, he told the European colonial powers that the US would tolerate no further military meddling in the affairs of the Americas and, in exchange, pledged to refrain from meddling in the affairs of the European nations. Carter’s balance was not one of a foreign policy tit-for-tat, but rather a domestic policy. As he declared the crude oil of the “arc of instability” of strategic importance, at home he set about taking the first steps to mitigate that dependence on foreign-owned and controlled resources in the only way scientifically possible – by reducing US reliance on fossil fuels.

When Ronald Reagan came to power the next January, he famously ripped from the White House roof one of the most important symbols of that domestic policy – the solar water-heating panels. He repudiated the balancing aspect of the Carter Doctrine, while silently embracing its foreign and military component. It can be argued that creating that policy imbalance has had more to do with the tragic and ruinous results than did the original policy. That it was adhered to without acknowledgement (perhaps initially purely out of political spite in the same manner as the ridicule heaped upon Carter for his famous sweat-clad fireside chats) points to both the explanation as to why discussions of US policy in the region center on every justification except fossil fuel and marks critical difference in the evolution of the policy, as contrasted to Monroe’s.

Subsequent to Monroe’s declaration, his Doctrine was invoked on numerous occasions and, in several instances, extended and elaborated. For example, there is The Roosevelt Corollary, pronounced by Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 that assert a US unilateral right to intervene in the affairs of sovereign nations in the Americas. However, while Reagan, G. W. H. Bush, Clinton, G. W. Bush and now Obama have each applied the Carter Doctrine and elaborated it as conditions have changed (like the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary original justification), none have done so explicitly. Take as case in point the two recent speeches by President Obama, at West Point and then in Oslo. In each speech he reaffirms the assertion of a unilateral right to apply military force in the region but at no point does he mention the specific strategic national interests at risk – other than a vague and non-specific reference to some potential future act of terrorism. However, it is clearly the Carter Doctrine which provides the formal policy foundation.

While Reagan and subsequent Presidents’ abandonment of the domestic leg of Carter’s policy has served to increase rather than decrease the nation’s dependence on oil, it is the second departure – the reliance on, but willful silence about the policy foundation - may be the more damaging. Because in each instance very different reasons or excuses for application of military force have been, at best, nonsensical (like defeating terrorism) and at worst outright lies, the nation has been deprived of the honest debate about whether the use of military force and economic sanctions are the best and proper methods for securing the resources to power our cars, power plants and most other aspects of our lives. The lack of such a debate may well prove catastrophic.

It would be improper to close this discussion without an acknowledgement that the Carter Doctrine, itself, reflected a long standing de facto US policy in the region. Briefly recounted, that story begins with the signing of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Soon after, a young diplomat by the name of Winston Churchill began carving up Great Britain’s allocated part of what had previously been the Ottoman Empire. That empire had long dominated most of what has come to be called the “arc of instability.” Some have argued that much of that instability sprang from a ham-fisted job of surgery by Churchill. But oil was much on his mind, as well as of his US allies. By the early 1930s, the new oil industry, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran was expanding and in need of capital. For the players on Wall Street the prospects of staking a claim in the region was extremely attractive as their excesses of the 1920s had eliminated most profitable investment opportunities in the US (except in the domestic oil patch).

A lead player in that game was the venerable firm of Brown Brothers-Harriman. Two of the most active in that aspect of the Brown Brothers’ business were its senior executives Herbert Walker and Prescott Bush. One notable example of this is found in the intertwined relationships between Standard Oil of California, Brown Brothers-Harriman and the fledgling ARAMCO. That oil company based in Saudi Arabia was initially a joint enterprise of the Saudi royal family and Standard Oil of California. Standard Oil of New Jersey, with an additional set of inter-relationships with the Wall Street firm, took a major stake. Through that and other relationships, like Brown & Root a multi-generational family enterprise was established, and that family, from Senator Prescott Bush through two Presidential administrations, was instrumental in shaping US foreign policy for 6 decades. As a side note, Prescott Bush handled some rather unsavory business for Brown Brothers-Harriman in the lead-up to US involvement in WW II. Most notable was the firm’s financial participation in Standard Oil of New Jersey’s “marriage” with the German firm IG Farben. IG Farben was the producer of Zklon B used in the Nazi death camps and operated the chemical manufacturing facilities at the most notorious of those camps, Auschwitz.

In spite, or more likely because, of those activities Prescott was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in WW II. When the OSS morphed into the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947, its first Director was another key player in the Brown Brothers-Harriman-oil industry story; Allen Dulles. (For more on those complex and oily relationships, see this article) One of the CIA’s first major operations occurred some 6 years later when the people of Iran elected a man as prime minister who ran on a platform of nationalizing the oil resources of the country. It was CIA operative and cousin to Teddy Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt, who led the CIA plot that resulted in a successful coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh and thus forestalled the loss of the British Petroleum and other US and western corporate properties in the country until the Islamist revolution - where this discussion began.

Our nation is long, long over due for an examination and debate of the real reasons for our military policies in the nations of the “arc of instability,” if it is not already too late.


androidny said...

Once again, Dave hits the proverbial nail on the head. It's no surprise that we repeat our past mistakes of history to ad nauseum given that we can even entertain the thought of having serious presidential candidates such as Sarah Palin. The emperor has no clothes and the people ignore the thoughtful who point out their nakedness.

judson dennis malone said...

The background of this most important subject is wrapped like a cloak in the history of British Petroleum who thought like most Westerners that the oil which they discovered beneath the soil of Iran belonged to the British Government since they owned 51% of the stock of Anglo-Persian Oil Co. formed in 1909, the precursor of BP. They also thought that the people of Iran deserved only a pittance of the value of that oil. You will find an enthralling account in ALL THE SHAH'S MEN by Kinzer. Additional light on the subject comes with the understanding of the general global effect of the age of Colonialism and the 500+ year history of the exploitation by Western culture of the rest of the world. See LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME by Loewen and THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE 1781-1997 by Brendon. The complicity of the United States in the theory that it's our oil under their sand has effected our foreign policy adversely for a century as Dave has so effectively pointed out...the coup in Iran 1953.

judson dennis malone said...

One small word in defense of Jimmy Carter. Though he did view Mideast oil as essential to the national security of the US, he at least attempted to set the United States on a course of conservation of energy and eventual energy independence from the middle east. Corporate America as well as the people would hear none of it! Modern American has made no sacrifices and does not intend to start any time soon!

Prisim Light said...

Like I always say, follow the money...