Do We Really Want an Imperial USA?

rumsfeld, bush, cheney
L-R: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney (Wikipedia)

I stopped on my way home from work last night at a local sports bar to have a cold draft beer and some grilled chicken wings and got into a conversation about America’s foreign policy in the Middle East with two older white guys at the bar. They were both complaining about President Obama. It’s his fault, they told me, that the Sunni Muslim terrorist group called ISIS has grown into a serious threat because he withdrew all of our troops from Iraq in 2011.

I pointed out that the government of Iraq wanted our troops to leave. But they both said it didn’t matter what Iraq wanted because we should have kept some troops there to ensure that the thousands of American lives and the trillions of dollars we spent there weren’t wasted.

Their opinions disturbed me because they didn’t seem to be based upon facts. By 2008 the majority of the American public considered the Iraq War a mistake, and there was growing unrest among Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority against the five-year-long U.S. military occupation. In November the George W. Bush administration signed a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the duly elected government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that called for U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by July of 2009, and completely leave the country by December 31, 2011.

Democrat Barak Obama won the fall 2008 presidential election, in part, by promising to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, defeating Republican Senator John McCain, who was against any timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. Obama proceeded to implement Bush’s SOFA. But in the fall of 2010, as the time for a complete U.S. troop withdrawal drew near, Obama initiated negotiations with Iraq for a new SOFA and said he was prepared to keep up to 10,000 U.S. troops in the country. The Iraqis, however, were against the continuation of any restraints upon their national sovereignty, and the Iraqi government said it would not support maintaining legal immunity for U.S. troops – knowing that it would be a deal breaker. So Obama continued to draw down troop numbers until the last ones left in December, 2010, in compliance with Bush’s SOFA.

The guys at the bar repeated the popular complaint that Obama should have realized the removal of U.S. troops would create a dangerous power vacuum in Iraq. But U.S. intelligence assessments indicated the country wasn’t at risk of disintegrating if U.S. troops were withdrawn. And these were objective assessments, not biased ones, like those that were produced by the neoconservative Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to discuss all of this, so I just responded that we’d already wasted a lot in Iraq without accomplishing much, and Obama had tried to make the best out of the mess Bush had left him. They both agreed that Bush had created the problem, and that the situation in Iraq was nearly hopeless, but they thought we should have stayed there anyway. They repeated their belief that we owed it to the American troops that had fought and died there.

It was time for me to go home, so I couldn’t respond to them, but I still didn’t agree with them. First of all, the mess in Iraq is primarily an extension of the longstanding religious war between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. The continued presence of American troops might have kept a lid on it, but they would have just waited until we left to start fighting again – just like they did after our troops left in 2011. Should U.S. troops have stayed there to referee a stupid religious war that’s been going on for centuries and with no end in sight? I doubt the troops that died in Iraq would want more U.S. deaths there in order to try and give meaning to their sacrifices. All wars involve senseless deaths, and soldiers know this better than anybody. There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t throw good money after bad.

But the thing that bothered me the most about the opinions of these two guys was that they seemed to believe that the United States should behave like an empire and use our military as a disposable resource to do whatever we want across the globe. The U.S. cannot, however, have an imperial foreign policy overseas and continue to be a viable democracy at home. Besides that, trying to run the world is too complicated and expensive to be a practical strategy for any nation these days. President Obama understands that, and that’s why he’s refusing to put American troops on the ground with the current situation in Iraq. Instead, he’s building a coalition of nations and groups that are willing to cooperate with us in the destruction of ISIS. This strategy isn’t a sign of American weakness, it shows that we’ve learned from our mistakes.

Update

In July of 2017 the Iraqi government announced it had liberated the city of Mosul from ISIS forces. In October of 2017 Syrian forces announced they had liberated the city of Raqqa from ISIS forces. Raqqa was the capital of the ISIS government and its capture essentially ended the group’s dream of establishing its own nation. These defeats were inflicted upon ISIS by the coalition assembled by President Barak Obama.

On December 9, 2017, the Iraqi government announced that it had achieved total victory over ISIS forces within Iraq, with help from the U.S. military – primarily from air strikes. It was subsequently reported that the Iraqi government is negotiating with the U.S. to keep an American military presence in their country.

On December 19, 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally ordered the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops fighting ISIS in neighboring Syria to be out of that country within weeks.  Trump tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The following day Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned, citing sharp differences with Trump on foreign policy issues.

On December 26, 2018, Pres. Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq to visit U.S. troops stationed at al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad. He said he had no plans to remove any of the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, which are part of the international military coalition fighting against ISIS. Trump left without meeting with any Iraqi officials. Iraqi lawmakers took advantage of his visit to call for a vote to demand that U.S. forces leave their country, as they saw little need for them to stay.

On February 1, 2019, CNN reported that ISIS forces had been reduced to a 1.5 square mile area in Syria.

On February 5, 2019, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East testified in the U.S. Senate that he was “not consulted” by Pres. Trump prior to Trump’s announcement that he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

On February 5, 2019, the U.S. Senate voted to pass a bill that warned Pres. Trump not to make a “precipitous withdrawal” of American forces from Syria and Afghanistan.

On February 21, 2019, the Trump administration announced that “a small peacekeeping group of about 200” U.S. troops would stay in Syria.

The U.S. Has a Responsibility to Help Central Americans

American newspaper columnist William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O. Henry, coined the term “banana republic” at the beginning of the 20th century. It describes a nation with an undeveloped economy that’s reliant upon the exploitation of natural resources, with an elite ruling class that siphons off the profits for themselves at the expense of an oppressed and impoverished working class. Mr. Porter created the term after living in Honduras, which is one of the Central American countries, along with neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador, which have produced the recent surge of undocumented immigrant children seeking asylum the U.S.

Mr. Porter chose the adjective banana because American fruit companies operating banana plantations dominated Honduras at that time. American foreign policy in Central America during the first half of the 20th century was focused on protecting the commercial interests of the large American fruit companies operating there. The U.S. Marines were sent to the region so often their activities are now called the Banana Wars. American troops, for example, occupied Cuba four times between 1899 and 1922.

U.S. Meddling Has Contributed to Problems in Central America

After WWII, and the advent of the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy in the region  began to focus on the threat of Communism. Like it had during the earlier part of the century, the U.S. government continued to bankroll dictators and right-wing militias in the region in order to protect its perceived interests. This intensified the growing leftist sentiment among the poor.

A CIA sponsored military coup authorized by President Dwight Eisenhower, for example, overthrew a popularly elected leftist government in Guatemala in 1954. This led to the outbreak of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1960. The U.S. trained Guatemalan army along with right-wing death squads conducted genocide against rebellious peasants, particularly Mayan Indians. In addition to the estimated 150,000 people killed during the war, about 45,000 people were “disappeared” before it ended in 1996.

There was another civil war in neighboring El Salvador. It began after there was a popular coup in 1979 against the nation’s murderous and corrupt military dictatorship. The reforms proposed by the coup leaders provoked violent resistance from the military and the wealthy elite. A right-wing assassin killed El Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero while he was giving mass on March 24, 1980, one day after he called upon Salvadoran soldiers to disobey orders to kill civilians. Then on December 2, 1980, the Salvadoran National Guard raped and murdered four American nuns and a laywoman. In 1981 a coalition of leftist guerilla groups called the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) began attacks against the U.S. backed Salvadoran army. It’s estimated about 75,000 people were killed, and about 8,000 were “disappeared” by right-wing death squads by the time the war ended in 1992.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan (Wikipedia)

In comparison to Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras was relatively stable during this time. This allowed the Ronald Reagan administration to use it as a base of operations for the Contra rebels it sponsored to fight against the leftist Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. The terrorist tactics the Contras used against Nicaraguan civilians prompted the U.S. Congress to cut off funds to them in 1985. But the Reagan administration decided to continue funding the Contras by other means, which led to the Iran-Contra Affair scandal of 1986–1987. The scandal revealed the Reagan administration had funded the Contras using the proceeds from arms sales to Iran, and had employed known drug traffickers.

The U.S. also provided support to Operation Charly during the Reagan presidency. This was a program by Argentina’s military dictatorship to implement covert operations in Central America against leftists. Their tactics included the use of death squads, and Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were among the countries in which they operated.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have democratic governments now but their political institutions are fragile, as shown by the right-wing coup which removed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Furthermore, many of the social issues that led to the wars are still unresolved. Their economies are still undeveloped, they still lack a significant middle class, and the vast majority of their people still live in poverty. This economic void, unfortunately, has been filled by violent drug cartels that have become the de facto governments in many neighborhoods. They make their money by smuggling illegal drugs into the U.S.

The flood of more than 57,000 minors that have fled to the U.S. from these countries since last fall has prompted many American right-wing protestors to take to the streets and angrily scream, “Send them back, they’re not our problem!” Tolerance for this type of hatred and ignorance is a good example of what’s wrong with the modern Republican Party. It’s difficult to believe it’s the party of Lincoln, the party that was founded to fight slavery.

Updates

On November 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of refugees from Nicaragua who have been living in the U.S. since 1999.

In the November 26, 2017, national election it initially appeared that the voters in Honduras had elected newcomer Salvador Nasralla to replace President Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose National Party had supported the 2009 coup that removed President Manual Zelaya. Protests erupted after it became obvious that the Honduran government was manipulating the vote count in favor or Hernandez. On December 17 a special Honduran court declared Hernandez the winner by a slim margin. The Organization of American States (OAS) responded to the announcement by calling for the election to be held again, citing irregularities, supporting a similar call from Nasralla’s Anti-Corruption Party.

On January 8, 2018, Donald Trump announced he was ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of refugees from El Salvador who have been living in the U.S. since 2001.

On May 4, 2018, Donald Trump announced that he was ending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of refugees from Honduras who have been living in the U.S. since 1999.

On May 15, 2018, during a Senate hearing, Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended her agency’s new policy that will result in Central American immigrant families seeking asylum being separated at the border by saying that similar separations happen in the US “every day.”

On June 1, 2018, a religious coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table sent a letter to President Trump expressing concern that his new “zero tolerance” policy was separating vulnerable children from their parents.

On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump responded to intense nationwide criticism and signed an executive order to end the separation of immigrant families seeking asylum at the border by detaining parents and children together.

On June 26, 2018, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to reunite immigrant families that had been separated at the border, and complete it within  30 days.

On July 12, 2018, the Trump administration implemented new, more restrictive, asylum rules for immigrants entering the U.S.

On September 6, 2018, the Trump administration announced a proposal to indefinitely detain undocumented families that are seeking asylum instead of releasing them while their immigration cases are pending.

On September 7, 2018, a worker at an undocumented migrant child detention facility in Arizona was convicted of sexually abusing teenagers.

On September 19, 2018, the Arizona State Health Department announced it was initiating the revocation of the licenses to operate the 13 Arizona shelters for migrant children run by Southwest Key, citing its failure to provide proof of required background checks for its workers.

On October 5, 2018, Southwest Key announced it had suspended operations at its Hacienda Del Sol facility in Youngtown, AZ, after an unspecified incident that was reported to law enforcement officials.

On October 9, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Arizona said a sudden increase in the number of families from Central American seeking asylum had overwhelmed their detention facilities in Phoenix and forced them to release hundreds to local church shelters and charities. ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said they can no longer conduct initial reviews of migrants’ asylum claims without running the risk of exceeding court-imposed limits on how long children can be held in ICE jails. In a blatantly political statement, O’Keefe said “the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families that have no legal basis to remain in the United States,” and that asylum seeking families, “face no consequence for their actions.”

On November 9, 2018, the Pres. Donald Trump issued a proclamation that suspended the opportunity for asylum to any migrant that entered the U.S. illegally, instead of using an official U.S. border crossing point.

On November 19, 2018, a U.S. judge issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the implementation of Trump’s new rules that denied asylum protections to people who entered the country illegally.

On November 30, 2018, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported a local pastor said that ICE had recently released about 5,000 migrants, mostly from Central America, to local churches in the Phoenix area because the Reno v. Flores settlement prevented them from  holding families in detention centers for more than 20 days. The families had crossed the Arizona border illegally, but were not asylum seekers.

On December 4, 2018, the Associated Press reported that almost 4,000 Central American migrants had died or gone missing while traveling across Mexico to get to the U.S. border.

On December 10, 2018, the Mexican government announced it planned to spend $30 billion over the next five years on Central American development, an initiative to slow migration from those countries.

On December 18, 2018, the U.S. State Department announced that it would contribute $5.8 billion to the Comprehensive Development Plan for Central American initiated by Mexico.

On December 20, 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the U.S. had made a deal with Mexico so that individuals seeking asylum who had entered the U.S. illegally or without proper documentation would be be returned to Mexico to wait for the beginning of their immigration court proceedings in the U.S. The Trump administration called this new asylum policy “catch and return.”

On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s November 19 ruling that blocked the Trump administration from denying asylum protections to people who entered the country illegally.

On January 25, 2019, The Trump administration appointed Elliott Abrams to be the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela. As an Assistant Secretary of State in the 1980s, Abrams supported the murderous right-wing dictatorships in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. He was convicted in the Iran-Contra Affair, but pardoned by President George H. W. Bush in 1992.

On February 1, 2019, the Trump administration admitted to the court that reuniting thousands of immigrant children that had been separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border may not be “within the realm of the possible.”

On February 14, 2019, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the Trump administration’s “catch and return” policy was illegal under existing U.S. immigration law.

On February 28, 2019, the Arizona State Health Department announced that one of Southwest Key’s shelters for immigrant children would be allowed to start accepting children again because it had met all health and safety requirements, including background checks of its employees.

 

The Strategic Importance of the D-Day Invasion

Omaha Beach, D-Day
Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Wikipedia)

This year, 2014, is 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Western Europe – the attacks in Normandy, France, popularly known as D-Day. The media will undoubtedly repeat the claim that the liberation of Europe from the Nazis depended upon the operation’s success. But that’s debatable.

A few weeks after D-Day, on June 22, 1944, which was the third anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration. It was a major assault on the Eastern Front that virtually destroyed German Army Group Center. It was the biggest defeat of German forces during WWII and liberated most of the western Soviet Union from the Nazis.

While Operation Bagration was in progress, the Soviets launched the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive from Ukraine in July against German Army Group North Ukraine (formerly called Army Group South). They succeeded in encircling the German XIII Army Corps and killing or capturing most of its 45,000 men. This attack eventually reached the outskirts of the Polish capital of Warsaw and the border of Romania.

These decisive defeats made it obvious to Hitler’s allies that they were on the losing team. Romania switched sides in August and joined the Allies, and in September Finland and Bulgaria did the same. Romania subsequently launched an offensive in Central Europe against the Germans and their remaining ally Hungary. Bulgaria attacked the Germans in the Balkans, and the Finns went after them in Lapland.

The only significant military success the Nazis achieved in the summer of 1944 was on the Mediterranean Front, and even that was limited. They continued to impede the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula that had started with the Allied landings in southern Italy in the fall of 1943. The Allies broke through German defenses and captured Rome on June 4, 1944, but most of the German forces were able to escape a bit to the north and form another formidable defensive line.

After the summer of 1944 the Germans had no chance of stopping the Soviets. Their intelligence on Soviet military planning was practically nonexistent while the Soviets had developed very effective tactics. The Germans were outnumbered by at least 3 to 1, and the latest Soviet tanks and planes were as good or better than theirs.

The D-Day landings in Normandy fulfilled a promise U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to open a second front in Western Europe in order to take some pressure off of Soviets. But even after the Normandy landings, about 60% of the German army’s manpower remained dedicated to the Eastern Front.

Still, the success of D-Day undoubtedly shortened the war by creating another front for the Germans to defend. And the quicker end to the war meant a quicker end to the Holocaust. The landings also permitted Allied troops to overrun the German V-1 and V-2 rocket launching sites in Western Europe. Some also have argued that the Germans would have been able to deploy more of their new jet planes if the war had lasted longer. But the round-the-clock bombing campaign by the U.S. and Britain against German industry, coupled with the loss of German access to the Romanian oil fields, made fuel very scarce for the Luftwaffe’s planes.

The bottom line is that by 1944 the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazis inevitable – with or without the D-Day landings. By the end of 1944 the Soviet armies on the Eastern Front were about three times larger than all of the Allied armies in Western Europe. And by the end of the war the Soviets had killed about nine times more Germans than the U.S. and British combined. If the success of the D-Day landings assured the liberation of Western Europe, it was more likely a liberation from the threat of Soviet occupation after the war.

 

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