News Year’s Eve has found its way to Arizona’s outback and, although I haven’t checked, probably to the rest of the world this side of the International Dateline. While the celebrations wind-up, my thoughts turn to the legacy of the Cold War and what we may have learned. A likely candidate for consideration is the U.S.’s foreign policy and the accompanying foreign relations. I love the rich, stand-up comedy fodder the subject offers until thoughts of the millions of affected people sober the tone. The Cold War became the test bed for ‘new’ foreign policy trials. As newly deployed policies failed and yielded to military adventures, the federal government ‘doubled-down’ rather than admit an error. As bad foreign policy and relations are implemented they come back to haunt ordinary U.S. citizens and the citizenry is being engulfed by its own government’s fear and paranoia; FUBAR.
This post will discuss wars and some of the dumb decisions (in my opinion) that were made by policy makers who did not have the moral backbones to stand up and take the heat. It is not about the honor and integrity of American soldiers, who fought; many of whom died or were wounded physically or emotionally. I am grateful to you for your service. It is also not about the millions of civilians who were carried by the tide of policy into harm’s way. And it is not about the policy decisions currently in the public debating forums. The post is about the past that brought us to where we are today.
In Greece, the U.S. threw its policy weight and money at the Greek Civil War with the passage of The Truman Doctrine in 1946 by the Republican Congress. Oops, the Soviet Union had already refused to assist the Greek Communists in the struggle so the Civil War was just that. The Truman Doctrine set the tone of American interference in other countries’ business going forward, though.
The Marshall Plan in 1947 seems to have worked out well for everyone concerned, although Asia, without a ‘Marshall Plan’, did even better and faster.
The battle over Berlin took a hard turn straight into crisis on June 23, 1948 when the U.S. and
its allies, England and France, talked about forming a federation with their three slices of the Berlin pie. The allied discussions spooked the Soviet Union so they closed the Berlin border to allied vehicle and rail traffic. The confrontation over the closures was passive/aggressive; the Berlin airlift response kept Berlin provisioned-just barely. The airlift was sufficient, however, for the Soviets to assess the will and capacity of the allies and they came to the table after seven months. The result was years and years of tension over the East-West German borders. Millions of American soldiers’ rite of passage to man and womanhood occurred under the constant, unrelenting threat of World War III at the German border as they stared into the eyes of their counterparts under the same pressure.
The sustained tension at the German border coupled with the assumed military strength of the Soviet Union was the genesis of the nuclear arms race and the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine (MADD). It was the second plank in Eisenhower’s New Look National Security Policy in 1953: “relying on nuclear weapons to deter Communist aggression or, if necessary, to fight a war”. Both sides geared up and built tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that could be fatefully delivered on any platform. It also spurred the unanticipated consequence of everybody wanting a nuke. Now, twenty six nations are capable of exercising the incredible destructive force of the nucleus of an atom.
Let us not forget NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. sponsored joint military that has grown in both size and strength. NATO clung to its initial policy of not attacking
unless attacked as long as the Soviet Union was a force to be reckoned with. On the sidelines, those of us old enough to remember, watched helplessly and in horror as our Western governments let calls for help from East Europeans challenging the Soviet iron fist go unanswered; Czechoslovakia in 1948, Hungary in 1956, the Czechs again in the Prague spring of 1968 and the Poles in the 70’s. After the Soviet Union fractured and retreated, NATO changed its tune and went aggressive. NATO beat up feckless Yugoslavia in Kosovo and sent troops into Bosnia and Afghanistan. The neighborly NATO took U.S. taxpayer money by the wheelbarrow but decided not to replace or augment U.S. troops in Iraq. NATO has also stimulated a new arms race:
“…The treaty between west European nations, inaugurated as a barrier to Soviet aggression, graduated to new prominence in 2011 with establishment of a “free fly” zone for Libyan insurgents, and aerial attacks on Libya. The spread of NATO actions to several continents redefines NATO as an arm of western political and military policies, and replaces the policy of deterrence against a defunct Soviet Union. Coupling that with the anti-missile system the U.S. and NATO allies propose to deploy in Eastern Europe, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian First Channel program Cold Politics (Kholodnaya Politika) and exclaimed that this anti-missile system “is undoubtedly aimed at neutralizing the nuclear rocket capability of Russia.”
Russia has fought back with its recently announced initiative to place nukes along its border to defend itself from NATO. Game On.In Asia, the landscape of policy decision is not much improved. The U.S. blundered about in various wars that destroyed the land and killed lots of people.
The Korean War remains unresolved. To this day South and North Korean troops periodically gather at the border, the 38th parallel, and fire shells from howitzers and tanks. Attack helicopters and jets drop bombs in an exercise, which simulates countering a North Korean invasion. Too bad they did not come to an agreement like China and Taiwan did of firing on each other’s garrisons on alternate days. Perhaps the Korean War helped the people of South Korea.
The Vietnam War haunts the U.S.and it paid dearly; America 47,382 military dead, 10,811 non-combatant deaths, 153,382 wounded, and 10,173 captured. The U.S. lost the war and the Domino theory was wrong. Many countries, like Cambodia, leaned left then self-corrected.
Cambodia was precedent setting. This “secret” war was the first time U.S. attacked a sovereign country in an undeclared war. Cambodia just happened to be in the middle between the two gorillas; North Vietnam and the U.S. The U.S. charged the North Vietnamese military with using Cambodia, a neutral territory, as a logistics staging area. Cambodia was attacked with extensive bombings and military excursions and more people died.
Foreign policy in the Middle East and South America follows the familiar pattern as has been discussed in the posts listed below. Chile, for example, was ripe to correct the Allende leftist error at the ballot box and with planned public protests, but the U.S. backed the dictator Pinochet in a violent overthrow of the government. Castro was an ideological atheist, and the U.S. gave him the bums rush right into Nikita Khrushchev’s waiting arms.
Balance between Secrecy and Disclosure
On December 19, 2013, the State Department released a new history prepared by the State Department Office of the Historian. Toward ‘Thorough, Accurate and Reliable’: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series (also called FRUS) by William B. McAllister, Joshua Botts, Peter Cozzens, and Aaron W. Marrs, is an immense document. Taking the reader as far back as the Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Administration, the work attempts to systematically and publicly document foreign policy. The clash between conflicting interests in secrecy and disclosure is clear. FAS’s Secrecy News Steven Aftergood points out:
“…So, for example, one of the main factors in the post-World War II development of FRUS was the unauthorized disclosure of a classified compilation known as the Yalta Papers, which was a study of FDR’s wartime diplomacy. The leak of the Yalta Papers by a FRUS historian in 1954 (which in some respects prefigured the Vietnam-era leak of the Pentagon Papers) catalyzed methodological changes in the production, timeliness and oversight of the FRUS series (see Chapter 7).
Meanwhile, excesses of secrecy generated their own corrective reactions. The suppression of information about US covert action in a FRUS volume on Iran, for example, helped instigate a statutory requirement that the FRUS series must be “thorough, accurate and reliable,” thereby strengthening the hand of openness advocates inside and outside the Department (Chapter 11)….”
Well into the series, the State Department authors acknowledge that secrecy has been the greater problem for FRUS, for the Department and for the US Government:
“…The most significant negative repercussions attributable to the FRUS series have not involved damaging releases of potentially-sensitive national security or intelligence information. Rather, the reputation of the U.S. Government has suffered primarily from failures of the series to document significant historical events or acknowledge past actions….”
The government’s desperation to remain under the radar has driven the classification of one in every three documents and the government’s desire for secrecy has become the subject of comedy. This level of secrecy is dangerous; it hides policy FUBARs. For the sake of every American, the soldiers, and the contractors who support them, the first step back from the brink of socialism to a republic is to abolish secrecy. The machinery of bad foreign policy has turned inward on the American people; the chickens have come home to roost.
As we venture into the New Year of 2014, think about what U.S. policy has done through intervention: fought terrorism and increased terrorism’s reach; fought drugs and increased the drug trade; and fought communism and witnessed its rebirth. Think about where the U.S. is as a result of policy decisions: deeply in debt; beset by a militarized police force that is frightened of and shooting the people they are supposed to protect; a terrified federal government that must spy on our every move and with every department armed to the teeth; and a Department of Homeland Security directed against the U.S. citizen who pays the tab. Think about where the U.S. goes from here and how it gets there, one step at a time beginning with eliminating the secrecy that hides policy FUBARs.
[Other posts that address this subject matter; Chile’s Cold War Political Dance: A Cueca of Ideas, The Taiwan Straits Crisis – A Hair’s Breadth from Annihilation, The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning, The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door, Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency, Johnson and the CIA, and Nixon: The CIA Loses Access ]
 University of Virginia; The Miller Center; American President: A Reference Resource; Dwight David Eisenhower Front Page; http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essays/biography/5
 RT; December 17, 2013; Moscow confirms deployment of Iskander missiles on NATO borders; http://rt.com/news/iskander-missile-deployment-russia-317/
 The Huffington Post; Jerome Halligan; 08/26/2013; Freedom of Information Act Now Classified; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerome-halligan/freedom-of-information-act-classified_b_3806304.html