There is an almost universal belief among -right and centre-left political commentators in the United States that Donald Trump is more of an inveterate sabre-rattler rather than a potential sabre-wielder. The argument goes that the US president talks a big game when it comes to the necessity of using of American military muscle to enforce its will on the global stage but that in reality he has little inclination to carry through on that rhetoric. Quite the contrary in fact. While that interpretation may be true of the former New York businessman, who like most scions of the American over-class managed to avoid conscription into the Vietnam War by claiming some type of medical invalidity, those around him are far more hawkish in both words and actions. The sudden and quite deliberate ratcheting up of tensions by the US in its perennially strained relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran might satisfy and distract Trump’s domestic audience. Or more accurately, the minority of American voters who regard him with Hollywood-like veneration. But there are several senior members of his administration and their associates who are convinced that Washington’s long term interests in the Middle East lie in a “final confrontation” with Tehran. No matter how ghastly the consequences on both sides or for the region in general. And unfortunately the US president seems to have given those figures far more policy leeway that any of his processors, showing a marked disinterest in his government’s conduct of international affairs.
Consequently, this makes one nervous when one sees news of an alleged and rather nonspecific “sabotage attack” on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Attacks which unnamed Saudi and American sources are blaming on Iran or its proxies just as new US forces are moving into the area. In the circumstances the whole event has a slight Gulf of Tonkin air to it, referring back to the infamous incident in 1964 that gave some of the more rabid anti-communists in the government of Lyndon B. Johnson the casus belli they needed to push for greater American engagement in South-east Asia. Though in this case, we may be hopeful that the otherwise troubling cowardice and obsessive self-interest of the current occupant of the Oval Office will convince him that any attempt by Washington to give Tehran a bloody nose has the potential to embroil him in the type of neverending war that devalued the presidential legacies of Barack Obama and George W Bush. And if we know anything about the New York real-estate tycoon, it’s his belief that the myth of Trump is more important than the reality of Trump.
Trump wants his own war, not one of the hand-me-down wars Obama gave him, and that war is with Iran. Going into Iran will be somewhere between Vietnam and the Suez Crisis for the US.
But Iran might be too much of a challenge? So far he’s shown a marked preference for “surgical strikes” and special forces’ exploits against quantifiably weaker enemies.
Iran would be a different ball game even if substantially weaker than the US (and far more so than is popularly assumed).
Challenge? Try unmitigated disaster. Try “makes Vietnam and Iraq put together look like like a cake walk.” Try “Risk of leading to something worse.”
Even if I were a Machivellian SOB with no moral scrupples and just saw a geopolitical machinations, I’d see nothing good coming out of any such thing.
Only a maniac would even consider it.
Of course, I’ve been hearing prediction of “war with Iran within six months” since 2002.
The problem with Trump is that he is so erratic.
The ordinary Persians are decent enough, the one working for the govt, as in Ireland and England are scum. The Iranian govt are untrustworthy, however, much as I back The Donald on this, keep an eye on the South China Sea.
The big problem with Trump is that the man is just plain unpredictable, it’s always hard to know WHAT he’ll do.
However, with regard to wars like Vietnam- that have been condemned for good reason- I don’t like the fact that too much about a politician is focused on whether or not he got out. Bill Clinton in particular was accused of this, as was George W. Bush.
One of the reasons I don’t like much of this talk is that it’s lead to a mythology that says “Anyone who hasn’t been in a war will be reckless about starting one, and those who have will be cautious.” The big problem with that, is that it simply isn’t true.
Adolf Hitler was a grunt during WWI. Many of those around him were former Freikorps, and those who were not tended to be the ones involved in assassination plots.
Several hawks who pushed their countries into WWI were veterans of various messy colonial wars and quagmires. Some of the biggest hawks in Japan’s Diet and Officer Corps alike running up to WW2, were veterans of The Ruso-Japanese War.
During the US-Spanish War with the Philippines some of the biggest hawks were Civil War Vets. Examples of that came from both sides, but as anyone who knows US society well can guess that most were former Confederates. Woodrow Wilson while not a soldier was the only US President to grow up as a civilian in a war zone and occupation-namely The Confederacy. His father’s Presbyterian Church was converted into a Confederate hospital-nothing was or really could be done to shield 6-7 year old Woodrow from what was going on in Daddy’s Church.
The truth is that most of that age group avoided Vietnam. Estimates of the number who fought range from 2-3 million and the estimate of people who were considered “Baby Boom” but also old enough to have fought Vietnam is about 35 million individuals. Many Vietnam Vets were actually silent generation and that’s a cohort of 20 million. So do the math. Also the profile who DID fight is more complicated than either political side wants to admit. The claim of poorer people being railroaded into the draft is far from being nonsense, but it was further from being the monolithic story. (Indeed those who died especially earlier were more likely to be from middle class or above backgrounds as that was the profile of most pilots and officers.)
One principle I’ve always based a lot of my thinking on, is the one that two people can have very similar experiences and come out of it with very different conclusions and reactions-and the reasons aren’t always subject to easy or formulaic explanations.
While I know plenty of anti-war veterans quite well, I still believe that criticizing even hawkish politicians and/or ones who are trouble for other reasons for not having a war record in an unjust war, is actually a toxic influence on US politics. Having witnessed John McCain’s temper in person multiple times, I never would have been comfortable giving him power to start a war or use nuclear weapons, but a lot of people gave him a free pass based on his war record. (I’ve always been carefully agnostic on whether or not the Hanoi Hilton was a factor in that terrible temper.)
It’s been my conclusion that if John McCain had been the one to start the Iraq War rather than George W. Bush (and it’s a myth that he simply wouldn’t have done so), that about 1/4 of the American anti-war activists I met would have been unwilling to question McCain’s judgment due to his record.
And that a political system that favors “war heroes” a little too much will always give free passes to men like John McCain and equally excoriate men like John Kerry (who turned against the war).
And Kerry was without question someone who had been at the hard end of a conflict too. But as you say, the fact he turned against it counted in Republican’s eyes more than anything else and led to the fairly disgusting efforts to attack him.
Early in the Iraq War a lot of people were predicting Kerry as the perfect man to take on Bush as he was a veteran turned anti-war activist. “He’s just what we need.” they said. “As a veteran and a peace activist he can unite both anti-war folks and Middle America.” Of course, I could see so clearly the kind of attacks he was going to face, from the minute I heard it suggested he run against Bush.
This is not to discount Kerry, or discourage any of the newer IVAW/AVAW crowd from seeking political careers-far from it. Kerry only lost by a tiny margin for POTUS and had a long career in the Senate, plus a cabinet position. My point is simply that “anti-war vet” is NOT some mighty key to getting conservative voters who usually go for the GOP and support foreign wars to switch teams.
To people who are hawkish politically, anti-war vets are viewed as traitors, “draft dodgers” merely as cowards. And sadly that’s a common view even among relative “doves” in the US South. (The South as a LONG history as the most hawkish part of the country-even going back to colonial times.)
Like I said, I’ve seen John McCain’s temper close and personal. The first time, I associated McCain’s poking the guy he was mad at in the chest (a well documented McCain behavior when angry), and associating that with Darth Vader choking his own officers. Later on I saw it others times. Have you ever seen the movie “Downfall” with the famous scene where The Fuhrer is throwing a tantrum? Frankly, McCain would lose it to the same degree or a little bit worse, over the most trivial things you could possibly imagine.
And it was like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Very few people dared to speak out about his temper despite Presidential ambitions-at least not until 2008, when the risk could no longer be ignored. It seemed that despite a spat of scandals especially the “Keating Five” or a pyramid scheme in Arizona, that no matter what McCain did everybody even Democrats would just spoon frosting on it, because of his war record. This wasn’t just “virtue signalling” or jingoism. For some people it was genuine fear of being labeled “the spitting type” or like the so-called “maggots at the airport”.
I have to say, when I first learned both of the German Freikorps (when I was in school the teaching on Weimar and the rise of The Third Reich treated them as a footnote at most) in depth, and learned that one of their inside narratives was “When I got back from The Great War this Jewess spat in my face and called me a coward and murderer of children.” It made my blood run cold. I had definitely being hearing something very, very similar most of my life-and often had a BAAAD feeling about it.
Agreed, re ‘anti-war vet’. Very much so. McCain was no saint either. But that’s the media and perhaps thats how politics works in a transcontinental state – it’s so large that everything gets reduced down and down and down because the reality is so complex and so difficult to handle?
Unfortunately the media is only one part of the story. Since the 1980’s the US has developed a really nasty Dolchstosslegende over Vietnam. People are afraid to speak their minds because they are afraid of the accusations it brings (ei “Kind of person who spat on our boys returning from Nam.). As for spitting, while it’s clearly impossible to discount the possibility that some random asshole might have done such a thing, all the evidence and reports from the times it wasn’t a common thing nor was it something that any major anti-war group or most of the fringe ones would have condoned or encouraged.
Even unwillingness to stand up for Kerry on the part of some Democrats against the Swift Boat Attacks, was driven by the fact that they didn’t want to challenge the word of a unified group of Vets for the sake of one-even if the one was their Presidential nominee.
Most of my life, I’ve gotten all manner of ugly accusations because I’ve had the position that John McCain should not be President on account of his terrible temper. And that I could never trust a man with that degree of rage.
Some people excused McCain’s temper due to his war record. I’ve been accused also of saying “all Vietnam vets are unstable” or whatever. In reality, I’ve always had a position that John McCain has had a reputation for a terrible temper since childhood and his family has for at least 150 years-and there’s no way to know if and to what extent the Hanoi Hilton might have contributed.
Having held that position for years, I can tell you that what I saw was much worse in a lot of cases than just media oversimplification.
“As for spitting, while it’s clearly impossible to discount the possibility that some random asshole might have done such a thing, all the evidence and reports from the times it wasn’t a common thing nor was it something that any major anti-war group or most of the fringe ones would have condoned or encouraged.”
That sounds about right.
I actually know the man who wrote a book debunking the “Spat on Vietnam Vets” meme, as he’s an associate of mine. For a while I was trying to track down evidence that maybe somebody or some group of people actually imported the Vietnam Dolchstosslegende FROM Weimar Germany on purpose with the thought of “We can use this to manipulate people but the US Constitution WILL (and/or something in the national character) prevent the consequences it had in Germany”, but they were playing with fire of course.
Jerry Lembcke used the term “urban myth” to describe this, and in an academic and social theory sense saying “It may or may not actually have roots in true events, but it serves a social/political purpose.” And a lot of people take that term out of context swearing their cousin or whatever got spat on.
Of course, he later wrote a book about “Hanoi Jane”-not one to avoid provocative topics.
I think the size of The US has way less to do with it than you might think.
What happens is that you get an very complex relationship between state and local politics and national politics. (I’m now reading a book about Women’s Suffrage in the US-And it’s amazing how much of the challenges, opportunities, and strategies are still relevant to the electoral college and voting reform I’m involved in.)
American politics DOES do badly without a lively state and local scene. Indeed part of the reason I’ve gotten involved is that I believe the electoral college encourages low voter turnout for state-only races. What the people of Arizona SHOULD have done as so many had witnessed McCain’s temper and many of his scandals were a state story…….They should have spoken out much, much more and much sooner (before summer of 2008) than they did. They should have spread the word to national media, and friends or family in other parts of the country-and arguably voted him out of The Senate.
All too few people did that. Some sincerely believed McCain earned this deference in Hanoi, but many feared the social stigma of being labeled as “The spitting type”. Since the 1980’s the accusation of being “The kind of person who spat on ‘Nam
Vets.” carries almost as much stigma as “Communist” once did.
I don’t want to simplify our Federal system into a very centralized one. as some critics of electoral college-reformist claim. If anything I believe it would increase voter turnout in “solid” states, and in state and local elections, and that’s actually my single biggest motive.
John Bolton! Exhibit A.
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Smoke and mirrors in order to keep the plebs distracted by the circus. The yanks won’t go to war with Iran simply by the fact they hadn’t the ability to take on lesser patent countries. They’d rather use proxy terror groups like ISIS and the white helmets to do their dirty deeds. Anybody that can’t recognise the sabre rattling about Iran is exactly the same sabre rattling that is directed at Venezuela, Korea and Syria, needs a long walk in the fresh air.
‘patent’ should’ve read as ‘potent’.
Air strikes from 20,000 feet together with cruise missile attacks from twenty miles offshore I’d one thing, but a full blown conflagration I’d another and that is likely what would happen were attacks actually to be launched.
Not quite America First as the big businessman promised and another Vietnam style draft would go down a rip roaring bundle.
Bringing the remains back in body bags is something the Americans ain’t too keen on.
Do hopefully the Big Bluster, will as he is prone to do, wind it down in a bit after he’s rattled the sabres