Forgive us, Ike
I am no supporter of Bashar al-Assad, nor do I support the use of chemical weapons of any kind. In fact, I’d rather see a world free of conflict entirely. Pipe dream, yes, and one I’ll gladly continue to puff on in my little idyllic world.
But, I’m amazed (and more than a little outraged) that a mere 10 years after we watched Sec of State Colin Powell present now-understood-to-be false information to the UN on the existence of fictitious WMDs to justify a war in Iraq which should never have been, President Obama is seeking support for air strikes against Syria and Assad. Air strikes, which some argue would support a ‘group’ the US is more or less in a prolonged war against in that oh-so-crystal-clear War on Terror — aka al Qaeda. Strikes which some warn would launch the region which is already on tender hooks into utter chaos and unleash cross-border international instability.
What’s even more shocking is the incredibly quick show of support President Obama received from the likes of Speaker of the House John Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, two men who have made the sole purpose of their political lives to thwart any and all policies the President supports and have sought to cut any all spending related to, say, helping the American public. That is, any spending not directly related to defense.
Never mind that air strikes are aimed at a region of the world which is far more complicated than sound bites and 60-s news cycles can describe and do justice to. Nor that this is a region where the US is not exactly a ‘friend’, except if you speak to Israelis. Syria’s history is long and varied. And, its current civil war is multifaceted and steeped in history. Other than responding to the red line that was chemical weapons use by Assad’s government forces, what are we thinking?
President Dwight D Eisenhower, a Republican, must be screaming at us from his grave. And, he’d be quite right to do so. In his address just prior to leaving office in 1961, he warned:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Where can we find an Eisenhower for the 21st century to stand in opposition and as the voice of reason against our current path towards that increasing complex which has already had dire consequences for yet another generation of young men and women who serve their countries in senseless wars? Where can we find leaders who will allow us—the citizenry—to question their decisions, review their actions, and hold them accountable without fear of persecution, particularly when military interests far exceed the needs of the American public?
Things were not much better for Eisenhower early in his presidency. Writing to his brother in 1954, he had this to say about some of his Republican contemporaries:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
You could replace ‘Texas oil millionaires’ with ‘Midwestern industrialists’ and you wonder if Eisenhower didn’t have a crystal ball. Sadly, however, their numbers are not so negligible today and any Eisenhower-type Republicans are largely missing from American politics.
I’m not saying that Eisenhower is without flaws. Far from it. But, today, we repeatedly hear there is no money for unemployment benefits or job training programmes, improving social services for those most in need and downtrodden, there has been precious little done to help boost or put forth a jobs bill, and the House of Representatives has voted 40 times to repeal a law which is already on the books and attempts to make health care more accessible to all.
Yet, let’s go to war again. Why not? Iraq only cost about US$820 billion (and counting). Sure! And, look at how much better things are for the Iraqi people now?!
Forgive us, Ike. We know not what we do.
Or, more aptly, we do know, and we simply don’t care. We have become slaves to the military-industrial complex and we should have heeded your warnings.