President Trump has just returned from a whirlwind trip to the Middle East. And he has vowed to keep a continuing and aggressive U.S. presence where American soldiers are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America’s Middle Eastern battlefields. But is Trump, like his predecessors, becoming engulfed into conflicts that never end?
One of the joys in my college years was to study English literature at Cambridge University in the early 1960s. Nobel prize author and poet Rudyard Kipling was an early favorite. He did not bog down the reader with dense symbolism and complexity. He was easy to understand. Born in India, Kipling was tagged as the “Poet of the British Empire.” It just might be a good idea for Republicans and Democrats, who fall over themselves espousing America’s continuing role in the Middle East, to take a breather and read a little Kipling.
“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.”
Kipling expressed his concerns of imperialism in his book, “The Man Who Would Be King,” which was made into one of my favorite movies. In it, Sean Connery loses his head attempting to bring his western values to a remote mountain vastness called Kafiristan. Michael Caine is left alive to crawl back to civilization and bring the message to the West — “Quit trying to convert and save us” in the Middle East.
America has commanded a major presence throughout the Middle East for the past 60 years for one major reason. No, a singular reason -- oil. It was in our economic interest to remake the Muslim world by the B and B method. Bribing and Bombing. In the 1980s, U.S. interests were served by pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan in support of Islamic radicals who were trying to expel the Russians. Then our one time allies turned on us, the initial seeds of al-Qaeda were sown, and America has been in a quagmire ever since.
In the last decade, we plunged into Iraq, where there was initially only a minor al-Qaeda presence. But the quixotic U.S. invasion poured gasoline onto the anti U.S. fire, causing the death of some 6700 American soldiers, leaving a country in shambles, with not one barrel of oil confiscated in this wasted effort. Then it was on to Afghanistan, and again, for no apparent reason. (But al-Qaeda is lurking!) Osama bin Laden is dead but his effort to bog down the U.S. in endless Middle East wars is right on target.
Drone attacks are used to get rid of the bad guys. And yes, we need to get rid of the bad guys. But as children’s book author Dr. Paul Craig Roberts points out in a recent Trends Journal article:
“Washington’s assaults on seven countries have blown up weddings, funerals, kids’ soccer games, farm houses, hospitals, aid workers, schools, people walking along the streets, village elders, but the Muslims don’t mind! They understand that the well-meaning Americans, who love them and are committed to their human rights, are bringing them democracy and women’s rights. The million or more dead, maimed, and displaced Muslims are a low price to be paid for liberation by Washington.”
Do you catch his sarcasm? The Middle East has been in turmoil for over 2000 years. And just about everyone has attempted to control this part of the world over the course of history. The Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans…the list goes on — none with any degree of long-term success.
From all this turmoil, there are lessons to be learned, especially for America and the new Trump Administration. First, make a massive effort to become independent of Middle Eastern oil. Second, read more Kipling. In his novel, “The Naulahka”, Kipling writes:
“And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,
“And the epitaph drear: ‘A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -- Abraham Lincoln
As the battle over taking down Civil War monuments in New Orleans rages, President Trump has jumped into the debate by questioning why the conflict was even necessary. In a recent interview, Trump asked: Why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have worked out?
Could Lincoln have done more to stop the fighting? Was there a middle ground to buy time for ongoing discussions? It was not like the South’s eventual leaders, from Jefferson Davis to Robert E. Lee, were from a foreign land. Davis was a U.S. Senator, and Lincoln asked Lee to take over command of the entire U.S. Military. They were colleagues in government. Couldn’t Lincoln have been more persuasive?
Imagine the public reaction today if either George Bush or Barack Obama stood by and let some six million Americans kill one another in battle. That’s the number of deaths based on today’s comparative population. There would be open revolt and an immediate cry for new leadership. Did Lincoln fail the test then? Oh, he did take action. Lincoln suspended parts of the constitution including habeas corpus, arrested numerous political opponents, and shut down several hundred newspapers.
Was Lincoln obsessed with freeing the slaves? Here are his words in a letter written to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
So was it a total commitment to keep the union intact? Not if you believe Lincoln’s words a few years before the Civil War began. “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable—a most sacred right— a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own so much of the territory as they inhabit.”
Professor David Goldfield has written a recent book called “America Aflame, How the Civil War Created a Nation.” He’s a past guest on my syndicated radio show. Goldfield computes the total monetary cost of the war to around $6.7 billion in 1860s currency. He asserts that if “the government had purchased the freedom of four million slaves and granted a 40 acre farm to each slave family, the total cost would have been $3.1 billion, leaving $3.6 billion for reparations to make up for a century of lost wages. And not a single life would have been lost.”
What about the morality of a President declaring unbridled warfare on his own citizens? One can well argue that saving human lives would have been far more important than keeping the Union together. How can a President responsible for so much bloodshed be thought of as the greatest President in US history? I understand that Lincoln wanted to avoid the Civil War. However, was preserving the Union worth the cost of spilling so much blood on both ends of the battlefield?
Lincoln went on to lead the country in reconstruction and offered exemplary leadership as the nation healed its all too deep wounds. Maybe it was because he was brand new at the job as the war began. But it seems clear that when real leadership was called for in an effort to save hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens, Abraham Lincoln blinked.
The country is, after these 150 years, still reeling from this national tragedy. President Trump was right on in asking why the war was necessary in the first place.
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, "Common Sense," each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.
Is another Cuban Missile Crisis at hand between the U.S. and North Korea? A little history can tell us just how dangerous a nuclear confrontation can be.
Fifty-four years ago, America faced another perilous moment and was on the brink of a nuclear war. The Russians were building missile sites in Cuba, allowing the potential for an all out nuclear attack on the United States. Younger Americans today are not aware of how close the world came to nuclear war, as historians would argue that this would become the most dangerous moment up to that time in human history.
In the fall of 1962, I had traveled to England to undertake post-graduate work in English Literature at Cambridge University. From breakfast seminars to daytime lectures, then afternoon readings and evening tutorials, I was immersed in English literature. International politics and foreign intrigue were the furthest things from my mind — that was, until the Cuban missile crisis.
I had rented a room in the house of an English family who lived a few blocks from the Cambridge campus. Mrs. Davenport, the lady of the house, awakened me at 2:00 A.M. on October 22, 1962. She said a neighbor had just called and told her to turn on the radio to hear a major press conference by President John F. Kennedy.
It was an extremely cold morning, and there was no central heating in the house, so I grabbed a blanket off my bed, threw it around me, and went downstairs to the living room. A fire was burning in the fireplace, and the Davenport family had gathered around the radio. President Kennedy was just beginning his remarks.
The President announced a naval blockade of Cuba, which he called a “quarantine.” He made it clear that any ship bound for Cuba that was carrying offensive missiles, or any other military hardware, would be stopped and turned back.
As he ended his speech, the neighbors from next door joined us in the living room. I was not sure how serious the matter was, but there was no doubt in the minds of my British hosts, who had lived the day-in, day-out horror of two world wars; they believed that we were on the brink of another world war, and they were devastated. The women in the room were crying. Eventually, everyone turned to me and asked why the President would want to start such hostility over a minor island south of Florida. I had no idea how to respond.
The next day several members of the Cambridge Union, the local debating society, approached. They had sought me out to debate America’s actions because I was one of very few Americans at Cambridge. I knew I was in over my head, and I needed help. The only place I could think of was the American Embassy in London; maybe someone there could give me some background information about why the blockade was necessary. After a ninety-minute train ride, I was in London by mid-day.
On my arrival at the Embassy, a staffer gave me a verbal briefing and a little background information. It is an understatement to say that I was lost in the forest of international conflict.
When I spoke up for the American position and tried to defend my country that evening, I was hissed and booed by the majority of the crowd. The Russians had stated that the only missiles in Cuba were “defensive,” and that America was the villain. Try as I might, I could not convince the Brits any differently. I was up against several other speakers who rattled off numerous dates, events, and consequences of World War II and the Cold War. They were well versed in the politics of the day, and it was clear that I was less than qualified to be my country’s sole defending voice.
Cooler heads prevailed fifty years ago, under the leadership of John F. Kennedy, and nuclear war was averted. We can only hope that President Trump can offer the same leadership on a cross section of international issues that both serve America’s interests and defuse the violence taking place across the globe. Benjamin Franklin summed it up pretty well many years ago. “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.