Posted tagged ‘Vietnam War’

Intelligence Is Overrated

October 29, 2009

The Coen Brothers, a multi-Oscar winning pair of neurotic and irreverent Hollywood filmmakers, made a so-so film in 2008 called “Burn After Reading” where the tagline was “Intelligence is Relative.”

The film deals with a CIA agent played by John Malkovich whose personal memoirs contained in a disk are accidentally discovered by two dimwitted gym trainers played by Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. Though the film itself lacks the usual panache we have come to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen, the story is supposed to satirize the U.S. intelligence community and how everyday idiots can become bigger threats to national security than terrorists.

This film and Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film “The Informant!” are both spoofs of the ineptitude of government agents and the people who are in power in our country. One would think the smartest people in our society would be the ones in power, but that is not always the case.

The general American public would argue that our previous president, George W. Bush, was not the brightest bulb in the drawer despite reaching the office of President of the United States. He only became Commander in Chief because of his family name (his pappy was once the Prez as well) and the very nice Supreme Court who ruled controversial ballots in his favor over his challenger, Al Gore.

In our current administration, several Obama cabinet and lower cabinet members had trouble paying their taxes. This is especially ironic considering Democrats are traditionally the ones who favor higher taxes over lower ones. This goes to show that everyone is capable of either being stupid or ignoring the law.

But indeed it does make one wonder who really is in charge of our country. Do we actually have the smartest people in high public offices; or do we have bumbling idiots whom enough folks were gullible enough to vote for?

Then again, sometimes you had no choice who to vote for. I don’t think too many Americans were enthusiastic about either Bush or Gore, or even John Kerry for that matter. This past election, where we had a choice between a charismatic African American and a well-respected Vietnam War veteran, was one of the first elections in a while where the person, not the party, counted more.

All this shows that perhaps the best people aren’t the ones who are in positions of power. Politics and the art of governing a country are often times two very different monsters. Politics is show, theatre, intrigue, social networking. Governing a country is an intellectual task that requires knowledge of history, economics, mathematics, political theory, and multi-cultural understanding.

Those who want to enter politics are often in it for a variety of reasons. Some want to genuinely change the country (or city, or county, or state) for the better, others are in it for the fame/money/reputation, and some people might be in it for no other reason other than it seems like the right thing to do.

Those who get elected aren’t necessarily the ones with the best ideas. They are the ones who seem the most trustworthy, kind, patriotic, charismatic, and/or partisan. If you live in a hardcore red or blue state, you better feed the base or you will have no chance of collecting votes.

I have always believed that the real people who are qualified to be president, or senator, or any high public office, are usually in academia. They are law professors, college professors, or political scientists working for a think tank. They could even be journalists who have studied politics for a long length of time. Either way, people who understand politics, international relations, and history at a deeper level.

This is not to say that our current elected leaders do not have that expertise. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Most of our other leaders have university degrees in political science, international studies, or law. I am not implying that Washington D.C. is full of nothing but power hungry dunderheads, though sometimes that assumption is tempting to make.

But there is somewhat of a backlash against intellectualism. Obama and Hillary Clinton were accused of being “elitists” who couldn’t relate to the everyday working man or woman. This explains why Obama tried to go bowling (and failed miserably) and Hillary was seen at a tavern chasing down brewskis. Republicans already have the “good old boy” reputation down solid, so it’s the Dems who need “work” in that area.

Some people think politicians who are overtly smart and intelligent are prone to ignore the everyday “Joe Six Pack” and their common problems. Others feel we need the best and brightest running our country, not those who can best identify with the little people.

Intelligence may be relative, but there will always be a place for smart people. Smart people assist in improving technology, science, medicine, the arts, and any other kind of research that helps society become better. When it comes to running a country, that might be a whole other story.

How much of politics is scientific and how much of it is an art? That might come down to whether you value book or street smarts more. There might be something said for the classic debate between intelligence and wisdom. A wise person is not necessarily the smartest one in the room. They are the ones with the most insight, sensitivity, life experience, and observational power. Intelligence is something that cannot be learned.

But can wisdom be learned? Or does it come more natural to some people compared to others? We assume that wise people make the best decisions in life, but what about intelligent folks? How, for example, did the Kennedy administration get us into the colossal blunder that was the Vietnam War when everyday military grunts on the ground knew all along this would be a mistake? There must be something said for proximity to the problem.

 All these questions can boggle the mind. Maybe we need intelligent people to answer them.

Sins of Foreign Policy Are Always Clearer in Hindsight

July 11, 2009
Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Things are always easier in hindsight. Ask George W. Bush. Ask FDR. Ask John F. Kennedy. Ask former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Decisions that seemed so right at the time can later be proven to be so gravely wrong. And you’ll never figure this out until it’s all over. What a shame.

McNamara’s recent death has brought about a rebirth of decades-old debates about foreign policy, the Cold War, and the disastrous American adventure in Vietnam. One cannot help but to think about Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney when McNamara’s name is mentioned. All three men were hated in their day. They misled the American people, lied to them, and told them their decisions would protect them from evil. One lie followed another.

The Kennedy White House believed in the “Domino Theory,” a theoretical prediction that if one nation were to fall to Communism, their neighbors would do the same. If South Vietnam were to fall under Soviet influence; Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan would soon follow. Then Greece, France, West Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Then eventually the whole Western world. Then us.

Historians have debated whether the Domino Theory was a plausible reality or just a product of irrational fear of losing American hegemony. And even if all of Southeast Asia were to fall to Communism, what would happen then? Would tyranny, poverty, despotism, and institutionalized atheism overcome our way of life? Would our national security come into serious jeopardy? All these possibilities were considered by the Kennedy administration.

But it is unfair to paint Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, McNamara, and Dean Rusk as the only ones who thought this way. The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy thought the infiltration of Communism onto American soil wasn’t just a theory, but reality. His Communist witch hunts of the 1950s destroyed many people’s lives and blinded us to believing that the enemies were at our gates, when such fears proved to be nothing but just that: fear.

Much talk has come up about how such smart, intelligent, and enlightened men like Kennedy, McNamara, and Rusk got us so close to nuclear war and later architected a war in Vietnam that would take the lives of 58,000 U.S. troops and close to 2 million Vietnamese. People have argued that they were nothing but a bunch of liberal fascists, much like how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice are considered right winged fascists.

But maybe all these accusations are a little off. Consider the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that I believe played a very significant role in beginning the Vietnam War. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the Soviet Union and United States went on the brink of total annihilation. Thanks to “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD for short, both sides had the ability and will to completely obliterate the other side. If one side launched their missiles and destroyed most of their enemy’s homeland, that side had the ability to return the favor. Thanks to B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines, this can happen.

Then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy had the guts to kill more people than Adolph Hitler. Hitler had a whole war to slaughter millions. Kennedy just had one simple phone call to make. I hope you shudder when you think about this.

Kennedy later estimated that there was a 33%, or a one in three, chance of nuclear war breaking out at that moment. Rusk believed the odds were much lower. Either way, it was close. The presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba was intolerable. Fidel Castro could not have been trusted to not use them. The Soviets didn’t like our missiles in Turkey, a country just in their backyard. We compromised, mutually agreed to remove our missiles from both sites, and total annihilation was averted. Whew.

But we should not forget the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the thinking of McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, who would later become president after Kennedy’s assassination. If the Domino Theory were to actually happen and all of East Asia were to fall to the Communist bloc, who is to say all of Asia wouldn’t become nuclear? Who is to say mass slaughter like what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime wouldn’t become the norm? No one could know for sure.

Let’s now wind the clock ahead forty years and think about 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the catastrophic 9/11 that never happened. Political analysts have said that our country has changed its opinion on national defense and foreign policy ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. That might be true to some extent. Bush administration officials have defended their questionable practices of torture, invading two Middle Eastern countries, and domestic spying that these measures are necessary to protect our country from our enemies. Similar measures were done in the 1960s and 70s (and during World War II, the so-called “Good War”) under similar justifications.

I am in no way excusing Bush and his team for approving of torture, the horrors at Guantanamo Bay, and invading Iraq. These were decisions that were motivated by anger, greed, revenge, and pride. But then again, we said the same about Nixon when he increased bombing campaigns over North Vietnam and Cambodia. We said this when President Johnson increased our troop presence in a war that was “unwinnable.” Times might change, but mistakes do not.

But this is all easy to say in hindsight. They say hindsight is 20/20 because we know the outcomes and can accurately judge the wisdom of our decisions. But let us consider the fact that we were this close to total destruction in October 1962. Let us consider that from the comfort of our armchairs in the safety of our living rooms, politics and history seem like a piece of cake. Decisions are simple. Don’t escalate the Vietnam War. Don’t bomb Cambodia. Don’t support Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Don’t approve of the Patriot Act. Don’t allow U.S. interrogators to use waterboarding to get information out of terror suspects. These decisions might seem easy and very straightforward 40 years after the fact, but they did not at the moment.

Robert S. McNamara came from a business background, as he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company before becoming Secretary of Defense. In his world, he was a number cruncher. His world was based on facts, figures, theories, and already proven models of success. That is how the business world operates. In foreign policy, there are also rules. We had just defeated fascism in Europe and the Pacific and were now moving on to defeat the Soviet empire. If it worked before, why can’t it work again?

That is why McNamara thought sending hundreds of thousands of more troops to Vietnam would win the war. That is how we defeated Hitler. The D-Day invasion was a large ground assault that aimed at pushing back our enemies till they gave up. Nixon thought bombing the Viet Cong would force them to surrender. That much ridiculed strategy made sense in Japan, when heavy bombing campaigns, ending in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broke their will to fight and made them accept unconditional surrender. Nixon and Johnson thought if it worked in the 1940s, why couldn’t it work in the 1960s?

Bush might have thought the same when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He probably figured it would be a short war and that military occupation wouldn’t be such a big deal. We occupied West Germany and Japan after WWII and look at where they are now. They are now first world democracies. Iraq could have a similar future if they would just get their act together.

President Obama is being criticized by his own supporters of not doing enough to reverse Bush-era policies relating to anti-terrorism. Instead of drawing back our forces in the Middle East, he is increasing them by sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The scheduled June 30 pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities was a timetable agreed to by Bush, not Obama. Had McCain won the election, that pullout would have still happened.

Obama has not been the anti-war president that many of his peace loving liberal supporters have hoped for. He will completely withdraw from Iraq on the Iraqi government’s terms, not his own. He will increase our troop strength in Afghanistan, a country that is becoming very weary of our continued presence there. Meanwhile, back at home, people are getting tired of war. We voted for Obama to change things, not for them to remain the same. I suppose that’s how politics work. They make promises, and they later break them.

But Obama isn’t completely breaking his lofty campaign promises. He is shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but it’s moving a lot slower than some people expected. He promised to shut down military tribunals of terrorist suspects, but he has recently re-approved of them. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world is a lot simpler from the campaign trail. Once you get to the White House, read those daily memos, listen to important people in the Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, the world becomes a little more complex. Just ask Kennedy, or McNamara, or even Bill Clinton.

Our current president is realizing that the world is a little more difficult to handle than he had previously thought. He criticized Bush for making bad decisions that further endangered the American people, but now he realizes that you can’t solve the world’s problems with a push of a button. You have to make tough decisions. Even decisions that are unpopular.

I am not saying that Bush did the right thing to protect us from further terrorist attacks. I am not saying that Robert S. McNamara shouldn’t be critiqued for getting us involved in Vietnam when we had no business of being there. Nor am I saying that Henry Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” Cold War strategy was a good idea. Killing others to save others is never that easy of a concept. We should never consider a war to be our only option to solve our problems. We should be more pragmatic in our approach and realize that our actions do have consequences, despite what we may think at the time.

But, regardless, we should not stick our nose at them and believe we wouldn’t make the same choices if we were in their position. If you had a 50-50 chance of destroying your country and other people’s countries, if falling dominoes were more of a reality than a theory, if your country were just attacked by 19 hijackers, your perspective would change. You wouldn’t look at the world the same way. If you had the weight of the world on your shoulders, those so-called “easy decisions” to do the right thing suddenly becomes much more difficult.

This is not to say that people cannot make the right choice. What one can say is that we should be careful to play the accusatory card before really understanding the circumstances behind the decisions made by important people. We should judge their actions, but we should do it in a spirit of humility, perceptiveness, and intelligence. Without that, we become full of “retrospective snobbery,” where we feel free to condemn the sins of the past before thinking about whether we would truly have done things differently.

We may never get the chance to start a war, but we can certainly talk about what we would do if we could. But we should do this remembering that all actions, both horrible and honorable, are a product of its time. And those of us with the gift of knowing how the future unfolds should always keep in mind that years from now, maybe after we’re dead, our actions will be judged by later generations. If we weren’t too kind to our predecessors, who is to say ours will be kind to us?

America’s “War on Terror” Should Not Be Seen as Another World War II

June 7, 2009
D-Day, June 6, 1944: The day the Allies commenced the campaign to liberate Europe.

D-Day, June 6, 1944: The day the Allies commenced the campaign to liberate Europe.

As the memory of World War II starts to fade away and even the realities of the Cold War start to become stuff for history books, it is easy to forget, in our present realities of terrorism, that there once was a time when war was an easier concept to understand.

This is not to say that war is ever absent of moral or political ambiguities. Even World War II saw atrocities committed by the Allies, if the firebombing of Dresden, Germany is any indication. But the political realities of the Second World War makes our current “War on Terror” seem more like a game of chess than tic-tac-toe.

America’s war against al Qaeda and the Taliban is full of messy complications where elements of culture, politics, religion, economics, and history make things not as simple as the “good guys versus the bad guys.” As people everywhere across the world pay tribute to the veterans of D-Day, that fateful day on June 6, 1944 when the Allies stormed the beaches of France to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, it is a grim reminder that we still are not ready to live in a world without war.

World War II offered us a relatively simple situation where three fascist governments in German, Japan, and Italy (Spain was also fascist under Francisco Franco’s regime, but they remained largely neutral during the conflict) went on a militaristic and imperialistic crusade against their neighbors and “enemies.” These conflicts were largely limited to nationalistic boundaries as it was a nation versus nation struggle, not culture versus culture.

The Allies were a coalition of nations who opposed this form of right-winged militarism and decided to take military action to stop it in their tracks. Their mission was to simply liberate the occupied territories and battle the opposing forces till their respective governments surrendered. The war ended when the German, Japanese, and Italian governments unconditionally surrendered to the Allies and agreed to end all military action immediately. This day, known as VE-Day (for Victory in Europe Day), was on May 8, 1945 and officially ended the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.

But today, America’s enemies will not go down that easily. Today fundamentalist terrorism is a threat much more complicated than fascism of the 1930s. That was a war against an enemy drawn from traditional national borders. They followed orders from a government and a definitive leader. Once that government surrendered, the people who followed it did likewise. In the Second World War, we fought against soldiers from a military. Terrorists today are not soldiers trained to fight a traditional war. They are hired thugs who are brainwashed by a hateful quasi-religious system of indoctrination. Very different from Nazism.

Which is not to say that terrorism cannot be defeated. Indeed, President Obama is confident that sending 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan will help stamp out the Taliban insurgency once and for all. He is right in wanting to increase the Afghan people’s confidence in the corrupt and at times incompetent government. There cannot be stability without security. Our “surge” in that country will attempt to bring about that security.

This is the reason why the Allies were the true “liberators” in the sense that George W. Bush foolishly believed we would be seen as in Iraq. He often compared Saddam Hussein to Adolph Hitler and his chemical attack against Shi’ite Iraqis to the Holocaust. It is true that Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator. No one can deny that. But was he a Hitler? Not by a long shot. Hitler went on a militaristic crusade around the European continent. Saddam started a war against Iran in the 1980s and attempted to invade Kuwait in the early 90s. Hardly the same, wouldn’t you say?

The hard lessons of the Vietnam War and our quasi-wars in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Greece, Chile, Nicaragua, and other parts of the world during the Cold War should serve as a reminder that the “simple” days of World War II are over. No longer will the enemy conveniently wear a military uniform. No longer will they fight like a traditional army. No longer will they even be governments. Terrorist groups today prove that the “enemy” can span many different countries, speak many different languages, and come from a diverse number of cultures. Al Qaeda is hardly a unified organization anymore, as if they were to begin with.

As people everywhere remember D-Day and the sacrifices our men and women in uniform made to liberate the world from tyranny, we should remember that that was a different time and a different place. A war in Europe and the Pacific will be significantly different than a war in the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and monarchs need to stop comparing today’s “War on Terror” to World War II. That was then, this is now. Wars are like snowflakes: no two are ever alike.

But this returns to my original point. Is war ever easy to understand? The concept of putting on a uniform, carrying a gun, and shooting at people that your government tells you to is never easy to wrap your mind around. The world is not a simple black and white place to live. There exists plenty of ambiguity that makes living difficult. Living through the realities of war is one of those things that we may never understand.

But the GI-Joe days of war is over. There are no crystal clear good guys and bad guys anymore. As tragic events like the My Lai massacre or the Haditha killings in Iraq prove, the “villains” can belong to your own team. As the recent skirmishes with those Somali pirates prove, the “bad guys” can be just a group of aimless youngsters who will do anything to make a living. Somalia has never been without civil war in my lifetime. It is no wonder why those pirates are comprised of men my age and younger.

Presidents Bush and Obama have been criticized that increasing the American military presence in the Middle East will only further radicalize young Muslim men and encourage them to pick up an AK-47 and choose violence instead of peace. Seeing innocent Palestinian casualties on the evening news following an Israeli bombardment certainly doesn’t help bring an end to that conflict anytime soon. In today’s culture wars, sending troops into harm’s way can do more damage than good.

President Obama recently visited Egypt to speak to the “Muslim world” about his desire to restart America’s relationship with Islam. The strains caused by the Bush policies should be erased and a new friendship based on mutual respect should begin to develop. Obama is right in wanting to ameliorate our relationship with the Muslim world. That is the first step toward achieving long-lasting peace.

However, ironically, increasing our military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan can actually do the opposite and make matters worse. One can only wait and see.

This proves one thing: that war in the 21st century will not be a clean and easy endeavor. There will be cultural, social, economic, and technological factors that the “Greatest Generation” of the 1930s and 40s could never have dreamed of. This is one reason why honest and open dialogue with our “enemies” is crucial to ending future conflict. Picking up an M16 and shooting has been, unfortunately, counterproductive.

As time passes and the memory of the Great World War II fades into the history books, people are mourning that more WWII veterans are passing away every year. Pretty soon there will be no one left who remembers that fateful day when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and ended one of the greatest threats to world peace in human history. But with that passing of an era, there is also another passing. That is the passing of a time when war was simply defined as “us versus the bad guys.” No longer will war be that straightforward.

As we move further into the 21st century and the rise of Islam, China, India, and globalization begins to challenge Euro-American dominance, we should remember that human conflict should never be reduced to terms that a child would understand. “Good guys” and “bad guys” dehumanizes the other side and makes us more likely to commit atrocities that we would never have done otherwise. We should remember that we are all people who depend on each other for survival. In today’s world of globalization, the “bad guys” are more likely to live right next door to you than on the other side of the world. Just remember that you can one day become a villain to someone yourself.

Try to wrap your mind around that.

A Truth Commission Regarding the Iraq War Should Focus on Truth, Not Retributive Justice

June 3, 2009

As the former U.S. commander in Iraq, retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez is on to something when he says a truth commission should be implemented to find out all about the policies of the Bush administration both before and after the start of the Iraq War. He is not alone as many Americans and people around the world want to know everything from waterboarding to torture memos to intelligence that led us to invade Iraq in the first place.

But calls for a truth commission should be different from calls for a trial. A truth commission, similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission started in South Africa shortly after the end of apartheid, seeks to find out what happened, who did it, and reconcile differences between victim and perpetrator. A trial, on the other hand, aims to find guilt, then prosecute, and punish as necessary. A truth commission wants to set things right. A trial wants to promote tit-for-tat justice.

President Obama has opposed a truth commission concerning Bush-era policies regarding treatment of terror suspects and justifications for going into Iraq because he is afraid it will create bitterness and divisiveness between conservatives who support the policies and liberals who vehemently oppose them. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been a very vocal proponent of the Bush administration’s handling of the “War on Terror” and has criticized the Obama policies as dangerous to national security.

Democrats might also fear setting up a truth commission could end up becoming a witch hunt to rat out anyone, either Democrat or Republican, who was responsible for supporting policies like torture, aggressive interrogation techniques, and authorizing abusive treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The White House is wise to fear that a commission whose purpose is to dig up old wounds from the past can become more politically based than truth based.

Critics of a truth commission also argue it might become more of a trial where those guilty of breaking either domestic or international law (such as the Geneva Accords) are sentenced and punished. Punishment of former Bush officials, or even those higher up (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, just to name a few) can set a bad precedent where “truth commissions” which aim to discover the truth and learn from it can be a place where retributive justice is served as well.

Nobody wants a truth commission to be a place where old scores are settled. The TRC in South Africa did not want to punish anyone who confessed to the crimes they committed. Once a perpetrator admits guilt in front of the victim or family members of victims, they are automatically pardoned and do not have to fear being sent to prison. It’s not quite a vindication, but it’s a way of promoting truth-telling and finding out what exactly happened. Officials in South Africa knew trials would be a long and tedious process that would make whites bitter toward blacks, and visa versa. The same bitterness between Democrats and Republicans could very well happen if punishment becomes a reward for telling the truth.

Truth commissions work when there is no fear of retribution. Nobody is trying to get even with anyone. All we are interested is hearing what happened so that we can learn not to do those things again. A truth commission did not happen after the ending of slavery in the 19th century, nor did one happen after the end of segregation in the South. Though reconciliation processes did happen in these troubled areas of the country, nothing at a national level ever took place. This could be a reason why racial tensions still exist in our country even today.

The Nuremberg option, where a government inquiry is made to find out who is guilty and who should hang for their crimes, would further tear apart our already fragile political climate. President Obama promised to be a post-partisan president who tries to bring leaders from both sides of the aisle together to make important decisions. A Nuremberg-style trial against officials in the Bush White House, Justice Department, or CIA would definitely ruin any notions of bringing partisan politics to an end.

But nevertheless, it is important for Americans to hear what happened behind closed doors when policies like waterboarding and humiliating captured Iraqis were drafted. Knowledge of the implementation of these policies have surfaced recently when the Obama administration declassified previously secret documents discussing torture methods. Public and international outcry followed, expectedly. But what these documents did was tell the American people exactly what our military personnel were told was acceptable and what they were ordered to do. Now there is no ambiguity about how the world’s most dangerous terrorists were treated while in U.S. custody.

Outrage over stories like slapping, slamming detainees against walls, and using phobias (like the fear of bugs or dogs) to extract information is understandable and even justified. People should be outraged that such inhumane practices were done in the name of freedom and democracy. Cheney argues “thousands” of American lives were saved as a result of these harsh practices. Whether he is right or wrong remains to be seen. A truth commission can find that out.

If a truth commission were to be established, as Lt. General Sanchez argues, it should be a carefully constructed process that aims to discover the truth in a forgiving, civil, and public way. Transparency should be key. Those in the Justice Department, like John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote the torture memos into law should be allowed to tell their side of the story without fear of prosecution. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez should also have his day in court, as well as any other Bush administration personnel, like Bush or Cheney themselves (though I doubt they would ever consider showing up).

Transparency can only happen if everyone involved has no fear of saying what they want. Fear will inevitably hide the truth. Those who are afraid of legal prosecution will be less likely to tell their complete stories. Those on the left who want justice plead that the Obama administration arrest those responsible, toss them in jail, and throw away the keys. They can even be waterboarded a few times so that they know what it feels like. But Obama knows that would be political suicide. He’s smarter than that.

After all the facts are out, the U.S. government should draft new laws that make sure no further perversions of justice and humanity are committed in the future. Wars should not be pre-sold to the public as if they were advertisements for a new miracle product. Prisoners captured in either Iraq or Afghanistan should be treated like human beings, not dogs. Torturing terror suspects only further radicalize young Muslim men to join fundamentalist groups like al Qaeda or the Taliban. If we should compassion on our enemies, that will tell them we are not like them. We are better than them.

Further, a truth commission should be bi-partisan in nature. In fact, a better idea would be for it to not be government-sponsored at all. If possible, an independent organization should be consulted to conduct the commission. Using Washington politicians would be costly, time consuming, dangerous toward the political process, and possibly setting a bad precedent. An independent council with no apparent political bias would be preferable.

But once again, the aim should be to find out the truth and learn from it. The public needs to know. This should not be a venue for vengeance or “righting wrongs.” If there are those who grossly broke the law, then they should be dealt with separately. That should happen independently of the commission, not during it. The commission should be a place where everyone feels safe to tell the world what really happened in our post 9/11 America. The Bush administration might be gone, but their policies still continue today. Obama has not completely taken our country on a 180 degree spin.

Hopefully, closer oversight on drafting national security polices can be put into practice and greater amounts of declassification of terror-related documents can happen. Lt. General Sanchez says “Until America can really understand what has happened and look at it objectively and truthfully, we will still continue to be mired in the past. We’ve got to learn the lessons and never go this way again.” How true he is.

After the end of the Vietnam War, Americans promised nothing like that would ever happen again. They were wrong about that. America’s two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been prevented or controlled had the government learned the lessons from our tragic adventures in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 70s. Sending our troops into an endless conflict with no clear objectives or ways to complete those objectives only lead to suffering, death, and catastrophe. Nearly 58,000 Americans lost their lives because the government back home didn’t take the time to think about exactly what they were doing.

The Bush White House did the same leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They did not think about what they were doing. They did it without considering the consequences, costs, and feasibility. Now look at the results. If a truth commission were to transpire in the near future, hopefully the lessons learned from it will enlighten future presidents and politicians to be more careful next time we engage in a war.

With the recent nuclear-inspired aggressions of North Korea and Iran dominating the headlines, this new knowledge might be needed sooner than we think.

The Name’s Bond, James Bond: Agent 007 in the 21st Century

March 28, 2009
Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

This past Tuesday the 22nd James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” made its way to DVD and Blu Ray. No one can deny the popularity of the Bond franchise and doubt that it will not continue to live on for years to come. Once shaken, always stirred.

But consider this: In today’s world of post-Cold War terrorism, multilateral foreign policy, anger toward the Bush administration’s neocon political agenda, and the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, there seems to be a trend in the Western world to reject the old ways of war, violence, espionage, and covert counterterrorism.

The new wave of optimism brought on by the Obama White House has many Americans thinking that the disastrous and costly “War on Terror” may finally come to an end. The reputation of America as being a country that tortures and invades oil-rich Middle Eastern countries may finally be put to rest.

So, in spite of all that, if, and I do mean if, a James Bond-type secret agent were to be working on behalf of the United States, would you approve of that?

Also consider what James Bond does in his career: he has a license to kill (meaning he can kill anyone he deems necessary to fulfill the mission), he violates nations’ sovereignty (agent 007 is a globe-trotting hero who pays little attention to other nation’s policy and law), and he often uses less than noble tactics to achieve his goals (in both “Licence to Kill” and “Quantum of Solace” Bond has his double-o status revoked, or at least something to that extent). This sounds like something I would not approve of.

I, of course, understand that James Bond is a fantasy character who does not really exist. He exists in his own world and serves the purpose of defeating evil all within the convenient confines of two hours. Bond is a fictional character, but the villains he faces are often not.

In the two newest Bond adventures, MI-6 is up against a mysterious organization called “Quantum,” an international crime syndicate who sponsors men like Le Chiffre and Dominic Greene, villains who could very well exist in the real world.

Le Chiffre is a banker who funds terrorism and goes into deep debt when he gambles his client’s money away in risky games of chance. Sound familiar? He should work for AIG. Dominic Greene is a quasi-environmentalist businessman who uses his power to control the water supply of Bolivia. Private corporations controlling the natural resources of third world countries have actually happened before. This is not the stuff of fantasy. The evils of Quantum could exist in our universe. They have people everywhere, of course.

That being said, what is the best way to rid the world of these super villains? Diplomacy? Asking the United Nations to intervene? Unilateral military action? Or perhaps covert espionage in the form of the CIA or MI-6. These are all viable options.

But consider the larger picture: if there were actually James Bond-style secret agents existing in our world, how would you respond? Would you gladly accept them as necessary to defeat the evils of the world, or would you reject them as violent, archaic relics of a bygone age? As M called Bond in “GoldenEye,” Bond is “sexist misogynist dinosaur.”

If peaceful diplomacy is the wave of the future, are secret agents a thing of the past? Have we reached such an enlightened age that reason, negotiation, and international cooperation are more useful and practical tools to solve world conflicts? This is definitely something to ponder about. Diplomacy and multinational cooperation may help prevent nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certainly feel that this is what we should do.

During the Bush administration, Americans rejected the Bush Doctrine of using violence to uphold and protect domestic and international interests. Blood for oil or the protection of Israel are unjustified reasons to violate a nation’s sovereignty and invade them. Americans have also rejected using torture to get information out of “terror” suspects. Jack Bauer of “24” fame would not fly by well in today’s world.

Yet, every practice of the Bush administration that Americans and people everywhere seem to hate are exactly those done by James Bond. We chastise men like Dick Cheney or Karl Rove for making America just as bad as terrorists. We responded to 9/11 by staging 9/11s of our own, everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems people believe America is better than that, that we are the defenders of justice and peace, not propagators of violence, chaos, and evil.

Consider President John F. Kennedy and his policy toward Vietnam. Kennedy, a huge James Bond fan who considered “From Russia With Love” to be one of his favorite novels of all time, authorized covert operations to exist in Vietnam before major troop escalations began. Being cautious of sending too many combat troops into Southeast Asia, President Kennedy allowed secret operations occur in South and North Vietnam to assist military advisers who were there to help train the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam).

This continued even after Kennedy’s assassination. In 1964 the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was formed by President Lyndon Johnson to help secretly fight the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Their operations helped expand the war and gathered information that inspired the U.S. to send more troops to Southeast Asia after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Today most Americans view the Vietnam War as unnecessary, costly, and completely not worth it. Did U.S. intelligence help us in our anti-Communist crusade there? Maybe. Or maybe it helped escalate the violence and led to 58,000 U.S. servicemen losing their lives for nothing.

Speaking of faulty intelligence, don’t even talk about WMDs, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein. We all know how that turned out. In short, perhaps intelligence is overrated and only leads to more war instead of peace. Maybe there are facts that we will never know.

I have no problem with James Bond existing in the world of fantasy. He provides entertaining films and books for millions of people to enjoy. I’ve seen every movie and plan to see more in the future. However, I am not so sure if I would be comfortable with James Bond existing in the world of reality. Then again, maybe he does and we just don’t know about it. The Patriot Act could give someone the authority to do such things in the name of national security. Or possibly it doesn’t.

His name may be Bond, James Bond; and he likes his vodka martini shaken but not stirred, but his license to kill may create more problems than it solves. Should we have our own James Bond in this uncertain, fear-driven 21st century world? Or will that only further radicalize our enemies and tarnish the reputation of the United States of America?

As Bond tells a bartender in “Casino Royale,”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”