by Mike Booth
by Mike Booth
Part six of a six-part series, It’s Getting Late, America
It Requires Peace and Honor and the US Lacks Both
Every American president since Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) has had one problem in common: “peace with honor.” They just can’t seem to get it right, though it is essential to do so. The all-important reputation of the greatest country in the world depends on it. Achieving peace with honor on the international stage means the difference between being perceived as a thuggish, unprincipled military power and a country of exemplary decency and democratic values. America still isn’t clear that it’s not possible to pursue the former policy while pretending to represent the latter.
Surprisingly, one of the first English-speaking authors to deal with “peace with honor” was A.A. Milne (yes, the father of Winnie-the-Pooh) in his 1935 book, Peace with Honor. In it Milne proposes a utopian plan for attaining peace through universal acceptance by world leaders of a true and honest pursuit of arbitration in good faith, not merely self preservation and nationalist prestige. It was not going to happen.
The next American President to be seen grappling with “peace with honor” was Richard Nixon. As was to be expected of Nixon, anything to do with honor was out of the question. As in everything else he lied, bluffed, procrastinated and always sought his personal self aggrandizement first. He thought peace with honor was achieved by proclaiming it. Neither peace nor honor are merely announced. They have to be earned and acknowledged by the rest of the world. Nonetheless, after gravely discrediting himself, both at home and abroad, the expert American communications morticians managed to resuscitate Nixon as a respected elder statesman. His Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, betrayed everybody and for that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Source: Kissinger, The Price of Power, Seymour M. Hersh, 1983)
It Would Have Helped to Win Something
American-style permawar brings with it permanent problems. They thought they might obviate most of these problems by winning, but they aren’t very good at that, either. Vietnam was the first and most flagrant case of losing to a theoretically inferior enemy, but there were more. Where they did supposedly win, with their invasions of Panama (December 20, 1989 – January 31, 1990, Operations “Nifty Package” and “Just Cause”) and the verdant little isle of Grenada in the Caribbean (Operation “Urgent Fury,” Oct 25, 1983 – Dec 15, 1983), the victories were hollow, due both to the massive David-vs.-Goliath factor and the manifest innocence of the miniscule countries invaded.
Nonetheless, President Ronald Reagan tried to take advantage of the dubious opportunity to compensate the loss of the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call the “American War.”) After the deeply-flawed invasion of Grenada was concluded, Reagan, the consummate statesman, announced on 13 December 1983,”…our days of weakness are over. Our military forces are back on their feet and standing tall.” (Source: The New York Times, 13 December, 1983) And you thought Bush II was the first absolute moron president.
Lacking significant victories in their chosen wars, the American military behemoth, with the weight of its worldwide lack of credibility hanging around it’s neck, is obliged to negotiate the end games (some of which are going on as we speak, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria), tasks which are never easy, especially considering that first constraint on the American negotiators is the familiar hairy old bugbear: peace with honor.
Quitter? Coward? Loser?
America cannot permit itself to be perceived as a quitter, a coward or a loser. It has to maintain its street cred, something that is hard to do when you haven’t won a significant victory in the last three quarters of a century. It’s not even clear to what extent they won World War II. A convincing case can be made that the second great war was won in the skies over the County of Kent (The Battle of Britain, July-October, 1940) and at the gates of Leningrad (The Siege of Leningrad, 8 September, 1941 – 27 January, 1944), without an American hero in sight.
For decades the American war machine has managed to cover its ass with the usual smoke and mirrors, but the smoke has been clearing for years and now no longer obscures much of anything. It’s diaphanously obvious that the Americans didn’t send somewhere between 235,ooo and 750,000 troops to Iraq to free the Iraqi people from a bloodthirsty dictator–who not long before had been the Americans’ own bloodthirsty dictator. It was the oil, stupid, along with “lots of good targets” highlighted by President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense at the time, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld dated back to the Nixon administration, when he accepted an appointment by Richard Nixon to head the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969. It seems that some of the Nixon legacy still clung to his boots after all those years.
Will Afghanistan Be Different?
As for Afghanistan, according to a United States Geological Survey report published in 2007, Afghanistan is sitting atop enough priceless minerals to make Ft. Knox look like a lemonade stand. We’re talking about perhaps some three trillion dollars worth altogether, a third of that being gold and lithium. Ask the Taliban, who are financing their formidable war machine with the products of their mines, their poppy fields and their blackmail businesses.
From the beginning the American adventure in Afghanistan looked to the Pentagon like a slam dunk. Not only was it against a primitive enemy, but it included a succulent bonus, an opportunity to outfox the Russians by arming the simple-minded Afghan shepherds and cultivators of opium poppies with Stinger anti-helicopter missiles, thereby humiliating the Americans’ favorite enemy without even dirtying their hands. All that was left to do then was to send in some crack troops equipped with the latest high-tech war toys and mop up the aforementioned simple-minded Afghans and grab all the mineral marbles. Come to think of it, what made the thinkers from those toxic American think tanks think that those simple-minded shepherds and farmers could beat the Russians, but not put up stiff opposition to the Americans themselves?
Now the Gringos find themselves, after fighting America’s longest and most fruitless war, looking for a way out, and not just any way out. Given the American imperative to save face at all costs, it has to be via the sacrosanct, if elusive, “peace-with-honor” route. Unfortunately for them, that’s not going to happen. Too many cats are out of the bag. Too many countries have taken the American bait only to find that there was a hook in it. Even the British were victims, when they were sucked into the Iraq war on promises of all the money to be made “rebuilding Iraq.” The Brits actually started forming partnerships to move in and get to work scooping up all that money. And let’s not forget the aforementioned Taliban, who are sitting pretty.
Time and again the world has seen how Americans have slipped out of unendable wars they have created by pretending that the liberation and democratization they promised had been achieved. Their last-ditch tactic is simply to walk away. At the peace talks before Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap–the real heroes of the Vietnam War–ended it by winning, American negotiators, coached by Henry Kissinger, promised the Vietnamese reparations and help rebuilding their shattered and poisoned country. That never happened. Nixon and Kissinger simply walked away.
Has President Biden won a peace with honor in Afghanistan? He hasn’t won anything yet. He has simply announced his country’s intention to pull all US military personnel out of Afghanistan by September 11. Does that include the mercenary “contractors,” the Special ops teams, the armed drones, paid-off politicians, and smart bombs? In any case, it’s just talk. What about Iraq? Does America’s president have something honorable in mind? Can he implement it in the face of a feral Republican Senate?
The Bitter Bottom Line
As with all other sticky issues in geopolitics, the achievement of peace with honor rests on sound philosophy and human decency. But if those factors fail the policy is foredamned. So, how is it possible that generations of American leaders haven’t noticed that you cannot build an edifice of honor on a foundation of villainy. Peace without honor is not peace. A defeat by any other name is still a defeat. Nor can you conceal that reality for long. The world eventually sees the truth, despite the most fervent efforts of the greatest country on earth to conceal it.