Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin is a thug, a neo-Tsarist xenophobe and complicit in the chain of events that led to Ukranian separatist rebels mistakenly downing a civilian airliner. He should reflect on his performance and its result, and he should begin to make what amends he can offer. Nothing that follows mitigates against any of the above.
“….As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran. In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the Loss of lives caused by the incident…” As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an “ex gratia” basis US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims…”
That’s from the Wikipedia entry for the Iran Air civilian aircraft shot down over the Persian Gulf by a missle fired by the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988. Although the Gulf was certainly a tense environment in which the U.S. Navy and Iranian military forces were operating in close proximity, it was not by any means a region of actual armed conflict. Yet Vice President George H. Bush declared that he would “never apologize” for U.S. actions or the Iranian deaths that resulted from the tragedy. While regreting the loss of life in the tragedy, as Mr. Putin has done, the U.S. refused to apologize to Iran for the incident and Presdient Reagan insisted that our warship had fired the missle “in a proper defensive action.”
By our own standards, Mr. Putin is not required to apologize or reflect seriously on a damn thing at present. And Russia as a whole ought not to be expected to apologize anytime before 2022. And compensation for the victims of the tragedy in the Ukraine should not be forthcoming until 2025.
This tired planet is at present still organized politically as a collection of nation-states, and with that as a given, it is inevitable and practical that those states will at times be overly competitive, uncooperative or engaged in outright conflict. And so, the maintenance of military and intelligence capabilities remains, too, inevitable and practical. That those capabilities will, in turn, be subject to sudden instances of grievous and horrifying miscalculation is also a certainty. This is the world now.
But nationalism — everyone’s nationalism — is also the first and last refuge of dishonorable, hypocritical rogues.
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“But nationalism — everyone’s nationalism — is also the first and last refuge of dishonorable, hypocritical rogues.”
I appreciate the shout out to Paths of Glory, which i Know Simon was influenced by. Even though the quote and sentiment did not originate from the film, I suspect Simon had it in mind when writing this. Or not
Slightly different. The quote, not original to Kubrick, usually references patroitism. Nationalism is an even more basic and elemental allegiance, in a way.
Protecting the Russian people everywhere? Laughable. Hey Putin, dude, 1939 called, they want their war motivations back!
Being an American means never having to say your sorry.
Somewhere along the line the mantra shifted from “America is great because we do what’s right” to “We’re Americans so whatever we do must be right.” And that’s dangerous because it takes a sentiment that can be a positive one (love for one’s country) and turns it into something destructive (we don’t have to answer to anybody because we know we’re better than you in ever case). It also disgusts me the extent to which people are so bombastic about something they literally had no choice in. Like George Carlin once said, “You wouldn’t say ‘I’m proud to have brown hair.”
Still the best/worst presidential apology of all times:
“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.” — Ronald Reagan, 1987
Has anyone asked about what Putin feels in his *heart*?
When was it conclusively proven that it was Putin & his gang of thugs? I don’t follow the propaganda in the NYT, Wash Post, Fox News, or Yahoo… so I guessed I missed the Keystone Cops “evidence” proving guilt? When there is sufficient evidence besides the new neoconservative-progressive coalition that are buddy-buddy now and pounding the war drum the as loud Neil Peart plays his set, I’ll listen. Until then, it’s just a bunch of sociopaths pointing the finger at one another.
“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them. There is almost no kind of outrage—torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral color when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” George Orwell
The Ukranian separatists have shot down more than half a dozen Ukranian government aircraft in the same area, independent of the civilian airliner that was mistakenly downed using the exact same technology. The separatists are being supplied militarily by Russia.
You might think that insufficient to cast blame. I would then be obliged to call you too credulous by half.
What you and basically the entire western media are missing (on purpose or not?) is that these proxy wars breaking out are all about energy, United States hegemony & preservation of the petrodollar. All the other BS you highlight like Putin being a xenophobe, etc. is just silly noise.
Petroleum is only one factor here. And Putin is on the record from the earliest moments of his political career as expressing regret and concern about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the loss of traditional Russian spheres of influence. The Crimea has oil reserves, true, but more notably, the Russians have been beating the crap out of the Tartars and asserting over that region for generations because of something even more strategic — the need for a warm-water port so that the Soviet Navy can operate year-round. It has been in the Soviet sphere of influence since the Light Brigade was finishing its charge.
The notion that the U.S. is pushing Putin over oil ignores a lot of Russian history, and it ignores Putin’s desire the restore and affirm the sphere of Russian influence elsewhere in the Caucases. This is part of a larger pattern of behavior. Putin is on the record as defending the rights of minority-population Russians in any number of regions, and further, he is on the record as saying Kruschev’s delegation of areas such as the Ukraine to independent status was a mistake, and that the collapse of the Soviet Union wrongly sealed those mistakes.
But the real tell is that this moment of conflict over the Ukraine came not over some petroleum deal to develop offshort Crimean oil fields, but specifically over the Ukraine’s having reached an agreement that would have oriented its whole economy toward the EU. And, indeed Ukrainian trade with Europe is already outpacing its economic ties with Russia. That was the trigger. And indeed, it marks yet another previously Russian-dominated region traveling the path of Poland and the Baltic states, etc. Except this region wasn’t thrust into Russian influence by the outcome of World War II, but had been closely connected to Russia since the time of the tsars. Tsarist Russia would have fought against losing the Ukraine; Putin, too. But Putin has been draping his efforts in the sancity of Russian racial rights, which, I’m sorry, in these pluralistic times, sounds entirely xenophobic.
Indeed, the classic one bullet doesn’t answer the whole question – monocausal explanations rarely explain human behaviour.
Is petroleum important? Yes. Is a warm-water ice-free port important? More so (when you already have gobs of petroleum). Is the ability to access your pipelines and future egress routes to get your petroleum to your prime market (the EU) important? More so, and more so. Is continuing to be a global – or at least regional – power important? More so times three.
That is the crux this little dust up, it is much much more important to the Russians than to anyone besides the Ukrainians – how far is the US willing to go to guarantee access to that (relatively small) petroleum reserve and to keep Russia down? Frankly, I think the US is insane – this isn’t the Middle East … these guys are the only guys with nukes that shoot back. The US game is a big bluff – unless you believe in the whole spreading freedom mantra. Some Ukrainians naively do.
The Ukrainians are split – and that is never objectively acknowledged in the Western media. The protests on the Maidan were legit; genuine opposition to the oligarchs who stole the country following the end of blissful [ahem] communism. Their efforts to render a corrupt government and reform governance became entangled by their fellow countrymen who wish to see Ukraine genuinely independent – orientated neither east nor west [good luck with that]. They ganged up and illegally overthrew a recognized and democratically elected government. What role the US and other ‘western’ governments had is debatable; what isn’t is that everyone rushed in and sanctified the coup right quick. It was a coup and it did not act well in its initial days – overtly targeting ethnic Russians was not necessary and stands as evidence of ulterior motives.
The EU agreement is a red herring. The Ukrainian economy is only going to be orientated towards poverty for decades, had the Maidan been successful it might have been a less corrupt poverty, but poverty nonetheless. The only productive components of the economy are orientated towards Russia – heavy industry, agriculture, and the rents accrued for the pipelines and energy infrastructure legacy of the Soviet era. The agreement with the EU will be a disaster – Ukraine needs tens of billions per month just to keep the lights on, has no productive capacity and nothing to sell that Europe will buy. The assumption is that EU and US taxpayers will pick up the bill [good luck with that]. Moreover, the agreement will remove the easy access to Russian markets for those eastern Ukrainian heavy industry and agriculture components of the economy that were actually earning. It also ends Russian largesse to pay exorbitant rents to transport energy through the pipelines and provide highly discounted natural gas and petroleum. Those ‘subsidies’ kept the social peace in Ukraine, allowed oligarchs to line their pockets, and the economy from developing; why should Russia continue to pay the cash if they no longer get a say in how Ukraine is run?
Structural adjustment will see the Ukraine become Greece – Greece with long cold winters and no Russian cheap energy to keep warm. The EU will never allow them in as a member state for the foreseeable future – what do they add to an already weakened EU economy?
The western Ukrainians who hate Russians also don’t really like the west or anyone else. The small liberal factions who began the protests on the Maidan will emigrate … and the US will be happy to keep the Russians down and the EU orientated to the Atlantic and not shifting east to Russia. In all scenarios the Ukrainians suffer … thats why the cleptocratic corrupt President who was overthrown turned down the EU deal. No favor to Russia, but the only way his faction (from the industrial east) could maintain their status and keep earning cash.
Putin has already won what he’s going to win. Crimea and the Black Sea gas fields are Russia’s and the pipelines are now in his pocket with additional routes opening both north and south of Ukraine (goodbye rents).
One final note. All sides may be acting xenophobically to our delicate Western sensibilities – we’re all post-racism now right? I’ll remember that when I watch FOX talk about Obama – but, the post-Soviet Russian Federation granted citizenship to all Russian-speaking citizens of the successor states. It was a good idea at the time and largely damped ethnic conflict in the dramatic days following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, it does mean that Russia has some measure of responsibility to protect these ‘minorities’ in the successor states. Such citizenship is not that odd outside north America – Israeli right of return anyone?
However, it creates a dangerous dynamic whereby Russia can use them as fifth columns – and it also obligates Russia to defend the nation in the Russosphere against other xenophobic nationalities across eastern Europe and central Asia.
As David pointed out – this game has been going on for a long time. It is my humble opinion that we should stay out of it instead of getting sucked in a la Georgia 2008 and Ukraine 2014. Both the Canadian and US governments have decided to antagonize and enflame the situation – and as neither is willing to bring more than that to this particular gun fight, one might ask why?
To be precise, I think the U.S. is indeed staying out of it to the extent it can. There has been no wavering on any military intervention in the Ukraine or Crimea. No sword rattling whatsoever. And the origins of this conflict have no specific connection to an American overture toward the Ukraine or anything that can be identified as American hegemony.
The hegemony here is European and it is economic. And the agent of origin for the conflict is not the EU so much as the Ukraine, itself, looking west rather than east. That is what provoked Putin. Given that he then decided to flex his military muscle, annexing the Crimea and arming separatists in the East the U.S. response — if you think about the measure of reassurance required for the Baltic states, Poland, et al — is to condemn the militarism and offer an economic penalty. I think the U.S. has gone about as far as it could and should, and no farther. But to see this as having origins in American policy is convoluted. This is about the Ukranian drift west and what it means for Putin’s sense of the historical Russian sphere of influence — which is an all-encompassing economic dynamic.
Here we disagree … but, it a matter of degree, not black and white. I believe the U.S. was much less involved than its accused of in the steps leading to the toppling of Yanukovych.
I assume you’re not arguing that the response has been to stand up for the freedom loving Ukrainians, but rather a real politik response to Russian military incursion and outright abrogation of international borders.
However, I think the US has been very involved following the coup and that they were not terribly sensitive to either Russian interests nor the vast number of Ukrainians that the new government clearly did not represent. Support for extra-constitutional regime change is never a good idea 🙂
It would have been better had the administration allowed Germany and Poland to take the lead – but, this would most likely have led to a swift agreement to Russian designs. The Germans are split over their relations with Russia and don’t see any need to expand the EU or its economic sphere into Ukraine.
Poland is another matter.
This is all small beer though – as unless NATO were to actually get involved it (was?) over. Like the Egyptians and many others, popular revolt in the Ukraine led to things getting worse rather than better. This is not that fault of the Maidan protestors, but the penalty Ukrainians pay for such poor leaders (who will all settle in Brussels and London now I suppose).
I agree with you on the miscalculation of the Ukranian leaders. Their look to the West needed to be accompanied by careful and recipricol assurances to Russia. That’s just realpolitik.
I agree, too, that the American response is to Putin’s use of military force to abrogate borders and undermine the stablility of a neighboring state. But there isn’t an American under every rock. The EU economic ties with the Ukraine were supported by the U.S. quite naturally. There’s scarcely room to oppose the idea of free trade or democratic choice in the American argument, if not practice. It’s hard to imagine an American government frowning on a Ukraine that wishes to turn to the west and elect its own government free of Russian influence. But that doesn’t make the Ukrainian choices any less organic.
The U.S. was behind the curve in Tunisia, in Egypt, and Syria, and in the Ukraine. It’s consistent and telling: It’s because the curve doesn’t originate with us, and it isn’t about us.
Also the Israeli right of return is not a proper analogy.
If you land at Ben Gurion airport and you are Jewish, you can claim citizenship. And you can live, as an Israeli citizen, abroad. But Israel makes no claim to be able to intervene in the politics of other nations that have Israeli minorities. That is exclusive to this dynamic.
Certainly, the rightist settlers on the West Bank are analogous. They contend that by settling that land in large numbers they have become a significant minority that is entitled to the protection and ministrations of the Israeli government. But then, these settlers are inherently opposed to any two-state solution or a Palestinian homeland. The Israeli reluctance to support Abbas on the West Bank — even as a means of isolating Hamas in Gaza — is directly tied to the issue of the settlements, among other issues. That is indeed analogous, but it has nothing to do with the law of return.
Another apt analogy might be Turkey-Cyprus and the origins of the conflict there. Or to create an improbable and non-existent dynamic of conflict, but a clean analogy nonetheless:
If Mexico decided, say, that it could legitimately seize Arizona, making claims of an anti-Latino and anti-immigrant hysteria in that state, or arm a separatist movement in the American Southwest because of the large numbers of residents of Mexican origin and heritage living there — you would have a commensurate ethnic claim with that of Putin, right down to the fact that the southwest of the U.S. used to in fact be a part of Mexico.
Yes, absolutely … my analogy was driven by a citizenship that Americans (and Canadians) would be more familiar with, not as a slight to Israel. Though, in point of fact, Israel has acted extraterritorially to defend Jews (and did in Ukraine this past year and in the Balkans during the 1990s – putting boots on the ground to defend and rescue Jews).
This aspect of citizenship is quite common the world over – it is the US and Canada that are the outliers. We define citizenship as birth and commitment. Founded by immigrants and all that jazz. Most European states, like Israel, define citizenship also as based on bloodlines; the debates usually come over the gender path (paternal or maternal).
In this sense, the Israeli ‘right of return’, for all its being wrapped in myth, is quite common.
The Israelis have, since 1948, traveled intelligence operatives extensively to all parts of the Diaspora to encourage and assist in the emigration to the Jewish state of vulnerable Jewish populations. This practice began in the DP camps of Europe after World War II, continued within the Muslim states of Iraq, Iran and North Africa, and in Ethiopa in the 1970s.
I’m not sure that constitutes a military intervention in the affairs of state of those countries. More like travel agents, albeit agents armed with bribe money and intelligence-for-barter to facilitate the escape of their clients. It would be one thing if Putin was offering to relocate this supposedly vulnerable ethnic population to Mother Russia. That would be analogous with the Israeli extraterritorality regarding Jewish populations abroad. No, he’s offering instead to lop off parts of the Ukraine and call it Russia. I don’t think the Israeli comparison holds.
Political boundaries can never encompass perfectly the racial migrations of history. This is why there is low-grade war over Kashmir, or a cold, hard peace in Cyprus. Or the dissolution of Yugoslavia. But embracing racial purity or racial rights as a justification of armed conflict is a road that leads to genocidal atrocity, invariably. The worst that humanity can do has much of its origin in claims of racial — and not merely political — self-determination.
Indeed, borders cannot. In my mind ‘the border’ actually inflames such things; however, states will forever try to exercise power … as will nations … and as you say, they rarely coincide. I’m glad my ancestors stumbled to this continent to try a different fashion – I’ll elide the treatment of the native population(s).
To clarify: Israel (or Israeli actors if one prefers) did put armed actors on the ground in the Balkans in the 1990s and to my knowledge in Ukraine this past year. They may have been “retired”, they may have taken off their IDF uniforms (often without signa or rank anyways) on leave, but they were directed by political authorities to conduct armed operations in a foreign and sovereign state. This – as you say – is not analogous to Russian irredentist claims and actual annexation of territory. However, borders are always fluid and the legal nicities will always fail us for this reason.
Not a direct analogy for sure, and while I have no critique, I’m pretty sure the Croatian or Serbian mother who lost a son to their incursions might beg to differ (with us). The Jewish survivors who now live in Israel or New Jersey would have a positive take I’m certain. I know those who served in these operations were tremendously proud of their efforts, lost friends in the execution of the mission, and would do it again.
To my mind those who served (albeit for quite high levels of monetary compensation!) brought into action one of the highest ideals of Zionism. After the experiences of the Shoa in the Balkans and the pogroms and Shoa across Ukraine, sitting back and hoping that the virulent anti-semitism expressed is just rhetoric is not an option. I can respect that even if I know such efforts were technically ‘illegal” under international law.
So, not quite ‘tour guides’ 🙂
I’d also like to note – actually scream from the rooftops! – that this should stand to the internet gawds that a civil discourse can be had over contentious issues …
… no need to rehash 1948, palestine since that time (re Israel challenging borders), or who shot first. There is enough blame to go around folks. The world is grey and not the black-and-white melodrama that network news and infotainment make it out to be these days.
Thanks for the forum – and more so for your work David. The Wire et. al. allow us all to see such granularity in the lives of others in a manner not often matched on film (that should date me).
Did the Israelis shoot anyone or at anyone? I’ve never read about this. I am wholly curious and willing to be less ignorant. Send me somewhere to read more.
I was being flippant when I suggested they were travel agents. More specifically, I would call them intelligence operatives, which as we know, maneuver for any nation and its interests anywhere they can. But if they were engaged in a specific military action, I am fascinated.
David, my apologies in the delay of my reply (also there was no reply button as we filled this line :-)) ….
I took the time this past week to look for scholarly writing or even popular reportage to back up my claim about efforts in the Balkans and was unable to find anything.
I’ll stand by what I said as I actually know people who did the deed. They all served in the IDF and all willingly went off the books to protect Jews in the region and bring them out. We can quibble about such acts being ‘black’ as opposed to openly flagged, but we all know that states conduct such operations when required.
Interestingly, several of them (that I knew of) were Ukrainian Jews who had made aliya and completed their military duty in Israel.
Similar to a few other commenters, I don’t understand this whole “apologizing=weakness=empowering your enemies” dynamic. I understand certain political interests are trying to create a narrative, but my goodness, how does it even make sense? If Putin apologizes for downing an airliner, do some of his missiles in the Siberian forests disappear? Obama acknowledges the pain we’ve caused in Iraq and a B-2 loses its wings?
I think the most dangerous element of American society (and society in general) is how we can easily observe injustice on the part of others but never on our part. If we can get past that bullshit, we can move on to constructing a just society. You’ve read Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism, right? He makes a weird claim about pacifism in it, but otherwise, it’s really good analysis along these lines.
what did Avon Barksdale say at his birthday party when they were cutting up the cake?
The right wing propaganda during the early years of Obama’s presidency always baffled me. They said he went on a world-wide “apology tour.” Never mind that I have no idea what they were talking about, I still wonder what is so bad about apologizing. I guess it’s some sort of old style thinking that apologizing is something that makes us weak. But don’t we all teach our kids to own their mistakes, to take responsibility, and to apologize when necessary? Why do we think that a nation should behave differently. (hey, if corporations are people, nations can behave a certain way, right??)
Maybe this is just another expression of the death rattle of an obsolete paradigm.
When you’re wrong — and especially when it’s obvious you’re wrong — admit fault, try to make amends and resolve to try to avoid the same failure in the future. What works for human beings works for nations in the long run. Certainly, the cost to overall credibility isn’t half of what it is to be perceived by the world as a dishonest, hypocritical blowhard.
But Putin wants the Ukraine to remain in the sphere of Russian influence, and the Americans wanted primacy over Persian Gulf and the unmolested flow of oil, and the Palestinians want a state by any means necessary except non-violence, and the Israelis do not want to relinquish the West Bank for that inevitable state and are willing to compound the violence.
No one is ever wrong, and if they are, the ends justify the means. Metternich had this game down. But that doesn’t make any of it honorable. The truth eventually becomes the predominant history and the Great Statesmen of one day are revealed to be War Criminals the next. Here’s looking at you, Henry Kissinger.
You’re implying that President Obama has the ability to apologize for mistakes he has made. All he has done is apologize for mistakes made by America, but I cannot recall a single time he has ever held himself or his administration accountable.
Huh? I don’t think I was even remotely writing about Barack Obama in any of that. Indeed, Mr. Obama is wholly irrelevant to what I wrote. I spoke of President Reagan and Vice President Bush, and of Vladimir Putin.
Are you one of these people who carries around a hammer, seeing everything as if it is a nail?
Mr. Simon – I’m not a hammer carrier by any means. If you reply to a comment about Obama’s apology tour, then it’s incorrect of you to state that he is irrelevant to what you wrote.
Reading back my comment to someone else’s comment, I actually didn’t reference Mr. Obama at all. I was speaking of apologies in general and if you review what I wrote, you’ll see that I never went there. If you wanted to reply to the original commenter’s post and the Obama reference, you might have done that.
But the original post here is not about Mr. Obama, and the usual bicker-and-fro of partisan gamesmanship isn’t of much interest to me, and is, in fact, irrelevant to the thoughts expressed here. That snark can find a better home in the comments columns on the websites for Fox or MSNBC or Yahoo or wherever.
The subject here is what leaders and governments are capable of expressing when it is abundantly clear that they have acted greviously and caused a tragedy. The hypocrisy of the United States asking Putin and his nation to behave in a manner any less constricted and dishonorable than we did in similar circumstances is noted. That is all.
If it had been a Democratic President and Vice President who had failed as dishonorably as Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush in 1988, I would have noted them in the precisely the same fashion in the post. Party affiliation is of little import to me here; the behavior of the nation as a whole was the topic at hand.
And along you come, looking to have an argument about Mr. Obama. Okay, no. I’m interested, I suppose, in whether the current president realizes that in light of history, his insistence on making Mr. Putin morally responsible for the downing of the airliner is compromised, and I’m curious as to whether he is uncomfortable or even aware of the hypocrisy. But changing the topic to whether you or anyone else thinks Mr. Obama should have apologized for other untold sins unrelated to the issue at hand, but pertaining to your personal political unhappiness? Not so much.
If you can’t see that you’re askew here, I can’t do a thing to bring you back to the given orbit. But really, this isn’t about the usual partisan bullshit. This is about nationalism, which includes all of us, whether we like it or not.
Stone throw much? Do not assume anything about my political happiness or otherwise. Multiple media have cornered you before regarding things you speak or write, and you always allow yourself vague generalities in your initial opinion as an opportune out, if need be. Have some spine.
Al, dude, I am unaware that I have been cornered by anyone. I write and say what I believe. Sometimes people agree, sometimes people don’t. But I stand behind all of it. I speak generally when I think a general comment is relevant, and I speak specifically when specifics are called for. My spine is where it is on most people.
And if you think your original Obama comment was still anything other than a rhetorical non sequitur to the matter being discussed, you’re still wrong and still lost on this thread. If you want to discuss Mr. Obama and the defects that you see in him, wait for a topic here in which your thoughts are relevant and purposed. Or find one elsewhere. But this one isn’t about this politician or that — this is about what the United States did or did not at the precise moment that we committed the same egregious act for which we are now criticizing Putin and the Ukranian separatists.
That’s not a vague generality. That’s a very fucking specific topic. Sorry.
The silly thing is I agree with the thesis of your original article. I guess I just misunderstood what you were saying in your comments.
As to the point of waiting for your Obama article, I’ll continue to check back often. Until then, I’ll listen to you criticize and apologize for America’s shortfalls while reaping the benefits of its strengths.
Pardon yet another disagreement, but the you’re-fortunate-from-America-yet-you-criticize-America meme is the biggest crock of horseshit that can be offered as argument by anyone anywhere. There is nothing you could offer with less substance.
It’s argumentum ad hominem: Because you, Mr. Simon, have successfully negotiated the capitalist pyramid scheme that is the present United States, you have no standing to criticize that scheme. Really? So let me get this straight: The rich or powerful can’t speak a truth because they have not been victimized by that truth, only others have. And the poor can criticize, but hey, they’re poor and weak, so of course they’re complaining; they’re losers and lazy — and, shit, who listens to the poor anyway? Fuck the poor. This is America. Nice circular argument you’ve got there. Everyone who sees a problem here has a problem to begin with.
With enough ad hominem bullshit, you can rig your rhetoric about as well as this purchased government rigs the game, Mr. Smith. Whatever benefits have or haven’t accrued to me by luck or by draw shouldn’t matter to me one way or the other if I’m voting my ethics and not my wallet. After all, if I voted my class or my bank account, my opinions could be suspect in the opposite way if we are intellectually inclined to attack the man rather than his argument. In that case, I’d be a creature of shameless self-interest. Whereas, now, I can endure your ridiculous and snide implications of hypocrisy for daring to suggest that the economic construct that works so well for storytellers in the entertainment industry doesn’t work well at all for schoolteachers or service-economy laborers.
If you’re gonna hang in these parts, you’re going to need to bring a better class of argument, Mr. Smith. Something about the substance of an actual issue being discussed rather than random spittle about Obama or a half-baked insult of someone who doesn’t agree with you.
In what way is Henry Kissinger a war criminal? I have heard the claim before, but I have never found it convincing.Can you be specific?
Chile. East Timor.
The body count in both places is a stain on the United States. In a just world without American exceptionalism, Kissinger should certainly be extradicted to Chile for what he and Nixon willfully and secretly set in motion. You can read it in any number of places without me repeating the story here. But I can recommend Mr. Hitchins’ book on Kissinger for an angry yet precise polemic on Henry Kissinger.
I am not convinced by HItchens’ hyperbole. Pinochet’s regime unquestionably perpetrated crimes (ie. the disappearances and the use of torture against political opponents). But Hitchens does not present any credible historical sources that Kissinger knowingly and willingly helped or urged him commit these crimes. Kissinger did not condemn these crimes, and the United States maintained cordial relations with Pinochet until 1976. His actions can be termed “ a stain on the United States”, as you did in your second post. But they did not constitute a war crime.
Nor can I agree that selling arms to an ally (Indonesia) for suppressing an insurgency is a war crime. Only if Kissinger can be shown to have encouraged war crimes – or to have known that the weapons would be used for war crimes, does the term war criminal apply. Hitchens does not produce any credible historical sources to this effect. Indeed, Hitchens never even attempts to falsify his own hypothesis, which is poor scholarship.
Kissinger’s policies were in many instances arguably immoral. On the other hand, failing to contain Soviet expansionism would not just have been dangerous to the United States but to other democratic societies as well. In other words, all American presidents are compelled to operate in a grey area. Calling names like war criminal completely misses this important point. By Hitchens’ crude standard, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower (who also supported coups by human rights violators in South Vietnam and Iran) are to be classified in the same category as Adolf Eichmann and Herman Göring. In reality, they were worlds apart.
Containing Soviet expansionism is the banner under which the criminality operated. The U.S. initiated and encouraged the murderous overthrow of a duly elected government at the behest of corporate political sponsors under the guise of anti-communist activity. There was no evidence whatsoever of Soviet penetration of Allende’s populist movement. And the role of American intelligence agencies in propping up the brutality of the junta is entirely documented. Kissinger and Nixon arranged and encouraged and ordered such — and it all came out when the White House tapes were released. The cynicism with which Nixon and congratulate themselves on the military takeover of a country and the rounding up, torture and murder of their presumed opposition in that endeavor is one of the most chilling things I have read.
The continued military supply of Indonesia when Kissinger had been made aware of the mass killings in East Timor is even more astonishing. By your ethos, those supplying zyklon B gas to the Nazis after the truth of the death camps were known could be justified by saying, well, Germany was a bulwark against the Soviet Union in Central Europe.
Eisenhower did indeed behave with criminality when he told the Belgians to proceed in the assassination of Lumumba, who also was not a Soviet client though that was the spurious claim at the time. Indeed, Lumumba was so unaligned that Kruschev, upon meeting Kennedy, genuinely inquired as to the U.S. purpose in the assassination as the Soviets had not penetrated the Congo in any way. And Eisenhower was further engaged in criminal acts in using the CIA to depose Mossadegh and restore the Shah in Iran, and then using American assets to train the Shah’s secret police in the repression and torture that they used on the Iranian people for the next 25 years. Again, Mossadegh was supposed to be “pink.” That was the usual Cold War bullshit; he was unaligned and merely a liberalizing nationalist.
We disagree fundamentally on two key points:
1) “Failing to contain Soviet expansion” is not a justification for destroying elected democratic governments anywhere. And indeed, none of the examples above contain any substantial evidence of Soviet penetration anywhere in the political dynamic. This was the cover-all excuse for the spread of American influence and capital interests without regard for human rights.
2) American exceptionalism — or the fact that the American president can self-authorize the destabilization of foreign democratic governments under American law — is not a credible argument against accountability for the results of that destabilization. I don’t care what legal cover we provide ourselves so that a strict international definition of criminality can be avoided. What Kissinger did — while having specific forewarning and knowledge of the deaths that were to result in Chile and East Timor by American action — was illegal and indifferent to genocidal outcomes. He encouraged and aided those genocidal policies after they were long in play. It is one thing to engage to destroy a duly-elected government and assassinate its chief of state, and one thing further to continue to support and maintain that action when the consequences of it become fixed, certain and known — and those consequences include mass killing. Kissinger did both things repeatedly.
That’s a war criminal.
A couple years ago, I saw the man two tables away from me at a fine restaurant in Manhattan, where I was dining as a guest of the owner and chef. Kissinger was delicately eating a specialty of the house, a dessert egg filed with layers of creme, caramel, chocolate and sweet, crisp riso. It was all I could do not to order a bottle of Chilean wine, have it opened, walk over, pour it all on his head and tell him that it was for Allende and the people in the Santiago stadium. Only fact that I was there as a guest of the chef prevented me. And thus do manners make cowards of us all.
I would add – or amplify – David’s argument with the fact that such behaviour was repeated. It became government practice under Kissinger.
See Gary Bass’s “The Blood Telegram – Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide”, reviewed in the NYT here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/books/review/the-blood-telegram-by-gary-j-bass.html
You judging Eisenhower, Kissinger and Kennedy by using hindsight. But the Cold War presidents did not have the benefit of the retrospective. The dilemma of the statesman is that if a decision is postponed until a picture emerges, solving the problem will often require far more resources. All of them were haunted by the memories of Germany in the thirties. A well timed coup against a democratically elected chancellor would certainly have been preferable to a world war and the Holocaust. Likewise, doing nothing when faced with the prospect of unfriendly governments in Iran, Chile, Congo or South Vietnam would have been completely irresponsible. If action had been postponed until incontrovertible evidence of Soviet influence existed in either one of these places, it would probably have been too late do anything about it. The Soviets were building nuclear weapons at breakneck speed and had concentrated the world’s greatest army on the banks of the Elbe. They were a far graver threat than Putin’s Potemkin empire. Faced with this complex threat, American presidents sometimes made mistakes. To my mind, the war in Vietnam was the worst. Nevertheless, all of these “war criminals” managed to prevent a nuclear war and contain the Soviet Union. The only way to completely avoid mistakes would be by resorting to isolationism. I would rather buy Kissinger ten drinks and propose a toast to his triangular diplomacy than see that happen.
Can you please tell me where in my post I made the claim that: “American exceptionalism — or the fact that the American president can self-authorize the destabilization of foreign democratic governments under American law — is a credible argument against accountability for the results of that destabilization.”? To the contrary, I noted that Kennedy and Eisenhower are guilty of using the same instruments of foreign policy. Indeed, it is hard to think of any Cold War president or any great power which has not engaged in these activities. In an international system governed by anarchy, the highest priority cannot be justice. It has to be survival.
You brought up the producers selling Zyklon B to the Nazis and compared them with Kissinger. Among other legitimate purposes, Zyklon B was used as a pesticide and for disinfecting trains carrying Mexican immigrants to the United States. Legally and morally, the production and sale of Zyklon B is only a war crime if the seller knows that it is used by the buyer for exterminating human beings. Bruno Tesh and Karl Weinbacher knew this, because they removed the warning odorant. Indeed, one witness testified that Tesh had actively solicited the SS for using Zyklon B for this purpose. They were convicted and hanged. By calling Eisenhower, Kissinger and Nixon war criminals, Hitchens is inadvertently trivializing the crimes of Adolf Hitler, which is why more intellectual stringency is called for when using that particular term.
You have still not provided evidence that Kissinger encouraged or aided the Indonesian or the Chilean government’s extreme human rights violations. The Nixon tapes contain more than 10.000 hours of conversation, so you will have to cite a particular recording. Maintaining cordial relations with war criminals is not a war crime. Or would you also brand Franklin Roosevelt a war criminal for aiding and supporting Josef Stalin during World War II?
I’m judging them by right and wrong.
Overthrowing democratic governments and using your intelligence assets to train secret police to murder and torture thousands is not an abstract exercise in realpolitik. It is criminality and complicity in the wholesale violation of human rights.
A Chilean court should be able to try Mr. Kissinger for his crimes. Or, if not, then an International court in The Hague should hear testimony. His conversations with Nixon are evidentiary, in my opinion. I have a full life without spending time hooking you up to the right conversations. If you are interested, do your own research. I did and came to the conclusion that Mr. Kissinger knew exactly what he had signed on for with Pinochet and in East Timor. Democracy and human beings were expendable in those criminal actions. But dude, you can’t ask me — in the middle of prepping a miniseries for filming — to pause and hook you up with the Nixon library because you wrote a post on my blog. If it interests you, do the same work I did three years ago and research it in detail.
I.G Farben knew exactly what the gas was for. Read anything about the Holocaust and the complicity of German industrial concerns. Enough sophistry.
I do not believe internationalism is anarchy. And I do not believe human rights are expendable. And if you are merely pleading survival — with an implicit American point-of-view of what “survival” entails — then you are de facto arguing for American exceptionalism.
Sorry to be pedantic, but
a) Hitchens was not a scholar … he had the freedom to write as a journalist and “public intellectual” and he did so well (even if I often disagreed with him).
b) academics needn’t be valourized as social scientists and historians do not have replicable nor falsifiable hypothesis in their work(s). Their (our) work merely has the imprimatur of having been conducted by someone with certain credentials [ahem] and that has seen the work vetted by 3 – 5 other people with those credentials through blind peer review. Such work is not handed down via Moses from the mountain high.
That all being said, Hitchens argument is indeed a polemic – it sells better! – but I find it quite persuasive.
I have no doubt that under either the writ of the Nuremberg Tribunal or at the Hague (ICC or ICJ) today you would have no trouble finding credible lawyers to take up the case against Kissenger. Thats why he hasn’t travelled as much since this all broke, and why the U.S. government uses pressure to shield him when necessary (and not only him).
None of that equals a conviction. Innocent until proven guilty. Wouldn’t want to have to defend him against that charge sheet though – its rather exhaustive and persuasive to most people.
I don’t care what Hitchens was or wasn’t by definition. The book and his argument are persuasive. One need not exclude a work based on the vitae of the author. The ideas matter and to dwell on the author’s credentials rather than his substance and execution is certain argumentum ad hominem. And, often, snobbery as well.
You made the claim that Kissinger is a war criminal. You cite a “polemical” and “angry” work as evidence. So much for Hitchens’ objectivity. When I ask for tangible historical sources and substance backing the claim, because Hitchens’ work is long on accusations and very short on evidence, you tell me you are busy. Suggesting that I do research to back your claims by listening to more than 10.000 hours of Nixon tapes is rather rich, don’t you think? Are you really telling me that you don’t understand why I remain unconvinced that Kissinger is a war criminal?
Kissinger’s itinerary is not evidence of anything, because being indicted does not mean being guilty. And now I am being told that Christopher Hitchens’ work is convincing because it has been peer reviewed. Are you in fact joking? And why are you accusing me of ad-hominem? I have exclusively questioned the substance of his argument. I dare you to find a single example of making personal attacks on Hitchens or anyone else in any of my posts.
You completely missed my point concerning Zyklon B. It was proven in court that the Teshel Company knew they were aiding and supporting the Holocaust. It was also proven that IG Farben knew what was going on in Auschwitz. On these counts, they were convicted. On the counts where IG Farben were not proven to have known they were aiding in war crimes, they were acquitted. In other words, you have to provide evidence that Kissinger knowingly aided the commitment of war crimes. You still have not done so.
Why do you keep claiming that I support American Exceptionalism? When I mentioned that states exist in a system governed by anarchy, it means that all states are compelled to assign survival the highest priority. My position is the very opposite of American Exceptionalism, namely that the structure of the International System compels all of its members (including the United States) to adopt survival strategies against each other: war, coups, covert action etc. This applies to every single state. They do not have perfect awareness of each other’s intentions and capabilities, they cannot use hindsight the way you did when you convicted Kennedy and Eisenhower as war criminals, so they expect the worst. The international system is not a democracy, there is no international police authority to provide the kind of security for the states, which is why using the moral standards of democracy on state behavior yields absurd results. Such as labeling every single American Cold War president without exception a war criminal (as you noted, John F Kennedy and Eisenhower should also have been tried for war crimes. Along with Harry S Truman for using nuclear weapons against Japan, and Lyndon B. Johnson for the war in Vietnam. Kissinger’s president Ford goes without saying=war criminal. Carter supported the Shah of Iran, whose SAVAK used torture against political opponents. Should he not also be tried? Exactly why are you singling out Kissinger?)
I don’t support trying and convicting all of these heads of government for war crimes. It won’t prevent new “war crimes”, because their behavior is caused by the structure of the international system. And they are doing what other heads of state have done in a similar situation. I find judging various American (or any other) heads of government for making mistakes or using survival strategies with the threat of a nuclear Holocaust looming over them highly ahistorical. The term war criminal should be reserved for true mass murderers – Adolf Hitler and his aiders and abettors spring to mind – or it will lose all its meaning.
This is your most specious argument yet.
Mr. Kissinger will not risk a trial — either in Chile or in any country that might honor their indictment and transport him to the custody of Chile or The Hague. Arguing Chile alone for the moment, that leaves us to assess:
1) The historical record of what he and Mr. Nixon sanctioned and approved in the wake of Allende’s election.
2) The historical record of what he and Mr. Nixon said about the success of their bloody efforts.
3) The historical record of what Mr. Nixon and the administration continued to support regarding Mr. Pinochet’s brutalities.
I conclude, handily, that Mr. Kissinger is an agent of crimes against humanity.
I do not concur that there is even a remote connection between American survival and our contemptuous and inhumane behavior during the period known as the Cold War. There was no existential threat whatsoever from international communism that was known to the U.S. government in Guatemala, Iran, Chile, East Timor or Nicaragua or any other place where we exerted for totalitarianism and massacre. Communism was the red herring, and that you use it as such now, in far retrospect, when the hyperbole of such claims are laid bare by history is weak.
Damning my critique as mere retrospect is no criticism whatsoever. We are, after all, reflecting on history. All such reflection is retrospective and only by such retrospective is it possible to improve both our moral and strategic position as a nation. Moreover, judging Mr. Kissinger and other individuals is not made problematic because they do not rise to the level of a Hitler or a Pol Pot. Participation and instigation of an anti-democratic and inhumane repression is a continuum. Albert Speer was sentenced by the Nuremberg tribunal as justifiably as those who stood closer to the Final Solution.
Mr. Carter is scarcely as culpable for SAVAK and the Shah as previous administrations, given that he inherited the status quo without taking any overt action to achieve it, and then, notably, refused to pull the Shah’s bacon out of the fire when the Islamic revolution began to overwhelm his reign. Mr. Carter, rather than continue to support the repression, was actually the president to accept the inevitability of the Shah’s downfall. That it came not to a democracy, but a volatile theocracy, is regrettable but rooted in the blowback from a longstanding repression. Mr. Carter was also the president who would not rubber stamp Mr. Somoza in Nicaragua anymore, another inherited situation. You are hard pressed to stretch the continuum to include Mr. Carter.
And for Mr. Kennedy or Mr. Eisenhower, their criminal activity with regard to the deaths, say, of Mr. Lumumba or Mr. Diem, are indeed appalling and heedless overreach, and they stain the country. And the future would be grim for both the Congo and Vietnam. They are a mid-point on a road that leads from say, the late 1940s purchase of Italian and Japanese elections by the CIA, through to Tehran and Guatemala — relatively bloodless CIA-inspired coups, to the assassinations of the early 1960s and eventually to Mr. Kissinger consigning tens and then hundreds of thousands to genocide. There is no thin and perfect line between espionage and diplomacy, statecraft and savagery. Amoral activities are inevitable in a world of competing nation-states. But when the world’s leading democracy wrecks other democracies in service of private capital and then participates both overtly and tacitly in the wholesale slaughter of thousands — why, yes, Mr. Mortensen, it is at that point that someone needs to go on trial.
I am Jewish. I count 11 relations by name who went to the gas chambers or into ditches in Russia. And I am capable of applying the lessons of the Holocaust in such a manner that I don’t have to make excuses for a stack of human bodies. When Mr. Kennedy tells the generals in Vietnam that they have sanction to take over Mr. Diem’s government, he is engaging in criminality. When he does so and tells the generals it is okay if Mr. Diem is assassinated — he did not, by the way, he was distressed that the coup was bloody — he is engaged in murder as a matter of statecraft. This is clearly criminal. When he tells the generals they can take over, and then encourages the generals to massacre and disappear and torture thousands of suspected political opponents, he is a participant in a genocide. Mr. Kennedy is not a participant in a genocide. Mr. Kissinger is a participant and abettor of two.
He is a war criminal.
Not even once have I rejected Hitchen’s work on the grounds of him being a journalist. And I dare you or anyone else to find a post where I have denigrated his views for being those of a journalist (or whatever else he may have been). In contrast, I note that you have brought up your Jewish background in your latest post. This is a perfect example of you using authority as an argument.
I have exclusively rejected Hitchens’ work as documentation because of his method, which produces a subjective, one-sided and prejudiced account. This is exactly what poor scholarship means, and it is not just my claim. He admitted as much by using the title “The case against Kissinger” in one of his articles. He cherry picked his sources to support his particular interpretation, and for instance accepted critical accounts by Democrats of the actions of a Republican at face value. His failure to attempt to falsify his own interpretations renders his work irrelevant as proof of anything but his personal opinion of Kissinger, no matter what particular genre he chose. How are we to trust that if he uncovered evidence exonerating Kissinger, he would actually include it in his account.
In contrast, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Kissinger adopts a far more balanced, objective and unbiased approach. You will search in vain for hyperbole such as “war criminal” in that piece of scholarship, for that is what his method makes it. He chooses the role of the historian and the investigative journalist, rendering his work it far more pertinent for documentation. If you really think Hitchens’ method is sounder, more objective and even minded than Isaacson’s approach, further debate between us is essentially futile.
I also decline spending my time proving a negative, which is what you are asking me to do. If Hitchens’ writings on Kissinger were really well documented, it should be a breeze for you to look them up and find the smoking gun in Kissinger’s hands.
History is indeed a retrospective science, but any historian worth his salt has to avoid the fallacy of judging history by the standards of his own time. Dismissing the extreme threat posed by a nuclear Holocaust and by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and convicting virtually every single American Cold War President as a war criminal is a blatant example of using hindsight to make value judgments. Never before in its history was the United States (and the Soviet Union) in graver danger. Blaming the leader of a superpower for not assigning Human Rights in Chile (or East Germany for that matter) a higher priority in such a situation does not make sense.
You cite Carter as less of a war criminal than the other Cold War presidents. Presumably this is to prove that a moral foreign policy was plausible during the Cold War. Carter did accord Human Rights a higher priority than other Cold War presidents in some respects, but it was actually during Carter’s presidency that the sale of American weapons to the Shah of Iran reached its absolute peak. He even celebrated New Years Eve of 1977 with his friend, and Carter spoke words on that occasion which would have made even Pinochet blush:
“Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you. The transformation that has taken place in this nation is indeed remarkable under your leadership. And as we sat together this afternoon, discussing privately for a few moments what might be done to bring peace to the Middle East, I was profoundly impressed again not only with your wisdom and your judgment and your sensitivity and insight.“
Should old acquaintance be forgot, Mr. Simon? Carter also sold Saudi-Arabia AWACS and F-15’s, and he sold F-5’s to Egypt, both of whose Human Rights records were at best deplorable. Mind you, I am not condemning him for doing so, but it seems remarkably hard for even the most Idealistic of American presidents to carry out a policy repudiating the Nixon-Kennedy-Johnson-Truman-Eisenhower-Ford line. The structure of the international system clearly prevailed even in this hard case.
You have chosen the role of prosecutor and judge, but I will not serve as defense counsel for Kissinger and all of the American Cold War presidents. For I lack your absolute certainty with respect to Kissinger’s guilt or any American President’s decisions and motives. As I wrote to begin with, I am (still) not convinced by Hitchens’ claims, and I have told you why. History is an argument without an end. It is not a deductive science, which means that we can never conclusively prove our conclusions unlike for instance in Mathematics. New documents may suddenly appear, rendering our firmest conclusions obsolete. Kissinger may yet turn out to have been a war criminal in the narrow sense of the word. What astounds me is how certain you seem to be without citing specific evidence and by simply relying on Hitchens. This absolute certainty is also expressed in sentences such as: “This is your most specious argument yet”. I will refrain from making similar derogatory comments about your opinions.
Your hyperbole is really excessive.
1) I brought up my Judaism and my relationship to Holocaust victims merely to emphasize that I was not being dismissive of the extraordinary nature of the Holocaust, but at the same time was willing to entertain the notion that other, smaller genocides and murderous political purges were still worthy of being considered as mass killing — and that your implied assertion that only the likes of Hitler of Goering could be fitted for the moniker of war criminal was a little too exclusive to be practical or coherent. That isn’t me claiming a special authority for being related to nearly a dozen Holocaust victims, but offering some personal standing before I go forward and declare that the Holocaust, though it is closest to my limb of the human tree, is still not a singular event, but rather a historical epoch that remains on a sliding scale of inhumanity. My standing doesn’t make my ideas any more or less correct; it merely assures you that I am not being flippant when I declare that what happened in East Timor or Chile bears some moderate relationship to what happened in Nazi Germany. Genocide is genocide, and war crimes are war crimes, and such things don’t travel under some more benign definition until they reach, oh, the first ten thousand or one million slain. Get it? My reference to my background was to avoid the easy implication that I was being flippant about the Holocaust when I say so. There are many fellow Jews who claim that the Holocaust cannot be compared to other genocides because of its scale; I think that argument absurd — and I think it while conceding the enormity of the Holocaust and even noting the human cost to my actual family. I am not suggesting that my personal standing makes my arguments any more or less correct, only that I am not making them casually, and absent a personal stake or personal understanding of the Holocaust. So calm down.
2) Mr. Carter inherited the American relationship with the Pahlavi dynasty, in the same way that Mr. Obama inherited our relationship with the Egyptian regime. And yes, no administration can turn foreign policy on a dime. But Mr. Carter did not double down on the Shah when his government began to topple, in the same way that Mr. Obama did not double down when our Egyptian ally of longstanding began to yield to what was then a populist movement. That is a far, far, far cry from INITIATING, PLANNING AND FUNDING THE OVERTHROW OF A DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT AND THEN BACKING A TOTALITARIAN AND MURDEROUS PURGE OF A NATION’S POLITICAL OPPOSITION AND INTELLIGENSIA. We must reserve such activities for Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon. They did not fear to venture into fresh and bloody hells the likes of which Mr. Carter, or even Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Eisenhower, could scarcely imagine, much less stomach.
3) With regard to Mr. Carter’s sale of airplanes to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, this is a remarkable historical non sequitur. Are you, as a defender of realpolitik and geopolitical practicality, really claiming that these weapon systems led to any deaths whatsoever? Wherein? Not in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and not in the Mideast as a whole. Egypt has remained peaceful with its neighbors since 1973 and Saudi Arabia, with the exception of our Kuwait campaign, has also remained entirely passive. No, those arms sales was absolutely a brilliant calculation by the U.S. government, which became the ally and cohort of both those nations, supplanting Soviet sponsorship of one of the states most antagonistic to Israel — after which Mr. Carter used the new bonds of alliance to induce the peace accords between Mr. Sadat and Mr. Begin, which had the tacit approval of the House of Saud. The Camp David triumph, which remains intact more than three decades later, was a direct result of the American embrace of an alliance not merely with Israel, but with several key Arab states. Those weapons systems actually helped purchase a path to peace, perversely enough. That you remember the sale of weapons that were never used in battle, or as a means on internal repression, but forget the brilliant triangulation that led to the Mideast’s first peace accord is noted.
4) I have not appointed myself anything, sir. If I was judge and jury and if this were a court of law, then yes, there might be hell to pay for Mr. Kissinger. As it is, absent your hyperbole, this remains merely a blog and my comments remain merely my opinions. Mr. Kissinger has argued otherwise; his defenders do as well. Your opinions here, arguing more for acquittal, are posted with my own and others. But my opinion — and it is only that — remains intact, and given that Mr. Kissinger isn’t manful enough to fly to Santiago and face the Chilean people in a court of law in what is now a democratic nation, we can only render judgments and make arguments in the court of opinion. He will avoid any legal reckoning for his actions until he draws his last, undeserving breath, regrettably.
I say that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon interposed to overthrow a democratically elected government and then aided a totalitarian fascist junta in the mass murder of tens of thousands of people. Other presidents and secretaries of states did one of those things — to be sure, along with many other anti-democratic initiatives in the name of the Cold War. But their reputations do not suffer from the second allegation. I also say that in East Timor, under the false flag of anti-communism, these men allowed an undemocratic government to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. They provided military hardware and technical expertise in torture and they stood by the results even as the astonishing body count was known to them. I know of American presidents and secretary of state who violated international norms and international laws with equal aplomb, certainly, but again, I know of none who knowingly and willfully did so an produced a genocidal body count, save, perhaps, for the long-term, slow-boil repression of Iran, and yes, we would do well to acknowledge the blowback from the false flag of anti-communism that Mr. Eisenhower was waving in 1954. Even so, the Shah’s body count, if not his gulag, pales in comparison to that of Pinochet, and surely, to that of the Indonesians. The blood on Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon is of a quantity that is unique to American foreign policy outside of war itself. So yes, in all of the misbehavior of other post-war American presidents — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, both Bushes, Clinton, Obama — I believe that the actions of Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon are of an extremity. Your remarkable efforts to compare the outcomes in Chile and East Timor to the sale of some airplanes or even to anti-democratic coups that did not encourage or result in the same level of blood-thirsty mass killing or genocide are insufficent to sway my opinion.
I say they are war criminals, and save for American exceptionalism, they would and should have been tried for these crimes once their overt and continuing actions in support of the Chilean and Indonesian repressions was fully known.
(Your homepage wont allow me to reply to your last post, so I have posted my reply here. Perhaps your webmaster could somehow move the left margin. The thread is becoming unreadable )
You emphasize the casualties suffered during the regimes of Pinochet and Suharto as evidence of Kissinger and Nixon’s exceptional war crimes: “ I know of none who knowingly and willfully did so and produced a genocidal body count”.
Very well, let us use your standard and examine if Kissinger and Nixon were really the American champions of war crime you claim them to be. Let us compare them with Harry S Truman, who twice decided to use nuclear weapons against the Japanese when World War II was virtually decided in August of 1945, thereby killing somewhere along 100.000 primarily civilian Japanese. And then we have not even taken into account all of the victims of the radioactive fallout killed in the aftermath. He is literally the only man in the history of the world to have used atomic weapons against human beings. Not to mention the strategic bombing campaign waged against German and Japanese cities by Truman and Franklin Roosevelt in particular continuing far beyond the point when Germany was effectively defeated. Do the names Hamburg, Cologne or Dresden ring a bell, Mr. Simon? Furthermore, almost every single major Japanese city was firebombed during the last months of World War II. The war was already won by then, there was certainly no military need to pile on.
Or let us compare Kissinger with Lyndon B. Johnson, whose decision to wage undeclared war in Vietnam in violation of the Geneva Accords of 1954 cost the lives of more than a million Vietnamese (and tens of thousands of Americans). Napalm was among the weapons of choice during that conflict. Along with Agent Orange, a chemical weapon which still is causing cancer among Vietnamese civilians and American war veterans today.
The crimes of Pinochet and Suharto are dwarfed by the acts of these presidents, and you still have not shown me the smoking gun proving that Kissinger knowingly and willfully aided or abetted genocide in Indonesia or Chile. On the other hand, Truman’s, Roosevelt’s and Johnson’s war crimes are a matter of public record.
But Kissinger and Nixon also waged war in Vietnam, you might say, and they also bombed Hanoi. Sure, and allow me to quote your own words: “Mr. Carter inherited the American relationship with the Pahlavi dynasty, in the same way that Mr. Obama inherited our relationship with the Egyptian regime”. The war was begun by Johnson and to a lesser extent by Kennedy. It was ended by Kissinger and Nixon. The onus is on you to prove that Kissinger was worse. With respect to the terrible attrocities committed in Vietnam, Johnson was far guiltier.
Mind you, nowhere did or do I condemn Carter’s foreign policy (or American foreign policy in general). Carter was not so bad as most Republicans make him out to be. I certainly agree that the sale of weapons can be a useful strategy of survival, the Camp David Accords were a boon (which Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy had paved the way for, by the way), and I have never said otherwise. Actually, I consider Truman among the very best of all American Presidents.
But I am questioning your use of an egregious double standard when judging Kissinger more harshly than Truman or Lyndon B. Johnson. And can you please tell me where in the statutes of the ICC, international law, the Hague convention or other comparable legal texts it says that it is more of a war crime to launch a coup against a foreign state if is democratic?
Can you be specific with respect to the hyperbole you mentioned at the beginning of your
Can’t take this seriously. I have grave doubts about the effectiveness of strategic bombing overall, and certainly it is a moral abyss. However, this abyss of total war against a nation’s economic function had become predominant with ALL combatants in World War II. And Truman was at war with a totalitarian miltary power in 1945, one that had also committed to strategic bombing in its own military campaign.
You just compared a declared action of war with a totalitarian enemy to the peacetime subversion of a democracy and the mass killing of political opponents or intelligensia. Wow. Just wow.
As to Vietnam, that stain is decidedly on Lyndon Johnson, but it is scarcely a war crime to fight against a military insurgency on behalf of an ally — even under the mistaken notion that you are fighting global communism when in fact it is intense nationalism itself that is confronting you. The war was a strategic error and a bloody one. The prosecution of that war was public and it targeted, ineffectively, the North’s economic and military means to prosecute its own military campaign against the South of Vietnam. You just compared that, again, to the secret destruction of a democracy and complicity in the ongoing campaign to murder all political opposition and intelligensia so as to maintain a totalitarian regime. Again, wow.
Simon, I believe you’re getting lost in the weeds here. Defending Kissinger’s (and by extension America’s) association with such crimes is difficult. The rules of the game were fairly clear post-Nuremberg as reflected in the growth of international law and norms of state behaviour following that process through the ICC and ICJ today. One can dismiss this process and believe we live in a anarchic order – but, then, why even be offended by the mention of Kissinger being a war criminal?
The comparison with other executives’ (Presidencies) isn’t the point. The original claim you are contesting is that David believes that Kissinger is a war criminal.
Kissinger used his office to do as David says – to 1) aid in the overthrow of democratically elected governments, and 2) to aid in the unlawful disappearance, arrest, torture and murder of political opponents (and even entire communities) of the dictators he/U.S. policy supported. Kissinger, for a number of reasons, wanted these men to carry out U.S.-friendly policies in their countries / regions.
These are the actions which the Nuremberg Tribunals found Nazis guilty of. Unfortunately the Shoa/Holocaust wasn’t really on the charge sheet. ‘Genocide’ as a term and concept was only then emerging. Wars of aggression, extra-judicial torture and killings, and the overthrow of duly elected governments = war crimes (full stop). I actually prefer the then terminology of a ‘crime against peace’.
None of this empirical record is in debate. Suharto, the S. Vietnamese generals, Pinochet etc. all committed these crimes. Kissinger and the President’s he served, signed off on supporting such actions – and often engaged in material support of these actors in conducting such crimes. You could argue that the cases where such crimes were being committed do not stain Kissinger et. al. as they only acted following the events; but, unfortunately there is ample evidence that they often knew in advance and even intervened to support the bloodshed and extra-legal modes of political action. So, maybe Kissinger was a war criminal in some instances and not in others? Only a lawyer would be concerned at this point … the record is pretty clear.
Where is the debate? That the ‘greater good’ of defeating communism warranted there being a different set of rules for U.S. cabinet level officials than that applied to everyone else? As David has said, that may allow one to sleep at night under the warm embrace of exceptionalism.
I have already written that overthrowing a democratic government is a stain on the United States. Indeed, I do not have make any other case, since I am simply claiming that Kissinger was no worse than the rest and should be treated no differently than the rest. But you claim his actions justify a trial for him and not for the others, so you have to explain to me why it was far worse to overthrow a democratic government in Chile than starting a war in Vietnam costing one million lives? Why was the coup in Chile far worse than John F. Kennedy authorizing “Operation Ranch Hand”: the use of 20,000,000 U.S. gallons of herbicides and defoliants across Vietnam, which to this very day are still causing birth defects in Vietnamese infants and cancer in Americans veterans? Why was the coup in Chile far worse than Johnson dropping 864.000 tons of bombs on including Napalm on Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 in an undeclared war?
Why was it far worse than President Johnson and Kennedy ordering hits on foreign heads of state in Cuba and South Vietnam like New York mobsters?
Why was it far worse than incinerating and irradiating mainly civilians with atomic weapons, at a point in the war when the Japanese did not even have gas to send up fighters against the B-29 delivering the bomb? Mind you, the fact that the Germans and the British also bombed civilians does not absolve an American President from any guilt – it simply means that the British and Germans and Americans engaging in such activities were war criminals all alike.
Don’t take my word for it. This is from an interview with a man who participated in the air campaign against Japan in the movie “Fog of War” (Erroll Morris, 2003):
“We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” Mr. [Robert] McNamara recalled; some 900,000 Japanese civilians died in all. “[General Curtis] LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.”
There you have it: a straight confession. Why was the coup in Chile far worse than this?
The number of killed during Pinochet’s reign is estimated around 3000-4000 (According to the National Corporation for Reconciliation and Reparation report issued 1996).
The deaths during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor have been estimated at 100.000-200.000 (http://www.cavr-timorleste.org/en/chegaReport.htm)
If you cite higher figures, I should like to know your source.
Again and for all time, I flat-out disagree with your casual equating of civilian deaths resulting from modern warfare between nation-states and the secret peacetime destruction of democratic governments and mass murder of citizens. Your apples-to-oranges comparisons in which you seem to believe the same legal standing and the rules of war can be made to apply to mass murder beyond an overt battlefield is beginning to astonish. Do you understand that to kill a man in war is a slaying contextualized by rules of warfare, but to do so in peacetime, without a declared conflict, is simply murder? Or that to bomb a city in wartime has, regrettably, come to be regarded as legitimized warfare under the premise of destroying an enemy’s industrial complexes, but to do so absent the context of a declared conflict is terrorism and mass murder? Do you really think this argument is merely about the body count? And do you really think it will serve humanity to erase the thin, surviving moral boundaries that separate the brutalities of war from the standards of behavior in peace? Doing so won’t reform modern warfare; it will merely fraudulently offer the cover of war to the mass slayings of human beings in peacetime.
But even if we are just arguing body counts, which we are not, what point are you trying to prove? That Mr. Kissinger, a party to the willful denial of representative government and human rights to citizens of another democracy, who stood by and supported the continued mass murder of those citizens, is no worse than some other sonofabitch? You’re really invested in this? Why and to what purpose?
He’s a criminal, and a party not to the heedless killings of thousands under a flag of war, but to the secret destruction of an elected democracy and then the mass murder of its people when no warfare was extant between the United States and the people of Chile. If you want to equivocate by merely counting bodies and arguing others into the gutter with him, fine. I don’t agree. I think his behavior and that of Mr. Nixon are unique crimes of peacetime. Mr. Kissinger still deserves to be tried for his crimes against humanity in Chile and for encouraging and sponsoring crimes of war in East Timor. We must agree to disagree.
Your claim that I am “Arguing into the gutter” is an unfounded invective as well as a surprisingly hostile expression on a site, which claims to welcome serious and civilized debate. I dare you to mention an instance, where I have cited anything but factual arguments and the historical record or made personal attacks or used coarse language. If you are allowed to call Kissinger a war criminal to begin with, you should not impugn me for using that term if I can document that it applies to other politicians as well. By the way, do you also think McNamara is “arguing into the gutter” when he calls himself and Lemay war criminals?
If you took offense at the term “mobster”, the record shows that R. F. Kennedy at one point actually worked with the Mob to have them kill Castro. Clearly, the Attorney General of the United States found his way to the gutter all by himself.
I have not sought to reduce the debate to a body count. To me it is impossible to say whose crimes were the worst or whose excuses were the best, and my conclusion is that virtually all of the Cold War presidents (indeed all great powers, and the United States is arguably a more benign species of the sort) sometimes committed heinous acts. It is you who insisted that Kissinger was a far worse war criminal, and I have questioned your claim. You cited Kissinger’s exceptional “level of blood-thirsty mass killing or genocide”. How else am I to document my rejection of your claim if not by actual comparison? But I concede that I should have included Truman’s successful interference in the Italian elections of 1948, when the assistance and campaign funding from the CIA secured a comfortable victory for Gasperi’s Christian Democrats over the Popular Front parties, instead of mentioning so many of the sanguinary highlights.
I note that you have not disputed any of the facts mentioned in my last post. The context of war has rules, and when these rules have been broken and human suffering on a vast scale is caused by it, using the term war crime is perfectly correct. Indeed, the quote by Robert McNamara is a smoking gun if there ever was one. By the way, neither Kennedy nor Johnson declared war in Vietnam, so they choose not to legitimize their actions that way. They certainly had no UN resolution for waging war in Southeast Asia.
You asked me: “You’re really invested in this? Why and to what purpose?” I am willing to answer these questions even though I note that they are irrelevant to my arguments. But I find that the tone has become less than benign during the course of our debate. If am to reveal anything of a personal nature, we must carry on in a different form.
And we certainly must agree to disagree. Have a nice summer, Mr. Simon.
Either you have misinterpreted my phrase or I have been woefully ambiguous.
I never meant to suggest that your argument left you “in the gutter” or debased you in any way. I couldn’t even think such a thing much less intend to express it.
What I was saying was that the effort to normalize Mr. Kissinger’s actions by comparing them to wartime collateral casualties leads humanity to a new standardized low. The human attrition of modern warfare is bad enough as is. Allowing peacetime policy the same or comparable tolerance for mass slaughter is a whole new nightmare. That was the gutter to which I referred or intended to refer. Not a gutter that you personally inhabit.
Again, apologies for my miscommunication or your misapprehension or both.
Yes, we must disagree. But thank you for an interesting and dynamic argument.
Shifting gears somewhat …
I’d pose the question – as a non-American – that this might be a genuinely important policy question for citizens of the United States to engage with. Especially as the structure of the U.S. Constitution crafts a role in such matters for the legislative branch. If Kissinger is *not* a war criminal simply because all the other cabinets of the various executive branch administrations were doing similar things – a bizarre defense of Kissinger to my mind – then …
Making distinctions in the foreign policy of the U.S. between:
i) democracies and non-democracies;
ii) the appropriateness in each case of “meddling” within other states internal politics writ large, and especially in the active effort(s) to bring about such nudges through ‘kinetic’ or violent means.
The Church Commission seemed to have a few things to say … but, such findings have been lost in the escalation of executive branch unilateral actions across the globe.
IMO this has had enormously deleterious impact(s) on how international public opinion views the United States (and Americans for their democratic ‘outputs’), the views of political elites that run all states (especially potential peer competitors in Russia, Germany and China), and the continuation of such robust efforts and practices following the end of the bi-polar era.
To give the Bushites credit, following 9/11 they did key on the newfound threat posed by radical groups and even individuals in this era of technological advance and global economic flows. To my mind they did nothing about it, preferring to rush off to the Hindu Kush and Mesopotamia to cowboy up. To give Bin Ladin credit he did point out prior to 9/11, in justifying such attacks on the U.S. mainland* to his fellow nutbar radical Islamists, that they would lead to U.S. overreach and overreaction.
*[Bin Laden argued that attacking the ‘far enemy’ should take priority, rather than the near enemy 90% of his fellow jihadists wished to go after in their homelands; as we see with ISIS et. al. the Bin Laden strain has again been relegated.]
Every time Mr. Simon uses the phrase ad hominem, an angel gets its wings. Don’t mess with this. Many an angel have been birthed
There are other logical fallacies: Appeals to pity, semantic equivocation fallacies, circular arguments, fraction-of-the-whole, etc. All of them can ruin a good argument, or reduce an argument to stupidity. But argumentum ad hominem is the crutch of all crutches in what passes for rhetoric nowadays. It is ubiquitous. Sorry if pointing it out becomes tiresome; so does any debate that wallows in such.
We don’t disagree David.
I was responding to Simon couching his own position (regarding Hitchens being unpersuasive). Simon’s reading was that Hitchens scholarship lacked falsifiability.
I just pointed out that it was not scholarship. Hitchens bravely and openly always saw his work as public and most often polemical. Both dirty words in the academy. For people not in that particular institutional cult, Hitchens work is equally valid.
So Simon was appealing to authority, in a manner, by arguing that Hitchens wasn’t a good scholar.
Then I pointed out that scholars are not the anointed paragons they are often accepted as. They don’t falsify as a biologist does for instance (nor can they).
We all make truth claims and all do it through different media. Hitchens did polemics and debates better than most everyone. Brilliant guy. Dead wrong on Iraq and American exceptionalism, but always someone worth engaging / reading.
I’m a journalist, and at points, strangely enough, an essayist and dramatist depending on the moment. I have regularly had my opinions marginalized by academics on the basis of pedigree. I don’t disrespect the work of academics, but I also know of published academic work on topics with which i am familiar that was rife with error, assumption and miscalculation. I’ve also read a lot of fairly convincing journalism. And vice versa for both.
Arguing the man rather than the validity of the ideas or the opinions is a useless exercise. I agree.
You have all the criticisms locked down. Let me ask you for one answer – can the world exist without war?
Please allow me to have the final word by unreservedly accepting your assurances, Mr. Simon. You have lived up to the high standards you have set for the debate on this homepage, and you have demonstrated a sense of fairplay. The result has been an exhilarating debate from my point of view.
I spent a semester in New Jersey researching my PhD dissertation on the ABM Treaty, hence my interest in American Cold War presidents. I am an upper secondary teacher and currently reside in Copenhagen.
May I also use the opportunity to express my thanks for one of your creations, namely the tragic character Frank Sobotka in season 2 of “The Wire”. It is some of the finest Social History I have ever seen on television.
Mr. Simon, You disallowed me from responding to our previous conversation. Why?
Also, you remind me of idealistic, starry eyed me when I was regurgitating my state universities professor’s jargon. Keep up the good fight.
I didn’t disallow anything. I don’t know why you had any problems responding.
You don’t remind me of anything at all, Mr. Al. I am uninterested in depicting you personally. I hew to the argument only. Regrettably, you don’t seem as committed to the rigor of that dynamic.
You’re uninterested in depicting me personally, yet you accused me of being a hammer carrier in a previous thread. Ok, dude
Also, my only complaint with your writings (and yes, I know this is off subject from this particular thread, so please don’t demean me with your impressive display of advanced grammar) is that you generally seem to criticize and condemn America for its heinous actions, past and present. Yet you don’t offer any sort of solutions. You’re a far more intellegent man that I will ever be, both naturally and from a result your education and life experiences. Yet to characterize every act of war as heinous and unnecessary is extremely ignorant, with all due respect Mr. Simon. Does war solve more problems than it creates? Most definately not. Just like writing, documenting, policing, reporting about the travesties, hypocrisies and insanity of the Baltimore drug trade/war resulted in very little positive change. However, a world without conflict and war is just not ever going to exist.
And I’m sorry you feel it’s bullshit when I comment about how you should appreciate what this country has done for you and recognize it on occasion to your fans in writing. I respectfully disagree. I feel your rhetoric feeds into the growing global mindset that America is inherently, relentlessly, and unapologetically evil, while you benefit greatly from all this country is, has been, and will continue to be in the future. This is your forum – you’ve obviously earned the right to write about whatever the fuck you please, and I think it’s incredible that you respond to people’s comments and defend your writings, but all I’m saying is that it is ok to praise this country from time to time. I realize that generally isn’t allowed in most circles of media, but I would hope your connected friends and colleagues will forgive you in time, and us hammer carriers would be pleased to see some balance and humility from one of America’s great products.
You’re really having trouble with this.
Your arguments can be attacked. Mocked. Eviscerated. Honored. Agreed with. Rendered into steel or jello depending on their merits. Challenging the non-sequitur of your original Obama comment, which bore zero relation to the topic at hand, certainly justified a query as to whether you saw everything as a nail.
Who you are, what you do or did with your life, your affiliations, your personal appearance, your wealth or poverty, your achievements or lack thereof — all of that is irrelevant and ad hominem to your argument. Or mine.
I can’t be any more clear.
I’d prefer if my arguments were honored and rendered into jello.
I’m not requesting for you to be more clear. You can rephrase your point over and over, I get where you’re coming from. I just disagree. I interpret you responding to another commenters post about Obama’s apology tour as having an opinion on Obama’s apology tour. I’m ok understanding that I may be wrong. That’s just how I interpret it. The commenter made it very clear where she was coming from, and you clearly added on and supported her position.
James Elson – I sincerely appreciate your post, and will check out doubling down. I don’t believe that mr. Simon is unamerican, or anti-America, and I believe in fact that he is proud to be an American. I initially just disagreed with his support of a separate comment made that Obama’s apology tour was something to admire, and that the commenter couldn’t possibly grasp the fact that others thought otherwise. Then the thread got off topic from there. I did get personal after being called a hammer carrier. As you can see from some of the other threads in this article, if you disagree with mr. Simon, he occasionally replies by labeling, branding, charactierizing, etc the commenter, getting very froggy with his conclusions. I’m not the only one to rebut his personal jabs handed out. And yes, you can absolutely criticize your country regardless of your success, I just disagreed with this particular angle of article, as it strikes me as another “we should all feel so guilty to be Americans” dump. Again, he has the right to cover whatever subject he wants, but it would be refreshing to read something pro-America on a humanity or political level for once on this site. That’s all. And I’m not offended or butt hurt if he tells me to fuck off (but in a sweet, sophisticated way) And maybe my mind will flip after reading Doubling Down.
For the record, I am the original commenter and I still don’t understand:
1) Where this idea of an Obama apology tour came from in the first place.
2) If there is something to apologize for, why apologizing is a bad idea.
I’ll throw 3 & 4 in there too.
3) What it means to love one’s country. I love my family, for example, but I can still see their flaws. That’s part of the package. Why does pride in a country (a pretty abstract and subjective notion in the first place) mean that we pretend nothing is ever wrong?
4) Why anyone feels the need to try to measure or rank another person’s love of country. Or comment on it.
In other words, there’s a whole lot of circular silliness going on here, in my opinion. And I still don’t know what the heck the Apology Tour was.
I’m not sure if you fully understand Mr. Simon’s feelings about American and being an American. While Mr. Simon is more than capable of defending himself in that area, I would recommend you take a look at another of his writings here called “Doubling Down.” There he lists 10 instances where he found himself ashamed to be one (I can’t really say I blame him for any of them.) However he also lists 10 instances where he was proud to be one and those reasons seemed equally well thought out to me.
I believe as Mr. Simon does that just because you come from a certain country and have been successful in your field does not mean there is no reason to criticize whatever problems you perceive a country to have. As I’m sure you know there are countries in other parts of the world where such criticisms would be met with intolerance, ignorance and even violence. Which is why I feel Mr. Simon said it best when he once wrote “Dissent is the most American thing there is.”
Definitely take a look at the “Doubling Down” writing. Because to my mind Mr. Simon’s feelings about the U.S.A. are more complicated than you are making them out to be.
What’s even worse about the Vincennes “incident” is the captains of two escorting destroyers asked “WTF??!!” in strongest terms when they saw Vincennes get ready to fire missiles, since they had identified the airliner. The cherry on top of the cake, though, is that the idiot Captain who approved the launch and the moron Air Warfare Officer who launched the missile, who was the idiot who mis-identified everything, both got medals for the incident and career boosts out of it.
It reminds me of an “incident” that happened 49 years and 50 weeks ago on the other side of the globe, where two US destroyers, thinking themselves under a non-existent attack, were saved from sinking each other by a 20-year old Petty Officer Third Class operating the fire control system of one refusing three times the order to “Open Fire!,” an act of disobedience for which he was later court-martialed and reduced in rank, while aboard the other the Assistant Gunnery Officer managed to convince his captain the only thing out there in the darkness was the other destroyer. Had those two not done what they did, the (alleged) Tonkin Gulf (non) Incident, would have had far worse repercussions than it did.
I was just about to post a link to this on Facebook but first Googled U.S.S. Vincennes. My intention was to get the exact number of civilian victims on the Iranian flight. But in doing so I came across a link to a 1988 Washington Post article in which both President Reagan and Adm. William Crowe apologize for the shooting down of the airliner.
The article does note that the U.S. was laying a strong measure of blame for the incident on the actions of the Iranian pilot. But I think it does somewhat undermine your post here. (And I say that both as someone who has no love lost for Ronald Reagan (or George H.W. Bush) and who believes strongly that the United States meddling in Ukraine’s affairs—as well as our reneging on our pledge at the end of the Cold War not to bring NATO up to Russia’s doorstep—has been a contributory factor to this tragic and dangerous situation.)
No. Actually, President Reagan refused to apologize for the shooting down of the airliner. The United States would only express regret for the loss of life, but refused to take any responsibility for our role in the tragedy. Indeed, from that Wiki article: The U.S. “expressed regret only for the loss of innocent life and did not make a specific apology to the Iranian government.” Indeed, even the payment of reparations to the families of the victims, nearly a decade later, was made in gratis, meaning the U.S. accepted no fault in offering the money to settle the Iranian case in an international court.
And on August 2, 1988, Vice President Bush, during a campaign appearance: “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are…I’m not an apologize-for-the-United-States kind of guy.”
I did however, misrepresent Bush as the president at that utterance. I thought he said it after the election in November. I’ve amended that in the initial post, and added a phrase to make clear that the U.S. was quick to regret the loss of life generally while refusing to take any responsibility, calling the firing of the missle by its warship a proper defensive action. Thanks.
From your link:
President Reagan in a statement said he was “saddened to report” that the Vincennes “in a proper defensive action” had shot down the jetliner. “This is a terrible human tragedy. Our sympathy and condolences go out to the passengers, crew, and their families . . . . We deeply regret any loss of life.”
Reagan, who was spending the Fourth of July holiday at Camp David, said the Iranian aircraft “was headed directly for the Vincennes” and had “failed to heed repeated warnings.” The cruiser, he said, fired “to protect itself against possible attack.”
That’s not an apology. That’s similar to what you hear so often — people say “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I did.” That’s not an apology either, it’s putting the blame on the person/group for becoming offended in the first place. All Reagan said was that the Navy acted properly and the actions of the airliner’s controllers were to blame. He accepted no responsibility.
As always, your facts are irrefutable. Just a couple of questions. Is your statement built on an assumption, as it might be taken to be, that the world would be in better shape if we had a truly international government and no nation-states? Or. as I am more inclined to believe, do you have a more nuanced set of assumptions about the international community and the current norm for what constitutes a nation-state?
I would think that American credibility in the world would not suffer from submitting to a more consistent and responsive participation in intenrational forums and conventions. The age of American exceptionalism is coming to a close whether we like it or not. Had we been more reflective of our own behavior in the years since World War II, and applied more democratic standards to our foreign policy footprint, we might be a more credible advocate for international morality than we are.
I’ll second that – if I’m allowed to as a Canadian (!)
From my experience living and working in the U.S. (as a political scientist) as well as from discussions with a range of Americans, I think your position reflects the majority of Americans … but, not the political class (Republican or Democrat).
One critical point about the shoot down of the Iranian Airliner – all is as you portray above; but the most critical aspect is missing from the discussion. The Vincennes had illegally entered Iranian waters (by some twenty miles). Thus, legally they were in breach of international law and had no right to self-defense. That they misidentified a civilian airliner for an F-14, that they misidentified it as descending on their position in an attack rather than climbing as it took off from an airport, and that they lied to cover up the location from which they fired the missile to portray themselves as acting in self-defense? Immaterial as they had already passed the point where such defences were valid.
On a historical note, the medal awarded were for being on an extended tour (3 years) and not for any incident or campaign … I only bring this up because it was the excuse provided by American officials at the time – I’m sure the Iranians and the ~50 other victims of other states failed to see any distinction.
Such legal nicities aside, an over-aggressive captain (who had violated the same rules previously) broke the clearly understood rules – both international maritime law as well as U.S. Navy rules of engagement – and mistakenly acted, thereby committing a crime. The U.S. Navy investigated and found this all to be the case – there is no dispute regarding the facts.
It only matters as to what the reaction was – and as David so ably articulates – all credibility is lost when you continue to politic at that point.
You gutless Canadian appeaser.
Kidding. Couldn’t help myself.
Ha! Kind of hard to take offence knowing that you suffer as an Orioles fan 🙂
When teaching in Montana I learned a lot. Students would chastise me for being a citizen of a monarchy – fair enough; but, I would then point out that we all have our myths. Canada – or rather Canadians – would actually (finally?) have a revolution if the monarch actually attempted to rule. We appoint tee vee reporters and academics to the post, that should tell you how much power it holds.
I’d always ask, ‘we have the myth of the monarch holding sovereignty and Americans have the myth of ‘the people’ holding sovereignty – tell me who’s myth is more bizarre?’
Actually all such chastising ended when all the Marine recon vets in my classes on ME politics brought up how much they respected the Canadian soldiers they had served alongside in Afghanistan.
Are you on a North American Apology Tour?
Katie, what can we do to help rid you of this guilt?
You do realize she was kidding don’t you?