foreign policy Archive

We Fail To See History Repeating in Our Own Time

(Originally Published by Howey Politics Indiana)

On October 11, 1912, George and Ollie Risley weren’t concerned with the Italo-Turkish war. On that Friday, they were concerned with the difficult task of childbirth on a small family farm in Knox County, Indiana. Lucky for your columnist, all went well, and they welcomed my great-grandfather Miles in to the world. My best guess is that the poor, Knox County farmers never heard of the small conflict that would one day impact their family.

Only seven days later would the small regional conflict come to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Ouchy. For the past 13 months, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy had waged war on the lands destined to become modern-day Libya.

What caused the Italo-Turkish War? One must look back 34 years to the Congress of Berlin.

The once-great Ottoman Empire was flashing weakness as its institutions of government began to erode. As a result, the surrounding powers began to annex their lands. Especially antagonistic were the Russians, who repeatedly tried to nibble away at the northern edges of the Balkans and the Caucuses. This sparked the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

The policemen of the world, Great Britain and the rest of the 19th century G8, had to intervene to end the conflict. The British went as far as sending a fleet of battleships to Constantinople to stop the Russians from entering the city. At the Congress of Berlin, the Great Powers carved up foreign lands lost by the Ottoman Empire. The “sick man of Europe” was humiliated and broken by the loss. At the end of the Congress, the Italians felt they had not been received their fair share of the ailing Empire.

This was a wrong they intended to right. In 1902, the French signed a secret treaty with the Italians that offered them a consequence-free invasion in to Tripoli on the northern shores of Africa. After an extended propaganda campaign by the Italians, the public shifted their support for the invasion that came on September 29, 1911. (Notably, the most outspoken critic of the war was a young journalist and activist by the name of Benito Mussolini. In September of ’12, he participated in a riot against Italy’s “imperialist war.” For this, the young socialist spent five months in jail.)

Fast-forward 13 months, and the Treaty of Ouchy is signed. The Italians were given the lands of Libya, and the Turks once again humiliated and weakened. This set off a sense in the Balkans that liberation could be theirs for the taking. A sense of nationalism spread, and Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria formed the Balkan League and launched the first Balkan War. This then led to the Second Balkan War. And that led to the Great War.

Pop history teaches that the Great War, or World War I, was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914. The assassination then led to a crisis that led to the invoking of dozens of treaties that entangled the Great Powers in a war that killed 15 million people. If including the Spanish flu, or the Great Influenza, the toll is 65 million.

The spark that led to the killing of 3.6% of the Earths population in 4 years may have been the death of Ferdinand. The cause was imperialism and intervention of the previous 100 years. The Great Powers chose for other nations and states what paths must be followed. This led to revolts. The revolts led to wars. The wars led to treaties that failed to respect those living in the new boundaries. And the cycle began anew. For instance, the Treaty of Versailles led to World War II.

It was in World War II that George and Ollie lost a son, and Miles lost a younger brother. George Risley Jr., 25, was a fighter pilot flying over Normandy on June 7, 1944. He was killed in action.

History has two groups of people. The first are the world-shapers, the heroes and villains, and the notable exceptions. The second are the vast majorities of those in-between that fail to see history happening in their time. The first group rarely sees the effects of their decisions on the second group. And it is the second group that allows it to happen.

Any honest observer of world events today can see that history is happening around us. The governments created by fall of the Ottoman Empire now are crumbling themselves. The Arab Spring was set off by one particular moment. Mohammed Bouazizi was a Tunisian making less than $10 per day. On December 17th 2010, a female inspector slapped him, confiscated his scales, and he snapped. Outraged, he lit himself on fire outside of the local government building. Protests erupted across the nation, and his death two weeks later made him a martyr in the fight over corruption. Tunisia’s leader of 23 years, Ben Ali, fled the country two weeks later.

Was the Arab Spring set off by just this one incident? Do the dictatorial rulers that are being overthrown exist in a vacuum? Or does the imperialist and interventionist mindset still exist today?

I argue that it is softer than in the past, but the Great Powers of the 20th and 21st century manipulated lands they did not own and people they did not have the authority to control. The Great powers toppled governments. Propped up murderous regimes. Provided chemical and conventional weapons to rebel groups that eventually used them on us in future wars.

Now we are told that we “must do something” again. We should not ignore history. Let’s do nothing, and empower those in the second group to become their own world-shapers.

The Self-Absorption of the Syrian Discussion

It is completely self-absorbed and arrogant to launch military strikes on another country to save the credibility of a President, the Presidency, or a nation. This really hit home last night as I watched an interview with a Syrian activist. His message: Save your bombs. You don’t care about us anyways, and you’ve now put us in a terrible position either way.

Tired of Being Told You "Blame America" ?

In a foreign policy discussion with some supposed Tea Party members where I engaged with lots of historical facts, information and philosophy I got one of those Hannity told them to say this responses like, “you just hate and want to blame America” and your only purpose is to “…tear down America.”

I’ve written before on America’s interventionist foreign policy missteps and ensuing blowback with “A Message For Pro-Interventionist Conservatives and Liberals” and at the beginning of “Ron Paul, CPAC and Loathing by the Ideologically Unprincipled and Intellectually Dishonest”
But, that “blame America” retort is just smarmy and usually thrown out by someone working their hardest to either be willfully ignorant of the facts or to ignore them in favor of endorsing the idea of being the world’s bully. Of course, the people who argue these points will always be the first to tell you that government ruins nearly everything it touches (it does), can’t do anything right, can’t do anything cost effectively, etc. But, they somehow always exclude foreign policy or military activity from their laundry list. It is somehow, magically immune?

So, the next time this comes up with a so-called Conservative … ask some simple questions. Maybe like this.

You suggest I blame (the) America(n government) for a lot of our trouble with overseas nations and people. So, let me ask you …

Do you “blame America” for …

A Message For Pro-Intervention Conservatives and Liberals

A lot of traditional conservatives and even some liberals don’t seem to have much of a problem with America’s foreign policy. Libertarians, Ron Paul supporters and others like to point out the problems and repercussions, including what the CIA calls “blowback”, that result from having a highly intrusive foreign policy that seeks to promote U.S. hegemony in parts of the globe.I started to write a piece that focused on our Middle East interventions and finally realized on the third page that I was probably writing a chapter to a potential future book, not a BLOG post. So, let me put it in this perspective and I’m speaking mostly to (supposedly) small government conservatives.Today, the U.S. apologized for using people in another nation as guinea pigs in unethical medical testing of sexually transmitted diseases. This took place in the 1940s.In 1953, the U.S. and British overthrew the democratically elected, secular (non religious) government of Iran and replaced that government with a dictator (ref: Operation Ajax). Ultimately, this boiled down to helping British oil interests (the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, today we know it as British Petroleum).After his failed assassination attempt on Qasim in Iraq (1959), Saddam Hussein became an asset of the CIA and the Ba’ath party was helped to power with the support of the CIA and British MI6.In the late 70s it is widely believed that the Carter administration turned against the Shah of Iran (whom we had helped to power) because of human rights concerns and this helped his overthrow by the religious (Muslim) conservatives.In the 1980s the U.S. assisted, funded or otherwise supported both sides of the Iran-Iraq war in which hundreds of thousands of Arabs died. All as part of a strategy to keep both sides weak and unable to develop into stronger nations less likely to be subject to the desires and designs of the West.We fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We can glamorize it all we want with movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War”, but at the end of the day the Middle East was used repeatedly as a way to play tug of war with the Soviets without actually having to fight them.The U.S. supports, funds and arms – nearly without question – the state of Israel which a One World Government organization carved out of Palestine and gave to what was then the minority population there. I know how much conservatives love the United Nations and one world government organizations!The U.S. has a long standing policy of supporting the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia. This is a country where women cannot vote or drive, where a woman may be killed or harshly punished for being raped and where they still practice amputation as a punishment against criminals. Nary a word is spoken by our government about this. We maintain friendly relations with this country while invading or manipulating the regimes in others in the name of “freedom” or “democracy”. We help fund the military dictatorship in Pakistan. In the past couple of years the U.S. demanded that Swiss banks turn over their records related to U.S. account holders. Some foreign banks are starting to cease doing business in the U.S. because they, like many of us, don’t want to deal with our Internal Revenue Service.Certainly, all of these sorts of things for which I highlight only a very, very small handful examples cost us lots of money. Especially when we end up sending our brave and honorable soldiers to war to clean up the messes that the upper-class ivy league twits at the CIA get us into. Not sure how one can be “fiscally conservative” and support constant meddling in the affairs of other nations or never-ending states of warfare; but, I digress.This is my question.Conservatives frequently state that they want the United States Government to stay out of their lives and their wallets. Does it ever occur to them that the rest of the world wants this too?

A Message For Pro-Intervention Conservatives and Liberals

A lot of traditional conservatives and even some liberals don’t seem to have much of a problem with America’s foreign policy. Libertarians, Ron Paul supporters and others like to point out the problems and repercussions, including what the CIA calls “blowback”, that result from having a highly intrusive foreign policy that seeks to promote U.S. hegemony in parts of the globe.
I started to write a piece that focused on our Middle East interventions and finally realized on the third page that I was probably writing a chapter to a potential future book, not a BLOG post. So, let me put it in this perspective and I’m speaking mostly to (supposedly) small government conservatives.
Today, the U.S. apologized for using people in another nation as guinea pigs in unethical medical testing of sexually transmitted diseases. This took place in the 1940s.
In 1953, the U.S. and British overthrew the democratically elected, secular (non religious) government of Iran and replaced that government with a dictator (ref: Operation Ajax). Ultimately, this boiled down to helping British oil interests (the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, today we know it as British Petroleum).
After his failed assassination attempt on Qasim in Iraq (1959), Saddam Hussein became an asset of the CIA and the Ba’ath party was helped to power with the support of the CIA and British MI6.
In the late 70s it is widely believed that the Carter administration turned against the Shah of Iran (whom we had helped to power) because of human rights concerns and this helped his overthrow by the religious (Muslim) conservatives.
In the 1980s the U.S. assisted, funded or otherwise supported both sides of the Iran-Iraq war in which hundreds of thousands of Arabs died. All as part of a strategy to keep both sides weak and unable to develop into stronger nations less likely to be subject to the desires and designs of the West.
We fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We can glamorize it all we want with movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War”, but at the end of the day the Middle East was used repeatedly as a way to play tug of war with the Soviets without actually having to fight them.
The U.S. supports, funds and arms – nearly without question – the state of Israel which a One World Government organization carved out of Palestine and gave to what was then the minority population there. I know how much conservatives love the United Nations and one world government organizations!
The U.S. has a long standing policy of supporting the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia. This is a country where women cannot vote or drive, where a woman may be killed or harshly punished for being raped and where they still practice amputation as a punishment against criminals. Nary a word is spoken by our government about this. We maintain friendly relations with this country while invading or manipulating the regimes in others in the name of “freedom” or “democracy”.
We help fund the military dictatorship in Pakistan.
In the past couple of years the U.S. demanded that Swiss banks turn over their records related to U.S. account holders. Some foreign banks are starting to cease doing business in the U.S. because they, like many of us, don’t want to deal with our Internal Revenue Service.
Certainly, all of these sorts of things for which I highlight only a very, very small handful examples cost us lots of money. Especially when we end up sending our brave and honorable soldiers to war to clean up the messes that the upper-class ivy league twits at the CIA get us into. Not sure how one can be “fiscally conservative” and support constant meddling in the affairs of other nations or never-ending states of warfare; but, I digress.
This is my question.
Conservatives frequently state that they want the United States Government to stay out of their lives and their wallets. Does it ever occur to them that the rest of the world wants this too?