Friday, March 7, 2014

A Shortage of History

Q. You cut me off at the pass. Mr. President, do you think it was proper for the United States to restore the Shah to the throne in 1953 against the popular will within Iran?
THE PRESIDENT. That's ancient history, and I don't think it's appropriate or helpful for me to go into the propriety of something that happened 30 years ago.
- Jimmy Carter
News Conference
Feb 13, 1980

Bruce Laingen, a career diplomat who was chief of the U.S. embassy staff, was the highest-ranking hostage. One day, after Laingen had spent more than a year as a hostage, one of his captors visited him in his solitary cell. Laingen exploded in rage, shouting at his jailer that this hostage-taking was immoral, illegal and "totally wrong." The jailer waited for him to finish, then replied without sympathy.

"You have nothing to complain about," he told Laingen. "The United States took our whole country hostage in 1953."

The Smithsonian

For members of the intelligence community, the war was directly linked to the recent past; they saw deep-rooted reasons for Vietcong successes and Saigon government failures.  As far as the intelligence community was concerned, history was alive and gaining its revenge in Indochina; as far as the principals were concerned (and it was a very American attitude that Vietnamese events and history began only after the Americans took charge), nothing had existed before because it had not been done, tended to, and examined by Americans. The Americans were tempting history by ignoring it; after all, in the past they had been able to dominate events by the sheer force of their industrial capacity, which had exempted them from much of the reality of the world.
- David Halberstam
The Best and the Brightest
pg 532-3

There were many ways in which the former members of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe could have been given security for the future. Nato chose to provide that security by moving eastward to the borders of Russia. The then president, Gorbachev, in negotiating with secretary of state, James Baker, had insisted that Nato should not move one foot east – this was an area of traditional Russian influence. President Clinton pushed to expand the Nato alliance to the very borders of Russia. There was talk of Ukraine and Georgia being included.
The move east, despite the negotiations held with Gorbachev, was provocative, unwise and a very clear signal to Russia: we are not willing to make you a co-operative partner in the management of European or world affairs; we will exercise the power available to us and you will have to put up with it.
Malcolm Fraser
March 3, 2014