Op-Ed: Democracy Abroad, Hypocrisy At Home, Have We Learned Nothing From History?

August 27, 2017

By Michael McQuillan

Having spent $4.79 trillion for our “War on Terror” in the wake of the September 11th attacks through 2016 according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

… to say nothing of those who’ve killed and been killed – as of Donald Trump’s speech afew nights ago from Fort Myer we send 4000 troops more to the fray with no end in sight.

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We’re on a losers’ path in Afghanistan, following failed British and Russian forces into quicksand as we copied Chinese and French defeats in Vietnam. President Nixon in November 1969 said we there, in what journalist David Halberstam wrote was “a quagmire,” sought a “just peace.” His “Vietnamization” policy would, Nixon said, train indigenous forces to ensure their own security, freeing ours to come home. Withdraw they did but from the disaster of Viet Cong triumph and domestic discord.

“I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam,” Nixon from the Oval Office on national television asserted, but “I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world.”
Trump mimics Nixon though his plan did not work.

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In the wake of what General John Nicholson, the U.S. Forces Commander, in February told the Senate Armed Services Committee was a “stalemate” in Afghanistan Trump last night claimed we’ll “fight to win” there without nation-building. What on-the-ground conditions could that in the best case create?

The “liberation of Mosul” from Islamic State control in Iraq, after all, left 1500 civilians killed and 160,000 displaced from its eastern districts. “During that brutal fighting about 60% of administrative buildings, 90% of transport infrastructure, 15% of residential buildings and 30% of schools were ruined – with the almost total destruction of two local hospitals and all five bridges across the Tigris River,” Dr. Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reports.
An image search for that city shows devastation akin to the moon’s surface.

How will Mosul, Kabul or their regional neighbors rebuild in the wake of our war since Trump asserts we are “no longer nation-building”? That’s a role worth playing at home – where his budget proposals worsen the race-based economic deprivation that Ferguson, Baltimore and Milwaukee riots revealed, his anti-Obamacare crusade would deny twenty million people their health insurance, and his recent news conference remarks lauded neo-Nazis and white supremacists who violently rallied in Charlottesville.

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“We remain concerned about multiple factors” General Nicholson testified to Congress, “specifically the stability of the Afghan government, ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Force) casualties, the influence of external actors on Afghanistan including Pakistan, Russia and Iran, and the convergence of the 20 terrorist groups and three violent extremist organizations operating in the region. Nonmilitary factors such as the economy, governance and corruption, demographics, reconciliation and reintegration, and the influence of the narcotics trade also affect this mission and underscore the need to employ all instruments of U.S. national power,” he added.

Shouldn’t a sixteen-year blood and treasure expense produce better results? “Forty-nine million Americans struggle to put food on the table due to the prevalence of poverty,” not-for-profit DoSomething.org disclosed. The Department of Justice placed twenty urban police departments under federal Consent Decrees after finding widespread “patterns or practices of biased policing.” Why sacrifice and spend more when our people suffer?

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Military values, Trump claimed, model the unity he seeks for our country: “By following the heroic example of those who fought to preserve our republic we can find the inspiration our country needs to unify, to heal, and to remain one nation, under God.” But that’s a mere band-aid approach.

No one would argue against the “loyalty, duty, respect, service, integrity, courage” that the U.S. Army’s Ethos and Creed uphold. Yet while the right to dissent is democracy’s hallmark, a soldier must obey without question an order from higher authority. Trump’s model therefore is flawed.

Ignorant of President Eisenhower’s farewell warning that that the “military-industrial complex” would encroach upon the Constitutional safeguard of civilian control, Trump was wrong to cede his authority as Commander-in-Chief to battlefield officers and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Trump was wrong to call the armed forces our cultural icon.

We must question Trump’s course as our leader. He acts from impulse for the sake of his image, a weak man who threatens “fire and fury this world has never seen” against North Korea so some will perceive him as strong; who blames “both sides” for the Charlottesville violence and praises “the beauty of our Confederate statues” to mask his ignorance of racial history; who escalates an unwinnable Afghanistan war so no one will call him a loser.

Ugliness alone lies within what Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens said in 1861, that “The Confederacy’s foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.” Our Civil War soon destroyed Stephens’ “new nation.”

Ugliness stains the Trump Presidency. What has become of our country?

Michael McQuillan, founding member of the Hope in the Cities National Network and former Peace Corps Volunteer, served on the NYPD Training Advisory Council and teaches at the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, Brooklyn, New York.

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