Own Goals and Compromise American Style

            The United States is a great nation, but it is not perfect.  It has accomplished many great deeds along with its share of disasters. 

            We are fast approaching the fifty year anniversary of one of America’s biggest own goals, the overthrow and murder of South Vietnam’s President Nho Dinh Diem, on November 1, 1963.  This coup, in which President Kennedy and United States Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge played major roles, accomplished one of the major goals of the North Vietnamese, our enemy in a war the US had been pursuing for a decade.  This weakened the South Vietnamese government to the point where American military intervention was required to stave off defeat for a decade.

            Similarly, George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein was another own goal.  Getting rid of Hussein was one of the major war aims of the Iranians in the eight year long Iran – Iraq War of 1980 – 1988.  Like Diem, Hussein had been our ally. 

            Both the overthrow of Diem and the ousting of Hussein were policies determined, not by military necessity or self-defense, but by domestic political considerations: Kennedy’s need not to be seen as a supporter of a Catholic military dictatorship in a predominantly Buddhist nation; and George Bush’s desire to pander to domestic supporters of Israel, to strike back at Hussein for humiliating his father by remaining in power after Operation Desert Storm, and his need to conceal his own illegitimacy, ignorance, and incompetence through a war of choice against an almost helpless developing nation.  When foreign policy becomes the tool of domestic partisan politics, disaster is close at hand.

            Just as overthrowing Diem strengthened the North Vietnamese, getting rid of Hussein immeasurably strengthened Iran.  Obama’s refusal and inability to try and rectify Bush’s mistake by military means in Syria has moved the conflict from the military to the economic sphere; just in time for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to set up a punt that will result in a spectacular own goal.

            The United States Constitution was created primarily because the United States was not paying its debts.  Now, the Republican majority in the house is threatening non-payment of debts as a pressure tool in a domestic political dispute.  Can any objective observer doubt that disaster would result?  This is the Republicans holding their breath until they get their way.

            Threatening the destruction of the government and nation for domestic political purposes has never been in the American tradition.  When the Constitution was being debated, abolitionists had to swallow, not only the continued importation of slaves for twenty years, but the enumeration of slaves as three-fifths of a person (although they could not vote) which actually increased the power of the slave holders.  The north swallowed these indignities in the name of national unity; because everyone understood that united we stand, divided we fall.  This unity was born out of common military service in opposition to Britain.

            In exchange, the commercial interests demanded a system of sound money and taxation, viewed as a potential tool of oppression by the farmers, north and south.  But the biggest conflict was over enumerating personal rights in the Constitution.  The big debate was over whether to ratify the constitution without these rights, and then amend the constitution after ratification; or whether to prevent ratification until the desired rights were included.

            In short, the debate over ratification of the constitution was the same, almost identical, to the current debate over reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling.  During the debate over the Constitution, many people proposed a term limit for the president and a religious test for holding public office.  The Republican majority in the House today holds the same basic positions as those who opposed the Constitution 225 years ago: that the United States should be a religious state (anti-abortion, pro-Israeli annexation of illegally occupied and conquered lands, marriage between a man and woman only, anti-homosexual) and against a strong taxing power of the federal government.

            Next Wednesday, the voters of New Jersey will head to the polls to pick a new United States Senator.  The contest is between Cory Booker, Democratic Mayor of Newark, the state’s largest city, who basically supports President Obama’s agenda and is opposed to the government shutdown; and Steve Lonegan, the former Mayor of Bogota, who totally embraces the Republican House agenda and is urging the House majority to hang tough and not reopen the government until New Jersey has voted.

            This is the only plank in Lonegan’s platform with which I agree.  Let the voters of New Jersey decide whether or not to have an open government, the implementation of Obamacare and, if the Affordable Health Care Act has problems, to solve them with the government functioning and its bills paid, like the first ten amendments were added to the Constitution, rather than prevent the ratification of the constitution until all objections were satisfied or whether to shut down the government unless the Affordable Health Care Act is repealed.

            But given the corruption of the two-party system, there is no way the people in Washington will allow these problems to be decided by the voters of New Jersey, or anywhere.

            This conflict and the tactics used by the Republican majority of the House point to an unfortunate truth: there are no permanent victories in politics.  These conflicts, these so-called life and death issues (with the exception of war which really is a life and death issue for many, many people) are just a momentary failure of perspective.

            If the Affordable Health Care Act is so terrible, it should be allowed to go into effect, then the problems will emerge and then the law can either be fixed or repealed, as the Catastrophic Health Care Bill of 25 years ago was repealed.  The insistence on threatening the survival of the country over a domestic political issue is a failure of perspective.  People are mortal, we all come to an end eventually; but hopefully, the United States is eternal and its better values triumphant.

            The Marshall Plan, and the aid to Greece and Turkey Act, was passed by a Republican Congress under a Democratic president.  When Congress was filled with veterans from World War II, individual members, even from different parties, could work together in the name of peace because they had seen the slaughter of war first hand and watched their friends die.

            The ideologues in the Republican caucus of the House are primarily men born in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s who were never subject to the draft and who never spent two seconds doing anything for anyone other than themselves.  They are war mongers who kept themselves out of harms way.  Are they capable of scoring a spectacular own goal for the United States?  You bet.

            But I don’t think they will.  Rather settle and live to fight another day, than let the voters in New Jersey have the final say.  So, the problem should be solved before next Wednesday. Q.E.D.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf