And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
-- Refrain from “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell
There is a God.
Or, put another way, what goes round…comes round.
The suddenly furious debate over Syria has two very blunt problems.
And telling the hard truth. The latter also known as Iran.
Let’s deal first with what can only be called John Kerry’s problems with what might be called a “Bright Shining Lie.”
“Bush Lied” was a lie.
The anti-war left sold this leftist lie like corn flakes…and they had lots of help. And one of the people who recklessly helped sell the notion that “Bush Lied” was his 2004 Democratic opponent -- John Kerry. And another? Barack Obama.
"We were misled. We were given evidence that was not true." So said Kerry in one of his milder moments, giving no credence to the idea that the intelligence provided Bush -- and Kerry himself as a Senator from Massachusetts -- was simply wrong. Bush, said Obama in his campaign book The Audacity of Hope, had deliberately been “shading intelligence reports” and “grossly misstating” the facts of Iraq, refusing, again deliberately, to give “an honest accounting.”
There was, in fact, no evidence that George W. Bush had lied to take the nation into the war in Iraq, as reported afterwards in any number of places, this story written by an editor of the anti-Bush New Republic being but one.
The TNR story was run in the June 16, 2008 edition of the equally anti-Bush Los Angeles Times with this headline:
The White House didn't lie about Iraq
No matter what the Dems say, the evidence against Bush simply isn't there.
Too little, too late. And the “Bush Lied” fairy tale pushed by the Left with help from Kerry and Obama wasn’t helped by the Bush White House itself, with Karl Rove later admitting that it was a mistake to let this story be peddled out there repeatedly without a strong response.
Now John Kerry’s chickens -- President Obama’s chickens -- are coming home to roost.
Watching the travails of today’s-Secretary of State John Kerry as he struggles to explain the Obama administration’s Syrian policy -- at times forcefully, at times haltingly -- reminds of not just his playing the “Bush Lied” game in 2004. The hard fact is that this was the same play that catapulted a young anti-Vietnam War John Kerry to fame in the first place. That time in his famous 1971 speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he infamously accused his fellow soldiers as follows:
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
This incredible slander followed Kerry all the way through his subsequent political career -- effectively ending his quest to be president. American voters unfamiliar with Kerry’s youthful debut, added to his romance with the “Bush Lied” crowd in the Iraq episode, took a pass on making him commander-in-chief.
Alas, Kerry was on to something in 1971. The United States had in fact been lied into war in 1964 -- by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
And while Kerry didn’t mention the specifics of that lie, we’re happy to refresh with an assist from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, published in 1988 -- long after the Vietnam War had ended.
On August 2, 1964, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was engaged by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. There was supposedly a second, similar incident although this was thought to be caused by radar “ghosts.” Within hours, President Lyndon Johnson went to the American people accusing North Vietnam and its leader, Ho Chi Minh, of an unprovoked attack on the U.S. Navy. Using the expression “high seas,” LBJ also wanted to leave the impression that the U.S. was in neutral waters. He quickly went to the U.S. Senate and got a “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” that effectively was used to serve as a declaration of war. By the next year -- in spite of winning re-election on a pledge not to send American boys to fight in Asia -- LBJ was asking for the first of what would become 500,000 troops sent to fight in Vietnam.
The problem? The “bright shining lie”? Or more accurately the first lie?
In fact, never mentioned by LBJ was that the attack on the Maddox was not unprovoked, as he presented. It was in fact, as documented by author Sheehan and others years later, the North Vietnamese response to what was known in the shadows of the Johnson administration as Operation Plan 34A. Described in government memos of the day, 34A was a series of raids that were “destructive undertakings” designed “to result in substantial destruction, economic loss and harassment” to North Vietnam. Combined, all of this was more than enough to ignite the Vietnam tinderbox. The attack on the Maddox was decidedly provoked -- and the entire ensuing Vietnam War, which claimed over 50,000 American lives, was built on that lie.
Combined with the “Bush Lied” campaign in which Kerry and Obama participated, the two have made the job of every American president impossibly difficult when there is a discussion about sending American men and women into war.
Now? In the ultimate irony, Kerry himself -- not to mention President Obama -- is the inheritor of the poisonous legacy of lying that was launched first as a result of LBJ’s deceit and much later the liberal game-playing about Bush’s mistake with bad intelligence.
In one statement after another, using words like “high confidence” and “for the most part,” Kerry and the President are leaving a trail of doubts as to both the credibility of the intelligence in hand not to mention their own credibility in believing it.
The “Kerry Lied” and “Obama Lied” bumper stickers are doubtless already in the design phase somewhere.
What is relevant here to Syria?
Here is Sheehan on the North Vietnamese, bold print for emphasis:
The statesmen and military leaders of the United States did not understand that their Vietnamese opponents had passed beyond intimidation by 1964 and were willing to risk whatever punishment the greatest power on earth might inflict on them…. By 1964, Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong and other revolutionaries in Hanoi were prepared to lose the industries they had constructed with hope and sacrifice. They were prepared to risk having every city and town in the North bombed into rubble and worse. They were willing to risk anything. Ho and his disciples were not engaged in a ‘limited’ war…They were committed to a total war.”
Now what sort of enemy are we dealing with in Syria? And what is motivating a number of the Assad opponents?
That would be radical Islam. Which makes dealing with Ho Chi Minh look like a cakewalk.
Which brings to a hard truth: are we, in fact, even really dealing with Syria at all? Isn’t this situation in fact really about -- Iran?
All of this reminds of the stark differences over fighting the Cold War. Differences that arose not only between liberals and conservatives but between the GOP Washington Establishment and conservatives. Specifically in the latter case, the stark differences between that GOP Establishment and Ronald Reagan.
Which brings us to the second critical point of dealing with truth -- with hard reality.
The difference between LBJ, Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter with Ronald Reagan is as instructive for the Syrian situation as it is critical.
As the Cold War settled in, what also settled in was a status quo of acceptance. Acceptance of the supposed “reality” of the existence of the Soviet Union.
Every American president from Truman through to Jimmy Carter would deal with the Soviets as an accepted fact. The Cold War would never manifest itself in taking on the Soviet Union directly. Instead it always showed up in “hotspots” like Berlin and Greece in the late 1940s, Korea (1950), Hungary (1956) or Cuba (1959, 1961, 1962), Berlin again in 1961, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia in the late fifties, the sixties, and seventies and Afghanistan and Nicaragua in the late 1970s. The status quo would alternate between a crisis at one or more of the hotspots -- and an endless parade of summits, arms control negotiations and finally, the clinking glasses of “détente.”
The Reagan difference?
Reagan put a stop to the policy of “détente” -- of dealing with the Cold War solely through satellite proxy wars while ignoring the actual source of the real problem -- the Soviet Union itself. American policy under Reagan -- who was accused of being a “war monger” and an “extremist” -- changed dramatically to “we win, they lose.”
Which in fact was the basic strategy behind the American victory over Japan, Germany and Italy in World War II, the American victory over Germany in World War I, and in fact every American war victory going all the way back to the American Revolution itself.
Reagan decided to go after the heart of the problem, the Soviet Union itself. There were no boots on the ground, there was no invasion of Russia. There was diplomatic, political, economic hardball -- accompanied by a military buildup that featured what liberals derided as “Star Wars” -- the Strategic Defense Initiative. And in changing policy, for aiming straight at the heart of the Soviet Union itself, as Margaret Thatcher would note at his funeral, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War “without firing a shot.”
The real problem isn’t Syria. That is, as it were, a lie. The real hard truth here is that the problem is Iran.
Syria is to Iran as East Germany or Hungary or Poland and more was to the Soviet Union. When the Soviets collapsed -- Eastern Europe was free.
But what is going on here in all of this hubbub?
As Iran goes about building a nuclear capability, not only thumbing its nose at the world and Obama but openly aiding Syria -- there is no serious challenge to Iran. None. And if the world is horrified by the images of Syrian children gassed with chemical weapons, what will be the response when infinitely more people (definitely make that Israelis) are murdered by the launch of an Iranian nuclear weapon?
The real red line here is the one mentioned ages ago by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: the point at which Iran’s nuclear program needs to be stopped in its tracks.
When there was a brief moment of rebellion in Iran? The Obama White House looked the other way. So the mullahs are still there, now manipulating Syrians -- yet all the attention goes to the puppet as opposed to the puppeteer.
What we have here is a White House whose current liberal occupant, along with his liberal Secretary of State, are simply not believable when they insist that lobbing a few missiles somewhere into some degradable Syrian something is a good idea.
The reason for the incredulity with which Obama and Kerry are received is in considerable measure because both men, with a solid assist from LBJ’s ghost, have thoroughly established in the minds of millions of Americans that when it comes to war -- presidents and their ministers of state lie.
Habitually, routinely, and deliberately.
On top of which, many Americans look at Syria and recall this statement by the young John Kerry in 1971:
...In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart....
Change this young John Kerry statement of 1971 only slightly to update for Syria in 2013 and you have this message from millions of Americans back to now-Secretary of State John Kerry:
...In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in Syria, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life anywhere else in the Middle East after Afghanistan and Iraq by linking such loss to the preservation of American or international or congressional credibility, which those Syrian misfits would supposedly damage, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart....
Which is another way of saying, there are millions of Americans out there who are listening to John Kerry and Barack Obama and hearing ….
Yesterday, President Obama said he hadn't set a red line.
A bright shining lie.
Yesterday, President Obama said he had never set a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.
To borrow from a popular Vietnam-era song by Joni Mitchell?
And the circle game goes round and round.