As you were no doubt already aware, the annual federal holiday commonly referred to as “Presidents’ Day” was observed on Monday. With the level of history knowledge being what
it is in today’s apathetic and generally culturally deprived twenty-first century America, how many folks realized that the day was originally set aside to commemorate the birth of George Washington? Of course honest Abe Lincoln’s birthday came and went on the twelfth of this month, and it used to have its own holiday in my state (California, back then) before Abe’s day was blended into Presidents’ Day to make room for a holiday devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr. every January. Washington’s real birthday was on the 22nd. On Tuesday, kids went back to school and life went on as usual, with most citizens reviewing the calendar only to see when the next government sanctioned day off would arrive. Easter is late this year, occurring on Sunday, April 17th. Chances are most schoolchildren didn’t give George Washington a second thought this year or any other. To most neophytes in the U.S. today, the Revolutionary War leader and first president was little more than an old man whose face appears on a one-dollar bill and possessed wooden teeth and once, according to legend, chopped down a cherry tree. Why does any of this matter? Because halfway around the world right now Russian forces are allegedly pouring across the border into neighboring Ukraine. President senile Joe Biden has gotten much political mileage from claiming that Vladimir Putin’s boys (and girls?) were primed to roll or fly over the line in tanks and assorted attack machines intent on conquering the territory to the south and west.
I can’t tell you how many thousands of miles away the conflict is from us, but if you planned a visit to the region, it would involve long hops over oceans and numerous connecting flights to reach the destination. There’s very little reason why an American would travel there unless you’re Hunter Biden journeying to personally pick up another check or you emigrated to the U.S. from that part of the world last century and still have family there. Lots of smart people on TV say we should worry ourselves over an aggressive Russia and a semi-helpless Ukraine (it’s not helpless). Some even suggest if we don’t get involved there it means we don’t care about the world anymore. In a piece titled “The End of 'America First'?”, #NeverTrumper extraordinaire Bill Kristol wrote at The Bulwark:
“[T]he Biden administration will in this crisis have to lead a nation divided. And not merely a nation divided, but a nation one of whose two major parties, led by our most recent former president who is also that party’s probable next presidential candidate, will likely go out of its way to oppose what must be done to meet the challenges we face.
“It would be nice at this moment of crisis to have a constructive and loyal opposition party. Alas, ‘this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.’
“This makes it all the more important that those Republicans and conservatives who are willing to be constructive and loyal speak up for American world leadership. That they speak up against the demagogues in their midst whom they have failed for too long to repudiate. That they show what it means to shun the partisan and pernicious rhetoric of ‘America First’ and instead act genuinely to put America first.”
What about leading by example -- advocating one’s own national interests and staying out of everyone else’s business? It doesn’t make one an “isolationist” to disdain military intervention, does it? Keep all those embassies in Washington, D.C., just assume that American boots won’t be marching in the mud of Ukraine and eastern Europe. What’s so complicated about that?
I’m often confused by what Kristol and his fellow neoconservatives believe is in America’s best interest overseas other than it involves spending massive amounts of borrowed dollars on the military, maintaining a large standing army and expressing a willingness to use the expensive and sophisticated war-making hardware along with some combination of living and breathing Americans to operate it upon and kill the enemy.
Said enemy is heretofore defined by a bunch of he’s and she’s on Capitol Hill and in the big White House down the street from the towering white marble building in the center of the city. The politicians claim to know a ton about motivations and foreign countries and how to preserve “democracy” for the rest of us among the sheep-like governed.
I have a political science degree but must admit the study of foreign governmental systems was the most boring part of the course of study. Likewise was the Cold War history and the back-and-forth between the postwar United States and Soviet Russia. I was much more enthralled by WW II battles and campaigns and twentieth-century generals emulating George Washington, not conferences in Yalta or the struggle between isolationists and the military industrial complex.
Our elected representatives and senators wear business attire, deliver lots of speeches, seek out cameras, talk to journalists and say all sorts of crazy things that the human beings in the other party believe are wrongheaded and dangerous. They might have foreign policy credentials and diplomas from large and exclusive universities where they studied different forms of government yet still call most countries “democracies” even though they don’t resemble anything like what they learned in the classroom.
The United States isn’t a “democracy”, is it? Republic! Republic!
Ukraine is a democracy? According to whom? Didn’t Vladimir Putin win an election to obtain his office? Is that democracy? I don’t know a heck of a lot about the way leaders in Russia and Ukraine are chosen. I’ve never really cared, frankly. We appropriate money in a “defense” budget, don’t we? What’s defensive about getting caught up in a war thousands of miles from our shores?
George Washington was renowned for his practical wisdom and uncanny ability to work with disparate political factions within his own country, but perhaps his most enduring lesson regards American relations with foreign nations. Washington felt Americans should always place the interests of the nation over their political and regional affiliations -- which basically means, stay out unless you absolutely have to. America First! And if not, make the foreign venture only temporary:
“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.”
There’s been a lot of chatter from Kristol and the neocons as well as senile Joe Biden and Democrats about respecting NATO and our alliances. NATO was formed to protect the rebuilding western European countries from the Soviet Union after World War II, when the communist military threat was still unparalleled and the “free” countries needed time to reach the point where they could better defend themselves as a united group.
That time came and went long ago. Donald Trump was one of few Republicans willing to stand up and speak out against the more recent Republican inclination towards intervention and nation building, a philosophy that’s led to thirty-plus years of entanglement in the Middle East, and to what avail? Wouldn’t simply adhering to Washington’s words from all those centuries ago have been easier? NATO isn’t temporary; and it’s not really useful any longer. Think about Washington’s admonitions. George W. Bush was a neoconservative, just like Bill Kristol and his ilk. Will George W. Bush -- or his father, George H.W. Bush -- be given his own holiday years from now because he overextended America’s reach all over the globe and helped bankrupt our country in the process?
Seems to me Kristol objects to Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy because the outsider New Yorker dared disagree with the Bush-ian viewpoint and commit to stationing U.S. forces everywhere there’s a Vladimir Putin-type dictator. Kristol compares “America First” to the lead-up to America’s delayed entry into World War II, but is this fair? In 2022, Russia’s economy is a fraction of the size of western Europe’s and its population couldn’t sustain a long war with NATO or any other organized power. Besides, what would Putin gain from trying to reconquer and hold western Europe, something that hasn’t been done since the Roman empire?
Is Vlad hoping to be the next Roman emperor, Vladimus Putinus?
Kristol’s argument might have carried more weight if he hadn’t already gone so far overboard in his overt hatred of Donald Trump. Trump was right; people listen to him. The GOP has changed from the times when Bill Kristol and like-minded colleagues had a lot of influence. No longer.
Most Americans don’t even want to consider a military intervention in Ukraine. Russia’s actions don’t have much or any effect on us here. They’re not going to try and takeover all of western Europe, either. America’s leaders should honor our vital needs first. If Bill Kristol and his ideological soulmates really want the U.S. to fight, send them straight to the front lines.
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