The Politics of Simulopting
Does Washington possess a consistent set of foreign policy principles? Barack Obama has adopted the Kennedy practice to guard himself from political defeat by trying to look tough in the pursuit of war.
Does Washington possess a consistent set of foreign policy principles? Presidents make war – without having Congress declare it as per the Constitution – and re-assure the public that they have chosen military interventions based on moral values. The public tends to back Presidents who make wars without analyzing their motives – like creating an image of strength, useful in re-election campaigns.
In Obama’s re-election quest, he seems to return to a method of President Kennedy’s: simulopting.
“Simulopting,” my friend Marcus Raskin explained, was Kennedy’s decision-making process. He promised, for example, not to withdraw US military advisers from Vietnam, so as not to appear weak. Simultaneously and secretly requesting plans to downsize out of that Asian “mess” -- after he won the 1964 election. Withdrawing from war would have inspired Republicans to label him “weak.”
To resolve the “Cuba issue,” Kennedy’s brother Attorney General Bobby, assumed the task of eliminating Fidel Castro. Simultaneously, JFK sent French journalist Jean Daniel, who met with Castro on November 22, 1963, with Kennedy’s wish list for a peaceful resolution. Minutes after the meeting began, an aide notified Castro of a radio news bulletin recounting an assassination attempt on Kennedy.
Ironically, on that same day a high CIA official delivered to a Cuban agent in Paris a sniper rifle to kill Castro. Simulopting!
Bobby Kennedy, who had collaborated with Mafiosos to kill Castro – the Mob would get its casinos and hotels back -- while his older brother hanky pankied with one of their molls. Bobby even began to prosecute them. “Simulopting with chutzpah,” remarked a former Kennedy aide.
When difficult issues arise, throw conflicting options to the bureaucracy, and one side or the other will prevail. The political elite, Sunday preachers and media stars seemed unconcerned over such seeming unethical decision-making procedures. Old-fashioned American pragmatism. If it works invoke some principal to justify it! Reality rules!
In 1960 or 2008, the most important post election issue became how to win re-election. Kennedy inherited US military “advisers” in South Vietnam from Eisenhower to prop up the US-created Saigon government. Some fifty years later, Obama, inheriting Afghanistan from Bush, showed muscle: a “surge” of troops, while simultaneously opting to soon withdraw troops.
Obama’s critics and even some supporters had called him wussy. He proved his strength (vicariously) when US Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden, thus achieving W. Bush’s original objective there. And, Obama asserted after announcing the withdrawal of 10,000 troops and more to come: “the Afghan people,” asserted Obama on June 22, “will be responsible for their own security by 2014. We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.”
Neither hawks nor doves discussed the absurdity of sending in more troops and then pulling them out without much gain. Because surging or un-surging are means to win re-election, not war.
Endless counterinsurgency in Afghanistan with uncertain forces on its borders appears foolish. But Republicans would jump with joy if Obama called for immediate withdrawal. Realists recognize the poor odds of our obtaining strategic objectives, but Republicans would spin withdrawal as “weakness”-- deadly in an election campaign.
Look at the problems US presidents had in extricating themselves from Vietnam. Afghanistan – and Iraq – illustrated the lesson Presidents refuse to learn. One former US commander quipped after the Vietnam War: “Never fight anyone who can fight back.”
Politicians and journalists don’t ask: who invited us to intervene in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? Who demanded we kill millions of their people and lose more than one hundred thousand of our own, and spend an unspeakable amount of money?
To leave Afghanistan, Obama might discard the Kennedy model and look instead to another method of fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Henry Kissinger.
In August 1972, Nixon worried about how to get out of Vietnam.
“Let’s be perfectly cold-blooded about it,” Nixon said. “I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably is never gonna survive anyway… [C]an we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam?”
US policy could survive Saigon’s fall, Kissinger opined, if it “looks as if it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we sell out in such a way that, say, in a three-to-four month period we have pushed President Thieu [S. Vietnam] over the brink…” What Washington needed, Kissinger continued, was “some formula that holds things together a year or two, after which… no one will give a damn.”
Cynical, bloody, immoral? Some Afghans might even “give a damn” about drones, errant bombs or careless NATO soldiers that whacked their loved ones. By 2018, in Washington, however, Obama will, like W. Bush, have faded into the semi-amnesia realm. The first African American president presided over bad economic times, wasn’t known as Captain Courageous and did or didn’t do something in or to Afghanistan.