A Republic And an Empire; Fathers

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:12

    Wouldn't the world be an infinitely safer place if we finally elected a president who didn't know a willy about other countries' business?

    I looked at the policy wonks on loan to Dubya from Poppy Bush and couldn't get the chilling thought out of my head that these guys sure as hell wouldn't flunk any foreign-policy pop quiz foisted on them. And that's the problem.

    There was Reagan's secretary of state and leading "W" tutor George P. Schultz, for example, introducing his new student and lamenting that "our credibility has eroded...our strength has hollowed out." Give that guy a pop quiz and then stand back. I'd bet that, without as much as a blink, Schultz could remember back to when our strength was downright throbbing and he could still name the head of the nun-raping Salvadoran death squads that his administration financed, the commanders of the Nicaraguan narco-contras they trained, the civilian harbor we had mined and even the name of that little Adventureland-sized island we invaded and liberated.

    Throw the names Sukarno, Suharto, Megawati and Wiranto at fellow Bushie adviser Paul Wolfowitz and he'll sort 'em out for you in perfect order. And why not? As U.S. ambassador to Indonesia he coddled and nurtured one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the postwar era?the very same folks who brought us the bloodbath in East Timor earlier this year.

    All in all, the grooming and coaching of George W. by his daddy's stable hands?including Condi Rice?paid off. During this debut foreign policy address, Dubya avoided any embarrassing references to Grecians or Slovakians?though he did seem to slur through pronouncing the words "peninsula" and a couple other multisyllabic words.

    The "substance of the address"?as the media likes to call it?was wholly predictable, late-20th-century claptrap Americana: increased military spending, more billions to be pissed away on a crackpot missile defense system and getting tough on Chinese leaders (no problem that 10 years ago these same wonks who wrote Dubya's speech counseled his dad to kiss the asses of these same Chinese leaders as they were still mopping up Tiananmen Square). The speech was rife with the usual paeans to ever-expanding free trade and the White Man's burden of bringing free markets full of 7-Elevens and 39 different types of scented toilet papers on the point of bayonets to whomever we deemed worthy of our steely?but always humanitarian?attention. My friend Christopher Layne?a self-described Taft Republican and a wonk in his own right?after seeing the speech said: "Bush is defining as a threat to the U.S. anyone who does not accept our ideals. This is simply about preserving our dominance over the entire international community." I could go on, but I think the late, great Phil Ochs summed it all up very neatly when he crooned, "The name for our profits is dee-mock-rah-see?So like it or not you will have to be free."

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to stampede you toward a more snuggly Al Gore by suggesting that George W. is some sort of dangerous warmonger. My problem with Bush's foreign policy is that it is too much like that of Clinton-Gore.

    Indeed, Bush's problem is that as hard as he might try to pose as the glinty alternative to Democratic wimpiness, in reality it's no easy trick matching the bellicose legacy being carried by Gore. This administration has simply been one of the most interventionist on record. Consider these startling statistics compiled this month in Harper's by the fine writer Bob Shacochis: The Clinton-Gore administration ordered an average of one million-dollar cruise missile fired every three days since the 1993 inauguration. During this same Clinton-Gore period, there have been 27 large military deployments, costing at least $20 billion. During 1998, the Army's Special Operations Forces by themselves ran 2500 missions in more than 100 countries, deploying 35,000 troops. And at the beginning of 1999, the U.S. fielded seven engaged Army deployments somewhere around the world.

    Ponder those figures. Ponder the on-again, off-again bombing of Iraq, the blind attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, the pounding of Belgrade. And ponder George W.'s endorsement of the same strategies that produce these disgraces and the conclusion is inescapable. Give me a president who doesn't know a Somalia from a tamale, a Mogadishu from a marshmallow or an Iran from an orangutan and we?the whole world?will sleep a lot safer.

    Marc Cooper is a contributing editor to The Nation.


    Fathers by Lucian K. Truscott IV It's dawn, and I can see the barest little wink of daylight over the Franklin and Silverlake hills outside the window of my writing room here in Hollywood. They're saying on the radio it will be 80 and sunny today and tomorrow, which is a good thing, since we are having the West Point women's basketball team and their trainers and coaches and escort officers tomorrow for Thanksgiving. There will be 35 of them from West Point, and 10 or 12 more from the neighborhood, and we've been counting on the weather so we won't have to pack the Amazons and freeloaders neck to Nikes into the dining room and foyer and sun room. We've been planning and mixing and cooking since Monday. I raided a neighbor's persimmon and avocado trees yesterday for table decorations. When the team gets here tomorrow, they'll be coming straight from a practice over at Cal State Pasadena. I'm going to line them up in the backyard and thank them for helping me achieve one of my oldest dreams: turning our home into a mess hall.

    One of the mess hall cooks will be AWOL tomorrow. My dad is in a hospice up in Seattle with my sisters, dying. He's got a fast-growing brain tumor. My sister called last night to tell me how angry he is that he's missing Thanksgiving with the cadets. He graduated from West Point in '45 and spent 27 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. But he was an Army brat, so it's probably more accurate to say that he spent 45 years in the Army, more than half of his life. He was never much of a rah-rah West Pointer. He greeted the news that women would be entering West Point in 1976, for the first time since 1802, with an enthusiastic cheer, an opinion shared by few of his contemporaries, or mine.

    It was his ability to look life in the eye and come to difficult and often painful conclusions that made him something of an iconoclast as an officer, and a wonderful father over the course of our 52 years together. He didn't turn away from hard decisions, and he taught me that you can never stop enriching your life by making mistakes and having the backbone to learn from them.

    Because he was unashamed of his own foibles, he was generous and understanding of others. This did not come easily to a man who was the son of a four-star general who was about as forgiving and patient as a wharf rat in heat. One time as a cadet I received a letter from Dad in Vietnam. He commanded a Mechanized Infantry battalion in the Delta. He told me of having discovered while still Stateside that one of his lieutenants was a crossdresser. Apparently he was in full drag in a Kansas City bar and made the mistake of trying to pick up a major, not realizing the man was an officer. The major discovered the lieutenant's identity and reported him to my father. The lieutenant was married and had a kid. He was also what my father called "a fine soldier," about the highest compliment he could pay. Dad wrote that they sat and talked for a while, the lieutenant trying to explain the apparently unexplainable.

    Finally Dad realized that he was listening to just one more explanation of the unexplainable in a lifetime of having done so as a troop commander. How did a master sergeant explain hitting his wife? How did a major explain his affair with another officer's wife? They had only a few weeks before they loaded up the 113s and shipped out to Vietnam. Dad told the lieutenant to knock off the crossdressing and get back to his platoon and get them ready for combat. He wrote me how glad he was that he hadn't thrown the book at him: When they got to Vietnam, the crossdressing lieutenant turned out to be his best combat commander. Dad quickly promoted him and gave him a company. He wrote something about how you could never really figure troops out, so the best thing to do was try to help them be good soldiers.

    We were at a press conference in one of the House office buildings on Capitol Hill in January of 1993 when he faced a bank of news cameras and told another story I hadn't heard before, about a young sergeant in his platoon in Korea who took a machine gun and held off a Chinese human-wave assault, killing 40 or more before he was shot dead. Dad said that the rest of the platoon was able to retreat and counterattack, that because of the heroism and sacrifice of his sergeant they suffered no other casualties. The sergeant was slight and effeminate, and the rest of the guys in the platoon called him faggot and sissy-boy. Dad said when they recovered his body, they stood on that hilltop in Korea and wept openly, all 25 of them. That was why he had come to Capitol Hill to lobby for gays in the military, he told them, as tears coursed down his ruddy cheeks.

    Because he was a soldier and a damn fine one, and in our Army, that's all that matters. Soon we'll bury him in the graveyard at Monticello next to my mother, and when I give the graveside service, I'm going to tell his story about the sergeant in Korea again. He was a father and a damn fine one, and in our family, that's all that matters.

    Lucian K. Truscott IV is at work on his new novel, The Boys of St. Julien, which will be published by William Morrow next year.