Questions for America from Down Under

Concern from afar.

I've seen it all before: American and allied troops engaged in a deadly asymmetrical war far away from home, and while they are off fighting and dying, the usual suspects are emerging from the woodwork in protest movements.

I read right across the American political spectrum as a matter of course.  You have a new, untried president, just like in 1960 but the difference is that there is no sign of Camelot or any other mythical kingdom. The difference is that this man is of mixed blood and has polarized the public in record time, according to some in the US press.

It is not for me to sit in judgment on US politics but my respect for the US is generally speaking unstinted.  Certainly I don't agree with a lot of what I hear about Obama being a Marxist, a communist, a Muslim, and foreign-born (and therefore an illegitimate chief of state) and while the right fans these ideas, their mirror images on the left are already feeling betrayed.

It is usual for a president to have at least 100 days in office before the first judgments are made, but many had made up their minds in advance that President Obama is not going to lead you into the Promised Land but into a New World Order, a term that had very sinister undertones during the Cold War.  Like our new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the President has found himself with economic turmoil and problems not of his making; and to compound the matter, he has shown disturbing signs of being different from any past American president, exactly as he promised but not quite as many hoped.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis quite clearly as I was living very close to a base that had Thor intermediate range missiles (IRBM) standing vertically on their launch pads, with liquid oxygen (LOX) fuel being pumped through an inlet valve, then through an outlet and round again while an icy coat formed on the body of the missile.  Like its bigger brother, the Atlas, these missiles could not be stood vertically because their light skin and framework could not take the weight: only the added fuel gave them stability on the pad.

The weather was unusually fine for October in 1962, although the air was crisp and the LOX gave the impression of steam rising from the missiles.  The sky was full of the sound of jet engines and my fellow officers; we watched as Britain's V-bombers circled high in the sky leaving contrails.  B-52s were constantly in the air and if memory serves me correctly, the odd B-58 Hustler was sighted now and then, along with fighter jets.

Although the Bay of Pigs fiasco appeared far away, those nine days at the end of October 1962 seemed like an eternity at the time.  We had seen the start of the space race and remembering how tense international affairs became.

Our view of Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth in May 1961 was very guarded and we cheered lustily when Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space - albeit in what we aficionados referred to as a "lob shot," not an orbit, but up and down safely in a Mercury capsule so small I could scarcely believe it when I saw one at a museum in the US.  (No wonder there were no 6'4" astronauts in those days!)

Working on the first UK satellite project, I had no doubt that President Kennedy's pledge that the US would: "...before the end of this decade of land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth" would be realized.  After all, our American allies had the legendary Wernher von Braun working for them, the mastermind behind the V-2 rocket which was undetectable in World War II and landed just over a ton of warhead quite literally out of the blue.  I was less than a mile away from one that flattened houses and shops and I can remember looking at the smoking ruins.

School tended to blot out memories of the war for quite a while but I'm old enough to remember US bombers heading off to Germany in box formations after being mustered by a brightly-painted yellow B-17 Flying Fortress, known I believe as the ringmaster, which delivered terror to the Nazis by day while the Royal Air Force pounded them by night.

I also remember those returning as my grandfather and I sat and watched in the late afternoon.  Usually, quite a lot returned, not in formation but in smaller groups, and then came the stragglers with three engines or sometimes two, trailing smoke and occasionally flame.

I remember the sadness when my beloved aunt's fiancée failed to return from one of these raids.  Iris passed away a few years ago and we were in touch and to the very end: I was the son she never had.

I was a child of war, born during World War II and raised during the Cold War until I joined the fight against the enemy in what was seen as a just war.  Despite the pathetic bleating from the left, the Cold War or World War III was a just war.  Visit Eastern Europe, look around and ask the natives of those countries who are suffering economic hardship at present; Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and even Germany, traditionally an industrial powerhouse.  Poverty with freedom is far better than poverty under tyranny.

I read with some sadness of the closing of the Tempelhof airfield just outside central Berlin; I knew people who had flown on the great airlift that lasted nearly a year from 1948-49 when cargo C-47 planes, known to us as the Dakota, filled the skies.

The inauguration of JFK and his wonderful speech, which challenged the nation, resonated with my age group: it appeared to be a worldwide appeal.  I have a copy in print and a recording of those words which were seemingly betrayed by an assassination and then smeared with innuendo.  However, at the time, and in uniform, it appeared to be a speech for the times.

The new president was tested by Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna and then with missiles in Cuba.  It doesn't matter how many books I read or TV documentaries watched, to us at that time it felt like our fate dangled by a single thread.  Most of us in the NATO countries were heartily relieved when, to quote a famous British statesman, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Relieved for several reasons, not the least being that we escaped being nuked, we calculated a fast walk to the nearest pub would enable us to down a couple of drinks before the first incoming missile hit - there was insufficient time to get home.  Those were very dark days and nights and our relief at the settlement was palpable and somewhat booze-sodden.

So back to Barack Obama who has inherited economic problems that appear to defy the comprehension of many economists.  I have never seen so many column inches devoted to the ideas of those who believe the solution is more of what we had before and those who would tear down everything.  Churchill's observation rings truer today than ever before: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

While I fully agree that government cannot and should not be responsible for our lives from the cradle to the grave, we invest awesome power in our leaders and they never fail to disappoint, one way or another.

Like all national leaders, the President of the United States has inherited the control of government of the country, albeit more circumscribed by the powers of states.  There appears to me to be a current "hate Obama" campaign running through the body politic and it appears to touch every corner of every city, town and precinct in the US.  It barely seems possible that he has been President for four months.  I will not launch into a diatribe about some of his policies but if I were American citizen, I'm very much afraid I would be concerned.

In an effort of reconciliation he reached out to the government of Iran and presumably some backdoor diplomacy is ongoing.  By and large, the Iranian leadership reacted to his overtures in the same way that one of the principal leaders of the Taliban reacted: with laughter and scorn.

Politicians have to have thick hides but humor and demolition by ridicule is one of the worst fates imaginable.  We had a Prime Minister who was mercilessly ridiculed and hounded into electoral defeat in the 1970s, at a rather inconvenient time, but it must be said that he made his own bed and the electorate threw him into it or rather out of it.  If Obama's recent speech to Latin American leaders and their reaction to it is any guide, I fear he is foredoomed to failure.

Obama's friendly outstreched hand to Cuba is every bit as hazardous.  The last time there was any so-called rapprochement with the Cubans, American reaped the benefits in receiving criminals, the sick and the disposable from el Jefe, Señor Commandante Fidel Castro.  I can't help wondering what the CIA and the FBI would make of a more open-door policy, especially when the US is confronted by an increasingly hostile Latin and South America, where Castro is no longer alone in his Communism: Venezuela with its tin-pot tyrant Hugo Chavez, cloaks crude Marxism as "Bolivarianism."

Down Under, we have Australia-Venezuela friendship societies which are nothing more than the front organizations so familiar during the Cold War.  The Australia-Cuba Friendship Society flourishes in those cities where South American refugees from so-called fascist regimes are found.  The Free World has lost the propaganda war in much of the Western Hemisphere and it's not a pretty sight.

On the other side of the world, the road to Kabul leads through Karachi and Islamabad.  Pakistan is in a parlous condition; practically a failed state and I noted with interest that Richard Holbrooke has called for increased support for both the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

There can be no rapprochement or detente with the Taliban, despite the views of Obama's optimists.  How can there be any common ground with a group for whom barbarism is not merely a way of life but a command from God?

If I may be allowed the luxury of one last Churchill quote, it is:

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

I am very much concerned that in dealings with Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the public of Western democracies who already oppose the war will begin to depict it as an unjust or immoral war, when in fact we are fighting for our very existence.  I am shaken by the entirely unnecessary stigmatization of returned veterans who have joined extremist groups (a tiny number) by Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, with supporting "evidence" conveniently lodged in the New York Times.

So those terrorists who are sworn to give their very lives to kill innocent American civilians are "man-caused disasters," but your returning soldier-heroes are to be treated as suspected terrorists?  Day is night; black is white; wrong is right.  The world is turned upside down. To use one of my own favorite expressions, this is the very fabric of nightmares.

The one thing that has impressed me about President Obama to date is that he used Navy SEALs - expert marksmen - to take out pirates holding the skipper of an American ship off the Somali coast.  Unfortunately, I have also seen suggestions that the President was guilty of near-terminal procrastination.  Time will tell who is correct, but could taking out the pirates be the first sign of a president not prepared to sit idly by while citizens of his country are held hostage by people who are in every sense an enemy?

Perhaps he should have a quiet word with his Secretary for Home Security, because apart from vilifying returned soldiers in a manner suggestive of the reprehensible soldier-hatred of the Vietnam War protest movement, she has made one of the most asinine comments that has ever been my misfortune to come across.  When she stated: "In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur," she revealed her unfitness to hold office. Another quote springs to mind as I have come to the conclusion that she should resign: "she is without honor or courage and that is our enemy's greatest advantage."

I'm very sorry, Madam Secretary, but I don't buy weasel words from anyone, even those with your responsibilities.  A terrorist is a terrorist, is a terrorist and there is no distinction.  You should either know better or be counselled.

So should Mr. Obama, whether the terrorist be wearing a turban, a balaclava, a hoodie, or the tailored suit of a two-bit dictator.  But now he is the Decider, as George W. Bush so memorably put it.

What will he decide - and what will be the price we pay for his decision?

Christopher Marlowe is a retired intelligence operative from a major NATO nation.  Read other articles by Christopher Marlowe or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
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