Sabre-rattling American politicians should make rest of world nervous

BACK in the first week in January four prominent American political figures raised the need for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The issue was followed up this week in an article by Mikhail Gorbachev calling for urgent action.

It was nice to hear from him again. In time, Gorbachev will no doubt be accorded his true place in history.

The four prominent Americans who initiated the whole thing were Henry Kissinger, National Security Council adviser and secretary of state under presidents Nixon and Ford; George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan; William Perry, secretary of defence under Bill Clinton, and Sam Nunn, former chairman of the powerful Senate Military Affairs Committee.

Maybe they are all yesterday’s men, but their message is clear. In his popular TV commentary slot on CBS’s Sixty Minutes this week, however, Andy Rooney ridiculed President Bush over repeatedly mispronouncing the word ‘nuclear’ in his state of the union Address.

“He always calls it ‘nucular’ ”, Rooney complained. “It makes you wonder how he graduated from Yale”. Yea!

As a Harvard professor in the 1960s, Kissinger warned that if the Americans did not keep their word to the Saigon government, nobody would trust them. Countries like India, Pakistan and Japan would not believe the US would defend them against external aggression.

They would therefore develop nuclear weapons, and this would lead to disastrous nuclear proliferation.

His arguments seemed to make good sense, but the problem was he was also saying, in effect, it did not matter that the US was supporting a government in South Vietnam that was refusing to hold free elections.

The Americans had set up the Saigon government to prevent the free elections supposed to be held throughout Vietnam in 1956 in line with the Geneva Accords.

The US blocked those elections because, in the words of President Eisenhower, he never talked to anyone who knew about the area who thought Ho Chi Minh would win less than 80% of the vote.

The Vietnam War, as it developed in the 1960s, was one of the greatest acts of terrorism witnessed in human history. The big lie then was that Americans were fighting for democracy against communism, but they were actually subverting democracy.

Today they tell us they are fighting terrorism. But they have ignored their own terrorism. A whole series of war crimes have been alleged against Henry Kissinger.

The CIA published evidence suggesting he was involved in the 1970 murder of the head of the Chilean army, Gen Rene Schneider, because the general would not allow his own military to overthrow the democratically-elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

Schneider made the mistake of defending the democratic will of the Chilean people against the interests of American big business and the Nixon administration. The Schneider family took a lawsuit against Kissinger in the US, but the courts refused to hear it. The family appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but last year it refused to hear the case. Were the Schneiders naive in thinking they could get even a hearing from the US Supreme Court, much less justice?

In July 2001, the Chilean High Court granted a judge investigating the 1973 killing of American journalist Charles Horman the right to question Kissinger. Horman — the son of a very famous American college footballer — was murdered by the Chilean military, and there have long been suggestions that his murder was actually authorised in Washington. The whole sorry saga was the subject of ‘Missing’, a 1982 film starring the late Jack Lemmon.

The Chilean judge’s questions were sent to Kissinger through diplomatic channels, but he did not even have the common decency to reply.

In recent years, courts in France, Brazil, Chile, Spain and Argentina have sought to question Kissinger in connection with suspected war crimes. He is now essentially confined to the US.

As the anti-war movement was gathering force during the early 1970s, Nixon made the mistake of indicating he was not going to be influenced by the size of the protests. This reaction ensured that even more people turned out. The president is in charge of foreign policy, but it requires the approval of Congress to declare war.

Congress approved the Iraq war, and now its only way of stopping Bush is to cut off the money for the war. But this would mean cutting support to US troops while they are in danger and this could provoke a strong backlash at home.

IN 1970, Senators George McGovern and Mark Hatfield proposed to cut off funds for the Vietnam war by the end of that year in order to effect a complete withdrawal by mid-1971. It became known as the Amendment to End the War. The Democrats were in solid control of both Houses of Congress, but the amendment was defeated 55 to 39.

In June 1971, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling for the removal of US troops from Vietnam by the end of the year.

The French have a saying “plus ca change, plus ce’st la même chose”, which means the more things change, the more they stay the same. There has been talk all this week of similar resolutions in Washington. The Democrats regained control of Congress in the November elections, but they have only the barest margin in the Senate, and it would seem unlikely that anything other than a non-binding resolution would be passed at this time.

The American people may have turned against the conflict, but the constitution is clear that the president manages the war. Congress has no authority to direct the campaign, and Senate resolutions suggesting how the campaign should be conducted are mere political posturing, usually designed by politicians with presidential aspirations.

Anyone who would seek to use the war for his own political purposes should be considered dangerously ambitious.

Prior to the Afghan and Iraq wars, the US was involved in four major wars in the past century— the two world wars, the Korean War in the 1950s and the Vietnam war in the 1960s and ’70s. All were followed by massive political backlashes.

There were ‘Red scares’ following the two world wars. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer instituted a reign of terror from 1919 to 1921, and the House Committee for UnAmerican Activities went on the rampage after World War II until its chairman, J. Parnell Mitchell, went to jail for fraud.

Following the Korean War it was the turn of Senator Joe McCarthy, whose name came to symbolise the excesses of the era until he became only the third US senator to be censured by his colleagues. In the wake of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate scandal.

During the Gulf War, George HW Bush had the highest popularity ratings of any president, but little over a year later he was unceremoniously dumped by the electorate. Bill Clinton withdrew American troops from Somalia in October 1993 after 19 of them were killed, and he later become only the second president to be impeached. Of course, he avoided conviction but, in the scale of things, his impeachment was like a sick joke.

The world should now be bracing itself. The posturing has already begun in Washington, and God only knows what kind of lunacy we will witness next in the United States.

Europe should take the initiative in relation to nuclear weapons.

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