President Joe Biden recently parroted an earlier Democrat, who famously stated, “The Buck Stops Here.” Well, it sounds nice, but no president or high-ranking cabinet official ever faced more “buck” than losing an election or being asked to resign. It occurs to me that “accountability” should involve more than looking for another high-paying job.
I actually do marvel at our system of government. We (sort of) choose our president; he alone determines the people who serve in his cabinet and whom, for the most part, dig our graves (with the blessings of the Senate, of course).
History tends to suggest that cabinet secretaries, particularly those involved in foreign policy and national defense, too often do more harm than good. No matter who these people are (whether they benefit the American people or make matters worse), their product is always associated with the president who appointed them.
For example, American citizens suffered the consequences of the Truman Policy or doctrine, even if Truman had little more to do with it beyond some vague idea that he passed along to a subordinate. Truman’s Policy led to armed conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, where nearly 100,000 Americans died. So far in his administration, Biden’s foreign policies appear to rival those of Neville Chamberlain.
Presidents and their spokespersons often explain policy decisions in this way: “I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to …” They never seem to get around to providing any details, of course, because for the most part, the specifics are none of our business. We still do not know how the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq was in the United States’ national interests. All we know is that thousands more Americans (and coalition partners) died, along with tens of thousands of Afghan/Iraqi civilians. Did either of these decisions benefit the United States or the American people?
The State Department (also known as Foggy Bottom) claims that it has four primary policy goals: (a) Protect the United States and Americans; (b) Advance democracy, human rights, and other global interests; (c) Promote international understanding of American values and policies, and (d) Support US diplomats and other agencies at home and abroad.
Well, the State Department did not protect the United States or its people in 2001. Given the amount of human suffering that resulted from our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, we cannot say that the State Department achieved its second goal, either. None of our allies seem interested in lining up behind our attempts to promote international understanding … in fact, most of our allies shake their heads in wonderment and may even ask themselves, “Who are these idiots?”
In protecting the United States, the State Department argues that it uses diplomacy to address terrorism. Well, again, it hasn’t worked because most terrorists hold little interest in floating position papers with American diplomats. Terrorists are, for the most part, non-state actors who receive the direct or indirect support of states known to sponsor terrorist activities.
We know, for example, that Saudi Arabia sponsors terrorism. They send vast amounts of money to Pakistan, whose intelligence service launders the money and uses it to purchase and distribute arms and munitions to their surrogates — Wahhabists who are more familiar to us as “Taliban.” The Saudis also fund the massive increase in Islamic mosques throughout the western world — physical structures that proselytize Islamic imperatives and recruit madmen to assault western societies.
We also know that Pakistan, in partnership with Saudi Arabia, funnels lethal weapons to terrorist organizations and diverts US Foreign Aid, intended to help feed the masses, into terrorist-centered programs and to help pay for their nuclear weapons platforms. The Pakis also shift US technology to China and North Korea. In essence, Pakistan provides our technology to our potential enemies, who will undoubtedly use these platforms against our armed forces.
Given the foregoing, I can’t understand how our State Department can assert “friendship” with either the Saudis or the Pakistanis. We also know that Saudi Arabia started the civil war in Syria. Yet, we side with the Saudis against the Syrians — and do so for no other reason than to maintain the pretense of Saudi-American friendship. Why? What have Syrians ever done to the American people?
Has the State Department protected the United States and the American people from Saudi-sponsored terrorism? Answer: NO. In fact, by virtue of the government’s reassurances that the Saudis and Pakistanis are our friends, our presidents and State Department have made ongoing terrorism a near-guarantee.
As responsible citizens, realizing that once we elect a president, he alone appoints cabinet secretaries, and armed with the knowledge of recent history, who are these selected people who contrive to make our lives more complex and, in some cases, horribly miserable?
Bill Clinton appointed Madeline Albright as the first female Secretary of State. Her name at birth was Marie Jana Korbelova, a Czech who immigrated to the United States and obtained advanced degrees from Columbia University. Before becoming Secretary of State, she worked as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie and later as an acolyte of Zbigniew Brzezinski on the National Security Council. This made her an “expert” in foreign affairs and a much-sought-after advisor to Democratic candidates.
Today, Albright remains a celebrity and continues to inflict her hubris upon the American people. She believes (even today) that the United States has a moral obligation to interfere in the affairs of other nations. She insisted that the United States was justified in imposing sanctions against Iraq, even if a half-million children had to die due to them.
In defense of this incredible “foreign policy objective,” Academic (with no real experience outside the classroom or air-conditioned NSC offices) Albright asserted, “We stand taller and see further into the future.” There is no evidence to support her claim, but that’s where she was coming from. On the use of military force, she asked Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
As Secretary of State, Albright thought of our service personnel as pawns in a global chess game, readily sacrificed if she determined that it was necessary. But how much “good” has Albright, and others just like her, done for the United States in implementing failed foreign policies? Succeeding Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Rex Tillerson just continued to dig that bottomless hole to contain the human remains of people whom some of us loved.
And then we have other cabinet secretaries, few of which deserve more than our scorn. As Secretaries of Defense, we’ve had Dick Cheney, Les Aspin, William Perry, William Cohen — all of whom we could classify as obnoxious pricks. Donald Rumsfeld had a few good ideas, and he was honest enough to admit to his staff that he was out of his depth about the Afghanistan situation. Still, we cannot offer him or Paul Bremer our gratitude for his handling of the invasion/occupation of Iraq.
Robert Gates may qualify as our best Defense Secretary since 1947, a man who seemed to care most about the injury and death of our forward-deployed combat troops, but I cannot think of one Interior Secretary whose policies substantially improved the lives of our Native American populations.
So, then, where does the buck stop? Do we ever ask, before an election, specifically whom the presidential candidates have in the queue to advise them? If we did ask, would they tell us? And if they didn’t know, should we vote for them? I’m only asking because grasping at straws does not a policy-maker make.
Mustang also blogs at Fix Bayonets and Thoughts From Afar
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