Who’s betrayed their country?
A dictionary definition of asset is: a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality. The word has been much in the news lately. Usually coupled with “Russian,” it’s a favorite smear of establishment stalwarts like Hillary Clinton and establishment media like The New York Times. It’s been directed against President Trump, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and others who question the US’s interventionist foreign and military policies.
By implication, anyone who is an asset of a foreign country places the interests of that foreign country ahead of their own country’s. The term is especially odious when appended to a country commonly considered an enemy. Examining US foreign and military policy the last several decades, an unasked question is: to whom or what has that policy been “useful or valuable”? Establishment attacks on Trump and Gabbard serve to clarify who has actually been assets for unfriendly governments, and it’s not Trump or Gabbard.
At the end of WWII, the US was at the apex of its power and no nation could directly challenge it. After the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, the two countries settled into the Cold War stalemate that lasted until the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. Actual use of nuclear weapons was considered potentially catastrophic, to be avoided by either side except to counter a nuclear strike—either preemptively or after the fact—by the other side. They were not considered a battlefield weapon, although there were elements of the American military command, and probably the Soviet command as well, that at various times advanced consideration of battlefield use.
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The rest of the world’s nations tried to protect themselves under the American or Soviet nuclear umbrellas. Both countries’ confederated alliances—essentially empires—were based on that ultimate protection, but the very unthinkability of nuclear weapons’ use meant that other calculations entered into governments’ and rulers’ calculations of strategic advantage. Just because a nuclear power wanted something or desired a certain outcome didn’t necessarily mean a nation had to comply, especially if the envelope was not pushed too far. Were you going to drop the bomb on a country that nationalized your oil company?
The fundamental failure of both the American and Soviet leadership was to recognize a simple lesson of history: more resources and energy are required to maintain an empire than the resources and energy that the empire can extract from it. Empires are inevitably victims of their own success. As their geographic boundaries expand arithmetically, the challenges of defending borders and subjugating conquered territories expands exponentially. Loot from the colonies fuels corruption among the rulers, who typically buy off the peasantry with a bread-and-circus welfare state. Taxes rise, the state grows, money is debased, the work ethic and productivity crumble, and decadence and internal rot metastasize. Eventually the empire succumbs to revolution, invasion, or both.
Empires never win the hearts or minds of all of their conquered subjects, and some resist. Nowadays, all but the poorest of the subjugated can avail themselves of inexpensive computing and communications. Expensive offensive weaponry and large numbers of troops can be destroyed or rendered inoperative by cheap rockets and artillery, improvised explosive devices, mines, drones, and other deadly gadgetry. The locals always know the territory and language better than their conquerers and can usually count on the support of the civilian population.
The successful attack on a Saudi oil facility, allegedly by Yemeni Houthis, is unprecedented because drones were used, the target was not military but industrial, and it was on the would-be conqueror’s home territory. In the larger picture, however, it’s merely the most recent manifestation of a trend that has been going on since at least the Vietnam War: the destruction of the expensive with the cheap. The US’s multi-billion dollar power grid, say, could be brought down through a combination of sabotage and computer hacking that would probably take less than twenty dedicated “revolutionaries” and under $100,000. That too would be unprecedented, but not really surprising.
Those who have called the shots for the US since World War II could have grasped the ultimately futility of empire from even a cursory reading of history. They’ve certainly had that lesson borne home to them by their own experience, if not from the Korean War then certainly from the Vietnam War. By now, it’s obvious that empire and US interventionism has been a net loser for the US, which can no longer be said to be at an apex of unchallengeable power. If its policies have been a net loss for the US, does that mean they have been a net gain for those the US defines as its enemies?
In 1953, a coup sponsored by the CIA and Great Britain’s MI6 deposed Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, and replaced him with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, an autocratic and repressive US government puppet. He was deposed in 1979 by Shia fundamentalists, who set up a theocratic regime aligned with neither the US or the Soviet Union, although decidedly hostile to the US.
Without reviewing the tangled history of US-Iranian relations since 1979, it’s fair to say that they’ve remained hostile. It’s been the fondest hope of the US foreign policy establishment and its allies in the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, to unseat the theocratic regime and install another American puppet. With the exception of the Iranian nuclear agreement abrogated by President Trump, there has been little comity between the two countries’ governments. Within the Trump administration there are officials who openly talk of waging war and fomenting regime change. The administration has resorted to harsh, punitive sanctions against both the country and many of its key figures to effectuate their objectives.
Yet, “enemy” Iran has clearly been the biggest beneficiary of US policy in the Middle East. Iranian intelligence, military, and political elements have infiltrated and gained influence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, all nations against which the US or its Saudi Arabian or Israelis allies have waged offensive war. A potential “Shia Crescent” from Iran to the Mediterranean, cited as a danger justifying US interventions, is now a reality not in spite of, but because of those interventions. Iran’s standing in the Middle Eastern has not been this high for at least the last several centuries.
US hostility has also driven Iran into the loving arms of Russia and China for weapons, industrial and financial aid, and markets for its oil. This is not the only instance that Russia and China have been the beneficiaries of the US’s maladroit moves in the Middle East, Indeed, their Belt and Road initiative, spanning Asia and the Middle East and now extending to Eastern Europe and Africa, has been ideologically midwifed by the US. Nations have been offered a choice: US bullets, bombs, and bullying, or Chinese and Russian infrastructure funding and expertise.
The Chinese and Russians aren’t acting from altruistic motives, but the recipients realize that and what America offers isn’t altruistic either. Choosing the former is an easy choice with few negative consequences. What will the US do to nations that choose to enter the Russian-Chinese orbit, start dropping nuclear bombs? Take on Russia or China? The case of Syria—in the Russian orbit since the 1940s—is instructive. The US couldn’t foment its desired regime change there, although according to Obama we were fighting the “junior varsity.” Once the varsity—Russia—entered the picture it was all over for the US effort.
Even if there were no Belt and Road Initiative, the Russians and Chinese, now cast as the US’s great power enemies, have reaped enormous benefits from the US’s interventions in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Having stepped away from conquest, except for potentially the “conquests” which creditors exact from debtors who cannot pay (a favorite US stratagem), Russia and China have been able to devote substantial resources to their own infrastructures and the development of high-tech weaponry that renders any US government impetus for military confrontation with them delusional (see “The Illusion of Control, Part 1“).
Every yuan and ruble not spent on US-style interventionism, and every drop of blood not spilled, is money and manpower available for pursuits far more rewarding than intrigue, sabotage, skullduggery, corruption, regime change, war, and the infliction of collateral damage on populations who, sensing the would-be conqueror’s indifference to their plight, often become terrorists, refugees or both—”blowback”—raising the butcher’s bill even higher. Let the US and its allies bear those costs.
If US foreign and military policy for many decades has been a detriment to the US and a benefit to those the US government terms our enemies, particularly Russia, China, and Iran, are not the architects and proponents of those policies actually the “assets” of those countries? That such a group includes virtually the entire US establishment doesn’t mean that the question shouldn’t be asked, nor that the answer is not in the affirmative. Keep in mind that it is this group that has lately been throwing around terms like “assets,” “traitors,” and “treason.” In light of the clear benefits they have bestowed on the enemies of their choosing, how can intellectual turnabout in light of the actual results of their policies not be fair play?
It wasn’t Donald Trump or Tulsi Gabbard who authorized the US’s failed wars and regime-change efforts. Unlike most of her critics, Gabbard fought in some of them! That Trump continues such efforts justifiably elicits condemnation, but he’s been in office less than three years and America’s malevolent misadventures have gone on for over six decades. During that time, he’s been one of the few prominent figures to even question them, and he’s been roundly criticized for it.
The trillions of dollars spent and the millions of victims killed and wounded, whose lives have been upended, both from our own military and the nations we’ve devastated or destroyed, demands what we’ll never get—a comprehensive investigation, a thorough accounting, and justice blind to the positions, wealth, and power of the people responsible. It requires a clear-eyed assessment of how much they have benefited our enemies—and themselves—and that will mean, in all justice, calling them what they are: enemy assets, traitors guilty of the darkest treachery to their country.