When will they ever learn?

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By Allan S. B. Batuhan

Foreign Exchange

Friday, August 15, 2014

PETER, Paul and Mary, for those of you old enough to remember “flower power,” immortalized these lines during the time of another social upheaval, the Cold War:

“Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”


Back then, the US was sending its young men to Vietnam and (secretly, at least) to its neighboring countries, to counter the spread of communism. The lyrics to the band’s song are a haunting reminder of the futility of war, and to the lament that for all the horrors of conflict that man has experienced, we still have “never learned.”

All that is over two generations now, and yet, it seems the US still has never learned. Just witness what is now happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, and notice the parallels. Perhaps it is hard to see because the causes for which these protagonists are fighting seem to be different. Back then, it was communism, and the fight for national independence. Today, it is wars fought in the name of religion—a “clash of civilizations,” as avid historians like to point out.

But dig a bit deeper, and the connections become more apparent.

In its zeal to halt the “domino effect” spread of communism in Southeast Asia, the US was only too willing to ally itself with all kinds of despots and tyrants, just so it will have a presence in this part of the world. As a result, it is seen by the native populace as evil, since it props up the local despot that is oppressing them. Vietnam wasn’t just all about ideology – it was also a backlash against the tyrannical South Vietnamese rulers who ran the country like their own plaything.

This “mistake” seems to be a recurring theme of US foreign policy. The Shah in Iran aganst the clerics. Saddam Hussein against the Soviets. And recently, Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq – against their own people. It didn’t seem to matter how bad and how corrupt the men, as long as they were for the US, American support was theirs.

Trouble is, such short-term thinking only brings more bad news further down the line.

Karzai’s Afghanistan and Maliki’s Iraq are no better than the rulers they replaced. The only difference is, they have some sort of allegiance to the US, where their predecessors only had scorn.

And yet, this is what is driving the US further and further into conflict.

As a result of the ineptitude of Karzai and Maliki, their citizens have now woken up to the fact that the US does not really care whether the leaderships they support are good or not, as long as they are for America. And as a result, sworn enemies of America like ISIS and the Taliban have swarmed in to fill the vacuum.

Oh America, how easily you forget.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

(http://asbbforeignexchange.blogspot.com & http://twitter.com/asbbatuhan)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 16, 2014.


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