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The Ruses for War: American Intervention Since World War II.

Does American intervention abroad always involve cynical motives?

Did you believe The New York times story that the Bush administration was maneuvering to invent a pretext to bomb Iraq during the Republican National Convention? The notion seemed so absurdly transparent that it was tempting to accept White House assertions that the story was a fantasy. Yet while complaining that the Times had hit below the belt by suggesting vulgar political motives in war, Bush officials also said something that escaped further notice: They protested that the Times account revealed national security information. In the standard catch-22 arrangement, the White House refused to comment on what the breached information might have been. But what security information could possibly have been in that story--except the operational details of a plan to bomb Iraq on pretext during the Republican National Convention?

If you presume that vulgar motives normally underlie great affairs of state, The Ruses for War(*) is the V book for you. In it, John Quigley, a law professor at Ohio State University and author of Law After Revolution and other books, argues that every American use of force or proxy force in the postwar era has been venal.

It's distressingly easy to show crass American conduct in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Laos, and Cambodia, to name a few. Quigley makes the premise universal by asserting, for example, that the Korean War was entirely a cynical gimmick. In Quigley's view, the Soviet Union had no interest in North Korea; after all, it could have seized the whole Korean peninsula in 1945 if it had really wanted to. The Korean War itself was provoked by the grasping South. MacArthur retreated in the early months not because North Korean troops were pressing him but as a trick to create sympathy in Washington for the idea of dispatching a large offensive force to punish the godless Communists. The northern army pursued MacArthur only with contrition. "Unprepared for an extended campaign in the South, [northern forces] needed a full week to regroup after taking Seoul.... [T]his lack of preparation for a sustained offensive cast doubt on whether the northern army had initiated the fighting," Quigley writes. The Chinese didn't want to fight either, but were suckered as part of an American master plan.

The Ruses for War does a fine job of interpreting events in the light least favorable to Washington, but rarely rebuts or even mentions opposing interpretations. That the North Korean army was busily destroying another country's cities and seizing its territory sounds rather like a venal motive on the other side. Maybe it was understandable that the Chinese didn't believe American assurances, diplomatic or military, that U.S. forces would never cross the Yalu River into China. But not only did U.S. forces not attempt to cross the Yalu before the Chinese attacked them, there is no evidence that President Truman ever authorized a crossing--a fact that, not supporting Quigley's master plan theory, is not analyzed.

Quigley's instinct for his book topic is a sound one, for a scorecard of American intervention since World War II is not a pleasant thing to behold. The United States has bombed, invaded, used force in, or underwritten wars in Angola, Cambodia, the Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, and Vietnam. During the same period the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and underwrote wars in Angola, Ethiopia, and Vietnam. Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe gives the old USSR, overall, the less attractive record, but it is an unhappily close comparison.

And Quigley is right to be angry about the occasions on which American idealism has been shunted aside. The 1989 invasion of Panama, for instance, continues to be one of our country's dark hours. It is amazing both how little outrage the invasion engendered from the American population and the media, and that Panama has no standing whatsoever as an issue in the 1992 presidential campaign, though it is a leading item on which George Bush's record ought to be judged.

Between 400 and 2,000 civilians died in our attack on Panama: unarmed, innocent citizens of a country we like. Though the invasion was, for public relations purposes, named Operation Just Cause, Bush has never explained in a convincing way what the Cause was, and if the presidential campaign is any indication, he will never be pressured to explain. There were several cases of summary execution of Panamanians. Our side razed damaged civilian houses to prevent them from being photographed. U.S. forces dug mass graves to bury civilian casualties of the fighting around the Panamanian Defense Force headquarters building, concealing the bodies before they could be identified and counted.

U.S. forces dug mass graves. We like to think that American troops always behave in a moral fashion, as they did during the Gulf war. In Panama they did not. Yet Bush and the Pentagon shrugged this off by refusing to comment on casualty figures, and the media promptly dropped the question. The strongest chapters of The Ruses for War demonstrate Quigley's wrath about both Panama and the continuing silence of even Democrats about this shameful episode.

The Ruses for War falters badly, however, when it attempts to depict the sort of dishonorable behavior of the Panama invasion as a ubiquitous theme in American military action. Quigley is angry not just about Panama and Guatemala, but about Bush's sending fighters to buzz Manila in support of Corazon Aquino, an action that harmed no one and kept a popularly elected leader in power against a military coup. He even finds outrage in the posting of Marines off Liberia during the rebellion against Samuel Doe, though the Marines were there only to help Americans escape, and ended up remaining aboard ship.

Quigley is at his worst when analyzing the Gulf war. Saddam, he says, had "specific grievances" against Kuwait. Saddam was merely trying to redress these grievances; the United Nations should have allowed him to resolve them in his own colorful way. Saddam's buildup of forces on the border to Saudi Arabia was an innocent military training exercise unrelated to any craven thoughts. And lest we forget, Saddam was revered in the Gulf as "the first Arab leader in a generation to stand up to the humiliation represented by continuing U.S. support for Israel." Somehow this makes his attack on Kuwait okey-dokey.

Quigley has not a single negative comment to offer about Saddam's human rights record, his dictatorship at home, or his atrocities against Kuwaiti, Kurdish, and Shiite civilians. Quigley notes that Kuwait was created by the British at the end of the Ottoman days and might very well be a natural province of Iraq; so why should fits right-wing royalist dictators have international protection? But Quigley does not mention that Saddam's objective was to replace Kuwait's royalist elite with his own, even worse form of dictatorship.

To slant his case further, Quigley discards the international aspects of the Gulf war. On January 16, 1991, "the [Bush] administration launched a blistering aerial attack against Iraq." Five weeks later, "President Bush launched a ground assault on Iraqi forces." What about the British, the French, the Italians, the Pakistanis, and everybody else who sent aircraft and soldiers to the Gulf? What about the U.N. authorizations for use of force? In the Ruses for War, action against Saddam was strictly an American vendetta.

Credibility Gulf

In the end, after depicting American use of force as invariably corrupt and in service of secret ends, Quigley offers no explanation of the purpose of the conspiracy. In his closest approximation of an explanation, Quigley writes, "The United States has fashioned a set of interests for itself around the globe, largely stemming from commercial activity. Our companies are everywhere, buying and selling, making investments, digging mines, cultivating cash crops, and setting up assembly lines that employ cheap labor." This is the standard leftist explanation for American misbehavior, and because cases like Guatemala show that is contains an element of truth, the notion cannot be dismissed easily. But what commercial purpose was served by the bombing of Libya? What business interest did we have in Grenada? If corporate plutocrats are inherently sinister, why did their puppet Bush support the democrat Aquino over the military that sought to replace her?

A better hypothesis is that the military policies of a flawed but generally idealistic country like the United States are driven by a variety of forces, some admirable, some less than admirable. A book that gives equal weight to the good and bad of American motives would, ultimately, make a stronger case against the bad than a one-sided work like The Ruses for War.

(*)The Ruses for War: American Interventionism Since World War II. John Quigley. Prometheus, $25.95.

Gregg Easterbrook is a contributing editor at Newsweek, The Atlantic, and The Washington Monthly.
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Author:Easterbrook, Gregg
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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