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Sunday, December 10, 2006


Wars of choice

I'm sure there are lot of Americans, especially those who view George Bush as the beginning (and hopefully the end) of all the evil in American history, who think that the invasion of Iraq was the first war of choice the United States has ever launched. In an article predicting the "future legacy" of George Bush, Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth, and that U.S. imperialism dates back nearly to the beginning of the country:
Other presidents had gambled on wars of choice and won. James K. Polk, for example, begged Gen. Zachary Taylor to start a border war with Mexico along the Rio Grande. An ardent expansionist, he wanted to annex land in what are now Arizona, California and New Mexico. Nearly half of the American population in 1846 screamed foul, including Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes for an unjust war.

Yet in short order, Polk achieved his land-grab objective with a string of stunning military successes. Mr. Polk's War was a success, even if the pretext was immoral. On virtually every presidential rating poll, Polk is deemed a "near great" president.

Half a century later, William McKinley also launched a war of choice based on the bogus notion that the USS Maine, anchored in Cuba, had been sabotaged by Spain. The Maine, in truth, was crippled by a boiler explosion. An imperialist, McKinley used the Maine as a pretext to fight Spain in the Caribbean and in the Philippines. A group of anti-imperialists led by Mark Twain and William James, among others, vehemently objected, rightfully accusing McKinley of warmongering.

But McKinley had the last word in what his secretary of state, John Hay, deemed "a splendid little war." In just six months, McKinley had achieved his objectives. History chalks up Mr. McKinley's War as a U.S. win, and he also polls favorably as a "near great" president.
Needless to say, there are many more examples that could have been included.

In case you're wondering, Brinkley's prediction for Bush is less favorable: "barring a couple of miracles, it's safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder."

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