First, there’s no guarantee that the people the CIA has identified are, in fact, terrorists. There is no court for assessing evidence and no appeal process if mistakes are made. If some CIA analyst decides someone is a terrorist, that’s it. That’s horrific to me, as a lover of truth and justice.

Second, imagine telling your children that if they have a disagreement with another child at school, they shouldn’t talk, they shouldn’t appeal to higher authorities, they should just kill them. That’s essentially what the United States is doing and teaching by these actions. Shame. 

Third, I’ve been reading a lot about President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy in the last few weeks. He knew that you’d never win a war by firepower alone. If your enemy is hungry, first feed them, then seek common ground. Violence only ever begets more violence.

I talked to someone whose hardcore Republican parents nonetheless talked with great fondness for President Kennedy and felt he was the best president we ever had.

Why? They were immigrants from El Salvador, and remembered how where Reagan had sent guns, Kennedy had sent care packages – caritas – of food to give away to the starving people. That bought more goodwill for America than violence ever did.

His “Alliance for Progress” started as a program to bring economic support to Latin America. The perversion of that program to include police and military training came about after Kennedy’s death. (You can read Kennedy’s original vision for the program, as outlined in this speech, given in the first 100 days of his administration.)

In Indonesia, Kennedy created a plan of economic stimulus and support, which was reversed after his assassination. 

Kennedy was so certain that the way to a better future came from educating and feeding people, rather than killing them, that he created the Peace Corps with the goal of doing just that.

Yemen is so poor its capital city may run out of water within a decade. A third of its population is malnourished. I can’t think of anything more likely to breed terrorism than a population that has no choice but to kill to survive.

That kind of terrorism I understand. I certainly don’t condone it, but I understand that terrorism does not feel like a choice when people are that desperate.

Where Kennedy would have sent food and water, the Obama administration is considering sending “hunter-killer” teams. And the fact that the media can talk so openly about this shows how far we’ve fallen from Kennedy’s vision of America as a benevolent leader. Where is the outrage?

And does it even make sense that anyone in Yemen would be trying to attack the United States?

Yemen is already in conflict with its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is rich, so it would at least make sense that Yemenese terrorists would target their rich neighbor in the hope of winning concessions.

It makes little sense that they would instead take whatever tiny resources they could scrape together in an effort to target the U.S. half a world away. [Indeed, the director of Yemenia Airways has denied that any UPS cargo plane or packages had left Yemen in the 48 hours prior to the alleged bomb shipment.]

I suspect this latest counter-terrorism operation isn’t about trying to end terrorism, which has supplanted “anticommunism” as the excuse du jour for enacting whatever policies Washington wants overseas. As with anticommunism, counter-terrorism is the excuse used for going after other countries’ resources.

When the CIA helped overthrow Iran’s democratically elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, the explanation at the time was that he was suspected of being a communist, but the CIA’s official history gives the first reason as Mossadegh’s nationalization of Iran’s oil industry.

When the CIA then overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz, another non-communist, it was to reclaim nationalized farmlands for American businesses and to show Latin America that further nationalizations would not be tolerated.

In 1990, after Saddam Hussein got an apparent “green light” from President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to invade Kuwait, the Iraqi invasion became an excuse to put U.S. troops permanently in the oil-rich region.

But President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” changed everything. While the United States used to do its empire building covertly, now it’s just a bald imperialist power, trying to establish military bases in other countries all over the world and not surprisingly upsetting many of the locals.

Imagine if China established a military base on American soil. Would Americans become sudden fans of the Chinese? Or would we be angry, fearing our nation had been in part taken over by a foreign power we never invited in? How is it that Americans do not understand that nearly every “victory” abroad won with guns ensures a long-term loss for America?

The Democratic Party’s severe losses on Tuesday were in part a reflection of President Obama’s failure to follow the moral vision President Kennedy once outlined. He showed Americans how to lead with our hearts and thus how to win the hearts of people from other nations.

Unfortunately, those who feel that the only way to lead is with guns now run the show.

Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.  

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