Following is a piece I wrote in 1987 on the Reagan administration’s idiotic intervention in the Persian Gulf. Versions of this piece appeared in USA Today and the Detroit News.
JUST ANOTHER AMERICAN SITTING DUCK
by James Bovard
Sentimentality now appears to be the soul of Reagan’s foreign policy. From charging into the Persian Gulf to wave the American flag – to sending cakes and Bibles and missiles to the Aytatollah’s regime – to rushing to negotiate an Arms control treaty with Soviets – our foreign policy is degenerating into a series of half-witted public relations schemes.
The plan to put U.S. flags on Kuwaiti oil tankers makes about as much sense as making Poland our 5lst state. The U.S. flagging of Kuwaiti ships is reminiscent of the U.S. putting Marines in Beirut – the same lack of clear goal, same lack of foresight, and same lack of strategy.
In Beirut, having our Marines standing tall – albeit with unloaded guns and a dozen other restrictions on their self-defense – was supposed to bring peace to Lebanon. As long as only a few Marines were killed each week, the absurdity was tolerable. But, after a truck bomb blew up the Marine barracks and killed over 200 Americans, the U.S. withdrew.
Freedom of the seas is a valuable principle – but it is a doubtful cause in the Gulf. We will be intervening to protect Kuwaiti ships – while Iraq continues its attacks on Iranian ships. Iraqi’s foreign minister, speaking on American TV on last week, implied that Iraq had no intention of stopping its bombing on Iranian shipping in the gulf.
Jumping into the middle of the Iran-Iraqi war is just one more example of our government’s habit of wandering into a barroom brawl and trying to fight while carefully holding one pinky up in the air.
Why take sides in a fight between two knaves? Iraq may be the lesser of two evils. But what difference does it make if one country’s leaders are destined for the seventh circle of hell, and the other’s are destined for the sixth circle of hell?
Kuwait is one of the richest nation in the world, and could afford to almost buy the the U.S. Seventh Fleet and provide its own protection. This is like the government providing free limo service to all the millionaires in New York City.
The Reagan Administration claims that since the Soviets are providing flag coverage for three Kuwait tankers, the U.S. is obliged to do the same. The Soviets are massacring millions of Afghans. Does that mean we should cross the Rio Grande and knock off a few million Mexicans?
Re-flagging Kuwaiti ships is based on the idea that we must match the Soviets point for point, move for move, in every arena in the world. But, this is both foolish and masochistic…
The key factor now in the Cold War – one little recognized by most commentators dazzled by Gorbachev’s speeches – is that the Soviet economy is slowly sinking. The Soviet Union is increasingly an “Upper Volta with missiles”, as the ECONOMIST termed it. The technological gap between East and West is widening by the month. No amount of minor tinkering will be able to overhaul an incredibly-badly built socialist engine. Soviet economic reforms are based on Hungarian so-called mixed economy – a miserable hodgepodge of measures that means deteriorating living standards in Budapest and soaring foreign debt for Hungary.
Time is on our side – as long as we don’t do something stupid like getting into a war with a bunch of wackos with Exocet missiles and F-15 jets. At the moment, Iran is more a pesky mosquito than a vital threat to our national interest. If Iran actually tries to close the Persian Gulf, then the U.S. and other western powers can conduct a surgical bombing run.
Our national interest requires more than mindless bellicosity in the Mideast, and mindless pacifism against the Soviets. If the best foreign policy is to run up the flag, let people shoot a few holes in it, proclaim victory and withdraw, re-flagging Kuwaiti flags is brilliant. At least for now, it is best to let Lloyd’s of London cover the risks of Persian Gulf shipping.