Ambrose 14 Carter and Human Rights

March 11th, 2015


Yeah old Jimmy Carter, Peanut Farmer from Georgia, had some problems.  Not least of which was his brother Billy (above) who along with selling his name for a model of his pick-up also put his now famous name behind a brand of beer, “Billy beer”.

As far as Jimmy’s presidency and his goals in foreign policy, Ambrose says he was the least experienced, in fp, of the post-wwii presidents, and that his goals were wildly impractical, and none were achieved.  Interestingly he was also the first postwar president who had not been a congressman, but rather had been a governor.  Why does that matter? Its the same song you’ll here in 2016.  Anyone running as a congressperson, like Obama and H. Clinton were, will be accused of never having run a large organization, like the USG before, whereas Governors, like Romney, or Scott Walker of Wisonsin will be accused of having had no experience in USFP.  Governor Palin countered this traditional argument by saying as governor of Alaska she could actually see Russia. (well at least her character on SNL said it)

Back to Jimmy, its a rather long list of problems Carter had.  From arms reduction treaties, to Iran, and don’t forget, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.   Where he succeeded and where and why he failed, might be an interesting start to some comments.


Beyond Vietnam: The Middle East and Africa

March 9th, 2015

Here we have a story with amazing relevance to our world today.  Not just because of Egypt, Syria and the Middle East but also because of South Africa as evidenced by the above recent NY Times article, articulating the painful process that led to the end of apartheid.  That that process did not lead to civil war could be counted as one of its successes, but the time, effort and struggle, and the hypocritical stance of America and American investment (though “small” by Ambrose’s accounting) need to be judged in some way as a great failure.  Not until Jimmy Carter, mentioned briefly here, would we have a promise of a US Foreign Policy based on human rights interest, and not national interest, but the failure of that policy, in the upcoming chapter, would bring no real new results, and frankly bring about substantial challenges which will lead to his resounding defeat by Reagan in 1980 and a three term (Reagan, Reagan, George HW Bush) conservative Republican ascendancy along, broken only by Clinton in ’92 (with the help of Ross Perot) who then faced the “Contract with America” defeat in ’94.

So Ambrose begins by illustrating the Middle East as decidedly indifferent to the Cold war.  That two NATO allies could attack each other (Turkey and Greece over Cyprus) is great evidence that the bipolarity of the Soviet – American conflict held little sway in other parts of the world.  That Egypt, under Sadat would at one moment have Soviet advisers  in his country, and in the next be appealing for American aid, goes to show how difficult this terrain was to navigate with the lens of the Cold War.  Furthermore in this time the Middle East is emboldened by the initial success of Egypt and by the success of the oil embargo which resulted in long long lines in the US, cars wrapped around the block waiting for gas at the few stations that had it, a quadrupling of gas prices, the end of Detroit, the ascendance of the Japanese automotive industry and the federal government’s imposition pictured before, of a nationwide federal speed limit of 55mph to assure maximum efficiency of all cars on the road.

Hint:  if you consider yourself a card carrying environmentalist check your mpg driving normally for a tank of gas, then fill the tank and keep your speed at 55 or below, treat the gas pedal like an eggshell leaving stops (avoid stops) and you will be amazed at the difference.

On to South African we have there an excellent example of national interests in conflict with any legitimate view of human rights, civil rights, equity that serve to show terrible contradictions with America as either a beacon or crusader.  Read the above linked article for a South African view on the lurching policy of America in those years.

Questions to pose here for your comments might include an assessment of why the Cold War didn’t matter in Africa, what was going on in Portugal and Angola and why that matters to this story and anything else you find interesting, confusing, or curious.

Kissinger 29 – Detente and its discontents

March 5th, 2015



I have alwys believed that Kissinger titled this chapter with full knowledge of its allusion to Sigmund Freud’s famous book of 1930, “Civilization and its Discontents”.  In Freud’s book he wrote that individuals and societies are in inherent conflict.  Individuals have certain desires which orderly society must thwart.  I wonder how Kissinger would explain this vis-a-vis “Detente”.

One result of tensions in the middle east was the OPEC oil embargo and the quadrupling of gas prices; hence the mandated 55mph speed limit for all freeways across the country, to save gas.  Should we try this again?

Back to the comparison though.  If Civilization is replaced with Detente, well the Disconents for Freud are individuals.  Who are the Discontents with Detente?  Take a look at the image below and figure out who the little man tugging on Nixon is and I think you’ve got a start.

So what exactly is detente and why don’t people like it?  How does it work and what are some tangible examples that Kissinger offers up?  What goes on in the Middle East, with arms control, eastern europe and the USSR that serve as results of detente and to what end?  Where did this all take us?  One thing to muse over of course is the image in the “Time” magazine article above.  Who is Nixon shaking hands with?  look at the other details of the image and tell us what the cartoonist is trying to say.


Kissinger 28 – Nixon’s Triangular Diplomacy

March 3rd, 2015


Yeah.  He really wanted Elvis as Secretary of State.  Click on link for funny story of their visit.

On a more serious note, “Richard Milhous Nixon inherited near-civil war conditions”.  That quote has always stuck with me .  There is a great book, “1968: The year that rocked the World” that, if you’re interested, really helps get a feel for the trauma of the time.

“Vietnam and beyond” is the title I gave to this unit years ago and it sticks rather well.  Here we get in to Kissinger’s assessment of how Nixon was different, “complex”, and how he pulled the country away, or tried to, from its Wilsonian moorings.  Once again I find Kissinger’s assessment of Wilson complicated.  He seems to say here, that though Nixon did need, he believes, to start focusing on national interests, and allow the old “invisible-hand” to render stability, he appears to have a respect for what Wilson did in his time and how that ushered us through two world wide wars.  I do think though that he feels it was Wilsonianism possibly that took us in to the quagmire of Vietnam, yet Nixon, “shared the great American yearning for a foreign policy devoid of self-interest”.

For all the pundits out there on the conservative right that attacked Obama’s offer to “extend a hand if they (Iran, North Korea etc.) will unclench their fist”, might want to remember that Nixon said much the same in 1969 about the need to talk with China and the Soviet Union, and how those talks helped lead to the final extrication from Vietnam.  Nixon, Kissinger asserted, saw the USSR not as a zero-sum game, but rather as something more complicated.  There is another game he brings into the discussion towards the end.  How does that work?


The Extrication – Kissinger 27

February 27th, 2015


I have never read or heard this anywhere but it is the impression I have always had about this book.  I think it was written for the sole purpose of this chapter.  This chapter would not have worked as an Op-Ed piece or any other stand alone article. Kissinger needed to put his actions and decisions in context.  The context he chose, of Richelieu, Bismark, Wilson and the rest (remember TOK) colors the way this chapter reads in a way that it would not have as a stand alone piece.

Kissinger is wise here to admit his views are necessarily affected by his role in the events.  He paints a dark and depressing mural of events and leaves us with three “lessons” that seem to mimic the “Powell Doctrine”.

So the question is at hand.  Did Kissinger and Nixon achieve the best possible outcome given the situation, or, as Hitchens argues in his “Trials of Henry Kissinger”, did they behave like war criminals?  Putting on your TOK hats try to give some credibility to each side.

Also too look at substantial differences with Ambrose. Remember what Ambrose said about the war protesters?  What does Kissinger say?  Does Ambrose suggest they got in 68 what they could have gotten in 74?  What would Kissinger say in his defense?

Ambrose 12 – Peace is at hand

February 25th, 2015


Is that really the Quote?  I swear I saw that in Ambrose this time but I can’t imagine HK uttering a phrase he would know to be so closely associated with appeasement and Chamberlain and WWII.  Maybe it was some kind of code.

But here he is, a “brilliant”, “megalomaniac”, whose self-confidence knew no bounds.    What else can you make of A&B’s assessment of HK?  Was he a war criminal?



Was he just a doddering old man?

and how was his, and Nixon’s, foreign policy?


Ambrose 11 – Vietnam: Paying the cost of containment

February 23rd, 2015

Vietnam afghan cartoon iraq vietnam bush

The above cartoons illustrate how important it is not just to study history, but to study history carefully.  For those persons ignorant of history (not you) they are at sea without a rudder to steer, but for the casual student of history that “knows” a few “facts” the lessons drawn can have the most tragic consequences. How we know the past and how we know what lessons to learn is not just the stuff of TOK but the stuff of real life.  The past is our only context for threats from ISIS or ISIL or North Korea or from our own law enforcement agencies or from new technologies like private drones creeping over your air space.  Study the past, but study it carefully.

So look carefully here at Ambrose.  How does he compare LBJ’s policies in Vietnam to JFK’s?  About the same right?  Now compare that to what you are going to hear from Robert MacNamara in our wonderful film, the fog of war.  Mac will say JFK was planning on pulling out.  In the film we will hear the voice of LBJ criticizing Mac and the late president for talking about pulling out.

So who is right?  Can both be right?  What does it matter my careful students of history?

What a sad chapter.  The “tragic” figure of LBJ who had done “more for black Americans than any president since Lincoln found himself accused of fighting a racist war with racist methods”.  How had this all come about?  What was the genesis of the debacle, the quagmire of Vietnam that, I would argue has had more to do with our current debates (see cartoons above) than almost any other episode in history?

The Gulf of Tonkin.  Other historians note that LBJ really didn’t want it to happen in 8/64, three months away from the election, as he had promised to keep American boys at home.  Others, Ambrose here, say he “seized the opportunity” to show he was “tough on communism” especially in the face of his opponent, and unnamed target of the daisy ad, Barry Goldwater, who was threatening to use nukes to end the war. Ambrose also argues that there were no voices of dissent in the view to bomb and increase pressure, but gradually.  George Ball is an interesting exception to that that Ambrose and Brinkley don’t bring up.

What they do bring up, counterinsurgency, the “fuzzy legal situation” of “South Vietnam”  Diem’s relationship with his people pictured here;

which Ambrose and Brinkley argue resulted in no reevaluation of policy on behalf of JFK, though they are not without serious opponents of that position (McNamara as we shall see in Fog of war), the “strategic hamlets” , the “best and the brightest“  and comparisons to events in the Dominican Republic and concurrent events in Middle East are all just the beginning of the convoluted story of the US war in Vietnam.

Its a sad chapter.

GOTT 7 – Inside the Soviet Camp

February 17th, 2015


So now we have stretched into the 1980s.  Ronal REagan has been mentioned, your buddy HK in his role as Secretary of State, Jimmy Cater, Gerald Ford and a host of African names as well as Salvadore Allende (pictured) in Chile.

So the million dollar question here is why does Gott claim Castro adhered to the Soviet line.  Why does he not strike a more independent line like Tito?  But then Castro does send troops to Angola and to Eritrea.  Is that not independent?  Yes he does stand with the USSR in Prague Spring, yes he does stand with them again in his invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but he does some things his own way.

The 10 million ton harvest is a huge embarrassment.  One might liken it to China’s Great Leap Forward but without the famine.  Castro needs a new plan and a new team and stands by the aging Soviet leader Brezhnev which the Cubans remember fondly as in those years their economy is growing at a comparatively good place.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows up here.  Do you still read 100 years of Solitude?  Why was he here?

gott 6 – the revolution in power

February 11th, 2015

article-2208342-153462F5000005DC-634_634x354 crisis cuba-blockade-headlines

I don’t know about you but Gott’s treatment of the CMC is a bit odd.  He portrays Khrushchev and Kennedy as “level headed” as though the prospect of nuclear war wasn’t  “real” and the decision in the end was “simple”.  For all of his words there is no discussion of the two letters, of the “knots of war” and the joint chief’s recommendation for an airstrike is dismissed by MacNamara, not Tommy Thompson as in his own retelling, or Bobby Kennedy as in Ambrose.  Castro is well portrayed as being outside the loop and this of course will take him down other interesting paths but not without a “seductive” letter from Khrushchev trying to lure him back into the Soviet camp.

Don’t worry about all of the African names of countries and people or even the names associated with the revolutions in other Latin American countries like Peru and Nicaragua.  Just know that it becomes very important for Castro to give aid to revolutionaries throughout the “Third World”.

“Castro is the blackest man I know”.  Stockely Charmichael 1967.  Give that a little OPVL

The relationship between Cuba and Castro and the American civil rights movement and some of its more radical members who visit the island is super interesting to me.  What do you make of their interaction with one another?



Gott Chapter 5 – Castro’s revolution takes shape

February 9th, 2015


New Book.

New unit.

You have to look things up.

What is the signifigance of the above picture?  Yes that is who you think it is.

The July 26th movement?

Jose Marti?

the Granma?

Herbert Matthews?

Fangio? (kidding, but it is interesting)


the hotel in NYC?

Find all of those references in the reading and you should be set for the quiz!

What I find most interesting here is Gott’s perspective on the relationship between Fidel and communisim.  Hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and then there’s this.  Nixon’s car getting attacked.