A U.S. history of abandoning allies?

I wrote this post originally when Islamic State was still ascendant in Iraq.   The U.S. and allies have defeated  ISIS for now, but the post is still interesting.  Here it is:

Most of us agree we should stand by our friends, and that we should keep our promises. However, the U.S. has a decidedly mixed record in doing this. I will look at that record, but the reason to really think about it are recent events:

Lets start by looking at our record in picking friends, and standing by them.

In an article “What Really Happened at the Bay of Pigs” Humberto Fontova tells this story:

“They fought like tigers,” writes the CIA officer who helped train the Cubans who splashed ashore at the Bay of Pigs 53 years ago this week. “But their fight was doomed before the first man hit the beach.”

Grayston Lynch
Grayston Lynch

That CIA man,Grayston Lynch, knew something about fighting – and about long odds. He carried scars from Omaha Beach, The Battle of the Bulge and Korea’s Heartbreak Ridge. ..Lynch trained, in his own words, “brave boys who had never before fired a shot in anger” — college students, farmers, doctors, common laborers, whites, blacks, mulattoes. They were known as La Brigada 2506, an almost precise cross-section of Cuban society of the time. The Brigada included men from every social strata and race in Cuba—from sugar cane planters to sugar cane cutters, from aristocrats to their chauffeurs. But mostly, the folks in between, as befit a nation with a larger middle class than most of Europe.

Short on battle experience, yes, but they fairly burst with what Bonaparte and George Patton valued most in a soldier: morale. No navel-gazing about “why they hate us” or the merits of “regime change” for them. They’d seen Castroism point-blank.

…[They knew of the Mass graves that] dotted the Cuban countryside, piled with hundreds who’d crumpled in front of Castro and Che Guevara’s firing squads….

“Where are the planes?” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios two days later. “Where is our ammo? Send planes or we can’t last!” Commander Jose San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead. Crazed by hunger and thirst, his men had been shooting and reloading without sleep for three days. Many were hallucinating. By then many suspected they’d been abandoned by the Knights of Camelot.

…”If things get rough,” the heartsick CIA man Grayston Lynch radioed back, “we can come in and evacuate you.”

“We will NOT be evacuated!” San Roman roared back to his friend Lynch. “We came here to fight! We don’t want evacuation! We want more ammo! We want PLANES! This ends here!”

Adm. Burke [pleaded with John F Kennedy] “Mr. President, TWO planes from the Essex! (the U.S. Carrier just offshore from the beachhead)” that’s all those Cuban boys need, Mr. President. Let me order…!”

JFK was in white tails and a bow tie that evening, having just emerged from an elegant social gathering. “Burke,” he replied. “We can’t get involved in this.”

“WE put those Cuban boys there, Mr. President!” The fighting admiral exploded. “By God, we ARE involved!”

Admiral Burke’s pleas also proved futile.

The freedom-fighters’ spent ammo inevitably forced a retreat. Castro’s jets and Sea Furies were roaming overhead at will and tens of thousands of his Soviet-led and armed troops and armor were closing in. The Castro planes now concentrated on strafing the helpless, ammo-less freedom-fighters.

“Can’t continue,” Lynch’s radio crackled – it was San Roman again. “Have nothing left to fight with …out of ammo…Russian tanks in view….destroying my equipment.”

“Tears flooded my eyes,” wrote Grayston Lynch. “For the first time in my 37 years I was ashamed of my country.”

So what is the lesson from Fontova’s account? I think it is that if you encourage people to fight, and say you will back them, you have to do just that. You can’t have a strategy of deniability – that you are not behind their efforts. You have to do what it takes.

Then there was the Vietnam debacle. It was certainly a terrible and long war, and we lost 58,000 soldiers in it. We also put a general, Westmoreland, in charge of the war, a man who believed in a strategy of attrition and body-counts, which was not the way to fight guerrillas. In addition, for quite a while, we did not arm the South Vietnamese, except with cast-off World-War II equipment, because we were going to do the job ourselves. So the South Vietnamese did badly in their confrontations with the enemy, and their morale deteriorated. (We never learn, because a few years earlier in the Korean war we did not arm the South Koreans, for fear they would attack the Communist North, and so when the North attacked, they were overwhelmed)

When we finally pulled out of Vietnam, we made promises to the South Vietnamese. Those promises were not kept, because the Democrats in Congress cut off funding.

Historians have directly attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid. Without the necessary funds, South Vietnam found it logistically and financially impossible to defeat the North Vietnamese army. Moreover, the withdrawal of aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin an effective military offensive against South Vietnam… Historian Lewis Fanning went so far as to say that “it was not the Hanoi communists who won the war, but rather the American Congress that lost it.”

The NVA began its final assault in March of 1975 in the Central Highlands. Ban Me Thout, a strategically important hamlet, quickly fell to North Vietnam. On March 13, a panicked Thieu called for the retreat of his troops, surrendering Pleiku and Kontum to the NVA. Thieu angrily blamed the US for his decision, saying, “If [the U.S.] grant full aid we will hold the whole country, but if they only give half of it, we will only hold half of the country.” His decision to retreat increased internal opposition toward him and spurred a chaotic mass exodus of civilians and soldiers that clogged the dilapidated roads to the coast. So many refugees died along the way that the migration along Highway 7B was alternatively described by journalists as the “convoy of tears” and the “convoy of death.” 6On April 21, President Thieu resigned in a bitter televised speech in which he strongly denounced the United States.

So what is the lesson here? If you do get involved in a war, then make sure you get feedback, not just from an inept General in charge, but from the few officers who are succeeding in the field. And don’t shortchange the allies who eventually will be left with the burden of defending themselves. And don’t defund those allies.

But wait a minute. What about the Iraq war?  Didn’t we arm the Iraqi army to the hilt? And didn’t we spend a huge amount of money over there? Didn’t we sacrifice for many years, losing limbs, as Glenn Beck says, and worse?

That raises the following issue. In Iraq, former president George W Bush says in his book “Decision Points”, Maliki told him that his Shiite constituents didn’t want any Americans there. So the friendship of our allies was problematic to begin with. And later events showed that the Sunnis did not want to fight for a Shiite dominated government that had already accused two Sunni politicians of treason.

But let’s continue with another example of American ambiguity to an ally:

In 1973, Israel almost ceased to exist. It was attacked by Egypt from the south, and Syria from the north. The U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, tried to withhold arms from – Israel! It was President Nixon, a man who ranted anti-Jewish epithets, who countermanded this. In delaying the arms supply to Israel, Kissinger now says he wanted to signal to Egypt and Syria that the U.S. was not interested in humiliating the Arabs. He wrote in “Years of Upheaval”, he had thought Israel would get out a little bloodied, but still win the war. But…

In view of the losses Israel was taking on October 6 and for the first week of the fighting, Israel was losing the war. Had this happened, the entire population of Israel would have been slaughtered Nazi style by the Arab haters. In face of these developments, Kissinger, himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, refused to supply Israel with the ammunition and weapons needed to defend themselves. It was only when the then Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, appealed directly to President Nixon and also threatened to use the atomic bomb that Israel was given the needed tanks, guns and ammunition to turn certain defeat into victory. In fact, General Ariel Sharon and his troops crossed the Suez Canal and came within 50 miles of Cairo when Kissinger threatened to cut off all aid to Israel unless they retreated back to the Suez. Israeli troops had surrounded 50,000 Egyptian troops and utterly defeated both the Egyptian and Syrian armies….

Although Kissinger held up arms shipments to Israel, he told the Israelis that the then Secretary of Defense, Schlesinger, was responsible for the delays. He also told Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Minister of Defense, that the Soviets were about to attack Israel with nuclear weapons. This was not true, but led the Israelis to agree to Kissinger’s demands.

So what can we learn from this? Here one man in the State Department lied several times to an ally, and tried to weaken that ally. You cannot play such games with allies who are faced with the prospect of total annihilation.

In the same region of the world, we gave really bad advice to the leader of Iran, according to an article by James Perloff.

We know that Iran is now a radical Islamist state, with government meetings often starting with the chant “Death to America.”

However, suppose a progressive, pro-Western regime ruled Iran, representing no threat? ….. Yet many forget that, until 30 years ago, exactly such a regime led Iran, until it was toppled with the help of the same U.S. foreign policy establishment recently beating war drums.

From 1941 until 1979, Iran was ruled by a constitutional monarchy under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s Shah (king).

Although Iran, also called Persia, was the world’s oldest empire, dating back 2,500 years, by 1900 it was floundering. Bandits dominated the land; literacy was one percent; and women, under archaic Islamic dictates, had no rights.

The Shah changed all this. Primarily by using oil-generated wealth, he modernized the nation. He built rural roads, postal services, libraries, and electrical installations.

Long regarded as a U.S. ally, the Shah was pro-Western and anti-communist, and he was aware that he posed the main barrier to Soviet ambitions in the Middle East. A voice for stability within the Middle East itself, he favored peace with Israel and supplied the beleaguered state with oil.

On the home front, the Shah protected minorities and permitted non-Muslims to practice their faiths.

Houchang Nahavandi, one of the Shah’s ministers and closest advisers, reveals in his book The Last Shah of Iran: “We now know that the idea of deposing the Shah was broached continually, from the mid-seventies on, in the National Security Council in Washington, by Henry Kissinger, whom the Shah thought of as a firm friend.”…

Suddenly, the Shah noted, the U.S. media found him “a despot, an oppressor, a tyrant.” Kennedy denounced him for running “one of the most violent regimes in the history of mankind.”

At the center of the “human rights” complaints was the Shah’s security force, SAVAK. Comparable in its mission to America’s FBI, SAVAK was engaged in a deadly struggle against terrorism, most of which was fueled by the bordering USSR, which linked to Iran’s internal communist party, the Tudeh. SAVAK, which had only 4,000 employees in 1978, saved many lives by averting several bombing attempts. Its prisons were open for Red Cross inspections….

For Western TV cameras, protestors in Teheran carried empty coffins, or coffins seized from genuine funerals, proclaiming these were “victims of SAVAK.” This deception — later admitted by the revolutionaries — was necessary because they had no actual martyrs to parade. Another tactic: demonstrators splashed themselves with mercurochrome, claiming SAVAK had bloodied them……

Meanwhile, internationalist forces rallied around a new figure they had chosen to lead Iran: Ruhollah Khomeini. A minor cleric of Indian extraction, Khomeini had denounced the Shah’s reforms during the 1960s — especially women’s rights and land reform for Muslim clerics, many of whom were large landholders….

The Carter administration’s continuous demand upon the Shah: liberalize. On October 26, 1978, he freed 1,500 prisoners, but increased rioting followed. The Shah commented that “the more I liberalized, the worse the situation in Iran became. Every initiative I took was seen as proof of my own weakness and that of my government.” Revolutionaries equated liberalization with appeasement. “My greatest mistake,” the Shah recalled, “was in listening to the Americans on matters concerning the internal affairs of my kingdom.”

… “Air Force General Robert Huyser, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, was sent to pressure Iran’s generals into giving in without a fight.” “Huyser directly threatened the military with a break in diplomatic relations and a cutoff of arms if they moved to support their monarch.”

…U.S. officials pressed the Shah to leave Iran. He reflected:

You cannot imagine the pressure the Americans were putting on me, and in the end it became an order…. How could I stay when the Americans had sent a general, Huyser, to force me out? How could I stand alone against Henry Precht [the State Department Director for Iran] and the entire State Department?

He finally accepted exile..

When the Islamists took charge, at least 1,200 Imperial Army officers, who had been instructed by General Huyser not to resist the revolution, were put to death. Before dying, many exclaimed, “God save the King!” “On February 17,” reported du Berrier, “General Huyser faced the first photos of the murdered leaders whose hands he had tied and read the descriptions of their mutilations.”

What is the lesson of this? If you see an allied leader as an obstacle to Democracy, and a person who is alienating people you want to court, take a look at the opposition first. Are they humane? Are they believers in freedom? Is your allied leader being portrayed to you accurately? Does he trust you? Does he support the West? Should you really throw him under the bus?

Back to Iraq:

Philip Dermer served in Iraq, and says this:

A former colleague with whom I served in the coalition forces in Iraq recently sent me one of the slick YouTube productions by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, now rampaging through the country. I was extremely reluctant to watch the video by this al Qaeda spin-off. I was already depressed about the chaos in Iraq, given how much effort my colleagues and I spent with Iraqis after 2003 attempting to forge the great democratic experiment in the Middle East.

As the video of jubilant ISIS members extolling their bloody conquests slipped by, I began to fast forward to get through the madness, but I froze when I saw ISIS thugs attacking captured Iraqis. Many of the men being taunted, tortured and killed were leaders of the Sahwa, the Sunni militants who once fought against the American military and the Iraqi government before they realized that their bigger enemy was al Qaeda and joined us in the fight. U.S. forces, grateful for their support, dubbed them Sons of Iraq…..

[After the victory on the battlefield ] the coalition’s payment program for the Sahwa necessitated gathering personal identification data on every member, close to 100,000 names; continuing the payments was going to be under the obligation of the Iraqi government after the coalition turned over governing authority to Baghdad. I remember when we delivered the database to Prime Minister Maliki’s office. The rest is history. He never attempted to fulfill his part of the bargain. Instead, the Sahwa were dismembered piecemeal, including extrajudicial killings, internment and expulsion from Iraq. After U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, U.S. diplomats sat idly by behind concrete walls.

…. America’s promises and moral commitments must stand for something. If not, we may pay an even greater price as events unfold. No one will believe anything we say and will act strictly in their own interests. The Sahwa from 2007-09 is no more. And, yes, the Sunni are now doing what it takes for their own political interests, so things have come full circle because ISIS is the new al Qaeda—the vanguard.

It could be added, that if you don’t identify your true allies, and stand behind them, you lose the people who could stand up to your enemy. Israel is guilty in that regard too. As in this last story:

In southern Lebanon, which borders on Israel, Lebanese Christians were exposed to the Palestinians’ gangster-like presence. Consequently, these Christians turned to Israel for help. This transformed what were Israel’s incursions into southern Lebanon in response to PLO insurgency warfare into an enduring alliance of interests with southern Lebanese residents.

In 1975, as part of Israel’s security policy against the Palestinians, a young IDF intelligence officer named Ya’ir Ravid organized a militia force that was first called the Free Lebanese Army, then renamed the South Lebanon Army (SLA) in 1984. Over time, the SLA added Druze and Shi‘ite elements to the Maronite Christians who constituted its ideological pillar….

This Israeli-Lebanese alliance began to unravel in the Israeli public mind. The loss of approximately twenty to thirty soldiers per year in south Lebanese warfare was the backdrop to a popular campaign for withdrawal.. As a result, during the Israeli election campaign in mid-1999, Ehud Barak promised that as prime minister he would “bring the boys home from Lebanon.” The IDF was not winning the war and Hizbullah, the primary adversary, demonstrated that it had the religious conviction and tactical capabilities to continue its adamant resistance against Israel.

The new prime minister’s pledge, which enjoyed much popularity among the Israeli public, seized the south Lebanese in general and members of the SLA in particular with uncertainty and insecurity, if not panic. Israeli political leaders, military commanders, and other officials never stated clearly what the future might hold for the SLA. The result within the ranks of the SLA and the south generally was demoralization and trepidation that they might be abandoned at the last moment.

…For Israeli and SLA personnel, officers and soldiers alike, the events of late May unfolded without prior preparation, notice, or warning.

A soldier named Roni, with six years experience in the SLA, related that on “Monday night at eleven o’clock we got a call from the Israelis telling us that Hizbullah is approaching and telling us to leave.” Another soldier said, “We could have stopped them with our weapons,” but the IDF did not shoot and would not allow the SLA to shoot either….

Thus did the decision for an IDF withdrawal cause the SLA to disintegrate and create havoc among its forces. Southerners feared being massacred immediately by Hizbullah or being tried and tortured as “enemies of the state” by the Beirut authorities…

In effect, the Israeli government abandoned an SLA that very much wanted to stay in existence. This clearly was not what the SLA desired. Over 600 of its men had lost their lives in the many years of warfare but its fighters showed no inclination to leave their country….

Two meetings that I attended with senior Israeli officials prior to the withdrawal confirmed the government’s ambiguous intentions toward the SLA. From Reserve General Menachem Einan, appointed by Barak to conduct peace negotiations with the Lebanese government, I learned in March that there was no Israeli inclination to strengthen the SLA as the sole and credible military alternative to the IDF in south Lebanon.

Nevertheless, many SLA fighters later felt that their army had been strong enough to sustain the war. After the SLA had been exiled to Israel, therefore, the sad refrain was repeated: “Israel betrayed us. The IDF and SLA were one… and we thought it was possible to befriend Israel. We helped them in our land. For twenty-five years we were with her.” The nephew of ‘Aql Hashim, himself an SLA soldier, commented on the connection with Israeli soldiers in Lebanon: “We ate with you together, we fought with you together, we went to funerals with you together. We were your allies…”

Expressions of general Israeli concern and responsibility for her allies in the end served as an elusive formulation that culminated in betrayal.

These are harsh words, but again, it illustrates some of the points that came up with American behavior in other situations.  Now Hezbollah has enough missiles to carpet Israel from corner to the other, and their leader, Nasrallah, has said that the good thing about Israel is that the world’s Jews will gather there, so they can all be destroyed at once.

Standing by your ally, if the ally really is an ally, is good policy. Unfortunately, we have fallen short in that regard. Kissinger, of all people, said this “To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”.

Lets hope he was wrong.


(a note on the following sources, none of them are “primary sources” though some do quote primary sources.  I found them by remembering some historical events, and then searching for them on the internet.  I try to leave out speculation (for instance, the Perloff article is full of speculation that I disagree with).  Not being a historian, I cannot really evaluate the sources too well.  I use what rings true, based on what I already know.)

The story told by Humberto Fontova is at: http://townhall.com/columnists/humbertofontova/2014/04/19/what-really-happed-at-the-bay-of-pigs-n1826030/page/full

The Vietnam story is told by Lauren Zanolli at: http://hnn.us/article/31400

The story of Henry Kissinger & Israel is told by Dr. Gerhard Falk at http://www.jbuff.com/c081210.htm

Philip Dermer tells the story of the fate of the “Sons of Iraq” at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/philip-dermer-the-sons-of-iraq-abandoned-by-their-american-allies-1404253303

James Perloff tells the story of how we treated the Shah of Iran at http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/history/item/4690-iran-and-the-shah-what-really-happened .

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