The Curtain Remains Closed

Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th Pr...
Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick  Bretz

Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today.  In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes.  The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived  journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard...
President Johnson meets with candidate Richard Nixon in the White House, July 1968 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election.  The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal.  Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.

Nixon announces the release of edited transcri...
Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes.  The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940.  President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time.  The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties.  President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings.  A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day.  Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business  but at the same time they short-changed history.  Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him.  And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to  24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.

If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events.  I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today.  Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words.  One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.

These are just of a few events lost to history.

English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon...
English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library (Left to right). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.

An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.

President Carter-The Panama Canal Treaty, the Shah of Iran overthrow, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the 1980 Election, The Soviet Union Invasion of Afghanistan, The Oil Embargo, The Olympic Boycott, The Taiwan Issue, Israel-Egypt Peace accords.

President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.

President George H. W. Bush-The Panama Invasion, General Noriega issue, the Persian Gulf War, the Kurdish situation in the North part of Iraq, the 1988 Election, the 1992 Election.

President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.

President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.

Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office.   The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.

Notable Links:

Leaders are Like a Box of Chocolates. You Never Know…

English: Newspaper cartoon from 1912 about the...
English: Newspaper cartoon from 1912 about the Monroe Doctrine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick Bretz

Former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez died from a long battle with cancer on March 5, 2013.  He was a long line of authoritarians, dictators, and oppressors who annoyed the United States’ politicians and presidents throughout the last 100 years or so. This brings to mind the role of the government in bringing about change for better or worse in other countries.  Yes, Monday morning play calling is always perfect and much clearer.

On the other hand, the United States had to make decisions based on the best interests of their country just like Chavez supposedly did for Venezuela.  Yes, for those who are sanctimonious when it comes to America’s history in determining leadership disputes, the President and Congress make decisions based on the best results for the United States at that moment with a collective eye toward the future. Many dictators were supported because it was thought that the United States would have more influence over that person than a Communist government.  Stopping the spread of Communism was a major issue when deciding who to support. Once in power some of these dictators, like the Shah of Iran, abused their authority.  At the beginning, contrary to the present, the United States was interested in nation building only for itself.

The Monroe Doctrine resulted in the United States intervening in many disputes in South America during its infancy and after 1900 to the present day.  The Founding Father James Monroe knew the kind of price many people paid to secure liberty.  He refused to let instability within other countries disturb his country’s quest toward economic and cultural stability.  He simply said that the United States has a say in what happens in their hemisphere, be it South, Central or North America.

Thomas Jefferson made the determination that the United States has a right to defend itself anywhere in the world when he sent the Navy and Marines to the Barbary States to defend our right to sail through their shipping lanes without paying a tribute for protection against the pirates in 1801.  For the most part, throughout our history the United States remained a regional power and stayed out of European affairs until World War I.  Afterward when President Woodrow Wilson tried to organize the League of Nations, he was stopped by his own Congress and the resolve of European victors for revenge toward Germany and its allies.

This is not a love-fest from sea to shining sea. The United States is not perfect considering our history of slavery and the treatment of Indians almost from Jump Street and the encampment of Asians in World War II.   However, America has gone through a self-analysis and made an effort to refrain from past mistakes.  Many other countries have their own questionable events and downright sordid history with despicable actions. The United States seems to get the most flak because it has jumped into the fray and tried to at least solve problems, even working with NATO despite that organization’s inaction toward preventing many genocidal horrors. There are many cases where the United States has done some good and helped a country and even solved major issues resulting in lives being saved.  Here are some examples:

Construction work on the Gaillard Cut is shown...
Construction work on the Gaillard Cut is shown in this photograph from 1907 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1. Completed the Panama Canal in 1914 and gave it back to the country in 1999.  The canal is one of the chief revenue resources for the country today.
  2. The Marshall Plan, providing reconstruction funds for European Nations after World War II.
  3. The driving force for the establishment of the United Nations.
  4. World leader in space exploration and research.
  5. World leader in humanitarian aid.
  6. Forced the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait after Iraq invaded in 1991.
  7. Gave aid to the Kurdish people after the war ended.
  8. The thawing of relations between China and the United States.
  9. Making an effort to reduce weapons of mass destruction.
  10. We usually enter wars to defend ourselves, to right a wrong,  or when asked for support (Pearl Harbor, Kuwait, ethnic cleansing, 9/11)

Having stated this case, there are some who see the issue differently.  Below are links that may have an opposite view.

Notable Links:

The Top Eight Government Putschs, Coups, Overthrows, or Coup D’états

Big Three at the Potsdam Conference in Germany...
Big Three at the Potsdam Conference in Germany: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Harry S. Truman and Generalissimo Josef Stalin, seated in garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick Bretz
Not having power for some people is too much to bare. So they go after it even if it means they have to take it away forcefully. There are not many bloodless coups. Power is too much of a drug for people to stand by without a fight. Even if taken peacefully, the people who had the power will pay some kind of price, either with their lives or with humiliation by the conquerors. No one can forget the sight of Mikhail Gorbachev being ordered around by Boris Yeltsin at the podium after he was forced to step down in the early 90s.

With the arrival of March, a couple of events come to mind. One is St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of St. Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The other being the Ides of March, March 15th. Besides being an old world celebration day it also known as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated at the base of the Statue of Pompey in 44 BC. This thought brought up the idea of other overthrows that have occurred in history and how important they were to the rest of world order.

The United States federal government has been stable  since George Washington took office (arguably since the Articles of Confederation) because we have a somewhat organized election that begins a disciplined series of events culminating in the inauguration of the next President of the United States. Some countries never achieve this process resulting in violence and destruction.
Here are eight coups that have, in my view, significantly reverberated across the globe.

Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a r...
Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a result of the Cuban Revolution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. 1959: Fidel Castro overthrows Batista.
This one is number one on the list because it almost caused two countries to launch missiles at each other a couple of years later. The  Cuban Missile Crisis might be one cause that began the whole 1960s free love, live and let live, drugs are fantastic thing in the sixties.  They probably figured, “Well, if the governments are going to send missiles at one another at any second, and we don’t have a say in it, we’ll have fun while we can.”  In addition, the United States is still dealing with the consequences of Fidel Castro ruling Cuba more than 50 years later with the trade embargo, travel restrictions and a Cuban constituency in Florida that can influence elections.  Besides that, there’s the Cuban cigar thing.

2. 1804: Napoleon Bonaparte becomes Emperor of France by a coup d’état.
Once Bonaparte came to power, he waged war all across Europe and with Britain. This is high up on the list due to Bonaparte inflicting war and destruction across Europe until the Russian winter stopped him along with his own ego.  Russian winters taught Bonaparte a lesson that Hitler forgot or refused to take into account more than a century later.

Royal Russian family (LOC)
Royal Russian family (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

3. 1917–March: abdication of Nicholas II of Russia in favor of the Russian Provisional Government.
Call it an abdication, but Nicholas II didn’t give up the Czar title willingly and would have kept it if he had had an avenue to remain on the throne.  Arguably his track record as a ruler wasn’t the best.  He oversaw the economic and military collapse of his country as well as executed his political opponents. He persecuted the Jewish people inside Russia and generally made poor decisions domestically and on foreign policy.  So, Vladimir Lenin had his chance but didn’t survive long enough to keep Josef Stalin out of the dictator seat.  Instead, the over throw eventually led to a corrupted, paranoid communist government, Josef Stalin, bad decisions during World War II, an arms race, an Iron Curtain, a Berlin Wall, missile launch sites in Cuba, the edge of total annihilation from nuclear weapons, and several billions and trillions of dollars on both sides used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

4. 1792- by the National Convention against King Louis XVI of France, the French Revolution.
The difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that those in power after the US revolution didn’t go around with a guillotine lopping the heads off the aristocracy, creating domestic terror throughout the land.

5. 1969–Sep 1st: Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrows King Idris I of Libya.
A country gets the wrong guy in; it could take more than 40 years to get rid of him. This dictator is on here due to his sanctioning, supporting, and harboring terrorists who executed one horrible event, the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. This Libyan dictator was a thorn in many government’s sides, including several Middle Eastern countries.

6. 1936- by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña.
Generalissimo Franco was the picture of opportunism. He helped put down an earlier coup when it didn’t benefit him. Became a leader for the 1936 coup that led to a civil war. He assumed power and remained there for almost 40 years. As I stated earlier, once you get some of these guys in, it is difficult to get them out. He died in 1975. He had economic successes, but it doesn’t make up for the torture and human rights abuses.  He kept power through censorship, imprisonment, forced labor camps, death sentences, and other political means. When it was beneficial to him, he moved his foreign policy towards the Italian and German fascist leaders prior to, and during, World War II. After the war, he maneuvered his political diplomacy toward the United States and NATO because he knew NATO wanted to stop the spread of communism.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. 1909-The Young Turk Revolution breaks out in the Ottoman Empire against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
This is one coup that actually meant a great leap forward for a country. This coup led to an eventual Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turks.  The father of modern Turkey is revered in his country. If it is possible to take a country and drag it into the modern world, that is what Ataturk did. He pushed through economic, social, and cultural reforms while creating a secular government. He was instrumental in separating Islamic Law from government. He mandated that Islamic Law be limited to the practice of religion while the government would use secular law.

8. 1971-Military in Uganda led by Idi Amin overthrows government.
This dictator’s regime was characterized by ethnic killings, corruption, nepotism, and according to most human rights groups, between 100 and 500 thousand people killed. Besides being arrogant and astonishingly brutal to his enemies, he started a war with Tanzania in 1978, the Uganda-Tanzania War. This war led to his fleeing the country and eventually landing in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.