Sunday, January 22, 2017

What they got Wrong in 8 Years

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State recently penned an article defending Obama foreign policy of the past with years titled "What we got right in 8 years".  In case you missed here it

Since 1945 the first imperative of American Foreign Policy has been "NOT TO BLOW THE WORLD UP".  Measured by that ultra-low bar, Obama did succeed in his foreign policy.   And he did manage, after following up on leads generated in the Bush administration, to kill Osama Bin Laden.  On these two scores Obama did succeed.

Kerry assures us that "most global trends remain in our favor and that America's leadership and engagement area as essential and effective today as ever."  Naturally Kerry seems to have left out what the Obama administration got wrong over the past eight years.  Here is a bit of what Kerry left out...

Tragedy in Syria
The latest estimates reveal a death toll in the Syrian Civil War of 470,000.  In addition around 1.9 million have been wounded in the conflict.  By those totals nearly 11.5% of the entire Syrian population has been either killed or wounded in the struggle which erupted in October of 2011 and continues unabated.

Obama famously drew a rhetorical "red line" in the sand over the use of chemical weapons.  After Assad crossed this line, Obama erased his line in the sand badly damaging American credibility.

Kerry congratulates himself and the administration on not creating a new "quagmire" for America by inserting ground troops into Syria.  But this ignores the fact that there is an enormous range of possible action between doing nothing and inserting the 82nd Airborne into Aleppo.  America Special forces have, of course, been engaged in Syria for some time now.  With little effect.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is not simply Obama's fault.  It is much worse than that.  It is a failure by the entire West to deal with anarchic tendencies in the world.   Obama's failure to provide Western leadership on Syria has, however, been a catastrophic blunder.  "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" or erase Obama's guilt in this matter.

Tyrant Disrespected
Obama promised a Reset in relations with Russia.  In a 2012 Presidential debate he contemptuously dismissed Romney's concerns about Russia by sneering, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years."

The recent attempts by Russia to hack the US election process are a pointed reminder of the abject failure of Obama to get Russian policy right.  Clearly Putin was acting in a desperate manner.  Why?

American Russian relations now teeter at their lowest ebb in decades.  In 2010 Obama was a no-show at the 65th anniversary of the end of WW2 (  The Russians lost over 23 million people in World War II so they are a bit touchy on the subject.  We Americans are accustomed to hearing a great deal of sentimental twaddle about the "Greatest Generation".  There might have been no surviving "Greatest Generation" of Americans had it not been for the enormous sacrifice of the Russian people.  No American President has EVER expressed proper appreciation for this fact of military history.  It is about time that Trump do so.

Winston Churchill
His bust is back in the White House!
In 2013 Obama became the first American President to EVER cancel a US / Russia summit (  The first rule of diplomacy, as formulated by Winston Churchill, is that "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."  Obama violated, therefore, the cardinal rule of diplomacy.  Does anyone seriously believe that the rights of the LGBT community in Russia are served by the American and Russian Presidents NOT talking to each other?  Or the straight community for that matter.

Obama was, of course, a no show for the Sochi Olympics.

There is a reason why the "hot line" was established between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.  The Russians and the Americans are nuclear armed countries that, no matter their differences, need to talk to each other.

Napoleon's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Hitler's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Obama's fatal mistake was to believe that he could scold Russia into compliance.  Putin really does not care about Op-Eds in NY Times.

Putin is the dictator of a kleptocracy.  He is a former KGB officer.  Putin has completely befuddled Obama.  He is not a Marxist college professor hanging out in the faculty lounge bloviating about his concern for the working class.  He is NOT and ideological Marxist.  Above all, he craves respect for Russia.  He seeks to advance the economic welfare of the Russian people.

Putin is, of course, a tyrant.  All tyrants have the same achilles heel.  From Julius Caesar to Mussolini to Czar Nicholas II they all fear being assassinated by their own people. They are never assured a peaceful transition of power.  They can never trust anyone completely.

American Presidents, on the other hand, can look forward to a future of  spending a comfortable retirement with golfing, lucrative book deals, Presidential libraries and high priced speaking engagements.

American Presidents have engaged successfully with Russian dictators.  In America Invades we wrote about the Teheran summit during World War II, "FDR mixed martinis for Churchill and Stalin. FDR asked Stalin how he liked his drink. Stalin answered that it was OK but cold on his stomach."   FDR engaged with Stalin who is, quite frankly, a much greater monster than Putin.  America sent lend lease to Russia and four out of five German soldiers in World War II were killed on the Eastern front.  Excellent deal making there!

Putin must be engaged with and he must be engaged with forcefully.  He understands best the language of economic and military power.  Obama, to his credit, was right to station American Marines in Norway ( and to forces to Poland and the Baltic Republics (;postID=7092829463494283693;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=9;src=postname).

Putin's goal for Russia has become the destruction of NATO.  He claims that Russia is surrounded.  Putin has increased the strength of his military.  In 2014 he invaded and annexed the Crimea.

American policy has, meanwhile, lacked direction and focus.  The new American policy must be to strengthen NATO which has been the most successful alliance in history.  NATO is "obsolete" in the sense that it could do a better job combatting terrorism and having all its members pay 2% of GDP on defence.  It is NOT obsolete in the sense that it must be scrapped.

Putin must learn that NATO works for its members preserving their self-determination.  The long term goal for NATO should be the incorporation of Russia into NATO as a full member.

The solution to the Syrian crisis runs through Moscow.  Who has greater leverage with Assad America or Russia?  The answer is clear.

Trump must now engage with Putin and attempt to enlist his aid in defeating ISIS.  Once ISIS has been destroyed Trump must make it clear that Assad must, after a decent interval, go into exile.  Perhaps with his family to a Dacha on the Black Sea?
Not the Louisiana Purchase
Kerry claims credit for arresting the progress of nuclear weapons in Iran.  The US has now given billions to a regime that has a long standing record of support for terrorism.  $400 million in cash was delivered in the dead of night on the same day that American hostages were released undercutting Americas policy of not paying for the release of hostages (  Israel, our only Middle East ally, remains highly skeptical of the Iran deal.  Only time will tell whether the Iran deal was worthwhile in spite of its enormous cost in treasure and American credibility.
Bad Hair Decade in N. Korea
North Korea conducted four successful nuclear underground tests during the Obama years.  Kim Jong Un has tested missiles that can reach Japan and Guam (  He remains an unpredictable source of tension in the years to come and the Obama administration made no progress with regard to North Korea.

Obama was highly critical of the policy of keeping Prisoners of the War on Terrorism in Gitmo.  But he never actually closed it.  He never seemed to realize or appreciate that Gitmo is useful in precisely the same way that St. Helena was useful to the British after the Battle of Waterloo.  Napoleon, after his second abdication was never tried.  His case would have become a circus.  Nor was he executed as this would have transformed him into a martyr.  He was imprisoned uncomfortably on St. Helena as he was a danger to the peace of the world.  America should apologize for Gitmo just as soon as the British apologize for St. Helena.

Obama conceived of the war in Afghanistan as the "good war" as opposed to the "mistake" in Iraq.  Obama, recognizing the surprising success of Bush's surge in Iraq implemented a similar surge in Afghanistan.  For a variety of reasons it did not really work.  America has now had troops fighting in Afghanistan for over 15 years.  It is now the longest war in American history.  There are men and women serving in Afghanistan who were toddlers at the time of 9/11 in 2001.

As we noted in the Afghanistan chapter of America Invades..."The attitude towards warfare in Afghanistan is very different from that in the technologically focused West. “Our enemies have the watches,” some Afghans used to say, “but we have the time.” It appears the Western presence may have run out of time in Afghanistan."  (

Perhaps now, after thousands of lives have been lost and trillions have been squandered and siphoned off to corrupt Afghan leaders, it is time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and send the drug companies in?
Gaddafi: Shot with own Golden gun
Obama, the professed non-interventionist, intervened in Libya.  At the urging of HRC and others, he actively supported the removal of Gaddafi.  The Libyan dictator was a tyrant who feared a violent death and realized the sum of his fears in 2011.

In 2012 four Americans, including my UC Berkeley classmate Christopher Stevens, were killed at the embassy compound in Benghazi.  The coverup which followed (who pushed the video) remains a scandal for the Obama administration.

Libya is a failed state and remains an ISIS stronghold today.  Even Obama has admitted that Libya was perhaps his greatest blunder telling Chris Wallace in a 2016 interview, "Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya."


The Obama administration got many things wrong on foreign policy.  The Trump administration has inherited a tornado of s*@tstorms around the globe.

Finally, let's remember rule one of American Foreign Policy...DON'T BLOW UP THE WORLD!  Trump must begin to repair the broken relationship with Russia.  This is possible.  And far more so than had HRC (AKA Circe) been elected this fall.  America has not had a territorial dispute with Russia since purchasing Alaska from Czar Alexander II in 1867.  "Seward's folly" is a historic reminder that it is possible for the US to do productive and mutually beneficial deals with the Russians.

In order to avoid BLOWING UP THE WORLD it is necessary to keep talking the the Russians.  It is better to jaw jaw than to war war!

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Congratulations "Mad Dog" Mattis!

"Mad Dog" Mattis
A Proud Bomber!

Congratulations to General "Mad Dog" Mattis on his confirmation to become the next Defence Secretary of the United States!  An astonishing bipartisan vote of 98 to 1 in the US Senate has recently confirmed the appointment of Mattis to the top Pentagon job.

Mattis has a long and distinguished service record.  But here is something that you might not know about Mattis...
Go Bombers!
Mattis is a native of my adopted home state of Washington.  Moreover, Mattis is a graduate of Richland High School (also known as Columbia High School).  The mascot of Richland High is "the Bombers".  Richland is only a few miles from Hanford where the Plutonium used to make the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was manufactured.  Jackets from Richland High still proudly display a mushroom cloud.  Mattis went on to earn an History degree from Central Washington University while serving in the US Marine Corps.

I wrote earlier about Hanford after touring it last summer.  See my blog Hanford, the Bomb and Madagascar.../

Mattis is a staunch supporter of the NATO alliance in spite of Trump's wobbly campaign rhetoric about the obsolescence of the Alliance.

Congratulations to "Mad Dog" Mattis and "Go Bombers!"

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

American Troops in Norway

Obama's Farewell to Putin
The Obama administration in its final days chose to deploy USA Marines to Norway (   Some Jarheads will soon be improving their skiing abilities.  What else does this move signify?

Clearly the outgoing US administration is sending a message to Putin's Russia.  The deployment seems to be a response to Russian attempts to hack the American election.  Norway shares a small border with Russia.  The outgoing administration is making the argument, quite properly in my view, that NATO is not only not "obsolete" -- it remains highly relevant for those interested in deterring Russian aggression and preserving the peace in Europe.  By such means TV fictions such as 2015's Occupied will remain fictional (see video below).  The self-determination of small nations that border much larger and more powerful neighbors must be protected.

The US military has not deployed ground troops to Norway since World War II.  As noted below, the US Air Force has had a long standing presence in Norway.

We related the story of America's earlier involvement in Norway during World War II in the Norway chapter of America Invades...

"The Nazis invaded Norway in April 1940 and occupied it for the remainder of the war in Europe. Haakon VII, king of Norway, fled with a government in exile to England. The king and his government landed in Rotherhithe on the Thames in southeast London—the same spot the Mayflower left from with the Pilgrims in 1620. King Haakon VII would worship with his family at St. Olav’s Church in Rotherhithe and would also give wartime broadcasts to the Norwegian people from this church.

In Norway, with German support, Vidkun Quisling formed a collaborationist government.
Not surprisingly, since we weren’t actually in the war at the time, we didn’t have anything much to do with the fighting in Norway in 1940. However, two incidents do stand out.

On April 21, 1940, Captain Robert Moffat Losey, serving as US military attaché in Norway, while trying to ensure the safe evacuation to Sweden of American diplomats, was killed by Luftwaffe bombs.
FDR Statue
Grosvenor Square, London
And in the summer of 1940, President Roosevelt sent a troopship, the USS American Legion on a special mission to Petsamo in what was then northern Finland (it’s now, after border changes, in Russia). Its main mission was to evacuate Crown Princess Martha of Norway, plus hundreds of other assorted civilians, including one Dane then called Børge Rosenbaum. This it successfully did, being the last neutral ship out of Petsamo. On arrival in the United States, Princess Martha went on to become close (very, very close, some suggest) to President Roosevelt while Børge Rosenbaum went on to become Victor Borge. However, it wasn’t just people that the USS American Legion rescued from Petsamo that day; it also carried away something that would make a huge contribution to the US war effort. Taken on board at Petsamo was a Swedish-made 40 mm twin-mount Bofors anti-aircraft gun. In America, the USN would adopt the type, order its domestic production, and fit it on its ships.
After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the Axis occupation of Norway became a particular thorn in the Allies’ side as Norwegian air and sea bases were used to prey on the arctic convoys that were bringing lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Film star Douglas Fairbanks Junior was a naval lieutenant aboard the USS Wichita in the summer of 1942 and witnessed the disastrous PQ 17 convoy that was almost wiped out by German attacks. Plenty of supplies did, however, get through on convoys.

In addition, the German presence in Norway helped assure the transportation of vital Swedish iron ore for use in building the Wehrmacht war machine. Consequently, Churchill repeatedly advocated Operation Anvil, a projected Allied invasion of Norway, to address these concerns. Eisenhower and others in the Allied staff, however, believed that Operation Anvil would be a distraction from the cross-channel invasion of France through Normandy; they prevailed in Allied strategy sessions.
As a result, most of the opposition to German forces in Norway came from brave Norwegians in the resistance. But not all of it.

We conducted assorted air operations over occupied Norway. For example, we were part of the campaign to prevent a Nazi atomic bomb. The Germans were attempting to make heavy water for their nascent nuclear program and using a hydroelectric plant in Vermork, Norway, to do so. In 1943, this plant was hit by a 143-plane raid of USAAF B-17s that did extensive damage.

William Colby of the OSS

But not all US operations in Norway during World War II were to be in the air. On March 24, 1945, a squadron of B-24 Liberators launched Operation RYPE (Norwegian for “grouse”) dropping a team of specially trained OSS forces near Jarlsbad in central Norway. The thirty-six-man group immediately linked up with Norwegian resistance forces. The 99th Battalion, who were proficient skiers and demolition experts, managed to destroy the Tangen bridge near Jorstad. On May 12, 1945, they took over Steinkjer from German forces. Major William Colby, who was later appointed head of the CIA by President Nixon, was the leader of the OSS team in Norway.

On June 10, 1945, the 99th Infantry Battalion would form the honor guard for Crown Prince Olaf’s triumphant parade through Trondheim.

Norway was a founding member of NATO in 1949. Norway’s strategic location on the northern approaches to the Soviet Union made it an important area for bases for the USAAF and USN during the Cold War.

Even after the end of the Cold War, tensions could still occur in the area. For example, on January 25, 1995, Norway launched a rocket to gather scientific data on the Northern Lights near Svalbard. The launch had not been publicly disclosed in advance, and its trajectory was near Russian territory, which caused a minor crisis with the Russians who briefly panicked, fearing that it was a US submarine-launched missile. Thus, Norwegian scientists nearly started World War III after the Cold War had ended.

And we still have strong military links with Norway. For instance, the USAF’s 501st Combat Support Wing remains based in Stavanger to this day. Norway is a NATO member. The Norwegians sent troops to fight alongside our own in the coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Norwegian jets played a major role in the operations in Libya in 2011."

With the dawn of the new Trump administration, one can only hope that the NATO will be strengthened rather than junking the system that has preserved peace in Europe since in 1948 (pace Yugoslavia).

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Friday, January 13, 2017

WWI Centennial & Museum of Flight

100 Years Ago Wilson led America into WWI
1917 - 2017

2017 marks one hundred years since the start of American involvement in World War I.  In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson led America into the First World War on the side of the Allies versus the Central Powers.  Germany's policy of Unrestricted Submarine warfare was deeply unsettling for Americans.  Over a hundred Americans were, for example, killed in May of 1915 with the sinking of the Lusitania.  Thomas Tileston Wells, my great-grandfather had been a passenger on board the Lusitania in 1909 (  The disclosure of the Zimmerman telegram, a German plot to bring Mexico into the war on the side of the Central Powers if America joined the war, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

US Army Poster WWI
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
From 1917 to 1918 over two million American member of the American Expeditionary force were shipped "Over There" to join in the fighting on the Western Front.  They were called "Doughboys" because they tended to be bigger and taller than the British and French soldiers.  Many fought in the trenches.  Some took to the skies and fought in the air.  Eddie Rickenbacker became the greatest American Ace of World War I.  He flew in a French-built Spad XIII as the Americans had no aircraft industry at the start of the Great War.

My own great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was traveling in Europe with his family in the summer of 1914 at the start of World War I.  At Riva on Lake Garda he was arrested briefly by Austrian authorities, accused of being a Russian spy and threatened with immediate execution.  You can learn about how he managed to talk his way out of that in my newly published book -- An Adventure in 1914

Eyewitness Account of
History's Greatest Train Wreck

Over 17 million people were killed in the course of World War I including over 117,000 Americans.    In the epilogue to An Adventure in 1914 I noted, "The First World War was the costliest in Western history up to that point (exceeded perhaps only by the Taiping Rebellion in China, which may have cost twenty to thirty million deaths from 1850–1864). It was the original catastrophe of the twentieth century that sowed the seeds for future tragedies. The war shattered the stability of much of the world and destroyed four empires: Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia would have bloody consequences for the remainder of the twentieth century. The bitter peace of Versailles would lay the groundwork for World War II. France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch proved to be a modern Cassandra when he declared, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."  (See...
German Albatros D.Va
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

A visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle ( is an excellent way to remember the centennial of American involvement in World War I.  The aviation from the Great War can be found in the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing of the Museum.  They have an outstanding collection of World War airplanes from all of the principle nations involved in the war.

French Nieuport 24bis
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
There are many interactive and audiovisual elements at the World War I exhibit at the Museum of Flight.  One of my favorites involves a story about a German bomber that flew over Paris in the war and dropped a hand grenade onto the Champs-Élysées causing some consternation.  The German bomber returned again to the skies over Paris and dropped a rock over the famous boulevard.  The note said, "Surrender or we will drop another one!"  The Germans DO have a sense of humor!

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Seahawks in Puke Green!

Seahawks: A Serious Team in a Sickening Color 

Evidence that Paul Allen has lost his mind emerged this past week as the Seattle Seahawks changed their uniform.  The new home team uniform is a Dayglow Lime Green or Puke Green.  The new uniforms make it appear that the team has spent the pre-game in hot tubs full of dinosaur diarrhea.

It seems that Allen must have been advised in this decision by the Hillary Clinton election strategists.  Or by Donald Trump's hair stylist?  Or by Czar Putin's PR team?  Or by all three!

On the other hand, after throwing five interceptions in the Seahawks Packers game on 12/11 Allen may just have concluded that Russell Wilson needed some help in spotting his receivers now.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trump vs Schultz: 2020

The 2020 Matchup

On Tuesday November 8, 2016 Donald Trump won 303 Electoral votes to win the White House.  On December 1, 2016 Howard Schultz announced that he will be stepping down as CEO of Starbucks (

These two apparently unrelated events are, in fact, connected.

According to a Starbucks Press Release, "The transition will occur on April 3, 2017, and it will allow Schultz to focus on turning Starbucks' Reserve-branded coffee bars into destination restaurants."

What the release is NOT telling us is that Schultz is stepping down as Starbucks CEO because he has clear presidential aspirations for 2020.  Trump's election proved that the American electorate was willing to trust an experienced business person with no political experience over a career politician with many years as an elected official.  This message was not lost on Howard Schultz.

In 2016 the glass ceiling for billionaires was shattered into a million pieces.  Buffett is too old.  Gates is too nerdy.  Soros is too Hungarian.  Schultz seems to tick most of the boxes -- an has no email scandals that we are aware of.

It is no secret that Schultz has a tremendous ego.  Schultz is also a committed liberal Democrat who grew up in Brooklyn.  He has championed health care for Starbucks employees frequently citing the fact that his working class family lacked the same.  Schultz has a net worth of nearly $3 billion.  He has been a major donor to Democratic candidates.  He will turn 67 years of age in 2020.

Starbucks has been hugely successful and is a favorite watering hole for college educated liberal Democrats.  Among businesses Starbucks is a liberal darling -- they don't make guns, extract fossil fuels or ruin the environment (excepts a bit of garbage).

If Schultz can convince someone to pay $5 for a cup of coffee maybe he can also convince them that higher taxes and increased regulation will jump start the economy?

The election of Donald Trump has created Revolutionary change in the unlikeliest of places -- even in the corporate offices of Starbucks.

A few years ago Christopher Hitches remarked that "the American Revolution is the only revolution that still resonates."  The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution belong to history.  The American Revolution is the only major Revolution that possesses enduring relevance for the world.  Trump, even before his inauguration, has revolutionized American politics.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Cuba?

Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World

Surprisingly, Italian invasions of Cuba from Christopher Columbus to "Lucky" Luciano have been as consequential as American invasions of the Caribbean island.  Here is the complete Cuba chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...

Christopher Columbus, Pioneer Park, SF, CA
"Cuba is by far the largest island in the Caribbean. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when Columbus, hoping to find his way to the riches of Asia, approached its coastline on October 24, 1492, he mistook it for a continent.  He named the island Isla Juana, after the Spanish prince of Asturias.  Columbus seemed to be enchanted by Cuba, pronouncing it the “sweetest and fairest” of lands. He was, however, disappointed not to discover gold on the island and soon moved on to Hispaniola (see Haiti and Dominican Republic).

In addition to Columbus, other Italians played a significant role in establishing and maintaining Spanish rule in Cuba. For example, Italian military engineer Battista Antonelli designed the spectacular El Morro fortress for Havana.

In 1605, Mantua, Cuba, was founded by shipwrecked Italian sailors.

Cuba was under Spanish rule for many centuries. The Spanish- American War of 1898 ended that. An Italian American from New York State, Frank O. Fournia, won the Medal of Honor for rescuing wounded soldiers while serving in the US Army in Cuba during this war.

Café Cubano

Cuba became a major sugar producer in the early twentieth century. It is the mere addition of sugar that distinguishes an authentic café cubano from a traditional Italian espresso. This popular drink might even be classified as a sweet Cuban invasion of Italy!

Cuba and Italy both eventually joined the Allied cause in World War I.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Cuba joined the Allies and declared war on fascist Italy. Some Italian Cubans were arrested and imprisoned during the war. A small but efficient Cuban Navy patrolled the waters off Cuba, hunting German and Italian submarines. Italian submarines such as the Leonardo da Vinci and the Enrico Tazzoli retraced the path of Columbus, hunting for merchant ships in the waters off Cuba. Even Ernest Hemingway, who had served in Italy in World War I, took his fishing boat Pilar out hunting for Axis submarines.
"Lucky" Luciano: Sicily Invades Cuba!
The famous mobster "Lucky" Luciano was born in Sicily in 1897. During World War II, while a prisoner at Sing Sing, he provided intelligence information on his native land to the US Navy prior to the July 1943 invasion of Sicily. His sentence was commuted by the governor of New York in 1946 on the condition that he would be deported to Italy. He was, but in October of 1946, he moved to Cuba, where he helped to organize a mob takeover of the island nation. Luciano and Meyer Lanksy sealed a deal with the Batista regime one night in 1946 at the Hotel Nacional. Frank Sinatra provided the entertainment. Havana would be transformed into a Caribbean Las Vegas.

An Italian-born entrepreneur, Amadeo Barletta, was the publisher of El Mundo, one of the largest Cuban newspapers in the 1950s.

Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution that would sweep Batista and the Mafia from power in Cuba. Later, the CIA hired the Mafia to assassinate Castro, but with no success.

In 1961, Italian-built 105mm howitzers were used at the Bay of Pigs by Castro’s forces against the American-supported invaders.

A visitor to Havana today might stumble upon the Napoleon Museum, which houses one of the finest collections of Napoleonic memorabilia in the world. This museum, dedicated to the former King of Italy and founded in 1961, was once the home of Orestes Ferrara, an Italian Cuban who had been ambassador to the United States."

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

With the death of Fidel Castro at age 90 in November 2016 it seems fitting to reflect on relations between America and Cuba.  Here is the full Cuba chapter of America Invades (

"The beautiful island of Cuba is just ninety miles from Florida, so it’s hardly surprising that over the years we’ve taken a close interest in it. Already by the early nineteenth century, American forces were in action there. At this stage, our main concern was combating piracy, and in the 1820s, we made a number of landings, including, for instance, one in July 1823 when three American vessels attacked a pirate schooner off Matanzas, Cuba. When some of the pirates managed to make it ashore, an

American landing party went after them. It was a scrappy kind of conflict, but a conflict nonetheless and helped make the seas a little bit safer for shipping.

But already we were beginning to imagine a rather bigger US involvement in Cuba than pursuing a few pirates. In the same year that the pirate schooner off Matanzas was being put out of business, John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state, wrote, “If an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its unnatural connexion [sic] with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can only gravitate towards the North American Union.”

In December of 1823, President Monroe produced the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine (nothing to do with Marilyn, obviously) basically stated that we could accept existing European colonies in the Americas, but from then on, we were going to regard outside interference in South and North America as interference with our own interests. Having chucked King George’s army out of America, Americans felt a natural fellowship for any other locals wanting to chuck out Europeans who were oppressing them. But over the decades, as our power grew, the Monroe Doctrine also began to be interpreted as a concept that we, as the biggest power in the Americas, had a special responsibility for what goes on here. Both attitudes, with a bit of belief in manifest destiny added in as well, were to be much in evidence in our involvement with Cuba.

In 1858, in the Ostend Manifesto, a bunch of American diplomats in Europe recommended that the United States buy Cuba and suggested that if, by any chance, it wasn’t for sale, the United States would be justified in seizing the island from Spain. The manifesto is named after a port in Belgium because that’s where the diplomats ended up meeting. Nothing came of it in the end partly because some Northerners saw in it a Southern attempt to add another slave-owning Southern state to the Union.

Spain had very-long-term ties to the island of Cuba, with Columbus having reached it on his first voyage on October 28, 1492, but by the four hundredth anniversary of that event, things were beginning to look a bit problematic on the island for Spain. In 1868, a local insurrection burst out and dragged on for about ten years, from which, not surprisingly, it got the name of the Ten Years War. Then again in 1895, another rebellion was launched. Harsh measures taken by the Spanish in their attempts to smash the rebellion boosted natural fellow feeling in America for those fighting for freedom from a European power, but we still weren’t yet about to go to war. Not quite yet anyway.

The newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (of Citizen Kane fame) wanted a war in order to help sell newspapers. Hearst had a famous exchange of telegrams with his photo-journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba prior to the Spanish American war. Hearst received a telegram from Remington that said, “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return. Remington.” Hearst sent the answer, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

USS Maine in Havana Harbor

On January 25, 1898, the USS Maine, an armored cruiser, arrived in Havana harbor. The largest island in the Caribbean had been experiencing an insurrection by local Cuban rebels against their Spanish overlords for the past three years. On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m., one or perhaps two explosions rocked the battleship. About three-quarters of her crew (266 lives) were killed.
What really happened that night remains a mystery that will, perhaps, never be solved. The USN’s Sampson board of inquiry ruled unanimously that a foreign device or mine triggered the explosion and sinking. A variety of suggestions and counter-suggestions have since been put forward for what really happened that night.

If the Maine was, in fact, destroyed by a mine, it is by no means even certain that the Spanish government placed it there, although they did have motivation. It could be that the Cuban rebels themselves might have used a mine in order to get the Americans more deeply involved in Cuba ...
Many in Cuba today are convinced that a false-flag conspiracy (the USN sank its own ship) was to blame. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing.

What we do know for certain is that President McKinley, who had only the USN Sampson report to go by, pressed for war with Spain.

The US Congress debated and passed resolutions calling for Cuban independence. Spain responded by declaring war. President William McKinley’s opening move was to impose a naval blockade of Cuba.

In late June 1898, American troops landed in Cuba. On July 1, Teddy Roosevelt, with the assistance of the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, led his Rough Riders to victory over the Spanish in the Battle of San Juan Hill. The Americans and their Cuban allies had won the war in just over three months at a cost of just under three thousand killed—most of these attributable to disease. Nearby Puerto Rico was annexed as part of the peace settlement.

At the time, we also got another bit of real estate that you’ve heard of. The United States began construction of its oldest overseas naval base,

Guantanamo Bay, in 1898. A long-term lease was negotiated with the Cuban government in 1903.
Having helped free Cuba from a European colonial power, we weren’t about to turn Cuba into our own colony—not officially anyway—but we did regard it as part of our sphere of influence, and we reckoned we had a right to protect our growing interests there.

President Teddy Roosevelt dispatched US forces to occupy Cuba again from 1906 to 1909. The Cuban rebels laid down their arms at the sight of US troops, and there was no bloodshed. The US Army built fifty-seven miles of roads and supervised the free election before their withdrawal.
In 1912, President William Taft sent the navy and US marines to support the Cuban government in suppressing another rebellion.

And in 1917, during World War I, US forces, with the excuse of being invited to practice drilling in a warm climate, helped political unrest cause damage to the sugar industry and sugar harvest. This became known, not entirely unreasonably, as the Sugar Intervention.

Hemingway's Pilar

By the end of 1941, of course, we had quite a lot else on our minds apart from Cuba, like the need to win a world war. Cuba wasn’t exactly on the frontlines during World War II, and for one resident, it was all just too quiet. Ernest Hemingway, a resident of Cuba and avid fisherman, could not stand the idea of missing a war. From the summer of 1942 to the end of 1943, Hemingway, based on Cuba, took Pilar, his wooden fishing yacht, armed with machine guns and hand grenades, out into the Caribbean hunting for German U-boats. He did allegedly finally sight one, only for it to submerge before he could reach it.
Fidel Castro

After the war, Cuba became a fleshpot with casino gambling and the US mafia. Batista, realizing that he could not win electoral victory, seized power in a coup in 1952. Organized crime leaders such as “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Santo Trafficante helped turn Havana into a Latin Las Vegas.
Fidel Castro was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Galician immigrant to Cuba. Six foot three and powerfully built, he became an accomplished athlete. In 1949, he was offered a contract to pitch for the New York Giants baseball team, but he turned them down. History might have been so different, and so might the Giants.

Instead of playing ball with us, Castro began launching attacks on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 to start the Cuban revolution, which lasted until the collapse of the Batista regime in 1958. Batista fled the country on New Year’s Day 1959.

Fidel Castro, who had not started as a Communist, had become America’s worst Cold War nightmare—a revolutionary Communist government on America’s doorstep that was allied with the Soviet Union. We hadn’t been too keen about Spain ruling Cuba, and we were even less keen about Russia moving in next door.

On March 4, 1960, another ship explosion in Havana harbor influenced the course of Cuban-American links and history. This time it was the Belgian La Coubre. Loaded with ammunition, it blew up, causing widespread devastation. This explosion was probably the result of negligence, though Fidel used it as an excuse to accuse the United States of sabotage and to request more arms from the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco must rank among the more disastrous interventions in US military history. On April 15, 1961, eight American B-26s bombed Cuban airfields as the CIA’s brigade of Cuban exile volunteers approached the Bay of Pigs. JFK, however, refused to provide additional air support for the doomed invasion and the bitter fighting that followed.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the US government tried other ways of getting at Castro. The Kennedy brothers initiated Operation Mongoose, which attempted many times to assassinate Fidel Castro. They tried exploding cigars and poisoned ice cream, among others.

JFK retaliated against Cuba in February 1962 by banning the importation of Cuban cigars—a ban that persists to this day. JFK , a devoted smoker, had stocked up on his personal supply in advance.
During the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962, the world came closer to thermonuclear war than any time in its history after a US reconnaissance flight over the island took photos of a missile site under construction. Many options were explored on how to deal with the introduction of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles on Fidel’s Cuba, some of them involving a US invasion of the island. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and we opted for a naval blockade of Cuba.

Soviet ships that were delivering more missile parts turned around, but the Soviets gained their original strategic objective by forcing the United States to withdraw its own medium-range missiles from Turkey, and Cuba gained a pledge that the United States would never again invade Cuba.
And since then, there have been more plots and a continued Cold War. We’ve remained in Guantanamo, and the Communist government has remained in power in Havana."

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Friday, November 25, 2016

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2016, will mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  This "Day of Infamy" provides a temporal dividing line between the American isolationism that preceded it and the American engagement with the rest of the world that followed.  This engagement, for better or worse, endures into the 21st century.  The lessons we draw from seventy five years ago can help us to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

The great English historian Edward Gibbon described history as being “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was surely a crime that galvanized and unified our nation.  It also set into motion a series of misfortunes that would culminate with mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki just over 70 years ago.

The Japanese attack was surely a great folly as well.  As Admiral Yamamoto presciently remarked, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  World War II was remarkable among American wars in many ways but not least because of the political unanimity that followed the Pearl Harbor attack.  All races, creeds and political viewpoints in America were united to remember and avenge Pearl Harbor.  President Franklin D Roosevelt led our nation in the construction of a vast “Arsenal of Democracy” that ground the Axis powers into dust.

FDR Statue, Grosvenor Square, London
Every year at this time, charges arise that FDR knew in advance of the coming attack on Pearl Harbor.  We live in an age of rampant conspiracy theorizing with fires stoked by Internet speculation, yet these charges lack credible evidence.  Yes, FDR knew in a general sense that the Japanese might launch an attack on American military positions throughout the wide Pacific, but he did not know that the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be targeted in the early morning hours of December 7.  FDR, having served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, loved the US Navy above all other military branches, and he would have done anything in his power to preserve it from destruction.
FDR and Eleanor, FDR Library, Hyde Park, NY
FDR was not a perfect wartime leader.  He trusted Stalin too much.  He was overly suspicious of de Gaulle.  He was excessively partisan when he declined Herbert Hoover’s offer to assist with humanitarian relief during the war.  But he was an inspirational leader who did lead his nation to victory in World War II.  And he was certainly not a traitor.

These charges against FDR are based upon a gross underestimation of Japanese abilities.  The Japanese Navy really did achieve strategic surprise against the Americans.  They did so mainly because Admiral Nagumo ordered the fleet to maintain strict radio silence for its voyage from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands: “All transmissions of messages are strictly forbidden.”

Many Americans simply could not credit the Japanese with such military skill.  Even after the Pearl Harbor attack, some suggested that the Zeroes marked with the Rising Sun must have been piloted by Germans!

When the news of the Battle of Little Bighorn first spread in 1876, many Americans could not accept that Custer’s 7th Cavalry had been wiped out in Montana by a force of Native Americans.

While history may be the record of mankind’s crimes and follies it also holds valuable lessons.  The lesson of December 7 is that one should never allow ethnic stereotypes to underestimate one’s opponent.  The only effective cure for racism is knowledge.

On December 2, 2015 fourteen Americans were killed in San Bernardino.  The lesson of this attack was that the capacity of our enemies should not be underestimated on the basis of gender stereotypes either.


I enjoyed my December 7th radio interview with Jon Grayson of Overnight America.  Please listen here...

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