Commentary: Kalb's 'The Road to War'

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large  |  June 5, 2013 at 6:44 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- He is the senior statesman of U.S. media. Tall, handsome, brilliant, unfailingly courteous, Marvin Kalb looks and acts more like a senior statesman than the chief diplomatic correspondent he was for CBS News and NBC over 30 years when these networks cared about world news.

Now these media organizations still bill themselves as world news networks but, most nights, forget about the rest of the world.

Following his prize-studded reportorial career, Kalb became the first director of journalism's school of higher learning at Harvard -- the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Now, still the profession's senior statesman, he runs the center's Washington office and hosts "The Kalb Report."

The author of two best-selling novels and a book titled, "One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky and 13 days That Transformed American Journalism," Kalb's 13th book -- his best -- excoriates Congress for relinquishing its constitutional obligation to declare war.

The electronic media invariably beat the war drums, presumably in subconscious anticipation of higher ratings for blood and guts live from the scene of the action, what war correspondents called "bang bang" assignments.

This could be one of the reasons the United States has gone to war time and again since World War II without the constitutional requirement of a congressional mandate.

In his latest book "The Road to War -- Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed," Kalb reminds us that the U.S. Constitution stipulates beyond the shadow of a doubt that only Congress can declare war. But the last declaration of war authorized by Congress was World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

For the past 40 years, says Kalb, the United States, like kings of yesteryear, was drawn into non-stop wars, from Korea to Vietnam, Panama to Grenada, Lebanon to Bosnia, Afghanistan to Iraq, using volunteers who are dispatched abroad wherever modern-day war lords say they need them.

Mass media welcomes war, Kalb argues, noting the last president authorized by Congress to declare war was Franklin Roosevelt after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

In 1945, following World War II, President Harry Truman pleaded for congressional restraint should he ever be tempted to commit U.S. troops to another war. And when North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman bypassed Congress and went to the United Nations to get a U.N. mandate to take the United States to war.

For the Vietnam War, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson kept expanding draftee manpower until more than half a million men had been committed to the conflict. It was Kennedy who authorized U.S. military advisers to become war fighters and at the time of his assassination Nov. 22, 1963, there were already 16,000 U.S. soldiers committed to combat.

The controversial Gulf of Tonkin incident Aug. 2, 1964, when the U.S. destroyer USS Maddox off the North Vietnamese coast was attacked by torpedo boats, was quickly put to good use in Congress with a resolution that gave Johnson full authority to use any means necessary to resolve the situation.

Ever larger numbers of U.S. troops were dispatched to Vietnam beginning in March 1965.

In the current civil war in Syria, now in its third year, which has killed more than 80,000, President Barack Obama wants to keep the United States out of direct military involvement.

He imprudently said that the use chemical weapons would be a red line for the United States. The evidence is growing that this line has been crossed. The United Nations actually confirmed it this week. The Obama waffle has run its erratic course.

War hawks, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who crossed into Syria briefly with guerrilla fighters, and other hawks, are agitating on TV news for the United States to join the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

The dilemma for the United States is that pro-al-Qaida terrorists appear to be the spearhead of the guerrilla war against the Assad regime.

Next to al-Qaida and its Associated Movements, now partly based in Iraq, an oil-rich country allegedly liberated by the United States in a war (2003-09) that cost the U.S. taxpayer $1 trillion, Assad and his Iranian allies seem like the lesser of two evils.

Kalb is bound to raise a few eyebrows when he writes Israeli leaders feel at times they have been betrayed by U.S. presidents and suggested that it may be time for a negotiated defense treaty between the United States and Israel as a way of substituting for a string of secret presidential commitments.

The rest of the world sees Israel treated more generously than most American states. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the single most powerful lobby in Washington. Only one congressman has had the temerity to go against AIPAC's wishes and survived an election. The others went down to defeat. The powerful Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chuck Percy, R-Ill., crossed AIPAC -- and bit the electoral dust in 1984.

The annual AIPAC convention is tantamount to medieval liege fealty. As he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, Obama told the AIPAC convention the bond between the United States and Israel is "unbreakable today, tomorrow and forever ... a support for Israel that goes beyond party ... a pledge that Israel can defend itself against any threat -- from Gaza to Tehran."

In the 1973 war, when the Israelis were pushed back from the Suez Canal in a surprise Egyptian attack over the Yom Kippur holiday, U.S. aircraft flew resupply missions directly to an airstrip in the Sinai.

Treaties can be shelved when geopolitically inconvenient. Lenin said it first, then Stalin, "Treaties are like pie crust; they are made to be broken." Not AIPAC. It's not even required to register as a foreign agent. Israel is not foreign. It's a domestic American concern.

Kalb's expertly crafted "The Road to War" is must reading for anyone who wishes to understand how we blew $2 trillion on the first two wars of the 21st century -- sans declaration of war. KIA: 7,000; WIA: 50,000.

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