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The Santayana Lesson

February 9, 2015

                                                  Published on The Hill.com

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So said George Santayana, giving us a line oft repeated by high school history and civics teachers and forgotten by politicians.

           The events of recent years should convince us that we are living that lesson. A hundred years back, the point was well made for us. Following World War I, after all the preaching, politics, and panoply of Paris, the Allied Powers mothballed their forces, trusting that Germany would thrive under Weimar and its infant democracy. We know the result of that approach. Despite Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the League of Nations, it was our first great example of leading from behind.

            World War II came and went and this time, the United States and its allies occupied conquered Germany, and with the USSR as our foil, we provided a vivid example of how to manage and develop a conquered nation into a thriving democracy, as opposed to what might then have been described as a Russian Caliphate, the hegemonized slavery of whole peoples.

            We applied the same formula in Japan and with Douglas MacArthur’s strong, guiding hand, launched another democratic success story. Harry Truman, a wise geopolitical manager, was followed by Dwight Eisenhower, who built another success in South Korea.

            Germany, Japan, and Korea, are amongst our strongest, most stable allies, with deepening capitalist, democratic roots. What else do they have in common? In each instance, we built bases and left sufficient troops for peacekeeping and stabilization purposes. Our forces are seen as protectors in those countries, still today.

            Now comes Barack Obama, exactly the wrong man with the wrong philosophy for our times. Against the advice of candidate Obama and other sideline prophets, George W. Bush pursued an Iraq surge. That it proved an amazing success is not challenged by sober political and military leaders. In gaining the presidency, however, Obama made his prophecy come true. He withdrew from Iraq, leaving no serious peacekeeping or stabilization force behind to support the fledgling democracy then underway. As a parent, would he have tossed the car keys to either of his daughters just after she took her first steps at the age of one? Coldly, he left a nation to its own demons.

            Obama’s apologists argue that we have ISIL because George Bush invaded Iraq. Sensible others should argue that we have ISIL because Barack Obama left Iraq, permitting it to become the spawning ground of today’s rampant evil.

            Now, this president is desperate for a nuclear deal with Iran—one that no sober political or military leader believes can ever be real. For that ephemeral purpose, he has alienated our strongest ally in the region. Because he doesn’t like Netanyahu? Really? And he has refrained from substantive action in defeating ISIL. Words and drones are not “substantive.”

            When history’s moment is upon us, and the Jordanians and others are realizing the true threat of this irreligious cabal, Mr. Obama attends the National Prayer Breakfast and talks about slavery and other crimes committed, purportedly, in the name of Christ. Really?

            Given this regime’s tone-deaf response to so-called Islamist terrorists, as seen by our actual reticence in the Middle East, our non-presence in solidarity after the late Parisian massacres, and his antipathy toward the Israel’s right to exist, one has to wonder where Mr. Obama’s sympathies truly lie.

            Why we are where we are may be grist for history’s mills. That we are condemned to repeat the lessons of World War I—and cruelly so—is not at all debatable.

            Warren is a political observer, commentator, and author (Turnover), who writes from western Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Another prompt for this op-ed are the broad similarities between the actual present and the fictional past in Allen Drury’s, Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (Doubleday, 1973).

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