The word “Anschluss” became well known in 1936 as Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria. Two years later the next newly familiar name was the Sudetenland, the predominantly German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s pact with England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain paved the way for the rest of Czechoslovakia to fall into German hands and in 1939 Poland fell to the Nazis in just a few days. Then in 1940 Hitler incrementally overran Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and it wasn’t looking too good for the Brits at that point. All this took place with the world pretty much watching from the sidelines as though people expected something different to happen after each country fell to the German blitzkrieg (another word that became well known then).
On September 8, 1974 newly ascended President Gerald Ford issued a “full, free and absolute pardon” for “ . . . all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in . . . ” Many were the conspiracy theories about a supposed pact with the devil that spawned a Ford presidency and a pardon for an American who had not yet even been indicted for a crime but whose guilt was obvious. Nevertheless, the pardon stood and, other than having to resign from office, Nixon got away with his lawbreaking.
1985 was a fine year for labyrinthine presidential dealing, as President Reagan and his team negotiated a three-way swap of arms to Iranians and sent money from the arms transactions to the Contras in Nicaragua. The arms going to the Iranians were supposed to buy goodwill, such that the Iranian government would exert influence to get 7 American hostages released from their imprisonment at the hands of the Army of the Guardians of the Iranian Revolution (Hezbollah). The U.S. sale of arms to the Iranians was a violation of the then-current arms embargo on Iran. Providing money to the Contras in Nicaragua was in direct violation of the Boland Amendment.
Interestingly, of those indicted for their parts in this nefarious scheme, a handful received a sentence of a short term on parole. A few went to prison for a little while and of those, nearly all were pardoned by President George H. W. Bush, himself a key player in the conspiracy but who never had to answer for his lawbreaking. President Reagan was clearly responsible for the entire illegal operation but he was never charged with anything other than poor oversight of his national security team. That is to say, he got away with it.
In the waning days of George W. Bush’s second term the major U.S. financial institutions began to fail under the weight of the house of cards they themselves had allowed to be erected and Bush told us we had to act immediately to rescue them because they were “too big to fail.” We sent trillions of dollars their way and, even as fraud had plainly been committed, no criminal indictments were issued against the perps. Those same financial institutions are now far larger than they were when they were “too big to fail” and their smoke-and-mirrors investment schemes continue.
Bush also lied the U.S. into two wars and compounded his lawlessness by authorizing the torture of hundreds of prisoners, an act that is in violation of the Geneva Conventions and others, as well as a clear violation of United States law. Not a single person involved in that lawbreaking was indicted for anything and the Obama administration has made clear that it will not prosecute. All of the lawbreakers have gotten away with their crimes.
There is an ongoing pattern of crime at the highest levels that continues to go unpunished. What is significant about that is the certainty that bad behavior unpunished is a guarantee of more bad behavior in the future and that is exactly what has happened. Let’s take this knowledge to the present crisis.
It is clear that Bashar al-Assad has no compunction about killing over 100,000 of his countrymen, nor has he any concern over using weapons of mass destruction, like sarin gas (stockpiles pictured above). Failing to punish that behavior will ensure that Bashar al-Assad will do more of the same or worse in the days to come. And the story is even bigger than that.
We are facing an upcoming nuclear arms threat from Iran. So, too, and likely more immediately, is Israel facing that threat, given that the Iranians have sworn to wipe Israel from the map. We have told the Iranians that they must abandon their development of nuclear weapons and comply with international agreements to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. We have been clear that failure on their part to comply will be seen as a threat to the United States, which will compel us to take direct action against that threat.
But are our threats of action against Iran believable if we fail to confront the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria?
The world sat on its hands as Hitler incrementally annexed most of Europe. In the United States we allowed Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama to break major laws with impunity or fail to prosecute those who did. Each of those then-current issues and failures to act ensured the next wrongdoing.
The pattern and the message are unmistakable: The behavior we tolerate is the behavior we are certain to get over and over. But now the toleration of bad behavior could lead to worldwide catastrophe.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.