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Frank Gruber

Who Lost [fill in the blank]

By Frank Gruber

While watching parts of and reading about the Petraeus/Crocker hearings in Congress last week, I started to think about what the essence of the politics of Republican foreign policy has been for the past 60 years.

It all boils down to the phrase "Who lost [fill in the blank]."

It started with China. Someone lost it when Mao's Communists overthrew the corrupt and ineffectual Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Republicans ripped the State Department apart to find out whom.

Now, the fact that the U.S. could do little or nothing to prevent millions of Chinese from throwing out the old and embracing the new, after a decades of chaos and anarchy, had nothing to do with the search for the culpable.

Before the search was over, it had even reached the preposterous claim, made by Sen. Joe McCarthy but implicitly accepted by 1952 Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower, that Gen. George Marshall, the American of the 20th Century who had both the clearest and most visionary view of the country's strategic interests, had let the Communists win by trying to negotiate a settlement between them and the Kuomintang.

At about the same time that the Republicans were looking for who lost China, they were blaming Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the "loss" of Eastern Europe to Russia. President Roosevelt allegedly sold out Eastern Europe at Yalta. Just as they denied the reality of what was going on in China, the Republicans made this claim without acknowledging the reality that Eastern Europe wasn't ours to lose -- the Red Army occupied it.

The same thing happened when President Harry Truman sacked Douglas MacArthur over the general's insubordination in advocating extension of the Korean War into China. To Republicans, MacArthur was a hero, without regard to the realities of the limits on American power on the landmass of Asia.

All this "losing" provided the rationale for Republican attacks on Democrats as being "soft on Communism."

Fast-forward 20 years to the lost cause of my generation: Who lost Vietnam? It was the same dynamic. This time it was Democrats who initially thought that we could win a war where we took sides in a massive peasant and nationalistic revolution, but later it was more realistic Democrats -- in the streets and then in Congress -- who came to the conclusion that we couldn't.

Republicans have been living ever since off the fantasy that there was a "victory" to be won in Vietnam, if it weren't for the protestors.

Republican foreign policy politics reflect two aspects of their worldview: (i) American exceptionalism to the nth degree, resulting in a belief that the U.S. is omnipotent and that any setbacks must be the result of a conspiracy, and (ii) and ignorance about world realities that is the result of the isolationalism that permeated much of the party's base.

And now, Iraq.

You can feel it in the spin from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, but it's quite explicit in everything that John McCain says about Iraq. We can have victory in Iraq if we don't "lose" it, notwithstanding that there is no evidence that the U.S. military can occupy or impose our will on the country any better than the British tried to do for much of the last century.

It's little comfort this time that Gen. Petraeus is apparently at odds with the rest of the military brass over even his limited optimism about what the military can do in Iraq (especially without detriment to the military as a whole and its overall mission), since in this case, as opposed to the situation with MacArthur, the general is in synch with his commander in chief.

The events in Basra over the past few weeks indicate that the relative calm in Iraq during the past year has much more to do with Moktada al-Sadr's unilateral truce than with the "surge."

But you know that when the inevitable comes, and the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, someone will have lost it.


It's funny, the flip side of victory is supposed to be defeat, but it's hard to tell how the United States of America, our country, was defeated at Yalta, in China, or after Vietnam. Our power and prestige in the world steadily increased. We won the Cold War and both China and Vietnam are now our economic and even strategic partners.

Maybe we could win more in the Middle East by losing a little.

* * *

Strangely, or maybe it's not so strange, this history of the phrase "who lost X" makes me think about the current controversy between the City of Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

I have the feeling that there are people in the FAA who are worrying today that ten years from now, the cry will go out from the aviation community, "Who lost SMO?!"

When I wrote two weeks ago about the dispute and the FAA's Order to Show Cause to prevent the City from banning Class C and D jets from the airport ("Flying Right," March 31,2008), there was an issue that I didn't have room to get to but which greatly piqued my curiosity.

The issue had to do with the City's expectation that after the expiration in 2015 of its current obligations to the FAA and the pilots and others who do business at the airport it will have the right to close the facility. At the recent City Council meeting where the council adopted the ban on big private jets, the FAA's representative, Kirk Shaffer, told the council that it was the agency's position that the City would not have the right to do that at that time or ever.

Mr. Shaffer did not give an explanation, but one was contained in the FAA's Order to Show Cause, filed the next day. ( "FAA Files Order," March 31, 2008) The FAA claimed that under the terms of the World War II era Surplus Property Act of 1944, and deeds conveying the airport back to the City after the war, the City must operate the property as a public airport in perpetuity or until the federal government approved closing it down.

That was a new claim so far as I was concerned, and apparently I wasn't the only one who was surprised to see it. In City Attorney Marsha Moutrie's response to the FAA's Order ("City Fires Back at FAA's 'Legal Assualt,'" April 8, 2008), Ms. Moutrie says that this is the first time the FAA has made it.

Ms. Moutrie and the City's other attorneys, including the City's special outside aviation counsel, went on to say that the 1944 law does apply to SMO because during the war the federal government only leased the airport from the City, which retained ownership. As lessee, the feds could not impose restrictions on the landlord, the City, when the leases expired.

Stay tuned. The City and the FAA seem to have a fundamentally different view of not only the law, but also the facts, as the City denies that a deed under the Surplus Property Act from the feds to the City, as the FAA contends, exists. This will be a crucial issue in the City's efforts to close the airport in 2015, but it's possible that it could be resolved in the current litigation.

Meeting notice:

Wednesday night the Planning Commssion will consider the development agreement for the Village mixed-use but primarily residential development at the Civic Center. For the staff report, go to item 9-A on the agenda.

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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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