Reprinted from Consortium News
President Lyndon Johnson announces 'retaliatory' strike against North Vietnam in response to the supposed attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin on Aug. 4, 1964.
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Many current members of Congress, especially progressives, may have envisioned how they would have handled the Tonkin Gulf crisis in 1964. In their imaginations, they would have asked probing questions and treated the dubious assertions from the White House with tough skepticism before voting on whether to give President Lyndon Johnson the authority to go to war in Vietnam.
If they had discovered what CIA and Pentagon insiders already knew -- that the crucial second North Vietnamese "attack" on U.S. destroyers likely never happened and that the U.S. warships were not on some "routine" patrol but rather supporting a covert attack on North Vietnamese territory -- today's members of Congress would likely see themselves joining Sens. Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening as the only ones voting no.
Bravery in hindsight is always easy, but things feel quite different when Official Washington is locked in one of its pro-war "group thinks" when all the "important people" -- from government to the media to think tanks -- are pounding their chests and talking tough, as they are now on Russia and Ukraine.
Then, if you ask your probing questions and show your tough skepticism, you will have your patriotism, if not your sanity, questioned. You will be "controversialized," "marginalized," "pariahed." You will be called somebody's "apologist," whether it's Ho Chi Minh or Vladimir Putin.
And nobody wants to go through that because here's the truth about Official Washington: if you run with the pack -- if you stay within the herd -- you'll be safe. Even if things go terribly wrong -- even if thousands of American soldiers die along with many, many more foreign civilians -- you can expect little or no accountability. You will likely keep your job and may well get promoted. But if you stand in the way of the stampede, you'll be trampled.
After all, remember what happened to Morse and Gruening in their next elections. They both lost. As one Washington insider once told me about the U.S. capital's culture, "there's no honor in being right too soon. People just remember that you were out of step and crazy."
So, the choice often is to do the right thing and be crushed or to run with the pack and be safe. But there are moments when even the most craven member of Congress should look for whatever courage he or she has left and behave like a Morse or a Gruening, especially in a case like the Ukraine crisis which has the potential to spin out of control and into a nuclear confrontation.
Though the last Congress already whipped through belligerent resolutions denouncing "Russian aggression" and urging a military response -- with only five Democrats and five Republicans dissenting -- members of the new Congress could at least ascertain the facts that have driven the Ukraine conflict. Before the world lurches into a nuclear showdown, it might make a little sense to know what got us here.
The Nuland Phone Call
For instance, Congress could investigate the role of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in orchestrating the political crisis that led to a violent coup overthrowing Ukraine's constitutionally elected President Viktor Yanukovych a year ago.
What was the significance of the Nuland-Pyatt phone call in early February 2014 in which Nuland exclaimed "f*ck the EU!" and seemed to be handpicking the leaders of a new government? "Yats is the guy," she said referring to her favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, with Pyatt musing about how to "midwife this thing"?
Among other questions that Congress could pose would be: What does U.S. intelligence know about the role of neo-Nazi extremists whose "sotin" militias infiltrated the Maidan protests and escalated the violence against police last February? [See Consortiumnews.com's "NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine."]
And, what does U.S. intelligence know about the mysterious snipers who brought the crisis to a boil on Feb. 20, 2014, by opening fire on police apparently from positions controlled by the extremist Right Sektor, touching off a violent clash that left scores dead, including police and protesters. [A worthwhile documentary on this mystery is "Maidan Massacre."]
Congress might also seek to determine what was the U.S. government's role over the next two days as three European countries -- Poland, France and Germany -- negotiated a deal with Yanukovych on Feb. 21 in which the embattled president agreed to Maidan demands for reducing his powers and accepting early elections to vote him out of office.
Instead of accepting this agreement, which might have averted a civil war, neo-Nazi and other Maidan militants attacked undefended government positions on Feb. 22 and forced officials to flee for their lives. Then, instead of standing by the European deal, the U.S. State Department quickly embraced the coup regime as "legitimate." And, surprise, surprise, Yatsenyuk emerged as the new Prime Minister.