When Lucius Cornelius Sulla and his legions marched on Rome for the second time in 82 B.C., they managed to take the city after several brief battles with the forces of the year’s two elected consuls.
He proceeded to restore the office of dictator, enacted some constitutional reforms to reinforce the Republican regime and then retired into private life. Coup d’états and civil wars were almost a requirement for life in the Roman Republic and — today — they threaten to become the norm for America.
This age-old story comes up again in a recent op-ed by the Washington Times, which offers the narrative of Gwyneth Todd and her life of mixed fortune as political adviser on Mideast affairs to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. At the helm, a wayward general nearly started a war with Iran, in what might have been America’s first successful hijacking of the State in recent history.
Before I delve deeper in the story, I have to say that as fascinating as the source material is, it is one sided – in being deliberately ostracized from her position, Gwyneth Todd was logically deprived of a significant number of details surrounding not only her dismissal, but also the wider situation in which she was involved. A fair warning then: a one sided piece equates to one-dimensional analysis on my part.
Todd currently resides in Australia, her second home after her troubles in Washington prevented her from living there. How she got there to begin with, WaPo tells in very interesting detail. The question I’m asking, is how does that reflect on America?
Kevin Cosgriff is Sulla in our story – the daring vice-admiral with a vision, ready to wage war for its attainment. If Todd’s words are to be taken at face value, then he is representative of the neoconservative camp in Washington, whose narrow-minded and ill-informed forays in Afghanistan and Iraq killed too many people to count and achieved nothing else over two Bush terms.
However, Cosgriff’s disregard for Washington and his unilateralism as a supreme commander of a fleet that in his perception was a means and an end on itself, led him to calculate how to provoke Iran in retaliating to a challenge as a spark to a full-out war with the Persian state. Basically, he comes far short of Sulla’s coup standards.
Under the Obama administration, the emphasis is rightfully on diplomacy in regard to Iran, even if the chosen brand of sanctions is not the best one. Cosgriff’s attempt to usurp the authority of those above him to what might have turned into a geopolitical nightmare is a sign of a deeper crisis within America. It is a crisis about legitimacy, authority and, perhaps, the ultimate expiration of the American political model.
Supplanting the idea of a crisis is the recent news of an elaborate plan to overthrow the state and assassinate President Obama, courtesy of the U.S. Army’s servicemen; the price put on Barack’s head is a paltry $87,000 – that’s a shame for the man with the toughest job in the world.
America’s closet monster rears its ugly head here again: the right to carry guns. The foiled plot was to be carried by Forever Enduring Always Ready, a militia, composed for the purpose. Now, this is the whole rationale of keeping the Second Amendment and its manifestation in practice. Militias guarantee that the government does not get too ambitious, or so the theory goes. In practice, it will start the domino effect to another civil war, and we definitely don’t want one of those.
So, we have a military in the United States that is toying with the idea of a coup d’état, if the two prior sentiments are to be perceived as evidence. Perhaps the country with the most chronic problem of an unruly military is Argentina: the issue there goes back two centuries, and the last such episode ended a mere 30 years ago with the Falklands War. Conversely, there are enough unemployed veterans down south to at least consider the idea.
Gwyneth Todd paid with her career and exile, but that makes her a sacrificial lamb to a problem that has not gone away. Cases like hers are not uncommon, when a whistleblower doesn’t threaten the system; it becomes a problem when the integrity of the system itself becomes a threat. The crisis has the potential to deepen, because far-sighted and responsible politicians seem to be lacking in the current generation of leadership.
The U.S. federal debt in and around the $16 trillion mark, rising unemployment and an economy in stasis represent problems that a president of either political color has not been able to address. The foreign policy problem is that a military adventure will take away attention from these structural problems, much like the Arab “spring” has done, but when the bill comes, we won’t be able to do anything about it.
Iran is the best candidate – in light of the fact that the rational thing, from all perspectives, is to not have war, we might yet attack the Persians. Not so much for their nuclear program, with North Korea and Pakistan being rather more dangerous atomic states than Iran. Attacking the country would have political, not logical, motivations and would end in a disaster. If the result of the Iranian adventure is a defeat, which it all in likelihood will be, what will be the domestic political price to pay? It may be the delegitimizing of the American regime through the total disconnect between values and practice.
When such a disconnect happens, Sulla comes on the scene. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.