George Santayana reminds us that "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Here are some things to remember from our own history in war and occasionally peace.

One episode of the 1960s TV series "Secret Agent Man" was titled "Yesterday's Enemies." Indeed, yesterday's enemies can become our friends and, conversely, yesterday's friends can become today's enemies. Here is a list of nations we have fought either in a declared war or an undeclared conflict that are now our friends, or at least our trading partners: Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, China, Italy, Vietnam, France and Spain.


On the other hand, some nations that were our friends, or at least our trading partners, have become our enemies. Periodically we invade a country whose ruler is deemed a tyrant in the belief that we will be greeted with flowers as liberators. This first occurred in Canada in the war of 1812. We were wrong then; we were wrong in the Bay of Pigs incursion into Cuba; we were wrong in Iraq; we never seem to learn that a bad guy still can stir up national patriotism in the face of a foreign invader.

Our CIA frequently overreaches. We had peaceful relations with Iran and its elected president, Mohammad Mossadegh, but our CIA helped the British and the titular monarch (Shah) of Iran to overthrow the elected government. It was all about Iranian nationalization of the nation's oil resources. Ever since that overthrow, the Iranian people have been our enemy. The CIA-managed Bay of Pigs invasion was a disaster. Much of the hatred of the U.S. in the Middle East can be traced to those black sites where captured terrorists were tortured. In my view no external threat justifies torture of prisoners. We will ultimately be judged not on how we treated our friends, but how we treated our captured prisoners.

Another thing we keep forgetting is that an irregular insurgent force with a strong motivation can frequently harass and ultimately defeat a better equipped regular army that lacks motivation. In our own revolution, the forces that harassed the British and Hessian units were frequently little more then untrained volunteers. In the words of Nathanael Greene, "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." In the wars against America's original inhabitants, the Battle of Little Big Horn showed the folly of underestimating irregular opponents. More recently, in the Iraq war, regular Iraqi units often surrendered en masse, but the irregulars, known as "Feyadeen Saddam," gave us trouble and casualties. Currently the reconstituted regular Iraqi army still tends to not show up, but the irregular Kurdish force known as Peshmerga has proven to be the most reliable opponent of the ISIS forces.

Currently there is some good foreign policy news. President Barack Obama has a firm grasp of the obvious, and it is obvious that more friendly relations with Cuba does us no harm and may help the Cuban people, including Cuban-Americans, a great deal. The embargo on trade with Cuba is still the law, but hopefully some future Congress will recognize the virtue of being Cuba's friend, and not their bully.

We lost 50,000 troops fighting in Vietnam, yet today we trade with Vietnam. In the Korean war, Chinese "volunteers" killed many Americans, but today we allow free trade with China.

The constitutional provision that forbids Obama from running again also frees him to do what is right without fear of political consequences. The recent deal with Cuba is typical Obama strategy, do what is needed, but in small incremental steps.

If you want bolder leadership then elect a better Congress. Or perhaps we should elect a Republican president, and let him or her try to deal with the intransigents on the far right and the cowardice of House Speaker John Boehner. It would be fit punishment for the GOP. Unfortunately, we all would have to suffer along with them when the market crashes because of deregulation and unemployment rises again.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at