Odor in the Air: The Vietnam Connection
March 29, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The
Is it just me or is there a smell of Vietnam in the desert
air? Once again, in its haste to get its war on, the U.S.
has gone into a foreign land, ignorant of its culture, believing
that its technological might would lead to a swift victory,
forgetting the force of nationalism when a people believe
themselves to be invaded.
And the U.S. generals and politicians in charge pretend that
all is going swimmingly and that the war willl be over just
as soon as the "coalition" forces get into downtown Baghdad
and punish the enemy Big Time.
Does any of this sound familiar? How do you spell Q-U-A-G-M-I-R-E?
As we now know, the generals and policy advisors warned successive
U.S. presidents not to get involved in Vietnam (see Daniel
Ellsberg's book, Secrets), but each President dismissed
those inside experts and went ahead anyway, the result of
which was the expension of our blood and treasure - and our
sense of ourselves as a moral nation - in an unwinnable war.
We know that the top echelons of our current military early
on warned the Bush politicos and Mr. Bush himself not to launch
this war on Iraq, absent an overt provocation and without
a huge international coalition on board; the brass were warned
by Rumsfeld to get in line with Bush policy or get another
job. They got in line.
The policy behind the Iraq war comes mainly from chickenhawks
- i.e., armchair soldiers who made sure they didn't have to
serve in Vietnam or any other wars. These Project for the
New American Century ideologues were certain that the Iraqis
would welcome the U.S. soldiers as liberators, they knew how
weak Saddam's regime was, they were sure they could roll the
members of the U.N. Security Council into backing their fait
accompli war, they knew Turkey would accept the bribe and
come around, they knew everything. Infallible.
Bush, not having any ideas of his own, was a prime candidate
for swallowing such malarky and turning it into doctrine.
And so, against the advice of everyone who should count in
such things - former President Bush and his top security advisors;
his own military brass; the Pope and other world religious
leaders; his European allies; the Arab World, virtually unanimously;
ten million citizens of various countries who took to the
streets to denounce the planned invasion, and so on - Bush
launched a "pre-emptive" war on Iraq, absent any provocation.
He wouldn't need as big an invading force as many military
leaders told him might come in handy. When the Iraqis see
our might, and feel our bombs, are properly shocked and awed
by our greatness, it'll all be over before you can say "Halliburton
contract." So went the Bush mantra, and in the early days,
Rumsfeld laid on the "inevitability" line big time. It's all
but over, they'll see it momentarily and then we will have
won, we will have "liberated" the Iraqi people.
Hasn't worked out that way. The Iraqis will take U.S. food
packages and water, and then denounce America as an infidel
invader, the "Satan" that's bombing their villages and cities,
killing their citizens, trying to humiliate them in the world's
Why did we expect otherwise? The Bush Administration - which
wears blinders, just like successive administrations with
regard to Vietnam, so that it will see only what it wants
to see - accepted everything the Iraqi opposition-in-exile
told them about what would happen once U.S. troops set foot
on Iraqi soil. The people would rise up, throw off the Saddam
shackles and place flowers at the feet of their American saviors.
It's at least conceivable that something like that could
have happened had the U.S. been lucky with its opening-night
overture bombing and decapitated the entire Iraqi military/political
leadership in one fell swoop. But without an instantaneous
success, the U.S. found itself fighting in Saddam's war-scenario
rather than being fully able to carry out its own.
And now the "coalition" (mainly the U.S. and U.K., plus whatever
others could be badgered and bullied and bribed into lending
their names but no troops) is getting ready to enter Baghdad,
for the jolly good fun of house-by-house, street-by-street
fighting in territory known exclusively by their enemy.
It's going to be a turkey shoot for the Iraqis as they ambush
and boobytrap and lead the U.S. troops down one blind alley
after another, for months, perhaps for years. And you know
what the response will be from the Superpower: more bombing
from the air in an urban environment, civilian casualties
galore, more sympathy for the Iraqis from the Arab world,
less patience with the U.S. around the globe, a vision of
the U.S. as a giant bully who just wants to beat up someone
to demonstrate his authority.
Whenever things looked dark in Vietnam, the military would
ask for another 100,000 troops. That'll make us invulnerable,
that'll take care of those gooks. We'll up the ante. More
B-52 bombings, more napalm, more infantry, the boys'll be
home by Christmas.
Things are looking poorly along the road to Baghdad, so the
call already is out: Another 100,000 troops already are on
their way to Iraq. (And you can bet your bottom dollar that
there are brass in the Pentagon thinking, but not yet saying:
"We told you so, you dumb civilian a-holes!")
Things have moved so quickly. The antiwar marches were drawing
millions in this country and around the globe, and the fricking
war hadn't even started yet! And now that the war is officially
on, conservative Foreign Service Officers are resigning, conservative
Republican Party officials are resigning, Australian pilots
are refusing their bomb-run orders - all because, in good
conscience, they can't condone what their government is asking
them to do in this illegal and immoral war. That development
took years and years to happen in Vietnam. And we're just
in the opening weeks of this war.
Will Bush&Co. realize the truths they should have realized
before they launched their invasion, and pack it in? Oh, terribly
sorry, we made a bad mistake; rather than waste more of our
precious youth and treasure on this sorry mess, we're pulling
out and going back to the United Nations for direction. Yeah,
sure. It would take a government of great moral courage to
do something like that - and, in case you haven't noticed,
that's not who's in charge these days.
No, too much is riding on this gigantic gamble for PNAC and
the rest of Bush&Co. In order to carry out its vision for
the region, and the world - i.e., regional and world dominance,
control of natural resources, being able to threaten and put
down any would-be competitors (be they nation-states or international
organizations) - Iraq has to fall. No ifs, ands or buts.
These guys will bankrupt the U.S. before they abandon their
grandiose scheme, will send more and more young men and women
to their deaths to get what they want. They want the world
and they want it NOW, and nothing you or I say will deter
them from their self-appointed rounds. God has annointed them,
you see, and the geopolitical situation offers the opportunity
- no other Superpower around to stop them - so get out of
our way, damn it.
The idea that they can be defeated by non-superpowers - like
the world's citizens boycotting American goods, by millions
of anti-war demonstrators leaning on their governments abroad
to combat U.S. imperial ambitions, the beginning rumbles for
impeachment, even (possibly) the United Nations stepping in
to force their hand - simply hasn't entered their craniums.
But they'd better start thinking such thoughts, because their
crass arrogance, bullyboy behavior, and desperate flailing
around militarily have energized the world against them, and
are starting to make inroads even into the fearful American
polity, who are starting to wonder whether these are the best
leaders for our already scary times. (There are rumors circulating
that the Bush Administration is examining options to call
off the 2004 elections, to take care of that possibility outright.
And, if not, to ensure that most of us vote by computer touch-screens,
with no paper trail with which to double-check the results.)
In the meantime, prepare yourself for more bad news out of
Iraq. The boys won't be home anytime soon - even, or especially,
if there's a "victory." The PNAC scenario, you see, calls
for the U.S. to establish a major military base in Iraq, from
which the next phase of the operation to control the Middle
East region ("benevolently," of course) will be run. Get ready
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations,
has taught at various universities, was a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits