Right-Wing Fantasies and Iraq
January 25, 2005
By Bennet G. Kelley
It's a little known fact that while most of us are sleeping soundly,
the far right gathers to rewrite history. With the Bush administration
throwing in the towel on finding weapons of mass destruction, these
right wing night owls now claim that the absence of WMD's is irrelevant
since "there were lots of reasons" to go war. In due time, they
may even tell us what those reasons were.
These same night owls, however, have done a masterful job with
the Vietnam War, recasting it as a mythic crusade against communism
that we noble Americans would have won had we simply let the military
do its job. This historical fantasy is anything but harmless, since
the same themes are echoed in recent right wing comments about Abu
Ghraib and our strategy in Iraq.
The first part of this mythology is to dispel the notion that
Americans committed any wartime atrocities. Just as the Swift Boat
veterans disputed Senator Kerry's claim of atrocities in Vietnam,
conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh sought to deflect attention
from Abu Ghraib by dismissing it as equivalent to a fraternity initiation.
This month, Limbaugh again dismissed Abu Ghraib as a media event,
adding that the Abu Ghraib abuses "went on to extract information
that actually ended up saving lives."
The reality is quite different, as the trial of Abu Ghraib ringleader
Spc. Charles Graner's plainly displayed a picture of torture. In
addition, such torture did little to save lives since General Taguba's
report found that over sixty percent of the inmates were not even
a threat and intelligence and FBI officials concede that such abuses
yield little of value.
These actions are also counterproductive on a macro-level since,
just as historians concluded that U.S. abuses as part of its Vietnam
"search and destroy" strategy played into the hands of the Viet
Cong; Abu Ghraib has turned Iraqi's against the U.S. and undermined
our moral authority worldwide.
The biggest part of the right wing Vietnam mythology is that the
United States could have "won" in Vietnam but for meddling politicians.
The beauty of this mythology is that the night owls rarely feel
the need to say anything further since it is understood that America
always wins its wars. Ann Coulter recently advanced this theory
to argue that we should just "let the Marines do their job" in Iraq.
The fact is that the United States deployed 3.4 million soldiers
in Southeast Asia; dropped four times as many bombs as during all
of World War II on nearly 70 percent of Vietnam's villages; sprayed
millions of gallons of chemicals to deforest large sections of the
country; at a cost of nearly $500 billion in current dollars and
over 360,000 Americans killed or injured only to reach a stalemate
in a war that was not vital to our national interests.
The night owls never say how many more soldiers would have been
deployed, bombs dropped, dollars spent or soldiers killed to achieve
a "victory" in a war both Presidents Johnson and Nixon concluded
was unwinnable; nor do they ever address what "winning" means in
military or political terms for the weak and corrupt South Vietnamese
In fact, Dr. Jeffrey Record of the Army War College concluded that
"the only way the United States could have avoided defeat in Vietnam
was by staying out of the war altogether."
The Vietnam War led to creation of the "Powell Doctrine" which
calls for every military campaign to be assessed by several factors
including whether its objectives are clearly defined. In essence,
the Powell Doctrine is a clear-eyed antidote to the night owl's
mythic views. Coulter's "let our boys win" argument, however, only
highlights how the doctrine has been ignored, since we are again
engaged in a war where "winning" is undefined (as are the reasons
we went to war).
In The Fog of War, Robert McNamara appears as an American Oedipus
lamenting the arrogance and blindness that led us into Vietnam.
The night owls not only refuse to acknowledge what is now plain
to the metaphorically blinded McNamara, but recklessly seek to repeat
these mistakes in Iraq.
Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, Vietnam again calls us
to battle. This time the fight is not about territory but history.
If we fail to engage this battle and challenge the night owl's dangerous
Vietnam fantasies, we will be complicit in their blindness and the
nightmare that is likely to follow.
Bennet Kelley was the Co-Founder and former National Co-Chair
of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club.