[Mb-civic] Eclipsed

ean at sbcglobal.net ean at sbcglobal.net
Mon Sep 20 20:48:21 PDT 2004

Published in the October 4, 2004 issue of The Nation  
Bush, Kerry, Vietnam & Iraq
by William Greider  
The presidential pageant has now risen full in the sky and is blocking out the 
sun. Until November, we dwell in a weird half-light, stumbling into spooky 
shadows but shielded from the harsh glare of the nation's actual 
circumstances. Down is up, fiction is truth, momentous realities are made to 
disappear from the public mind. The 2004 spectacle is not the first to mislead 
grossly and exploit emotional weaknesses in the national character. But this 
time the consequences will be especially grim. 

The United States is "losing" in Iraq, literally losing territory and population to 
the other side. Careful readers of the leading newspapers may know this, but 
I doubt most voters do. How could they, given the martial self-congratulations 
of the President and relative restraint from his opponent? High-minded 
pundits tell us not to dwell on the long-ago past. But the cruel irony of 2004 is 
that Vietnam is the story. The arrogance and decei t- the utter waste of 
human life, ours and theirs - play before us once again. A frank discussion 
will have to wait until after the election. 

Several Sundays ago, an ominous article appeared in the opinion section of 
the New York Times: "One by One, Iraqi Cities Become No-Go Zones." 
Falluja, Samarra, Ramadi, Karbala, the Sadr City slums of Baghdad-these 
and other population centers are now controlled by various insurgencies and 
essentially ceded by US forces. This situation would make a joke of the 
national elections planned for January. Yet, if US troops try to recapture the 
lost cities, the bombing and urban fighting would produce massive killing and 
destruction, further poisoning politics for the US occupation and its puppet 
government in Saigon-sorry, Baghdad. 

Three days later, the story hit page one when anonymous Pentagon officials 
confirmed the reality. Not to worry, they said: The United States is training 
and expanding the infant Iraqi army so it can do the fighting for us. That's the 
ticket-Vietnamization. I remember how well General Westmoreland 
articulated the strategy back in the 1960s, when war's progress was 
measured by official "body counts" and reports on "new" fighting forces on 
the way. 

But this time Washington decided the United States couldn't wait for 
"Iraqization," a strategy that might sound limp-wristed to American voters. 
The US bombing and assaults quickly resumed. The Bush White House is 
thus picking targets and second-guessing field commanders, just as Lyndon 
Johnson did forty years ago in Indochina. Bush is haunted by the mordant 
remark a US combat officer once made in Vietnam: "We had to destroy the 
village in order to save it." 

Meanwhile, Bush's war is destroying the US Army, just as LBJ's war did. 
After Vietnam, military leaders and Richard Nixon wisely abolished the draft 
and opted for an all-volunteer force. When this war ends, the volunteer army 
will be in ruins and a limited draft lottery may be required to fill out the ranks. 
After Iraq, men and women will get out of uniform in large numbers, 
especially as they grasp the futility of their sacrifices. Yet Bush's on-the-
cheap warmaking against a weak opponent demonstrates that a larger force 
structure is needed to sustain his policy of pre-emptive war. Kerry says he 
wants 40,000 more troops, just in case. Old generals doubt Congress would 
pay for it, given the deficits. 

Iraq is Vietnam standing in the mirror. John Kerry, if he had it in him, could 
lead a national teach-in-re-educate those who have forgotten or prettified 
their memories but especially inform younger voters who weren't around for 
the national shame a generation ago. Kerry could describe in plain English 
what's unfolding now in Iraq and what must be done to find a way out with 
honor. In other words, be a truth-teller while holding Bush accountable. 

Kerry won't go there, probably couldn't without enduring still greater anger. 
His war-hero campaign biography inadvertently engendered slanderous 
attacks and still-smoldering resentments. Kerry, like other establishment 
Dems, originally calculated that the party should be as pro-war as Bush, thus 
freeing him to run on other issues. That gross miscalculation leaves him 
proffering a lame "solution"-persuading France, Germany and others to send 
their troops into this quagmire. Not bloody likely, as the Brits say. 

Bush can't go near the truth for obvious reasons. If elected, he faces only 
bad choices-bomb the bejeezus out of Iraq, as Nixon bombed Vietnam and 
Cambodia, or bug out under the cover of artful lies. The one thing Bush's 
famous "resolve" cannot achieve is success at war. Never mind, he aims to 
win the election instead. 

So this presidential contest resembles a grotesque, media-focused war in 
which two sides skirmish for the attention of ill-informed voters. Bush won big 
back when he got Iraq off the front pages and evening news with his phony 
hand-off of sovereignty and his chest-thumping convention. But then his 
opponents - the hostile insurgents in Iraq - struck back brilliantly and 
managed to put the war story back in the lead on the news (might we expect 
from them an "October surprise" of deadlier proportions?). In this fight, Kerry 
is like a bystander who might benefit from bad news but can't wish for it. Most 
combat correspondents, with brave exceptions, hesitate to step back from 
daily facts and tell the larger truth. Maybe they are afraid to sound partial. 

The timing of events in Iraq does not fit propitiously with the election 
calendar. A majority has already concluded that it was a mistake to fight this 
war, but public credulity is not yet destroyed. A majority still wants to believe 
the strategy may yet succeed, that Iraq won't become another dark stain in 
our history books. During Vietnam, the process of giving up on such wishful 
thinking took many years. The breaking point came in 1968, when a majority 
turned against the war. LBJ withdrew from running for re-election. Nixon won 
that year with his "secret plan" to win the peace. The war continued for 
another five years. US casualties doubled. 

This time, public opinion has moved much faster against the war, but 
perhaps not fast enough. People naturally are reluctant to conclude that their 
country did the wrong thing, that young people died for a pointless cause. If 
the war story does stay hot and high on front pages, a collapse of faith might 
occur in time for this election, but more likely it will come later. Nixon won a 
landslide re-election in 1972 with his election-eve announcement that peace 
was at hand, the troops were coming home. In the hands of skilled 
manipulators, horrendous defeat can be turned into honorable victory. 
Temporarily at least. When the enemy eventually triumphed in Indochina, 
Nixon was already gone, driven out for other crimes. 

Copyright © 2004 The Nation 


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