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
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
You are currently on Mha Atma's Earth Action Network email list, option D
(up to 3 emails/day). To be removed, or to switch options (option A -
1x/week, option B - 3/wk, option C - up to 1x/day, option D - up to 3x/day)
please reply and let us know! If someone forwarded you this email and you
want to be on our list, send an email to ean at sbcglobal.net and tell us which
option you'd like.
Action is the antidote to despair. ----Joan Baez
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Mb-civic