Interesting Ideas

Is Iraq another Vietnam? Maybe

For the energy White House, it's for sure another America

The appearance of anti-war sentiment among young people, celebrities and others is prompting references to the Vietnam-era peace movement. But while the rapid development of anti-war activities is impressive, the pro-war atmosphere that prevails in most quarters is just one of many other parallels with Vietnam.

Both cases involved a war effort aimed at a small country posing no direct threat to the United States. The big spark in 1964 was the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the Vietnamese allegedly fired on American ships; now it's 9/11. Tonkin proved to be a U.S. contrivance, and 9/11 is also a pretext, with no demonstrable connection to Iraq. (The fact that some people have attacked the United States hardly justifies war against any target of our choosing.)

The stated intent in Vietnam was strategic, to stop communism and the fall of the Asian "dominoes." The equivalent strategy in Iraq appears to be an effort to keep the Arabs in line, with the rhetoric of promoting democracy a euphemism for U.S. dominance, as it was in Vietnam. The current crusade boasts a much more apparent element of venality, however. The point of keeping the Arabs in line, and of invading Iraq, is clearly oil.

The huge dollars, the loss of life, the environmental destruction and the unlimited risk involved in an oil war might cause one to question its wisdom. But war in Iraq is a logical extension of U.S. domestic policy, in particular the craven way in which the administration is dismantling 30 years of environmental policy and raping the homeland on behalf of oil and mining companies. That this administration would be little concerned with international opinion should surprise no one, given its treatment of domestic opinion. Bush's election loss seems to have fueled his determination to impose the agenda that voters rejected; he is unlikely to take to heart the quibbles of close allies and other world powers.

Meanwhile, if the relative prominence of anti-war activities is a departure from the early days of Vietnam, the pro-war attitudes must give a taste of what it was like to question the patriotic certainty that whatever the U.S. chooses to do is just: Let's be gung-ho and get it done. Impatience is an American virtue of long standing, fueling anger at anyone who does not share it. Even though the U.S. interest in Iraq is not discernibly more immediate or legitimate than the UN's or Europe's, their disagreement with the White House timetable is perceived as treacherous. The United States self-evidently has the moral high ground and thus the right to insist that everyone follow.

In reality, of course, no country has the moral high ground. Faith in the righteousness of any nation, including one's own, seems disingenuous, if not irresponsible, given the evils that every major power has perpetrated one way or another over the last century.

There does remain a thin hope for peace, which is that the U.S. posturing is just that. Perhaps Washington's intention is to strengthen the UN's resolve and to terrify Saddam into submission (or his army into rebellion) without actually going to war. It's an approach that has been used before. Seymour Hersh reported years ago that Richard Nixon was positioned to Vietnam as a madman whose dangerous obsession with victory at any cost could only be averted by coming to terms with Henry Kissinger.

Aggressively posturing for war has some logic, especially the internal logic of the military that says if you possess incredible might, you need to use it now and again, even if only to threaten. The logic makes this course of action no less wildly risky, however. The U.S. bluff could very easily be called. And even if war is averted, the cost to America's reputation is large. The U.S. has a long history of ignoring and undermining international standards, goals and agreements, whether for convenience, economic self-interest, ideology or domestic political reasons. The Republicans have lately raised this solipsistic foreign policy to a high art with their stands undermining global progress on family planning, climate and international justice, among other issues.

So even if Bush is just posturing, we are tearing through international goodwill at an alarming rate. And even if the posturing works, we need to ask ourselves whether this is appropriate behavior for a country that never hesitates to assert its right to global leadership. The world certainly will be asking that question, just as it asked in the wake of Vietnam whether America really deserved the mantle of leader of the free world.

Other reasons to not care for this administration one bit

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