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WHAT WE THINK
White House on the defensive over occupation of Iraq
Is this Bush's Vietnam?

September 19, 2003 | Page 2

"THINGS IN Iraq are going quite well. We're winning the battle on terrorism there, and we're winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people." That was Army Gen. Richard Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking recently on CBS's The Early Show. Myers' talk about "hearts and minds" was eerily reminiscent of another U.S. military operation three decades ago--Vietnam.

"I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965, the enemy was winning, today, he is certainly losing," Gen. William Westmoreland told reporters in November 1967. "He sees the strength of his forces steadily declining." A few months later came the Vietnamese fighters' Tet Offensive--which showed the world that a poorly equipped guerilla army could beat the world's most powerful military machine.

The similarities between Iraq and Vietnam don't end with Myers' happy talk. The language of the Vietnam War--"quagmire," "bogged down"--is creeping its way into use again.

As in Vietnam, the U.S. government's first plan was to back a compliant exile to be ruler--exiled Catholic politician Ngo Dinh Diem. In Iraq, Washington's first choice was Ahmad Chalabi, an embezzler who hasn't lived in Iraq for more than 40 years.

In Vietnam, as in Iraq, U.S. politicians were shocked when their "liberators" met with resistance. And like in Vietnam, the horrible toll of the U.S. occupation can be seen on the ground in Iraq--where clean water and electricity are scarce, even though the U.S. has had months to begin its "reconstruction."

That toll is beginning to be felt by the U.S. soldiers carrying out Washington's orders. The number of U.S. war dead--just under 300--remains a small fraction of the more than 50,000 American troops killed during the decade-long Vietnam War.

But the anger and bitterness that marked the U.S. soldiers' revolt in Vietnam is starting to emerge--and far more rapidly than it did in Vietnam. The main reason is that George W. Bush's war on Iraq comes after 25 years of an almost uninterrupted offensive by Corporate America to weaken the working class movement and rebuild the always-large gap between rich and poor into a massive canyon. As a result, the class anger of soldiers and their families has been quicker to come to the surface--and has fueled a growing campaign committed to bringing the troops home now.

This anti-occupation sentiment is beginning to be reflected in the U.S. public at large. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken after Bush's speech last week showed that six out of 10 people opposed the demand for another $87 billion to fund the occupation. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been reduced to asking the United Nations (UN)--the same body that Washington's hawks declared irrelevant a few months ago--to contribute troops and money for the occupation of Iraq.

Even so, some Republicans are trying to maintain their post-invasion swagger. "We've done the heavy lifting here," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) said during an appearance on MSNBC. "And I think it is time for the other people in the world who are affected by the destabilization of Iraq--and the whole Middle East--to step up to the plate...I think it is important that we get the oil wells pumping and get the economy going in Iraq so that, hopefully, they will be able to pay for this out of their own economy."

The message, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier summarized, was: "We'll bomb you, charge you to rebuild and scare your neighbors into contributing." UN Security Council members like France are using this opportunity to try to squeeze a few concessions out of the U.S.

It's nice to see someone challenge the U.S. government. But no one should have illusions in the aims of France or other Security Council members. They, too, want their piece of Iraq. The method may be different, but the central goal of an occupation under any deal with the UN would remain the same--for the U.S. to shape what the new Iraq will look like, and make a mint in the process.

And that's where it's smart to recall Vietnam again. For its naked and arrogant aggression in Southeast Asia, Washington was rewarded with its greatest military failure ever. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam has hamstrung American imperialism ever since.

And at home, Vietnam contributed to a political upheaval that brought down a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and produced some of the important social reforms that the U.S. has ever known. These are important lessons for us today.

As high as Bush was riding in the aftermath of the war, Washington's imperial arrogance was producing the ingredients that could bring him down. The stakes are high for both sides.

Bush and his fellow war makers in Washington--Republican and Democrat alike--have no intention of abandoning their war on the world. The resistance in Iraq--and the resistance that we build in every city in the U.S. and in every country around the world--can make all the difference.

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