Iraq and Vietnam II

The American President just landed in Hanoi.  He is there to participate in this weekend's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.  His trip to Vietnam marks the first ever by his Preisdency, and only the second by an American President (the first having been Bill Clinton in 2000) since the last diplomats, staff, family, military personnel, and "Tiger-Cage" administrators fled Saigon back in April, 1975.

Shortly after his arrival, the American President met with Australia's Prime Minister at the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, where they prepared for this weeknd's APEC summit.  Afterwards, the two heads of state held a news conference at the hotel. 

Asked a couple of questions about what it means to "Americans who experienced some of the turbulence of the Vietnam War that you're here now, talking cooperation and peace with a former enemy," and, subsequently, whether he thought "there [are] lessons here for the debate over Iraq," Bush replied ("President Bush Meets with Prime Minister Howard of Australia," White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 17):

I think one thing — yes, I mean, one lesson is, is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while. But I would make it beyond just Iraq. I think the great struggle we're going to have is between radicals and extremists versus people who want to live in peace, and that Iraq is a part of the struggle. And it's just going to take a long period of time to — for the ideology that is hopeful, and that is an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate. Yet, the world that we live in today is one where they want things to happen immediately. And it's hard work in Iraq. That's why I'm so proud to have a partner like John Howard who understands it's difficult to get the job done. We'll succeed unless we quit. The Maliki government is going to make it unless the coalition leaves before they have a chance to make it. And that's why I assured the Prime Minister we'll get the job done.

Reading these words, it is true that the terms boilerplate and rhetoric come to mind.  But not entirely.  Instead, one sentence and one clause stand out above the rest.  Namely: "We'll succeed unless we quit."  And:"[W]e'll get the job done."  Why these, and not the "great struggle…between radicals and extremists"?   

Comparisons between the American wars over Iraq and Vietnam keep coming up.  (Often to be rejected, incidentally.)  So let me state here what I believe to be the most important parallels or likenesses between the American war over Vietnam (and the whole of Indochina), on the one hand, and the American wars over Afghanistan and especially Iraq, on the other.

Most fundamentally, I believe there are two likenesses. 

First, there is the overarching continuity in both the ends and the means that we find affirmed and pursued by the aggressor state over the many decades of its history–but in particular, over the course of its history since the end of the Second World War, the period during which it has reigned supreme.

Second, there is, therefore, the exact same continuity of willingness on the part of the policymaking elite within the aggressor state to achieve its ends using all the necessary means–right down to the very last drop of the victim population's blood, which it is never shy about spilling.  Whether in Vietnam (the old South especially).  Laos and Cambodia.  Neighboring Indonesia.  Afghanistan and Iraq.  And dozens of lesser–and several not-so-lesser–points in between.

And though it is true that, contra Indochina, "Iraq cannot be destroyed and abandoned."  (Failed States, NC, pp. 147 – 148.) 

Still, as a proxy for this entire geographic region where most of the world's proven non-renewable energy resources happen to be located, Iraq can be both destroyed and retained.

At least the American policymaking elite hopes this against hope.

As always, it remains up to the rest of us to prove it wrong.

"Kissinger Says Victory in Iraq Is Not Possible," Brian Knowlton, New York Times, November 19, 2006 (as posted to Truthout

"Iraq and Vietnam I," ZNet, October 29, 2006
"Iraq and Vietnam II," ZNet, November 17, 2006


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