With the recent escalation of violence by insurgents in Iraq that includes daily attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, car bombings and kidnappings, the optimistic picture recently painted by White House and Pentagon officials of diminishing violence, stability and a short-term reduction in the number of American occupation troops seems ever more implausible. Meanwhile, nations such as Italy and the Ukraine that had initially deployed soldiers to support the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq are now steadily withdrawing.
While differences outnumber similarities between the Iraq war and the U.S. war in Vietnam, there are a growing number of observers who are concerned that the Bush administration may be making the same critical mistakes that led to the American defeat and withdrawal from South Vietnam 30 years ago. Critics and supporters of Washington’s war in Southeast Asia, haunted by the deaths of 58,000 American troops and more than a million Vietnamese, have drawn very different lessons from the Vietnam conflict.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marcus Raskin, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies in 1963, and a vocal opponent of the Vietnam war and military draft. Raskin assesses the current peace movement’s demand for a rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the lessons he believes should have been learned in Vietnam.
MARCUS RASKIN: Well, I think that if you look at the Vietnam War, there was an election in September of 1967 in South Vietnam, and the assumption in the press and among people in the administration was, “You see, this election is working, and it will result in the stabilization of the South Vietnamese government and everything is going to be hunky dory.”
The same sort of crude understanding of life of another culture is happening in Iraq. There’s nothing to suggest, at least at this point — and there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest that the attempt to have an election or an election on top of what is now an incipient civil war — that it will result in any sort of quiet in allowing the United States to leave.
Furthermore, though, there is in case no apparent reason the United States will leave. It wants to have the bases in the Middle East; it wants to be the nation that is able to guide where the oil is supposed to go, etc. And it wants to establish itself directly as the nation that has the sphere of influence over that area.
BETWEEN THE LINES: By all accounts, U.S. military recruitment is down, and there are real prospects out there that a draft may be re-established in this country soon. What do you think the response of the peace movement who want a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from the occupation of Iraq — what do you think the peace movement should be doing now?
MARCUS RASKIN: I think that there are several things that should go on. One is obviously the increase of marches and demonstrations, which I think does have an effect. I think also, there is a core question of legitimacy of the war — that is to say, it’s based on a lie. There were no weapons of mass destruction, on and on. That the president had no intention of following whatever the intelligence said — that he and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair wanted to make war and planned to do this several years ago. So that this was an aggressive war, that being an aggressive war is something which is violative of the Nuremberg principles which the United States supported as it related to German war criminals.
Furthermore — and that’s just a part of an argument — it strikes me as mistaken in the extreme, not to raise the question of either censure or impeachment with regard to the president and his Cabinet, and at least the president in order to make clear that these people indeed have acted in an unlawful way.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Just a final question, if I could. Many half-truths and blatant lies were told in justifying the Iraq War on the part of the Bush administration, but our government seems unaccountable for these breaches of trust. In fact, policymakers have been rewarded with promotions, medals and re-election. The press was blamed for the loss of the Vietnam War by conservatives who supported that conflict, and it seems that the press in the United States has been asleep at the switch, to say the least, in terms of scrutinizing and challenging the rationales for war in Iraq.
MARCUS RASKIN: Well, I think that’s right, and for the most part, our press is what you would call a palace court press. That is to say, it takes handouts, and is more willing to take propaganda than doing individual or critical research on various questions. It’s a great shame, because what that means is that the people of this country suffer as a result of it.
This issue is going to become more and more important as people in any case, move away from reading newspapers and dependent on the mass media, such as television, which indeed, only tells a fleeting glimpse of any story. So the country is faced with a very, very great problem now, in terms of how news is gathered, how criticism is made and how it gets out.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Any lessons you want to impart from you learned during the Vietnam War in your activism against that conflict?
MARCUS RASKIN: I think that there’s one principle, and that is less a principle, I think, than a stand. And that is that unless you speak out and act, the social and political space will close down. The only way to keep open that social and political space is to use it.
Marcus Raskinis a co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies
Contact the Institute for Policy Studies by calling (202) 234-9382 or visit their website at www.ips-dc.org . Raskin and Carl Lavan are the editors of a new book titled, “In Democracy’s Shadow: The Secret World of National Security.”
* “The Unreported Vietnam-Iraq Parallel,” by Danny Schechter, CommonDreams.org , May 1, 2005 * “From ‘Gook’ to ‘Raghead’,” by Bob Herbert, by the New York Times, May 2, 2005