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The Vietnam Connection A Familiar Odor in the Air

The Vietnam Connection

by BERNARD WEINER

Is it just me or is there a smell of Vietnam in the desert air? Once again, in its haste to get its war on, the U.S. has gone into a foreign land, ignorant of its culture, believing that its technological might would lead to a swift victory, forgetting the force of nationalism when a people believe themselves to be invaded,

And the U.S. generals and politicians in charge pretend that all is going swimmingly and that the war will be over just as soon as the “coalition” forces get into downtown Baghdad and punish the enemy Big Time.

Does any of this sound familiar? How do you spell Q-U-A-G-M-I-R-E?

As we now know, the generals and policy advisors warned successive U.S. presidents not to get involved in Vietnam (see Daniel Ellsberg’s book, “Secrets”), but each President dismissed those inside experts and went ahead anyway, the result of which was the expension of our blood and treasure — an d our sense of ourselves as a moral nation — in an unwinnable war.

We know that the top echelons of our current military early on warned the Bush politicos and Mr. Bush himself not to launch this war on Iraq, absent an overt provocation and without a huge international coalition on board; the brass were warned by Rumsfeld to get in line with Bush policy or get another job. They got in line.

The policy behind the Iraq war comes mainly from chickenhawks — i.e., armchair soldiers who made sure they didn’t have to serve in Vietnam or any other wars. These Project for the New American Century ideologues were certain that the Iraqis would welcome the U.S. soldiers as liberators, they knew how weak Saddam’s regime was, they were sure they could roll the members of the U.N. Security Council into backing their fait accompli war, they knew Turkey would accept the bribe and come around, they knew everything. Infallible.

Bush, not having any ideas of his own, was a prime candidate for swallowing such malarkey and turning it into doctrine. And so, against the advice of everyone who should count in such things — former President Bush and his top security advisors; his own military brass; the Pope and other world religious leaders; his European allies; the Arab World, virtually unanimously; ten million citizens of various countries who took to the streets to denounce the planned invasion, and so on — Bush launched a “pre-emptive” war on Iraq, absent any provocation.

He wouldn’t need as big an invading force as many military leaders told him might come in handy. When the Iraqis see our might, and feel our bombs, are properly shocked and awed by our greatness, it’ll all be over before you can say “Halliburton contract.” So went the Bush mantra, and in the early days, Rumsfeld laid on the “inevitability” line big time. It’s all but over, they’ll see it momentarily and then we will have won, we will have “liberated” the Iraqi people.

Hasn’t worked out that way. The Iraqis will take U.S. food packages and water, and then denounce America as an infidel invader, the “Satan” that’s bombing their villages and cities, killing their citizens, trying to humiliate them in the world’s eyes.

Why did we expect otherwise? The Bush Administration — which wears blinders, just like successive administrations with regard to Vietnam, so that it will see only what it wants to see — accepted everything the Iraqi opposition-in-exile told them about what would happen once U.S. troops set foot on Iraqi soil. The people would rise up, throw off the Saddam shackles and place flowers at the feet of their American saviors.

It’s at least conceivable that something like that could have happened had the U.S. been lucky with its opening-night overture bombing and decapitated the entire Iraqi military/political leadership in one fell swoop. But without an instantaneous success, the U.S. found itself fighting in Saddam’s war-scenario rather than being fully able to carry out its own.

And now the “coalition” (mainly the U.S. and U.K., plus whatever others could be badgered and bullied and bribed into lending their names but no troops) is getting ready to enter Baghdad, for the jolly good fun of house-by-house, street-by-street fighting in territory known exclusively by their enemy.

It’s going to be a turkey shoot for the Iraqis as they ambush and booby trap and lead the U.S. troops down one blind alley after another, for months, perhaps for years. And you know what the response will be from the Superpower: more bombing from the air in an urban environment, civilian casualties galore, more sympathy for the Iraqis from the Arab world, less patience with the U.S. around the globe, a vision of the U.S. as a giant bully who just wants to beat up someone to demonstrate his authority.

Whenever things looked dark in Vietnam, the military would ask for another 100,000 troops. That’ll make us invulnerable, that’ll take care of those gooks. We’ll up the ante. More B-52 bombings, more napalm, more infantry, the boys’ll be home by Christmas.

Things are looking poorly along the road to Baghdad, so the call already is out: Another 100,000 troops already are on their way to Iraq. (And you can bet your bottom dollar that there are brass in the Pentagon thinking, but not yet saying: “We told you so, you dumb civilian a-holes!”)

Things have moved so quickly. The antiwar marches were drawing millions in this country and around the globe, and the fricking war hadn’t even started yet! And now that the war officially is on, conservative Foreign Service Officers are resigning, conservative Republican Party officials are resigning, Australian pilots are refusing their bomb-run orders — all because, in good conscience, they can’t condone what their government is asking them to do in this illegal and immoral war. That development took years and years to happen in Vietnam. And we’re just in the opening weeks of this war.

Will Bush&Co. realize the truths they should have realized before they launched their invasion, and pack it in? Oh, terribly sorry, we made a bad mistake; rather than waste more of our precious youth and treasure on this sorry mess, we’re pulling out and going back to the United Nations for direction. Yeah, sure. It would take a government of great moral courage to do something like that — and, in case you haven’t noticed, that’s not who’s in charge these days.

No, too much is riding on this gigantic gamble for PNAC and the rest of Bush&Co. In order to carry out its vision for the region, and the world — i.e., regional and world dominance, control of natural resources, being able to threaten and put down any would-be competitors (be they nation-states or international organizations) — Iraq has to fall. No ifs, ands or buts.

These guys will bankrupt the U.S. before they abandon their grandiose scheme, will send more and more young men and women to their deaths to get what they want. They want the world and they want it NOW, and nothing you or I say will deter them from their self-appointed rounds. God has anointed them, you see, and the geopolitical situation offers the opportunity — no other Superpower around to stop them — so get out of our way, damn it.

The idea that they can be defeated by non-superpowers — like the world’s citizens boycotting American goods, by millions of anti-war demonstrators leaning on their governments abroad to combat U.S. imperial ambitions, the beginning rumbles for impeachment, even (possibly) the United Nations stepping in to force their hand — simply hasn’t entered their craniums. Yet.

But they’d better start thinking such thoughts, because their crass arrogance, bullyboy behavior, and desperate flailing around militarily have energized the world against them, and are starting to make inroads even into the fearful American polity, who are starting to wonder whether these are the best leaders for our already scary times. (There are rumors circulating that the Bush Administration is examining options to call off the 2004 elections, to take care of that possibility outright. And, if not, to ensure that most of us vote by computer touch-screens, with no paper trail with which to double-check the results.)

In the meantime, prepare yourself for more bad news out of Iraq. The boys won’t be home anytime soon — even, or especially, if there’s a “victory.” The PNAC scenario, you see, calls for the U.S. to establish a major military base in Iraq, from which the next phase of the operation to control the Middle East region (“benevolently,” of course) will be run. Get ready to rumble.

BERNARD WEINER, a poet and playwright, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic/editor for 16 years; a Ph.D. in government & international relations, he’s taught at various universities, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers