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Echoes of Vietnam

Phoenix, Assassination and Blowback in Iraq

by DOUGLAS VALENTINE

On Monday, April 5th, as thousands of US Marines surrounded Fallujah and prepared to pacify it, Senator Edward Kennedy predicted that Iraq would be to Bush what Vietnam had been to Nixon.

Given that Nixon won a resounding reelection in 1972, this means that Bush will also win reelection in 2004. Hence the the dangers of making analogies between Vietnam and Iraq.

Having said that, similarities do exist. Primarily, as the violence spreads and the body count rises, it becomes increasingly obvious that Bush’s prissy proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer (a former managing director of Kissinger Associates) has badly underestimated the strength of the resistance in Iraq, just as Nixon and his national security chief, Henry Kissinger, badly underestimated their enemy in South Vietnam.

Granted, underestimating the enemy makes for wonderful propaganda, and if it is believed, the propaganda will help assure Bush’s reelection. But it’s also the best way to lose a war–which is why Rumsfeld is sending more troops to Iraq, in what represents the first "escalation" of the occupation.

Perhaps Kennedy was alluding to these two similarities:

1) underestimating the enemy and

2) quietly escalating the war in direct contradiction to previous stated policy.

Whatever Kennedy meant, it’s also obvious that there is one great big difference between the Vietnam War and the illegal invasion and occupation nof Iraq–that being the media’s obsession with self-censorship.

The process started long before anthrax-laced black valentines were sent to Democratic senators. It started during the Reagan regime, when Reagan sought to overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome"–the name given to America’s feeling of inadequacy and impotence after its humiliating defeat by the under-armed Vietnamese. Reagan issued the first media blackout in wartime when he put America on the road to recovery by invading and conquering mighty Grenada. Bush the Superior spoke openly of having cured America of the Vietnam Syndrome after issuing another media blackout and then vanquishing Saddam Hussein in the First Iraq War.

Now Bush the Inferior has imposed a media blackout over all but the embedded media in Iraq–although it is hardly necessary. After twenty years, the media has become accustomed to the night, and relying upon government communiqués for its sustenance.

The big difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that we had a reasonably free press in Vietnam that could film the bloody carnage live on TV, and criticize and ask questions of authority. These were things some reporters actually risked their lives to do! A free press is a thing of the past. The only information we get now is what Bush, Bremer and the rest of the micro-Kissingers want us to hear and see and, more importantly, think. And what they want us to think is:

1) that they are in control, and

2) that they are the forces of goodness and light, and that anyone they kill is a "thug," a "terrorist," or just a plain olde "evil-doer."


"If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth overdoing."
Ancient British Adage About Americans

The first big similarity between the Vietnam War and the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq is that US forces rely on indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower to reassure the American public that they are The Superior Force. This is especially important in a spiritual sense, as former cheerleader Bush the Inferior in well aware; for by establishing America as the Superior Force, he confers upon himself–as America’s leader -the mantle of divine rule. Not only do we overcome our collective sense of guilt and inadequacy, we become miraculously Godlike and infallible.

However, the use of indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower nullifies any pretense the Bush/Bremer regime has (or the Nixon/Kissinger regime had in Vietnam) of turning its occupied territory into a self-sustaining, sovereign democracy. For indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower always kills and maims innocent people, and destroys their homes, businesses, utilities and sacred sites. Rather than "winning their hearts and minds" (another catch-phrase exhumed from Vietnam to explain the method in Bush’s madness in Iraq), indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower incites hatred towards Americans.

Yes, this is why they hate us.

More importantly–and this is why the ever-vulnerable Ted Kennedy is speaking up with some measure of confidence–American indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower is creating its "legitimate" military and political opposition in Iraq, just as it did in Vietnam.

Simply stated, indiscriminate and overwhelming firepower makes Americans feel good, but like underestimating the enemy, it’s inherently self-defeating.

For a year it was great fun for Bush and Bremer, sitting tall in the saddle and shuffling through the CIA’s hilarious deck of death cards, hunting down Saddam and his Ba-ath "henchmen" with their ugly mugs plastered on Wanted Dead Or Alive posters all over the countryside. It was entertaining and reassuring to pack Saddam’s infamous prisons full of his supporters and suspected sympathizers.

Then Bush and Bremer made their next big mistake. Having wiped out the last vestiges of Saddam’s "brutal" regime, they shut down a newspaper that belonged to anti-American Shiite cleric Sayed Moqtada al-Sadr; and rather than quietly submit, Moqtada resisted. He decided he’d had enough of censorship, death squads, and midnight arrests that packed Saddam’s old prisons to overflowing with detainees, many of whom were Shiites and innocent bystanders.

Moqtada stood up to the Americans, and his example has stirred a religious fervor for national salvation in even the most secular Iraqi quisling. It has also pushed the prideful–and many of those who have pulled the remains of their loved ones from American-made bomb craters–into the swelling ranks of a burgeoning Underground guerrilla movement which, like the one American oppression generated in Vietnam, fires its single shot or hurls its homemade grenade, and then slips away before the helicopter gunships and tanks blow the neighborhood to smithereens in retaliation.

This is what is happening now in Fallujah.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

The emergence of an Underground in Iraq is the second Big similarity with Vietnam, where the Underground emerged and psychologically turned the tide of the war during the February 1968 Tet Offensive.

Granted, the Iraqi Underground has not staged a general uprising–but until last week, the arrogant Americans were certain they had eliminated the resistance. Now, even the benighted American media isn’t so sure.

As everyone knows, the Iraqi Underground announced its presence last week when it killed and mutilated four American "contractors", dragged the body of one through the streets (making the obvious comparison between Baghdad and Mogadishu), and hung from a bridge the mutilated remains of another, to the cheers of a mob right that had stepped right out of the pages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This was a counter-terrorist act of psychological warfare that sent two subliminal (say it, Dubya) messages to Bush:

1) it said that American civilians in Iraq would, from now on, bear the cost of underwriting Israeli terrorism in Palestine–the precipitating event was Ariel Sharon’s terrorist act of assassinating Hamas leader Yassin; and

2) it was a signal that after a year of anything but benign liberation, the Underground has figured out the identity, organization, and movements of CIA officers and informants–and is willing to strike at them.

This is not to say that the four Blackwater contractors killed last week were CIA officers–although Blackwater is proconsul Bremer’s Praetorian Guard. It’s just to say that the Iraqi Underground is sending a message to all swaggering American contractors–a number of whom are undercover CIA officers running Phoenix Program death squads and militias–that two can play the happy deck of death cards game.

Yes, with this counter-terrorist act, the Underground has started targeting members of the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Iraq, and its attendant interrogators and jailers.

For those who may have doubts, it is a fact that Phoenix is in Iraq. We know this to be true, because Seymour Hersh said so in December 2003, although he neglected to mention two important things:

1) that Phoenix has been active in Iraq since before Day One of the occupation, and

2) that he waited to announce its alleged debut until the military, thinking it had the country under control, got involved. But as in Vietnam in 1969, the CIA was slipping out of sight and putting the military up front so it could take the blame if anything went wrong–as is about to happen, big time, just like in Vietnam.

Phoenix is another one of those self-defeating obsessions that Americans have, only they try to keep this one secret, because it amounts to genocide by quota. That’s right, CIA officers had to neutralize 1800 Vietnamese civilians every month to meet their corporate quota. They went about this in two ways.

Phoenix in Iraq, as in Vietnam (and Israel), is a two-tiered program. The upper-tier is a secret war of midnight assassinations and arrests of intellectuals and spiritual leaders deemed politically threatening to the Bush/Bremer puppet regime. This aspect is carried out by CIA officers and mercenaries dressed in mufti, often posing as "contractors" like the four unfortunates murdered and mutilated in Fallujah a few days ago. These are the killers the American media is forbidden from outing at the cost of their pathetic lives. These are also the Israeli-advised guys and gals who cheerfully drew up the hit-lists of Saddam’s Ba-ath and Sunni "henchmen", and organized the Iraqi-led militias that have provided the Iraqi Underground with much of its data. As we now know, this aspect of the CIA’s Phoenix Program is penetrated up the gazoom, just as it was in Vietnam.

The lower-tier Phoenix Program in Iraq, like the one in Vietnam, consists of CIA officers and Iraqi collaborators operating undercover of military "cordon and search" operations, like the one in Fallujah. In Vietnam, CIA officers–undercover of military "cordon and search" operations–went into villages that supported the resistance, in hopes of catching or killing civilian leaders, while the military polished off the guerrilla forces. The My Lai massacre was the ultimate example of this flawed policy in Vietnam; Sabra and Shatilla was Israel’s infamous version in Lebanon.

This "cordon and search" aspect of Phoenix has helped packed Saddam’s famous prisons full of innocent Iraqis–the other big story Network News is forbidden from telling by its corporate owners, who are so heavily invested in the movie rights.

All of which brings us up to date: today, in a traditional Phoenix cordon and search operation, US Marines surround and destroy Fallujah. The unstated object of "Operation Vigilant Resolve" is revenge for last week’s slayings and mutilations of the four American "contractors". The stated reason, according to Lt. James Vanzant, the Marine spokesman, is the Phoenix-style targeted kill. Vanzant told CNN, "We want to get the guys we are after. We don’t want to go in there with guns blazing."

But the guns are blazing, and just as in Vietnam, this Big Lie proves that US forces do not have the political or military situation under control. The only question that remains is: when will this overarching fact become fit for Network News?

DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968,
will be published in May 2004 by Verso. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at www.DouglasValentine.com and http://members.authorsguild.net/valentine