FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

James Baker Wants a Kinder, Gentler War

by RON JACOBS

 

In recent days, reports have begun to appear in mainstream US media sources such as Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times hinting at a new strategy on Iraq from Washington. This strategy, which is scheduled to be officially made public after the November Congressional elections, is the product of a so-called bipartisan commission headed by one of the Empire’s old guard, James Baker III. Baker, who served under Reagan, George Bush the Elder and helped to ensure the younger Bush’s ascendancy to the White House in the fraudulent election of 2000, is one of those men in the circles of US power that never goes away. Like Henry Kissinger, Baker is played up in the mainstream media as a wise man, whose voice of reason is always welcome. Of course, reason and wisdom, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Clark Clifford was also such a man. Never far from the men who made the decisions during his adult life and always available for advice on how to keep the empire intact, Mr. Clifford was called into service as an advisor to Lyndon Baines Johnson(LBJ) in spring of 1968, not long after the humiliating political defeat of US desires in Vietnam during Tet 1968. Rather coincidentally, it seems, the events of Tet 1968 have been brought up recently by none other than George Bush himself in regards to the war in Iraq. Bush noted similarities between the two events in a question-and-answer session on October 18, 2006 when he was asked to comment on a column written by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wherein Friedman made the comment that the current offensive is the “jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive” in Iraq. Ignoring the simplistic characterization of the resistance for now, Friedman went on to say that although “It would be depressing to see the jihadists influence our politics with a Tet-like media/war frenzy,” the fact is that fewer and fewer US residents are convinced that a continued US military presence in Iraq is doing any good. In typical fashion, Friedman is not calling for withdrawal, but he’s not urging a continuation of the occupation, either. He’s just not taking a stand.

Anyhow, back to the wise men Clifford and Baker. In the spring of 1968, LBJ met with generals, advisors other than Clifford, and Clifford himself. The topic was what to do about Vietnam? There were those at the table who were convinced that another large increase in US troop numbers and bombing raids could win the war. In addition, these men–generals and civilians alike–urged Johnson to give the go ahead for the commander of US forces in Vietnam, General Westmoreland, to invade Laos and Cambodia in order to destroy enemy sanctuaries that they believed existed in those countries. It was this group of men who wanted a total victory and believed such an outcome was still possible, the US public be damned.

Clark Clifford represented the other group of advisors. This group still believed in the rightness of the US mission in Vietnam, but felt that the cost to the United States was too high to increase the military assault. Already, the effects of the war were being felt on the economy and the military was growing thin. There were simply no more soldiers to send unless the number of men drafted was drastically increased (at a time when there were already 500,000 GIs in Vietnam) and no one wanted to extend tours of duty or forcibly return GIs who had already served one tour in the war zone. In addition, the US public was torn in two over the war and those opposing the war were reaching a majority. The answer to this situation from those advisors represented by Clifford was to change tactics. What this meant on the ground was this: run a less aggressive ground war, use bombing as leverage in negotiations, and begin to negotiate with the NLF and Hanoi. These men felt that this plan ran a better chance at keeping the US in Vietnam after hostilities had ceased than the elusive chase for total victory would. It would be months before elements of this strategy would begin to be part of US Vietnam policy and years before US forces would end their hostilities there. The inauguration of Richard Nixon in January 1969 would actually temporarily expand the ground war once again and US forces did eventually invade Cambodia in May 1970–a move that (it could be argued) actually shortened the war, thanks to the outbreak of rebellion across the nation after the invasion was announced.

Today, we have James Baker and his task force. According to news articles based on leaks from the task force’s report, its underlying assumption is that Washington can no longer achieve its original goals in Iraq. What this seems to mean is that the attempts to install “democracy” in the country will be put aside. Instead, the new US goals will be to achieve “stability” and set up a government that can contain the forces aligned against US desires in the region. Just like Clifford and his cohorts encouraged negotiation with the NLF and Hanoi, Baker’s commission is supposedly calling for similar negotiations with Syria and Iran (although apparently not with the resistance). To this end, one has to wonder about the US involvement in spreading recent rumors that a military coup is being planned in Baghdad. Indeed, one has to wonder how much involvement the US has in the coup itself, if those rumors are true. It’s not like that would be unusual. History proves that not only does the US have a history of supporting and installing military governments in countries around the world, it has played the major role in establishing the succession of failed governments in Baghdad ever since it invaded in 2003.

If the debates of 1968 over US policy in Vietnam have any relevance to today’s situation in Iraq, and I believe they do, than the most obvious aspect of that relevance is in the arguments that are certain to occur between those in the Bush administration who still believe a total victory in Iraq is possible and those who think it’s time for another approach. One can be certain that those debates will be as heated as any that occurred in LBJ’s White House. After all, Dick Cheney said as recently as October 19, 2006 that the only answer in Iraq is total victory. His nominal bos, George W., reiterated the same phrase the following day, insisting that he will stay the bloody course already embarked on. On the other hand, if the fundamental objective of this whole Iraq exploit was to gain and maintain control of the oil under that nation’s sands, then Mr. Cheney and his ultrahawks may have to settle for something less, despite their lust.

For those in the US antiwar movement, our fundamental task remains the same: immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US forces. There is no other way to end this war except through total annihilation of the majority of Iraq’s people. However, as the recommendations of the task force become common knowledge, we are certain to see various Congresspeople and others in the circles of power that have given hope to some of us back away from talk of any kind of withdrawal, putting their hopes instead in one more ill-fated plan to win. Indeed, that’s part of the reason the task force is bipartisan. The White House wants a veneer of consensus to its goals–a veneer too many Democrats are only too willing to provide.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail