Turning Iraq into Vietnam

by MARJORIE COHN

Desperate to shore up support for continuing his unpopular war on Iraq, George W. Bush drew an analogy with Vietnam when he addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The price of America’s withdrawal [from Vietnam] was paid by millions of innocent citizens," Bush declared. But he overlooked the four million Indochinese and 58,000 American soldiers who paid the ultimate price for that imperial war. And the myriad Vietnamese and Americans who continue to suffer the devastating effects of the defoliant Agent Orange the U.S. forces dropped on Vietnam. The 10 years it took to end our war there claimed untold numbers of lives.

Bush cited the "killing fields," referring to the more than one million Cambodians who died after we pulled out of Vietnam. He failed to mention that if Richard Nixon had ended the war by 1969, as the antiwar movement was demanding, the war wouldn’t have extended into Cambodia. Secret U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia destroyed that country, enabling Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come to power. Nixon, too, had warned of a bloodbath in Vietnam to justify continuing his war.

Contrary to the picture Bush painted, Vietnam is a unified, stable country that doesn’t threaten the region; it has become a trading partner of the United States.

In his desperation to rationalize the death and destruction he is wreaking in Iraq, Bush credited the United States with the great progress South Korea and Japan have made. He didn’t say that the people of North and South Korea seek to reunify their country but the United States stands in the way. And Bush neglected to add that his government is pressuring Japan to repeal Article 9 of its Peace Constitution which now forbids the aggressive use of military force.

George Bush also reiterated that Iraq is "the central front" of the war on terror. But for his invasion, war and occupation of Iraq, however, al Qaeda wouldn’t be there.

Bush claimed "our troops are seeing this progress that is being made on the ground." Perhaps the President didn’t read the elegant op-ed that seven infantrymen and noncommissioned officers penned in the New York Times last week. "The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefield in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework," they wrote. The soldiers noted the two million Iraqis in refugee camps and close to two million more who are internally displaced. "Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence."

The only reason we stayed in Vietnam as long as we did was to avoid the U.S. superpower from being perceived as the "loser." American involvement in Vietnam finally ended because our soldiers refused to fight, our people took to the streets in record numbers, Nixon was weakened by his impending impeachment, and the North Vietnamese–unlike the government in the South–won the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.

Congress has no more will to end the Iraq War than it did the Vietnam War. It was one year after our troops came home that Congress finally cut the funding for all support of the South Vietnamese government; Nixon didn’t veto the bill because he needed insurance against impeachment. There is no substantial support in Congress or among the leading presidential candidates to bring all the troops home and disband the mega-bases Bush has built in Iraq.

Resistance to the Iraq War will continue to grow within the military. Like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis will be instrumental in ending Bush’s war. The soldiers pegged it in their op-ed: Iraqis "will soon realize that the best way to regain their dignity is to call us what we are–an army of occupation–and force our withdrawal."

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law

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