FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A New Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

It’s been about 40 years since a president’s speeches didn’t sound like infomercials. So George W. Bush’s prime time sales pitch last week on slapping a “New Ownership” sign on Iraq was not surprising for sweating the manipulative bullets of sales pitches — exaggerations, inflated sincerity, half-truths, outright lies. This isn’t a Bush family specialty. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were terrific salesmen, each more or less made for television’s blind spot for hucksters. But for sheer breadth of deception and implications to thousands of human lives, the Bush performance for a resolution authorizing Gulf War II can only be compared with Johnson’s fabrication 38 years ago that uselessly condemned 57,000 Americans and more than a million Vietnamese — the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

The Iraq war resolution Congress approved with a mob-like majority last week is the Tonkin of our day.Like Bush with Iraq today, Johnson back then didn’t have the facts to back up his demand for war on North Vietnam. So he invented them.

In August 1964, an American destroyer encountered North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. But nothing happened. Johnson not only invented an exchange of fire. He called it an unprovoked attack by the North Vietnamese. Then he submitted his war resolution to Congress, which the White House had drafted months before Tonkin. Within days, the House was voting 414-0 and the Senate 82-2 to give Johnson his mandate for war.

Last year historian Michael Beschloss published an edition of the secret tapes Johnson made in the White House around that time. The tapes make clear that Johnson had fabricated the incident. “When we got through with all the firing,” Johnson tells his secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, “we concluded maybe they hadn’t fired at all.” And despite his public declarations to the contrary, he did not have a “plan for victory — militarily or diplomatically.” No matter. The momentum of his early and frequent lies about Vietnam had picked up the speed of a demon, and the rest is — well, a memorial on the Washington Mall.

Same plot today, same public declarations of untenable enmity, of imminent danger and certain victory, with one difference: The private doubts and inconsistencies have not been suppressed so well as in Johnson’s day. President Bush’s fabrications have been less crafty, more transparent, but they are of the same order of magnitude that powered Tonkin. No one really believes that Iraq poses an imminent danger to the United States or to its neighbors. If Saddam so much as throws a firecracker at Saudi Arabia or Israel, Baghdad is dust.

Saddam’s menace of meanness and mysterious palaces doesn’t have the ballast of the 1960s’ ideological scares, of red tides washing up to the Golden Gate Bridge and Stalinist infiltrations of Boy Scout troops and conjugal beds (“I Married an Iraqi” just doesn’t have the same ring as “I Married a Communist.”). And Bush’s own junta of conjurers has had an impossible time strapping a smoking nuke to Saddam’s arsenal.

Bush has been using the language of liberation to galvanize support for his scheme, but Iraq in 2002 isn’t France or Germany in 1945. It has never been a democracy, and it isn’t about to become one under America’s neo-colonial rule. There is nothing to “liberate” but oil fields and pipelines, no democracy to build but an American garrison in the heart of the Arab world, and at Iran’s flank. Call it pay-back, provocation, opportunism. Don’t call it liberation.

Meanwhile al-Qaida bounces from bombing to bombing, from Yemen to Bali to guess-where-next, celebrating the Iraqi sideshow as a gift wrapped in American hubris.

Yet Bush sold Americans his bill of goods by playing his trump card: 9/11, a shameless use of the memory of 3,000 Americans to justify the coming deaths of untold others. He wants his double header — to finish his father’s war and to give the Republican Party, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, something brawny to run on — and now he has it. He has his war as certainly as his hawks had their war resolution drawn up years ago, as a strategy patiently waiting for its opportunity. Sept. 11 was it, the sort of atrocity that can cloud a thousand judgments and make a fraud sound licit: “I’m not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein,” Bush told the nation last week. The words sound right. They sound righteous, in light of 9/11. They are also the president’s most incriminating wrong, because he is getting ready to stake those very lives on the possibility, not the certainty, that Saddam can’t be contained. Americans and Iraqis are going to die to prevent something that may never happen, which is very different from Americans dying in defensive retaliation for an actual attack. One is a just cause. The other is a wager whose losing outcome is the sacrifice of thousands of lives. The crime, yet uncommitted, is that Congress is willing to stake those lives on trusting Bush.

PIERRE TRISTAM is a editorial writer at the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He can be reached at ptristam@att.net

 

More articles by:
August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail