As the American Democratic primary campaign heats up with the addition of a general and second Vietnam veteran, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, it is perhaps appropriate, and certainly no surprise, that the situation facing the American invaders and occupiers in Iraq would start to truly resemble that earlier disastrous conflict.
It was only a last Wednesday that newscasters were reporting that things had been “calmer” in Iraq, with attacks seeming to let up. That, however, proved to be like the calm along the North Carolina coast just before the arrival of Hurricane Isabel. A day later, on Thursday, that deceptive calm in Iraq was broken by an unusually heavy attack on an American military convoy, which may have left as many as eight American soldiers dead and more gravely wounded. A few hours later, there was another attack, in which three more Americans were killed and several wounded. (The U.S. has been unusually cagey about the casualties in the first, larger attack. Eye witnesses had reported eight-10 dead, while an AP reporter trying to get to the scene was, suspiciously, fired upon by an American tank guarding the site of the attack. Meanwhile American military has not confirmed any deaths, suggesting that a cover-up may be underway, in which, as in Vietnam, casualties might be “moved” to later dates and attributed to other incidents so as to avoid evidence of a calamity.)
The Bush administration, clearly rattled now, both by the deepening quagmire it finds itself in in Iraq, and by the prospect (now that there’s a general among Democratic ranks making some of the charges), of increasingly forceful political attacks on its military and foreign policy fiascoes, has begun a strategic rhetorical retreat. All key administration officials, from the president on down to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz , have begun backing off earlier assertions about weapons of mass destruction and links between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. Caught in a lie, they are hoping now that the notoriously ill-informed and short attention span plagued American public will forget what they were saying earlier.
They may be right in guessing that many people will just hear what they’re now saying, but certainly some key people won’t prove so easy to befuddle. You have to wonder, for instance, what American soldiers, who had gone to Iraq pumped full of adrenaline-inducing propaganda about Saddam’s complicity in the 9/11 attacks and his alleged preparations to nuke or poison America, are making of word from the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense that, well, they never really did expect to find those WMD’s and that well, they never did really say that Saddam was involved in 9/11. What, many of them must be wondering, including the over 100,000 now dodging RPGs and mortars in Iraq, and the thousands now hospitalized with missing eyes, legs or arms, what, the family members of the several hundred dead soldiers must be wondering, have they been fighting for?
If it was not for post-9/11 vengeance and to prevent a WMD attack on America that they have been sweating, fighting and dying, then what? It couldn’t have just been to overthrow an evil tyrant, or why would Iraqis be so angry at them?
And what about the rest of us? Now that Bush and his war cabinet are admitting that they snookered us into supporting a war under false pretenses, what are we to think? Do we go with the idea that, well, mistakes were made, lies and exaggerations were fed to us, but now there’s this big mess in Iraq, and we can’t leave, we just have to keep paying through the nose and watching our soldiers get picked off–seemingly in bigger and bigger numbers?
That’s kind of what happened in Nam, remember? By 1968, when Nixon came in with his “secret plan” to end the conflict in Indochina, it was clear that the reason given for the war–fighting the spread of Communism–was a fraud or, if true, a failure. The war, if anything, was spreading the fires of Communism and anti-imperialist nationalism through Laos and Cambodia, and South Vietnam itself was a lost cause. Under Nixon, the refrain became not defeating the Communist insurgency, but “peace with honor.”
Actually, what “peace with honor” meant was giving Nixon some kind of a fig leaf to hide his shame when America finally pulled up stakes and gave up the fight. Providing Nixon with that little bit of greenery ended up costing an extra 20,000 American and perhaps up to a million extra Vietnamese, Khmer and Lao lives.
Now the situation in Iraq is starting to look the same, even if the numbers of dead, so far, are mercifully much lower on both sides.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the longer the U.S. stays in Iraq, the bigger the insurgency against the occupation will become, and the higher the casualty figures will mount.
Bush’s plan has to be to keep those casualties down, while tamping down the insurgency temporarily, with increased firepower, through the November, ’04 presidential election. Like Nixon before him, he cannot give up now, because the American public would then hold him responsible for the pointless deaths of its soldiers and for the incredible waste of over $200 billion in taxpayer money.
Definition of Quagmire: a swamp from which there is no escape, because the more you struggle, the deeper you sink into the muck.
So once again, we pursue a bloody strategy of “peace with honor,” this time euphemistically called “the rebuilding of Iraq.” We’ll pursue this criminal strategy not because it has a chance of working, but because our unelected president doesn’t have the huevos to tell the American people that he and his neo-con advisers made a colossal mistake.
It is then up to the public, and to the Democratic presidential candidates, to put a halt to this criminal madness. Don’t expect too much from the Democratic presidential candidates–at least not from the so-called front-runners. They may blast Bush for starting the war, but except for the likes of Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley-Braun, they won’t be calling for an immediate end to the occupation. Before any of them develops the spine to issue such a call, they’ll need to hear a public outcry.
That makes the coming October 25 march on Washington, so reminiscent of the 1967 march on the Pentagon (something I remember well, having been arrested and beaten by Federal martials on the mall of the Pentagon, and locked up in Occaquan Federal Detention Center on that former occasion), so important. Coming as it does on the run-up to the first presidential primaries, a big turnout should give those timid Democratic presidential wannabes some more spine, while boosting the chances of those candidates who are willing to come out more strongly, demanding an end to the war and occupation.
Unless we want another president to drag on the occupation through another four- year-term looking for “peace with honor,” unless we want to wake up for four more years to “Good morning, Iraq!”, the Democratic 2004 campaign battle cry needs to become the slogan of the October march: “Bring the troops home!”
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html