FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Counterinsurgency and Insurgency from Vietnam to Iraq

The desperation that now pervades the US military occupation of Iraq is palpable on the ground, even as the mystifying rhetoric by those in command, both civilian and military, persists. In a recent perceptive eye-witness account of the occupation, Lucian Truscott notes: “No matter what you call this stage of the conflict in Iraq–the soldiers call it a guerrilla war while politicians back home often refer to it misleadingly and inaccurately as part of the amorphous “war on terror”–it is without a doubt a nasty, deadly war (NYTimes 7 Dec 2003, 4:13).

The war has, in fact, become even nastier and deadlier for the occupying forces, leading to the adoption of tactics that recall past counterinsurgency campaigns, especially those during the US war in Southeast Asia. In a quote that is reminiscent of that past war in Vietnam where destroying a village was presented as “saving” it, a Colonel Nathan Sassaman offered his interpretation of recent punitive measures by US forces in Iraq. “With a heavy does of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them” (NYTimes 7 Dec 2003, 1:13). While the “fear and violence” part recalls brutal counterinsurgency programs, such as Operation Phoenix, that summarily executed thousands of supposed Vietnamese insurgents, the “money for projects” part reflects the pork-barrel programs that Lyndon Johnson once proposed for Vietnam and now George W. Bush puts into operation in Iraq.

Even if Kellogg, Brown & Root, Bechtel, and Halliburton are cashing in on projects in Iraq, reinforced by the passage of the 87 billion dollar boondoggle in Congress, these same companies are becoming more squeamish about the lethal environment in Iraq. According to Truscott’s report from one of his US infantry confidants: “One of the Bechtel truck convoys got ambushed on the way up here three weeks ago, and one of the security guys got wounded…They abandoned their trucks on the spot and pulled out, and we haven’t seen them since” (NYTimes 7 Dec 2003, 4:13). Is it any surprise that the Bush Administration has tried to accelerate plans for inducting more Iraqis into security details, even if that means creating warlords with private militias?

What is surprising, at a certain level, is the effort by the Pentagon to return to the use of body counts. Intending to demonstrate that more of the “bad guys” are being hammered by US military engagements, this tactic also recollects the disastrous and illusory use of body counts in Vietnam War. The most egregious recent incident in Iraq at Samarra clearly demonstrates that Pentagon fabrication of insurgent deaths. Instead of the 54 black-clad fedayeen (reminiscent of black-clad VC?), the actual body count at Samarra was, according to independent sources, 8 killed and 55 injured, all civilian. Apparently, after being fired upon indiscriminately by 120 mm canons mounted on Abrams tanks and 25 mm machine guns from Bradleys and Humvees, some civilians actually fired back. “Civilians shot back at the Americans,” said 30-year-old Ali Hasan, who was wounded by shrapnel in the battle. “They claim we are terrorists. So OK, we are terrorists. What do they expect when they drive among us?”

Indeed, what are the expectations of US military commanders in Iraq, falsely groomed by the Bush Administration to be welcomed as liberators and then fed a steady stream of racist theories about the “Arab mind?” According to one US company commander: “You have to understand the Arab mind…The only thing they understand is force…” (NYTimes 7 Dec 2003, 1:13). Now, force and violence are being applied with ruthless abandon in the hopes that the US military won’t lose out to the insurgent forces. In villages where insurgents have been waging their guerrilla tactics, the US military, adopting a page from Israeli occupying forces in the Palestine, are bulldozing houses, rounding-up all men for interrogation, and surrounding large areas with barbed wire fences and intimidating security checks.

This policy of counterinsurgency, while consonant with Israeli military occupation, is also reminiscent of Vietnam pacification programs. Such programs were intended to dry up the guerrilla sources of support when, in fact, they often led to civilian massacres and the creation of more insurgency. Part of the reason for the failure of US counterinsurgency in Vietnam “was to treat indigenous political culture as a nullity” (Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, 590). Hence, in Iraq the Bush Administration’s insistence that the insurgents are either remnants of the old Saddam Hussein regime or smuggled in al-Qaeda operatives. Whether they actually believe this to be the case or not only reinforces the sense that Washington policymakers are incapable of admitting the truth to the American people about the occupation.

The truth about the insurgents is, of course, rather complicated. There is obviously a well-financed and planned out part of the insurgency that does have direct links to Saddam Hussein’s previous command structure. On the other hand, there is incident after incident where Iraqis who express their antagonism to the old regime nonetheless embrace the insurgency. Commitments to that insurgency will only grow in response to the vindictive violence that Washington continues to mete out in Iraq.

As in Vietnam, more US working class soldiers will realize that they are not fighting for a noble cause, but for a narrow self-interested agenda of US hegemony at any price. There are now wide-spread reports of growing numbers of AWOL reservists and soldiers on the ground in Iraq bristling with contempt for the Bush Administration chickenhawks. Stars and Stripes, the official military newspaper, conducted a poll of US military in Iraq that indicated over half of those still in Iraq were fed-up with the whole operation. Perhaps, as in Vietnam, an insurgency within the US military may also be the reason for Iraqifying the war. Given the failure of Vietnamizing the war to stem the insurgent tide in another time and place, there is reason to believe that US policymakers will once again be forced to abandon a flawed strategy to make-over a society in their own image.

FRAN SHOR teaches at Wayne State University and is a peace and justice activist. He can be reached at: aa2439@wayne.edu

 

More articles by:

Fran Shor is a Michigan-based retired teacher, author, and political activist.  

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rothstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail