Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam

The brilliant “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam” bumper sticker, which has been around since the beginning of the American war on Iraq five long years ago, got it right. Details about Iraq and Vietnam of course differ, but arguments over the details miss the point. Of course, Vietnam is (well, pre-agent orange, was) green; Iraq is brown. Vietnam’s insurgents were Marxist-Leninist; Iraq’s are many things (secular Sunnis, fundamentalist Shi’a, various stripes of patriot, and now all manner of outsiders to boot) but hardly Marxist-Leninists...

Iraq is Vietnam (and, for that matter, Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation) for broad, basic reasons that cannot be wished away by hairsplitting:

1. a local conflict enflamed by superpower intervention;
2. superpower involvement by the most in-your-face means - a huge superpower army (some 200-300,000 U.S. soldiers including U.S. mercenaries in Iraq);
3. heavy-handed behavior by the superpower’s soldiers, including frequent killing of the civilians they supposedly went there to protect;
4. superpower emphasis on military victory in a battle actually about the quality of governance;
5. superpower intervention for its own reasons, not to help the locals – justified as preserving freedom (Vietnam), bringing modernization (Afghanistan), eliminating nuclear weapons and later bringing democracy or stopping an insurgency that was a result of the invasion (Iraq) but in reality much more about stopping China (Vietnam), inoculating Soviet Central Asia against the Islamic virus (Afghanistan), and a combination of controlling oil and strengthening Israel (Iraq);
6. destruction of the liberal middle--because empowering liberal, patriotic moderates means truly giving control to the natives--and thus leaving the battlefield to extremists.

But most of all, Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam—and Afghanistan--because in all three cases, the superpower assumed it had the right to smash down the front door and enter another man’s house without permission. Is there, with the benefit of hindsight, persuasive evidence that in any of these cases the superpower in fact had such moral superiority or wisdom as to justify that assumption? If the answer to that question is anything less than a slam dunk, then the American public deserves a policy alternative so on election day it can make a choice.

The alternative to the war policy is not to salami-slice the number of troops, the amount of time they spend on the street, the level of criticism of the puppet regime, the particular forms of torture to be inflicted upon locals convicted of no crime. The alternative to the war policy is not to continue the war policy by fomenting a coup. The alternative to the war policy is not to remove the official U.S. Armed Forces but leave the (now perhaps 100,000?) mercenaries. The alternative is not to remove the men but leave under U.S. control the several permanent military bases.

The alternative to the war policy is a peace policy; the alternative is to confess that:

  • we were wrong to go in;
  • we are there under false pretenses;
  • our presence led to the mess that resulted;
  • we do not have the wisdom to manage the solution and our presence is indeed preventing resolution, so we must leave and do what we can from a distance--and frequently through others--to make amends.

That would be an alternative policy on which a candidate could run an electoral campaign that would mean something.

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