Skip to main content

Iraq: Not Another Vietnam, Just the Same America

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Sure seems like the Iraq War is beginning to look familiar: an American
army fighting a war in a country (not to mention a region) where far too
many people hate them and where they have created a leadership vacuum that
consistently fills up with its own worst enemies. The recent coordinated
uprising across religious lines, compared widely to a "Tet" offensive, such
as the one by Viet Cong in 1968, that belied the easy pronouncements of
Pentagon spokesmen about "light at the end of the tunnel," is all too

Don't call it "an uprising," don't call it a "guerrilla war," complains the
Pentagon now, while generals on the ground complain they still have
virtually no reliable intelligence to go on; a year into a long-term
occupation, troops over-stretched and exhausted. "We don't even know who
the enemy is yet," one commander stated to Fox News. The enemy, however, is
all over the place and growing bolder. Most recently, as of the writing of
this editorial, four car bombs exploded in Iraq's southern city of Basra
killing at least 60 people and wounding scores more - the indiscriminate
carnage included a bus load of Iraqi school children. Terrorist to us or
freedom-fighter to the Islamic masses, the fight in Iraq is very much still
on and the locals, as always, gain popularity every time they emerge,
whether they kill or die - and grow by the bucketful every time American
gunners end up killing innocent civilians in the frenzy of combat.

Whatever the hurried and debatable motives for landing an American army in
the middle of the worst hotbed in the Arab world, the occupation is going
badly. Planning has been sadly weak. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
hates predicting the future so much he seems against proper planning. Thus
the "Mission Accomplished" that never ends. Thus the thankful liberated
hordes that were to throw flowers and kisses, not grenades and bombs at our

The initial motives for the Iraq War grow more questionable and obscure by
the week, while it appears that the resistance of Iraqis and other Arabs on
the ground is substantial enough to stretch the core of the U.S. Armed
forces to serious stress, and certainly frustration. Fatalities, severe
injury and mutilations mount by the day and week, while the power vacuum at
the side of the American authority fills with hostile and recalcitrant
ayatollahs that extol hatred of Americans and Jews. The thought occurs that
the ayatollahs are enticing the crowds, yes, but with the message the
ayatollahs know the crowds already want to hear. Which is to say, large
portions of the various peoples of Iraq oppose the U.S. occupation fiercely
enough to make chaos of any plan of easy American withdrawal, regardless
the much-vaunted turn over of national sovereignty scheduled for June 30.

In its approach to foreign policy, the Bush administration has exhibited a
wanton arrogance that can be overwhelming arid very objectionable. Action
is one thing, and when properly backed up by good evidence and intense use
of common-cause logic with other countries, it can be absolutely necessary.
But arrogance in foreign policy dictates that you are always right by
virtue of your might, which must mean you are always virtuous. Very big
mistakes follow the proposition that military might, no matter how awesome
its thunder, can actually control the massive populations of the world, if
these decide for themselves or are convinced by evidence presented, by
culture or by simple nationalism, that the last global superpower is too
arrogant for its own good. We cautioned against just such a dynamic early
on when the war against the perpetrators of 9/11 began its turn toward
Iraq. We additionally encouraged the executive branch to maintain its
leadership preeminence over Israel's Ariel Sharon (who seemed to have sized
up President Bush early in his term).

The world as a whole has liked Americans and has admired the building of
the prosperous American democracy. The values of equality and freedom from
government interference, particularly in matters of religion and free
expression; the value of people power and representative democracy with a
strong dose of participatory action - these have been the vigorous and
open-ended parts of America that Native peoples have supported.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The ugly side has been the arrogance, the imperious approach to the
cultures and values of others; in our cases, of Native tribal cultures and
ways of decision-making. This ugly side in the past four years seriously
alienated many former U.S. allies and highly intensified the hostility of
the Arab and Muslim world, as well as many of the mass movements still
capable of challenging U.S. economic and political extensions. Witness now
the withdrawal of Spanish troops, the withdrawal of Honduran troops, this
week's diplomatic snub of President Bush by Jordan's King Hussein, the
cautions of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and the growing concerns of
other leaders from around the world.

Landing an army of 150,000 U.S. troops in the center of the ethnic and
religious cauldron that is Iraq - with or without Saddam and certainly now
without the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction - appears much
more a forced and obsessive decision, based more on fundamentalist
ideology, than the result of any practical, strategic planning. Since
Saddam by every indication was pretty much contained, a war of that
proportion - totally logical to the Bush neo-con inner circle of policy
makers - was not considered wise or logical by the vast majority of
countries and huge percentages of people around the world. In fact,
American elder statespeople, both Republican and Democrat, warned against

Suicidal converts to an extreme sect of Islam dedicated to terror hit the
U.S. on Sept. 11. Death, persecution and woe to the points On the trail
that led to that act was the proper action, which included the taking out
of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the propping up of Pakistan's allied
regime. Most of the Arab and Muslim world, in fact, rejects both the
al-Qaeda type movements and the strictures of the Taliban. The bloody and
terroristic fundamentalist movements, such as he one that has demoralized
Algeria, have not been popular.

These days, however, the Arab world is nearly solidifying in its dread of
and hatred of the United States. Beyond the decapitation of the Taliban,
America had a number of options. It was a crucial cross-roads and
undeniably most of the world felt the best option was to continue to pursue
the actual terrorist cells, instead of seeking nation-states to invade and
occupy, where huge numbers of civilian populations would die and be maimed
at the hands of the U.S. military and its enemies. By immediately moving on
an all-out invasion and occupation of Iraq as primary strategy, the
President's inner circle severely overplayed its hand. The Arab world as a
whole and increasingly Islam becomes now an enemy of the United States.

The stakes in the war on terror are huge. Each strategic option taken and
how it plays in the world is a crucial decision. This must be pragmatic; it
must be at the hands of statespeople who think beyond the immediate box -
beyond the simplistic black and white logic that subordinates substance to
style. The war on terror must be linked to the projection of hope and
future improvement for the mass of disaffected populations, not only in the
Islamic world but also in Latin America, Africa and most of Asia. This is
not happening. The message from America, increasingly hostile and
isolationist, blindly backing the worst behaviors of even its most
questionable trans-national corporations, is not good for the winning of
this most threatening of wars. Military action may be sometimes necessary,
but all too often it is simply fuel to the existing instability of the
ongoing conflicts. Peace through only war has serious limitations and can
result in very destructive blowback.

We have serious doubts that this present, ideologically-driven
administration can produce the required strategic planning, deliberation
and pragmatic execution for overcoming all the facets that must me won in
the war over terror. Arrogance has been its most visible liability.