Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. Book review

George W Bush, big oil, and Iraq war, US cartoon

From London daily The Morning Star:

Common sense on Iraq

(Monday 12 June 2006)

PICK: Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (The New Press, £14.99)
by Anthony Arnove


THIS is an excellent little book which graphically places the Iraq disaster in a historical and deeply human context.

Many reputable authors seemingly find it difficult to convey the relevant information about a past or present political crisis, while, at the same time, indicating what it all means for the people caught up in the situation.

Anthony Arnove is not among them.

Here, we have an accessible text that clearly charts the illegalities and horrors of the criminal Iraq policies being pursued by Bush and Blair – all set against the background of former US aggressions and occupations, including particularly good commentary on the US invasions of the Philippines and Vietnam. …

It is illuminating to learn that, in not probing the Bush policies on Iraq, even the New York Times and the Washington Post are now driven to admit that they have served the criminal propaganda for war, though they do not put the matter in quite these terms.

Nonetheless, they say that “coverage was not as rigorous as it should have been” and “we didn’t pay enough attention” to those voices raising questions about the war.

It is useful also to see emphasis on the oil factor.

I am always amazed to see how many broadcast discussions of Iraq contain no mention of the US lust for energy resources – as if it is impolite for respectable pundits to raise such inconvenient considerations. …

We should also remember a 2003 quotation, not in this book, by Paul Wolfowitz, then Rumsfeld‘s deputy in the Pentagon: “Economically, we had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.”

4 thoughts on “Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. Book review

  1. Resume of a Yale acquaintance in the oil business*
    Posted by: “hapi22” robinsegg
    Date: Wed Jun 14, 2006 8:18 am (PDT)

    I found this on a bulletin board and thought it was too delicious not to
    share it with you.

    This is all true.


    MID-CAREER-TRANSITION Digest for Sunday, June 11, 2006.

    Resume of a Yale acquaintance in the oil business- any recommendations,
    tips what should be added or deleted?


    COLLEGE: I graduated from Yale University with a low C average. I was a

    MILITARY: I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL. I refused
    to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use. By
    joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in

    LAW ENFORCEMENT: I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for
    driving under the influence of alcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and
    had my driver’s license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record
    has been “lost” and is not available.

    001 – I ran for U.S. Congress and lost.
    002 – I began my career in the oil business in Midland, Texas, in 1975.
    003 – I bought an oil company, but couldn’t find any oil in Texas. The
    company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
    004 – I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that
    took land using taxpayer money.
    005 – With the help of my father and our right-wing friends in the oil
    industry (including Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.

    006 – I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies,
    making Texas the most polluted state in the Union.
    007 – During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most
    smog-ridden city in America.
    008 – I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of
    billions in borrowed money. 008 – I set the record for the most
    executions by any governor in American history.

    010 – I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a
    criminal record.
    011 – I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over
    one billion dollars per week.
    012 – I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S.
    013 – I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S.
    014 – I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in
    any 12-month period.
    015 – I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month
    016 – In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their
    jobs and that figure has risen to over 3 million lost jobs by the end of
    017 – I’m proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any
    administration in U.S. history. My “poorest millionaire,” Condoleezza
    Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.
    018 – I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S.
    019 – I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the
    most corporate campaign donations.
    020 – My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best
    friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy
    fraud in U.S. history, Enron.
    021 – My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys
    to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election
    022 – I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against
    investigation or prosecution. More time and money was spent
    investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent
    investigating one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history.
    023 – I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and
    refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was
    024 – I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.
    026 – I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be
    awarded government contracts.
    027 – I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any
    President in U.S. history.
    028 – I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest
    bureaucracy in the history of the United States government.
    029 – I’ve broken more international treaties than any President in U.S.
    030 – I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United
    Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.
    031 – I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law.
    032 – I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. “prisoners of war”
    detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.
    033 – I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations
    election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election).
    034 – I set the record for fewest number of press conferences of any
    President since the advent of television.
    035 – I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any
    one-year period.
    036 – After taking off the entire month of August 2001, I presided over
    the worst security failure in U.S. history.
    037 – I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade
    Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated
    country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

    038 – I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to
    simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people),
    shattering the record for protest against any person in the history of
    039 – I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked,
    pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I
    did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S.
    citizens, and the world community.
    040 – I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut
    in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families – in wartime.

    041 – In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for
    attacking Iraq, then blamed the lies on our British friends.
    04 – I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans
    (71%) view my presidency as the single biggest threat to world peace and
    043 – I am supporting development of a nuclear “Tactical Bunker Buster,”
    a WMD.
    044 – I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden
    to justice

    045 – All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my
    father’s library, sealed and unavailable for public view.
    046 – All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my
    bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public
    047 – All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-
    President, attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy
    and unavailable for public review



  2. Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam

    By Melvin R. Laird From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005

    Summary: During Richard Nixon’s first term, when I served as secretary
    of defense, we withdrew most U.S. forces from Vietnam while building up
    the South’s ability to defend itself. The result was a success — until
    Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting off funding
    for our ally in 1975. Washington should follow a similar strategy now,
    but this time finish the job properly.

    MELVIN R. LAIRD was Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973, Counselor to
    the President for Domestic Affairs from 1973 to 1974, and a member of
    the House of Representatives from 1952 to 1969. He currently serves as
    Senior Counselor for National and International Affairs at the Reader’s
    Digest Association.


    Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the assumption that he had a plan
    to end the Vietnam War. He didn’t have any such plan, and my job as his
    first secretary of defense was to remedy that — quickly. The only
    stated plan was wording I had suggested for the 1968 Republican
    platform, saying it was time to de-Americanize the war. Today, nearly 37
    years after Nixon took office as president and I left Congress to join
    his cabinet, getting out of a war is still dicier than getting into one,
    as President George W. Bush can attest.

    There were two things in my office that first day that gave my mission
    clarity. The first was a multivolume set of binders in my closet safe
    that contained a top-secret history of the creeping U.S. entry into the
    war that had occurred on the watch of my predecessor, Robert McNamara.
    The report didn’t remain a secret for long: it was soon leaked to The
    New York Times, which nicknamed it “the Pentagon Papers.” I always
    referred to the study as “the McNamara Papers,” to give credit where
    credit belonged. I didn’t read the full report when I moved into the
    office. I had already spent seven years on the Defense Subcommittee of
    the House Appropriations Committee listening to McNamara justify the
    escalation of the war. How we got into Vietnam was no longer my concern.
    (Although, in retrospect, those papers offered a textbook example of how
    not to commit American military might.)

    The second item was another secret document, this one shorter and
    infinitely more troubling. It was a one-year-old request from General
    William Westmoreland to raise the U.S. troop commitment in Vietnam from
    500,000 to 700,000. At the time he had made the request, Westmoreland
    was the commander of U.S. forces there. As soon as the idea had reached
    the ears of President Lyndon Johnson, Westmoreland’s days in Saigon were
    numbered. Johnson bumped him upstairs to be army chief of staff, so that
    the Pentagon bureaucracy could dilute his more-is-better philosophy
    during the coming presidential campaign.

    The memo had remained in limbo in the defense secretary’s desk, neither
    approved nor rejected. As my symbolic first act in office, it gave me
    great satisfaction to turn down that request formally. It was the
    beginning of a four-year withdrawal from Vietnam that, in retrospect,
    became the textbook description of how the U.S. military should decamp.

    Others who were not there may differ with this description. But they
    have been misinformed by more than 30 years of spin about the Vietnam
    War. The resulting legacy of that misinformation has left the United
    States timorous about war, deeply averse to intervening in even a just
    cause, and dubious of its ability to get out of a war once it is in one.
    All one need whisper is “another Vietnam,” and palms begin to sweat. I
    have kept silent for those 30 years because I never believed that the
    old guard should meddle in the business of new administrations,
    especially during a time of war. But the renewed vilification of our
    role in Vietnam in light of the war in Iraq has prompted me to speak out.

    Some who should know better have made our current intervention in Iraq
    the most recent in a string of bogeymen peeking out from under the bed,
    spawned by the nightmares of Vietnam that still haunt us. The ranks of
    the misinformed include seasoned politicians, reporters, and even
    veterans who earned their stripes in Vietnam, but who have since used
    that war as their bully pulpit to mold an isolationist American foreign
    policy. This camp of doomsayers includes Senator Edward Kennedy, who has
    called Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam.” Those who wallow in such Vietnam
    angst would have us be not only reticent to help the rest of the world,
    but ashamed of our ability to do so, and doubtful of the value of
    spreading democracy and of the superiority of freedom itself. They join
    their voices with those who claim that the current war is “all about
    oil,” as though the loss of that oil were not enough of a global
    security threat to merit any U.S. military intervention and especially
    not “another Vietnam.”

    The Vietnam War that I saw, first from my seat in Congress and then as
    secretary of defense, cannot be wrapped in a tidy package and tagged
    “bad idea.” It was far more complex than that: a mixture of good and
    evil from which there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Yet the
    only lesson that seems to have endured is the one that begins and ends
    with “Don’t go there.” The war in Iraq is not “another Vietnam.” But it
    could become one if we continue to use Vietnam as a sound bite while
    ignoring its true lessons.

    I acknowledge and respect the raw emotions of those who fought in
    Vietnam, those who lost loved ones, and those who protested, and I also
    respect the sacrifice of those who died following orders of people such
    as myself, half a world away. Those raw emotions are once again being
    felt as our young men and women die in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot
    speak for the dead or the angry. My voice is that of a policymaker, one
    who once decided which causes were worth fighting for, how long the
    fight should last, and when it was time to go home. The president, as
    our commander-in-chief, has the overall responsibility for making these
    life-or-death decisions, in consultation with Congress. The secretary of
    defense must be supportive of those decisions, or else he must leave.

    It is time for a reasonable look at both Vietnam and Iraq — and at what
    the former can teach us about the latter. My perspective comes from
    military service in the Pacific in World War II (I still carry shrapnel
    in my body from a kamikaze attack on my destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox),
    nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and four years as
    secretary of defense to Nixon.

    Today, we deserve a view of history that is based on facts rather than
    emotional distortions and the party line of tired politicians who play
    on emotions. Mine is not a rosy view of the Vietnam War. I didn’t miss
    the fact that it was an ugly, mismanaged, tragic episode in U.S.
    history, with devastating loss of life for all sides. But there are
    those in our nation who would prefer to pick at that scab rather than
    let it heal. They wait for opportunities to trot out the Vietnam demons
    whenever another armed intervention is threatened. For them, Vietnam is
    an insurance policy that pretends to guarantee peace at home as long as
    we never again venture abroad. Certain misconceptions about that
    conflict, therefore, need to be exposed and abandoned in order to
    restore confidence in the United States’ nation-building ability.


    The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget
    is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. In
    fact, we grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when
    Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that had allowed it to
    continue to fight on its own. Over the four years of Nixon’s first term,
    I had cautiously engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our forces
    while building up South Vietnam’s ability to defend itself. My colleague
    and friend Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable agreement
    between North and South Vietnam, which was signed in January 1973. It
    allowed for the United States to withdraw completely its few remaining
    troops, and for the United States and the Soviet Union to continue
    funding their respective allies in the war at a specified level. Each
    superpower was permitted to pay for replacement arms and equipment.
    Documents released from North Vietnamese historical files in recent
    years have proved that the Soviets violated the treaty from the moment
    the ink was dry, continuing to send more than $1 billion a year to
    Hanoi. The United States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military
    aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the Soviet contribution.

    Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own courageously and
    respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued
    between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut
    off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never
    returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We
    saved a mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed South
    Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.

    I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside
    resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I
    believe Iraq can do the same now. From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to
    the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a major battle. The
    Tet offensive itself was a victory for South Vietnam and devastated the
    North Vietnamese army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the
    overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and the war thereafter
    was that of defeat for the United States and the Saigon government. Just
    so, the overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of failure and

    Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its
    allies. The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first
    place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that
    turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord. The president, the
    secretary of state, and the secretary of defense must share the blame.
    In the end, they did not stand up for the commitments our nation had
    made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet officer who is turned
    down by Congress when he asks for funding for a matter of national
    security or defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no excuse
    for that failure. In my four years at the Pentagon, when public support
    for the Vietnam War was at its nadir, Congress never turned down any
    requests for the war effort or Defense Department programs. These were
    tense moments, but I got the votes and the appropriations. A defense
    secretary’s relationship with Congress is second only to his
    relationship with the men and women in uniform. Both must be able to
    trust him, and both must know that he respects them. If not, Congress
    will not fund, and the soldiers, sailors, and air personnel will not follow.

    Donald Rumsfeld has been my friend for more than 40 years. Gerald Ford
    and I went to Evanston to support him in his first congressional race,
    and I urged President Bush to appoint him secretary of defense. But his
    overconfident and self-assured style on every issue, while initially
    endearing him to the media, did not play well with Congress during his
    first term. My friends in Congress tell me Rumsfeld has modified his
    style of late, wisely becoming more collegial. Several secretaries
    during my service on the Appropriations Committee, running all the way
    from the tenure of Charlie Wilson to that of Clark Clifford, made the
    mistake of thinking they must appear much smarter than the elected
    officials to whom they reported. It doesn’t always work.

    If Rumsfeld wants something from those who are elected to make decisions
    for the American people, then he must continue to show more deference to
    Congress. To do otherwise will endanger public support and the funding
    stream for the Iraq war and its future requirements. A sour relationship
    on Capitol Hill could doom the whole effort. The importance of this
    solidarity between Congress and the administration did not escape Saddam
    Hussein, nor has it escaped the insurgents. In the days leading up to
    the U.S. invasion of Iraq, television stations there showed 1975 footage
    of U.S. embassy support personnel escaping to helicopters from the roof
    of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. It was Saddam’s message to his people
    that the United States does not keep its commitments and that we are
    only as good as the word of our current president. We failed to deliver
    the logistical support to our allies in South Vietnam during the
    post-Watergate period because of a breakdown of leadership in
    Washington. The failure of one administration to keep the promises of
    another had a devastating effect on the North-South negotiations.

    There are no guarantees of continuity in a partisan democracy. We are
    making commitments as to the future of Iraq on an almost daily basis.
    These commitments must be understood now so they can be honored later.
    Every skirmish on the home front that betrays a lack of solidarity on
    Iraq gives the insurgents more hope and ultimately endangers the men and
    women we have sent to Iraq to fight in this war for us. We are now
    committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must be understood that
    this will require long-term assistance or our efforts will be in vain.


    Along with our abandonment of our allies, another great tragedy of
    Vietnam was the Americanization of the war. This threatens to be the
    tragedy of Iraq also. John F. Kennedy committed a few hundred military
    advisers to Saigon. Johnson saw Southeast Asia as the place to stop the
    spread of communism, and he spared no expense or personnel. By the time
    Nixon and I inherited the war in 1969, there were more than half a
    million U.S. troops in South Vietnam and 1.2 million more U.S. soldiers,
    sailors, and air personnel supporting the war from aircraft carriers and
    military bases in surrounding nations and at sea. The war needed to be
    turned back to the people who cared about it, the Vietnamese. They
    needed U.S. money and training but not more American blood. I called our
    program “Vietnamization,” and in spite of the naysayers, I have not
    ceased to believe that it worked.

    Nixon was reelected in 1972 based in large part on our progress toward
    ending U.S. direct involvement in the war, ending the draft, and
    establishing the all-volunteer military service. His opponent that year,
    George McGovern, made the war the primary issue of the campaign,
    claiming that Democrats — the party in power that had escalated the war
    to an intolerable level — would be the best folks to get us out.
    McGovern lost because the American people didn’t agree with him.

    We need to put our resources and unwavering public support behind a
    program of “Iraqization” so that we can get out of Iraq and leave the
    Iraqis in a position to protect themselves. The Iraq war should have
    been focused on Iraqization even before the first shot was fired. The
    focus is there now, and Americans should not lose heart.

    We came belatedly to Vietnamization; nonetheless, there are certain
    principles we followed in Vietnam that would be helpful in Iraq. The
    most important is that the administration must adhere to a standard of
    competence for the Iraqi security forces, and when that standard is met,
    U.S. troops should be withdrawn in corresponding numbers. That is the
    way it worked in Vietnam, from the first withdrawal of 50,000 troops in
    1969 to the last prisoner of war off the plane in January of 1973.
    Likewise, in Iraq, the United States should not let too many more weeks
    pass before it shows its confidence in the training of the Iraqi armed
    forces by withdrawing a few thousand U.S. troops from the country. We
    owe it to the restive people back home to let them know there is an exit
    strategy, and, more important, we owe it to the Iraqi people. The
    readiness of the Iraqi forces need not be 100 percent, nor must the new
    democracy be perfect before we begin our withdrawal. The immediate need
    is to show our confidence that Iraqis can take care of Iraq on their own
    terms. Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual
    withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis
    to stand up to the insurgency.

    I gave President Nixon the same advice about Vietnam from our first day
    in office. As secretary of defense, I took the initiative in the spring
    of 1969 to change our mission statement for Vietnam from one of applying
    maximum pressure against the enemy to one of giving maximum assistance
    to South Vietnam to fight its own battles. Then, the opponents of our
    withdrawal were the South Vietnamese government, which we had turned
    into a dependent, and some in our own military who harbored delusions of
    total victory in Southeast Asia using American might. Even if such a
    victory had been possible, it was wrong to Americanize the war from the
    beginning, and by that point the patience of the American people had run

    Even with the tide of public opinion running against the war, withdrawal
    was not an easy sell inside the Nixon administration. Our first round of
    withdrawals was announced after a conference between Nixon and South
    Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu on Midway Island in June 1969. I
    had already softened the blow for Thieu by visiting him in Saigon in
    March, at which point I told him the spigot was being turned off. He
    wanted more U.S. soldiers, as did almost everyone in the U.S. chain of
    command, from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down. For each
    round of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs suggested a
    miserly number based on what they thought they still needed to win the
    war. I bumped those numbers up, always in counsel with General Creighton
    Abrams, then the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Even Nixon, who
    had promised to end the war, accepted each troop-withdrawal request from
    me grudgingly. It took four years to bring home half a million troops.
    At times, it seemed my only ally was General Abrams. He understood what
    the others did not: that the American people’s patience for the war had
    worn thin.

    Bush is not laboring under similar handicaps in his military. His
    commanders share his goal of letting Iraq take care of itself as soon as
    its fledgling democracy is ready. And, for the moment, there is still
    patience at home for a commonsensical, phased drawdown. In fact, the
    voices expressing the most patience about a sensible withdrawal and the
    most support for the progress of Iraqi soldiers are coming from within
    the U.S. military. These people are also the most eager to see the
    mission succeed and the most willing to see it through to the end. It is
    they who are at high risk and who are the ones being asked to serve not
    one but multiple combat tours. They are dedicated and committed to a
    mission that ranges from the toughest combat to the most elementary
    chores of nation building. We should listen to them, and trust them.

    In those four years of Vietnamization, I never once publicly promised a
    troop number for withdrawal that I couldn’t deliver. President Bush
    should move ahead with the same certainty. I also did not announce what
    our quantitative standards for readiness among the South Vietnamese
    troops were, just as Bush should not make public his specific standards
    for determining when Iraqi troops are ready to go it alone. In a report
    to Congress in July 2005, the Pentagon hinted that those measurable
    standards are in place. However, it would be a mistake for the president
    to rely solely on the numbers. Instead, his top commander in the field
    should have the final say on how many U.S. troops can come home,
    commensurate with the readiness of Iraqi forces. If Bush does not trust
    his commander’s judgment, as I trusted General Abrams, Bush should
    replace him with someone he does trust. That trust must be conveyed to
    the American people, too, if they are to be patient with an orderly
    withdrawal of our troops.


    In this business of trust, President Bush got off to a bad start. Nixon
    had the same problem. Both the Vietnam War and the Iraq war were
    launched based on intelligence failures and possibly outright deception.
    The issue was much more egregious in the case of Vietnam, where the
    intelligence lapses were born of our failure to understand what
    motivated Ho Chi Minh in the 1950s. Had we understood the depth of his
    nationalism, we might have been able to derail his communism early on.

    The infamous pretext for leaping headlong into the Vietnam War was the
    Gulf of Tonkin incident. My old destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox, was
    patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin 25 miles off the coast of North Vietnam on
    August 2, 1964, when it was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo
    boats. That solitary attack would have been written off as an
    aberration, but two days later the U.S.S. Maddox, joined then by the
    U.S.S. Turner Joy, reported that it was under attack again. From all I
    was able to determine when I read the dispatches five years later as
    secretary of defense, there was no second attack. There was confusion,
    hysteria, and miscommunication on a dark night. President Johnson and
    Defense Secretary McNamara either dissembled or misinterpreted the
    faulty intelligence, and McNamara hotfooted it over to Capitol Hill with
    a declaration that was short of war but that resulted in a war anyway.
    I, along with 501 colleagues in the House and Senate, voted for the
    Tonkin Gulf resolution, which was Johnson’s ticket to escalate our role
    in Vietnam. Until then, the United States had been part bystander, part
    covert combatant, and part adviser.

    In Iraq, the intelligence blunder concerned Saddam’s nonexistent weapons
    of mass destruction, which in the end may or may not have been Bush’s
    real motivation for going to war. My view is that it was better to find
    that Saddam had not progressed as far as we thought in his WMD
    development than to discover belatedly that he had. Whatever the truth
    about WMD in Iraq, it cannot be said that the United States slipped
    gradually, covertly, or carelessly into Iraq, as we did into Vietnam.


    The mistake on the question of WMD in Iraq has led many to complain that
    the United States was drawn into the war under false pretenses, that
    what began as self-defense has morphed into nation building. Welcome to
    the reality of war. It is neither predictable nor tidy. This generation
    of Americans was spoiled by the quick-and-clean Operation Desert Storm,
    in 1991, when the first President Bush adhered to the mission, freed
    Kuwait, and brought home the troops. How would Iraq look today if George
    H.W. Bush had changed that mission on the fly and ordered a march to
    Baghdad and the overthrow of Saddam? The truth is, wars are fluid things
    and missions change. This is more the rule than the exception. It was
    true in Vietnam, and it is true in Iraq today.

    The early U.S. objective in Southeast Asia was to stop the spread of
    communism. With changes in the relationship between the Soviet Union and
    China and the 1965 suppression of the communist movement in Indonesia,
    the threat of a communist empire diminished. Unwilling to abandon South
    Vietnam, the United States changed its mission to self-determination for

    The current President Bush was persuaded that we would find WMD in Iraq
    and did what he felt he had to do with the information he was given.
    When we did not find the smoking gun, it would have been unconscionable
    to pack up our tanks and go home. Thus, there is now a new mission, to
    transform Iraq, and it is not a bad plan. Bush sees Iraq as the
    frontline in the war on terror — not because terrorists dominate there,
    but because of the opportunity to displace militant extremists’ Islamist
    rule throughout the region. Bush’s greatest strength is that terrorists
    believe he is in this fight to the end. I have no patience for those who
    can’t see that big picture, and who continue to view Iraq as a failed
    attempt to find WMD. Now, because Iraq has been set on a new course,
    Bush has an opportunity to reshape the region. “Nation building” is not
    an epithet or a slogan. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it is
    our duty.

    Unfortunately, Bush has done an uneven job of selling his message,
    particularly since he was relieved of the pressure of reelection. Nixon
    lost his leadership leverage because of Watergate and thus lost ground
    in the battle for public support. By contrast, I believe the American
    people would still want to follow Bush if they had a clear understanding
    of what was at stake. Recent polls showing a waning of support for the
    war are a sign to the president that he needs to level with the American
    people. When troops are dying, the commander-in-chief cannot be coy,
    vague, or secretive. We learned that in Vietnam, too.

    Bush is losing the public relations war by making the same strategic
    mistakes we made in Vietnam. General Abrams frequently spoke to me about
    his frustration with the war that the U.S. media portrayed at home and
    how it contrasted with the war he was seeing up close. His sense of
    defeat in his own public relations war, with its 500-plus reporters
    based in Saigon, comes through in the hundreds of meetings held in his
    office in Saigon — meetings that were taped for the record.
    (Transcripts of those tapes are ably assembled and analyzed by Lewis
    Sorley in his recent book, Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972.)

    In Vietnam, correspondents roamed the country almost at will, and their
    work brought home to the United States the first televised war. Until
    that war, families back home worried about the welfare of their soldiers
    but could not see the danger. Had the mothers and fathers of U.S.
    soldiers serving in World War II seen a real-time CNN report of D-day in
    the style of Saving Private Ryan, they might not have thought Europe was
    worth saving. Operation Desert Storm married 24-hour cable news and war
    for the first time. The embedding of journalists with combat units in
    Iraq 12 years later was a solid idea, but it has meant that casualties
    are captured on tape and then replayed on newscasts thousands of times.
    The deaths of ten civilians in a suicide bombing are replayed and
    analyzed and thus become the psychological equivalent of 10,000 deaths.
    The danger to one U.S. soldier captured on tape becomes a threat to
    everyone’s son or father or daughter or mother.

    I have made too many phone calls to grieving families to ever downplay
    the loss of even one life. But I have also been in combat, and it looks
    different from the inside, from the viewpoint of those who volunteered
    and trained to fight for just causes. For a soldier, ducking a sniper’s
    bullet in downtown Baghdad is all in a day’s work, no matter how
    alarming it looks on television. The soldier will shrug it off and walk
    the same streets the next day if he believes in his mission. The key for
    Bush is to communicate that same sense of mission to the people back
    home. His west Texas cowboy approach — shoot first and answer questions
    later, or do the job first and let the results speak for themselves —
    is not working. With his propensity to wrap up a package and present it
    as a fait accompli, Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!” at the end of
    the major combat phase of the Iraq war. That was a well-earned high-five
    for the military, but it soon became obvious that the mission had only
    just begun.


    The president must articulate a simple message and mission. Just as the
    spread of communism was very real in the 1960s, so the spread of radical
    fundamentalist Islam is very real today. It was a creeping fear until
    September 11, 2001, when it showed itself capable of threatening us.
    Iraq was a logical place to fight back, with its secular government and
    modern infrastructure and a populace that was ready to overthrow its
    dictator. Our troops are not fighting there only to preserve the right
    of Iraqis to vote. They are fighting to preserve modern culture, Western
    democracy, the global economy, and all else that is threatened by the
    spread of barbarism in the name of religion. That is the message and the
    mission. It is not politically correct, nor is it comforting. But it is
    the truth, and sometimes the truth needs good marketing.

    Condoleezza Rice is one person in the administration who understands and
    has consistently and clearly stated this message. When she was national
    security adviser, the media seemed determined to sideline her repeated
    theme, perhaps because she was perceived as a mere water bearer for the
    president. As secretary of state, she is in a better position to speak
    independently. The administration should do its best to keep the
    microphone in her hands.


    As was the case in Vietnam, the task in Iraq involves building a new
    society from the ground up. Two Vietnam experts, Jeffrey Record and W.
    Andrew Terrill, recently produced an exhaustive comparison of the
    Vietnam and Iraq wars for the Army War College. They note that in both
    wars, the United States sought to establish a legitimate indigenous
    government. In Iraq, the goal is a democratic government, whereas in
    Vietnam the United States would have settled for any regime that
    advanced our Cold War agenda.

    Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington’s “puppet” don’t know
    what a real puppet government is. The Iraqis are as eager to be on their
    own as we are to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American, Ambassador
    Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in 1967. Elections were
    choreographed by the United States to empower corrupt, selfish men who
    were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen.

    Little wonder that the passionate nationalists in the North came off as
    the group with something to offer. I do not personally believe the
    Saigon government was fated to fall apart someday through lack of
    integrity, and apparently the Soviet Union didn’t think so either or it
    would not have pursued the war. But it is true that the U.S.
    administrations at the time severely underestimated the need for a
    legitimate government in South Vietnam and instead assumed that a shadow
    government and military force could win the day. In Iraq, a legitimate
    government, not window-dressing, must be the primary goal. The factious
    process of writing the Iraqi constitution has been painful to watch, and
    the varying factions must be kept on track. But the process is healthy
    and, more important, homegrown.

    In hindsight, we can look at the Vietnam War as a success story —
    albeit a costly one — in nation building, even though the democracy we
    sought halfheartedly to build failed. Three decades ago, Asia really was
    threatened by the spread of communism. The Korean War was a fresh
    memory. In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even
    India, communist movements were gaining a foothold. They failed in large
    part because the United States drew a line at Vietnam that distracted
    and sucked resources away from its Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union.
    Similarly, the effect of our stand in Iraq is already being felt around
    the Middle East. Opposition parties are demanding to be heard. Veiled
    women are insisting on a voice. Syrian troops have left Lebanon. Egypt
    has held an election. Iran is being pressured by the United States and
    Europe alike on its development of nuclear weapons. The voices for
    change are building in Saudi Arabia. The movement even has a name:
    Kifaya — “Enough!” The parasites who have made themselves fat by
    promoting ignorance, fear, and repression in the region are squirming.
    These are baby steps, but that is where running begins.


    Insurgents were and are the enemy in both wars, and insurgencies fail
    without outside funding. In Vietnam, the insurgents were heavily funded
    and well equipped by the Soviet Union. They followed a powerful and
    charismatic leader, Ho Chi Minh, who nurtured their passionate
    nationalist goals. In Iraq, the insurgency is fragmented, with no
    identifiable central leadership and no unifying theology, strategy, or
    vision other than to get the United States out of the region. If that
    goal were accomplished now, they would turn on each other, as they
    already have done in numerous skirmishes. Although they do rely on
    outside funding, their benefactors are fickle and without deep pockets.

    There is no way of counting the precise number of insurgents in the Iraq
    war, but it appears to be in the thousands, which in comparative terms
    is paltry. Communist forces in Vietnam numbered well over 1 million in
    1973. North Vietnam, over the course of the war, lost 1.1 million
    soldiers and 2 million civilians, and yet they were willing to fight on
    and we were not. Why? Record and Terrill say the key to understanding
    any war in which a weaker side prevails over a stronger one is the
    concept of the “asymmetry of stakes.” Victory meant everything to North
    Vietnam and nothing to the average American. We had few economic
    interests in Vietnam. Our national security interest — preventing the
    domino scenario, in which the entire world would fall under the sway of
    communism if we lost Southeast Asia — didn’t have enough currency to
    carry the day.

    It is a very different story in Iraq, where the Bush administration
    hopes to implant democracy side by side with Islam. The stakes could not
    be higher for the continued existence of our own democracy and, yes, for
    the significant matter of oil. We are not the only nation dependent on
    Persian Gulf oil. We share that dependency with every industrialized
    nation on the planet. Picture those oil reserves in the hands of
    religious extremists whose idea of utopia is to knock the world economy
    and culture back more than a millennium to the dawn of Islam.

    Bush’s belief that he can replace repression with democracy is not some
    neoconservative fantasy. Our support of democracy dates from the
    founding of our nation. Democracies are simply better for the planet.
    Witness the courage of the Iraqi people who shocked the world and defied
    all the pessimists by showing up to vote in January 2005, even with guns
    pointed at their heads. The enemies of freedom in Iraq know what a
    powerful message that was to the rest of the Arab world, otherwise they
    would not have responded by escalating the violence.

    Although Vietnam may have been a success story when it came to defeating
    an insurgency, the domestic insurgency — conducted by the Vietcong —
    was unfortunately only one front in the war, the larger front being the
    conventional military forces of North Vietnam. The Vietcong were largely
    suppressed by a combination of persuasion and force. A similar
    combination of deadly force against the Iraqi insurgency’s leaders and
    incentives to co-opt their followers may work in Iraq, where the
    insurgency is the only enemy.

    Vietnam, however, should be a cautionary tale when fighting guerrilla
    style, whether it be in the streets or in the jungle. Back then,
    frightened and untrained U.S. troops were ill equipped to govern their
    baser instincts and fears. Countless innocent civilians were killed in
    the indiscriminate hunt for Vietcong among the South Vietnamese
    peasantry. Some of the worst historical memories of the Vietnam War stem
    from those atrocities. Our volunteer troops in Iraq are better trained
    and supervised, yet the potential remains for a slaughter of innocents.
    Reports have already surfaced of skittish American soldiers shooting
    Iraqi civilians in acts that can only be attributed to poor training and

    To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file, whether in the prisons
    or on the streets, heads must roll at much higher levels than they have
    thus far. I well remember the unexpected public support for Lieutenant
    William Calley, accused in the massacre of civilians in the village of
    My Lai. The massacre did not occur on my watch, but Calley’s trial did,
    and Americans flooded the White House with letters of protest, when it
    appeared that Calley would be the scapegoat while his superiors walked
    free. The best way to keep foot soldiers honest is to make sure their
    commanders know that they themselves will be held responsible for any
    breach of honor.

    For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in Iraq,
    in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay have been a disturbing reminder of
    the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The conditions in our
    current prison camps are nowhere near as horrific as they were at the
    “Hanoi Hilton”, but that is no reason to pat ourselves on the back. The
    minute we begin to deport prisoners to other nations where they can
    legally be tortured, when we hold people without charges or trial, when
    we move prisoners around to avoid the prying inspections of the Red
    Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably on our watch, we are on a
    slippery slope toward the inhumanity that we deplore. In Vietnam, I made
    sure we always took the high ground with regard to the treatment of
    enemy prisoners. I opened our prison camps wide to international
    inspectors, so that we could demand the same from Hanoi. In Iraq, there
    are no American POWs being held in camps by the insurgents. There are
    only murder victims whose decapitated bodies are left for us to find.
    But that does not give us license to be brutal in return.


    Our commanders in Iraq have another advantage over those in Vietnam:
    President Bush seems unlikely to be whipsawed by public opinion, but
    will take the war to wherever the enemy rears its head. In Vietnam, we
    waged a ground war in the South and did not permit our troops to cross
    into North Vietnam. The air war over the North and in Laos and Cambodia
    was waged in fits and starts, in secret and in the open, covered by lies
    and subterfuge, manipulated more by opinion polls than by military
    exigencies. In the early years, the services squabbled with one another.
    Even the State Department was allowed to veto air strikes. President
    Johnson stayed up late calling the plays while generals were sidelined.

    In all, 2.8 million Americans served in and around Vietnam during the
    war, yet less than ten percent of them were in-line infantry units, the
    men we think of as our Vietnam veterans. Men were drafted and given a
    few weeks of training before being attached to a unit of strangers. With
    few exceptions, our all-volunteer military in Iraq is motivated, well
    trained, well equipped, and in cohesive units. This is not to say that
    any of these troops want to be there. They don’t. Yet they are far more
    motivated to fight this war than were the average conscripts in Vietnam.

    They are also part of a much smarter military, thanks in large part to
    the lessons of Vietnam. In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of
    Defense Reorganization Act, with input from some veterans of my team at
    the Pentagon, cleaned up many of the command problems that hindered us
    in Vietnam and for a decade thereafter. The old system encouraged the
    Joint Chiefs of Staff to be anything but joint. They protected their
    fiefdoms and withheld cooperation from one another. The
    Goldwater-Nichols act centralized authority in the chair of the Joint
    Chiefs as the primary adviser to the president and the secretary of
    defense. The separate services are now responsible for training their
    people for war, but the area commanders who run the wars control all the
    assets. Today’s soldiers, sailors, and air personnel can also be more
    secure knowing that the people who make life-or-death decisions
    represent a better balance between military expertise and the will of
    the people as expressed through their elected officials.

    Such confidence is critical to sustaining an all-volunteer military. As
    the secretary of defense who ended the draft in 1972, I see no need to
    return to conscription, even now that the prospect of combat has
    somewhat dampened the enthusiasm for military service. As long as
    servicepeople — current and future — know where their president is
    leading them, the enlistments will follow.

    As it did in Vietnam, in Iraq the enemy has sought to weaken the United
    States’ will by dragging out the hostilities. In Vietnam, that strategy
    was reflected in a bottomless well of men, sophisticated arms, and
    energy the enemy threw into the fight. Similarly in Iraq, the insurgents
    have pinpointed the weakness of the American public’s will and hope to
    exploit it on a much smaller scale, with the weapon of choice being the
    improvised explosive device, strapped to one person, loaded into a car
    or hidden at a curb, and with the resulting carnage then played over and
    over again on the satellite feed. But one lesson learned from Vietnam
    that is not widely recognized is that fear of casualties is not the
    prime motivator of the American people during a war. American soldiers
    will step up to the plate, and the American public will tolerate loss of
    life, if the conflict has worthy, achievable goals that are clearly
    espoused by the administration and if their leadership deals honestly
    with them.

    Such was not the case in Vietnam. When President Nixon ordered the
    secret bombing of Cambodia, I protested vigorously. I did not oppose the
    bombing itself, as I believed the United States should fight the war as
    it needed to be fought — wherever the enemy was hiding — or not fight
    it at all. What I opposed was the deception. Behind closed doors, my
    opinion was so well known that when the secret was exposed, as I knew it
    would be, I was immediately and wrongly pinpointed as being the leak.
    The president approved Kissinger’s order to the FBI to tap my military
    assistant’s home phone, hoping to catch the two of us in a plot to leak
    secrets. Americans will not be lied to, and they will not tolerate
    secrets nor be sidelined in a war debate. As with the Vietnam War, if
    necessary they will take to the streets to be heard.


    The greatest cost of war is human suffering. But every war has its
    monetary price tag, too, even if it is rarely felt in real time. As with
    Vietnam, the Iraq war is revealing chinks in our fiscal armor. Only
    after the Vietnam War ended did its drain on the U.S. economy become
    apparent. During the war, our military readiness to fight other
    conflicts was precarious. Billions of dollars were drained away from
    other missions to support the war. It became a juggling act to support
    our forces around the world. I reduced our contingent in Korea by 29,000
    men, and I persuaded Japan to begin paying the bills for its post-World
    War II defense by our troops. In retrospect, those two steps were
    positive results from the financial drain that the Vietnam War caused.
    But there were plenty of other places where the belt-tightening
    suffocated good programs. The Army Reserve and National Guard units fell
    into disrepair. President Johnson chose to draft the unwilling, rather
    than use trained reservists and National Guard soldiers and air
    personnel. As unpopular as the draft was, it was still an easier sell
    for Johnson than deploying whole National Guard and Reserve units out of
    the communities in middle America. So the second-string troops stayed
    home and saw their budgets cannibalized. Their training was third-rate
    and their equipment secondhand. Now, in our post-Vietnam wisdom, we have
    embraced the “total force” concept. After two decades of retooling, most
    National Guard units and reservists were better prepared to respond when
    called up for Operation Desert Storm.

    Yet, because of pandering to the butter-not-guns crowd, we still do not
    spend enough of our total budget on national defense. The annual U.S.
    GDP is in excess of $11.5 trillion. The percentage of GDP going to the
    Defense Department amounts to 3.74 percent. In 1953, during the Korean
    War, it was 14 percent. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, it was nearly
    10 percent — an amount that sapped domestic programs and ended up
    demoralizing President Johnson because he could not maintain his Great
    Society social programs. Now our spending priorities have shifted to
    social programs, with 6.8 percent of GDP, for example, going to Social
    Security and Medicare. That is more than twice what it was during the
    Vietnam War.

    It will not be easy or popular to reverse the downward trend in defense
    spending. But the realities of the global threat of terrorism and the
    outside possibility of conventional warfare with an enemy such as China
    or North Korea demand that we take off the blinders. To increase defense
    spending to 4 percent of GDP would be adequate, but it is especially
    important to increase the share of the pie spent on the U.S. Army. It
    now gets 24 percent of the total Defense Department budget, but given
    the new realities of modern warfare, it should receive at least 28
    percent. The army is currently strung along through the budget year with
    special appropriations, and that is no way to run a military service.

    Reserve and National Guard units are understaffed and have been abused
    by deployments that have taken individuals out of their units to serve
    as de facto army regulars, many in specialties for which they have not
    been trained, a practice that eats at the morale of reservists. Nearly
    80 percent of the airlift capacity for this war and about 48 percent of
    the troops have come from Reserve and National Guard units. The high
    percentages are due, in part, to the specialized missions of those
    troops: transporting cargo, policing, rebuilding infrastructure,
    translating, conducting government affairs — in short, the stuff of
    building a new nation. We have realized too late that our regular army
    forces have not been as well trained as they should have been for the
    new reality of an urban insurgent enemy. Nor was the military hierarchy
    paying serious attention to the hints that their mission in the
    twenty-first century would be nation building.

    Secretary Rumsfeld is trying to reshape the army to be more mobile with
    fewer soldiers, in “units of action” built on the Special Forces model.
    But he is not being honest with himself or with Congress and the
    American people about how much money will be needed to make the
    transformation. Those specialized units will be more suited for urban
    guerrilla warfare, but light and lean is not the only way to maintain
    our military. Although guerrilla warfare looks like the wave of the
    future, we still face the specter of conventional divisional and corps
    warfare against other enemies. Both capabilities are expensive, but the
    downward trend of defense budgets does not recognize that. Except for
    bumps up in the Ronald Reagan years and during the Gulf War, the defense
    budget has been on a downward slide when viewed in constant dollars. We
    are coasting on the investments in research, development, and equipment
    made during earlier years.


    Our pattern of fighting our battles alone or with a marginal “coalition
    of the willing” contributes to the downward spiral in resources and
    money. Ironically, Nixon had the answer back in 1969. At the heart of
    the Nixon Doctrine, announced that first year of his presidency, was the
    belief that the United States could not go it alone. As he said in his
    foreign policy report to Congress on February 18, 1970, the United
    States will participate in the defense and development of allies and
    friends, but “America cannot — and will not — conceive all the plans,
    design all the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake all the
    defense of the free nations of the world. We will help where it makes a
    real difference and is considered in our interest” (emphasis in the

    Three decades later, we have fallen into a pattern of neglecting our
    treaty alliances, such as NATO, and endangering the aid we can give our
    allies by throwing our resources into fights that our allies refuse to
    join. Vietnam was just such a fight, and Iraq is, too. If our treaty
    alliances were adequately tended to and shored up — and here I include
    the UN — we would not have so much trouble persuading others to join us
    when our cause is just. Still, as the only superpower, there will be
    times when we must go it alone.

    President Bush does not have the luxury of waiting for the international
    community to validate his policies in Iraq. But we do have the lessons
    of Vietnam. In Vietnam, the voices of the “cut-and-run” crowd ultimately
    prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set
    them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from
    Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning
    the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who
    look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get
    to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of
    relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United
    States’ betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country,
    65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to “reeducation camps.”
    Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of
    militant Islam, we can expect no better there.

    As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then
    saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot
    allow “another Vietnam.” For if we fail now, a new standard will have
    been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global
    mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming “another Iraq.”


  3. Pingback: East Timor: Indonesian, US, Australian governments’ role in atrocities | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: East Timor: Indonesian, US, Australian governments’ role in atrocities | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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