The plan that ended the Vietnam War may be the one to end the Iraq War: Say we won and bring the troops home.
By Gail Vida Hamburg
April in Iraq was a cruel month. Iraqi civilians died in the hundreds, American soldiers died by the score.
After twenty-five months of war, the ravaged nation saw its first democratically elected government -- an assortment of unpredictable dregs and scalawags who make Saddam Hussein, the tyrant, look … well, less tyrannical.
Open door number one in the newly liberated Iraq and see how the Iraqis flipped their purple finger at America and asserted their independence. For Prime Minister, they elected Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a “devout” Shiite whose anti-American activities in the past include (according to the CIA), ties to the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Kuwait. And behind door number 2, stands Ahmed Chalabi, acting Oil Minister, whose ability to lie, betray, slither away from comeuppance, shed skins, and reinvent himself, is nothing if not reptilian. The main squeeze of the neo-cons, who squeezed millions from the US government for feeding it useless information about WMD and inciting it to war, was also selling American war secrets to Iran (fully paid-up member of the neo-cons ‘axis of evil’) prior to the invasion. Naturally, the appropriate punishment for such malfeasance is an important cabinet post.
Meanwhile, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Queda’s “ambassador” to Iraq, celebrated the dawning of democracy in the Middle East by exploding seventeen bombs in Baghdad in a 24-hour period. Iraqis, used to the good old days of secular Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s godless secret police neutered Islamic fundamentalists, are disgusted with Zarqawi’s violence.
The Iraqi people are tired of bombings in front of mosques, markets, and city squares that kill their own. They are tired of unemployment, hunger, malnutrition, rations, electricity and water shortages. They are tired of house raids, looting, checkpoints, arrests, and the incarceration of their men by the US military. They are tired of the leveling of their homes by American bombs, and the shipments of pencils and crayons that inevitably follow from American church and school groups. The lovingly wrapped pencils and crayons -- presumably for Iraqis to dig themselves out of the rubble, bury their dead, and rebuild their lives with -- don’t seem to be winning us many friends. The Iraqis, whom President Bush was trying to liberate with America’s blood (1,582 military dead and counting) and treasure ($300 billion spent and counting), are questioning why Zarqawi is killing Iraqis instead of killing the oppressors -- namely, us.
Zarqawi, sounding more and more like an IRA freedom fighter, sent a warning to his mujahadeen not to negotiate with the newly formed Iraqi government or U.S. forces, who had both made recent overtures to Zarqawi’s group to make a deal. So much for “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” In an audio recording, Zarqawi promised President Bush “no peace of mind” until the Americans left Muslim lands, and called on his followers to reclaim their dignity from Lucifer -- namely, us.
It appears that the chickens are coming home to roost on our war of shifting rationale that morphed from avenging 9/11, to WMD disarmament, to democratizing Iraq. In the light of the weapons inspectors' definitive final report, that Iraq had no WMDs and was unlikely to have hidden them in other countries, the President’s high-octane swaggering during the run-up to the war -- “I will put calcium in the UN’s bones,” and “Saddam and sons must leave Iraq within 72 hours,” -- looks ridiculous and roguish. That the President led us into the attack and occupation of a country that had, up to then, done nothing to us, is a catastrophic foreign policy blunder that will take America years to overcome.
In October 1966, America found itself in a similar situation in Vietnam. General Westmoreland escalated the bombing to quell the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong insurgents. Following this, the number of GI deaths rose to several hundreds each month. While the hawks and the doves fought over the efficacy of the Kennedy-spawned and Johnson-primed adventure in South East Asia, George Aiken, then Republican Senator from Vermont, a conservative who subscribed to judicious American intervention in foreign affairs, entered the debate. “This country has too many hawks and too many doves. What we need are a few owls,” he said of the misbegotten war that split America in two. Reading his words now, one cannot help but marvel at his independence from the vitriol of his own party. When lifelong Republican, Patrick Buchanan, dared something similar, to speak against the neo-cons and the Iraq War, he was instantly tarred, feathered, drawn, and quartered by his own party.
Aiken was coldly analytical about the mess America found itself in. Indeed, he transcended not only party, but also his “American-ness,” to assess the cost of the war. He rendered his judgment without wrapping himself in the American flag, or waving the superiority of American democracy, or accusing Americans who disagreed with him of being unpatriotic, or invoking God’s authority for his beliefs. “The enemy has apparently dismissed any idea of engaging in major formal combat with superior United States forces and has resorted to a war of harassment and surprise guerrilla tactics. Faced with the harassment of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese military forces, casualties to American forces in Vietnam are inevitable. The more American troops in active combat, the more casualties from such harassment there will be,” Senator Aiken said.
Aiken offered his bold withdrawal plan to the President with much deference: “The greater the U.S. military commitment in South Vietnam, the less possibility that any South Vietnamese government will be capable of asserting its own authority on its home ground or abroad. The size of the U.S. commitment already clearly is suffocating any serious possibility of self-determination in South Vietnam for the simple reason that the whole defense of that country is now totally dependent on the U.S. armed presence.”
As an increasingly frustrated President Johnson called for more bombing runs, the hawks held on with multiplied ferocity to the delusion that the war was winnable, and the doves flagellated themselves over the barbarity of the war. But Senator Aiken, the owl, had this to say: “Why doesn't the president just say we won, and fetch the men home?”
It took America six years more and a final tally of 58,000 American war dead, before the Administration decided that George Aiken’s words were the only ones that made sense. Declare victory and bring them home.