Monday, August 27, 2007

Bears Repeating

I wrote Friday’s post without the benefit of reading that day’s lead editorial in the New York Times. The editors (in their infinite wisdom) had a remarkably similar take on the whole “Iraq as Vietnam through the beer goggles of President Bush” thing—not to mention the whole Wizard of Oz (please ignore the man behind curtain), it’s al-Maliki’s fault distraction.

Blaming the prime minister of Iraq, rather than the president of the United States, for the spectacular failure of American policy, is cynical politics, pure and simple. It is neither fair nor helpful in figuring out how to end America’s biggest foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam.

. . . .

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority. It was all but sure to produce someone very like Mr. Maliki, a sectarian Shiite far more interested in settling scores than in reconciling all Iraqis to share power in a unified and peaceful democracy.

. . . .

Washington’s failure to face these unpleasant realities opens the door to strange and dangerous fantasies, like Mr. Bush’s surreal take on the Vietnam war.

The real lesson of Vietnam for Iraq is clear enough. America lost that war because a succession of changes in South Vietnamese leadership, many of them inspired by Washington, never produced an effective government in Saigon. None of those changes, beginning with the American-sponsored coup that led to the murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, changed the underlying reality of a South Vietnamese government and army that never won the loyalty and support of large sections of the Vietnamese population.

The short-term sequels of American withdrawal from Indochina were brutal, as the immediate sequels of America’s withdrawal from Iraq will surely be. But the American people rightly concluded that with no way to win a military victory, there could be no justification for allowing thousands more United States troops to die in Vietnam. Those deaths would not have changed the sequels to the war, just as more American deaths will not change the sequel to the war in Iraq. Once the war in Southeast Asia was over, America’s domestic divisions healed, its battered armed forces were rebuilt and the nation was much better positioned to deal with the relentless challenges of global leadership.

If Mr. Bush, whose decision to inject Vietnam into the debate over Iraq was bizarre, took the time to study the real lessons of Vietnam, he would not be so eager to lead America still deeper into the 21st century quagmire he has created in Iraq. Following his path will not rectify the mistakes of Vietnam, it will simply repeat them.

Now, at this point, I was going to write about how remarkable it is that both the Times’ editorial board and myself would focus on Diem, and the dangers of American-influenced, repeated regime change as the real lesson of the Vietnam conflict that comes to mind at the present moment. . .

. . . except that it’s not remarkable at all.

Anyone who lived through the Sixties, or anyone who has read a decent history of the second Indochinese war, should spot the same analogy in a well-reasoned flash.

What is remarkable, rather, is that more people haven’t seized upon this cautionary lesson of history. What is remarkable is that supposedly serious and informed Democrats have jumped on the “blame Maliki” bandwagon. And, even more remarkable, I’ve gotta say, is when one supposedly serious Democrat is seeking the presidency.

Yes, I’m talking about you, Senator Hillary Clinton.

Senator Clinton is supposed to be running for president and against the failed policies of the Bush Administration—the Iraq debacle being exhibit A. To disarm yourself that way, to blame an Iraqi PM (and a Bush-picked one at that) for the problems in this conflict when, frankly, all the blame (yes, all) for this circus of blood lay squarely at the feet of George W. Bush, is strategically inane. . . besides being historically ignorant.

What happens when the corrupt and connected Iyad Allawi replaces a deposed Nouri al-Maliki and things continue to go horribly wrong—as you know, if you had been a good student of the Vietnam War, they inevitably will? You can’t very well go back to a strict “blame the other guy” policy—the other guy being Bush. Hell, Senator Clinton is actually, officially, out ahead of the President on this one. Bush says al-Maliki is a “good guy.”

Memo to Clinton, and Senator Carl Levin, and any of the other Democrats even thinking about blaming al-Maliki, or joining the PR-scripted chorus of “serious” people who think Allawi is just what we need to fix our Iraqi problem: Our Iraqi problem is George Bush—because our Iraqi problem is of George Bush’s making. Plain and simple.

So, repeat after me: It’s Bush’s war. It’s Bush’s war. It’s Bush’s war.

(cross-posted on guy2k)

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