Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Man in Baghdad

Gallons of cyber ink have been spilled about how he who did not learn history, George W. Bush, would now mangle and distort history on his way to repeating it. The idea that the Vietnam war was a noble fight, and one that was winnable (whatever that means) had it not been for those lily-livered Americans who just “gave up” after roughly a dozen years and 60,000 deaths, would be laughable, and not worth a comment, were it not for a concerted effort by a cadre of neocons to rewrite history in just this way.

Of course, we don’t really need a rewrite, we already have Karnow, Sheehan, Halberstam, and Shawcross. . . and, for today, anyway, me.

(Not to imply I’m in a class with those four—I’m not.)

Before we get to my bright, shining two-cents, let me throw a couple of other coins in the fountain of blood first.

When Bush chose to recount the horrible echoes of Vietnam that would befall us should we bring a quick end to his Iraq fiasco, he said this:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps” and “killing fields.”

Of course, the price of America’s prolonged involvement in Vietnam was paid by millions of innocent citizens, too, and so much of what happened after the US withdrawal would not have, had the US pursued diplomatic, rather than military, options. And, to this day, Vietnam suffers the aftereffects of the indiscriminate bombings and defoliation that were an integral part of what our current president seems to think was a brilliant strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.

Speaking of bombings. . . I have not heard nor seen one reference to this—which amazes me—but the exclamation point on Bush’s litany of historic horrors—“killing fields”—well, that wasn’t in Vietnam.

Nope. The killing fields were in Cambodia—a little “sideshow” (as William Shawcross called it) to the Vietnam War. The US, in its infinite wisdom, secretly conducted massive bombing raids into Cambodia—and also sent in ground troops—because it felt that the Cambodian government was aiding the Vietcong. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, I know, but it has to be noted that, a) roughly 800,000 Cambodians were killed by American bombs, and that, b) the events that led to the killing fields of Kampuchea (where an additional 2 to 3 million died) can be directly—directly—traced to the US actions in the region.

I would also like to point out that the US wasn’t the country that put a stop to the killing fields. No. The Khmer Rouge was ousted by the armies of Vietnam—the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

But, believe it or not, all of this is just a sideshow to what I really wanted to talk about today. Seriously. What really set me thinking about Vietnam was not Bush’s brain-dead speech, but rather the noise coming from several other noted national figures.

I have been quite disturbed for some time by the apparent ease with which we have all come to blame the Iraqi “government” (for want of a better term) for so many of the problems we now see over there. Granted, these so-called leaders have not done very much to make things better—in fact, they have made things worse—but do we really need to be reminded that a) the mess was not of their making, and b) this leadership was essentially hand-picked by the US.

Do I think that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a hood? Yes, I do—but he’s our hood. Which is why I have to shudder when I hear the likes of Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton hopping on the “hey, hey, ho, ho, al-Maliki’s gotta go” bandwagon.

It is all the more chilling to discover, as we did this week, that said bandwagon is actually powered by a US consulting firm closely allied with another American “friend.”

The powerful Republican lobbying group of Barbour Griffith & Rogers is plotting an effort to displace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and supplant him with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. IraqSlogger reported:

BGR’s work for Allawi includes the August 17 purchase of the Web site domain

In recent days, BGR sent hundreds of e-mail messages in Allawi’s name from the e-mail address

BGR’s staff is stacked with conservative operatives with extremely close ties to the White House. Its president is Bush’s former envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Robert Blackwill. Philip Zelikow, a former Counselor to Condoleezza Rice, serves as a senior adviser to the firm. Lanny Griffith, chief executive officer, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. And Ed Rogers, chairman and founder of the firm, has been a reliable political ally for the Bush White House.

Yes, that is the same Iyad Allawi that was hand-picked by “Viceroy” Paul Bremer back in 2004 to lead the interim government of Iraq, but lost his post in the “democratic” election that President Bush likes to talk so much about. The same one that was once described as “Saddam lite,” the one that came to the US during the ’04 presidential race and campaigned for Bush’s stay-the-course “strategy,” the one that has decades-old ties to the CIA, and the one that published an op-ed in the Washington Post last Saturday calling for the Iraqi parliament to oust al-Maliki and work more closely with the American government.

Of course, journalistic integrity requires me to point out that late Thursday, a Bush Administration official denied any White House involvement with the Allawi putsch. Which reminds me of another war. . . yes, that would be Vietnam.

Ngo Dinh Diem was fervently anti-communist and a Catholic in a country that was overwhelmingly Buddhist. In 1954, the Eisenhower administration picked Diem to lead the southern half a newly partitioned Vietnam. A year later, Diem rigged an election, and assumed the Presidency of the Republic of Vietnam (aka South Vietnam). By 1961, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was hailing Diem as the “Winston Churchill of Asia” and promising him increased military aid to fight the communist influences of the North.

But, by the Summer of ’63 (and, again, I am over-simplifying here), Diem’s increasingly violent suppression of the Buddhists, and the self-immolation of monks in Saigon, made the Kennedy Administration back in DC nervous. While never publicly advocating Diem’s removal, parts of the Kennedy Administration got cozy with ARVN generals who were spoiling for a coup.

When November started with US ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge refusing to see Diem, it was seen by the generals as an endorsement of action (there may well have been many stronger signals behind closed doors); by the evening of November 2, Ngo Dinh Diem was dead—murdered in the back of an armored car that was supposed to take him to General Headquarters.

Current history tends to surmise that President Kennedy didn’t think Diem would be killed after the coup, likely because he didn’t think much about what would happen at all. Three weeks later, JFK was dead, and a new administration would make a mess of cleaning up after the US-sponsored bloody overthrow of the United States’ hand-picked leader.

It is interesting to note that John’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, is said to have expressed his doubts about the coup this way: “I mean, it’s different from a coup in Iraq. . . we are so intimately involved in this.”

Which brings us right to the present, doesn’t it? Not so much with regard to the White House denials of any “coup plotting”—though I have no doubt whatsoever that they are very capable of making such a move—but with regard to the Democrats, who seem all too willing to help ease the way for al-Maliki’s unceremonious exit. I have to say: be careful what you wish for.

Be careful, and not just because, with another regime change in Iraq, the Bush Bunch will buy themselves another Friedman Unit to make “progress.” Be careful because we know our history—president and neocon cronies excluded—and we know where the Vietnam analogy does apply.

We know our history, and we know what we are damned to repeat. And how we are already damned.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Anonymous Jeff Ewing said...

Here's what scares me: It's always been inconvenient for the Bushites that the largest party in the Iraqi government is SIIC, whose militia, the Badr Corps, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. So now, imagine they depose Maliki, whose Da'wa Party is closely affiliated with SIIC. Surely Da'wa and SIIC would leave the government and possibly begin armed resistance -- who could blame them? Now Bush and Co. can claim that "Iranian stooges" are trying to overthrow the government of Iraq...the bombing starts in 5 minutes.

2:43 PM  
Blogger guy2k said...

I fear that jeff might be spot on. Or, it might be that Allawi is just more open to signing the oil law, but another handy excuse to strike Iran is quite the nice side dish for Bush/Cheney.

4:02 PM  

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