Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Iraq, Vietnam, and the New World Order

This is the second in my series comparing the Vietnam War and the Iraqi War. The first explored the situation on the ground in both countries, this essay will deal with the situation in the United States and the reasons for the respective invasions.

Although the situation "on the ground" in Iraq and in Vietnam were significantly different, the reasons and events surrounding the respective invasions share some similarities, but are also dramatically divergent. The US invasion of Vietnam was largely the product of a Cold War ideology that required the United States to fight communism wherever it threatened to spread. The "domino theory," which argued that if Vietnam fell, communism would spread through Asia, the Middle East, and eventually Fidel Castro would be dating your sister, required the United States to stop the first domino. In the case of Iraq, the invasion is symptomatic of a lack of ideological coherence to US foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. At the root of the problem is the US government's desire to assert itself as the only country that can legitimately use force in the world, while at the same time securing resources crucial to the geopolitical/geo-economic landscape--but to do so in terms acceptable to the US public.

Vietnam was the product of the commitment to stop the spread of communism, a commitment so unquestioned that any independent nationalist movement, communist or not, was perceived as a Soviet plot. The operational question was always "How best do we fight communism?" The US adopted a number of strategies--go through the UN (Korea), use the CIA and proxy forces (Guatemala, Iran, Chile), or use the nuclear threat (Cuba). It was the failure of all three of these strategies that eventually led to the US invasion of Vietnam. Vietnam had no resources of particular importance to the United States, it isn't located in a particularly strategic part of the world, but the US commitment came to stand for the greater US commitment to stop the spread of communism. The tunnel vision that US policy planners adopted prevented peaceful solutions to the conflict in 1946, 1954, and 1963. At every juncture, the United States chose to "turn up the heat" on the people of Vietnam while continuing to support undemocratic forces within the country rather than allowing free and internationally monitored elections (which would assuredly produced a victory for the immensely popular Ho Chi Minh.) By 1968, the United States found itself "waist deep in the big muddy"---in a bloody and brutal war it could not win against a weaker enemy that would not give up.

If Vietnam was a product of the tunnel vision of the Cold War, Iraq is a product of the US attempt to reformulate US foreign policy in a different manner, but along similar lines, and with predictable outcomes. As the Cold War came to a close, the US policy makers tried to find a new ideological security blanket to wrap themselves in. It was Ronald Reagan who first announced the "War on Terror" and used it as a justification for the state directed international terrorism against Nicaragua (a crime for which the US stands as the only country in the world convicted for international terrorism by the ICJ). George Bush subsequently announced the "War on Drugs" which became his justification for the invasion of Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega (a former CIA operative who help fund the Pentagon's Latin American terror operations through the sale of drugs, some of this while Bush was head of the CIA). On the heals of Panama, Saddam Hussein invaded its much weaker neighbor to the south, Kuwait, and all of a sudden the United States declared that it believes that powerful nations shouldn't bully weaker ones (a major revelation)--and thus Gulf War I and the United States' 16 year struggle to subdue Iraq.

Of course, Iraq does have resources which are important to the United States and the world economy, therefore, US (rather US and European based multinational corporations) access to this oil is a major factor in the war. The other root cause is less obvious, but possibly more important. The "failing" of the first Gulf War was largely a derivative of the international (UN led) coalition's interests in turning back Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The northern imperial powers (Russia, France, England and to a lesser extent the US) could not tolerate independent and aggressive nationalists like Hussein, but they also wanted to keep Hussein in power (just weakened) so oil could continue to flow and a relative stability would exist in the region under the auspices of no-fly zones and an international military force. The neo-conservative vision, however, has no tolerance for internationally brokered agreements of this sort. There is only one country that can and should use force in the world, and that is the United States--and the United States does not subordinate itself to the "international community" or the UN. This is the real significance of the US invasion of Iraq--to remind the UN (and our "allies") who is boss. Although Rumsfeld argued that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a "humanitarian war" (Stalin just cringed) in reality it was a lesson in realpolitik--in the New World Order, the New World gives the orders.

Since September 11th, 2001, America's attempt to assert itself militarily and to secure Iraq as a dependable source of oil has been justified as a necessary battle in the new "War on Terror." Much of the logic is similar to the "domino theory." If we don't fight them in Iraq, we will fight them here, and the WMD facade is very similar to the Gulf of Tonkin deception, which provided the initial justification for invasion. The logic is equally dubious now as it was then, but the Bush Administration has gotten enough traction that a significant portion of the electorate accepts the war (Iraq is unusual in that there were protests before the 2003 invasion but obviously popular outcry was not sufficient to stop it) thus he has not been politically compelled to alter the course of the war dramatically. However, just as Vietnam did serious damage to the Cold War ideology, I suspect the Iraq War is undermining the neo-con's long term ideological project--but only the future will tell.

Certainly, it is this new "tunnel vision" which has placed the United States in the current mess it is in. Again, the US has had numerous opportunities to bring about peaceful resolutions to the conflict, to scale down its troop presence and to support indigenous democratic movements in Iraq--we have foregone those and instead have slowly bled Iraq through an invasion, sanctions, bombings, more sanctions, a second invasion, and an occupation. Most recently, the US has even taken to arming former Ba'athist militias (if only they had strong man who could take the reigns!). And just as in Vietnam, it is the people of Iraq who are paying the true price. Now, we being told that the "credibility" of the United States is at stake. Our credibility to do what? To invade a country and slowly bleed its population for over a decade for the sake of oil and our position vis-a-vis other lesser powers?

There is no doubt that Vietnam and Iraq have hurt US credibility in the world, but not in the way our political leadership would have us believe.

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