Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 22nd edition

August 22, 2003: A U.S. soldier from the 4th Infantry Division runs toward a Black Hawk helicopter after U.S. forces carried out a raid on a village 30 miles northeast of Baqouba.

August 22, 2002:

Condi Rice's Contribution

Of the many voices raised on the subject of Iraq, none was more startling than that of Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser. She made the moral case for preemptive war in World War II terms that were unnervingly reminiscent of Dean Rusk at the height of Vietnam. The bottom line: "We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing."

Her remarks, delivered over the BBC, caused considerable flapping of wings at the State Department, where Colin Powell is trying to turn down the volume of the din on Iraq. She rattled the teacups at 10 Downing Street, where Tony Blair is frantically trying to calm balky cabinet ministers and a restive population.

Nobody expected back talk from Bush's foreign policy nanny on his most ambitious military plan. Her job is to remind him of facts he may have overlooked and to chaperone his meetings with foreign leaders. The only woman to be admitted to the locker room of the Bush national security team is obliged to be one of the boys. But for her to speak so strongly was out of character. She has been the soul of discretion and circumspection, nothing like flamboyant predecessors such as Henry Kissinger, a temperamental publicity hound, or Zbigniew Brzezinski, an indefatigable infighter.

Europeans speculated that Condi Rice had been sent out to goad the sissy Europeans into action. Her broadside was not well received in the British Parliament. A Labor MP named Alice Mahon replied in outrage: "Who can possibly argue that there is anything moral about killing other people's children? It is outrageous that a representative of the United States government, and a woman, should suggest that there is."

"And a woman" leaps out from Mahon's text. Mahon must surely remember Margaret Thatcher, a most belligerent sister. Besides, it is a politically incorrect and even retrograde position, although it dies hard. Women, after all, know best the hard labor required to bring children into the world and to bring them up so they are a credit to all concerned. They are reluctant to send them out to die.

Men have a tendency to get carried away by things, particularly technological things. Left unattended, they will go into raptures about the throw-weight of nuclear weapons and speak casually of "collateral damage," a term women translate into civilian casualties. During the Vietnam War, how often did we hear about the longing for a female leavening of the male mentality that was eager for news about body counts.

But, say the feminists, we mustn't generalize in this fashion or condemn our sisters to pacifism. We should want women in high places in the interest of equality, not to civilize men. They can be hawks or doves. I learned my lesson the hard way a long time ago, when Bella Abzug, the militant feminist congresswoman, called me up to announce the founding of the women's movement. She explained the wonderful effect they would have on benighted public policy, the resolutions they were ready to pass. Would they pass one against the war, I asked -- Vietnam was raging at the time. Bella set me straight. No, she said, "we have a lot of Republicans, and they don't want to hurt Nixon."

I said, and I realize now I should hang my head, "Well, what's the point?"

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 22, 2003:

It's not another Vietnam: we're winning

The bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Tuesday raises two principal questions. The first, couched in media language, asks: "Is Iraq becoming another Vietnam?" The second, a policymaker's question and the more important, asks: "Are there enough coalition troops to pacify the country and, if not, how many more are needed?"

The answer to the first question is comparatively easy. No, Iraq is not becoming another Vietnam, nor is it likely to turn into one. The situations are quite different, much as alarmists would like to draw similarities. Many factors differentiate the nature of the disorders, including terrain, politics and the strategic location of the trouble spot.

All American veterans of Vietnam carry foremost among their memories the hostility of the terrain. Although Vietnam is not completely covered by jungle, as in popular imagination, it is very densely vegetated. Tree and scrub cover conferred an enormous advantage on the Vietcong and made counter-insurgency operations difficult.

Most of Iraq, by contrast, is arid, offering little cover to insurgence and allowing a high level of aerial surveillance. It is the urban, not rural, areas that are difficult to control and they are small in extent.

Second, the opposition, so far as it can be identified, does not resemble the VC in organisation, leadership or experience. The VC, by the time it began to fight the Americans in earnest in 1965, had 20 years of military experience and was a hardened and highly capable guerilla army.

It had defeated the French, liberated half the country and brought the anti-Communist government in the south to its knees. It was based, moreover, on a mass political movement, with a structure that permeated almost every village. Its leaders, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, were men of high ability and self-confidence.

By contrast, the Baath Party, so far as it survived, is a minority, not a mass organisation. In recent times it has been associated with defeat, not victory, and its leadership has either been destroyed or is in hiding.

Finally, the opposition to the coalition forces in Iraq does not enjoy a favourable strategic location. The VC, even when fighting the French, had an impenetrable sanctuary in the far north of Vietnam.

After their victory over the French, that sanctuary included North Vietnam, which was supplied with arms by Russia and China through ports that it controlled. In Iraq, there is no area of sanctuary and, even though Iran is suspected of allowing arms and fighters to cross into Iraq, the Iranian leadership is too frightened of America to act as an overt sponsor of a guerilla war.

The result is that the coalition in Iraq, as America never did in Vietnam, controls, if imperfectly, the whole operational area. What it faces is not a guerilla war, but an insurgency, and one supported by only a fraction of the population.

Read the rest at the Age

August 22, 2004:

A Vietnam-era Lesson in Telling the Truth

The recent comments of Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski reflect great courage on her part and give faith to the rest of us that there are still those in public service dedicated to learning and disclosing the truth. In 2002, after more than 19 years of service, Kwiatkowski was looking forward to retirement and a well-earned pension. She was also an idealist who believed the government should tell the American people the truth.

There have always been idealists in government service who rebel when their superiors ask them to participate in the deception of the public. Paul O’Neill, Joe Wilson and Anthony Zinni are cases in point; there will likely be many more in the days ahead.

Kwiatkowski rebelled when she realized that her office in the Pentagon, assigned to the analysis of intelligence on the Mideast and North Africa, was being turned into an assembly line of public-relations papers to support the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. Her work was being merged into that of the Pentagon’s new "Office of Special Plans," a group of specialists charged with offering up talking papers to support the invasion of Iraq, not so much for the eradication of any threat to the United States, but to remove Saddam Hussein and to establish military bases in Iraq that would be free of the restrictions imposed on bases in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries.

The young lieutenant colonel was appalled when she heard dedicated staff members refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni as "traitors" for putting roadblocks in the way of their planned invasion of Iraq. She finally resigned her commission in order to speak out.

Her courage brought to mind a long-forgotten experience 33 years ago with a similar young Air Force lieutenant colonel. In the spring of 1971, like Kwiatkowski, he had served more than 19 years in the Air Force. He had just returned from leading a fighter-bomber squadron in Vietnam to serve out the remainder of his time at a Nebraska base.

I, too, had just returned that March from a 12-day visit to Vietnam and Laos. The Nixon administration was then denying reports of the bombing of Laos and Cambodia. On Dec. 31, 1970, Congress had just repealed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which had authorized President Johnson to "meet aggression with aggression in Southeast Asia," essentially against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in Vietnam. We had started to remove our troops from Vietnam. There was no longer even a semblance of legal justification to bomb in Laos or Cambodia.

While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos’ famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.

Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage.

One afternoon, an Air Force lieutenant colonel called from Nebraska. Our conversation was brief and went something like this: "Sir, I am Lieutenant Colonel ’X’ and I have just returned from commanding a fighter-bomber wing in Vietnam. You are right, sir. We are bombing in Laos and the Pentagon is lying when they say we are not. I will be glad to give you an affidavit of my own bombing sorties."

I took his name and number and thanked him. A few minutes later, a woman called: "Congressman, I am Mrs. ’X.’ My husband has served 19 1/2 years in the Air Force and is about to retire. Please don’t use his affidavit. It will cost us his pension." I thanked her and told her I had plenty of similar affidavits from lieutenants and captains and wouldn’t use or identify her husband.

Minutes later, Lt. Col. "X" was on the phone again. "Sir, I appreciate what you told my wife, but please disregard her request. I took an oath to tell the truth when I enlisted nearly 20 years ago and I feel I owe the country a duty to tell the truth." I thanked him again.

That same afternoon, I was visited by a former Marine officer and close friend from Stanford, Dick Borda, then serving as assistant secretary of the Air Force. Borda was a solid Nixon supporter. We had served together on a number of Marine Corps training exercises in the 1950s and he knew me to be honest if misguided. He asked me how I could be making these false accusations about U.S. bombing in Laos when he was receiving daily briefings at the Pentagon that we were not. I brought out the affidavits from the Air Force pilots in Vietnam and Laos. Borda was visibly shocked.

He returned to the Pentagon, but later called and asked if I would meet him that night at a residential address in Alexandria, Va., and would I please bring my affidavits. I arrived at the appointed hour and was introduced to a tall and distinguished gentleman identified as Secretary of the Air Force Robert C. Seamans Jr. When I showed the secretary the affidavits, he also reflected shock.

A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people.

One has to thank God for the idealism of young people. They may yet educate the American people, as Kwiatowski and the members of the Sept. 11 commission are now doing in their probe for the truth of our intelligence failures prior to the terrorist attacks.

Lincoln was right. All of the people can be fooled some of the time, and some of the people all of the time. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Ultimately, the truth will out.

Read the rest at Bellaciao

August 22, 2005:

Lessons of Vietnam War are relevant to Iraq war

Annoying or not, comparisons between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War convey a message that President Bush needs to understand.

When lawmakers and activists seem determined to make the comparison, as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., over the weekend, the temptation is to say, "So what?"

Whether we like the war or not, we are in the middle of it. Vietnam comparisons might have been helpful before we invaded, but now they are demoralizing.

The so-what temptation, endemic in most legislators in either party, needs to be overcome. Vietnam provides important lessons that remain relevant to the war effort.

In April 1975, U.S. forces left Vietnam in desperation as Communist troops marched into Saigon. Despite heroic efforts by U.S. troops, the chaotic helicopter escape made clear that we had not won the war.

The casualty numbers were horrible. A quarter million South Vietnamese troops died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died. Almost 60,000 U.S. troops died.

Most Americans understood the hopelessness of the war effort long before U.S. troops escaped. Thousands died as politicians tried to prove America never loses a war.

And this is where the Vietnam lesson is important. If it becomes apparent we are losing the war in Iraq — and it still may be too early to know — we need to drop the bravado and get out.

Expending U.S. lives is a sad but necessary sacrifice if we have a realistic expectation of winning the war. Expending lives after we know a successful conclusion will evade us is tragic and wrong.

Read the rest at the Decatur Daily

August 22, 2006:

Iraq war has helped me reconcile Vietnam questions

I'm grateful for the war in Iraq.

Not for the violence. I take no joy in death and destruction. I'm grateful because it resolves a question that has haunted me since childhood: Why did America fight the Vietnam War?

For nearly 40 years, I have struggled to understand a conflict that had a profound influence on the world in which I grew up. But it took a second war, in another land and in another century, to help me comprehend it.

I was born in 1963, at the tail end of the baby boom. My earliest memories of Vietnam were of Walter Cronkite announcing the weekly body counts and describing battles in places that a child could not pronounce. My 10th birthday saw the bombing of Hanoi. My 12th year was commemorated by helicopters scrambling off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

The late baby boomers — those who came of age in the 1970s — were too young to fight in the war or protest it. Vietnam was not our conflict, but still it clung to us like Original Sin. The movies that our parents took us to see were TheDeer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. The newspapers and the news anchors told us that the war had demoralized our military, sapped our economy and eroded our global prestige. Vietnam was not the only tragedy of the 1970s. But whenever things went wrong, the explanation always seemed to be Vietnam.

Children are innocent but not stupid. They pick up things from their elders. The message we received was that the good old days were gone, that America had made a terrible mistake and must pay the price. Our parents, teachers, the politicians we saw on TV, all seemed bewildered and cynical. We imbibed their cynicism, internalized it until we trusted nothing and no one. But was it really cynicism that our elders felt, or was it guilt at bequeathing their children an America diminished in treasure and spirit? I look back and wonder.

True understanding of history requires imagination, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of past generations. Try as I might to understand the Vietnam War, the names and dates, the recriminations and rationalizations coagulate into a blob so dark and dense that it blocks all illumination. Couldn't our leaders have foreseen that the war would be a quagmire? How could our military pursue a futile counterinsurgency strategy year after year? Why did our government pour blood and treasure into the conflict even after it ceased believing in the prospect of victory?

And the most troubling question of all: How could our parents have allowed this to happen?

It should not have taken a war in the Middle East to explain one in Southeast Asia. But it did, and for that much, I'm grateful. For three years, I have watched how a nation marches to war step by step, from accusation and ultimatum, to invasion and occupation. I have been dazzled by endless arguments between hawks and doves.

For the first time, I begin to understand the conflicting hopes and fears that my parents must have felt during the Vietnam War. I can imagine their confusion when their government spoke of defending freedom and fighting for peace with honor, while the protesters complained of failure and brutality.

I don't pretend to know what we should do in Iraq. But I do know that as I write this, somewhere in America, a child is being born. If the Iraq war does turn out to be a disaster, if it devours our prestige and self-confidence, he may blame his elders for letting this happen.

It will be my turn to take the blame.

Read the rest at USA Today