War credits

Now that everyone has finally agreed that Iraq is another Vietnam, we can move on to the next point which is that, having lost the war, the war party in the US is going to blame their domestic opponents, just like they did after Vietnam.[1] The only difference is that the war-peace divide now matches the partisan division between Republicans and Democrats.

In this setting, the idea of looking for a compromise is just silly. The Republicans have made it clear that they don’t want one. Even the dwindling group of alleged moderates aren’t going to vote for anything that would seriously constrain Bush. So, the Democrats can choose between acting to stop the war now, or inheriting it in 2009 [2] . There’s no possibility of pushing anything serious past the Senate filibuster, let alone override a veto.

The only real option, apart from continued acquiescence, is for Congress to fulfil its constitutional role and refuse to pay more for this endless war, starting with the $50 billion in supplementary funding Bush is asking for. There’s no need for any Republican votes, just for the Democrats to stick together and stand firm. That hasn’t been the Democratic way for a long time, but maybe its time now. Certainly, the majority of Americans want to get out of Iraq, just as, in the end, they wanted out of Vietnam.

1. In this context, it’s notable that despite the revisionism of the war party, there’s no evidence that Americans have changed their minds about Vietnam. The great majority still see it as a mistake, just as they did when the war ended

2, I suppose the counterargument is that, by doing what they were elected to do in 2006, the Democrats will wreck their presidential and congressional chances in 2008. If so, perhaps they should give up now.

5 thoughts on “War credits

  1. Prof. Krugman is pretty much in bitter agreement with Prof. Quiggin’s views, but, curiously, doesn’t raise the issue of Congressional action. I’m beginning to think that the US National legislature is a dead letter.

  2. I have posted similar comments previously on John Quiggin’s blog.

    I think we will see an undignified and humiliating panic retreat in which the American forces abandon billions of dollars of equipment and shoot their way to the airport. The longer they stay in Iraq the more they will be resented and hated and the more we are all put at risk.

    This does not make me happy for several reasons:

    Firstly, the USA has been discredited for its interference in other sovereign nations and the destabilising of whole regions of the world. Over 4 million Iraqis are displaced to surrounding countries and probably 1 million are dead. The suffering of Iraqis is a major tragedy created by extremist militarist adventurism.

    Secondly, a rogue hegemon like the USA is making way for other badly behaved powers like Russia (remember Grosny) and China, (think Darfur).

    We will have to be very firm in saying no to any more of this reckless aggression. We will also have to say no to the planned bombing attack on Iran, which will also be catastrophic.

    We will also have to insist on an independent foreign policy and enact laws to limit the powers of our Prime Minister to declare or make war.

    In case we ever get another Prime Minister like John Howard (as Peter Costello would be) we will need a strongly independent Senate to check the PM’s executive powers.

  3. Pr Q says:

    1. In this context, it’s notable that despite the revisionism of the war party, there’s no evidence that Americans have changed their minds about Vietnam. The great majority still see it as a mistake, just as they did when the war ended

    The question of whether the VN war was a mistake or not is an academic one. (No use crying over sunk costs.) By 1973 the American people no doubt regreeted entry into the war. But most of them still wanted to not lose it, going by the landslided support for Nixon’s “peace with honour” strategy.

    The real analogy is whether the VN war was winnable by the anti-communist forces after the US land force withdrawal in 1973 (opportunity costs of “holding the fort”). The answer to that it probably yes.

    By 1969 the US military pretty had preety much win the guerilla war against the Viet Cong. The communist insurgency in the South was a spent force after the failure of the Tet offensive, the relative success of the Phoneix campaign and the growing effectiveness of US tactical bombers, using laser guided munitions.

    The War Party revisionists have a point in their contention that the VN war was lost in the media and legislature rather than on the battlefield. US military successes by the end of the seventies were depicted in the media as political failures.

    Incidental atrocities like the My Lai massacre and Operation Speedy Express did not do much to improve the image of the war party in the eyes of the public. But the South was still putting up effective resistance with US military support.

    In 1972 Nixon ran on a program to end the war with a cease-fire armistice along the lines of the Korean war. This was massively popular and he won in a huge landslide. That was the political benchmark for subsequent US policy, until the peace party took over Congress.

    The NVA realised it could not defeat SVN by insurgency so it switched to mainforce attacks against ARVN. But it could not win this way either because US airpower blunted its armourd advantage. Operation Linebacker was a huge military success, possibly the first time in history that an terrestial attack has been defeated by aerial forces.

    So by 1975 a stalemate looked like it would fall on the battlefield, thereby fulfilling the promise of the Paris peace talks. Vietnam was heading the same way as Korea.

    But the NVA launched another main force attack, with massive PRC and USSR logistical support. The Democrats refused war credits to support the beleagured SVN govt. It duly fell after an NVA armoured offensive that used more tanks than the Wermacht could muster at Kursk.

    Whether the VN war was worth fighting in the first place is a metaphysical question. All sides believed so when it started. I believe not, but I also have mixed feelings because I sympathise with anti-communists fighting communist tyranny.

    So the analogy of Iraq with VN is wrong in both senses. The VN war was winnable, given continued US military assistance. And probably worth winning going by the success of the Asian Tigers, esp South Korea.

    The Iraq war is not winnable, given the depth of the insurgency and the absence of an organised political resistance to it. And it is probably not worth winning given that US prevalence will only empower the Shiites.

    No one ever went broke underestimating Iraq political civility or Bush’s strategic competency. So we should withdraw our forces to safe havens over the border and use air power to prevent Al Queada or some other militant adventurers from trying to garner the spoils.

  4. Dear John Quiggin

    It has often been said that the War in Iraq was and remains an act of deliberate aggression, which is illegal in international law. The war was funded, provisioned and planned for at least twelve years prior to 2003. It could not possibly be characterised as “a mistake”.

    Similarly, the Vietnam War, which ended in the undignified retreat in 1975, was not a ‘mistake’ either. Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman wrote ‘After the Cataclysm, post war Indochina and the reconstruction of Imperial ideology, the political economy of Human Rights Volume II’, published by South End Press, 1978. See pages 14-15, where the authors explore the genesis of the mythology of American “blundering”. Here is the quote, so that we can all see it for what it was:

    “The early American decisions on Indochina can be regarded as blundering efforts to do good. But by 1969 it was clear to most of the world – and most Americans – that the intervention had been a disastrous mistake”, Anthony Lewis, New York Times.

    For the purposes of persuading Americans to put the war behind them and not to dig too deep for the real intentions (which are clearly set out in the Pentagon Papers), the ‘stupidity’ line was perfect. Somehow Nixon, Kissinger, Generals Curtis Le May and Westmoreland, McNamara and others could walk away from genocidal war crimes with a slap on the wrist with a wet lettuce leaf. They were not war criminals, merely guilty of ‘stupidity’

    John, your comment, “In this context, it’s notable that despite the revisionism of the war party, there’s no evidence that Americans have changed their minds about Vietnam. The great majority still see it as a mistake, just as they did when the war ended”, may be correct in describing the outcome of this skilful example of ‘spin doctoring’, but it is far from the authentic historical facts.

    You may like to watch the DVD, ‘Winter Soldiers’ in which US Vietnam veterans describe in detail how they routinely threw prisoners out of helicopters and burnt down villages, killing every single human being. Some laughed, nervously, others seemed not fully aware that the Indochinese people who they were killing were human beings whose lives should be valued and respected.

    There is a huge body of evidence that these soldiers were carrying out orders that US General William Westmoreland handed down from the political leaders, when he explained his readiness to kill 3.5 million Indochinese people in these terms: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient. As the philosophy of the Orient expresses it: life is … is not important�.
    Film documentary, ‘Hearts and Minds’, 2003.

    Now that the war against the people of Iraq has caused over 1 million to die and over 4 million I am very sure that we cannot meekly accept the ‘stupidity’ line again. Rewriting history will not airbrush away the inconvenient blood that John Howard and his government also have on their hands.

    Willy Bach

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