So George Bush says that Iraq is like Vietnam, despite denying the link before. That he should make the speech yesterday, which the New York Times says is the beginning of an ‘initiative to shape the debate on Capitol Hill in September’, before a bunch of hoary Army veterans is interesting.
Interesting not because it’s a familiar tactic of singing to the choir, but because historically, the public distaste for the war in Vietnam and the political fallout which resulted in a withdrawal, was fueled by the accounts of the war supplied by those who had returned from combat.
Veterans in other words.
At the time, seeing the war on TV was one thing. It certainly incensed many, but typically that outrage inevitably dissipated during the commercial break and was completely abated once the signature tune for the chat show was stuck up. However, the stories carried a much more significant resonance for many, no doubt, when they were being told about the war by people who were just like them; who came from their cities, communities and suburbs, who were able to describe what was happening in terms that would reduce the sense of something that was happening far away and therefore, of no real concern to them.
And it’s another aspect of the conflict in Iraq that is starting to closely mirror that of Vietnam.
Writing in an op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, six NCOs and one specialist in the US Army describe what it is really like in Iraq just as they are about to finish their 15 month tour of duty. At the beginning of the piece they describe how viewing the debate about how things are proceeding in the Iraq, at the tail end of their deployment is a “surreal experience”.
The frankness of the piece is very arresting. The US Army may be militarily more powerful, but the problem of dealing with different insurgency groups is compounded by the “the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.”
To illustrate the point they say:
“A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.”
Unlike their masters, they have a clear idea where the ‘alliance’ has failed the most:
“The most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in communities barricaded with concrete walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal. In an environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act.”
They argue that Iraqis rather than being liberated have instead, been robbed of their self respect and that therefore consider them to be soldiers in a ‘army of occupation’.
Arresting as the piece is, Greg Sargent argues that it’s got scarcely little attention. Steve Benan though says that it’s got some, but its mostly been negative.
The Op-Ed piece though is mentioned in Tom Engelhardt’s introduction to a piece by Juan Cole that was published today. Juan Cole has a new book out on Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and to match Bush’s attempt to mirror major battles describes Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt as very similar to the US invasion of Iraq.
Both failed he says, because they underestimated the power of resistence:
“Bonaparte and Bush failed because both launched their operations at moments when Western military and technological superiority was not assured. While Bonaparte’s army had better artillery and muskets, the Egyptians had a superb cavalry and their old muskets were serviceable enough for purposes of sniping at the enemy. They also had an ally with advanced weaponry and the desire to use it — the British Navy.
In 2007, the high-tech U.S. military — as had been true in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as was true for the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s — is still vulnerable to guerrilla tactics and effective low-tech weapons of resistance such as roadside bombs. Even more effective has been the guerrillas’ social warfare, their success in making Iraq ungovernable through the promotion of clan and sectarian feuds, through targeted bombings and other attacks, and through sabotage of the Iraqi infrastructure.”
On his own site this morning, Cole also passes on an ominous rumour, which he attributes to “former high-level Iraqi bureaucrats”:
“There is serious talk of a military commission (majlis `askari) to take over the government. The parties would be banned from holding positions, and all the ministers would be technocrats, so to speak. . . [The writer indicates that attempts have been made to recruit cabinet members from the ranks of expatriate technocrats.]
The six-member board or commission would be composed on non-political former military personnel who are presently not part of the government OR the military establishment, such as it is in Iraq at the moment. It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes.”
Hmmmm. Meanwhile, the New York Times, just moment ago, reported that the US Administration is planning to release sections of a new intelligence report which doubts that the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, can overcome sectarian differences.
Which is inline with what George Bush said on Tuesday, but not what he said on Wednesday. So instead of Iraq being like Vietnam, its more like, say pre-1980s Iran.