The fierce Vietnamese resistance, resulting in 58,000 U.S. deaths, soured the American public on U.S. adventurism abroad for years to come — a development that greatly frustrated hawks on the American right.
It wasn’t until the 1983 invasion of Grenada, when the U.S. military overwhelmingly subdued the tiny Caribbean island’s teensie military force, that Washington was said to have shaken the “Vietnam syndrome.” Pundits hailed Ronald Reagan for making Americans proud again.
As Washington prepares now to invade Iraq, it’s clear the Bush administration has taken to heart that key Vietnam lesson — never pick on someone your own size; pick on someone much weaker. Certainly, Washington prefers waging war against countries that don’t fight back (something the feisty North Koreans seem to have figured out.)
But President George Bush has clearly noticed how his popularity soared with all his post-9/11 tough talk, and seems determined to get a solid war victory under his belt before facing the U.S. electorate next year.
(Afghanistan just didn’t work out; after Bush swaggered around threatening to take him “dead or alive,” Osama bin Laden proved harder to find than a weapon of mass destruction in Baghdad.)
Enter Iraq — so oil-rich, so under the thumb of a cartoon-style bad guy, so defenceless. Now there’s a war worth fighting.
In fact, “war” isn’t really the right term. It takes two to make a war; someone’s got to fight back. What the U.S. is about to do in Iraq is more like shooting fish in a barrel.
Of course, we’re told exactly the opposite, that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein threatens the world.
What’s never explained is why this “threat to the world” wasn’t able to muster even minimal resistance when Iraq was repeatedly bombed by the U.S. during the 1991 Gulf War.
The U.S. military “met no resistance from Iraqi aircraft and no effective anti-aircraft or anti-missile groundfire,” notes University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle. “Iraq was basically defenceless.”
Since then, Iraq has been weakened still further by a decade of crushing sanctions and bombing raids by U.S. and British warplanes.
Iraq has failed to shoot down even one of those planes.
And the U.N. inspections of recent weeks have so far failed to find any cache of deadly weapons. Unless the fighting ends up street-to-street in Baghdad — something Washington is keen to avoid — U.S. casualties should be minimal.
Given the staggering weakness of Iraq, war is not only unnecessary, it’s downright absurd. If the inspectors do find some deadly weapons, why don’t they simply confiscate them? Who’s going to stop them?
If deadly weapons could be removed without pulverizing the Iraqi people, would that be so bad? (A confidential U.N. report predicted 500,000 Iraqi casualties in a war, the New York Times reported earlier this month.)
Bush impatiently insisted last week that “time is running out.” But for what?
With the Iraqis on their knees, offering no resistance to U.N. inspectors, it’s hard to imagine what time pressures are posing problems here — other than the U.S. election timetable. (Doesn’t that infernal Hans Blix realize Bush needs a war victory to launch his re-election bid? What the hell is Blix thinking, dragging these inspections out like this?)
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signalled last week that Canada won’t join a unilateral U.S. attack — a welcome development — but Chrétien suggested we would participate in a U.N. action.
A more principled position — and one that would also, incidentally, make our lives here safer — would be to refuse to take part in the bloodbath in Iraq, no matter what the U.S. manages to get the U.N. to agree to.
There was another important lesson from Vietnam — that war is best fought by others.
Some of those keenest for war in the Bush administration — including Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney, senior officials Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle — never served in Vietnam.
Sometimes called “chickenhawks,” they make up for their shyness about going into battle themselves with their enthusiasm for others doing so. (Bush avoided Vietnam by joining the National Guard, and then failing to show up for guard duty for months at a time.)
But with the massive U.S. assault about to be unleashed on enfeebled Iraq, the Pentagon may have finally found a way to wage a war so safe (for U.S. soldiers) that even a young George Bush wouldn’t have been scared to participate.