Vietnam, Reloaded

Scanning the news these past few weeks has been somewhat of a surreal experience. Our cowboy president has been holed up in his Texas ranch trying to put a positive spin on his seemingly endless military conflict in the East. Jane Fonda has been taking flak for her planned antiwar bus excursion, and the Rolling Stones are kicking off a huge summer concert tour.

It’s like we’re all living inside an episode of a new tragic sitcom called That 60s Show. One could even forgive our baby boomer friends for mistakenly believing that they were experiencing a "flashback" from some long, bygone episode of hallucinogen abuse.

Unfortunately, as Marx once wrote so succinctly, history usually repeats itself…first as tragedy, and then as farce.

In fact, everything about this 60s retro experience is a shoddy imitation of the original. Jane Fonda isn’t nearly as strident as she once was, and Mick Jagger doesn’t have the same moves (though Keith Richards appears to be just as cadaverous now as he has been for the past several decades). Even the new war is a squalid reproduction. While not yet as destructive as Vietnam, the Iraq invasion has managed to set a new, even lower standard for leadership in our government.

I needn’t repeat here the long, now-familiar litany of dishonesty and deception surrounding President Bush’s excursion into Mesopotamia. I won’t fixate on such facts as former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil’s revelation that the Bushites were planning on invading Iraq from the moment they entered the White House (long before 9/11). I won’t bore you again with a discussion on how the Downing Street memos demonstrate that the administration "fixed" the intelligence to justify the invasion. We don’t need to review how the neocons attacked and defamed numerous experienced generals who warned that the invasion would be much more difficult than they envisioned, or how Pope John Paul II clearly stated that this invasion did not meet the criteria for a Christian just war. I won’t even describe again how the whole ideology of interventionism that has gripped the collective psyche of our ruling elite is diametrically opposed to the beliefs of our Founding Fathers.

What would be the point?

Looking across the landscape, the only positive thing that I see happening now is Cindy Sheehan’s brave peace vigil outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. This is the first time that I’ve seen anyone actually land a political punch on these otherwise slippery neocons. I have to tip my hat to her. She started with only a broken heart but has nevertheless made a real difference in our national discourse.

President Bush’s response to her call for a withdrawal consisted of yet more Vietnam-speak that should alarm every thoughtful American. At his recent press conference, he continued his LBJ imitation:

"I also have heard the voices of those saying u2018pull out now’, and I’ve thought about their cry, and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree. Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy…"

There are many reasons to ask men to die in war. Protecting one’s family and home is the most obvious. Defending one’s community from a foreign attack is another. Perhaps the most abstract (yet still justifiable) cause is in defense of a system of government that guarantees individual rights.

This war in Iraq does not meet any of these criteria. Saddam, of course, had no weapons of mass destruction and was not a military danger to the United States. He was not even threatening to attack us. The only serious threat to our constitutional liberties comes from Washington.

The above statement by our President represents only the most recent in a long string of lame rationalizations given for this unjustifiable war. But war should not be about "sending messages." If the President wants to "send a signal," he should try Western Union. We should never sacrifice the lives of our soldiers for diplomatic maneuvering or geopolitical "communication."

His statement is merely a variation of the dreaded "credibility" argument. Whenever one hears that we must continue fighting in order to preserve our "credibility," you know that we’ve hit rock bottom.

Can we legitimately ask men to keep dying in order to protect our government’s "credibility"?

Not in my book.

The Johnson Administration realized that Vietnam was a hopeless quagmire sometime in 1968. Being self-centered egomaniacs, they refused to admit their mistake and cut the losses. Instead, they pushed ahead with their war policy in the hope that things would somehow work out.

The result was many more years of bloody warfare in which a lot of good men lost their lives.

And that is one hellishly high price to pay in order to "send a signal."