George and Richard


President George Bush’s claims about what will happen if we pull out of Iraq is almost word-for-word identical to Richard Nixon’s speech explaining why we must not pull out of Vietnam.

A "precipitate withdrawal" would result in a bloodbath, destabilization of Southeast Asia, would embolden our enemies and result in more war not less, Nixon said. And that is what Bush is saying, if you substitute "Middle East" for "Southeast Asia."

Nixon succeeded not in winning the war in Vietnam, but in prolonging it until 21,000 more young Americans died in the jungles and rice paddies. Then we withdrew, and none of Nixon’s predictions came true.

To draw a further parallel, we got into the Vietnam War because the people who put us there: (1) didn’t know the history; (2) didn’t speak the language; (3) didn’t understand the culture; and (4) arrogantly assumed that American firepower and technology could overcome any and all obstacles.

The Vietnamese were able to defeat us, despite our superiority in firepower and technology, because it was their country and we were foreign invaders. The people were on their side, not ours. They knew they could wear us down. They were willing to lose millions of people, and we weren’t.

The current president, who really does seem to occupy a state of denial, has always refused to accept the fact that most of the opposition to our occupation of Iraq is simply Iraqis who don’t want foreigners occupying their country. He has always tried to blame the resistance on outsiders — al-Qaeda or Iran or Syria. There are some outsiders in Iraq, but they wouldn’t survive two days if it were not for the American occupation.

The question Congress hasn’t asked about the president’s so-called new strategy of spreading American troops all around Baghdad is, What’s going to happen when they leave, as they inevitably will? The president’s strategy is based on the assumption that if we can dampen the violence, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds will embrace and form one united, secular government.

That is a foolish assumption. Shi’ites were dumped on every day of every year since British and French politicians created Iraq out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. This is the first time ever they have held the reins of power. They are not going to give them up or even really share them with the Sunnis. The Kurds are interested in an independent Kurdistan and don’t particularly like Arabs anyway. Iran will help the Shi’ites, and the Saudis will send money to the Sunnis.

Whether we leave or stay, the fighting will go on until one faction or another attains dominance. That means there will be no democracy in Iraq. And President Bush is wrong when he claims that all people desire freedom. They first desire survival and security.

So President Bush will accomplish the same thing Richard Nixon accomplished. He will get more Americans killed, and eventually we will pull out of Iraq. It’s not just the casualties that will drive us out; it is the enormous expense, the wear and tear on the Army, the necessary neglect of important domestic problems, and the political divisions at home, which will only grow more exacerbated.

Our present emperor has no clothes. If the American people want to survive with some prosperity and sense of security, they’d better find a new emperor who at least has the brains and intellectual curiosity to play the Great Game on the international chessboard. So far, the wannabe emperors don’t show much promise.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.