Column No. 32a By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - OCTOBER 6, 2004
The military situation in Iraq is reportedly deteriorating with amazing rapidity. Despite what Bush and his Iraqi Charlie McCarthy “Prime Minister” say in public, the Georgites realize this too. That this is so is indicated by the column that appeared from the pen of the White House’s official leaker, Bob Novak, he of Valerie Plame fame, beginning to prepare the way for the institution of a “cut and run” strategy, presumably to be implemented as soon as possible after a putative Bush victory on Nov. 2 (perish the thought!)
On one level, there is an amazing, and tragic, reprise of the US War on Vietnam taking place in this US War on Iraq. Recall that in the Viet Nam era the American people were first told that it would be a militarily easy task to beat the “Commies” and install “democracy,” just as we were told it would be easy to find those Iraqi WMD, break up the Iraq/al-Qaeda link, beat Saddam and install “democracy.” Yet in both cases that has proved not to be the case. Given that covert American intervention in Vietnam began around 1956, the military situation in Iraq is actually deteriorating at a faster pace than it did in Vietnam. In Vietnam, there was a real “South” Vietnamese, anti-nationalist, army and at some point “Vietnamization” of the war (referring to those Vietnamese who fought on the US side) against the Ho Chi Minh communist-nationalists appeared to be a real possibility. But in the end “Vietnamization” never happened. “Iraqi-ization” now appears to be a dead letter from the git-go.
And so, there is an increasing amount of analytical interest in comparing the two wars waged by the US at then, one end and now, the other end of the Asian continent. In these examinations, most people look at strategy and tactics of the wars themselves. In this column, however, I am looking at the issue from a rather different perspective, that of one real American victory (in Vietnam) and the other a potential one (in Iraq).
“Victory?” you might be saying at this point? “American victory” in Vietnam? We lost, didn’t we? Well, militarily we seemed to have lost. Nixon began the military disengagement, and the final pullout took place under President Ford, with those haunting photographs of people leaving by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon, as the legitimate government of Vietnam entered the city, providing a visual exclamation point. But if one examines what happened in terms of the original goals for the US Vietnam intervention, set by Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers in the 1950s, the US won: their goals were achieved.
The French-Vietnamese War ended in 1954. The Geneva Conference of that year produced a treaty signed by the French and the Vietnamese and guaranteed by Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It brought hostilities to an end, temporarily divided the country in two, and provided for national elections to be held in 1956 -- elections that everyone knew would be won by Ho Chi Minh and his people. Pointedly, the US refused to sign or recognize the treaty. They knew that if the plan in it were allowed to proceed, the chances were very good that Vietnam would peacefully progress to socialism and could be an economic success. If that happened, the same thing might well peacefully occur in other Southeast Asian countries, were democracy to be given a chance. The “domino theory” about the spread of “socialism with a national face,” distinguished from and not necessarily allied with the Soviet Union, and certainly not with the traditional enemy, China, communist or not, was quite correct.
And so, in the view of the US leadership of the time, everything had to be done that could be done to prevent the democratic process from introducing socialism to a country and then possibly succeeding in a peaceful setting. If looked at in this light, the Vietnam War was a US victory. The peaceful establishment of socialism was prevented. Its spread by example and peaceful means to neighboring countries was prevented. Vietnam today has a sort of market socialist economy, but the country was ravaged by almost 20 years of war and two to three million of the best and the brightest of its people were killed. It is hardly the economic or social engine of the development of democratically-installed socialism that it might have become had it been left alone. In terms of the original American goals for the intervention, this was a win, a palpable win.
And what then, of Iraq? Is there not going to be a definite US loss there, especially if the Georgites themselves are openly (through their Novakian mouthpiece) considering “cutting and running?” Once again it depends upon what the real objectives of the invasion were. We know that it wasn’t WMD, because there were none, and it wasn’t a “Saddam-bin Laden” link because there wasn’t one of those either. We also know that it wasn’t “bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq” because a) that was a Georgite afterthought, b) the inimitable Paul Wolfowitz told us so in the following little noticed statement: “The purpose of this war wasn’t to remake Iraq any more than the purpose of World War II was to remake Germany and Japan” (Tierney, John, “The Hawks Loudly Express Their Second Thoughts,” New York Times News of the Week in Review, May 16, 2004, p. 5), and c) since when have Republicans, given their record around the world since World War II, been interested in bringing “freedom and democracy” anywhere? This crew doesn’t even believe in it for our country, viz. rigged elections and The Patriot Act.
So what was, and is, the objective then? By a process of elimination if nothing else, it’s got to be oil, bases, and expanding US influence in the region. OK, so what happens if the Georgites unilaterally withdraw after the elections (other than, too late, Kerry being handed a really good response to the “flip-flop” charge, but just a little too late?) Do they achieve the third of the above? No. How about the second? Well, possibly, at least a few of those bases under construction in the Western Iraqi desert, easy to supply by air, hard for any Iraqi resistance forces to get to across that desert. And the first? Well, possibly, bingo!
Let’s say a Georgite “cut-and-run” isn’t quite just a “get out.” Let’s say that it’s done under the cover of a UN-sponsored establishment of a Federal Republic, but really a tri-furcation. The major Iraqi oil reserves, both known and estimated to be there, are in the Kurdish portion and the southern Shiite portion (sorry Sunnis, none for you under trifurcation). And let’s say that the Kurdish Republic receives US guarantees for its existence, enforceable from Turkey. Turkey? How Turkey? They’ve got their own Kurdish problem, don’t they? But suppose that the US is able to make a deal with the Iraqi Kurds that in return for a reasonable share of their oil revenues, with the oil being directly in the hands of US oil companies of course, the Kurds will stop their campaign for an enlarged, unified Kurdistan. And since the oil would go out through Turkey, the US might even be able to entice them to be nicer to their own Kurds in return for a nice royalty on the trans-shipments. I know, I know, there are also Iran and its Kurds, but it might be possible to make a deal there, too. As it does to Bush’s fundamentalist Christians, it can talk to fundamentalist Muslims as well.
And so, if the original number one objective of the invasion was indeed oil, this scenario produces a US win, and a big one. Just like in Vietnam. If it really is the oil, the Georgites don't need the whole damn place, they just need Kurdistan. And while we sit here thinking, “Aren't the Georgites dumb and totally irresponsible, letting things go up in smoke and death like this”, maybe what is happening now was the grand design after all. To let Iraq disintegrate into three, then ask the UN to come in to provide a “Federal Republic” fig-leaf, while the US conveniently keeps control of the "peaceful" part in the North (with those huge unexplored potential reserves).
I believe that the US oilmen have been focusing on Kurdish oil all along, ever since the American virtual protectorate for that region was set up following the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
How might a Kerry Administration deal differently with the situation? I happen to think that the only possible. even relatively peaceful, resolution (notice I did not say “solution”) to the Iraq tragedy is in fact the establishment of some sort of Federal Republic. Repeating something I put forward in “TPJ 20, On the Kerry Campaign, I” of July 8, 2004, first, Kerry could renounce any US interest in owning or controlling any fraction of the Iraqi oil reserves, regardless of what part of the country they lie in. Second he could announce that all construction on permanent US bases would be stopped and the bases disbanded or turned over to the UN on an interim bases, for future transfer to the Iraqi government from the UN. (Without much fanfare, the Senator has already done this.) Third, he could announce that, to the extent possible, given contractual obligations, reconstruction projects would be turned over to Iraqi companies. Fourth, he would renounce the infamous “Bremer Plan” that opened up the whole Iraqi economy for pillage by foreign (mainly US) companies. Fifth, he could propose a realistic Federal structure for a future permanent Iraqi government, with UN guarantees. The country we know as Iraq was an artificial British construct dating from the 1920s. Realism could countenance going back to some form of the centuries-old provincial arrangement, as it existed under the Ottoman Empire. And sixth, he could announce that US policy would be for the oil reserves to be the property of the entire Iraqi people, with the Federal government retaining control over it, again under a UN guarantee.
Well, there’s something for openers, anyway, and far different from the imperial design of the Georgites.