“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thirteen Reasons Why Iraq is No Viet Nam.

Christopher Hitchens with his favorite things.

To invoke Vietnam was a blunder too far for Bush

The Presidents's crass comparison between Iraq and war in south east Asia was the most ludicrous misreading of history

Christopher Hitchens
Sunday August 26, 2007
The Observer

How do I dislike President George Bush? Let me count the ways. Most of them have to do with his contented assumption that 'faith' is, in and of itself, a virtue. This self-satisfied mentality helps explain almost everything, from the smug expression on his face to the way in which, as governor of Texas, he signed all those death warrants without losing a second's composure.

It explains the way in which he embraced ex-KGB goon Vladimir Putin, citing as the basis of a beautiful relationship the fact that Putin was wearing a crucifix. (Has Putin been seen wearing that crucifix before or since? Did his advisers tell him that the President of the United States was that easy a pushover?)

It also explains the unforgivable intervention that Bush made into the private life of the Schiavo family: leaving his Texas ranch to try and keep 'alive' a woman whose autopsy showed that her brain had melted to below flatline a long time before. Here is a man who believes the 'jury' is still 'out' on whether we evolved as a species, who regards stem cell research as something profane, who affects the odd belief that Islam is 'a religion of peace'.

However that may be, I always agreed with him on one secular question, that the regime of Saddam Hussein was long overdue for removal. I know some critics of the Iraq intervention attribute this policy, too, to religious motives (ranging from messianic, born-again Christian piety to the activity of a surreptitious Jewish/Zionist cabal: take your pick).

In this real-world argument, there is a very strong temptation for opponents of the war to invoke the lessons of Vietnam. I must have written thousands of words attempting to show that there is absolutely no analogy between the two conflicts.

Then, addressing the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, the President came thundering down the pike to announce that a defeat in Iraq would be - guess what? - another Vietnam. As my hand smacks my brow, and as I ask myself not for the first time if Mr Bush suffers from some sort of political death wish, I quickly restate the reasons why he is wrong to join with his most venomous and ignorant critics in making this case.

1) The Vietminh, later the Vietnamese NLF, were allies of the United States and Britain against the Axis during the Second World War. The Iraqi Baath party was on the other side.

2) Ho Chi Minh quoted Thomas Jefferson in proclaiming Vietnam's own declaration of independence, a note that has hardly been struck in Baathist or jihadist propaganda.

3) Vietnam was resisting French colonialism and had defeated it by 1954 at Dien Bien Phu; the real 'war' was therefore over before the US even landed troops in the country.

4) The subsequent conflict was fought to preserve an imposed partition of a country striving to reunify itself; if anything, the Iraqi case is the reverse.

5) The Vietnamese leadership appealed to the UN: the Saddamists and their jihadist allies murdered the first UN envoy to arrive in Iraq, saying that he was fit only for death because he had assisted in securing the independence of East Timor from Indonesia.

6) Vietnam never threatened any other country; Iraq under Saddam invaded two of its neighbours and declared one of them (Kuwait) to be part of Iraq itself.

7) Vietnam was a victim of chemical and ecological warfare; Iraq was the perpetrator of such illegal methods and sought to develop even worse nuclear and biological ones.

8) Vietnam neither sponsored nor encouraged terrorist tactics beyond its borders; Iraq under Saddam was a haven for Abu Nidal and other random killers and its 'insurgents' now proclaim war on Hindus, Jews, unbelievers and the wrong sort of Muslim.

9) There has for years been a 'people's war' fought by genuine guerrillas in Iraq; it is the war of liberation conducted by Kurdish fighters against genocide and dictatorship. Inconveniently for all analogies, these fighters are ranged on the side of the US and Britain.

10) The Iraqi Communist party and the Iraqi labour movement advocated the overthrow of Saddam (if not necessarily by Bush), a rather conspicuous difference from the situation in Indochina. These forces still form a part of the tenuous civil society that is fighting to defend itself against the parties of God.

11) The American-sponsored regimes in Vietnam tended, among other things, to be strongly identified with one confessional minority (Catholic) to the exclusion of secular, nationalist and Buddhist forces. The elected government in Iraq may have a sectarian hue, but at least it draws upon hitherto repressed majority populations - Kurds and Shias - and at least the American embassy works as a solvent upon religious and ethnic divisions rather than an inciter of them.

12) President Eisenhower admitted that if there had ever been a fair election in Vietnam, it would have been won by Ho Chi Minh; the Baath party's successors refused to participate in the Iraqi elections and their jihadist allies declared that democracy was an alien concept and threatened all voters with murder.

13) The Americans in Vietnam employed methods ('search and destroy'; 'body count') and weapons (napalm, Agent Orange) that targeted civilians. Today, those who make indiscriminate war on the innocent show their hand on the streets of Baghdad and are often the proxies of neighbouring dictatorships or of international gangster organisations.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but will do, I think, as a caution against any glib invocation of historical comparisons. One might add that among the results of the Vietnamese revolution was an admittedly crude form of market socialism, none the less wedded to ideas of modernisation; a strong resistance to Chinese expansionism (one excuse for Washington's invasion); and a military expedition to depose the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

I cannot see how any self-respecting Republican can look at this record without wincing and moaning with shame or how any former friend of the Vietnamese can equate them with either a fascist dictatorship or a nihilistic Islamist death-squad campaign. And now Bush has joined forces with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan in making the two struggles morally equivalent.

It is true that the collapse of the doomed American adventure in Indochina was followed by massive repression and reprisal, especially in Cambodia, and by the exile of huge numbers of talented Vietnamese. But even this grim total was small compared to the huge losses exacted by the war itself. In Iraq, the genocide, repression, aggression and cultural obliteration preceded the coalition's intervention and had been condemned by a small but impressive library of UN resolutions. Thus, the argument from 'bloodbath', either past or future, has to be completely detached from any consideration of the Vietnamese example.

Bush made his speech just as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a distinguished socialist and humanitarian, visited Baghdad and embraced some Iraqi and Kurdish freedom fighters, such as President Jalal Talabani, the leader of a party that is a member of the Socialist International. It takes a special kind of political and moral idiocy to choose such a moment to wax nostalgic for America's inheritance of a moribund French colonialism in Indochina. If one question is rightly settled in the American and, indeed, the international memory, it is that the Vietnam War was at best a titanic blunder and at worst a campaign of atrocity and aggression.

But not all the ironies are at Bush's expense. Change only the name of the analogous country and it becomes fairly clear that in Iraq we are fighting not the Vietcong, but the Khmer Rouge, as the Vietcong eventually had to do on our behalf. The logic of history is pitiless and Bush is not the only one who will find this out.


  1. Chris sure puts his body into his work. Rocky Mountain News

    The dumb part of Bush's speech to me was dragging in 'The Quiet American'.

  2. Has EVERY loose idiot in the US been drawn to OIF?

  3. Thanks much for the Picture!
    Now I'll NEVER waste another second trying to understand the sick bastard.

    (Steyn has just as much of an accent, but it is still intelligible instead of a booze and decadent socialist addled "brain.")

    I'd say a Pox upon him, but it looks like he's already filled to the brim with plenty of trouble.

  4. I guess I'll be helpful:

    Dear Chris,
    You might want to check out my latest book:

    "The Complete Idiot and Hopeless Sinner's Guide to completing your miserable trip in the manner to which you have become accustomed." "

    Best Regards,

  5. Looks like Michael Moore on Rufus's special ethyl 85, or whatever it's called.

  6. (Special Ethyl has a nice Ring to it, no?)

  7. "This self-satisfied mentality helps explain almost everything, from the smug expression on his face"
    I DO agree with that much however.
    ONE of the reasons for the "inexplicable" BDS we've heard so much about.
    ...among many others.

  8. Maybe Hitchens is what W was before W got on the wagon. Or maybe not too, cause W never could write, and still can't speak. W's speech writer can't write either. It's a hell of a bad situation.

    O pray for the sinner Doug, now, and at the hour of his....

  9. No,
    Doug's still Awake!
    (No Wake Jokes, Please.)

  10. You should have linked Columbia breaking up, as though it was Hitch's 7 non-souls burning in Heavenly Hell instead of those of the Heroic Innocents.

  11. Coulda done our due-diligence, guys.
    Woulda, but...

    Why the Self-Made Entrepreneur "Man" Seems Dependent on Surrounding himself with Cronies, competent and otherwise.

    Bush's share from the sale of the Rangers was $2.3 million (1.8%), but the other owners had voted to give him an additional $12.6 million (10%) of the sale as a bonus. One of the owners was William O. DeWitt, Jr., Bush's partner in an oil company that bought out Bush's failed oil company and whose father once owned the Cincinnati Reds. Another Texas Rangers owner was Richard Rainwater, once the money manager for the Bass brothers, then a billionaire speculator. When Bush became Texas Governor in '95 but prior to the Texas Rangers sale to Thomas Hicks in 1998, one of the bills he pushed was a Bush-backed stadium-financing bill that gave a $10 million bonus payment to Texas Rangers partners when a Dallas arena is built
    Jonathan Bush (upper left) "Bush's oil career similarly paralleled his father's. His expertise was in raising money rather than in drilling for oil. Like his father, who was backed by his uncle Herbert Walker, the young George W. Bush used an uncle, Jonathan Bush, to assemble investors for his first ventures. Unlike his father, however, George W. Bush never found much oil. No matter; the domestic oil industry of the 1970s made much of its money by drilling holes in the tax code rather than in the ground....His uncle Jonathan agreed that actually finding oil was not all that important. "In those days, it behooved you to drill," Jonathan Bush told Bill Minutaglio. "You didn't have to do terribly well in order to do well because you got so many write-offs. So it was an attractive way to invest money and save taxes." Arbusto's secretary recalled, "I really don't recall us ever drilling a well and making anything all that great." --Lars-Erik Nelson, Review of 4 Bush Biographies

    Bush "had been able to raise the capital for Arbusto with the help of his Uncle Jonathan. Philip Uzielli, a good friend of James Baker, had bailed him out at the right time. He had been saved from fiscal ruin by the merger with Spectrum 7 [owned by William DeWitt, a family benefactor]; and Harken had taken a gamble on George W. because of, among other reasons, the power of his family name. While George W. was a smart, well-liked boss and colleague, his insecurities prevented him from giving credit where credit was due." --Elizabeth Mitchell, W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty
    Roland Betts (upper left) is a third-generation Yalie. Unlike Bush, he considers himself to be a liberal Democrat. "Throughout Bush's adult life, Betts has been his mentor, his business partner, and his best friend. At Yale, when Bush's father was preoccupied with the pressures of his political career, Roland's father stepped into the breach."... Today, Betts is worth, "an incredible amount of money. The most judicious of his deals involved financing every movie made by the Walt Disney Company between 1984 and 1991, as Disney was just starting to get into the film business; he also persuaded Disney to give him the copyrights. Later, Disney had to buy back the rights to titles like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Pretty Woman. Betts calls this 'thinking long-term.'"

    In 1983 Betts got Bush on the board of Silver Screen Management, his movie company, so Dubya was able to get a share of the pie on the Disney deal. "Bush is a rich man because of his association with Betts," writes Helen Thorpe in New York (Sept. '99)

    After George worked at the White House, helping to get his father elected President, he decided to leave the East and go back to Texas. But soon he contacted Betts about a deal to buy the Texas rangers. Betts recalls the subject of George's political aspirations was important to the decision: " 'My willingness to put a lot of money into the Rangers is based on the fact that you're there,' Betts told George. 'If you're going to run for office anytime soon, then I don't want to do this.' Eventually Betts convinced his friend to delay his entry into politics until after they transformed the Rangers into a profitable team. You do something that's yours, you get out from under your father's shadow,' urged Betts.

    'When we build a new stadium, you're going to be in the newspapers every single day, getting positive coverage for creating new jobs. As opposed to being just President Bush's son.'"
    While Betts and the others put up the big bucks for the Texas Rangers, Bush managed to come up with around $600,000 from the sale of oil stocks earned by putting together deals through family and university connections and representing the Bush family name in those companies.

  12. Slightly different rise to riches than, say, Ronald Reagan.
    W really didn'teven need to rise, since he was born that way, but had to create all that "self-made" wealth to fulfill his true Boner Destiny.
    (and get himself elected)

  13. Just another Texas Cowboy Roustabout that made it Big.

  14. (A roustabout is a labourer typically performing temporary, unskilled work. The term has traditionally been used to refer to traveling-circus workers or oil rig workers.)

  15. We could have a Thread:

    "Thirteen Million Reasons why GWB is no RR."

  16. "RR made money by acting in Movies,
    GWB made money from movies by being GWB"

  17. The Smirk comes from knowin how good he's got at snowin a good percentage of the gullible rabble that wanted to believe.

  18. My neighbor from Texas claims they wouldn't let W attend many of the Ranger's Board meetings.
    Don't know if that was before he got on the wagon...

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. We have discussed the Vietnam analogy before. With ladyhawk's "Mr doug" blaming the Dems for cutting off the money, while I spread that responsiblity to the entire country.

    Regardless there was plenty of blame to spread around. It was, I'd think we'd all agree, another limited geographic war with global political aspirations.

    The "Lessons of Vietnam" differ though for each of US.
    For the military the lessons evolved into what is now referred to as the "Powell Doctrine", though he did not originate it. That credit goes to Casper Weinberger.

    Powell's Doctrine
    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
    4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
    7. Is the action supported by the American people?
    8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

    Weinerberger's original version
    The Weinberger doctrine:

    1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
    2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
    3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
    4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
    5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a "reasonable assurance" of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
    6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

    Mr Cheney echoed those doctrinal points in 1992 in the wake of the Desert Storm War, as the reasoning for not "Driving to Baghdad", along the "Highway of Death"

    Team 43 has spent 5 years in public denial of the Vietnam analogy for Iraq. Because it is a fatally flawed analogy, at the very best.

    It reminds me of Mr Cheney's service during that conflict, first off.

    Then of the military going "off the tracks" in about 1964 when the SOG's "bottom up" Civilian Irregular Defense Group Program was abandoned for a conventional top down "Superior firepower" approach.

    President Diem's assassination another unfavorable analogy, now that Mr Maliki has become the source of all US challenges, in Iraq.

    I couldn't believe it when I heard Mr Bush make the analogy, but he did in deed. Oh for the days of Mr Frum, when there was a coherent and marketable message from the White House.

  21. Better Mr Bush has used Iran, cutting off support to the Shah, as an anology.

    That'd made "some" sense.

  22. Author of "Bush's Brain"
    (wearer of cheap suits)

    "This is a guy who instinctively, historically, has been able to look at a situation and say:

    "Where do I want it to end up?
    Facts be damned

    Who cares what Maliki and Sistanni want?
    (or the Sunnis, or the Kurds)
    I want reconciliation and peace and freedom,
    so the freedom loving Iraqis can reach their full human potential.