Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dominoes And Caliphates

As I listened to the President assert during today's press conference that "if we fail there, the enemy will follow us here," I thought about how, as time passes, the intellectual and linguistic parallels between Iraq and Vietnam become more pronounced. One almost gets the sense that the White House dispatched a few interns to LBJ's presidential library in Austin to spend a few days digging through the archives, and they wore out the copy machines.

My point here is not to draw a comparison between Iraq and Vietnam per se, though by now readers know where I stand on that. The comparison by itself is useless, after all (and no doubt a bit tired at this point). The value in that comparison is understanding that the language of political desperation never changes, nor does the nature of the deception -- whether about "dominoes" or "caliphates" -- that necessarily accompanies that language:

To ignore aggression now would only increase the danger of a much larger war.

LBJ 1/4/65

Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another...our own security is at stake.

LBJ 4/7/65

Nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another country, bringing with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history.

LBJ 7/28/65

To yield to force in Vietnam would weaken that confidence, would undermine the independence of many lands, and would whet the appetite of aggression. We would have to fight in one land, and then we would have to fight in another--or abandon much of Asia to the domination of Communists...As long as others will challenge America's security and test the clearness of our beliefs with fire and steel, then we must stand or see the promise of two centuries tremble.

LBJ 1/12/66

We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war--a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force. I believe, and I am supported by some authority, that if they are not checked now the world can expect to pay a greater price to check them later...I think I reveal no secret when I tell you that we are dealing with a stubborn adversary who is committed to the use of force and terror to settle political questions.

LBJ 1/10/67

Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American....The heart of our involvement in South Vietnam--under three different presidents, three separate administrations--has always been America's own security.

LBJ 3/31/68

And so on. The point, of course, is to be profoundly skeptical of any justification for preemptive or preventive war, particularly after the war goes south. For all his deception, at least Johnson was fairly consistent in his definition of the mission and the consequences of "failure" -- Vietnam wasn't marked so much by mission creep as by strategy creep. In contrast, let's never forget how far we've come from a short preventive war based on nonexistent weapons to perpetual war justified by "if we fail there, the enemy will follow us here."


Blogger Grodge said...

If the administration thought the war was so important, then why did they do such a lousy job with it?

I can see some of the point that failure in Iraq would look much worse than failure in Vietnam, because Iraq's demise could sink the entire oil-producing subcontinent into chaos.

20/20 hindsight tells us that we could have left Vietnam in '67 or '68 and the world wouldn't have suffered any more than it did-- which was plenty.

With Iraq, however, we simply do not know what failure will look like. Apparently failure is an eventuality either now or later, and, to me, it looks very scary.

Imagine Saudi Arabia or Iran 2008 looking like Cambodia or Laos 1975. Can you say $200/ bbl oil?

2/14/2007 9:28 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Imagine Saudi Arabia or Iran 2008 looking like Cambodia or Laos 1975.

I'm having a hard time seeing how our leaving Iraq brings this about.

Great post, CR.

2/14/2007 10:06 PM  
Blogger Grodge said...


I'm the farthest thing from a wonk, but I'll give a few references:

(Sorry, I can't figure out how to hyperlink on this site.)

"...the Saudis have very real fears that an anarchic Iraq growing out of the U.S. occupation has become, as Adel al-Jubeir put it, "a magnet for terrorists.""

...Riyadh would be gravely concerned if the Kurds did in fact attempt to break away from Iraq, seeing the country's fragmentation as creating the prospect for even greater foreign meddling on the kingdom's northern borders and adding yet another flash point to an already unstable neighborhood.

... Of greater concern to the Saudis are the ambitions of Iran, Turkey, and Syria in the region, and particularly about the possibility of their colluding with one another. Iran, of course, is a particular concern...

I make no claim to know anything. I have always agreed with TCR's appraisal.

I have no axe to grind, I was against the war from Day 1, I think Bush is a supreme idiot; I'm only trying to figure out what the world will look like... next week, next month, next 3 years.

I'm only wondering out loud what the region will look like after we pull out, which I agree is an eventuality.

2/14/2007 10:46 PM  
Blogger OrganicGeorge said...

Off topic

I was reading today that latin american economies are having trouble with inflation. Mexico, amoung other has put price controls on basic food commodities.

Is this the first signs of the excess of world wide liquidity?

2/14/2007 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post...hear hear

2/15/2007 12:41 AM  
Anonymous Mayo said...

I have felt for the longest time that Bush's very inarticulateness has not only given him a pass for trying, but been used to cover a policy that if fully expressed would have been rejected from the start. We were attacked here and no President but Bush could say the "We fight them there in order to keep from fighting them here" and have it accepted by everyone as a genuine expression for his policy. Even Tony Snow has been able to give out smarty pants like quips to serious questions as though he were merely responding to an assault on this childlike leader. Sadly for our nation, this is no school yard game.

2/15/2007 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GW did not use the word "war" in this last speech, not even once. Now we are just there to help the Iraqies help themselves, because that's just the kind of great nation we are. Oy Vey!

2/15/2007 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Yea, the day the VC floated over from Maui and took San Francisco by the pinkie was one of the darkest in the history of the Republic.

2/15/2007 1:15 PM  
Anonymous NeilS said...

Another great post.

I'll bet leaders have been using the domino theory to justify their bloody folly for thousands of years.

Darius: "If we don't take care of this Greek problem once and for all we'll have to fight the Greeks on the streets of Susa. On to Marathon!"

2/15/2007 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Lord said...

Instead of blaming Iran, they should blame who is responsible for border security. Oh yeah, that would be themselves.

2/15/2007 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

phase III could be delayed a bit...

2/15/2007 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2/15/2007 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you imagine what iraq would look like if we left? probably the world would hiccup and then we would be buying oil from the phoenix that arose from the civil war. alas all that effort by the "brave men and women" was really in vain. no one will ever say that publicly though.

i love how we need to fight them "over there" when we chose the fight and created the mess, at least for iraq.

2/15/2007 10:47 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

We are not leaving. You guys are not paying attention to anything. What leaving means(as defined by the media, the democrats, the old school Republican foreign policy team) is...troops holing up in well fortified bases in Iraq, Moving many of our troops to the North to pacify Turkey and Saudi Arabia...the Kurds will put up with it, And bringing a large group of them home. We will wind up with about 50,000 troops there permanately. The only construction project on budget and ontime is the new US embassy. It is gigantic and will be well protected. There is a new mulit-billion dollar refinery going up in the North. These are two things that have worked out well for our crazy leaders. They...or the more traditionalist politicians who replace them are not going to give these things up. Just ain't gonna happen. At some point we are going to stand back and let the Sunnis and Shites slug it out. Whoever manages to consolidate power, we will work out some relationship with. If they don't accept we will bomb the piss out of them. This is where we are heading. This war is way...way...way...far from being over. I would say we haven't even reached the halfway point yet. When we reduce our footprint in Iraq it will be advertised to the world as a US withdrawl. This will be done for propaganda purposes. 50,000 troops will remain permanately and there will be increased use of airpower to enforce our will. In other words we are going to return to what "worked" before.

2/16/2007 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Consider this: what if it's not about the oil. What if it's a front and occupation against the Euro?

2/16/2007 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Vietnam wasn't marked so much by mission creep as by strategy creep. In contrast, let's never forget how far we've come from a short preventive war based on nonexistent weapons to perpetual war justified by 'if we fail there, the enemy will follow us here.'"

I don't think there really has been a mission creep in Iraq either. From the get-go, the Bush team wanted to establish a stable, democratic government in Iraq that would be a full partner in the War on Terror. They didn't hype this goal before the invasion because they thought it would be easy to achieve -- they assumed that once Saddam was gone, a stable government would soon follow. Their error, of course, was not anticipating how bitter sectarian divisions had become after decades of Ba'athist rule.

2/16/2007 3:17 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Their error, of course, was not anticipating how bitter sectarian divisions had become after decades of Ba'athist rule.

Yeah, well, who coulda seen that coming?

cough(anyone with a clue)cough..


2/16/2007 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2/17/2007 10:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home