Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
David Carr, in the NYT (April 25, 2004):
...The current administration's squeamishness about photographs depicting the consequences of war has plenty of precedents in American history, but it stands in stark contrast to where war photography began.
In 1862, New Yorkers went to the gallery of Matthew Brady and saw, for the first time, the gory externalities of the Civil War. The dead were a persistent presence because of the limitations of the technology of the day. Daguerreotypes required subjects that remained still, and there is no subject more patient than the dead.
But by the beginning of World War I, as the mass reproduction and distribution of images became more commonplace, the political and military leadership began to understand that seeing lifeless American soldiers could have a corrosive effect on the country's will to fight, and photography was banned altogether. It was only two years into World War II when the federal government decided it was time to take the lens cover off the camera - albeit in controlled and thematically patriotic ways.
"Up until that time, Americans had been supporting the war on imagination alone," said Susan Moeller, a professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. "The photographs helped to make the rhetoric and the goals tangible. The military, in this instance, wanted the American public to be in the same war they were in."
By the time of the Vietnam conflict, all hell was breaking loose, often in front of the eyes of the viewing public. War's inherent savagery, its indifference to human suffering, entered the hearts and minds of Americans like a rocket-propelled grenade through graphic video and still pictures. The dissonance between those images and the rhetoric of the American leadership helped the public decide that what was initially sold as a global quest for freedom had become a trap with incalculable costs.
Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of images that creates its own narrative. During the first Gulf war, President George H. W. Bush was photographed playing golf at a time when coffins were piling up at Dover. And horror and outrage created by the iconic pictures from the so-called Highway of Death, where Iraqis fleeing in retreat from Kuwait were immolated by American bombs and missiles, may have been one reason Saddam Hussein was not pursued into Baghdad. It was under the first President Bush that formal ceremonies for the returning bodies of soldiers were discontinued at Dover - and with that, cameras were banned as well. The reason given at the time was that the type and timing of ceremonies ought more rightly to be left to each soldier's individual family, but then - as now - those motives were widely questioned. Still, the same policy has now become the general rule at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
John Tierney, in the NYT (April 25, 2004):
If they disagree with their president, a few officials resign, as Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance did after Jimmy Carter's unsuccessful military attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. A few are fired for insubordination, like Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But there is a third way, as Colin L. Powell has demonstrated.
Call it the Bartleby approach, in honor of the legal copyist in Melville's 1853 story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener." Refusing either to work or to leave his job, Bartleby deflects all commands from his boss with the maddeningly calm reply, "I would prefer not to."
Mr. Powell was never publicly hostile to President Bush, but in his own quiet, calm way he slowed the administration's rush to war in Iraq. His resistance was the worst-kept secret in Washington, and now it has been confirmed in detail in Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," which depicts Mr. Powell as "the reluctant warrior."
Some critics have accused Mr. Powell of disloyalty and say he should have either resigned or kept quiet; his defenders say that his warnings were a useful reality check for Mr. Bush and have been borne out by events. Right or wrong, his reluctance is not surprising. Generals with combat experience have often been far more leery of going to war than civilians. Mr. Powell was not initially enthusiastic about fighting the first Persian Gulf war either, said Brent Scowcroft and other officials in the first Bush administration. Instead, he favored using troops to defend Saudi Arabia from attack.
The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said Mr. Powell's reputation as a reluctant warrior is unfair. "As a soldier in 1990, his mission initially was to defend Saudi Arabia," Mr. Boucher said. "Then he brought back the plan to expel Iraq from Kuwait when diplomacy had spent its course."
Similarly, he said, Mr. Powell firmly supported the second war with Iraq. "Don't assume that because he raised questions he was opposed to the policy," Mr. Boucher said. "He was with the president."
Mr. Powell's caution was already evident in 1987 to a White House colleague, Peter Robinson, a presidential speechwriter. In his recent memoir, "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life," Mr. Robinson tells of being summoned to a meeting with Mr. Powell, then the deputy national security adviser, to discuss a sentence in a coming presidential speech. Although Mr. Reagan had already approved the line, Mr. Robinson recalls, Mr. Powell's agency and the State Department considered it too belligerent, and Mr. Powell urged that it be deleted.
The issue remained unsettled until the day of the speech, Mr. Robinson recalls, when Mr. Reagan went ahead with the line. Standing at the Berlin Wall, he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Mr. Powell has a different recollection of that incident, Mr. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said. "There was a discussion, but the line was O.K. with him," Mr. Boucher said. "It was the State Department that objected to the line."...
Gen. George McClellan, the Union commander, had, in the words of his exasperated president, a bad case of "the slows." Openly disdainful of Lincoln and his orders to fight, General McClellan was relieved of command and went on to run for president in 1864 as the nominee for the Democrats, whose platform called for ending the war.
Mr. Powell has said that his model is George C. Marshall, another general who became secretary of state. Like Mr. Powell, he stayed in the job, even while telling President Truman that he strongly disagreed with him on an important issue - the recognition of Israel. But Marshall kept his objections from becoming common knowledge.
At some point, though, a dissenter may cease to do himself or his boss much good, said John P. Burke, a co-author of "How Presidents Test Reality."
"Some officials lose today hoping they'll win tomorrow, but that can be a trap because they may not win tomorrow or next week or the next year," said Professor Burke, a political scientist at the University of Vermont. "They also may become what are called domesticated dissenters, offering dissenting policy views for show but with little practical impact."
Robert S. McNamara advocated escalating the Vietnam War early on, but eventually concluded that it was unwinnable. Yet he continued to defend the war publicly, and refused to air criticisms after he left office.
In lieu of criticizing the boss, principled resignation is sometimes the only option. "It seems to me when one is part of a team, one does not disagree with the coach's decisions once they have been made, even if one wishes that the decisions were different," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter. A good example of a dissenting team player, he said, was his rival in the administration, Mr. Vance, who felt compelled to resign after breaking with the president over the Iran rescue mission.
How much can you disagree and stay in the administration? "If there is an unresolvable moral conflict, the only truly honorable thing to do is resign," said Michael A. Genovese, the author of "The Power of the American Presidency."
David Halbfinger, in the NYT (April 24, 2004):
When questions were raised last month about whether a 27-year-old John Kerry had attended a Kansas City meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War where the assassination of senators was discussed, the Kerry presidential campaign went into action.
It accepted the resignation of a campaign volunteer in Florida, Scott Camil, the member of the antiwar group who raised the idea in November 1971 of killing politicians who backed the war. The campaign pressed other veterans who were in Kansas City, Mo., 33 years ago to re-examine their hazy memories while assuring them that Mr. Kerry was sure he had not been there.
John Musgrave, a disabled ex-marine from Baldwin City, Kan., who told The Kansas City Star that Mr. Kerry was at the meeting, said he got a call from John Hurley, the Kerry campaign's veterans coordinator.
"He said, `I'd like you to refresh your memory,' " Mr. Musgrave, 55, recounted in an interview, confirming an account he had given to The New York Sun. "He said it twice. `And call that reporter back and say you were mistaken about John Kerry being there.' "
Such little-noticed moments in Mr. Kerry's past including his decision at age 26 to meet the Vietcong emissaries to the Paris peace talks are coming under new scrutiny now, as Mr. Kerry finally makes the presidential run that his comrades in arms, and in the antiwar movement, half-mockingly predicted decades ago.
In an interview about his antiwar activities, Mr. Kerry said that he knew nothing of attempts by his campaign to tinker with the past and that he disapproved. "People's memories are people's memories," he said, adding that he had no memory of the Kansas City meeting.
Mr. Hurley says he was merely asking Mr. Musgrave to be accurate, "because his memory was contrary to everything I was hearing."
Yet while Mr. Kerry is heavily accentuating his five months in combat in Vietnam, he rarely emphasizes his two years working against the war though he first catapulted to fame 33 years ago this week when he electrified millions of viewers in asking the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "How do you ask a man to be last man to die for a mistake?"
And when Mr. Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press" last weekend, he disavowed his own remarks on the same program in April 1971, when he said he and thousands of other soldiers had committed "atrocities."
From its inception, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was a curiosity and an influential force in the Vietnam protest movement because of the novelty, and political potency, of antiwar demonstrators in uniform.
In the year and a half that Mr. Kerry belonged to the group, it was loosely structured and had its share of revolutionaries and provocateurs including many secretly working for law enforcement who pushed the writings of Chairman Mao and talked of tossing grenades, though they seldom did worse than toss bags of chicken droppings at the Pentagon....
Roselyn Tantraphol, in the Hartford Courant (April 18, 200):
The increasing level of violence gripping Iraq does not signal a repetition of the Vietnam War, but has been the result of an administration that turns a blind eye to historical lessons,"60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer said Saturday.
And the unfolding events have been reported by"a captive media" that failed to aggressively probe reasons for the march to war - and one that subsequently came to depend on the government through the embedded journalist program, he said.
In warning against becoming beholden to the government, he said:"We don't want anything from the government but that furtive little fellow called the truth - which, by the way, they'll never give you, which you have to go out and find by talking to people."
The hour of candid comments was held as part of the 10th National Writers' Workshop. The annual conference draws journalists, writers and instructors.
The fighting in Vietnam was driven by the domino theory, the belief that the war would prevent other countries in the region from falling to communism."Everything about Iraq is totally different," Safer said."In this one, we went to war and made the countries around fall like dominoes - the wrong way."
Safer, who covered the Vietnam War for CBS, brought up former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's mea culpa on the Vietnam War."McNamara's plea was that he had no idea that Vietnam had a history of longing for self-determination, a history of resisting foreign invasion."
"The stupidity is unbearable," Safer said. Libraries are full of books on that history, he said - and"reading one would have been enough."
Safer sees a similar problem with the Bush administration, noting the criticism Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received last year when he referred disparagingly to France and Germany as"old Europe." In the Bush administration, Safer said,"there is a kind of pride in the ignorance."
Isolationists, Islamist extremists, and"intellectuals" -- and other types beginning with the letter"i," who will be left unnamed in the interest of civility -- have sneered at the awkward eloquence of President George W. Bush, embodied in his press conference on the evening of April 13.
"Awkward eloquence" is not an oxymoron, for those who express themselves with some difficulty, or when struggling with emotion, may yet speak more powerfully than those whose orations are brilliantly-crafted, and well-practiced. Moses, the prophet of freedom, was afflicted with a stammer, and the prophet Muhammad was an illiterate. Neither of them would have had a chance on most of today's television talk shows, yet they moved the world.
I did not sneer at the President's words. And I believe there are others who, like me, were moved, even to tears, by his statements:
"Freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom… We have an obligation to work toward a more free world."
The Chief Executive of these United States sought, at times haltingly, to explain to the American people that"it's important for us to spread freedom throughout the Middle East."
Not for many decades, for even a century, has an American statesman so simply and necessarily defined our place in world history. As I explained to my son, other admirable American leaders fought to defend our freedoms -- only rarely, and at great risk, did they commit our nation to the defense, nay, the extension of freedom far from our borders, in places where most of us would never set foot.
Harry Truman did so, when he sent General Douglas MacArthur to the relief of South Korea. What were the Koreans to us? And yet, the people of Western Europe held their breaths in horror, waiting to see if America would save the Koreans -- for if we did not, then Stalin, the most feral of all the 20th century monsters, would be emboldened to invade Western Europe. Revisionist historians may jeer at such an interpretation, yet I have interviewed an American naval attaché who described to me a young German woman rushing to embrace him in the streets of Bonn, when news of the Inchon landing came, saying,"you have saved us!" And I know from the history of the former Yugoslavia that Marshal Tito told his cabinet the same thing -- that MacArthur's daring action had prevented Stalin from marching into Yugoslavia, into Italy, into West Germany, and beyond.
John F. Kennedy promised the same expansion of the dominions of light, when he tried to assist the Cubans in liberating their brothers and sisters from Castro, and refused to back down from the challenge of Vietnam. But his projects failed, for reasons we all know, above all because of his untimely martyrdom.
Reagan succeeded in bringing down the Muscovite empire of evil because he understood that the Soviets were bluffers, that their power rested on the hesitation of their strongest opponents. Somewhere in his soul Reagan understood that history could not stand still, and that the bourgeois revolution, the engines of entrepreneurship, contract, accountability, and individual freedom in general, must inevitably conquer the whole planet.
Shall we shrink, now, from words like"revolution"? Perhaps it would be better not to frighten the amateur thinkers in the isolationist camp, the pretentious pygmies who, knowing little of our history, tell us America never stood for anything but protection of our own shores, our own borders, our own hearths. The Hebrewphobes among them will particularly take offense at the dread word that signifies nothing more than inevitable change in the affairs of humanity, a turning of the mighty wheel of destiny. But let us not give them too much to shriek about. Some of us, like my friend Christopher Hitchens, may smile devilishly when they pronounce the words"regime change," suggesting that it was always a euphemism, and that they were for it on the barricades of Barcelona in 1937 when Orwell stood up against Stalinism, as well as in the streets of Manila in 1986 when"people power" ended the dictatorship of Marcos, and in the Nicaraguan voting booths when the Sandinista usurpers were shoved aside in 1990.
Isolationist poseurs wish the American people to forget that we were once described by Louis Kossuth, the 19th century hero of Hungarian independence, who was liberated from Russian and Austrian aggression by a" coalition of the willing" -- made up of the U.S., Britain, France, and Turkey -- in these terms:
"I have to thank the people, Congress, and government of the United States for my liberation from captivity. Human tongue has no words to express the bliss which I felt, when I -- the downtrodden Hungary's wandering chief -- saw the glorious flag of the Stripes and Stars fluttering over my head -- when I first bowed before it with deep respect -- when I saw around me the gallant officers and the crew of the Mississippi frigate -- the most of them the worthiest representatives of true American principles, American greatness, American generosity -- and to think that it was not a mere chance which cast the Star-spangled Banner around me, but that it was your protecting will -- to know that the United States of America, conscious of their glorious calling, as well as of their power, declared, by this unparalleled act, to be resolved to become the protectors of human rights -- to see a powerful vessel of America coming to far Asia to break the chains by which the mightiest despots of Europe fettered the activity of an exiled Magyar, whose very name disturbed the proud security of their sleep -- to feel restored by such a protection, and, in such a way, to freedom, and by freedom to activity; you may be well aware of what I have felt, and still feel, at the remembrance of this proud moment of my life. Others spoke -- you acted; and I was free! You acted; and at this act of yours, tyrants trembled; humanity shouted out with joy; the downtrodden people of Magyars -- the downtrodden, but not broken -- raised their heads with resolution and with hope, and the brilliancy of your Stars was greeted by Europe's oppressed nations as the morning star of rising liberty."
But enough of concern with the whimpers of the unwilling. President George W. Bush has clearly seen in the Arab and Islamic world an equivalent, for him, of what the Soviet empire represented for Reagan -- a part of the world that must inevitably also share the benefits of capitalism, democracy, prosperity, and peace. As he said on April 13,"Free societies are hopeful societies. A hopeful society is one more likely to be able to deal with the frustrations of those who are willing to commit suicide in order to represent a false ideology. A free society is a society in which somebody is more likely to be able to make a living. A free society is a society in which someone is more likely to be able to raise their child in a comfortable environment and see to it that child gets an education."
These simple phrases were not scripted. They were spontaneous, in reply to questions from reporters. And they speak to the responsibility that was always our American mission, when heroes like Kossuth looked to us for hope, and when our leaders, exemplified above all by Abraham Lincoln, proclaimed"a new birth of freedom" to the globe.
The task President Bush has assumed is an immense one, and is not without risk. When Reagan called on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Sovietism was moribund. By contrast, the Wahhabi ideology of al-Qaeda, the brutalizing brainwashing that led to horrors like the mutilations of Americans in Fallujah, remains volatile.
But I have said before, and will write now, and will argue again, that President Bush has restored to the Republican party its rightful legacy as a party of liberation. Those who, in the President's words,"don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free," will be proven wrong.
The walls that separate the Muslim world from the planetary realm of light will crumble. Iraq will not be President Bush's Vietnam, but his Berlin Wall.
Let the isolationists and Islamists, the limping leftists and recusant racists, make of it what they will: democracy will be fully globalized.
And as our greatest poet, Walt Whitman, wrote after a war wrought by another Republican war president:
"--Then turn, and be not alarm'd, O Libertad--turn your undying face,
To where the future, greater than all the past,
Is swiftly, surely preparing for you.
...One can begin to recognize that much of the news is actually an old story--recycled versions of the human folly committed by previous generations. To my eyes, the insurrection under way in Iraq looks like"little Tet"--a smaller version of the original Tet offensive the Vietcong staged in 1968. It shocks Americans in much the same way. Iraq is a"little war" compared with Vietnam, but Americans are learning, once again, that the indigenous people we "liberated" do not love us. Many want our occupying army to withdraw. Insane as it may seem to Americans, they are willing to die for this objective. But what about the schools and roads we built for them?
Every day I hear echoes from the past. George W. Bush even invokes the same phrase--"stay the course"--that four decades ago was understood, ironically, as an expression of official obstinacy and ignorance. A prominent newspaper columnist, one of the most ardent advocates of this war-for-democracy, scolds the"silent majority" in Iraq, urging them to stand up against the killers and proclaim their solidarity with the US troops. He seems angry at their cowardice. His kind of frustration was a constant theme during Vietnam too.
When popular resolve among the Vietnamese disappointed Washington, US strategists would change the government in Saigon. The US proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, fired the interior minister in charge of the Iraqi police we trained to maintain civil order, because they fled the police stations rather than shoot it out with their countrymen. The"hearts and minds" thing was never resolved in Vietnam either. After the Americans withdrew, they discovered that some of their Vietnamese employees (even in news bureaus) had been Vietcong agents all through the war.
What did you learn from that war, Grandpa? Like most Americans, I never saw the battlefield in Indochina, but I did learn painful, indelible lessons as a citizen. My grandchildren are watching this war on television, so I will tell them: I learned that the government sometimes lies to the people--big lies with awful consequences--and sometimes government begins to believe its own lies. As a reporter, I learned with embarrassment to listen to the people in the street, because sometimes they tell you things the government is concealing. Again and again, antiwar dissenters and civil-rights activists told me the FBI and CIA were spying on them, tapping their phones, infiltrating their ranks and disrupting their organizations. The stories I dismissed as paranoia all turned out to be true. I also learned that military conquest, regardless of the stated intentions, seldom succeeds in creating democracy.
The war in Iraq is different from Vietnam in one fundamental respect: A substantial portion of Americans (and others around the world) were in the streets protesting this venture before the shooting started. The media generally dismissed them and often caricatured the protesters as aging hippies on a sixties nostalgia trip. It's a pity reporters didn't listen more respectfully. Virtually every element of what has gone wrong in Iraq was cited by those demonstrators as among the reasons they opposed the march to war....
"Tell me how this ends?" an American field commander asked a battlefield reporter. I will tell him how it ought to end: Declare victory and get out. Withdraw now, not later, as responsibly as this can be arranged. That wise formulation was first proposed during the bloodiest Vietnam years by the late Senator George Aiken, a Vermont Republican. Neither LBJ nor Nixon had the courage to listen."Stay the course.""Light at the end of the tunnel.""Peace with honor." The war continued for years, with many more deaths on both sides and eventual defeat for ours. US military power can proceed now to pulverize the cities of Iraq, but there is no victory ahead, only more killing, and when it is over, a well-earned sense of shame.
William Choong, in the Straits Times (Singapore) (April 17, 2004):
A HEAVILY armed military force from a Western country takes down a Middle Eastern regime which threatens Western interests in the region. A widespread revolt breaks out. This forces the invader to hand back power to elements of the former regime.
Iraq? Obviously. But in describing the latest case of insurrection in the country, one could just as well be talking about Britain's Iraqi experience in the 1920s.
'What happened in Iraq in 1920 so closely resembles the events now that only a historical ignoramus can be surprised,' writes Mr Niall Ferguson, the author of Empire: The Rise And Demise Of The British World Order And The Lessons For Global Power.
The parallels are chilling.
During World War I, between 1914 and 1918, Britain overthrew an authoritarian regime in Baghdad. It then installed a political order that was respectful of British interests in the Persian Gulf.
In 1920, a widespread revolt ensued, comprising the country's three main ethic groups - Shi'ites, Sunni and even the Kurds. It led to thousands of British casualties.
By August that year, the desperate British commander even appealed to London for poison-gas shells - an option that Winston Churchill, then a secretary of state in the War Office, had also called for.
In the following years, Britain ceded control of the country to elites from the former regime - made up mostly of Sunnis and politicians not representative of the population.
This scenario led to the emergence of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in the 1970s.
There is no reason - as yet - to believe that Washing- ton's experience in Iraq could see the United States venturing down the British road.
The latest insurgency led by radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr is estimated to command support from less than a tenth of Iraq's 25 million people.
But the intensification of the current insurrection suggests that the US is slowly being pushed the way of Britain in the 1920s.
'A light military force whose occupation of Iraq was becoming unpopular allowed armed groups to fight with great effectiveness,' said Iraq expert Toby Dodge of Britain's Warwick University.
'That caused Britain to leave before completing the job of state-building.
'It looks like this might happen to the US as well,' he told The Straits Times.
If the US does leave before it builds a broad-based government, the Iraq of today could indeed go the way of the Iraq of the 1920s.
Ironically, the unpopular 25-member Iraqi Governing Council - whose members are considered by many Iraqis to be US puppets - looks very much like Britain's unrepresentative regime of the 1920s.
'The British were forced to give up on building a solid state with popular support. They gave power to a clique of politicians who were totally unrepresentative of the population,' said Dr Dodge.
'This is what the Americans are doing today.'
To be fair, Washington has agreed to United Nations' recommendations that the council be scrapped in place of a more broad-based interim government before power is returned to Iraqis on June 30.
But with the rise of the insurgency and an American public that is cooling towards Iraq, a British-style disengagement is possible.
Writing three months before the US invasion of Iraq in March last year, British historian Charles Tripp warned of such an outcome.
A US disengagement would 'certainly cause despair among those Iraqis who have seen the US as their main hope of radical political change,' he wrote.
'But for the US, as for the British 80 years ago, the lower risk, the lesser cost and the short-term advantages may outweigh the possible future benefits of fundamental social transformation in Iraq.'
Rick Hampson, in USA Today (April 20, 2004):
For three weeks the nation has been battered by the worst news from Iraq since the war began 13 months ago. But despite the shootings, bombings, sieges, ambushes, kidnappings and combat deaths, most Americans still support the war. And an increasing number think it should be stepped up.
Historians say that's a common reaction to attacks on U.S. forces. During the Vietnam War, for instance, polls taken immediately after the Tet offensive in 1968 showed increased support for escalating the conflict. Eventually, however, Tet was taken as a sign that the United States was not winning the war, and public opinion shifted against it.
John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University, says he thinks the same pattern will prevail in Iraq. "There won't be an abrupt drop in public support," he says, "but over time it will slowly erode." The percentage of people who describe the war as a mistake has risen in the past 12 months from 23% to 42%.
In a speech to the nation last week, Bush said a strong U.S. troop presence is needed "to protect the (interim) government from external aggression and internal subversion." He again said he would send more troops to bolster the 135,000 there if commanding Gen. John Abizaid asks for them: "If that's what he wants, that's what he gets."
Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist, says the support for an increasingly difficult war is partly explained by the fact that "unlike Vietnam, you have to look hard to find prominent voices saying 'Get out.' "
"People in the middle are taking a gut check on Iraq, but they're not in a political vacuum," he says. "They look at the president and other leaders and ask, 'Are there any other ideas out there?' "
"Even John Kerry says we should send more troops," Mueller says.
Joseph Persico, in the Montreal Gazette (April 19, 2004):
The U.S. president was receiving intelligence that an attack might occur imminently, probably not on the American mainland, but abroad.
Intercepted communications pointed to an adversary with a deadly history of surprise attacks. And, it did happen, the most horrific assault ever on U.S. territory, and one that would lead to war.
An investigation as to how so large a blow could have gone undetected was begun while the U.S. was still fighting the war.
One objective was to find out what the president knew about the threat, when did he know and what did he do to counter it?
The date in question, Dec. 7, 1941; the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Today, a commission is investigating another surprise strike against the U.S. while the earlier disaster still foments speculation and controversy 63 years later. Did Roosevelt, as conspiratorialists maintain, know that Japan was about to attack Pearl Harbor, and did he fail to head off the assault to bring the U.S. into the Second World War?
How could FDR not have known? For more than a year, U.S. cryptanalysts had been breaking a key Japanese code.
In the six months before Dec. 7, 239 messages between Tokyo and the Japanese Embassy in Washington had been deciphered.
Given the information in his possession, if asked if Japan was going to attack, Roosevelt would doubtless have answered yes. Indeed, the latest decrypted data reaching him on the eve of Pearl Harbor had prompted Roosevelt to conclude: "This means war."
But if asked if he knew where an attack would occur, he would have had to say no. The intercepts had suggested strikes against the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya and the Russian maritime provinces. But not one of the 239 messages or any intelligence source available to FDR mentioned Pearl Harbor.
The charge that Roosevelt, by failing to repel the attack, found a back door into war raises this question: which war? It was not a secret that Roosevelt wanted to join Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany and that he had essentially launched an undeclared naval war in the Atlantic. The president had told the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, however, that a fight against Japan would be "the wrong war in the wrong ocean at the wrong time."
Churchill added: "We certainly do not want an additional war." What is often overlooked is that to get into the war that he did want, FDR had to depend on Hitler. It was Germany that, four days after Pearl Harbor, declared war on the United States. Roosevelt had no motive for war against Japan.
Still, conspiracy theories suggest, for example, that radio signals had been intercepted from the Japanese task force bearing down on Pearl Harbor. Commanders of this force, with no reason to protect Roosevelt's place in history, deny they ever broke radio silence. An historian as distinguished as John Toland has written that he interviewed the Navy radioman who picked up such signals, a claim the radioman has denied.
Pearl Harbor was an intelligence failure of stunning magnitude. The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, is equally so.
Whether in 1941 or 2001, the commander in chief must bear responsibility for intelligence debacles. To assign treasonous chicanery to FDR, however, is dead wrong.
James T. Madore, in Newsday (April 18, 2004):
... [F]or more than a year, the Bush administration has strictly enforced a ban on media outlets taking pictures of soldiers' coffins being returned to U.S. military bases on grounds that it upsets mourners.
Critics say it's part of the White House's attempt to downplay the human cost of the war, which this month alone has killed at least 89 U.S. troops. As the casualties mount, the prohibition, whose origins date to 1991, has come under renewed scrutiny.
"We are disappointed and we protest the government denying news organizations access to those events of returning caskets," said Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC News' "World News Tonight." "We all remember when the various attacks against the United States occurred and the pictures of those coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base were something no one easily forgets. It's difficult to try to match that emotion and visual" with other footage, he said.
At the Washington Post, executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. also decried the news blackout, saying, "We would like to provide our readers access to all aspects of the war in Iraq, including the photos of those who have given their lives for their country."
The current ban is in sharp contrast with recent history. During the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, the Pentagon encouraged coverage of its increasingly elaborate events for those killed in Egypt, Lebanon and Grenada. President Jimmy Carter was photographed praying over the remains of airmen killed in the failed hostage rescue mission in Iran, while his successor, Ronald Reagan, was shown pinning Purple Hearts to the caskets of Marines slain in El Salvador.
Publicity for such ceremonies continued until Jan. 21, 1991, when officials started to prohibit filming at the Dover base in Delaware, home to the military's largest mortuary and the primary arrival point for remains.
There is disagreement about the reasons for the ban. Historians say then-President George Bush was angered when TV networks used a split screen to air his news briefing with reporters, in which he was seen to laugh at one point, and the coffin ceremonies during the 1991 Gulf War.
Department of Defense officials, however, say the restrictions were to protect mourners.
"Over the years, the families [of deceased service personnel] have told us that their privacy is very important in the immediate aftermath of being notified of their loss," said an official, who requested anonymity.
Despite this, exceptions were made for the return of caskets from Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown's 1996 plane crash in Croatia and the 1998 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. Officials also permitted public distribution of photographs from the coffin ceremonies for those killed in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000. And during the first two years of the current Bush administration, journalists photographed remains arriving at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
But the Pentagon now says those pictures violated a total ban instituted in November 2001 on casket pictures at all U.S. bases and led to reiteration of that ban in March 2003 - the month the Iraq war began.
Drew Brown, in the Montreal Gazette (April 18, 2004):
With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War.
The first half of April has been the bloodiest period so far for U.S. troops in Iraq. There were 87 deaths by hostile fire in the first 15 days of this month, more than in the opening two weeks of the "shock and awe" invasion, when 82 Americans were killed in action.
"This has been some pretty intense fighting," said David Segal, director of the University of Maryland's Centre for Research on Military Organization. "We're looking at what happened during the major battles of Vietnam."
The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam.
There are 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Nearly 700 American troops have died since the beginning of the war. As of Friday, 493 had been killed by hostile fire.
The Vietnam War started with a slower death rate. The United States had been involved in Vietnam for six years before total fatalities surpassed 500 in 1965, the year President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a massive buildup of forces. There were 20,000 troops in Vietnam by the end of 1964. There were more than 200,000 a year later.
By the end of 1966, U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam had reached 3,910. By 1968, the peak of U.S. involvement, there were more than 500,000 troops in the country. During the same two-week period of April that year, 752 U.S. soldiers died, according to a search of records kept by the National Archives.
U.S. officials say that comparisons with Vietnam are invalid and reject the idea that Iraq has become a quagmire.
But the two-front battle that U.S. troops have been waging against Sunni and Shiite insurgents for the past two weeks is the most widespread resistance U.S. forces have faced since the war in Iraq began.
Senior U.S. officials insist the current fighting is only a "spike" and not indicative of a widening war.
On Thursday, General Richard B. Myers, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the current fighting as a "symptom of the success" U.S. forces are having in Iraq.
"The sole intent" of the insurgents is to stop Iraq's transition to self-governance and democracy, he said.
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday that the death toll was worse than he had expected a year ago.
He also announced that more than 20,000 troops, mostly from the 1st Armored Division, would remain in Iraq for three more months to deal with the insurgency instead of coming home after a year of duty.
Those killed represent a wide range of military specialties. Truck drivers and clerks are getting killed just as often, if not more often, than infantrymen and other combat specialties. That's an indication of the kind of battlefield environment in Iraq.
"Even Vietnam was a more conventional war than this," said Charles Moskos, a sociologist with Northwestern University who specializes in military issues and worked as a correspondent in the Vietnam War. "Here in Iraq, there are no battle lines. It's all over."
The average age of a casualty in Vietnam was 20 years old. The average age of a casualty in Iraq is nearly 27. The youngest American soldier killed in Iraq was 18; the oldest was 55.
More than 12 per cent of those killed have come from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, which helps explain why the average age of the dead is higher.
"Reserve components tend to be older," Moskos said.
In a sharp departure from previous wars, 18 women have been killed, 12 of them by hostile fire, including a civilian lawyer working for the Army.
Since Vietnam, there was one attack on U.S. forces that inflicted a higher death toll than anything experienced since: 241 servicemen were killed in Beirut in 1983 when a suicide bomber from the Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah drove a truck full of explosives into their barracks.
Many experts and historians cite that attack as the beginning of America's war with Islamic terrorists.
Tony Walker, in the Australian Financial Review (fApril 17, 2004):
History seems to offer no lessons for America as it repeats a number of the serious errors it made in Vietnam one of the most notable being the lack of an exit strategy.
On August 5, 1964, US president Lyndon Baines Johnson sent a message to Congress asking for war powers to confront a communist menace in Asia. "America keeps her word. Here, as elsewhere, we must and shall honor our commitments. Our purpose is peace. We have no military, political or territorial ambitions in the area," Johnson wrote.
Forty years later, the same words could just as easily have been uttered by US President George Bush regarding another conflict in another time and another place. Indeed, the Iraq war resolution of late 2002 exposed the same sentiments.
In the so-called Tonkin Gulf resolution (US warships had been attacked in the Tonkin Gulf in the summer of 1964) of the US Congress of August 7, 1964, the Senate and the House of Representatives backed the then president as commander-in-chief, to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States to prevent further aggression".
Eleven years and 58,000 American lives later, the US exited from Vietnam after being consumed by the sort of agonising debates swirling about Washington now regarding Iraq. But the difference between now and then, apart from the obvious distinctions between Vietnam and Iraq, is that America has a model to look back on the Vietnam example.
Unfortunately, it seems to be in the process of repeating some of the same errors, including a flimsy pretext for an invasion; lack of clarity in its objectives; gross miscalculation about attitudes on the ground to its role not as liberators, but as occupiers; unreasonable confidence invested in local surrogates; and finally lack of an exit strategy. This last error is, arguably, the most significant.
In the mantra of the moment that the US cannot afford to fail (Bush in his televised press conference this week described failure as "unthinkable"), that it must stay the course, that it cannot cut and run, that the whole future of Western civilisation is at stake, what tends to be subsumed in the debate is the "what if" question.
That question has to do with the "unthinkable", in George Bush's words failure. Of course, in such complicated circumstances failure is sometimes difficult to define. What constitutes failure? When might it be reasonable to assess (success or) failure? What criteria should be used to judge failure?
Back in 1964 there were not many voices either who were contemplating failure: it's sometimes forgotten that the American media and intelligentsia were overwhelmingly for the Vietnam war in its early stages.
In the Cold War atmosphere of the time, arguments about the need to contain the spread of communism, to impede the fall of dominoes, prevailed, more or less.
Then it was the contest with the Soviet Union (and China) which shadowed the debate and complicated perceptions. Today it is the war on terror, the threat of militant Islam in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US that burdens discussion.
When a country is at war, questions like "what if" tend to be muted.
To be sure, there were a few voices in 1964 who separated themselves from the pack: Walter Lippmann, the distinguished newspaper columnist, and Hans Morgenthau, the historian, made their reservations known, the latter in his 1965 book Vietnam and the United States.
It's interesting to read today Johnson's private taped conversations with senior aides about his views at that moment of history of various individuals, Lippmann included. Johnson was extraordinarily sensitive to criticism and quite fussy about details raised by individual columnists.
Those were the days when the press, as opposed to television, was relatively all-powerful. Now, the chatter of the news channels with their gargantuan appetite for talking heads tends to drown even the most thoughtful commentary.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon thought they could bomb Vietnam into accepting democracy. George W. Bush thinks he can do it with Iraq.
But the first American president to consider how best to grow democracies - Thomas Jefferson - had some very different thoughts on the issue. LBJ and Bush would have done well to listen to his thoughtful words in a letter he wrote on February 14, 1815, to his old friend in France, the Marquis de Lafayette.
Discussing the French Revolution, the Terror that followed, and the reign of Napoleon, Jefferson noted that building democracy is an organic process: The democracy movement in the colonies had been fermenting for a century prior to Jefferson's birth.
"A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps to be expected by your nation," Jefferson wrote, about the democracy movement within France,"nor am I confident they are prepared to preserve it. More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation."
He added that it's nearly impossible to force democracy on a people, and the consequences of trying could be disastrous."Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one."
Lafayette, at the time of the French Revolution (1789), had expressed his concerns to Jefferson that the movement for democracy wasn't sufficiently widespread among the average people in France to take hold as it had in America, and they should thus make the transition via a constitutional monarchy much like today's United Kingdom. At the time, Jefferson had disagreed with his friend, but in this 1815 letter, he noted:"And I found you were right.... Unfortunately, some of the most honest and enlightened of our patriotic friends...did not weigh the hazards of a transition from one form of government to another."
Many in the revolutionary movement of France of that era opposed Lafayette's deliberate and careful push for an organic democracy, rather than a sudden lurch."You differed from them," Jefferson noted."You were for stopping there, and for securing the Constitution which the National Assembly had obtained. Here, too, you were right; and from this fatal error of the republicans, from their separation from yourself and the constitutionalists, in their councils, flowed all the subsequent sufferings and crimes of the French nation."
The lack of a truly widespread, average-citizen-based movement for democracy in France, Lafayette had privately argued to Jefferson two decades earlier, could simply lead to a transition from the tyranny of the king to another, perhaps worse, form of tyranny. While Jefferson had, at first, embraced the French revolution, in his letter to Lafayette he confessed that he had now come to agree that without a broader base of support, a sudden change of government was a disaster, and the primary beneficiaries would only be war profiteers and the rich, Frenchmen who were so opposed to democracy that they could even be called foreigners.
Thus, Jefferson wrote,"The foreigner gained time to anarchize by gold the government he could not overthrow by arms, to crush in their own councils the genuine republicans... and to turn the machine of Jacobinism from the change to the destruction of order; and, in the end, the limited monarchy they had secured was exchanged for the unprincipled and bloody tyranny of Robespierre, and the equally unprincipled and maniac tyranny of Bonaparte."
Comparing France to America, Jefferson noted how - unlike France - we had overthrown an external occupier all by ourselves. For American colonists, the repression and occupation of the English in the Colonies"has helped rather than hurt us, by arousing the general indignation of our country, and by marking to the world of Europe the vandalism and brutal character of the English government. It has merely served to immortalize their infamy."
And now Arab leaders like Egypt's Mubarak say that, across the Arab world, our infamy is being immortalized by Bush's unprovoked invasion and occupation of oil-rich Iraq. America, Mubarak says, faces"a hatred never equaled" in the Middle East, even as Iraq totters on the edge of civil war.
It's as if the cycles of history are repeating themselves, and Iraq may now suffer the Terrors that racked France in the 19th Century....
James Lilley, former ambassador to China, in the WSJ (April 19, 2004):
... Our experience tells us that Americans usually are not smart enough to master the intricacies of Chinese history. Our principles for shaping a framework have thus evolved from circumstances at the time: We supported One China because both Chinese sides wanted it in the 1970s when we first opened to China. Then, when China seemed to emphasize armed intervention if its demands were not met, we adopted the concept of peaceful resolution and we had the wherewithal to back this up. Later in the 1980s, we supported both sides working together to expand trade and exchanges. All of this has led to formidable progress in cross-Strait relations. In the 1950s, military action dominated; but by the 1990s millions of Chinese were crossing the Strait, investment was at an all-time high, and Chinese and Taiwan leaders were meeting and talking at the highest levels, both unofficially and through a formal arrangement worked out by them.
The implicit American premise was that a secure and stable Taiwan would be a more willing and successful partner in dealing with China. Judicious arms sales to Taiwan were part of this formula and in the past it has worked. The large arms sales package and President Reagan's personal support contributed to the breakthrough in 1987, when President Chiang Ching-kuo of Taiwan lifted martial law and agreed to the China opening. Our large arms sale to Taiwan in 1992 was followed quickly by the two sides agreeing to disagree on a One-China formula and then agreeing to meet in Singapore formally in April 1993 -- for the first time since the Chinese Communists took over the mainland in 1949.
If elements of this broader formula are disregarded by the current Taiwan authorities, however, then the successful historic pattern has been broken. U.S. military support and arms sales cannot be used by Taiwan to move away from China -- they were meant to make Taiwan feel secure enough to move toward accommodation with China. Our support should be conditional on upholding our successful pattern. The U.S. needs to continue to maintain a quiet deterrence to any mainland military action against Taiwan. But just as arms sales, deterrence and the Taiwan Relations Act are leverage for Taiwan, China has in its favor the Three Communiqués the U.S. signed with Beijing, military power and geographical advantage....
Mike Davis, in www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (April 19, 2004):
The young American Marine is exultant."It's a sniper's dream,' he tells a Los Angeles Times reporter on the outskirts of Fallujah."You can go anywhere and there so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are."
"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies. Then I'll use a second shot."
"To take a bad guy out," he explains,"is an incomparable"adrenaline rush." He brags of having"24 confirmed kills" in the initial phase of the brutal U.S. onslaught against the rebel city of 300,000 people.
Faced with intransigent popular resistance that recalls the heroic Vietcong defense of Hue in 1968, the Marines have again unleashed indiscriminate terror. According to independent journalists and local medical workers, they have slaughtered at least two hundred women and children in the first two weeks of fighting.
The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflicts unfolding in Shiia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington's ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the"key battlespace of the future" -- the Third World city.
The Mogadishu debacle of 1993, when neighborhood militias inflicted 60% casualties on elite Army Rangers, forced U.S. strategists to rethink what is known in Pentagonese as MOUT:"Militarized Operations on Urbanized Terrain." Ultimately, a National Defense Panel review in December 1997 castigated the Army as unprepared for protracted combat in the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third World.
As a result, the four armed services, coordinated by the Joint Staff Urban Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic third-world conditions."The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared,"lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world."
Israeli advisors were quietly brought in to teach Marines, Rangers, and Navy Seals the state-of-the-art tactics -- especially the sophisticated coordination of sniper and demolition teams with heavy armor and overwhelming airpower -- so ruthlessly used by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza and the West Bank.
Artificial cityscapes (complete with"smoke and sound systems") were built to simulate combat conditions in densely populated neighborhoods of cities like Baghdad or Port-au-Prince. The Marine Corps Urban Warfighting Laboratory also staged realistic war games ("Urban Warrior") in Oakland and Chicago, while the Army's Special Operations Command"invaded" Pittsburgh.
Today, many of the Marines inside Fallujah are graduates of these Urban Warrior exercises as well as mock combat at"Yodaville" (the Urban Training Facility in Yuma, Arizona), while some of the Army units encircling Najaf and the Baghdad slum neighborhood of Sadr City are alumni of the new $34 million MOUT simulator at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
This tactical"Israelization" of U.S. combat doctrine has been accompanied by what might be called a"Sharonization" of the Pentagon's worldview. Military theorists are now deeply involved in imagining how the evolving capacity of high-tech warfare can contain, if not destroy, chronic"terrorist" insurgencies rooted in the desperation of growing megaslums....
J. Sean Curtin, a GLOCOM fellow at the Tokyo-based Japanese Institute of Global Communications, in Japan Focus (April 2004):
The dramatic abduction of three Japanese civilians in Iraq -- hostage bargaining chips -- is reverberating throughout Japan, casting a long shadow over the future of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Iraq policy of dispatching troops on a humanitarian mission to help the United States there. It evokes memories of hostage-taking during Lebanon's civil war, cases that dragged on for years with scant progress and abundant tears.
Koizumi is facing his darkest hour, and as one of the US' closest allies, is coming under tremendous pressure to withdraw Japan's 550 troops from Iraq, a move that would further, and very significantly erode the already shaky credibility of the US-led coalition in Iraq. Japanese public opinion -- divided over dispatching troops in the first place -- currently is split over whether Japanese soldiers should quit Iraq. Meanwhile, Japanese and most other foreigners are fleeing Iraq en masse as the country descends into what some fear may become a Lebanese-style quagmire of hostage-taking.
To most Japanese, the sudden explosion of violence and hostage-taking has made their country's strictly humanitarian mission seem futile, since nearly all their troops are now tightly barricaded in a heavily protected fort about 10 kilometers outside the southern city of Samawah. Some commentators are even describing the current situation as Lebanon, Vietnam and the Palestinian intifada all rolled into one.
Dr Pierre Serhal, a leading Beirut surgeon and son of a prominent lawmaker, is pessimistic about the hostage crisis. He believes that the foreign captives may be in for a protracted ordeal because US foreign policy is creating instability in the entire Middle East.
"From a Lebanese perspective, Iraq is turning into the same kind of hostage nightmare we had in Beirut during the 1980s," he told Asia Times Online."I am very worried for the Japanese and other hostages, because I can only see things getting worse. I am a Christian, not a Muslim, but I feel American policy is a complete disaster for the whole region. The occupation of Iraq and the total neglect of any meaningful advances in the Israel-Palestine conflict are inflaming Arab opinion so much that it threatens the stability of every country in the region. Unless things radically change, there is little hope for the hostages, or indeed for the people who live here."
James Bennet, in the NYT (April 10, 2004):
Americans struggling to make sense, or maybe political hay, out of the violence convulsing Iraq turn almost reflexively to the searing experience of the Vietnam War.
Israel is haunted by another parallel: its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which for Israelis of a certain generation was their Vietnam. It, too, was envisioned as a bold mission to combat terrorism and reshape part of this region to be stable and friendly to the West.
"In Lebanon, we tried to figure out what was similar to what went on in Vietnam," said Avraham Burg, a member of the Israeli Parliament who went to Lebanon as an officer in the paratroopers and returned to lead a movement against that war."You have a circle here: it's Vietnam, Lebanon and Baghdad."
The uncertain combat zones of Vietnam and Lebanon posed nightmarish challenges to soldiers. Those challenges may seem familiar to marines in Iraq as they try to sift enemies from civilians, without alienating most Iraqis.
"People look at the map and they say, `This is a desert, this isn't a jungle,'" said Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations and anthropology at Boston University."The point is there are functional equivalents to jungles. In this case, they're cities. They're just as impenetrable to us as the jungles were 40 years ago."
Dr. Norton, an expert on the Middle East, fought in Vietnam and later served as a United Nations peacekeeper in southern Lebanon.
At a grander level, a level of global strategy and even myth-making, Iraq has echoes of Vietnam, which was presented by the White House as a test of American resolve against a rising international menace, Communism.
But in terms of specific, stated objectives for the application of military force, Iraq looks more like Lebanon.
In Vietnam the Americans had a clear if shaky client, the South Vietnamese government, and an enemy, North Vietnam, with a strong political structure.
In Lebanon the Israelis, like the Americans in Iraq, plunged into a vacuum — or more precisely into a maelstrom of political and religious rivalries.
"The problem of how to rule a society that is divided, a country that does not exist as a state with a central authority with legitimacy — this is a problem Israel faced in the 1980's in Lebanon, and the United States now faces in Iraq," said Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv.
When they invaded, the Israelis were showered with rice by Shiites who lived in fear of Palestinian militants. Within a year, they were being bled by the Shiites, whom they failed to enlist as allies."In the Middle East — as in many places around the world — the enemy of my enemy can be my enemy as well," Mr. Burg said.
Noting that tens of thousands of Americans died in Vietnam, Dr. Norton said,"The Vietnam parallel is a bit of a stretch, in terms of scale. But I do think the Lebanon one is striking."...
Paul Krugman, in the NYT (April 16, 2004):
Iraq isn't Vietnam. The most important difference is the death toll, which is only a small fraction of the carnage in Indochina. But there are also real parallels, and in some ways Iraq looks worse.
It's true that the current American force in Iraq is much smaller than the Army we sent to Vietnam. But the U.S. military as a whole, and the Army in particular, is also much smaller than it was in 1968. Measured by the share of our military strength it ties down, Iraq is a Vietnam-size conflict.
And the stress Iraq places on our military is, if anything, worse. In Vietnam, American forces consisted mainly of short-term draftees, who returned to civilian life after their tours of duty. Our Iraq force consists of long-term volunteers, including reservists who never expected to be called up for extended missions overseas. The training of these volunteers, their morale and their willingness to re-enlist will suffer severely if they are called upon to spend years fighting a guerrilla war.
Some hawks say this proves that we need a bigger Army. But President Bush hasn't called for larger forces. In fact, he seems unwilling to pay for the forces we have.
A fiscal comparison of George Bush's and Lyndon Johnson's policies makes the Vietnam era seem like a golden age of personal responsibility. At first, Johnson was reluctant to face up to the cost of the war. But in 1968 he bit the bullet, raising taxes and cutting spending; he turned a large deficit into a surplus the next year. A comparable program today — the budget went from a deficit of 3.2 percent of G.D.P. to a 0.3 percent surplus in just one year — would eliminate most of our budget deficit.
By contrast, Mr. Bush, for all his talk about staying the course, hasn't been willing to strike anything off his domestic wish list. On the contrary, he used the initial glow of apparent success in Iraq to ram through yet another tax cut, waiting until later to tell us about the extra $87 billion he needed. And he's still at it: in his press conference on Tuesday he said nothing about the $50 billion-to-$70 billion extra that everyone knows will be needed to pay for continuing operations.
This fiscal chicanery is part of a larger pattern. Vietnam shook the nation's confidence not just because we lost, but because our leaders didn't tell us the truth. Last September Gen. Anthony Zinni spoke of"Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies," and asked his audience of military officers,"Is it happening again?" Sure enough, the parallels are proliferating. Gulf of Tonkin attack, meet nonexistent W.M.D. and Al Qaeda links."Hearts and minds," meet"welcome us as liberators.""Light at the end of the tunnel," meet"turned the corner." Vietnamization, meet the new Iraqi Army.
Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, and the author of The Two Faces of Islam, in frontpagemag.com , in (April 14, 2004):
...Some wishful-thinking enemies of Iraqi liberation even sought to compare the disorders with the Tet offensive of 1968, when a massive North Vietnamese attack on South Vietnamese and American forces contributed significantly to domestic U.S. disaffection with the Vietnam engagement. But the "Shia uprising" had various aspects that, from its beginning, doomed it to failure.
It was nothing like Tet, which involved tens of thousands of North Vietnamese regulars, well-trained, well-armed, disciplined, and highly motivated. The so-called "Army of the Mahdi" cobbled together by the power-hungry young Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and launched against the coalition, is an irregular militia.
In addition, the 30-year old al-Sadr lacks the political credibility of the North Vietnamese, to say nothing of the more charismatic figures in recent Shia Muslim history, such as Ayatollah Khomeini. Muqtada al-Sadr launched his bid for disruption precisely because he lacks religious credentials and public standing among the Iraqi Shias.
Shia Islam embodies a seniority system of leadership. Young aspirants count for very little in Shi'ism; all power, respect, and decision-making resides in the hands of the ayatollahs, who are greybearded, veteran scholars admired and even venerated for their learning, writing, and theological sophistication. In this regard, Shia Islam most resembles the Orthodox tradition in Christianity; Muqtada al-Sadr has no more capacity to mobilize a majority of the Iraqi Shias than a lone Greek priest from the island of Crete would have to challenge the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul.
Al-Sadr has only one asset: his family name. His father, uncle, and two brothers were prominent Shia clerics murdered by Saddam Hussein's minions. But although martyrdom is the central motif in Shia Islam, family glory is insufficient for the young al-Sadr to usurp authority from such figures as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the dominant figure in Iraqi Shiism, even though Sistani is Iranian, not Iraqi.
Al-Sadr has challenged Sistani's authority since the liberation of Iraq was accomplished. The younger man's lust for power is also now seen behind the tragic murder of another youthful Shia cleric, Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, in the holy city of Najaf a year ago. Al-Khoei was known for moderation and modernism. His father, Grand Ayatollah Abul Qasim al-Khoei, who died in 1992, was best known in the Islamic world for rejecting Ayatollah Khomeini's scheme for clerical rule, known as "wilaya ul-faqih." Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei argued that religious and political leadership should remain separate from one another. The al-Khoei legacy supported reconciliation between the U.S. and Iran, and the al-Khoei Foundation maintains offices in New York and London.
Louis Freeh was and remains an intelligent, talented man and a true patriot. But that cannot stop us from judging his performance at the helm of the FBI – and the verdict is dismal. The problem was Freeh identified too well with the rank-and-file agent, according to investigative reporter and author Ronald Kessler.
“Freeh viewed his job as directing major cases, which would be like the chairman of GE designing a jet engine or sitting in for Tom Brokaw on NBC's Nightly News ,” Kessler writes in, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI . “From procurement of computers to the services the bureau provides law enforcement, Freeh ignored what goes on in the rest of the bureau. With only six years as an agent, Freeh had never supervised a case, yet he considered himself the bureau's premier case agent.”
By ignoring the less glamorous duties of his post, Freeh put the FBI in a terribly disadvantaged position. The FBI's intra-office computer system was old and ineffectual. The 56k modems the agency used were so slow, agents frequently communicated using faxes instead. Inevitably, many of these memos were lost. There were so few around that numerous agents had to share computers. While Freeh diverted millions of dollars overseas to establish FBI bases (a desirable goal), the agency's headquarters here in America were falling into disrepair. The Information Technology programs the FBI did undertake went millions and millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. In the absence of results even by the pathetic standards of the U.S. Congress, further monies were withheld. Freeh himself, despite his pro-technology rhetoric, booted the computer out of his office on day one and, incredibly, never used e-mail during his tenure as Director.
Freeh, then as now, complained that the real problem was the stinginess of the U.S. government. But a look at the numbers suggests otherwise. Between fiscal year 1992 and 1997 the FBI's budget increased 45 percent, from $2 billon to just under $3 billion. By 2001, the Bureau's budget stood at $3.4 billion. Freeh himself bragged about these increases as he left office. Those substantial increases point to a problem in management. A December 2002 audit by the Justice Department's Inspector General complained of the bureau's “inability to effectively complete IT projects within budget and schedule,” which had “reduced the FBI's credibility in the eyes of Congress.”
Just how bad did it get? Many of the FBI's computer systems not even have the technology to incorporate a mouse. “To store a single document on the Automated Case Support system required twelve separate computer commands,” Kessler writes. “On these green screened machines, the FBI could search for the word ‘flight' or the word ‘schools' – retrieving millions of documents each time – but not for ‘flight schools.' The CIA, in contrast, had been able to perform searches for ‘flight schools' on its computers since 1958.”
Having a former agent as Director was turning out to not be the plus it once was suggested to be, either. The distaste for supervisors he nursed as an agent came bubbling back to the surface. In The Bureau , Kessler quotes Freeh telling his assistant directors that he wanted them to “talk straight” with him. “If I'm full of sh-t, I want you to tell me,” he said, according to Kessler. Staff quickly learned that Freeh was not sincere about his desire for such dissent. Those who told him what he wanted to hear moved up the FBI ladder quickly, those who did not were ignored, shunned, and given “icy glares.” He would tell people their questions were “stupid,” rather than answering them. “Freeh killed the messenger,” one agent told Kessler. “After a while there were no more messengers.” Freeh's distaste for managers led him to decrease the number of agents assigned to headquarters by 37 percent. On the surface, the idea of putting more agents on the streets is attractive, but in practice it led to disarray at headquarters, which made everyone's job more difficult.
On Tuesday, Freeh told the 9/11 Commission he believed “that al-Qaeda declared war on the United States in 1996.” (And admittedly, he took a great deal of interest in the investigation into the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia the same year.) However, Freeh's congressional testimony in 1999 gives the lie to that. It appears his view of terrorsm took the PC posture of the Clinton administration. In that testimony two years before September 11 – and three years after he believed Osama bin Laden had “declared war” – Freeh said that the United States had “little credible intelligence at this time indicating that international or domestic terrorists are planning to attack United States interests domestically.” Instead, he insisted Americans were more threatened by “extremist splinter elements of right-wing groups.”
Among these domestic terrorists, Freeh included “militias,” “white-separatist groups,” “anti-government groups” (like Rush Limbaugh listeners), the “anti-abortion” (the overwhelmingly church-going, pro-life) movement, and “tax protestors.” That is, Freeh and Clinton were wary of being attacked by the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Despite the handicaps imposed by flawed leadership, the FBI's hardworking agents prevented 40 major terrorist attacks during the 1990s, saving thousands of lives. But even now, Freeh doesn't accept that the FBI had a blind spot on September 11. To this day, he maintains that he ran the agency well despite the allegedly tight-fisted ways of Congress. After years of ignoring the ever-depreciating technology in the FBI, citizen Freeh now insists before Congress that the Bureau's encryption software must be brought up to date. Why was this item not on his agenda during his eight years as Director?