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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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November 8, 2003


I know. Everyone says Iraq is not like Vietnam. I accept that.

But the feeling lingers. It is still looking pretty swampy terrain for the US. They do seem to be getting bogged down, Baghdad is a hostile city and Iraq is a divided nation regionally and religiously. Washington is faced with the choice between the risks of disorder due to the lack of troops and civil war if it arms Iraqis.

And the similarities? The US's uncritical faith in its overwhelming firepower, its modern equipment, mobility, and mastery of the skies. But war in Iraq, as in Vietnam will ultimately be won politically.

Meanwhile, the imperial president gives a stirring speech about freedom and democracy so shape public opinion in the US It announced changing the old practice of America's long-standing policy of tolerating corrupt and brutal Middle Eastern, pro-American autocrats in the name of realism and national security. Democracy was a secondary consideration.

Is that the kiss of death for Saudi Arabia? Not quite. Yesterday's corrupt autocracies are today's potential democracies for the imperial president:

"The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections. By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region."

What about those Arab societies that are actual democracies to the extent that they have a parliament with substantive budgetary and oversight powers and hold elections? Iran, it seems, is just not democratic enough for Washington:

"As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it? In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw last month when thousands gathered to welcome home Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The regime in Teheran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy."

Freedom and democracy huh. How come Saudi Arabia is a more legitimate regime in the eyes of Washington than Iran?

I accept that the Bush speech was about changing past practices and policies in the Middle East. But the hand of history weighs heavily here. It will take more than a neo-con speech about making the world better by bringing democracy to the Middle East to lift the weight of that colonial hand of history. The Europeans and Amercians created the Middle East, drew its borders and weaned and supported their grotesque dictators.

Since bringing democracy to the Middle East will bring the fundamental Islamists into power (ie., those whom the US has defined as the enemy), the imperial president's speech is about the credibility of America's military power and strategy.I would suggest that the US under the Bush administration is deeply unpopular in the Middle East. Apart from Israel, the populations of the nation-states would be hostile to the US military presence in the region.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:45 PM | | Comments (6)


Iran is not an Arab country.


you've got me stumped Scott.

Iranians are not Arabs. They speak Persian, and don't consider themselves to be Arabic at all. Nor do the Arabs like them much either. Saddam Hussain used to beat the drum of Arab nationalism to whip up support during the Iran/Iraq war.

Iranian society is different. They may all look alike from a distance, but on the ground, there are major differences.

Point taken.

And of course the differences between Iraq and Viet Nam are even greater than the differences between iraq and Iran.

Differences dont matter in one important respect. The common element is the US. The cunning nationalist reads history and learns the lessons of Vietnam.

The US is a "can do" culture, and if the government "can't do", the people want out.

And in some ways the Iraq situation is potentially worse. In Vietnam there was a government to do all that highly exposed stuff; here its the invading armies who are terribly exposed.

In Vietnam there was at least the illusion that whacking the North and Cambodia would cut supply and wither resistence on the vine. Here there is no surrounding state to take on; the ordnance is there on the ground; individual activists travel back and forth through porous borders.

The Vietnamese were not suicide bombers. Militarily, it is a frightfully effective weapon.

Vietnam did not have the hugely exposed infrastructure of electricity and oil. Blowing up stuff caused local problems; the same attacks here hit the basic intent of the Americans - get the oil flowing, satisfy public opinion, make the place safe for private enterprise foreign companies to make it over.

And, as for all hindsight, in Vietnam the Americans did not have the history of their Vietnam to spook them.

And Vietnam, for a long time, was the Democrat's war. There was not the frisky political apparatus just waiting to exploit failure - the Republicans promised to deliver more war to end the war.

They may get away with it. Iraqi public opinion might swing behind a social democratic answer to their problem - but I doubt it. I really hope they can, of course.