How to Spell Quagmire

by Mina Hamilton

Dissident Voice

April 11, 2003


Bush & Co crow over the "fall" of Baghdad.  TV anchors and pundits trumpet the glorious victory.  American troops are cheered.  


Indeed, many Iraqis are celebrating the downfall of a brutal dictator.   There's, however, a big red light flashing: Almost every thumbs-up quote from a "jubilant" Iraqi follows with a comment opposing a long US occupation. "America short-term, okay.  America long-term, bad." (1)


The message is clear: A brutal dictatorship must not be replaced with US colonialism. 


Another warning signal:  Lawlessness and chaos spread with massive looting.  Even hospitals are attacked by armed thugs. 


Coming next?  The US/UK installs some form of government.  It might be a military regime headed by an unknown general.  It might be a regime headed by the wealthy, MIT graduate, Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi who hasn't set foot in Iraq for 45 years!  Who knows what "leader" the Bushies have in mind, but "jubilance" could segue into warring factions in a matter of weeks or months.


It's not hard to imagine a quagmire.  Revenge killings and guerrilla warfare ensues.  Suicide bombings escalate.  Despite American military might, the US/UK can't pacify the country and, because of the oil, can't get out.


The pro-war pundits repeatedly reassure us it's not Vietnam.  Indeed Iraq seems potentially much worse than Vietnam, particularly given the factor of the Kurds, the Turks, the Shi'is, and the Sunnis.  All are likely soon to be at each other's throats and in the middle are US/UK occupying troops trying to maintain some semblance of peace. 


Despite the differences between Iraq and Vietnam, the latter has some powerful lessons that it's useful to remember.  A spelling game is in order.


Q is for quisling.  A term coined during the 1940 Nazi occupation of Norway, a quisling collaborates with the country's invaders, forming a puppet government. 


US foreign policy has long favored quislings.  The most notorious being unpopular leaders we installed decades ago in Vietnam. 


In 1954 the US chose Ngo Dinh Diem, an autocratic Catholic to head South Vietnam, home of a predominantly Buddhist and peasant population. 


Diem's first action on becoming President?  He hunted down and killed Vietnamese who, for years, had fought a war of liberation against French colonialists.  Diem instantly won the enmity of the populace.   Nine years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later the US realized it was backing a dead horse. (2) 


Fast-forward forty years.  Meet Jay Garner, (fresh from his stint with a defense contractor) and his band of ex-CIA and ex-Voice of America honchos.  This is a Wolfowitz-selected, Pentagon-directed gang. 


Democracy?  Are you kidding?  Wolfowitz's friends will nix a true democracy, since that would give Iraqis control of their own oil.  Enter Iraqi quislings, 2003-style.


Presto: A set-up for a long, drawn-out fight with Iraqi nationalists determined to wrest the government away from US puppets.


U is for underfed.  Americans were hated in Vietnam.  One reason?  We destroyed the source of food.  We bombed rice fields.  We shot water buffaloes.  We defoliated what was once a lavish, rich land.


The peasants began to starve.  They were herded into concentration camps or headed off to beg in Saigon.


In Iraq starvation is already placing millions at risk. The UN says over 60% of the population, almost 14 million, are dependent upon food rations.  The war has stopped the distribution of rations. 


Water supplies are in jeopardy.  Hospitals, in particular, are at risk.  As the future US/UK-installed government struggles to impose its authority, these shortages are likely to remain a problem.


Iraqis don't like starving any more than the Vietnamese did.  Neither will the Iraqis enjoy dying of thirst or seeing their children die of diarrhea, caused by drinking polluted water.


A is for air strikes.  Aerial warfare inspires hatred.  Americans saw this in our unified response of outrage to the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center.  The carpet-bombing of B-52's over North and South Vietnam resulted in a fierce determination by the bombed peoples to fight back. 


Already the Iraqi people are livid over the deaths and maiming caused by non-precise, US bombing.  Listen to the 26-year-old whose leg was amputated after a missile hit his car, "Why would the Americans do this to me? We Iraqis will never accept that this country is ruled by anybody but Iraqis, so we will fight to the last drop of our blood." (3)


When word gets out about horrendous attacks on children, such as that seen in the Hilla hospital by Red Cross doctors, including small toddlers missing arms and legs and truckloads of dismembered bodies, Iraqi hatred will deepen. (4)


Add a civil war to the mix and the outlook isn't pretty.


G is for genocide.  When ordinary citizens oppose an invading army, the result can be genocide:  to "win" an entire nation has to be destroyed.


In Vietnam, Americans were clueless as to who was Charlie or the VC.  Reporter Jonathan Schell watched US military patrols kill peasants.  He would ask, How did you know that was Charlie?  The answers: "They had on black pajamas." "They were running." "They keep looking up at planes flying overhead." "They tried to hide under the trees."  And my favorite, "he walked real proud, instead of shuffling along like a farmer." (5)


Conveniently forgotten?  All peasants in Vietnam wore black pajamas.  A people under bombardment usually try to hide.  They often anxiously look up at planes.


Genocide has not occurred in Iraq, but the blood of many innocent civilians has been spilled.  Within days of the beginning of the war, American soldiers were complaining they couldn't identify "unfriendlies."   An article in the Guardian on April 1 reported a soldier saying, "How do we know who the enemy is?" (6)


As resistance builds to an American occupation, the identity of the enemy is likely to become more confused - and US/UK moral compunctions about killing civilians will dwindle.


M is for manipulation of the media.  When the media becomes a propaganda machine for the military, people start believing nonsense.  Nonsense feeds quagmires. 


During the Vietnam War, the media dutifully reported how we were "winning."  All we needed was just a few more bombing raids, just a few more troops…


In Week Three, the establishment media rolls out the superlatives to describe victory in Baghdad. 


The TV anchors don't mention that the Pentagon says 100,000 American troops will be needed to police postwar Iraq or that General Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, wants even more for this task: several hundred thousand . . . 


The Talking Heads don't refer to Wolfowitz who says the occupation will last, at least, six months…


I is for intransigence.  Eventually, it became clear that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.  But Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger and others who plunged the US into the morass - and who caused the death of 58,000 GI's and two million Vietnamese -- were unwilling to admit error.  Long after the writing was on the wall, the conflict went on.  This happened in Vietnam. 


It could easily happen in Iraq with an occupation extending for decades into the future.   


R is for racism.  Soldiers kill best when they're racists.  In Vietnam, the enemy became Dinks and Gooks. 


Although discrimination against Arabs has been a feature of US society for years, watch the anti-Arab racism increase once the days of "jubilation" are over and revenge killing and guerrilla warfare begins. 


One nasty result of racial stereotyping?  "They" don't experience human emotions, like love. 


In Vietnam, the US was astonished because the Vietnamese fought back.  Waves upon waves of Vietcong soldiers were wiped out.  Then more appeared.  The US explanation?   The Vietnamese thought life was cheap.  They were willing to die.  Left out of the picture was the Vietnamese's close family structure.  They hated seeing loved-ones murdered. 


During the first weeks of the Iraq war, TV anchors, the US military brass and US ground troops kept wagging their heads and asking, Huh, why are the Iraqis fighting?  It must be because Saddam is threatening their families.


Left out of the equation: Iraqis love their families.  Why would the parents of sons slaughtered in the current invasion not fight back?  Why would the father of a dying 5-year-old -- dying because US-led sanctions stopped medical supplies from reaching Iraq -- like the invader?  Why would relatives of victims riddled with shrapnel cheer the US?


Once it becomes clear that the US/UK forces aren't leaving soon and/or have picked an unpopular quisling to govern, the Iraqis will demonstrate other normal human emotions, like anger and hate. 


E is for empire.  Always, without fail, empires topple.  They crumble.  Why?  People hate being occupied by foreigners.  The Roman Empire fell, the Persian Empire fell, the Russian Empire fell. The American Empire will also fall.  Until it does, untold suffering will result.


Quagmire.  There's only one cure.  No occupation of Iraq.  Bring home the troops.  Leave Iraqi oil to the Iraqis.  Let a neutral, third force rebuild this devastated land.


Mina Hamilton is a writer living in New York City.  She can be reached at minaham@aol.com. 




(1) WBAI radio interview, Democracy Now!, April 11,2003


(2) Young, M., The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990, (Harper Perennial, 1991), p. 45.


(3) Hicks, T. and Burns, J., New York Times, "Iraq Shows Casualties in Hospital, April 3, 2002, p. B2


(4) Canadian Press, "Red Cross Horrified by Number of Dead Civilians," April 4, 2003 at www.ctv.ca


(5) Schell, J., The Military Half: An Account of Destruction in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin, 1964, pgs 95-115.


(6) The Guardian, Morris, S., "US Troops Accused of Excess Force," April 1, 2003 at www.guardian.co.uk



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