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The Real Lesson of the Iraq Invasion: Invading Iraq Really Was Republican

By       Message Eric Zuesse     Permalink
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Democratic Presidents and Republican Presidents choose very different types of wars, for very different types of purposes; and the 2003 invasion of Iraq was characteristically very much the type of thing that Republican Presidents tend to do. History makes this clear.

World Wars I and II were Democratic wars, which Democratic Presidents (Wilson and FDR) waged and won, in the face of stiff Republican (and Dixiecrat, equally conservative) "isolationist" opposition. Both Democratic Presidents wanted the U.S. to enter both of those wars, which were started not on their own initiatives, but on the initiatives of actual foreign aggressors. And these Democratic wars were correct wars for the United States to enter. We didn't start them; we didn't invade; U.S. national security really was being threatened by hostile foreign powers, on both of those occasions. By contrast, the Vietnam War was a misbegotten war that would never have been waged if the Democrat JFK had remained President, and that Lyndon Johnson entered only with great reluctance, doing so only because he feared the demagogic accusations, from Republicans, alleging Democrats to be "soft on communism." This misbegotten Republican-driven war in Vietnam was then adopted by the fanatically anti-communist Republican Party, which had succeeded at goading Americans to invade Vietnam. Republican President Richard Nixon continued this war by carpet-bombing not just Vietnam but much of Southeast Asia, before he finally surrendered in defeat and withdrew from Vietnam -- with Nixon's anti-Vietnam-War Democratic opponent George McGovern and other anti-war Democrats receiving the blame from the power-worshipping American masses for this defeat, as if "winning" in Vietnam would have been realistically possible, or even important.

Vietnam was thus a Republican war that started on a Democratic watch. Of course, it ended on the watch of a Republican President, Nixon, who extended it from 1968 to 1975 by his trying to bomb North Vietnam "into submission," before finally deciding to flee Vietnam, chaotically, on 30 April 1975.

In a profound sense, there is no truthful analogy between the way that the U.S. came to invade Vietnam in 1964, and the way that we invaded Iraq in 2003. George W. Bush knowingly lied about the evidence in order to win the support of the American people to invade Iraq. (I document this in my 2004 IRAQ WAR: The Truth. I show there that what he lied about was not that WMD were being built and stockpiled in Iraq, but that he possessed solid evidence of that; he actually possessed none whatsoever, and his Administration cooked up the fraudulent "evidence" that he did cite -- so he definitely lied the U.S. into that invasion. That's treason, and he did it.)

Lyndon Johnson didn't lie the country into invading Vietnam -- he was authentically deceived, in that instance, by wrong intelligence. (For Bush, massive intelligence-failure was his excuse and rationalization; for LBJ, a single intelligence-failure and tragedy was his reality and the true explanation for why we invaded.) "N.S.A. officials deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes," as Scott Shane reported in the 31 October 2005 New York Times, under the page-one headline, "Vietnam Study, Casting Doubts, Remains Secret." Shane revealed that the NSA, presumably late in the Bill Clinton Administration, had commissioned a historical investigation of precisely how the U.S. had come to invade Vietnam. "The N.S.A. historian " concluded that they had done it not out of any political motive but to cover up earlier errors." Key here were "a pattern of translation errors" and other blunders, which (in ways that Mr. Shane failed to discuss) caused officials to believe -- it turned out tragically mistakenly -- that the North Vietnamese had attacked U.S. boats, on 4 August 1964, in the Gulf of Tonkin. Then, "midlevel agency officers " deliberately skewed the evidence" to fit those previous errors, and President Johnson consequently ordered a U.S. military response. However, the Bush Administration suppressed this massively important report, when it was completed in 2001, and did not release it to the public, because Bush was then planning to invade Iraq (he called it "regime change in Iraq"), and he knew that his final and last-ditch defense against possible accusations which might come his way, saying that he had deceived the nation into an invasion of Iraq, would be that a Democratic President had done the very same thing in 1964. This false argument would be Bush's trump card against the Democrats, and he knew it and he wanted to preserve that option. The New York Times, being a Republican newspaper in its news reporting (even though Democratic in its editorials) characteristically thus played down, in this news report, its actually key revelation, which should have been its headline and its lead sentence -- that President Johnson actually had been misled by an intelligence-failure, into invading Vietnam. This crucial information was instead buried, because of what had motivated the Bush Administration to withhold the publication of this key historical study in the first place. This news report acknowledged only that, in 2002, "government historians argued that it should be made public. But their effort was rebuffed by higher-level agency policy-makers, who by the next year [2002] were fearful that it might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar with some internal discussions of the matter." Wow! Higher-level policy-makers having this "fear," at that time, from 2002 on through 2005, which was both prior to and following the invasion of Iraq, displays the Bush Administration's having actually been uncertain about Saddam's alleged "weapons of mass destruction" -- the purported cause de guerre for us to invade. In other words: Bush's team were careful to hide this report, because of their wish to retain the cover that LBJ, too, had invaded under a false pretext -- i.e., that lying the nation into a war wasn't "just" a Republican practice. But it was. And this Times news story buried that startling and crucially important revelation.  

This Clinton-initiated study was being suppressed in the lead-up to Bush's first congressional mid-term elections, when the President's ability to get his programs passed through Congress would be largely determined by what the voters would decide. This news revelation, of not only intelligence-manipulation but political manipulation of the American public, by the Bush Administration, and of a truly tragic and innocent intelligence-failure by the Johnson Administration, would have been disastrous for Bush, and was quite possibly the most important news of all, not only within this particular NYT article, but perhaps throughout the entire G.W. Bush Presidency. This information discredited the myth that President Johnson had "lied the nation into war," just as George W. Bush was now actually implicitly exposed here as having been doing: manipulating the public into approving, and then into accepting, this invasion and occupation of Iraq. Removing the Johnson-Vietnam prop from Bush might have effectively delegitimized the Iraq invasion in American eyes, and so Bush was evidently determined to retain the prop, so as to retain cover for his own actual evil -- his treason against the nation he ruled.

This news story thus exhibited important history about not only the old Vietnam War, but also the new Iraq War. However, instead of its being the subject of a major news story in the Times, it was merely buried in one. After all, the Times had, itself, been the chief newspaper that had worked hand-in-glove with the Bush Administration to deceive the American public into believing that solid evidence existed indicating that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling huge quantities of WMD for possible use against the United States. The Times was (as my Iraq War book documented) heavily complicit with President Bush in deceiving the American public into the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Thus, this blockbuster revelation, on 31 October 2005, should have been the story's focus, but was instead buried by the Times. As a consequence, the American public continued (and still continues) to believe that, if the Republican G.W. Bush had lied the nation into war in 2003, then Democrat Lyndon Johnson had done virtually the same thing in 1964; and, so, it looked as if what was rotten here was American democracy itself, and not a fascist G.W. Bush government. This is the impression that Bush undoubtedly wanted to convey; and, so, the Times buried it, instead of having headlined and led with it -- which might have made an enormous amount of difference, and maybe even turned the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest (in which Vietnam was a major issue). (How long had the Times sat on the story; could they have published it before the 2004 elections; did Bush hold it up, or did the Times?)

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Burying this news permitted the myth about Lyndon Johnson to continue being spread. For example, nearly two months after Mr. Shane's report, and at a time when the public's approval of the nation's Iraq invasion/occupation was reaching new lows, Ivan Eland, a syndicated news columnist from the conservative Independent Institute, headlined "Bush's Presidency Most Resembles that of LBJ," and he said, "The greatest resemblance of the two administrations " may be their deceptions about the need to conduct foreign wars, which later turned into quagmires. In 1964, LBJ used an alleged attack by a North Vietnamese patrol boat on a U.S. destroyer off the coast of Vietnam to push through Congress the open-ended Gulf of Tonkin resolution. " In the same way, Bush exaggerated the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to get initial public and congressional support for invading Iraq." However, it wasn't actually "in the same way" at all.

This conservative myth, that Lyndon Johnson had lied to initiate the invasion of Vietnam, just as G.W. Bush had lied to initiate the invasion of Iraq, helped to neutralize the impression of Bush's evil, as if to say, "This isn't a partisan matter at all -- Democrats aren't any better." Maintenance of public support for the Republican Party depends heavily upon the faithful public's belief in such "historical" lies, as that all human government is corrupt; only God's Government is not; and The New York Times played its part, even as it was implicitly reporting (though burying) the truth to the exact contrary of this very same conservative myth.

News is buried by its being neither in the headline, nor in either the lead, nor the end, of the given news report. The end is almost as important as the lead, because it's the reader's final takeaway-impression from the story. In this case, here is the Times story's takeaway -- the very end: "Dr. Prados said, "If Mr. Hanyok's conclusion is correct, it adds to the tragic aspect of the Vietnam War.' In addition, he said, "it's new evidence that intelligence, so often treated as the Holy Grail, turns out to be not that at all, just as in Iraq.'" If George W. Bush had been the reporter (or the editor) on this story, he couldn't possibly have done a better job producing it than the NYT did here. It confirms Bush's constant claim: that the reason he invaded Iraq was bad intelligence. But that's not true at all.

There is no historical foundation for believing that LBJ was intending to invade North Vietnam and start the Vietnam War when he entered the White House. But there is considerable evidence that George W. Bush was intending to invade Iraq when he entered the White House -- well before the intelligence community changed its tune and started producing the bogus type of "intelligence" that he was seeking. Some of this is documentary evidence.

CBS "60 Minutes," on 11 January 2004, headlined "Inside the Bush White House," and Ron Suskind discussed his new The Price of Loyalty, which was quoting Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, as coming out of the first Cabinet Meeting, on 30 January 2001, saying (p. 75), "Getting Hussein was now the administration's focus," this just ten days into Bush's Presidency. As O'Neill told Lesley Stahl, "From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go." Suskind chimed in: "From the very first instance it was about Iraq, it was about what we can do to change this regime." Then, Stahl said, "O'Neill told us the discussion of Iraq continued at the next National Security Council meeting two days later." Suskind noted, "There are memos. One of them, marked "secret,' says "Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq.'" Stahl: "Suskind writes that the planning envisioned peace-keeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq's oil wells. ... Suskind obtained this Pentagon document dated March 5, 2001, entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oil Field Contracts.'" Those things that Bush did were international war crimes, violations that would even have been prosecuted under the laws of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

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Russ Baker, in a 27 October 2004 article, "Bush Wanted to Invade Iraq if Elected in 2000," wrote: ""He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,' said author and journalist [Bush's ghostwriter] Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: "One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief." And he said, "My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it." He said, "If I have a chance to invade " if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed, and I'm going to have a successful presidency".'"

Yet another conservative lie even blames Democratic President Kennedy for Vietnam. In Imprimis, (the propaganda organ of the far-Right Hillsdale College), the "historian" Paul Johnson headlined in December 2007, "Heroes: What Great Statesmen Have to Teach Us," and he said, "My guess is that Eisenhower would have decisively rejected any direct U.S. involvement [in Vietnam]. ... Unfortunately, Eisenhower was in retirement when the time for decision came. John F. Kennedy agreed to enter the war, and Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to extend it." On the opposite side, there are leftist "historians" who think that JFK would have removed all troops from Vietnam. Oliver Stone and others cite Kennedy's 11 October 1963 National Security Action Memorandum No. 263 (NSAM 263) which stated that, "The President ... directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963." But Leslie Gelb was probably correct when he headlined in The New York Times, on 6 January 1992, concerning this memo, "Foreign Affairs; Kennedy and Vietnam," and said: "As for Mr. Kennedy's underlying thinking about the war, that is a murky matter. In the last weeks of his life, he gave sharply diverse signals as befits a President trying to keep open his options, especially before an election." There is unfortunately no way of knowing what Kennedy would have decided to do in the event of a failure by the South Vietnamese government to win the support of its people. JFK hadn't reached that Rubicon, and he left no clear indication of how he would deal with it if he were ultimately to face it. What is known for certain is that the political pressures on the President to invade Vietnam came from the Republicans and from the Dixiecrats -- in other words, from the conservatives -- and that both Kennedy and Johnson greatly feared being tagged by them as capitulating to "the communists." Barring this political threat against them, which was coming from the Right, none of the documented political pressures leading to the invasion of Vietnam would even have existed. Both Kennedy and Johnson were obsessed by their fear of the Republicans, a more immediate political fear than their military fear regarding the Soviet Union. Kennedy wanted to "Vietnamize" the war, but no one can possibly know whether he would have abandoned the war once Vietnamization failed -- as it ultimately did. The basic motivations for the U.S. invasion of Vietnam came entirely from America's political Right. That invasion was a politically necessary concession to America's conservatives -- Republicans and Dixiecrats.

But there's more: On 15 March 2013, the BBC headlined "The Lyndon Johnson Tapes: Richard Nixon's "Treason'," and David Taylor reported that Nixon tapes -- never yet reported in the U.S. press, and which had been declassified only at the end of the George W. Bush Administration -- showed that the Johnson Administration had been about to announce an agreement between North and South Vietnam, to end the war, in 1968, but that Richard Nixon, then running for the Presidency against Hubert Humphrey, sent "Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser ... to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal" from him. Promptly, and "on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out." So, the Vietnam war continued on, for another seven years, to no other point than Nixon's election, and his wanting to wait long enough for his campaign promise of "peace with honor" to become forgotten, by the time of our ultimate quitting. Seven more years needlessly extended this bloodshed and fiscal drain.

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