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Iran: Learning the Lessons of Cambodia and Iraq

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Message Simbala Martin

President Bush like many of his predecessors understands that ideology justified in the name of national security always trumps the value of human capital. While, expanding the Iraq war into Iran may serve the president's immediate interests by distracting the public from focusing on more pressing issues like inflation, unemployment, world food shortages, global warming, the energy crisis, the growing Chinese and Russian threats, or most importantly – justifying his Iraq legacy, Mr. Bush fails to realize that geo-politics doesn't mean much to someone whose relative you just bombed. [1] Nor will driving away Iranian pro-American support that legitimizes the highly unpopular regime in Iran serve America's long term strategic interests. Drawing from the lessons of the Vietnam War and Iraq II War, conducting a war on the pretext of national security while overlooking the human element fails to account how insurgences thrive. If the United States expands the Iraq War into Iran based on less than credible pretenses and without international support, the U.S. will alienate the Iranian people just like as it did with Cambodians and Iraqis.


Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. justified military intervention in South East Asia to prevent the communist domino effect from undermining American influence in the region. To thwart the worldwide spread of communism, in 1965 President Johnson secretly expanded the Vietnam War into the neutral nation of Cambodia by launching bombing campaigns that supported nearly two thousand U.S. Special Forces and the CIA ground incursions. His successor Nixon, most widely attributed for the carpet bombings, promised Congress and the public that U.S. aircraft would remain thirty kilometers away from the Vietnamese border. Nonetheless, both presidents combined bombed 2,756,941 tons of payload (as compared to the 2 million dropped during all of WWII, including on Japan). [2] Due to the instability and destruction caused by Nixon's indiscriminate bombing campaigns, America alienated Cambodian villagers who joined the insurgency movement in great numbers against their aggressor. By 1975, the U.S. could no longer prevent the overtaking of the Lon Nol regime by the insurgency. Nearly 2 million Cambodians perished under the Khmer Rouge's communist revolution. America's disregard for the human element in Cambodia paved the way for one of the world's most brutal regimes to take power resulting in one of the largest systematic exterminations in history. By marginalizing the Cambodian people, the United States lost the country to communists.


In Iraq II, the U.S. addressed the failure of Iraq I, and expanded the "war on terror" based on false pretense or "poor intelligence," to protect America from Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction (and most importantly, to right the wrong of America's support of Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War). Mr. Bush's invasion yielded no evidence of weapons of mass destruction but he did "liberate" Iraqis from the yoke of Husseinian evil. Given the U.S.'s track record in Iraq, it is understandable why some Iraqis felt skeptical of U.S. intentions. In Iraq I, George Bush Senior encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein, which Iraqis perceived U.S. support would be provided given the U.S.' efforts in Iraq. Following the war, hundreds of thousands of Shi'a Iraqis joined in revolt which was swiftly crushed in 20 days and leaving thousands dead. Since the current U.S. occupation, jihadist recruitment began to soar worldwide which U.S. officials recognize as a direct result of U.S. efforts in the region. Given the alarming increases in sectarian violence in Iraq over the past few months, heavy civilian casualties draw more insurgents to combat the aggressor. Mr. Bush blames Iranian influence in Iraq as a highly destabilizing factor that prevents the U.S. from leaving Iraq. While Mr. Bush enabled the Iran regime to enjoy the power vacuum in the region created by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he failed to thank Mr. Ahmadinejad for his greatest successes in the Iraq War as Iran's influence in Iraq reduced hostile Shi'a attacks on American and Iraqi troops. Nonetheless, current American successes are "fragile and reversible." If the U.S. attacks Iran, the regime will surely retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq and capitalize on the insurgencies.


Presently, due the alleged nuclear weaponization of Iran, the administration is building the case that Iran is a threat to national security, Iraq's security, Israel's security, and the world community's safety. Based on circumstantial intelligence gathered from detainees, a recent Department of Defense report claims "Iran continues to fund, train, arm and guide JAM Special Groups and other Shi'a extremist organizations," resulting in the escalation of sectarian violence and the perception that Iran is the greatest threat to Iraqi security. [3] This administration must not continue this line of reasoning and repeat the mistakes of Vietnam War and Iraq Wars or allow Israel to attack Iran. The costs of a surgical strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure are too great. Millions of lives stand in the balance and the power of the human element cannot be understated. Unless Washington and Israel learn the lessons of Cambodia and Iraq, only the Islamic republic will stand to gain from a war that would legitimize its authority. Hopefully the lives of Cambodians and Iraqis will not be in vain.

[1] Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan posited that American policymakers during the Cambodian conflict failed to understand how insurgencies thrive. See, The Lesson from Cambodia that Policymakers are Ignoring. [Available] Online. Last date accessed, 7/2/08.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Department of Defense, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, Quarterly Reports, June 2008.

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Simbala Martin is a social historian, human rights activist, and global citizen who champions a peaceful resolution of the U.S.-Iran conflict by empowering Iran's dissidents to instantiate change from the bottom up, instead of top down through (more...)
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Iran: Learning the Lessons of Cambodia and Iraq

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