"Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk said `I personally underestimated the tenacity of the North Vietnamese.' The estimated 700,000 casualties by the North Vietnamese, he said, was the equivalent of 10 million American casualties ...
-- "Rusk Says He Misjudged Hanoi's Will To Wage War", The Washington Post, July 2, 1971
"The sobering new book The Next Attack ... criticizes the Bush White House for focusing on the number of Qaeda leaders captured or killed, instead of addressing the ideological underpinnings of radical Islam, which continually attracts new converts."
-- "Waging a Battle, Losing the War", Michiko Kakutani, N.Y. Times, November 4, 2005
Yes, as incredible as it may sound, the Bush Administration is making precisely the same error that U.S. policy-makers made in Vietnam: assuming that if we can only murder enough of "them", "they" will no longer pose a threat. Mr. Bush fails to understand that the "global war on terror" is essentially ideological, cultural and economic, and that focusing on military solutions only makes things worse.He is making the same wrong assumption as Dean Rusk, who thought that killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese would bring North Vietnam to its knees. (Robert McNamera has actually put the total number of Vietnamese killed as 3.4 million. We killed most of them - the equivalent of 20-30 million American dead.)
The Administration's endlessly repeated statement that our invasion of Iraq protects America because "we are fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here" is based on two radically false assumptions: (1) we are fighting a static and fixed number of the enemy; (2) since the number is fixed the more we kill "there" the less there will be to come over "here".
In fact, as former National Security Council staffers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon note in their recent book, The Next Attack, "We are losing. Four years and two wars after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America is heading for a repeat of the events of that day, or perhaps something worse. Against our most dangerous foe, our strategic position is weakening." This is because Mr. Bush has failed to "halt the creation of new terrorists by dealing, to the extent possible, with those grievances that are driving radicalization." (Emphasis added).
There are far more young Muslim men committed to killing Americans today than there were on September 11, 2001. For every one we have killed, 2, 5, 10, have taken their place. The more we have killed "over there", the more young men - and increasingly women - are committed to attacking us both "over there" AND "over here." Our oceans once protected us. Today, when terrorists can fly into America in a few hours, or into Canada and Mexico and then cross over our porous borders, we are no safer than commuters in London or Madrid.
And the situation is potentially far more serious than with North Vietnam, which only had a population pool of 20 million. The Muslim world has a population of 1.2 billion. If Mr. Bush is allowed to continue blundering as Commander-in-Chief, expanding the ranks of our enemies in numbers and fanaticism, there will be an ever-growing and endless supply of people committed to murdering us.
To understand what we are up against, we need to listen to the relatively few people in this country who know anything about terrorism in the Arab world, people whom the Bush Administration has arrogantly ignored. They are almost unanimous in making the following points:
-- There is no short-term solution to Muslim terrorism. As Thomas Powers noted in his N.Y. Times review of The Next Attack, "The magnitude of the problem is suggested by the fact that at this point two writers with as much experience as Benjamin and Simon don't really know what to do next." ("The Next Attack," by Thomas Powers, NYT, 12/25/05)
Defeating terrorism will require a long-term, multi-front struggle that is NOT primarily military but fundamentally ideological, cultural, religious, political and economic (the experts do differ on which of these non-military aspects they emphasize). The large-scale military occupation of Iraq sets us back long-term. Just one photo of an Abu Ghraib prisoner makes Karen Hughes' effort to "tell our story" to the Muslim world an absurd waste of tens of millions of dollars.
-- Over the long run we will only reduce the numbers and fanaticism of those wishing to kill us by showing them in practice - not by covertly planting propaganda in their newspapers - that we have something to offer, e.g. democracy, economic prosperity, human rights, and more humanly decent lives. We also cannot solve the problem without taking a more evenhanded approach in the Middle East. Our fundamental long-term problem is that values we hold dear, such as the equality of women, are deeply psychologically threatening to the male-dominated Muslim world. It is also unclear whether there is a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
-- Of course we need in the short run to defend ourselves as vigorously as possible against physical threats. The top two priorities for doing so are Homeland Security and the kind of successful police work that the CIA claims to be conducting through its Counterterrorist Intelligence Centers working with foreign intelligence agencies. ("Foreign Network at Front of CIA's Terror Fights", Dana Priest, Washington Post, 11/18/05).
(Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify their claims of success since their work is secret. The CICs are separate from the network of CIA torture chambers also revealed by Dana Priest in The Post: "CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons," by Dana Priest,11/02/05)
-- Our long and short term needs are in conflict, and present us with excruciating and possibly irresolvable dilemmas. For example, we need to cooperate with police and intelligence agencies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to deal with short-term threats- even as these regimes need to be replaced over the long run with governments committed to democracy and human rights if we are to win the ideological struggle. Failure at any point along the way could be catastrophic. For example, if President Musharraf is overthrown in Pakistan, we could see a fundamentalist crazy like the present President of Iran suddenly come into possession of nuclear weapons.
-- Therefore, if Mr. Bush had had the slightest idea of what he was doing, he would have proceeded cautiously. The dangerous and complicated conflicts between our short and long-term goals ENSURE that precipitous military action like invading Iraq will endanger our lives. By blundering into Iraq, torturing, imprisoning and humiliating Muslims, and failing even to begin to wage the kind of ideological and cultural struggle needed, Mr. Bush has spectacularly failed as Commander-in-Chief.
There is thus one other major parallel between our present leaders and those who got us into Vietnam. Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamera wrote these words in his book, In Retrospect:
"Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders."
It is not the fault of Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld that they are profoundly ignorant of the Muslim world. Mr. Bush was just a Governor focused on education policy and almost totally ignorant of foreign policy before becoming President. Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld had experience in large-scale military activity, but knew nothing about terrorism or the "history, culture and politics of the people in the area" of the Middle East.
These men, however, have forfeited the right to lead us by rushing into the first major U.S. occupation of a Muslim country in history despite their ignorance. Like the Johnson Administration, the Bush Administration's "arrogance of power" - as Senator Fulbright called it - has betrayed our nation.
Unlike the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, however, Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will never see an end to the damage they have done. When the Vietnam war ended, it ended. Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld's arrogance of power toward the Muslim world has vastly accelerated a cycle of killing that may never end.
Their mistakes will still be killing Americans long after they are gone.