Tuesday, October 25, 2011

REVIEW of Kenneth Campbell's "A Tale of Two Quagmires: Iraq, Vietnam, and the Hard Lessons of War"

Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee)

Kenneth J. Campbell, A Tale of Two Quagmires: Iraq, Vietnam, and the Hard Lessons of War, United States: Paradigm Publishers, 2007; 136 pp; ISBN: 978-1-59451-352-7.

Kenneth Campbell is an associated Professor of Political Science and International Relations and Director of the International Relations Program at the University of Delaware. He served with the US Marines in Vietnam and later joined the Vietnam Veterans against the War.

Whether Iraq is another Vietnam or not, is the first question that the author begins with. He shares different perspectives of scholars regarding the similarities and dissimilarities between Vietnam and Iraq. Some scholars affirm that Iraq, similar to Vietnam, was becoming another quagmire for the US that ultimately has to pull out in humiliation defeat. However, other scholars assert that Iraq, unlike Vietnam, US forces will eventually triumph over Iraq. The author claims that Iraq and Vietnam are exactly alike -on the strategic and political level- it was another quagmire for the US As the author mentioned quagmires “are built upon the quicksand of deception, deception about purpose, progress, methods, and exit.” (p. 9)

In this book, the author, who served in the Vietnam War for thirteen months and studied the war for thirty years, shed light on difficulties and torments of the War. Who suffered heatstroke, dysentery, malaria, trench foot, and jungle rot, but while they were fighting they forget about everything and they were fighting for their lives. Counting bodies, was the main strategy of military, and high enemy body counts made their superiors to be happy, in contrast low or no body count made them to be unhappy. As the war burden and soldiers experienced difficult situations, they started to “hate the war” and they just want to go home “alive” (p. 34). The author was to angry about the Vietnam debacle and started to say “I could not live with the lies any longer.” He affirms “Why we were in Vietnam”, the “progress” of the U.S forces and the way they treated the Vietnamese “was a lie.” (p. 37)

In Chapters three and four, the author focuses on the Vietnam War and its lessons. The author is angry about effects of the Vietnam War in the US The author declares that the War divided the US bitterly and deeply, failed two presidents and polarized Congress and paralyzed the courts. The author claims that US political and military leaders deceived the nation about justification of the war. As he uncovers that from 1964 to the mid of 1965s the US wanted Vietnamese military leaders to be capable enough to govern Vietnam under Washington’s guidance. Failing this, the US decided to take direct control over the war. Then, “the Johnson administration manufactured the Gulf Tokin incidents” (p. 45) in order to rally American people to support direct US military intervention in Vietnam. These facts were not officially confessed until thirty years later (p. 45). Moreover, the methods of fighting by the US military were essentially illegal and immoral. In order to obtain intelligence, they were torturing prisoners and detainees, the use of “fists, knives, pistols, and rifle buttes during the interrogation of Viet Cong suspect” (p 49). The author has no doubt that the Vietnam War was not about helping Vietnamese. The US political and military leaders were mainly concerned about beating other super power, the Soviet Union.

The lessons of Vietnam War according to the author classified into five schools of thought, Conservative, Liberal, Far Left, Far Right, and the Military. The Conservative school suggests that the main lesson from Vietnam debacle should be learned was the necessity of realizing the power limits of any nation, even superpowers like the US, to control the course of world event. For the Liberal School of thought, the principal lesson was the long-lasting significance of law, democracy, morality, and personal responsibility. The Far Left school which offers perhaps the most important lesson to be learned, states that poor people, if united, will never defeated by greedy capitalists. The Far Right School suggests that the US must ignore international legal and moral restrictions and use all superior US military power. Finally, the Military School advised US military and civilian leaders never to forget the strategic relationship between military force and domestic political support in initiating, maintaining, and winning a distant, gory war. The author also, mentions two other lessons by scholars, policy analysts, and policy makers. They declared the war with having uncertain purpose decreases nation’s public support as causalities among its troops rise. Public opinion is, also, another essential character, if the public opinion falls, other vital characters in the US political system being falling as well.

The last two chapters are dedicated to the Iraq War. The author declares that Bush administration’s War on Iraq has become another “Vietnam-like quagmire.” Bush’s war in Iraq, he explains, is “a war of choice, not necessity” (p. 73). Therefore, it is illegal and immoral war. Bush had unsound purpose for the Iraq War. Therefore, it is expected that the war certainly produced failed tactics and strategy for fighting the war. The leaders of the war would do their best to reform strategy and tactics, but it will still be a failed war. The author affirms that Iraq War had nothing to do with terrorism. He claims that 9/11 was simply convenient excuse, for neoconservatives, to wage the Iraq War. They desired “for years before 9/11 to invade and conquer Iraq as a prelude “transforming” the entire Middle East into a solidly pro-US, pro-Israel region” (p. 75). Therefore, the reliable evidence is to be found in the writings of scholars, analysts or in the words of neoconservatives. The first attempt by neoconservatives to dominate over the world was in 1992, during the George H. W. Bush Administration. Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, ordered Neocon Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad, to prepare a draft “Defense Planning Guide” that clearly aimed to prevent the rise of any challengers to US global hegemony in any region of the world. But Bush rejected the plan (p. 77). During the Clinton administration years, neoconservatives continued with their plan. Once they were back to power with the George W. Bush administration, they tried to implement their plan to get rid of Saddam Hussein Regime. The author affirmed that “Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz argued for war against Iraq four days after 9/11 at an emergency meeting”; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz “asserted that there was 10 to 15% chance that Saddam was behind the attack on 9/11” (p. 80).
After the essential victorious march in Baghdad in 2003, then the Bush Administration tried to convince the public opinion of the US that Saddam regime was defeated and Iraqi resistance was just its last throes. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others in the Administration called Iraqi resistance fighters as terrorists, who were violently fighting US forces. During 2006-2007 as the war rose and US causalities risen, public support for the war declined. Similarly to the Vietnam War, US forces tutored detainees and intentionally killing unarmed Iraqi civilians. For instance “the Bush administration claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were carried out by just a “few bad apples” in the Army” (p.86). But the investigation of Seymour Hersh, a journalist that published his investigation on New Yorker Magazine Web site, revealed that US torture was systematically applied in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Cuba, and in secret interrogation centers around the world (p.86). The sexual abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib can be labeled as a greatest shame to be done by the US Army. Some military analysts observed that the US troops treatment of their enemy in Iraq was fault because they were confused about who were their enemy was strives a spectacular charge as the US troops went through in the Vietnam War.

The author indicates that lessons of Vietnam debacle are reaffirmed in Iraq War. Firstly, if the political purpose of a war contradicts the nation’s potential values, the nation will not be patient about it for a long time. On the other hand, the US should be concerned about the relevance of, and complications of, its actions on international law. Domestically, the importance of protecting US constitutional law, and the significance of multilateralism in foreign policy are viewed to be further crucial issues.

Throughout the basic, the author holds pessimistic view of the Iraq and Vietnam Wars. He accuses the US political military leaders of deceiving the US public regarding reasons of these two wars and the ‘progress’ or ‘success’ they achieved. There is no doubt that some “strategic and political” antecedents of these wars are similar, but the US causalities in Vietnam War were more than ten times that of Iraq. The author provides solid data about Saddam’s regime not having relation with terrorist groups, but he did not shed light on the security situation after the Iraq war, which become flooded of host of terrorist organizations. He did not mention the decision of dissolving Iraqi Army by Paul Bremer, the top US civilian administrator in Iraq, that caused 500,000 man army to be jobless then become terrorists. The author did not mention the interference of neighboring countries in Iraqi politics by supporting Shiite and Sunni entities, which spoiled Iraqi political and security situation. While the author mentions that Iraqi government has been created by the US, he did not mention progress regarding holding elections and the formation of Iraqi government. Thus, it can be said that the author exaggerates when he demonstrates the situation of the US Army in Iraq.

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