Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The Iraq Syndrome and the Future of the U.S.
By Thomas Riggins

In last Thursday's New York Times (2-1-07), David Books, one of the Times' house reactionaries, wrote an article trying to show that there will be no Iraq Syndrome as there had been a Vietnam Syndrome ("The Iraq Syndrome, R.I.P."). Analyzing this article will allow us to separate fact from fiction in the conservative view of the U.S. and the world, as well as point to the possible future direction of U.S. policy – if the current nascent center-left coalition in Washington can hold and be moved more to the left by the people's movements.

For Brooks, the main feature of the Vietnam syndrome was that it made Americans "suspicious of power politics and hesitant about projecting American might around the world." He thinks the syndrome only lasted five years – the time between the U.S. defeat by the Vietnamese people's national liberation struggle and the election of Ronald Reagan.

Brooks leaves out one of the major, if not the major, factor of the Vietnam syndrome, which was fear of getting involved in a major land war and the attempted occupation of someone else's country, especially in culturally unfamiliar terrain, and more especially in Asia. If Korea had failed to educate the ruling class, Vietnam should have done the job. It did, but, alas, newer, brasher ruling class ideologues (Brooks is one of them) never learned the painful lessons of the past. The Vietnam syndrome actually came to an end after 25 years or so with the invasion of Iraq.

Brooks thinks it lasted only five years, but in truth the syndrome kept Reagan in his place as well as Bush, Sr. The mighty U.S. during this 25-year period worked up the courage to invade Granada and "defeat" its 500-person army. This was Reagan's greatest military feat. He cut and ran from Lebanon at the first sign of serious trouble, and was content with making a bombing raid on Libya, killing civilians including Col. Gaddafi's infant daughter, and used a terrorist proxy "army," which he funded with drug money and illegal weapons deals with Iran (Iran-Contra) to destabilize the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Bush, Sr., managed to knock over Panama (whose military numbered about the size of the NYPD force stationed in Brooklyn), and he regained little Kuwait (but had the good sense to refrain from invading Iraq proper). Clinton got out of Somalia as fast as he went in when the bullets started flying, and used NATO and airpower to pulverize the peoples of the Balkans – but wisely kept U.S. ground troops away. It was the Vietnam syndrome that kept the world's largest imperial power restricted to such miniscule military adventures for so long. It was not until the clueless Bush, Jr., came to power and was manipulated by the neoconservative ultraright crypto-fascists, that the lessons of Vietnam were finally forgotten.

Brooks seems completely oblivious to this history. Actually, his reactionary blinders prevent him from seeing it. He has a vague awareness of the current reality. He admits the American people are "disillusioned" with Iraq, and that many here and abroad think that after our Iraq experience "America will turn inward again" (i.e., become more concerned with solving our domestic problems instead of playing world policeman). Many, he says, predict "an end to American hegemony."

It doesn't occur to him that an end to US hegemony would be a good thing not only for us but for the rest of the world as well. A multipolar and multilateral world in which all peoples can participate in influencing the future of our planet, whose very ability to sustain life as we know it is increasingly in question, through a reformed and strengthened United Nations, would not only be more peaceful but would obviously be more just as well.

So what does Brooks think about ending American hegemony. "Forget about it," he writes. He says the current debate about the war in Iraq is "about how to proceed" with it, not about "retracting American power and influence" in the world. Brooks has not been paying attention. The debate is about how to get out of Iraq and how to convince Bush to give up on a lost cause.

American power and influence is already in decline, and the debate about that is between those who want to halt the decline by trying to use force and violence and threats vis a vis other countries and those who want to use the UN and diplomacy to work with others to solve mutual problems and misunderstandings.

In an oblique reference to the massive defeat of the war-mongering Republicans in 2006, Brooks remarks that the Democrats "campaigned for Congress in 2006 by promising to increase the size of the military." Everyone understands that the American people voted the Democrats into office to put a stop to this insane and immoral war, not to build up the military.

Brooks tells us to look at the emerging "leaders" in both parties, but he mentions only McCain and Giuliani on the one hand, and Clinton and Edwards on the other. Brooks apparently considers them hawks and cites their positions to support his view that "This is not a country looking to avoid entangling alliances. This is not a country renouncing the threat of force." He thinks this shows that, "The Iraq syndrome is over before it even had a chance to begin."

The truth is that the Iraq syndrome is still in its embryonic stage, and Brooks' attempt to abort it will not succeed. As Bush continues to escalate his private, but publicly-funded war, and the nation further polarizes over the coming months as the situation on the ground in Iraq becomes so chaotic the US will be forced to abandon its dream of Middle Eastern hegemony, there will be major shifts in the political positions of the so called hawks. I don't know about the Republicans, but if Clinton and others don't shift to stands more acceptable to the antiwar movement their campaigns will ultimately tank. Two years is a long time, and by 2008 none of the four politicians mentioned by Brooks as "major American leaders" may be singing the same tune as today, or even still be in the race if they do so.

Brooks' complete misunderstanding of the America he lives in is further evidenced by his statements that:

1. "The U.S. has no material need to reconsider its dominant role in the world." This is because our military has "no serious rivals" and the economy is "humming along nicely." This is a ruling-class elite view. The cost of the military alone is borne by millions of working class Americans who lack health care, decent housing, good schools, and decent pay because of the money diverted to the military and tax breaks for big business and the wealthy. Bush's new federal budget proposal slashes social programs to fund the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $100 billion a year, or about $10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. For the vast majority of the American people we have every reason and material need "to reconsider" the U.S. trying to maintain its dominant role by other than diplomatic means and good example. There is more to a "humming" economy than corporate profits. ExxonMobil made its greatest profits last year, but they are also poisoning the atmosphere and gouging us at the pumps, and salivating after the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

2. "The U.S. has no cultural need to retrench." Unlike Vietnam, Brooks says, the Iraq war has not led to a "generalized loss of faith in the American system or in American goodness." What piffle is this? The ruling class has created a culture based on violence, war, voter fraud and election tampering, corporate profiteering, environmental destruction, and contempt for working people at home and other nations and peoples abroad. The "American system" is in disarray and deeply in need of renovation and renewal to preserve democratic rule and the Bill of Rights.

"American goodness" is a fantasy in which only the ultra right believes. Any "goodness" that currently exists is found in the working people and their allies who want to end the immoral and criminal domination of the country by monopoly capital, the military-industrial complex, neocon politicians, and their media mouthpieces such as Brooks.

3. "There hasn't even been a broad political shift in favor of the doves." Brooks says this because he considers "the most important war critics" to be Jack Murtha, Chuck Hagel, and Jim Webb who "are military types." The ultra-right just doesn't get it. The most important war critics are the American people.

Brooks ends with a paean to the make-believe America of his dreams, an America that exists to spread "freedom" wherever it has gone in the past or will go in the future, and that has as its mission to be "the vanguard of progress."

He confidently predicts the future, a future it is up to us to prevent. He says the next president and the future congress will
expand the military, entrench the U.S. in the Middle East, promote our "nation building capacity" (even though we cannot even rebuild New Orleans) and continue "our long expansionist story." His prediction might come true if we fail to organize and unite the center-left forces, the real majority, to fight for peace and the vision that a different world is possible.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and
can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net. [Originally from PA on-line]


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RoseCovered Glasses said...

Your post has some excellent points. Here's some additional data:

The U.S. Department of Defense, headquartered in the Pentagon, is one of the most massive organizations on the planet, with net annual operating costs of $635 billion, assets worth $1.3 trillion, liabilities of $1.9 trillion and more that 2.9 million military and civilian personnel as of fiscal year 2005.

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

It is difficult to convey the complexity of the way DOD works to someone who has not experienced it. This is a massive machine with so many departments and so much beaurocracy that no president, including Bush totally understands it.

Presidents, Congressmen, Cabinet Members and Appointees project a knowledgeable demeanor but they are spouting what they are told by career people who never go away and who train their replacements carefully. These are military and civil servants with enormous collective power, armed with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, Defense Industrial Security Manuals, compartmentalized classification structures and "Rice Bowls" which are never mixed.

Our society has slowly given this power structure its momentum which is constant and extraordinarily tough to bend. The cost to the average American is exhorbitant in terms of real dollars and bad decisions. Every major power structure member in the Pentagon's many Washington Offices and Field locations in the US and Overseas has a counterpart in Defense Industry Corporate America. That collective body has undergone major consolidation in the last 10 years.

What used to be a broad base of competitive firms is now a few huge monoliths, such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Boeing.

Government oversight committees are carefully stroked. Sam Nunn and others who were around for years in military and policy oversight roles have been cajoled, given into on occasion but kept in the dark about the real status of things until it is too late to do anything but what the establishment wants. This still continues - with increasing high technology and potential for abuse.

Please examine the following link to testimony given by Franklin C. Spinney before Congress in 2002. It provides very specific information from a whistle blower who is still blowing his whistle (Look him up in your browser and you get lots of feedback) Frank spent the same amount of time as I did in the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) but in government quarters. His job in government was a similar role to mine in defense companies. Frank's emphasis in this testimony is on the money the machine costs us. It is compelling and it is noteworthy that he was still a staff analyst at the Pentagon when he gave this speech. I still can't figure out how he got his superior's permission to say such blunt things. He was extremely highly respected and is now retired.


The brick wall I often refer to is the Pentagon's own arrogance. It will implode by it's own volition, go broke, or so drastically let down the American people that it will fall in shambles. Rest assured the day of the implosion is coming. The machine is out of control.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting on this blog entitled, "Odyssey of Armaments"


On the same subject, you may also be interested in the following sites from the "Project On Government Oversight", observing it's 25th Anniversary and from "Defense In the National Interest", inspired by Franklin Spinney and contributed to by active/reserve, former, or retired military personnel. More facts on the Military Industrial Complex can be gleaned from "The Dissident" link, also posted below: