October 28, 2004 | FrontPageMagazine
Symposium: Iraq: Fight or Flight?
Co-authored by: Jamie Glaznov, Greg Bates, David Lindorff and Jed Babbin.
Where are we headed in Iraq? Is it crucial to stay and fight for victory, or, as some liberal-left critics maintain, must America extricate itself immediately from the conflict? To discuss and debate these issues with us today, Frontpage Symposium is joined by:
Greg Bates, the founding publisher at Common Courage Press and the author of Ralph's Revolt: The Case For Joining Nader's Rebellion;
David Lindorff, the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can't be Happening!” is to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Mr. Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net;
Clifford D. May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and acting director of the Committee on the Present Danger;
Jed Babbin, the former deputy undersecretary of defense in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. A contributing editor of The American Spectator Magazine and a contributor to National Review Online, he is the author of the new book Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think.
FP: Greg Bates, David Lindorff, Cliff May and Jed Babbin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium, it is a pleasure to have you here.
The Bush administration has liberated some 50 million Muslims from the grips of two fundamentalist, fascist regimes. The U.S. is succeeding in protecting Afghanistan from the return of its tyrants, yet the Iraqi terrorists are making the transition toward democracy in Iraq a much more difficult task. America, however, must stay the course, for if it withdraws, the terrorists will perpetrate a bloodbath against all those who were on our side. The return of despotism, moreover, will be assured. The consequences for Iraq, and for the rest of the Middle East, will be tragic.
Mr. Lindorff, let me begin with you. Are we on the same page here?
Lindorff: Ah yes, the bloodbath threat. I remember hearing that canard for years during the Vietnam War. We killed three million people over there over the course of that conflict, most of them civilians. That was the bloodbath. After the war ended, the killing essentially stopped, almost overnight.
In Iraq, according to a report by our own puppet regime’s Ministry of Health, the U.S.–excuse me—the Coalition Forces, is killing civilians at twice the rate that it is killing alleged enemy combatants.
Our military refers to civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan as “collateral damage” but I’d have to say if you are killing two civilians for every enemy fighter, it’s the enemy fighters who are the collateral damage.
The premise here is that we have “liberated” 50 million people, but the statement conflates fundamentalist and fascist. Saddam was a fascist but hardly a fundamentalist; in fact he and his ilk were despised by the fundamentalist bin Laden. As for Afghanistan, the Taliban are fundamentalist, but their replacements, in much of the country, are feudal warlords who make fascists look like pussycats in some cases. This is liberation? An Israeli think tank has just said that the Iraq invasion has made terror worse. I suspect many Iraqis and Afghanis would say their lives are pure hell now, too. As long as the U.S. stays in Iraq, the brutality and bloodshed will continue. I say get out now and let the Iraqis put their lives back together—their way.
Bates: First we might ask: fight for what? We've accomplished the stated goals: get rid of Saddam Hussein, find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction (in this case prove they weren't there), and investigate the connection between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda (there wasn't one). Most Iraqis, according to the only poll I've seen that was done this spring, want Americans to leave. Given that the war was “illegal” in the first place (according to Secretary General Kofi Anan), we have no right to be there. Many say “we have a responsibility” to do something other than just leave. Reparations might be a good idea. But as occupiers and torturers (no longer liberators if ever we were), our ability to provide security or do anything constructive when the population is against you, is nil. Any building of our credibility internationally has to start with withdrawal.
Staying in Iraq invites not so much terrorism but resistance to occupation. We seem to have trouble understanding the difference, but reports from those attacking U.S. forces and our allies make clear what their objective is: get troops out of the country. As long as we react to that demand within the framework of calling it “terrorism” and thereby refusing to understand their demands, we will keep fighting–and digging ourselves in deeper until the costs outweigh the perceived benefits.
Babbin: Messrs. Lindorff and Bates are have placed themselves so many light-years away from reality it's hard to know where to begin any rebuttal. Lindorf says laughably that we're combining fascists and fundamentalists to say that we've liberated 50 million people. Fascists such as Saddam and Assad and others have combined with fundamentalists in many terrorist ventures. He should read the 9-11 report to see how ridiculous his arguments are. Bates seems to be saying that there's no mission left, and both are belittling the idea that there would be a mass murder of those who accepted freedom if we left Iraq. There would be, just as the North Vietnamese killed thousands who had been fighting with our troops before we retreated. Shall we retreat from Iraq?
Only if we want the nation to fall under the control of Iran, the central terrorist nation.
I'm perfectly bored with arguments such as these. Those who make them are quick to criticise — in the harshest and most objectionable terms — everything we've done since 9-11. What better would they have done? They would have done nothing. The Taliban would still be in place if they had their way. UBL would still be training his terrorists there, and Saddam would be building his alliances with terrorists, strengthening and arming them. Lindorf and Bates are caricatures of the left. Pitiful, just pitiful.
May: I’m afraid there’s not going to be much common ground in this debate.
As preface, I should note that for almost three years I’ve been working with Iraqi freedom fighters and pro-democracy activists. They are people for whom I have much respect and admiration.
I recall before the U.S. liberation of Iraq escorting a group of Iraqi women – religious and secular, Muslim and Christian, Arab and Kurd – to the White House.
On the way over, they noticed a poster affixed to a wall. It read: “No War on Iraq.” The women became visibly upset. “Don’t these people realize,” one of them said to me, “that it is Saddam Hussein who is waging the war on Iraq and has been for years? Only with American help can we end this war.”
The stories these women told about genocide, about torture, about mass executions, about institutionalized rape were harrowing.
As I write this, yet two more mass graves have been discovered in Iraq. One of them was just for women and children.
My friend Dave (we were in college together) says: “The premise here is that we have ‘liberated’ 50 million people, but the statement conflates fundamentalist and fascist.”
So is the point that those oppressed by fundamentalists are not a concern, or is it that those tortured, raped and killed by the fascists should not be worryied about?
I guess it’s the later because Dave talks about the “feudal warlords who make fascists look like pussycats.” Those mass graves to which I just referred – that, in your view, is the work of house-broken felines?
Greg Bates says: “Most Iraqis, according to the only poll I've seen that was done this spring, want Americans to leave.”
Greg, if I may call you that, it’s more … how shall I say? … nuanced than that. If you talk to Iraqis or read their press or their blogs, you’ll find that most do want us to leave – as soon as possible, which means as soon as they are ready to defend themselves from Saddam’s fascist loyalists (reorganized as the “Party of Return”) and the foreign jihadis (now in the process of being thrown out of Fallujah.)
No one likes having foreign troops on their soil, least of all Iraqis who are a very proud people. But most understand what you seem not to: Americans have not come for the oil or to make Iraq the 51st state.
They have come to help and when we are done we will leave – the sooner the better for all.
But we did not liberate Iraq from Saddam to give it back this cronies or to Abu Musab Zarqawi and other al Qaeda-linked decapitators or to the Iranian mullahs.
Greg also says that, “Given that the war was ‘illegal’ in the first place (according to Secretary General Kofi Annan), we have no right to be there.”
Mr. Annan is entitled to his opinion but it’s not worth more than yours or mind. He is not the Chief Justice of a World Supreme Court. He is not the president of the world.
He is the secretary general of an organization now under investigation in the largest financial swindle in world history – the $11 billion Food for Oil scandal.
I’m getting long here so let me end with this. In Ba’athist Syria this week, a young man was arrested for accessing the Internet.
In Iraq, by contrast, there is now freedom, including the freedom to blog. Here are a few relevant lines from Alaa, one of the bloggers on the The Mesopotamian:
“Were we better off during Saddam’s time? – A question to which many outsiders are very keen to know our answer. Well, in many respects the streets are much more insecure, yet the security that existed in Saddam’s days was like someone quietly waiting for certain death; like a cancer stricken individual carrying the disease in his guts with no hope or attempt at cure.
“Yes, the pain and torture may be much more terrible when the surgeon has operated and the disease is tackled; but at least there is hope of recovery and healing, and the prospect of life saving. And this is not allegory, nor a parable; this is coming from someone whose house has been standing in the midst of bombs and explosions for so long now, protected by none but the mercy and grace of the Lord; from someone who has suffered robbery, kidnapping and constant daily danger.
”And here we are, trying to organize elections, trying to control the security situation, trying to restart the reconstruction, able to talk, able to think, able to watch satellite T.V., use the internet, the mobile etc. – in short everything that we have been forbidden to do before. And without the slightest hesitation, we hail with Love and Gratitude our giant U.S. friend and his allies, standing with us shoulder to shoulder, braving the elements, braving death, calumny and hatred, shedding blood; to help us heal, to help us reach the shores of safety. …
America, stay the course – God, Decency, Honor, Hope and everything that is virtuous and right is on your side, beside the majority of the Iraqi people. America do not waiver, for you have never waged a more noble and just campaign in your entire history. America, we are winning, God’s willing, and Victory is coming sooner than many might think.
FP: Gentlemen, sorry, but I can’t remain silent in a forum where Holocaust Denial is perpetuated and not directly confronted and refuted.
Mr. Lindorff ridiculous the “bloodbath” idea and denies the horror that followed the communist victory in Vietnam – and then in Laos and Cambodia. This is like saying that Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald never happened, or that Stalin’s Gulag was a figment of the world’s imagination.
The United States was honourable and noble in its effort to defend South Vietnam from a system that liquidated 100 million lives in the 20th century. After Saigon fell to North Vietnam in 1975, the summary executions of tens of thousands of innocent South Vietnamese began. There were to be two million refugees and more than a million people thrown into the new communist gulags and “re-education camps.” Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people perished in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea in their attempt to escape what the American anti-war protestors at the time helped create.
The anti-war movement in America also facilitated the communist takeovers of Laos and Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge victory in Cambodia led to a killing field in which some three million Cambodians were exterminated. And there was a reason why the architects of this genocide were called “Sartre’s children.” The Left can take pride that its ideological members drew the blueprint for Pol Pot’s genocide.
In just a few years after the communist takeovers in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, more Indochinese citizens were killed by the communists than had died on both sides in the whole Vietnam war.
The Left, of course, remains unchastened and, to stay faithful to its secular political faith, it must deny the human blood in which its own hands are drenched. But imposing historical amnesia in this forum isn’t going to work, for we will never forget the millions of victims of the socialist impulse.
Mr. Lindorff, go ahead, it’s your turn.
Lindorff: The moderator introduces a non-sequitor with this Holocaust denial crap that cannot be left alone. I said that when the U.S. lost and left Vietnam, it effectively put an end to the slaughter that took the lives of several million innocent Vietnamese. That is a hard fact. There may well have been retributional killings in Vietnam and Laos, which would be no surprise. But to bring in Cambodia and imply that I am indifferent to that holocaust is an outrage. The mass murders of a third of Cambodia’s people by the madmen Pol Paut and Ieng Sary, however, was the result of the U.S having expanded the Vietnamese War to Cambodia (remember Nixon’s Secret War?), which destroyed the neutral government of King Norodom Sihanouk. We further undermined Sihanouk by supporting a CIA stooge, Lon Nol. In the end, Pol Pot’s mad communists would have won victory in Cambodia and proceeded with their insanity whether the U.S. had tried to fight on in Vietnam or not. Worse yet, the U.S., together with its noble ally China, actually supported and provided arms to Pol Pot when the Vietnamese army came in to finish him and his killers off—surely one of the more grotesque of U.S. Policies in the post World War II period.
Anyhow, with this kind of distortion, I would ask that the moderator stay where he belongs–on the sidelines. He contributes nothing to this discussion. His statement that more people died in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia after the war than during it is not only false on its face, it is an abject misrepresentation, since it includes Cambodia. The number of post-war deaths in Laos and Vietnam were minimal, particularly compared to the slaughter perpetrated there for over a decade by the U.S.
Jed Babbin reminds me why I hate arguing with right-wingers. He completely distorts my article and introduces red herrings and then throws in some ad hominem attacks, and that’s the sum total of his “response.” The result is that I have to waste my time arguing with his non-response. So here we go. I said that when the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam and finally gave up the fight, the killing essentially stopped. As I said above, I’m sure there were executions by the Communists after their victory, maybe even thousands.
After the decades of colonial and imperialist warfare in that benighted country, and the generations of criminals, corrupt politicians and traitors, not to mention the atrocities that were perpetrated by South Vietnamese against the people of Vietnam, it would have been astounding—indeed incredible—if there had not been vicious retribution after the Vietnamese victory. But thousands killed pales against the multi-million-person slaughter of innocents that was perpetrated under the aegis of the U.S. War against Vietnam. That is a simple fact. Calling me a “creature” of the Left or of anything, as Babbin does, is beneath contempt. I am a human being and an American as much as he is. Nor is my argument “pitiful.” It is sound and worthy of an honest response, not the kind of cheap name-calling that Babbin resorts to.
So lets get back to the key point in the debate, which Babbin studiously avoids dealing with: the nature of the enemy we supposedly replaced in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the question of how we extract ourselves, having produced the incredible turmoil and chaos and violence which we now see in both countries. It is simply not true that Iraq was a fundamentalist state. The Baathists and Saddam Hussein were the antithesis of fundamentalist Muslims, and indeed were seen as the enemy by fundamentalists such as Bin Laden. He was indeed a classic fascist, if by fascist we speak of a system in which state power and corporate power are combined in a totalitarian rule. But his overthrow is likely to bring us a theocratic fundamentalist regime, or perhaps a new fascism.
What we should be asking is if that result is worth the continued slaughter of innocent Iraqi men, women and children and the further loss of American lives and treasure. I say no. As for Afghanistan, what we had there was not so much a fascist state, if fascism as a word is to have any real definitional value (check the dictionary). It was a primitive, feudalistic theocracy that the Taliban were operating, which was in the midst of a civil war against feudal warlords. The U.S. intervention which overthrew the Taliban (but which has not destroyed them)–and which I supported insofar as it was focussed on an effort to capture and eradicate Al Qaeda (an effort that has essentially been abandoned)–has left Afghanistan largely in the hands of those feudal warlords.
Again, I’m not sure how much we’ve really accomplished over there for all the blood and killing and chaos. Clearly, though, it is an outrageous and vainglorious overstatement to say, as the Bush Administration claims and as George Bush is fond of saying on the stump, that we have “liberated” 25 million people in either country. If Babbin wants to call this argument “pathetic” and to ignore my points by labelling me a “creature” of the Left, I have nothing more to say to him, but I will say that the calibre of his intellect as evidenced by the level of debate he has displayed in his first outing here goes a fair way towards explaining why the U.S. military effort in Iraq has been so monumentally inept and ill-planned.
Clifford, a friend whom I remember fondly from our Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia Journalism school days, may sincerely believe that we are helping the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have no doubt that there are many, both in the U.S. and in Iraq and Afghanistan, who support U.S. actions in those countries for this very reason.
What he cannot say is that “most” understand that the U.S. is not there to take over Iraq. Neither he nor I know what “most” Iraqis think. I don’t even know what the U.S. geopolitical strategists in the White House and the Pentagon really want to do. We know the U.S. is building some pretty permanent looking bases in Iraq, and that there are those who would like us to establish what amounts to a rather permanent military presence there. And we do know that there are those in positions of power who have written over the years of the importance of securing access to Middle East oil, so it is not out of line to speculate about U.S. motives.
At any rate, we do know that polls taken in Iraq have shown that “most” Iraqis want the U.S. to leave the country. I don’t blame them. In fact, I think that is an excellent idea. Much of the violence in that country is directed against the U.S. and against those who support the U.S. presence in Iraq. With many intelligent military people saying that the war has already been lost, and with the CIA saying that the “best” that can be hoped for is a kind of pro-U.S. military regime or a not-to-hostile Shi’ia theocracy, I think that the best thing now would be for the U.S. to exit rapidly, removing the focus for all these attacks, and let the Iraqi’s clean up the mess, with the help of generous U.S. Aid/reparations.
Colin Powell warned George Bush about the Pottery Barn rule. George went ahead in and broke a lot of the goods. Now it’s kind of like those three stooges movies where the more they try to fix things, the more damage they do, and the owner is just trying to shoo them out the door. The best role at this point would be for the U.S., with its not-so-precision bombs, its DUI weapons and its clumsy even if well-meaning soldiers to get out, and to start paying for the damage.
Bates: Do the Iraqis want us out? I cited specific poll data from USA today available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-poll-cover_x.htm. In response we get anecdotal quotes of bloggers who feel differently. If it is so cut and dried, why not do another poll? My guess is the results would cast the occupation in even worse light than when this was taken in April.
Was the war illegal? The question does not depend on the biography of the man who called it right, Annan. Let's say, for the sake of argument, the guy is the scum of the earth. Still, to have a legal invasion outside UN sanctioned action it has to be in self defense. The invasion of Iraq was not.
The whole argument that we are just there until Iraqis can take over their own security doesn't square with the facts on the ground: we are building 14 long-term military bases there. By what right or authority do we have to do that? The front page of the Wall Street Journal this spring detailed how the provisional authority had locked in the rules for the Iraqi economy and lucrative contracts for years to come so that, regardless of elections, a great deal of the future is set in stone–favoring U.S. corporate interests. Bremer signed a bunch of decrees just before he left to block participation of some critics of the US occupation from running for political office, as well as favoring corporations, exempting contractors from Iraqi law while doing work there, and nicely tying it up so that changing these decrees would be difficult. Is this the work of a benevolent power whose aim is to free people? I don't see how that can be true.
The question, what should we have done instead, is a valuable one. The assertion that my position is “nothing” just isn't correct, or based on anything I have said. When rebutting each other, let's not mischaracterize each other's positions. Here's what I would do. First, our role in ending tyrannies around the world must start with ceasing to finance so many of them. Saddam Hussein was our guy–remember?
Second, any intervention should be carried out under international law. This one wasn't. Recall that, when it was in our interests to keep SH in power after the first gulf war, we let him hammer the Kurds and quash that uprising. To suggest that our foreign policy is somehow guided by the principles of “spreading liberty”, as Bush puts it, just doesn't match our history, from our support for Pinochet, to dictators in Guatemala, to current policy toward Haiti's overthrow of its elected president.
May: Dave and Greg are arguing that we should “extract ourselves” from Iraq, get out of there as soon as possible and let whatever happens happen.
They apparently believe that an American retreat — and defeat – is necessary.
What is not clear to me is whether they believe that because they think American forces, with their Iraqi and coalition partners, are incapable of wining – or because they believe the American-led forces shouldn’t win, that we are no better than those I call our enemies..
By contrast, Jed and I clearly believe that the American-led forces can win – and must win. We do not believe in any moral equivalency between us and the Jihadis and Islamo-fascists.
We believe that abandoning those millions of Iraqis who have been fighting for freedom, human rights and democracy would be wrong, would be a betrayal. (Yes, the US has betrayed good people in the past – the Kurds, to take just one example – but surely that’s no rationale for doing it again.)
Jed and I believe, too, that the course Dave and Greg favor would inevitably lead to a bloodbath in Iraq. We can’t bring ourselves to be indifferent to such carnage.
And, we believe that, in the end, those who perpetrated that bloodbath most ruthlessly would prevail.
In other words, Iraq would fall to Abu Musab Zarqawi, someone who has now declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden (not that Jed or I ever doubted that, but some “experts” did).
Or perhaps the winners would be the former fascist ruling class which would return to power. Maybe they’d even re-install Saddam. (His sons, fortunately, are no longer part of the equation.)
Or maybe the agents of the Iranian mullahs would manage to take over.
Dave and Greg will apparently lose no sleep over such consequences for reasons that I fail to understand.
So perhaps what we ought to do is debate the impact the course of action they favor would have on Iraq and on Iraqis, and on the war against the Jihadi and fascist movements that America and its allies are now waging.
To begin: I think the impact would be disastrous for America and its allies and for the advocates of freedom in the Middle East. I think it would be a huge boon for those who perpetrated 9/11 and for those who celebrated it.
I guess my questions for Dave and Greg would be these: Do you disagree with that assessment? Or do you rather believe that such an American defeat and victory for America’s sworn enemies will benefit for humanity in the long run?
Babbin: My further participation in this conversation violates Bill Buckley's admonition that one shouldn't argue with the invincibly ignorant of the world. Neither Bates nor Lindorff can be taken seriously on these subjects. Were it not for my promise to Jamie to participate, I wouldn't dignify their sheer looniness with a response.
Bates and Lindorff almost remind me of Noam Chomsky. On 15 October 2001, about ten days after we began the military action to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Queda's sanctuary in Afghanistan, Chomsky gave a speech. In it, he said that America always spread its influence through killing, that we were engaged in a secret genocide of Afghans by starvation, and that the best way to reduce terrorism in the world was for America to stop participating in it. Chomsky at least has style. Bates and Lindorff are Chomsky-lite.
They should read more. If they did, they'd know that their hero, Kofi Annan, is wrong both legally and historically when he says the Iraq war is illegal. First, there is no legal control over the use of military force by the United States other than the US Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power to declare war, and Article 2, Section 2, makes the president the commander in chief, responsible for prosecuting wars. There is nothing in the UN charter that can or does limit that in any way, nor in the treaty by which we joined the UN. You can look it up.
The UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, was the brainchild of US president Woodrow Wilson. But — as Bates is apparently ignorant of — the US refused to join the League of Nations precisely because its charter claimed the power to declare war, and the US Senate rejected that infringement on US sovereignty and the Constitution. The UN charter makes no such claim, and the reference to “self defense” in the UN charter has never — until now — been interpreted or claimed to have precluded pre-emptive action. Kofi Annan is wrong, and so — to put it more kindly than he deserves — is Bates.
Lindorff's rant about Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan is of a piece with his new screed, “This Can't be Happening.” The promotional materials for it on his website, proclaim it, “A raucus, biting, irreverent look at three years of outrages and scandal. “This Can't Be Happening” exposes the mendacity, the venality, the cruelty, the danger and the sheer looniness of the Bush Presidency, the Iraq War, the so-called “War” on Terror, and the assault on the American Constitution. Read about how the Bush team lifted a page from the Hitler/Goebbels playbook before the smoke had even cleared from Ground Zero, how Attorney General John Ashcroft and Fox TV tried to recreate in America the East German Stasi's nation of citizen spies…” Anyone who can make these statements is not someone I will soil my keyboard by engaging. This man needs therapy, and only after that can his political and historical tutoring commence.
The issue in Iraq is not how we can withdraw, but how we can win and then use what has been won as a lever against the remaining terrorist states in the region. Yes, many Iraqis may object to our building military bases there, but unless their government decides we cannot, we must press on. Our job is not to please 100% of the Iraqi population. It is to end the threats to American interests coming from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It is to end the financial support of terrorism flowing through the UAE. Our policy must be regime change in at least the first three, and probably others. Those who don't have the stomach for it can carp and whine. But — whether they like it or not — we are at war and we have to win it. As Coach Lombardi said, winning isn't everything: it's the only thing.
Bates, Lindorff, Kerry — and their ilk — don't trust America to act on its own. They think we need some multinational chaperone to accompany us on carefully-controlled outings in the world. Their distrust of America, were it mirrored in distrust for America's enemies — would be of greater value than what they say and believe now. Then again, almost anything would be.
FP: Gentlemen, while Mr. Lindorff has ordered me to keep silent in my own symposium, I think I will risk the unknown and dare to make a comment anyway.
Mr Lindorff, you state that “when the U.S. lost and left Vietnam, it effectively put an end to the slaughter that took the lives of several million innocent Vietnamese.” With transparent disdain and indifference, you remark “there may well have been retributional killings in Vietnam and Laos, which would be no surprise.”
These “retributional killings” seem to be an irrelevancy to you and, moreover, an understandable, excusable and perhaps even admirable development.
This is no surprise of course. Lenin’s, Stalin’s and Mao’s terror, as well as every communist terror, have all been either discounted or promoted by the Left, to one degree or another, as being part of some justified “retributional killings”. But they were obviously far more than that.
A Stalinist regime took over South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and it began to perpetrate what all of its predecessors and successors perpetrated: mass liquidation of human life and freedom.
I am well aware, of course, that the Left doesn’t care about the human beings for whom it purports to speak (Joan Baez was a notable exception in the Vietnam context). So, as I expected, Mr. Lindorff, you couldn’t really care less about the terrible fate that will befall Iraqis if we withdraw, just as befell the South Vietnamese people when we left them to be conquered by the brutal and totalitarian North.
You are clearly not interested in the summary executions of the tens of thousands of innocent South Vietnamese that the North Vietnamese perpetrated after their victory.
These victims had done nothing to deserve “vengeance” — unless being human represented a crime. And you are not interested in the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners who were thrown into prisons and forced labor camps without any formal charges of any kind.
It was this reign of terror that caused two million refugees and hundreds of thousands of boat people to plunge into the Gulf of Thailand and into the South China Sea. And it was this reign of terror that witnessed Hanoi initiate a vicious and sadistic pogrom against its ethnic Chinese citizens in 1978.
But I you know you couldn’t care less about all this. All that you really care about is that the U.S. lost in Vietnam and the communists won — an end result that you discuss in this symposium with an evident glee that you can’t even conceal.
I know, I know, the viciousness with which the communists treated their new victims was all America’s fault. Just like Pol Pot’s genocide was — as you allege — America’s fault. This is typical leftist pedagogy: no matter what crime against humanity a totalitarian adversary of the U.S. ever commits, it is the devil that made them do it. And we obviously know who you think the devil is.
But the reality is that the communist tyrants who captured South Vietnam brutalized their new victims for the same reason the Khmer Rouge brutalized theirs: faithfulness to the Marxist-Leninist creed in general and to the Maoist creed in particular.
Mr. Lindorff, your position that the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge was unconnected to whether or not the U.S. had succeeded in its objectives is startling. It is simply a historical fact that the Khmer Rouge would not have achieved significant gains in Cambodia had it not been for the help of their North Vietnamese mentors (against whom they would turn only later). If you really believe Pol Pot would have come to power if the U.S. had succeeded in its military objectives throughout the region, then we are simply living on two different planets.
The Left flies into ecstasy at the idea that the Khmer Rouge’s genocide was somehow the result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in 1973. The only problem here, of course, is that the Khmer Rouge psychopaths were not Jeffersonians before 1973. They were the fanatic Stalinists they always were and always would be. Their intellectual leaders, who had all been radicalized in France’s universities (they called themselves Angka Loeu – “the Higher Organization”), had meticulously planned their leftist social engineering experiment far before their sensitivities were hurt by American bombing.
The Khmer Rouge killed millions of human beings because, like Lenin, Stalin and Mao before them, they were motivated by the yearning for mass death and suicide, which all movements that worship totality yearn for. Pol Pot’s impulse to “wipe the slate clean,” impose violent collectivization, and to build a new man, all instincts based on leftist values, existed independently of what the Americans were doing.
And so that is what this symposium is about: the bloodbath that the communists perpetrated against the Indochinese people after America’s withdrawal from South East Asia will be repeated by the communists’ ideological totalitarian cousins — the Islamists – in Iraq if we leave.
In any case, we have one more round to go gentlemen, Go ahead Mr. Lindorff, it’s your turn.
Lindorff: I’m forced into a three-way debate because the inaccurate and insufferable sponsor of this symposium can’t refrain from inserting himself, against the rules of engagement, into the discussion. That wouldn’t be so bad if he had anything intelligent to say. Instead, as before, he once again completely misstates what I had said, in order to return to his own ill-informed and disingenuous ranting. To repeat: I do not disparage or approve of the killings that followed the end of the Vietnam War—I only point out that the number (and the moderator’s claim of 10s of thousands is grossly exaggerated and undocumented by him) of those who were killed when the Communists took over in South Vietnam was 1) far less than the number who were dying every year that the U.S. Continued the conflict and 2) was what one would expect at the end of any generation-long civil conflict (the same thing happened in the U.S. in the cases of the Revolution and Civil War).
By the way, I spent 5 years reporting from Hong Kong for Businessweek, and I did some reporting on, and met with, Vietnamese boat people who were confined there. Most were not, as the moderator claims, fleeing execution. While there are legitimate political refugees among them, they were mostly fleeing the bad economy in Vietnam, and the prejudicial policies that have been applied to former South Vietnamese officials and particularly to ethnic Chinese. The moderator doesn’t know what he’s talking about here.
Indeed, as we know from El Salvador and Guatemala—two places where U.S. client governments took power after defeating leftist insurgencies—the same kind of slaughter would have occurred had the U.S. puppet regime in South Vietnam won and defeated the Viet Cong (Indeed, that very type of slaughter was conducted by the U.S. With the blessing of its puppet regime in Saigon in the early days of the war under the name Phoenix Program, which our own former CIA director Colby has admitted).
This is simply a stupid argument the moderator is making. Both sides in that war were vicious killers. Our side just killed more methodically and in bigger numbers, by a factor of 10. Likewise his know-nothing rant about Pol Pot. It’s not a question of whether Pol Pot would not have come to power had the U.S. “succeeded” in Vietnam. The point is that the U.S. couldn’t succeed in Vietnam because it was defeated. I guess the moderator buys into the revisionist claim that the U.S. could have won if only the peaceniks like me had not sapped America’s will. The moderator should have stayed in his chair where he belonged. His only form of argument is ad hominem and distortion, and he adds nothing to this discussion except comic relief.
Babbin doesn’t deserve a response because he takes the same approach—name calling (ignorant and loony) and guilt by association (like Chomsky, your friend Kofi Annan).
I’m not “like Chomsky” or “Chomsky-lite” and I’m not particularly enamored of Annan, who has largely been a front-man for American interests at the U.N., which was why the U.S. Helped put him in his position, though even he ultimately realized the disaster that the U.S. Invasion of Iraq has been and has dared to speak his mind.
By the way, Bubie, I read plenty—just not the Heritage Foundation and Hudson Foundation types of screeds that you apparently favor.
I will thank Babbin for his reference to my new book “This Can’t Be Happening!” however (available from Amazon, B&N or direct from Common Courage at their website (www.commoncouragepress.com). He says that anyone who speaks of “the mendacity, the venality, the cruelty, the danger and the sheer looniness of the Bush Presidency, the Iraq War, the so-called “War” on Terror, and the assault on the American Constitution,” or who says “…the Bush team lifted a page from the Hitler/Goebbels playbook before the smoke had even cleared from Ground Zero,” or who exposes “how Attorney General John Ashcroft and Fox TV tried to recreate in America the East German Stasi's nation of citizen spies…” is in need of “therapy.”
Well, which of these parts of my book are delusional, dude?
You don’t think there was mendacity and venality on the part of the Bush administration when it went ahead and claimed to the American public that it had solid evidence that Iraq was seeking to import yellow cake from Niger or centrifuge tubes from Europe? You don’t think it was cruel to send American troops into battle without providing them with body armor? Don’t think it was cruel to use depleted uranium munitions and anti-personnel weapons in urban settings? Don’t think it was cruel to tell the military it could ignore the Geneva Conventions and that it would be okay to inflict pain on captured Iraqi and Afghani fighters? Don’t think the Bush administration has evidenced looniness in running up multi-trillion-dollar deficits during wartime, installing up an anti-ballistic-missile system that has never worked, or denying that the globe is warming?
You may think Bush reveres the Constitution, but surely you aren’t saying that those who disagree with you and think he has assaulted it by holding U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge or access to a lawyer are delusional do you? I guess you think former Congressman Barr is delusional too, eh? As for the point about lifting a page from Goebbels’ playbook, I stand by that very rational observation. I sincerely doubt that FDR or Churchill would have reacted to the 9/11 attacks by telling Americans that our way of life, our survival as a nation, were at threat, and that we should be hiding in “safe” rooms of plastic sheeting and duct tape while surrendering our rights to the Patriot Act. I think both would have said America is stronger than a gang of theocratic nuts, and that our freedoms and our society would triumph by staying the course. Bush and his gang chose fear over courage and continue to do so.
It’s classic Goebbels. Fear, the big lie, and a nice patriotic war. Finally, about that Stasi reference. I guess Babbin forgot about Ashcroft’s mad scheme, Operation TIPS, which had the stated goal of enrolling as many as 20 million Americans to spy on their neighbors. Look it up Babbin. He really planned to do it, until conservative Congressman Dick Armey flat out refused to let Congress pass any bill that would “pay to have Americans spying on other Americans.” You want loony? Ashcroft had his department refer early TIPS volunteers to Fox-TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” TV program with their tips about suspicious neighbors.
At least Babbin is honest and accurate about one thing (though only one). He makes it clear that liberation is not what the U.S. is about in Iraq. It is about conquest. As he puts it: “ The issue in Iraq is not how we can withdraw, but how we can win and then use what has been won as a lever against the remaining terrorist states in the region.” I’d love to hear how Iraqis feel about suffering all this death and destruction not so that they can become a free and democratic state, standing proud in the community of nations, but so that they can be a “lever” for American policy.
Babbin goes on, in his moment of honest debate: “Yes, many Iraqis may object to our building military bases there, but unless their government decides we cannot, we must press on. Our job is not to please 100% of the Iraqi population. It is to end the threats to American interests coming from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It is to end the financial support of terrorism flowing through the UAE. Our policy must be regime change in at least the first three, and probably others. Those who don't have the stomach for it can carp and whine. But — whether they like it or not — we are at war and we have to win it.” Notice here that we don’t have to ask permission to establish permanent military bases in supposedly sovereign Iraq (remember that? We already handed over sovereignty in June). We can just do it, unless their government decides we cannot (imagine the puppet government of Iraq, installed by America, telling a country with 140,000 armed soldiers in your country, that they can’t do anything!). And why? Not to protect Iraq from domestic chaos, which might make at least some sense, but so we can threaten three of Iraq’s neighbors, with which one would assume its fledgling government might more profitably attempt to develop friendly relations.
What imperialist audacity! I bet you this guy wouldn’t stand on a street, or even a government office, in Baghdad and utter this crap.
And so to my friend Clifford, the only one of this trio who knows how to argue on the merits.
No Cliff, I don’t think an American defeat in Iraq is “necessary” or “desirable.” I think that the war itself was not necessary or desirable. It was a diversion from the fight against terror, from the pursuit of Bin Laden, and from political difficulties here at home. And it’s a disaster of epic proportions. Don’t ask me. Ask the generals who have had the guts to say so. Ask the CIA or the Israeli think tank that have come to the same general conclusion. Ask the British think tank that says we’ll be there for five more years just waiting for the Iraqi’s to develop their own domestic security force.
What I think is that Iraqis, tortured as it has been for decades and most recently by this totally unnecessary conflict, will ultimately have to make their own future.
You take the pessimistic view that if the U.S. Leaves, a few thousand militants will be able to dictate that future by being more violent than the 24 million ordinary Iraqis. Or that the Stalinists of the Baathist past will make a brutal return to power. I concede that may happen, but it may happen five years from now just as easily as it could happen next month were the U.S. to leave. Indeed, if we keep on fighting and killing Iraqis, as we are likely to be doing in greater and greater numbers as the insurgency grows, such an outcome becomes more probably as the years drag on. We have installed a leader who himself is a former Baathist, and who seems to have retained those proclivities, so I don’t see where we’re really avoiding the issue. All we’re doing is growing an insurgency by our continued occupation of Iraq.
I think the real problem is that the Bush administration and the Pentagon have continued to pretend, or imagine perhaps, that they are “liberating” Iraq, when they are really clearly “occupying” Iraq. The model is not Holland or Denmark, which were genuinely liberated from Nazi rule, and immediately were left to their own devices to reestablish their own national governments and societies. It is Germany or Japan, where the U.S. had to go through a whole de-Nazification or de-militarization process, run the countries for a time, and gradually hand over power. If we admitted this at the start, there might have been less confusion. We still don’t admit it though. We pretend there is a sovereign government in Iraq, while we are really running the show. We insult the Iraqi people by doing what we want, when we want to do it. We kill civilians every day with bombs, rockets and gunships (including hundreds of children), but insist that our “army of liberation” is exempt from punishment. And we expect things to improve.
I believe, more optimistically, that if the U.S. were to simply leave over a matter of several months, that the Iraqi people would rise to the occasion. We might not like the result, but I think that the Shiite population, in particular, has found its voice and its power, and will no longer be subjected to Sunni/Baathist domination. Out of the mess that British colonial mapmakers have made of Mesopotamia, there would arise some kind of a viable system—perhaps separate countries, perhaps a tenuous federation, perhaps a unified Iraq. It might be a type of government most Americans would reject as undemocratic or theocratic. But as long as it was not threatening its neighbors, or the U.S., that would really not be our business.
I see no point in continuing the slaughter and brutality in Iraq.
The statistics are undeniable—the major contributor to death and injury of civilians in Iraq is the U.S. Military. Worse yet, the U.S, according to our friendly sovereign regime in Baghdad, has been killing civilians at twice the rate it is killing enemy fighters.
With figures like that, the best thing we can do is leave.
The sooner the better.
Though I do think we’d better plan on providing a huge amount of foreign assistance to the country we wrecked. As Secretary of State Colin Powell so aptly put it in a cautionary observation to Bush on the eve of the invasion, “You break it, you’ve bought it.” (Note that he didn’t say, “You break it, you better keep on breaking it.”)
Bates: I''m not sure what all the vitriol is about. We have differences. I'm not going to start accusing my opponents of bad intentions; I'm puzzled as to why they imply that of me. I don't think you are ignorant; I'd appreciate the same respect from you. You claim I don't care. I take your concerns as genuine; I'd like the same.
1. We signed onto UN charter article 51. We should abide by it.
2. What does “winning” mean in this context? As I said, we already achieved the stated objectives–ousting Saddam and eliminating WMDs (or in this case discovering that there weren't any). Why not declare victory and leave? Our goal was not to gain acceptance of U.S. troops in Iraq, so if they don't accept us, that is hardly a defeat. Does winning mean staying in Iraq when most Iraqis want you to leave? I note you don't rebut the poll I cited… Our record at “winning” isn't very pretty. We've helped install a fair number of dictators around the world (Shah of Iran comes to mind). As far as fostering democracy, I think the record shows we aren't qualified as a nation to succeed.
3. Note that concern for those we occupy has been used by every occupying power as an excuse to continue an occupation. Suppose the Soviets had said, “we want to stay in Afghanistan because the Taliban would be worse.” We would have laughed at that, rightly. Even if true it wouldn't excuse their occupation. They had no right to be there. My point is that this concept, occupations are illegal, applies to all occupying powers, not just to those we don't like.
4. Am I concerned about a bloodbath if we leave? Sure. But we are in the middle of a bloodbath now, with some 200 Iraqis killed in one week, according to the NYT.
5. Lastly, you are concerned about terrorism if we pull out. A valid concern. So is the concern about fomenting it if we keep up the current bloodbath… We are generating more recruits for their madness than they could ever hope to on their own. We killed 3000 civilians in Afghanistan, bombed the Red Cross (twice). How do you think THEY see it? Here's a taste from Scott Baldauf, “Culture of Revenge Stalks U.S. in Afghanistan,” Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 2003:
“Haji Din Mohammad’s family has been marked by two tragic acts. The first was an American bombing raid in December 2001 that killed his nephew Zeni Khel in a local mosque. The second was the urder of an American CIA agent a month later by another nephew in an act of revenge. It’s this eye-for-an-eye code of Mr. Mohammad’s Pashtun ethnic group that Al Qaeda and its allies are exploiting to create new suicide squads in Afghanistan, say Afghan intelligence officials. They are drawing new recruits from families who have suffered in the past year of war. With motives and methods copies from Palestinian suicide bombers, the young men pose the newest, and perhaps gravest, threat to the young government, to American aid workers, and to U.S. troops. ‘I am too old to feel revenge,’ says Mohammad, the family elder. ‘But for our youths, revenge is like an ember that burns in your heart.’”
Unless we start listening to those we are killing, they will find some way to exact revenge. That is what I lose sleep over.
FP: A few remarks before we go to our final comments. And before we move on Mr. Lindorff, please, the next time, don’t be so incredulous if I decide to make a few comments in my own symposium. This is the style of these symposiums and if I talk the world still turns and life goes on, ok?
What perhaps you should focus on, instead of why I am speaking, is the fact that we have invited the Left to speak in our forum and we will gladly invite you back again. I wonder what leftist journals (i.e. the Nation, Counterpunch etc) will ever invite someone like David Horowitz to voice his views in their pages for the sake of dialogue, as we are doing here.
I am sure that if America withdraws from Iraq, that you will also later be arguing that the numbers killed by an Islamist bloodbath are “exaggerated” – as you claim about the numbers I cite regarding the communist reign of terror in Vietnam. The leftist formula is always the same: deny and then, when proven wrong, justify. In other words, the leftist denies a communist holocaust and then, when the holocaust is proven, the Left argues that it was justified under the “circumstances” (revenge killings, etc).
In any case, the numbers I cite are actually conservative figures. We can have another symposium if you wish to debate out the numbers. But I always wonder: why does the Left always have the need to say that Mao, Stalin etc. did not kill tens of millions, but just hundreds of thousands? Does this somehow make the holocausts legitimate?
Your comparison of what the communists did in South Vietnam after victory to what happened in the U.S. in the cases of the American Revolution and Civil War is mind-boggling. I can’t even dignify such morbid nonsense with a refutation.
Anyway, I never said that all the Vietnamese boat people and refugees were fleeing execution. I said there were tens of thousands of executions under a reign of terror. And the refugees were escaping the reign of terror, which every communist regime brings with it. I don’t know what is so complicated about this.
Mr. Babbin, go ahead.
Babbin: First, Lindorff, from you to me it's “Mr. Babbin.” I do not choose to allow evasion of the honorific by those such as you. I will not engage with anyone so entirely loony and irresponsible as to compare the Bush administration with the Nazi regime. Go peddle your screed elsewhere.
For Mr. Bates, the answer is only that we are following Article 51 of the UN charter. You did not even attempt to address the historical meaning and context of Article 51 which I demonstrated in the last round. There, I proved that we have the right to act militarily — preemptively or in self defense — without the UN's approval. That's what our Constitution and our laws say, and nothing in the UN Charter and the US ratification of it changes that fact. Nothing we have done, no matter how much you and Annan spin it, violates the UN charter or is “illegal” by any definition of the term.
You raise two other points to which I must respond. First, in the context of this war “winning” doesn't mean just winning in Iraq. The war against terrorists and the nations that support it doesn't end with the fall of Saddam, the capture of UBL, or the fate of any individual or single regime. Winning means ending the regimes throughout the region and elsewhere that foster terrorism. Moreover, as I explained earlier, we cannot “win” in Iraq — and by the definition Mr. Bush has established, that means establishing democracy there — without ending the Iranian and Syrian support for the insurgency. I don't believe that the form of the new Iraqi government is an element of American success. Success means only removing the threat to our interests. Those who advocate withdrawal choose to ignore the reality of the terrorist regimes, and the region, to create the illusion that withdrawal will solve the problem. You cannot debate the issue of global terrorism without including both Iran and Syria in the equation. To do less in the region condemns Iraq to anarchy, and would actually strengthen the terrorist regimes. Which brings me to your other point.
Should we pull out of Iraq before the region is reformed, Iraq will be partitioned between Iran (which will be both strengthened and enriched enormously by swallowing most of Iraq), Kurdistan (which will soon be at war with Turkey) and whatever remnants of the Baathists who will ally themselves with Syria. The resulting bloodbath will be enormous, far greater than the hundreds who are dying now each week. More importantly, the Iranians will then complete their nuclear weapons program and dominate the whole of the Middle East within a few short years. From that position of strength, they will be able to continue their war against us through the terrorist organizations they supply, fund, man and arm. Iran has been our most dedicated enemy since 1979. It will use terrorism against us and other Western nations until it is compelled to cease. To withdraw from Iraq is to give Iran the power to do more harm to us than they otherwise could. To provide the means for that to happen would be madness. No responsible American president could let that occur. Mr. Bush will not. Sadly, Mr. Kerry would.
In 1848, Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, told the British parliament that, “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” So it must be in the war against terrorists and the nations that support them.
FP: Mr. May, last word goes to you.
May: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hardly need me to defend their reputations and honor. But for the record: Nothing like what occurred in Cambodia and Vietnam happened following the American Revolution or the Civil War. Not even close.
Washington did not murder the children of Tories. Lincoln did not insert hot pokers into the eyes of General Robert E. Lee. If this comes as news to anyone, let me suggest you check whether you have been reading a history book published in Albania c. 1975.
Can we all agree on that?
Now, much as I hate to get back into a debate over Vietnam – a war I opposed and actively protested – I do worry that many of those who lived through that experience now see the world though a distorted lens as a result.
We lost the war in Vietnam, but we were able to go home, get on with our lives and even, eventually, prevail in the Cold War.
It is unlikely, however, that we could lose in Iraq, go home, get on with our lives and eventually prevail in the War against Terrorism — which is really a war against Islamo-fascism, or Jihadism, the movements committed to smashing the democratic experiment and building a new radical Arab/Islamic empire on the ashes of what they call the Dar al Harb (the “World of War”) and what others would call the Free World.
I guess I need to add that whatever David’s reporting may have suggested I am not convinced that the “boat people” were simply fleeing “a bad economy.” Call me naïve but I don’t think people risk their lives and those of their children by taking to the seas in leaky vessels in pursuit of jobs at Walmart’s or even lower capital gains taxes.
Rather, I believe the boat people were desperate to escape persecution, oppression, discrimination, abject poverty and hopelessness.
As for the Cambodian genocide, no one can deny the historic scale of that atrocity.
We had a reminder of those killing fields in Iraq over the weekend. Terrorists massacred as many as 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers. These young Iraqi men who had volunteered to serve their country were forced to lie down in the dirt and then they were executed — with shots to the head.
Abu Musab Zarqawi, who has declared himself the top al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq, proudly claimed responsibility for slaughtering these “apostates.”
David, does this not make it obvious that Iraq is not a diversion from the War on Terrorism? Does this not make it obvious that either we defeat Zarqawi – meaning al Qaeda — in Iraq or al Qaeda defeats us in Iraq?
And if al Qaeda defeats us in Iraq, where will we fight them next? Actually, there is little point in asking that question since the decision will be left to Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden and others. We’ll have no say in the matter.
Perhaps some of my colleagues on this panel believe that if al Qaeda defeats the Great Satan in Iraq, that will satiate — rather than whet — the appetites of our sworn enemies. Such a view flies in the face of everything we know about this enemy and everything we should have learned from history.
I suppose one could argue that if the U.S. had not sent troops into Iraq we would not be fighting al Qaeda there. But that ignores the fact that Zarqawi was in Iraq before we invaded, that he was orchestrating terrorist attacks from Iraq and that he was training terrorists in Iraq.
As was Saddam Hussein: From the recently released Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer report we learn that at Salman Pak, not far from Baghdad, Saddam's M14 unit trained not just Iraqi but also Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian and Sudanese terrorists in such skills as assassinations and suicide bombings.
And – one may infer from the fact that among the facilities at Salman Pak was an airplane fuselage – hijacking, too.
We now know that Saddam's intelligence services also oversaw something called the “Challenge Project.” It involved explosives – beyond that, no one has yet been able to determine what its goal was. (Maybe Saddam was merely working on a better fireworks display to help us celebrate the Fourth of July!)
We learn from the Duelfer report, too, that Saddam's scientists were attempting to bottle sarin – a deadly poison — in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles. Ricin – also quite lethal — was being prepared “as an aerosol.”
Wall Street Journal columnist George Melloan points out what should be obvious when he says that such products were being “designed for use by terr