Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dubya's re-education program

"Whatever your position is on that debate [about Vietnam], one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.'"
—George W. Bush attacking congressional "Defeatocrats" in a speech to the VFW in Kansas City
Where to begin in responding to Dubya's latest display of stupefying ignorance? Whenever he launches into one of his "historical perspectives" on any subject, we can only cringe at what's to follow.

For one thing, Cambodia under Prince Sihanouk was neutral and relatively quiet until 1969. Then, in a futile attempt to interdict the Ho Chi Minh trail, Nixon began a "secret"—to the U.S. public, not the Cambodians—B-52 bombing campaign that killed about 800,000 Cambodian civilians. In 1970, the CIA sponsored a coup during Sihanouk's absence from the country. Lon Nol, the CIA's point man, took power and invited U.S. and ARVN troops into the country in another fruitless attempt to block the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Then Cambodia began to unravel. The U.S.-led coup and invasion provoked a civil war that finally resulted in Lon Nol's expulsion and the establishment of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Estimates of Cambodian dead range from 1.7-3 million.

So Bush's speech should have read:
"the price of America's intervention was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,'..."
Dubya also reiterated familiar claims about the alleged enemy is this endless war:
"The struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it's a struggle for civilization. We fight for a free way of life against a new barbarism -- an ideology whose followers have killed thousands on American soil, and seek to kill again on even a greater scale."
A specific ideology seems to animate the relatively small—but apparently growing (thanks in large part to the war in Iraq—number of Iraqis who identify with Al Qaida. But the larger insurgency in Iraq has much deeper roots in nationalist impulses to resist occupation by foreign troops than in any single "Islamist" ideology. In fact, the deep sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shi'ites disprove any notion that a unifying ideology motivates them.

The hysterical denunciations of "Islamofascism" and "radical Islamism" (Giuliani's favorite) ring even more hollow than Cold War claims that "international communism" was monolithic. Long ago we began to see the outlines of an updated domino theory based on the notion that the fall of Iraq would lead to radical (and nearly identical) Wassabi or "Islamofascist" regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Not all hostility to the U.S. in the Middle East countries can be reduced to a fundamentalist religious worldview or "new barbarism."

Nationalism is far too nuanced for those, like Bush, who can only perceive conflict in binary terms founded on ideological and historical distortions.

If there is a valid comparison between Iraq and Cambodia, it would focus on the following observation: heavy-handed U.S. military interventions incited or escalated civil wars that resulted in massive human suffering for no purpose whatsoever.

Dubya should arrange his next vacation, which certainly will come soon, so that he sign up for a couple community-college classes in the reality-based history of southeast Asia and the Middle East.

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