Vietnam, Al Qaeda and Saddam...the Baghdad Follies

by Bob Lupo

Originally penned February 4, 2003; revised March 5, 2003

In my novel, A Buffalo's Revenge, I tried to expose the lunacy, the contradictions, of a rush to war in Vietnam. There is a great narcotic danger in causes ill-defined, in military adventures recklessly launched, and it seems to me that we are faced with a similar peril today.

Threaded inside the underlying fiber of a democracy is a symbiotic obligation of soldiers to fight for their country and an equal duty of the nation to ensure that the reasons for war justify the sacrifices asked. By that standard, President Bush has not made the case, has not passed the test, in his rush to war against Saddam Hussein.

The Vietnam War began cloaked in the flag of freedom: Stop Communism in Southeast Asia.
We committed hundreds of thousands of troops to Vietnam absent much debate.
Our nation's leaders were embarked on a great cause.
The media ate it the beginning.
The people held their breath and returned to their daily lives.

Nobody questioned the premise: Fight Communism in Southeast Asia.

Nobody questioned the contradictions:
Freedom in SE Asia for whom?
Who was our ally?
Was the South Vietnamese government honest & resolute?
Whose side were the Vietnamese people on?
Had we looked in the mirror?

Had we looked in the mirror? I ask myself that question all the time.

We were fighting for Freedom somewhere else but some of our own people were not free.

We were fighting for Freedom when deep racial conflicts existed within the very Army that was fighting for someone else's Freedom.

We harbored racial & prejudicial attitudes against the Vietnamese people: the VC and our South Vietnamese allies--yet we were fighting for freedom in SE Asia.

Nobody questioned the tactics we used: Troops trained for a European land war, dispatched into a steaming jungle, armed with 90/120 pounds of weapons & equipment--in stifling 100-plus degree heat...and fortified with tons of defoliant & other weapons of chemical warfare.

Nobody asked so many questions...that were hanging like low/ripe fruit to be asked.

The Iraqi Adventure--is cloaked in similar hyperbole.
The War On Terror? Iraq is the headline--an Orwellian concoction--the enemy of the hour.
We're fighting for freedom again.
We are fighting terrorism. "We've got the terrorists on the run..." according to President Bush.
Which terrorists? Iraq is a rogue state, but Iraq did not attack our soul on 9/11/2001. Iraq did not attack our freedom on 9/11/2001.
Al Qaeda did. Al Qaeda killed over 3,000 innocent Americans and proved they could strike us on these shores. They have killed innocent civilians in Asia and Africa in recent months--but Al Qaeda is gone, abracadabra, from President Bush's vocabulary, from the news.
Why? How could that be?

We are deploying 250,000 U.S. troops against Iraq.
To fight terrorism. To liberate the Iraqi people. Sounds familiar.

Iraq is a shell of its former might a dozen years ago. Its military is one-third its former size.
Saddam Hussein has been contained.
He is years away from nukes and has pounds to every ton of bio/chemical gunk he once had.
Today, the Kurds in the North enjoy quasi-independence.
We could further neuter Saddam with a stronger no fly zone in the South.
We could end the sanctions and resurrect the Iraqi middle class--putting additional pressure on Hussein.
We could require the continuation of current inspections. The inspection program of the mid-1990s--although pilloried in the media--destroyed more gunk (and his nuclear preparations) than we did in GW1.
We could continue to bomb his radar and his military preparedness.
We could unleash stealth commando units, or unmanned drones, to take out suspicious installations.
But no, Hussein is a stationary target--out there in the open/scores of palaces/and troop barracks/a video game bonanza/30 points in President Bush's popularity basket--we'll take the monster out.

We are displaying the same arrogance of power we once taunted on the road to our quagmire in Vietnam. Deaths in a just war are tragic; deaths in an unjust war are criminal. We have little knowledge of the challenges of fighting a war on the streets of Baghdad. Following our invasion, we seem to have totally discounted any risk of massive Arab Street unrest elsewhere in the Middle East.

We have little knowledge of the complexities of setting up a government in a Post-Hussein Iraq or trying to govern a fractious country.
Anecdotally, the liberation of Afghanistan is at a fragile stage. We have not followed through with $$$$ or resources to stabilize the Kabul government. Child malnutrition in Kabul has risen to 11% in 2002 from 6% in 2001. Soldiers and civilians have been ambushed on the outskirts of Kabul. Our invasion of Iraq will further destabilize Afghanistan and infuriate the radicals in Pakistan (Nukes): a consequence may well be either the overthrow of Musharaf or his further obsequence to Islamic fanatics.

The Shiites, represent over 60% of Iraq's population, and have been suppressed by Hussein's Sunni minority for over 25 years.
We have few contacts with the Shiites who share a religious identity with neighboring Iran.
In fact, a decade ago, the U.S. stood by as Hussein snuffed out a Shiite rebellion, killing thousands. The Badr Brigade, comprising 15,000 Iraqi Shiite troops sheltered by Iran, are now in NE Iraq ready to fight Saddam independent of US Command. And we may have to keep the Kurds and the Turks from each other's throats. Democracy in Iraq? Unlikely. Two of the magical ingredients required for such a miracle would be a middle class and national solidarity. Iraq is a State torn between religious, tribal, and ethnic sects; its middle class was decimated in the mid-1990s.

Why fixate on Iraq and not Al Qaeda?
Saddam Hussein has been contained. Al Qaeda must be destroyed.
Al Qaeda attacked us. Iraq has not.
Al Qaeda is elusive and spread across the world.
Al Qaeda is an idea, a concept, and evokes a quasi-religious fervor in the minds of its followers.
The VC were an idea, a concept, and evoked an ideological fervor in the minds of its followers.
We fought the VC where they found us/not where they were.
We fight Al Qaeda where they find us/not where they are.
Why invade Iraq, not knowing the endgame?
Why invade Iraq, when the war will likely increase Al Qaeda's activity and prove a boon to its recruiting and funding efforts?

There appear to be three major reasons driving President Bush's Baghdad Follies:
1) To re-make the geo-political map in the Middle East and be able to exert pressure on Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia.
2) To govern the global oil prize. We would influence the availability (and the price) of Iraq's oil, the 2nd largest reserve base in the world.
3) A victory in Iraq would be a big boon to President Bush. It would take our minds away from potential disappointments in the struggle against Al Qaeda, take our minds off of wobbly Afghanistan, hostile Pakistan, and North Korea--not to mention the lousy economy.

President Bush's responsibility is to protect the American people. We have scarcely provided the necessary billions required to secure our coastal ports ($316MM out of an estimated cost of $2BN).
God forbid that we find ourselves involved in three simultaneous wars/occupations: Iraq; Afghanistan/Pakistan; and a Korean land war.
What is the President doing, starting a new and unnecessary war, when our worst nightmare, Al Qaeda, remains a mortal danger to our safety?


Bob Lupo, formerly a Wall Street bond analyst, was a combat medic in Vietnam. He lives in Connecticut with his family and is at work on a third novel.