The Arabic Vietnam


Eric S. Margolis :
One would think the neoconservatives who engineered the Iraq War – the worst disaster for the United States since Vietnam – would hide their heads in shame.
Not so. Former vice-president Dick Cheney, the real power in the Bush administration, just claimed President Barack Obama was responsible for the growing mess in Iraq.
Obama is a wimp allowing America’s foes to run rampant across the Mideast and Eastern Europe, growled Cheney. He wants US troops to reoccupy Iraq, and maybe Syria. Cheney’s blustering was applauded by another over-the-hill dotard, Republican Party leader Senator John McCain.
Out from the Washington woodwork crept a swarm of neoconservatives. They joined Cheney in blasting Obama over Iraq and calling for more war against the Muslim world. What shameless nerve. George Bush and the Republicans created the Iraq disaster and now blame Obama, who opposed it.
Back in 2002-2003, over 80 per cent of Americans believe the big lies spread by the Bush administration and its neo-con allies that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was behind 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. This writer was one of the first journalists to say on TV that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no ties to Al Qaeda. I was blacklisted by some major US TV networks on the orders of the Bush White House – which claimed to be invading Iraq to bring democracy and free speech to the benighted Arab world! The entire US media was bullied or threatened into following the party line on Iraq. Members of Congress clapped for war like trained circus seals. It was one of the darkest periods in American history.
President Barack Obama had the wisdom to pull most US forces out of Iraq, though at least 5,000-7,000 military personnel remain in civilian attire in the vast US embassy complex in Baghdad and two major air bases. Hundreds more Americans remain, running Iraq’s oil industry.
Saddam Hussein nationalised Iraq’s oil and kicked out its foreign owners. As soon as he was deposed, the US and other foreign oil firms moved back in to pump Iraq’s black gold. As Cheney said, Iraq was invaded for the sake of “Israel and oil.”
Now, Obama faces an awesome decision. As Baghdad’s army wavers before extremists’ assaults, he is under pressure to use US airpower to blunt the Baathist advance. Besides killing many civilians, such attacks would outrage Saudi Arabia and much of the Muslim world. Obama knows that America must not be seen as the champion of Iraq’s one sect against the minority.
The Saudis are openly warning Obama not to intervene in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran is beginning to send ground forces into Iraq to the fury of its bitter foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Cooperation between Washington and Tehran over Iraq is likely to have a positive effect on US-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
So Obama is hedging his bets by sending a token 300 US Special Forces to Baghdad as ‘advisors,’ as if Iraq, which had been at war since 1980, needed more training. Air and/or drone strikes should begin shortly in spite of Saudi opposition.
Interestingly, Obama finds himself in the same type of imperial dilemma faced by Britain’s PM Gladstone in 1885. In that year, Britain’s imperial general Charles Gordon went to Khartoum, Sudan, to lead the resistance to the extremists known as Dervishes. He was trying to shame Gladstone into sending the British Army up the Nile to relieve Khartoum.
Gladstone, like Obama, wanted no imperial adventures but was eventually forced to send an army to rescue Khartoum, though not before Gordon was killed and became a Victorian Christian martyr. The Dervish leader, Mohammed Ahmed, aka the Mahdi, became a paramount Victorian villain akin to our era’s Osama bin Laden.
Obama is now being pushed by the US rightwing media, led by the Wall Street Journal, to re-invade Iraq and deepen the war in Syria, not to mention Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Africa. The Republicans are baying for war and calling Obama a coward. Few remember that the Iraq War cost over $1 trillion, all financed by loans from China and Japan. Those neo-cons baying for war have not so far offered to make personal contributions. Or that Vietnam also began with small numbers of US “advisors.”

(Eric S. Margolis is a veteran US journalist)