Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers Fame, gave the worst news of the day to those examining lessons from Vietnam thirty years after the end of the war – we’re going to be in Iraq a long time. It will be tougher to get out of Iraq, than it was to get out of Vietnam. Why? The major difference between Vietnam and Iraq is Iraq has oil, Vietnam doesn’t and we need oil.
It is much easier to start a war than it is to end one.
Ellsberg was speaking at a forum organized by the Institute for Policy Studies held Thursday, April 28 at the Rayburn House Office Building. He pointed out that in 1968 the anti-Vietnam War protests were at full force and the U.S. did not get out until seven years later, 1975. President Nixon even ran for office promising he had a secret plan to end the war – and we did not get out for years after that. If it had not been for Watergate, says Ellsberg, we might not have gotten out.
According to Ellsberg, throughout our time in Vietnam US officials were saying that the US would only be in Vietnam temporarily, while in fact they were planning on staying for a long time – permanently. This parallels claims by the U.S. government today. The government claims we’re just staying in Iraq a short time until the country is stabilized. But the Department of Defense has been planning 14 permanent military bases in Iraq and in the last month both Houses of Congress approved funds for building the permanent military bases in the country.
Ellsberg also pointed out that throughout the Vietnam war people argued we had to stay or there would be more chaos and death. In the end at least three million Vietnamese died in the war. Chaos was not prevented. Today, we claim to be a stabilizing force, but insurgent attacks have become more sophisticated, they’ve reached out to mainstream Iraqis and there are daily deaths of Iraqis and Americans. Chaos is not being prevented. As many of the other speakers pointed out – the chaos is actually caused by the occupation, not prevented by it.
When the United States left Vietnam it was not a smooth exit – it was a rushed, chaotic exit. As soon as we left the Communists came in and renamed Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City.
This is akin to the concern Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) expressed during the forum. He is worried that if the U.S. announces a definite date of withdrawal than those who we do not want to be in power in Iraq will prepare to take over the government as soon as we leave. Therefore, while he is calling for an exit plan and opposes the war and occupation, he is not comfortable setting a definite date for withdrawal. He is concerned that any exit plan results in the U.S. leaving Iraq in better shape than it is now, and better shape than it was under Saddam Hussein. Rep. Conyers is not happy about having to clean up the mess made by the Bush Administration.
In addition to Rep. Conyers, two other progressive members spoke, in fact they are the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The one thing all three Members agreed on was that it is going to take an up-from-the-ground effort by the people to end the Iraq occupation.
Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out that a major difference between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War is that already – only two years into the Iraq War – a majority of the public opposes the war. It took many years to get that far in the Vietnam era. The anti-war movement needs to turn majority support for getting out of Iraq into the policy of the United States.
Patric Resta, a National Guardsman who spent time in Iraq and now works with Iraq Veterans Against the War, highlighted the poor planning of the administration. In particular the lack of basic equipment. One example, soldiers at check points not even having flash lights in order to signal people to pull over. He pledged to work every day to end the war until the U.S. is out of Iraq. No doubt Iraq Veterans and their families may be among the most important of anti-war advocates.
Jon Volk of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, put forward a practical first step. He suggests people ask their representatives whether there was an intent for the United States to leave Iraq or was the intent to stay there for the long-term? This is a critical first question. If the intent is to leave, then he urges people to get their representatives to sign-onto Rep. Woolsey’s resolution, House Resolution 35. (See: http://democracyrising.us/content/view/177/165/ ). The resolution makes the case for the need to get out of Iraq but does not set a date for doing so. So far, there are only 33 co-sponsors to the resolution – not even the full Progressive Caucus, nor the full Congressional Black Caucus have signed on.
Rep. Conyers ended on a high note – the people did it during the Vietnam War, the people will do it again.
Resolution Calling for Withdrawal, HR 35 http://democracyrising.us/content/view/177/165/
Institute for Policy Studieshttp://ips-dc.org/
Iraq Veterans Against the War, http://www.ivaw.net/
Kevin Zeese is a director of Democracy Rising. You can comment on this column on his blog spot at DemocracyRising.US.