Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 14, 2007

Letter to a Washington Post editor

Filed under: Iraq,media — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Robert G. Kaiser

Dear Robert G. Kaiser,

First of all, I want to commend you for comparing the situation in Iraq to the Vietnam War in today’s Washington Post article (“Trapped by Hubris Again”). Despite your failure to connect the dotted lines and call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, it a step toward seeing this “war on terror” for what it truly is: outrageous imperialist meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

While some Washington Post reporters, especially Bob Woodward in his initially hagiographic look at the Bush ’43 presidency, have helped to create the mess that the U.S. is in today, it has also been a voice of sanity. As you will soon see, however, I am afraid that the criticism of the war has too often been motivated by pragmatism rather than principles–including your own piece.

Your line of criticism reminds me of an incident reported in the Daily News on September 9th last year.

A PISTOL-PACKING Harlem granny turned the tables on a robber yesterday, busting out her registered .357 magnum and shooting the mugger in the elbow – while riding in her motorized scooter, cops said.

Feisty Margaret Johnson, 57, who has a dislocated hip and and a herniated disk, was heading out for target practice about 3 p.m. when a career criminal came up behind her and went for her necklaces, sources said.

“There’s not much to it,” she said later. “Somebody tried to mug me, and I shot him.”

Isn’t that exactly what we see today? The U.S. thought it was mugging a defenseless grandmother but she was actually carrying a .357 magnum. I think the lesson to be drawn is not that we should first check whether an elderly woman is packing iron, but that we should not mug people–or countries–to begin with. In your article, you write:

What’s the lesson to be learned? Modesty. Before initiating a war of choice — and Vietnam and Iraq both qualify — define the goal with honesty and precision, then analyze what means will be needed to achieve it. Be certain you really understand the society you propose to transform. And never gamble that the political solution to such an adventure will somehow materialize after the military operation has begun. Without a plausible political plan and strong local support at the outset, military operations alone are unlikely to produce success.

If this is the litmus test that the U.S. should apply before invading and occupying a foreign country, it would seem that the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic would all fail that test since the goal was successfully defined and achieved. Of course, some of us who have quaint ideas about right and wrong and international law might quibble over the right of the U.S. Marines to invade and occupy such countries, an act that Marine General Smedley Butler once described as a “racket”.

Leaving aside arcane questions of right and wrong, there are a few other items in your article that I would like to bring to your attention. While I understand that you might not enjoy having your feathers ruffled, the listing of your email address at the bottom of your article invites a response even if it comes from the farthest reaches of the American left.

To begin with, I think your grasp of both Vietnamese and Iraqi history is a bit flawed. You state:

Indeed, Hadley’s memo is squarely in the tradition of the sublimely arrogant know-it-alls whom journalist David Halberstam memorably dubbed “The Best and the Brightest.” These were the men around John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson who, along with Kennedy and Johnson, gave us the Vietnam War: Robert S. McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, Walt W. Rostow and the rest. They, too, allowed themselves to believe that the shrewd application of U.S. power — pulling a lever here, pushing a button there — could create and prop up an independent, democratic South Vietnam. This was something that had never existed previously — in that sense, something sadly akin to a multiethnic, democratic Iraq.

You seem to have forgotten that the U.S. was opposed to an independent and democratic Vietnam from the very start. Don’t you recall that General Eisenhower stated in ‘Mandate for Change, 1953-1956’ that “It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier.” Now I understand that for the U.S. the results of such elections would be unacceptable, but the rest of the world is not blinded by anti-Communism. In another demonstration of how unimportant democracy is to the U.S., we should look at what Kissinger said after the people of Chile voted for Allende: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” Given such evidence, one can only conclude that the “shrewd application of U.S. power” generally has more to do with preventing democracy than facilitating it.

While Iraq might look like virgin territory when it comes to the matter of democracy, a deeper search will reveal that the country had made great strides in that direction after the monarchy was overthrown in 1958 by a group of forward-thinking military officers led by Abd al-Karim Qasim. On July 26, 1958, Iraq adopted a Constitution that proclaimed the equality of all Iraqi citizens under the law and granted them freedom without regard to race, nationality, language or religion. The government freed political prisoners and granted amnesty to Kurds who had participated in the 1943 to 1945 Kurdish uprisings. The exiled Kurds returned home and were welcomed by the republican regime.

Given all the rhetoric from the neo-Conservative supporters of the U.S. invasion who never saw a Kurd that they didn’t like, one might think that our country would have rallied around Qasim back then. Unfortunately, Qasim made the fatal mistake of withdrawing from the pro-Western Baghdad Pact and establishing friendly relations with the Soviet Union. While the U.S. is all for “democratic” and “independent” nations, they must not make the fatal mistake of choosing democratically to align with the Soviet Union. That, as Kissinger put it, would be most “irresponsible.”

Qasim was eventually overthrown by forces that the U.S. found more congenial to its tastes, including a young officer named Saddam Hussein. The coup resulted in 10,000 deaths and more than 100,000 arrests. If you consult Hanna Batatu’s “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq”, you will discover–to your shock, I imagine–that the CIA furnished Saddam Hussein’s goons with their hit-lists. Batatu quotes Jordan’s King Hussein on the matter:

You tell me that American Intelligence was behind the 1957 events in Jordan. Permit me to tell you that I know for a certainty that what happened in Iraq on 8 February had the support of American Intelligence. Some of those who now rule in Baghdad do not know of this thing but I am aware of the truth. Numerous meetings were held between the Ba`ath party and American Intelligence, the more important in Kuwait. Do you know that . . . on 8 February a secret radio beamed to Iraq was supplying the men who pulled the coup with the names and addresses of the Communists there so that they could be arrested an executed. [Al-Ahram, 27 September 1963]

To finally turn to your conclusion, I think we find ourselves on common ground:

Bush’s latest initiatives — like all his earlier ones — will not produce the desired political result, because Americans cannot accomplish political objectives in Iraq. Americans are outsiders, occupiers, foreigners in every sense of the word. Only Iraqis have a chance of finding a political resolution for their divisions. So now we await the fate of this latest gamble like a high roller in Las Vegas watching a roulette ball in a spinning wheel. We have about as much control over the situation as the gambler has of that ball. The outcome is out of our hands, and it would be foolish to bet that we will like the way the conflict ends.

I agree. We are outsiders, occupiers and foreigners in every sense of the word. I would only hope that you use your good influence at the Washington Post to publicize the antiwar demonstration in Washington scheduled on the 27th of January. If your paper fulfills its obligation to the American people and informs them of an activity that expresses their will–namely to withdraw from Iraq–then we will be a lot closer to allowing the people of Iraq to express their will as well, a necessary first step in realizing the democracy and independence that all good people should support.


  1. Well-written. Just curious what political party you align yourself with now that your not with the SWP.

    Comment by Doug — January 15, 2007 @ 3:21 am

  2. I identify with the Camejo wing of the Green Party but am not a member.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 15, 2007 @ 4:03 am

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