October 31, 2003

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. XCVIII

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

With more apologies to Danny Elfman, here goes!

What have I done?
What have I done?
How could I be so blind?
All is lost, where was I?
Spoiled all, spoiled all,
Everything's gone all wrong.

What have I done?
What have I done?
Find a deep blog to hide in.
In a million years they'll Google
And find dusty old bits
That read, "Here Lies Poor Old Chuck"

But I never intended all this madness, never!
And nobody really understood, how could they?
That all I ever wanted was to bring them something great.
Why does nothing ever turn out like it should?

Well, what the heck, I went and did my best!
And, by God, I’ve really written something swell.
And for a moment, why, I even touched the sky.
And at least I left some stories they can tell, I did.

And for the first time since I don't remember when,
I felt just like my scourging self again,
And I, Chuck, the Scourging King!
That's right, I am the Scourging King, ha, ha, ha!

And I just can't wait until next Tuesday eve,
'Cause I've got some new ideas that will really make Dick scream.
And, by God I'm really gonna give it all my might.
Uh oh, I hope there's still time to set things right…

Vietnam It Isn't, hmmm…

In 1965 Lyndon Johnson gave a speech at Johns Hopkins University titled "Why Are We in Vietnam?" Two years later, Norman Mailer offered a somewhat different version in his book "Why We Are in Vietnam." Today, this column could be called "Why We Are Not in Vietnam."

Well, that’s quite an admission coming from Mr. Quagmire himself.

That some people think we are is evident from a quick scan of the Nexis database.

A simple scan of this blog would locate numerous instances (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) of Richard Cohen in fact claiming that Iraq is a quagmire just like Vietnam. (Sorry folks, but the old permalinks don’t work too well anymore, but if you hit the old BlogSpot site you can search the archives for Scourge XXVI on 23 May 2003, Scourge XLIII on 25 July 2002, Scourge L on 10 September 2002, and Scourge LXXXIII on 3 April 2003; and the archives of the Spleenville site for Scourge XCIV on 21 October 2003, and Scourge XCVII earlier today. And don’t miss the original BlogSpot spooky vision quagmire in Scourge LXXXVI on 5 June 2003.)

It shows more than 800 links in the past week alone where the words "Iraq" and "Vietnam" appeared together. Some of them are surely my own since in certain limited respects, I, too, have made the comparison.

Some of them? Could a mea culpa be coming on?

Some similarities do exist.


As with the war in Vietnam, the one in Iraq has been plagued by questions of candor.

Especially on the part of those who are seemingly still opposed to the liberation of Iraq.

Vietnam was triggered by the Gulf of Tonkin incident, an attack on two American warships that may never have occurred.

Only if you ignore the fact that President Eisenhower had put advisors into Vietnam five years earlier and that President Kennedy had increased their number substantially.

The war in Iraq was justified by Saddam Hussein's WMD, which turned out to be Weapons of Mass Delusion. In the case of chemical and biological weapons, they may not exist. In the case of nuclear weapons, they certainly don't.

Aaarrrggghhhhh!!!! Do we have to keep hearing all the variants of the imminent threat big lie over and over ad infinitum? Can't we get at least a mention of Saddam's refusal to comply with a seemingly endless number of UN Security Council resolutions?

There are other similarities.

A lot of people who live under the protection of America wanted to see America lose?

Once again the government is whistling in the dark.

Like I said, a lot of people who live under the protection of America wanted to see America lose.

President Bush sees progress in every terrorist attack. "The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers react," he said recently.

This is a fiendishly ignorant interpretation of what President Bush said. Aside from Dick confusing cause and effect from the President’s statement, the simple – and I do mean simple – fact of the matter is that this is a necessary step in the War on Terrorism. Anybody who expected the terrorists to go quietly was fooling themselves just as much as those who thought America would cringe and beg the terrorists to please not attack us again. We are on the offensive! I damn well expect them to fight back. This is life and death for them and they know it. And the harder they fight back, the sooner they will all be dead. That is progress.

In that case, recent events put the United States on the lip of victory.

That’s one big lip. Or perhaps Dick keeps missing every statement by the President and his staff that this is going to be a long war. Iraq is only a battle in that war.

Suicide bombings killed or wounded more than 250 Iraqi civilians, and a Baghdad deputy mayor was assassinated. Another week like this and the enemy will have had it.

As I noted with CBSNews.com editor Dick Meyer earlier this week, sarcasm in the hands of professional Dicks is a sorry site.

But while the similarities to Vietnam are always worth noting, …

Noting, ignoring…

… the differences may be more important.

Oh? They may be more important?

Among them is the nature of the insurgency.

In Vietnam, Big Media were naïve tools. In Iraq, the Big Media are leading the charge.

The Vietnamese independence movement was both long-standing and widespread. (Ho Chi Minh lobbied for independence from France at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.)

(Shhhh… let’s leave Ho's conversion to communism out of the discussion.)

That cannot be said about whoever is behind the Iraq terrorism attacks -- bitter-end Baathists or Islamic zealots taking a short cut to heaven. Neither embodies Iraqi national aspirations.

What? Is that an admission from Richard Cohen that there are, gulp, foreign terrorists engaged in Iraq?

Another difference is that Iraq has no "North" -- as in North Vietnam. In Vietnam, the war on the ground was waged in the South, but supplies and manpower came down the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail from the North.

Au contraire! Iraq has a South (Saudi Arabia), a West (Syria), and an East (Iran and Pakistan) from which supplies and manpower have been pouring in.

Iraq has no triple-canopy jungle to screen a supply line. It's an arid, desert country where a goat can be spotted from the air.

Well, it’s true that there isn’t much jungle, but the Iraqi people of the Tigris and the Euphrates river valleys and the Kurdish people of the mountainous north might find this statement patently ridiculous.

Iraq is not Vietnam.

Well, duh.

In a way, Vietnam was not "Vietnam" either. The communist victory did not precipitate a falling of dominoes all across Asia. In fact, it hardly mattered.

Sometime, I hope Richard Cohen gets an opportunity to ask any of the Vietnamese boat people or their children that are numerous in the Washington, D.C., area if the fall of Saigon and the communist takeover hardly mattered.

Communism all over the world imploded, corroded by its inefficiencies, idiocies and contradictions. Vietnam is communist today -- and who cares?

I care, and so should Richard Cohen. It gets easier to understand how little he cares about the people of Iraq all the time.

To be there is only to feel a profound and sad sense of waste. What did 58,000 Americans die for?

Duty? Honor? Country? I can assure it was for definitely for something more than the opportunity to put another monument on the Mall, even if Richard Cohen can’t quite figure it out.

Iraq in a way is much more important. It is not on the periphery of Asia but dead in the center of the oil-rich Middle East.

Oh God, not another it’s all about oooooiiiiilllll!!!!!

If there is anything to the latter-day domino theory the Bush administration propounded -- a democratic Iraq would be emulated throughout the Middle East -- then its converse must also be true: The failure to establish some sort of civic regime in Iraq would also have consequences throughout the Middle East.

And some people think Richard Cohen can’t reason at a fifth grade level. Shame on you.

What's more, a reversal in Iraq would surely show -- as Somalia did once before -- that the United States lacks the stomach for a fight. It can fight from the air and with precision-guided missiles launched from the sea, but on land it has a glass jaw and cannot take a punch.

At the very least, as Richard Cohen seems to measure the importance of things, Vietnam sure showed that we could take a punch. The problem there seemed to be that we were unwilling to throw enough to win.

I realize that those metaphors disguise loss of life -- 231 American combat deaths, more than half of them since Bush proclaimed the end of the fighting.

No! President Bush proclaimed an end to major combat operations – which it was. President Bush has never proclaimed an end to fighting. Stop making shit up or willfully misquoting the administration. Maureen Dowd has a corner on that market.

And I realize also that in some respects, that is not the significant figure. It's the number of Iraqi dead, which can, if the number grows, become the basis for a wider insurrection.

It’s not an either/or situation. Our dead matter and so do theirs.

As Sept. 11 proved, the world is a lot more dangerous now than it was in the Vietnam era.

If that’s true (an arguable point – at least until North Korea or Iran decide to use a nuclear weapon), then maybe it was because of America’s (and the rest of the Western World’s) self-defense fatigue that we collectively endured after Vietnam until 9/11 shook us from our slumber.

The danger is not just "over there" but right here as well.

Such penetrating insight from Dick.

So it was all the more stunning that the Bush administration went to war with a cockamamie plan for what was to follow, a muddle of wishful thinking that history will judge criminally stupid.

I.e., a Republican is President.

Finally, where Iraq is really different from Vietnam: There can be no premature, chaotic and shameful withdrawal.

Did I just understand Richard Cohen to say that our withdrawal from Vietnam was premature, chaotic and shameful? Maybe there’s hope for him yet. Nah.

In the end, Vietnam didn't matter. Iraq does.

As usual, Dick is half right.

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