The Middle East as America’s New Vietnam

Yves here. Comparing the US meddling in civil wars in the Middle East to the costly and ill-fated war in Vietnam seem apt, and for reasons beyond those presented in this article. Daniel Ellsberg described in his book Secrets why he decided to release the Pentagon Papers. As a Rand analyst and Vietnam expert (he worked on the ground for both the State Department and the Department of Defense), he like many insiders believed that if the President had an accurate picture, that the war was unwinnable, that he would start the process of an orderly withdrawal. What he learned by reading the documents, which covered US decision-making in Vietnam from World War II onward, was the US intelligence community had repeatedly told top officials, including the President, that the US would not prevail in the conflict. Yet every President decided to continue because they believed the US could not afford to lose prestige by pulling out.

By Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of the online “MythicAmerica: Essays.” He blogs at Originally published at TomDispatch

It was half a century ago, but I still remember it vividly. “We have to help South Vietnam,” I explained. “It’s a sovereign nation being invaded by another nation, North Vietnam.”

“No, no,” my friend protested. “There’s just one Vietnam, from north to south, divided artificially. It’s a civil war. And we have no business getting involved. We’re just making things worse for everyone.”

At the time, I hadn’t heard anyone describe the Vietnam War that way. Looking back, I see it as my first lesson in a basic truth of political life — that politics is always a contest between competing narratives. Accept a different story and you’re going to see the issue differently, which might leave you open to supporting a very different policy. Those who control the narrative, that is, are likely to control what’s done, which is why governments so regularly muster their resources — call it propaganda or call it something else — to keep that story in their possession.

Right now, as Americans keep a wary eye on the Islamic State (IS), there are only two competing stories out there about the devolving situation in the Middle East: think of them as the mission-creep and the make-the-desert-glow stories. The Obama administration suggests that we have to “defend” America by gradually ratcheting up our efforts, from air strikes to advisers to special operations raids against the Islamic State. Administration critics, especially the Republican candidates for president, urge us to “defend” ourselves by bombing IS to smithereens, sending in sizeable contingents of American troops, and rapidly upping the military ante. Despite the fact that the Obama administration and Congress continue to dance around the word “war,” both versions are obviously war stories. There’s no genuine peace story in sight.

To be sure, peace activists have been busy poking holes in the two war narratives. It’s not hard. As they point out, U.S. military action against IS is obviously self-defeating. It clearly gives the Islamic State exactly what it wants. For all its fantasies of an apocalyptic final battle with unbelievers, that movement is not in any normal sense either planning to attack the United States or capable of doing so. Its practical, real-world goal is to win over more Muslims to its side everywhere. Few things serve that purpose better than American strikes on Muslims in the Middle East.

If IS launches occasional attacks in Europe and tries to inspire them here in the U.S., it’s mainly to provoke retaliation. It wants to be Washington’s constant target, which gives it cachet, elevating its struggle. Every time we take the bait, we hand the Islamic State another victory, helping it grow and launch new “franchises” in other predominantly Muslim nations.

That’s a reasonable analysis, which effectively debunks the justifications for more war. It’s never enough, however, just to show that the prevailing narrative doesn’t fit the facts. If you want to change policy, you need a new story, one that fits the facts far better because it’s built on a new premise.

For centuries, scientists found all sorts of flaws in the old notion that the sun revolves around the Earth, but it held sway until Copernicus came up with a brand-new one. The same holds true in politics. What’s needed is not just a negative narrative that says, “Here’s why your ideas and actions are wrong,” but a positive one that fits the facts better. Because it’s built on a new premise, it can point to new ways to act in the world, and so rally an effective movement to demand change.

At their best, peace movements in the past always went beyond critique to offer stories that described conflicts in genuinely new ways. At present, however, the U.S. peace movement has yet to find the alternative narrative it needs to talk about the Islamic State, which leaves it little more than a silent shadow on the American political scene.

Vietnam Redux

That’s not to say that the peace movement is stuck story-less. One potentially effective narrative that might bring it back to life is sitting in plain view, right there in the peace activists’ most common critique of the U.S. war against the Islamic State.

IS is not making war on the U.S., the critique explains, nor on Europe. Its sporadic attacks on those “infidel” lands aim primarily to radicalize Muslims living there in hopes of recruiting them. Indeed, all IS strategies are geared toward winning Muslims to its side and gaining more traction in predominantly Muslim lands. That’s where the vast majority of IS-directed or inspired violence happens, all over what Muslims call dar al-Islam, “the home of Islam,” from Nigeria to Syria to Indonesia.

The problem for the Islamic State: the vast majority of Muslims are just not buying its story. In fact, IS is making enemies as well as friends everywhere it goes. In other words, it is involved in a civil war within dar al-Islam.

Every step we take deeper into that civil war is a misstep that only makes us more vulnerable. The stronger our stand against the Islamic State, the more excuses and incentives we give it to try to attack us, and the easier it is for IS to recruit fighters to do the job. The best way to protect American lives is to transcend our fears and refuse to take sides in someone else’s civil war.

That’s the positive narrative waiting to be extracted from the peace movement’s analysis. One big reason the movement has had such a paltry influence in these years: it’s never spelled out this “Muslim civil war” narrative explicitly, even though it fits the facts so much better than either of the war stories on offer. It radically shifts our perception of the situation by denying the basic premise of the dominant narrative — that IS is making war on America so we must make war in return. It points to a new policy of disengagement.

And it’s a simple, powerful story for Americans because it’s so familiar. It sends us back half a century and half a world away — to Vietnam. At that time, my friend and (a bit later) I, too, embraced the narrative that Vietnam was indeed gripped by a civil war. That explanation would play a major role in boosting the success of the Sixties peace movement. Within a few years, many millions of Americans, citizens and soldiers alike, saw the conflict that way — and not so many years after, all U.S. troops were gone from Vietnam.

The peace movement’s story then was both simple and accurate. No, it said, we’re not the good guys protecting one independent nation from invasion by another nation. Nor are we fighting an enemy intent on doing us harm. Boxing champion Muhammad Ali got it right when he said: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”

Intervening in Vietnam’s civil war cost us more than 58,000 American lives and did untold damage to the vets who survived, not to speak of what it did to millions of Vietnamese. It showed us that, no matter how superior our technology, we could not swoop in and win someone else’s civil war. Our intervention was bound to do more harm than good.

Fifty years later, we are repeating the same self-defeating mistake. Military action against the Islamic State is leading us into another Vietnam-like “quagmire,” this time in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East. Once again, we have enmeshed ourselves in a complex civil war abroad with no strategy that can lead to victory. It was wrong then. It’s wrong now.

To put it mildly, the U.S. has a less than stellar track record when it comes to intervening in other people’s civil wars. We’ve also interfered quite selectively.  In the last two decades, we stayed out of brutal conflicts in places like the Congo and Sri Lanka. So a decision not to intervene militarily in a foreign civil war should be familiar enough to Americans.

To become neutral is not to condone the grim brutality and reactionary values of the Islamic State. It’s hardly likely that twenty-first-century peace activists will give the IS anything like the sympathy many Vietnam-era protesters offered the insurgents of that moment. In this case, becoming neutral merely means suggesting that it’s not Washington’s job to fight evil everywhere. Its job is to adopt the strategies most likely to keep Americans safe.

That’s a view most Americans already hold to quite firmly. So the “Muslim civil war” story just might get a sympathetic hearing in the public arena.

The Bewildering Maze Of Muslim Civil War

Of course, the Islamic State is not involved in what we conventionally think of as a civil war, in which two sides fight for control of a single nation. Even inside Syria, the number of factions involved in the struggle, including the oppressive government of Bashar al-Assad and rebels of every stripe from al-Qaeda-linked to Saudi-linked to U.S.-linked ones, is bewildering. Since IS is fighting for control not just of Syria but of all dar al-Islam, many other movements, factions, and forces are involved in this Muslim civil war as well.

Some observers are too quick to simplify it into a battle of “traditionalists versus modernizers.” In the U.S. mainstream media that usually translates into a desire for us to intervene on behalf of the modernizers. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is probably the best-known advocate of this view. Others simplify it into a battle between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Since Iran is the leading Shi’ite power, those in the media tend to favor the Sunnis.

All these simple pictures are painted to build support for one side or another. The only kind of peace they aim at is one that leaves their favored side victorious.

In fact, no simple dichotomy can capture the tangled maze of struggles in dar al-Islam. Sunni traditionalists battle other Sunni traditionalists (for example, al-Qaeda versus IS). Modernizers join traditionalists to fight other traditionalists (for example, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in an uneasy alliance to weaken IS). Sunnis and Shi’ites become allies too (for example, Kurdish Sunnis and Iraqi Shi’ite militias allied against IS). The U.S. supports both Shi’ites (like the government of Iraq) and Sunnis (like the oil-rich Gulf States), while it resists the growing power of both Shi’ites (like Iran) and Sunnis (like IS).

By emphasizing the true complexity of the Muslim civil war, a peace movement narrative can cast that war in a different light. Precisely because there are not two clearly demarcated sides, it makes no sense to cast one side as the good guys and launch our planes and drones to obliterate the bad guys. It’s bound to lead to incoherence and disaster, especially in this situation, where the Islamic State, however repugnant to most Americans, is arguably no worse than our staunch allies, the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

Given the confusing, some might say chaotic, maze of intra-Muslim conflict, it is equally senseless to go on promoting the American fantasy of imposing order. (“Without order,” Friedman has written, “nothing good can happen.”) Taking this road so far has, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, actually meant unleashing chaos in significant parts of the Greater Middle East. There’s no reason to think the same road will lead anywhere else in the future.

Bring the Boys, Girls, and Drones Home

The Muslim civil war story leads directly to a radical change in policy: stop trying to impose a made-in-America order on dar al-Islam. Give up the dubious gratification of yet another war against “the evildoers.” Instead, offer genuinely humanitarian aid, with no hidden political agenda, to the victims of the civil war, especially those fleeing a stunning level of violence in Syria that the U.S. has helped to sustain. But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war. Become, as we have in other civil wars, a genuine neutral.

To call this change of narrative and policy a tall order is an understatement. There would be massive forces arrayed against it, given the steady stream of verbal assaults the Islamic State levels against Washington, which have already inspired one terrible mass killing on American soil. We don’t know when, or if, other attacks will succeed in the future, whether organized by IS or carried out by “lone wolves” energized by that outfit.

The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that none of this is evidence of a war directed against America. It’s mainly tactical maneuvering in a Muslim civil war. For the Islamic State, American lives and fears are merely pawns in the game. And yet this reality in the Middle East runs against something lodged deep in our history. For centuries, most Americans have believed that our nation is the center of world history, that whatever happens anywhere must somehow be aimed directly at us — and we continue to see ourselves as the star of the global show.

Most Americans have also been conditioned for decades to believe that what’s at stake is a life-or-death drama in which some enemy, somewhere, is always intent on destroying our nation. IS is at present the only candidate in sight for that role and it’s hard to imagine the public giving up the firmly entrenched story that it is out to destroy us. But half a century ago, it was difficult to imagine that the story of Vietnam would be just as radically transformed within a few years. So it’s a stretch, but not an inconceivable one, to picture America, a few years from now, ringing with cries that echo those of the Vietnam era: “U.S. out of dar al-Islam.” “Bring the boys — and girls and bombers and drones — home.”

And if anyone says the analogy between Vietnam and the current conflict is debatable, that’s just the point. Rather than a rush to yet more war, it’s time to have a real national debate on the subject. It’s time to give the American people a chance to choose between two fundamentally different narratives. The task of the peace movement, now as always, is to provide a genuine alternative.

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  1. polistra

    Vietnam wasn’t the first irrational intervention. It started in 1918. Our part in WW1 and our “nation-building” in Russia just after WW1 were somewhat forgivable because we didn’t know the full consequences yet. After 1920 we gradually learned from those experiences. We saw that WW1 accomplished worse than nothing, and we saw that our Russian intervention for the Mensheviks allowed Lenin to justify defeating the “foreign-owned” Mensheviks. By 1933 the lesson was even stronger.

    After WW2 we started intervening again. We “nation-built” for Chiang’s side in China, which helped Mao to portray Chiang as foreign-owned. We meddled in Korea, but fortunately Ike pulled us out before we were able to do our usual total damage.

    After Ike, every president has to do his own “nation-building”. Part of the job.

    It’s no longer possible to conclude that our gov’t is stupid or clueless. We never gain anything from these wars. The usual leftist chant of “Blood for oil” is nonsense. It’s just blood for blood. We create enemies so we can fight the enemies.

  2. Peter Schitt

    Does the analogy of US involvement in the Mid East to Vietnam extend to the policy of “Kill everything that moves”?

  3. DakotabornKansan

    “He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance.” – Graham Greene, The Quiet American

    We never seem to learn that before we start meddling in places around the world that we must study their histories. Instead, our endless wars are a testing ground for our advanced military technologies against primitive insurgencies. Folly is a child of power and the new self-hypnosis.

    “Any solution that accomplishes the neutralization of Indo-China would be more desirable than this hopeless stalemate in the jungle swamps. We need have no illusions about Ho’s regime. It is of course Communist-dominated. But so is the U.S.S.R. and its satellites, with whom the United States, and France, maintain normal diplomatic relations. A farsighted policy based on well-administered aid might do more to stem the Communist tide in Southeast Asia than sending a few technicians or a few additional plane-loads of napalm.” – Bernard Fall

    Colin Powell, in his autobiography, My American Journey, wrote:

    “I recently reread Bernard Fall’s book on Vietnam, Street Without Joy. Fall makes painfully clear that we had almost no understanding of what we had gotten ourselves into. I cannot help thinking that if President Kennedy or President Johnson had spent a quiet weekend at Camp David reading that perceptive book, they would have returned to the White House Monday morning and immediately started to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from the quicksand of Vietnam.”

    “Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.” – Graham Greene, The Quiet American

    1. diptherio

      I cannot help thinking that if President Kennedy or President Johnson had spent a quiet weekend at Camp David reading that perceptive book, they would have returned to the White House Monday morning and immediately started to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from the quicksand of Vietnam.”

      Daniel Ellsberg would seem to disagree. They knew the situation, but it didn’t make a lick of difference. And Powell also assumes that whatever the Prez decides goes, militarily, which I have serious doubts about. And, fwiw, anyone who ever takes Powell seriously again after that disgraceful display at the UN in ’03 needs to have their head examined…imho.

      Folly is the child of power…so true.

      1. Steve H.

        Lawrence Wilkerson was always Powell’s right arm, and he is well worth taking seriously.

        My assumption is that it is likely he speaks for Powell, and at the least has Powell’s implicit support.

        Wilkerson has a recent talk, “Travails of Empire – Oil, Debt, Gold and the Imperial Dollar.’ Long, but worthy of consideration.

      2. Jack Heape

        A lot of new material has come out on Kennedy and that in fact, he planned to withdraw from Vietnam. He issued several secret NSAMs in October, 1963, the gist of which was to begin a withdrawal of all forces from Vietnam. McNamara touched on this in his memoir in 1995 and publicly confirmed Kennedy’s intent at a speech at the LBJ library. The withdrawal intent is further supported by the release of several White House tapes in 1997 by the Assassination Records Review Board. The speculation is that this is one of the reasons Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963.

    2. jagger

      Purportedly, the quote below was De Gaulle’s warning to Kennedy before the U.S. ever became majorly embroiled in Vietnam. It’s a warning that could apply to any war or conflict anywhere throughout history, maybe. In my view, desk murderers like Kennedy and his ilk don’t heed warnings like this:

      “For you, intervention in this region will be an entanglement without end. From the moment that nations have awakened, no foreign authority, whatever it means, has any chance of imposing itself on them. You are going to see this. The ideology that you invoke will not change anything. Even more, the masses will confuse it with your will to exert power. This is why the more you commit yourself there against communism, the more the Communists will appear to be champions of national independence, the more they will receive help and, first of all, that which comes from desperation. I predict to you that you will, step by step, become sucked into a bottomless military and political quagmire despite the losses and expenditure that you may squander.”

  4. gnokgnoh

    This is not just a civil war in the Middle East. You grant little or no agency to western powers including the United States for what caused the Arab spring or what is happening in Iraq and Syria, what you refer to as dar al-Islam. The narrative of a civil war is woefully incomplete, in many ways similar to Vietnam. Whatever or whoever the “peace movement” is knows this and refuses to ignore western agency. You write:

    To become neutral is not to condone the grim brutality and reactionary values of the Islamic State. It’s hardly likely that twenty-first-century peace activists will give the IS anything like the sympathy many Vietnam-era protesters offered the insurgents of that moment. In this case, becoming neutral merely means suggesting that it’s not Washington’s job to fight evil everywhere.

    You’ve managed to do several things: 1) create a binary good vs. evil narrative; 2) imply that we were once neutral; 3) and elide the sources of IS manpower and weaponry, and motivation for western involvement. The problem with the “peace movement folks” is that they understand these things and talk about them. The narrative you suggest is simpler and works much, much better to make us feel good about ourselves and to encourage non-intervention. It will win hearts and minds, but it is not the truth and it will not impact public policy, any more than it did in Vietnam. The key is our motivation for involvement, which has little to do with the perception of IS as a threat. Likely, the motivations are complex and serpentine, but extraordinarily self-interested. We learned the lessons of Vietnam, and we can prolong this as long as necessary, until it perhaps breaks us.

    The narrative of IS and Muslims as existential threats works, because it gets emotional support from vast numbers of U.S. citizens. I live in a hugely majority Democratic town in the northeast of the U.S. A tally of 8th graders in my daughter’s class about whether we should let vetted Syrian refugees into our country unleashed a torrent of vituperative, anti-Muslim sentiment. The Muslims in the class, their friends, were reduced to tears.

    1. gnokgnoh

      This sentence should read:
      “You’ve managed to do several things: 1) create a binary good vs. evil narrative; 2) imply that we were once neutral or can ever be neutral; and 3) elide the sources of IS manpower and weaponry, and motivation for western involvement.”

    2. Crazy Horse

      100% correct, gnokgnoh.

      The other way the author misrepresents the events that form the American psyche is by ignoring the pivotal event — the attack on the WTC.

      The opinion makers who created the narrative around this event managed to sell an official conspiracy theory that requires suspension of the laws of physics and a series of events that are so improbable that they defy reason. This fabrication is thoroughly embedded in the American psyche and forms the rationalization for all the disasters subsequently perpetuated in Libya, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Instead of the pursuit of justice for the victims, we witnessed a successful cover up of what was clearly a false flag attack designed to open the floodgates for the National Security State.

      1. templar555510

        Elegantly and correctly put ; the addendum to which is that that same National Security State has garnered massive support from vested interests since 2001 the scale of which surpasses anything in the history of the Republic. None of these vested interests existed to anything like the same degree during the Vietnam era. So entrenched are they now that the public is blindsided to the possibility that someone – anyone – might be speaking the truth and, consequently, can be trusted.

      2. john

        Just watched the first new X-files, and it has McCale?(sp?) of the Talking Dead, @midnight, Community, etc playing an obvious “alex jones” (but a rich one) who directly says 9-11 was a false flag operation.

        It’s producer is a Carter.

        The American public is brain-dead, and the truth is that is the natural state of most of humanity. Independence is a rare personality trait in our society, and frankly it sucks.

        The lies about Iraq were just as important, but the double-think aspect is the real winner.

        Everyone with a pulse had at least heard that OBL (who Egypt reported died in 2002-ish, and American media admitted he was on dialysis… side note, why kill a guy whose been on dialysis for 10 years?) and Saddam were US tools all through the 80’s.

        The aware 1920’s counter-imperialists became marginalized as socialists, atheists, and subversives.

        Today, people think we’re misguided trolls in our mother’s basements. As more people end up in their mother’s basements, we may have the winning strategy here.

    3. Sivalenka

      Good observation . Ignorance on the part of citizenry enables these wars. America is inward looking by design. Most American that have been to non European Nations in Asia probably have done so when they served in the armed forces . It is unfortunate .

  5. Whine Country

    As a Viet Nam combat veteran, I share the author’s characterization of both “conflicts” and agree with the points he makes, particularly that both were wrongly entered into and unwinnable. I do have one bone to pick however. I think the author makes a mistake when he says that the glaring similarity (the elephant in the room?) is that both were civil wars, and as a matter of principle should be avoided. That point is simply not something that is self-evident. During our first “civil” war, better known as the Revolutionary War, France joined us and, some would argue, tipped the scales in our favor. Instead of focusing on the “civil war” similarities, I think the fundamental (and far more important) point that he raises is that they were both unwinnable, and yet our leaders could not accept that fact and act decisively. The hard fact of life is that there is no good way for military people to end a war short of victory. At the end of the day, they will just keep plowing ahead claiming that minor (or sometimes major) changes need to make in order to ultimately achieve that victory. So, at the end of the day, why did we end the Viet Nam conflict so much quicker than our present quagmire? Two civil wars, both unwinnable yet one continues with no end in sight? In my opinion, the answer is twofold: The draft and the number of casualties forced citizens to become politically engaged to the point that politicians finally forced the military to cease actions short of victory. My point reminds me of a quote I read here on NC, made by a financial historian after the GFC. When asked why there were not riots in our streets after the GFC, his answer was, with 25 percent unemployment you get riots like the Great Depression. With 10 percent you just get anger. Something similar is happening with our perpetual war machine. Until we open up the window and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”, it will continue and whether it is a civil war or not has little to do with the problem.

    1. diptherio

      See, I always thought that we lost Vietnam not due to domestic political pressure, but because the VC kicked our asses out of the country. I mean, that last chopper from the embassy wasn’t the result of anti-war protesters, right, but rather of our people being forcibly ejected by the locals.

      However, I wasn’t directly involved or even born yet, so I’m just going on hearsay. But it seems like the right always claims that “traitorous” anti-war protesters caused us to lose the war, which sounds like BS coming from them. Then I hear from the left that it really was the protests that got us out, which is exactly the same narrative as the right spins, but it sounds like wishful thinking coming from the left. But like I said, I wasn’t around…and even those who were can’t seem to agree on exactly what happened, or what was effective and what wasn’t.

      1. Jim Haygood

        U.S. troop strength in Vietnam began declining in 1969, and was reduced to near zero by 1973 when a ceasefire was signed. This left the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) on its own against the Viet Cong. U.S. troop withdrawal can be linked to domestic political pressure.

        By the time of the fall of Saigon in 1975 (that iconic shot of the chopper on the roof), the South Vietnamese govt controlled nothing but its capital city, and the U.S. nothing but its own embassy.

        If you think this sounds a bit like Kabul, you’re right. I’ve been calling Obama the Viceroy of Vietghanistan since his failed surge in 2009. (Funny how the MSM never acknowledge this clear-cut military defeat.)

        Now that the theatre of operations has expanded, the great man is properly addressed as the Sultan of Syraqistan.

        *bows toward imperial D.C. as the muezzin call goes out from the minaret*

      2. craazyboy

        Back then we called it “Hippie Punching”. Left upper cut to Uncle Sam’s glass jaw, then a powerful roundhouse right and Uncle Sam bit the dust. Hippies were bad dudes back then.

      3. Yves Smith Post author

        Diptherio is right. For instance, there’s a scene in the Ellsberg book where Ellsberg tells McNamara how badly things are going. McNamara isn’t flummoxed, in fact he pretty pleased and says in substance, “Yes, that’s what I expected.” He goes directly from the briefing in a chopper from Ellsberg to give a speech saying how well the war effort is going.

        Similarly, Ellsberg says the POW interviews of the North Vietnamese were like none he’d ever read. It was clear they could not be coerced. Since they had the support of the local villages and the members of the army could not readily be distinguished from them, that meant the only way the US could win was to exterminate the entire population.

        1. john

          I heard an interview with one of the guys who did those POW interviews years ago.

          First, let me admit that the Vietnamese had a well deserved reputation for their military ferocity… but he said (anecdotally) that the Vietnamese were terrified of Americans, because we *didn’t* surrender.

          Years of westerns, holding out in the Alamo against vastly numerically superior *savages* until the cavalry comes (my attribution) gave western troops the faith in their technological superiority to fight to the death. Also, the reports of terrible Vietnamese prison conditions and atrocities kept them fighting too.

          Just today, a military friend of mine (served in Iraq in 2009) pointed out on facebook that the Vietnamese rumor was that Marines had to kill a member of their own family to serve.

        2. whine country

          Diptherio is partly right. We taught the ARVN to fight the North using our equipment and tactics. Then Congress cut off funding for equipment and as their equipment broke down, they could no longer fight effectively. Our Army did not get its ass kicked as he claims. It certainly would have if Congress had done the same thing to us while we were there but that would not have been politically correct. Instead we just hung the ARVN out to dry and let them get their asses kicked. The good news though is that we created a new place to offshore our jobs so apparently the end justifies the means.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            That’s not what Ellsberg says and he was one of the few experts to spend time in the field, including going out with a combat unit for an extended period as an adviser (Ellsberg had once been a Marine). Among other things, he had to illegally take control of the unit at one point because its leader did something colossally stupid that put the unit at risk. I forget the details but Ellsberg depicts it as bad training.

            Ellsberg was widely considered to be one of the top experts on Vietnam and was the first to brief Kissinger on Vietnam as a result.

            The AVRN was reporting success. Ellsberg describes how they had strong incentives to do so. In fact, virtually all US advisers were so terrified that most were afraid to leave Saigon. The US did not know how to fight a guerilla war and hence we were in no position to teach the ARVN.

      4. gordon

        Jim Haygood is right – US forces were mostly gone by 1975, and that withdrawal resulted from domestic pressure. US domestic support for the war had evaporated. But that reveals another aspect of the Vietnam war – the extent it was only about the careers of US politicians. For Kennedy and Johnson withdrawal earlier would have been politically embarrassing, regardless of the facts on the ground or the real chances of “victory”, so they didn’t withdraw even when US national interest and the political/military situation in Vietnam indicated they should.

        By the late 1960s the situation became quite lunatic – the military lied to the US Govt. about progress and the chances of “victory” partly because the generals wanted to look successful and partly because that’s what the US politicians wanted them to do, and the US Govt. lied to the electorate in order to look successful and stalwart. All the time the reality in Vietnam was deteriorating.

        Sound familiar?

        1. sierra7

          It’s called, “Imperial Hubris”….
          Gets the historical empires every time……
          Can you hear it coming????

      5. Gaianne


        I hope I am remembering correctly when I say that Frances Fitzgerald in the “Fire in the Lake” described the end as coming when the Army itself (that is, the privates doing the fighting) became anti-war. The collapse in morale resulted both in some of the worst atrocities of the war but also in a refusal to carry out missions, followed, occasionally, by “fragging”–the assassination of gung-ho officers using fragmentation grenades. This in turn forced the withdrawal of American ground forces and a reversion to air war.

        1. john

          A reader here put a link up to the ‘hardcore history’ podcast. Their WWI series held the same conclusion.

          A particuarly poignant quote was offered in the same series from F. Scott Fitzgerd. (Forgive me for playing the quote out, I’m reading it myself presently.)

          “That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
          “General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.”
          “No, he didn’t — he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle — there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”

          The policies of empire meet ideological needs.

    2. Skippy

      You don’t understand that the operation was not working the books right without the payday expected e.g. Nam was a business operation and not to be confused with liberating operation…the cessations was a stop loss measure couched in rhetoric…

  6. GlassHammer

    “But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war.”

    I don’t know if that is possible since our allies in the region are major stakeholders in the “civil war”. They (our allies) push for “Regime change” in the Middle East just as badly as we do. In fact it might by more accurate to describe the conflict not as a “civil war” but as a massive “proxy war” between multiple nations in the Middle East.

    “Most Americans have also been conditioned for decades to believe that what’s at stake is a life-or-death drama in which some enemy, somewhere, is always intent on destroying our nation.”

    Not “decades”, that aspect of American culture has been around since our founding.

    1. MikeNY

      The Establishment and the MIC certainly need war.

      Great piece. As I’ve said before, we broke the ME, but we can’t fix it.

      1. sierra7

        “Breaking the ME began way, way back at the end of WW1 and the “disintegration” of the Ottoman Empire.
        The empirical aspirations between jealous contenders, Britain and the France laid a foundation for future violent ferocity that this world has not paid enough attention to.
        And it continues today……

    2. Gaianne


      As the economy continues to collapse the sentiment for war among the elites will accelerate. At minimum war is necessary as a distraction. Moreover, as the economy ceases to function, war is necessary to justify the reorganization of the economy that will be needed. That reorganization will continue to favor the elites, but be essentially a command economy that dictates activities deemed necessary while allowing everything else to continue to collapse.

      Only war can provide the necessary justifications and necessary excuses.

      The Russians and the Chinese are already aware of all of this, and are planning accordingly. They are delaying the war as best they can, because time is indeed on their side, but delay can not be turned into prevention. The war will come.

      For an optimistic (that is, non-nuclear) scenerio for the coming war, see John Michael Greer’s “Twightlight’s Last Gleaming.”

  7. Linda Amick

    It’s always about power and resources. Greedy, conscienceless human activities. I think in the same way there are definitional “varieties” in various dog breeds (cocker spaniel, dachund etc) we should begin naming cruel, grasping humans as some other human species variety. That would facilitate a start in rewarding the human variety that has a concern for others and blackballing the sociopathic variety,

  8. vegeholic

    Yes, power and resources, in particular oil. The entire economy runs on oil. If you have it, you have prosperity, without it you are a subsistence farmer grubbing in the dirt. Notwithstanding all of the happy talk about America’s energy independence, the people in charge understand oil is a finite resource, fracking is not the panacea that has been promised, and the abundant supplies in the Middle East look very appealing. They want it to be in the hands of sympathetic governments, and they want to deny it to perceived adversaries. All of the resulting military activity is then correctly seen as just an externality related to the acquisition of oil and maintenance of oil security. If these expenses were directly tacked onto the price of gasoline and diesel then we would at least have a chance to make informed decisions about whether the benefits justify the costs. Of course we can’t have that, so we end up making lots of bad choices about foreign interventions and about domestic transportation and urban development policy under the delusion that we can preserve oil being cheap and plentiful.

  9. David

    Carter calls Russia the #1 threat and positions more hardware for Billions on the Russian border – the F-35 is a Trillion, the new nuclear missile program is a Trillion – positioning Russia as preeminent threat will be the spending opportunity of the century given Russia’s high tech capability and the undeveloped resources over 9 time zones as the prize.

    The ME opposition is primitive in comparison.

    The US has spent $20 Trillion since Korea in 1950 and has $19 Trillion in debt to show for it. But now we are headed for MIC Capex numbers that are another level of magnitude.

    With the corporations leaving US tax jurisdiction, it will be up to the citizens to fund this entirely – SS & Medicare have to go – it is now inevitable

    It will be great having Hillary to defend the MIC.

    1. Felix_47

      Having served in every war since Viet Nam……we need a broad based draft with no deferments……and a cut in the current military pay and benefits so people really don’t want to go. Only then, it seems, will the people rise up and revolt…….otherwise they just tap away at their I phones….

      1. David

        I agree the draft in retrospect was a huge positive for protest – which is why it went away so that more war would go unchallenged

        I was in USAR at that time – don’t consider myself “as served” in any way

        Was always various scams whether: 2S / conscientious objector status / religion / medical issues / or reserves in various forms which never served in those years

        being at risk personally would cure many people like Hillary Clinton who say ” we came, we saw, He’s dead”

      2. sierra7

        As a vet of 5 years (post ww2/Korea) you are 100% on target…..
        “Privatizing” our military and its support has taken our callous, zealous, ideological foreign policy away from the “local” interest.
        Bringing back a draft with as you point out, “….with absolutely no deferments, etc” would be a slap up the side of the public’s head and possibly wake them up to what is really going on.

      3. oh

        How about sending the army brass, Congress and the Commander-in-Chief and his cabinet to the front lines?

  10. Lou

    I strongly disagree with Ira Chernus.

    “But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war. Become, as we have in other civil wars, a genuine neutral.”

    The US cannot be “neutral” because ISIS would not exist had the US not invaded Irak in 2003. You can’t create a nightmare, an organisation like ISIS which commits a genocide (on the Yazidis), sells girls and women as slaves, destroys everything, then just walk away and say : “This is a muslim war, none of our business”.
    It’s not a muslim war, it’s a muslim war created in large part by the US.

    Of course this does not implies the US (with its “allies”) will “win” this war.


    1. Felix_47

      ISIS is simply publicizing what fundamental Moslems are about. The big change has been the funding over the last 45 years provided by the U.S. fuel consumer to the Saudis and then to the fundamentalists. ISIS is nothing new.

  11. Steven

    For a better explanation of what is motivating the players, check out Erdoğan, Salman and the Coming ‘Sunni’ War for Oil. As gnokgnoh notes, “You grant little or no agency to western powers including the United States … .” What I find troubling about Chernus’s analysis is the author’s attempt to drag out the tired old excuse for the U.S. Vietnam adventure – ‘we were just trying to do good’. I can’t remember where I read this (Tuchman, “Stillwell and the American Experience in China”?) but the more convincing explanation for Vietnam was ‘because we (the U.S.) told you so’. Having assumed responsibility for managing the world’s economic reconstruction and development following WWII, U.S. policy makers in their infinite wisdom (‘the people’ didn’t then and don’t now have a clue what drives US foreign policy) decided Vietnam needed to remain a French colony to counter ‘communist’ (read ‘Russian’) infiltration of Europe.

    When Ho Chi Minh refused to follow orders, Vietnam needed to be destroyed in order to save the “order” Washington wished to impose on it and the rest of the world. The contemporary Washington policy maker vision of ‘doing good’ is insuring Europe has an alternative to relying on Russia for its energy resources – and thus once again containing Russia’s global influence (“Putinism”?) As Engdahl makes clear, however, ‘the pawns’ are once again trying to play their own games. The assumption in Washington seems to be the U.S. can continue its current highly profitable role as the Middle East’s and (oops, wink, wink) ISIS’s weapons supplier, ultimately emerging in control of whatever results.

    This is a highly dangerous game, of course. But so is up-ending a social, economic and political order based on a Congressional-military-industrial complex – and, of course, the terrible burden of supplying the world with its money / reserve currency. Present policy-maker thinking seems to run along the lines of “if we can no longer tell the world what to do, how are we going to enforce the ‘legal tender’ status of the ex nihilo (out-of-nothing) money Wall Street and Washington’s politicians are creating?”

    This concern may be overblown for the same reason much of Europe has become an American vassal – the US has already hung so much paper on Europe and the world, failure to sustain (the illusion of) the value of the US dollar would decimate the dollar-based fortunes of its 0.01%. But overturning a social order under which much of the wealth created by the world’s scientific and technological progress has been absorbed by US ‘military Keynesianism’ instead of raising the living standards of the West’s, take your choice, “laboring cattle” or “useless eaters” may just pose an existential threat to a money-based social order.

  12. DJG

    I don’t see the parallel. I see a quagmire, but I recall U.S. involvement in Central and South America, in which the U.S., sometimes almost arbitrarily, overthrew governments and implanted new elites. The U.S. was interested in resources (oil is a factor). Because there seems to be more oil in the Middle East, the U.S. has decided to meddle. But the meddling and the reactions from, say, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iran are all somewhat alike. So the quagmire is a neo-colonial swamp. The U.S. has fomented a civil war in the Middle East, if we can call it a civil war. The U.S. thought it would benefit from such fancy footwork. But the way that the U.S. has meddled in Haiti or the Dominican Republic or Libya or Iraq is much alike.

    1. gordon

      Yes. To me, the US roles in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya are just extensions and repetitions of the US roles in Latin America for many, many years beforehand.

  13. Lou

    @ Felix_47
    ISIS is nothing new.
    ISIS is completely new in Irak and Syria.

    There was no ISIS in Irak when Saddam Hussein was ruling Irak, and no ISIS (neither Al Nusra etc.) in Syria before the beginning of the war (fueled by western countries, turkish and saudis/qatari help). Fundamentalism in these two countries was constrained, and elsewhere (Saoudia) it wasn’t as bloody.


      1. sierra7

        If Yves will allow:
        “Killing Hope” William Blum
        “US Military and CIA Interventions Since WW2”
        (Just one of many, many documentations of our failed foreign/military policies over the decades)

  14. Isolato

    Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful “The March of Folly” describes in great detail the background knowledge that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, but somehow…In her other examples she destroys the notion that nations are lead by people who have a coherent grasp of strategy or policy. In fact, we are led by fools and charlatans whose blundering is our suffering.

  15. The Heretic

    This article and the following comments were very insightful. My thanks to Yves and the NC community.

    However I have a one fundamental disagreement with this article, on the concept of being a true neutral…
    ‘The Muslim civil war story leads directly to a radical change in policy: stop trying to impose a made-in-America order on dar al-Islam. Give up the dubious gratification of yet another war against “the evildoers.” Instead, offer genuinely humanitarian aid, with no hidden political agenda, to the victims of the civil war, especially those fleeing a stunning level of violence in Syria that the U.S. has helped to sustain. But cease all military action, all economic pressures, and all diplomatic maneuvering against any one side in the Muslim civil war. Become, as we have in other civil wars, a genuine neutral.’

    To me, the first part of the paragrapgh is essential, it is explains much of the foreign policy evils and blunders that have occurred in the world; the desire to impose a made-in-America order (and a friendly to American business/elite interests regime). However, i take issue with the other half of the paragraph…. That America should become a genuine neutral. I have a problem with this statement, because the history of humanity is littered with accounts of truly maniacal individuals and movements that have inflicted horrors throughout. Lest we not forget Isis (their love of slaverey and desire to wipeout the Yazidis) Rawanda, the Khymer Rouge, and of course WW2. There are many threats that cannot possibly harm America, but does that mean we should only standby and watch.

    I beleive in ‘Live and Let Live, and do not let others make die (enmass)’ is a much more humane outlook. America needs excellent information from boots-on-the-ground multi-viewpoint observation and investigation, so they can try to understand the situation. Then to focus on thwarting the ability of the aggressors to attack each other in the hope of frustrating and exhausting their hope for victory. Destruction of the other side should not be the goal, in general it only creates more viscious enemies in next generation.

    How can we actualize these goals. That is difficult. But it is much less costly for America to support a thousand overt and covert observers (non-fighting), along with skilled interviewrs and analysts, than it is mobilize a true military solution to a conflict. (Which at minimum involves thousands of support personel and millions of dollars in weapons procurement)

  16. kevinearick

    Sub-Species, Unicorn Money, & History Books

    Reflecting History, gossip and voyeurism, the Internet is just another layer of control. We have one website focused on bank regulation, a middle class function, and another on market making, a legacy capital function. The problem of course is that downstream devices cannot alter upstream devices in a dc system, and mythology demands that the counterweight is the economy, so the central bank monkeys keep making adjustment on the assumption of feudalism, tuning in war.

    Like gold and pot, the Internet was to print money, for Silicon Valley leaders and their keepers. Obviously, Marvin the Martian has run amok again and the magnitude of desperation to meet expectations increases with time. A Fairly global and democratic Arpanet quickly devolved into a matrix of monopolies, stranding legacy monopolies and their middle class in a loop with automation, all going nowhere.

    Scientists are just as prone to gossip and voyeurism as any other class, in some cases with far more acuity. All those big expert words aren’t a function of expression, clarity and security. With arbitrary knowledge, the technician reboots the system and walks out a guru, among equally ignorant monkeys operating equally arbitrary processes, seeing what they want to see, never seeing the implosion coming, one day same as the last, until it isn’t.

    The participants collect free money from RE, bonds, stocks, and make-work income, pay ‘tax’ to confirm their conscious short, and spend the requisite time lamenting the poor souls below affected with the consequences. Yet there is that growing noise in the background presaging World War III, so the machine accelerates, proposing shovel-ready social engineering projects in overtime. Bred to assume anxiety as normal, separated by obsessive-impulsive impulses, the overcompensating swagger only grows, as cracks develop across the system.

    The effective farmer recognizes the difference between the honey bee and the lady bug, their respective subclasses, adapted to environment, and can effectively farm anywhere. The efficient farmer merely notes output relative to inputs recognized, and accepts increasing technical subsidy at growing cost to yield quality, locked into immobility by the finance. Monsanto is the efficient derivative scaled and backed by legacy capital, employing antibiotics, immunization, and DNA grafts to grow demand for science and lower risk on immediate crop failure, until the loot is secured and the soil depleted.

    Like the honey bee, the human race has subspecies, shorted along the neural pathway, recognizing what they want to see. In this environment of arbitrary outcomes, the shortest short has the advantage, because it is most comfortable with no real choice. The scientists, shorted at the cortex, believing themselves advance, are at the greatest disadvantage, due to the cognitive dissonance.

    Public education, organizational control, eliminates brain plasticity at an increasingly early age, short-circuiting learning itself, except for the chosen few, and the few not so stupid as to accept the conditioning. Flexible playmates grows the number and strength of synapses before they are needed. My girls have a tremendous advantage at birth over the equal rights and affirmative action regime, but that’s life, on a long enough time horizon.

    Naturally, the counterweight calling itself an economy is run from the top down, the spinal cord up, with increasingly arbitrary complexity. The social scientists working for the RE Neanderthals are the exception, paid in self-gratification just the same – prizes, fine wine, art and culture. In exchange, they collect data consistent with the prevailing gossip to confirm the outcome, and incrementally advance the ‘science’ to be the wizard. George Washington and the cherry tree should have been your first clue, requiring independent investigation.

    Breeding on ac, labor can easily jump in and out of the resulting artificial event horizons, and map circuits with none of the participants the wiser. The asphalt jungle of people taking advantage of people for survival and sex is quite apt, however, and the dissonance grows like weeds. Did I tell you about my graduate interview with a French department head in London Ontario, where the graduates where paying him to make the corporations appear profitable?

    Now, the upstart market-makers have some gold, a small percentage against an entirety which is itself heavily leveraged with paper derivatives, inflating RE prices under condition of demographic collapse. And the upstart banking supervisors have another theory, which doesn’t matter to labor so long there is sufficient anonymous cash, under condition of central bank collapse on the eve of WWII. Who issues the money and who runs the government is irrelevant, except to those doing so.

    Most talk, and some do, and the hedge funds, which failed to exit because their digital money is worthless in absolute terms, are barking up the wrong tree with a bear on the other end. So, I’m working with an aristocrat from India on a cardboard assembly line in Canada, to fill warehouse with dead inventory for Home Depot’s supply chain, ‘[M]adam, your are mistaken,’ is all he says – crack me up.

    By the time the rocket scientists figure out what you did yesterday, you will have easily completed two more bridges tomorrow, and that adds up. Not so funny, how RE arbitrarily finances itself, you are to beg for a consumption loan at 30%, and the critters faithfully complying with the nonsense to get a discount are frightened upon being awoken by the Nazis, who they voted into power, one being no different from the other, other than the color of their boots. History.

    Of course children are better suited to the machine with early childhood education, antibiotics, and immunization right out of the womb. The critters kill 90% of everything they touch, and then turn to birth control in a virtual economy of incredibly shrinking real supply and demand, because not everyone is quite so stupid as to accept micromanagement of every affair like lab rats. Never saw that coming.

    Money as a store of value, like knowledge and power, is an illusion the majority perpetrates on itself, passing the message along, until it can’t. And we have once again reached the end of the cycle, when empire looks into the mirror and sees nothing of value in its bank, realizes the show is over and nothing remains but the mess it has made of everything it touched.

    The theory of empire can only work if it’s closed, and because it’s closed it’s a virus. An empire is nothing more than the lie of consumer-driven economics. And the majority of Americans are caught in th trap, right along with their predecessors, on the way back to the DNA churn pool.

    Yes, ping pong balls in mouse traps, blinded by the same Pavlov soundtrack of convenient lies running in their self-obsessed brains.

    You don’t need to learn neuroscience to program AI, but understanding that nature is conservative, that it employs the same recursive compiler everywhere, doesn’t hurt, and that the dc computer chip is a massive waste of time, other than providing for the implosion trigger. She isn’t Grace by accident, and her mother isn’t who she is by accident. And all the lies of government amount to nothing, but dead weight.

    Just one more story, because I’m an old man in programming years, you want to humor me, and I have fixed a lot of crap over the years…

    So, I’m consulting at Naval Command in a building full of civil servants pushing paper in a circle, with other buildings full of servants pushing paper in a circle, with one woman with a connection to the admiral on either end completing the transaction, who is understandably miffed about not being one of the big dogs, and I tell the commander that I need every form used by the organization, which of course is not forthcoming, despite his best efforts. Not so fortunately, I did note the most anxious bottleneck as I crossed the organization, and I did get her form, automated it, and walked out of the building. After a few words with the admiral, I adjusted his mirror at the end of the driveway so he wouldn’t get run over in his golf cart.

    1. ke

      War is the one step back revolutionary spring, which empire keeps loading, physical war as misdirection for financial war as misdirection for demographic war as misdirection for the efficient growth of ignorance, devolution, popping the stack, to reexamine false assumptions. Vietnam was about moving production to China, which is now a poison pill.

  17. Kenneth

    We cannot win someone else’s war. Our brave young men and women can win battles, but not their war.

    We didn’t win in Korea. We assisted a very willing nation to an armistice.
    We didn’t win in Vietnam. Much was wrong on both sides in that war, and we were foreign interlopers assisting the corrupt powers.
    We didn’t win in Iraq nor Afghanistan. Can’t be done.

    Only Sunni Muslims can defeat ISIS. There may be ways we can assist, but the U.S. and other western powers cannot win that war. We cannot bomb democracy into a culture that has never known democracy. The strong dictators in the Middle East are the only alternative to chaos until democracy grows there itself.

  18. cirsium

    This is not a civil war and it is not a muslim war. It is an old-fashioned war of aggression. The United States has destroyed Iraq and Libya and was on its way to destroying Syria until the Syrian Government invited its allies, Russia and Iran, to help defend the country. What links Iraq, Libya and Syria? They were secular states. All had oil reserves. Syria’s oil reserves are small compared to Iraq or Libya but it is in key geographical position. President al-Assad was an ally of the United States until he refused to allow a pipeline to be built on Syrian territory – see Pepe Escobar’s article in

    Iraq, Libya and Syria were not members of the World Trade Organization and looked what happened to them
    linked to the destruction of Libya

    Here are some views of Americans

    Who is buying the oil Da’esh is stealing from Iraq and Syria? Who is buying the cultural and archaeological treasures being looted from Syria on an industrial scale? Who is buying the heroin Da’esh is moving from Afghanistan? Who is supplying the guns and equipment? Regarding the last question, here is an interesting article on Da’esh being assisted by recent US helibourne operations in Huweija

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You appear not to have read the article carefully. The author makes clear at the top that its point is “What messaging strategy do we need to get out of these wars?”

      The American public is never going to accept the idea that the US was a bad guy. The fact that we are the cause of all of these disasters and ISIS etc are all blowback is relegated to the wilderness of “independent” media. The MSM is never going to validate it, indeed, it will participate in fighting that line if anyone legit were to start taking it up who could not be shut up easily (say a dissident Congresscritter).

      The “this is like Vietnam” is a much easier narrative and given where we are (that we broke countries and set off simmering ethnic/religions conflicts) is not untrue. It’s just not the operative truth.

      1. gnokgnoh

        Please tell me if this an accurate summary of the narrative Chernus, the author, describes, that the MSM is going to validate:

        The Middle East, and specifically the fighting in Syria and Iraq is a civil war and has become a quagmire like Vietnam; so we must stop intervening militarily and become neutral. “Instead, offer genuinely humanitarian aid, with no hidden political agenda, to the victims of the civil war, especially those fleeing…”

        Chernus asserts that this narrative will stand in opposition (gain traction in the MSM) to the two prevailing narratives: Obama’s incrementalist intervention and wipe them off the map.

        The first part of his proposal has already been recognized regarding the second Iraqi war by the U.S. public – it was a quagmire like Vietnam. The MSM embraced it. There’s a reason why Jeb Bush is struggling in fifth place in the primaries.

        Unfortunately, the Vietnam quagmire narrative is not going to work under Obama, or in the longer trajectory in the Middle East, both historically and in the near future (past 50, next 20 or more years). The Vietnam analogy worked on Bush, because he invaded. We are currently doing this the Democratic way: intervention by proxy, drone, special ops, arming insurgents, regime change, bombs, and mostly in secret. We have and can keep this up a long time, until it breaks us. Libya was a case study in this type of intervention. The perceived existential threat of the moment is the Islamic State. The real reasons are likely complex, serpentine, and highly contradictory. The comment thread has already named a half-dozen. There are many more.

        The second half of the author’s proposal, not so much a narrative, is laughable at best. I am not ridiculing the proposal, simply that it would ever occur to us as the right thing to do.

    2. fajensen

      What links Iraq, Libya and Syria? They were secular states.
      Ding, Ding, Ding – We have a Winner!

      “Secular” in the eyes of the Saudi Wahhabi Ghouls means Apostates; the punishment for Apostasy in Wahhabi Islam is: Death!

      The US military machine is merely being used to carry out the primary directives of Saudi Arabia:

      Kill the Apostates,
      Subjugate (and later Kill) the Infidels,
      Finally, Kill the Jews!

      The latter will bring Armageddon, so, Israel is safe, for now. But, maybe they should start considering who their friends really are and Europe, Russia, China, Africa and South America should definitively worry, us being on the “Infidel” position in the Kill-queue (America is infidel too, but, better armed and have people in congress who believe that Armageddon is Real and actually A Good Thing, perhaps even the next president does too).

      How keen is the American public on the Saudis? The country who probably sponsored 9/11 and who’s citizens definitely carried it out!?

      Not very, I would guess.

      The thing is, the more one learns about the Saudis, the less there is to like, so propaganda is barely needed, just honest reporting. Will the American public continue to offer up their sons and their tax dollars in the service of Saudi Arabia once they get to know them better? I don’t think so, I actually think that the mere thought of the almighty US military serving nation who hates just about *everything* the American people value would “seal the deal”, but maybe I am dead wrong.

  19. susan the other

    The Military is like the Fed. The Fed now knows it is no substitute for a sovereign economy and the Military learned in Vietnam that it is no substitute for sovereign government. They merely step in when civil society fails. As temporary palliatives. Avoiding another Vietnam has been the biggest military template since 1975. “Don’t rely on a draft” – it’s a poison pill for the military. Or, “don’t rely on congress” because they are political ideologues who do not understand what money is and they will bring us down faster than Islam. So confusion reigns. The one constant between now in the ME and then in VN is China. Crazy. And a new immovable force is not Communism or Islam, it’s global warming. Karma. I think Wesley Clark informed us all that the military planned to overthrow the entire ME, 7 countries, and impose functioning governments. The brutality has been extreme. No doubt the military regrets not doing this in Indochina because too many of our former colonialist allies were calling the shots. An even greater conflict of interests than now. And oil. We’re basically in deep trouble.

  20. barrisj

    The same mindset that drives US “policies” in the ME is even writ larger in Afghanistan. The Americans are now moving into Year Sixteen of the abysmally futile effort of attempting “de-Talibanisation” of that brutalised country by protracted occupation under the guise of “training the ANA to be self-sufficient” in waging (continuous) war against the insurgency. A policy that in every sense of the word has failed woefully, mainly because of internal dynamics that are completely resistant to foreign military interference. No matter how many JSOC teams doing the kidnapping, torture, assassinations, etc., that passes for “military assistance” – analogous to MACV-SOG operations run by the US during the Vietnam War – are placed in the field, it always falls short of proclaimed goals. Now we yet again have “the generals” up on The Hill arguing for more time and more commitment to “see it through to ultimate victory” in Afghanistan, and at least they are honest enough to state that it’s a “generational challenge” to achieve the objective of utter failure victory over the Taliban. The delusionary policies that led to the dreadful debacle in Vietnam are even today reigning supreme amongst US civilian and military so-called “strategists”, and this generation of Westmorelands, Abrams’s, Harkins’s, et al are purblind to continued failure, and can do no more than urge more of the same bankrupt rubbish, rather than simply acceding to the realities in play within Afghanistan and just buggering off. Unfortunately, Americans appetite for permanent war seems not to be abating, as the current crop of presidential candidates – with the possible exception of Sanders – want to keep pouring it on, evidently because that’s what “the American people want to hear”…or do they?

  21. ke

    Industrialization didn’t advance DNA in the US any more than it did in Germany, but we know a lot more about what not to do, sigh.

    That compiler is a compiler/decompiler with a dc switch at the fulcrum.

  22. VietnamVet

    Like history, wars are similar but different. Humans remain the same. Technology and culture changes. Richard Nixon rationally decided to withdraw from Vietnam because the U.S. Army in Vietnam was falling apart; “Peace with Honor”. Iraq and Syrian are engulfed in civil wars but they are ethnic holy wars between Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Alawites who live in the same land. The Vietnamese were fighting to get rid of colonial occupiers and reunite.

    Another difference is that all of the major powers are in combat in Syria; Russia, USA, UK, Iran, France and UK. The USA is now at war with Russia; it is just not declared. It is being fought with sanctions, proxy armies, mercenaries and special operators. Our provocations are theirs: “Russian Aggression”. The Russian intervention in Syria has been successful; the Assad government survives. The jihadi groups supported by Turkey and the Gulf Monarchies are being encircled in Aleppo.

    The world is in the greatest danger since the Cuban Missile Crisis. An errant artillery barrage or Russian bomber on the wrong course could the trigger the Turkish invasion of Syria to save their fellow Turkmen and to avoid humiliation. This would be the trigger of a very hot world war.

    1. fajensen

      This would be the trigger of a very hot world war.
      Many people here think that this is the intention, with all the Russia bashing going on – almost like its coordinated.

      Georgia and Ukraine didn’t work out so yet another angle is tried – Somehow get Turkey into a fight with Russia so NATO can jump to Turkeys defense. It might work, it probably won’t because “the plan” relies on assumptions that simply does not exist today: A scary Russia believed to be a common enemy and a peaceful, progressive Islamic culture interested in development rather than conquest.

      The only NATO armies that are worth anything are Turkey, France, Greece, and the UK. The rest are hollow shells with men and supplies for maybe a few weeks. Then it’s conscription and the European people do not trust Turkey one little bit. Turkey under Erdogan is seen as a closet Islamist state hell-bent on grabbing as much from (and of) Europe as it can.

      So, facts are: Greece will never defend Turkey, it just isn’t done. France …. bob … bob … with Marine Le Pen coming up really fast, nah, probably not, that would be suicide politically; the UK … just perhaps … after all the UK is helping the Saudis bomb Yemen, but this is in no way popular and unthinkable if the UK was taking real losses … so in the end the mess will be entirely an American effort, as usual.

      (Parts of) the American leadership and M.I.C. is fine with setting off a hot war even with Russia – as long as they don’t have to fight it “themselves”. The big mistake in pushing for one via NATO is perhaps being made is due to a severe lack of cultural understanding on their part.

      Maybe the CIA should commission a field manual on “European Xenophobia” before it’s too late?

  23. Dick Burkhart

    I agree that the author’s “civil war narrative” is too simplistic. We also need to address the root causes, such as the Cold War in the case of Vietnam, which was viewed as one of the “dominoes” in Asia that might fall to the Soviets if not protected. In the Middle East, oil is the underlying driver, but Israel has also played a significant role in generating support for US military intervention.

    And rather than “disengagement”, in view past damages caused by the US and in the ongoing importance of oil, what we need is a narrative of dedicated, long term peaceful engagement in cooperation with the world community: To find more indirect ways of nurturing more just and egalitarian societies in the Middle East.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘what we need is a narrative of dedicated, long term peaceful engagement in cooperation with the world community: To find more indirect ways of nurturing more just and egalitarian societies in the Middle East.’

      Since U.S. voters are pocketbook pragmatists, how about an appeal to self interest too: the 3 or 4% of GDP devoted to defending rich Europe, rich Asia and rich Israel could buy a lot of nice things, spiffed up infrastructure, social benefits, and economic groaf here at home.

      What would we rather have: a better standard of living … or the swaggering ego (coupled with constant military humiliation) of the American exceptionalism that Obama “believes in with every fiber of his being”?

  24. sierra7

    I’m usually late in the day reading this site…..but it has it’s advantages. I get to read scores of comments and participate a bit myself.
    I wish to thank Yves for posting this article…
    It certainly has stimulated tremendous debate.

    And, in the end, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?

  25. Gaylord

    These wars in the ME are mainly about enforcing petrodollar hegemony in order to continue and expand the western banksters’ financial domination of the world. Saddam Hussein and Qhadafi and Assad all resisted, which is why they “had to go”. Recently, the banksters have been aiming at Putin through the proxy war in Ukraine and at Venezuela through manipulation of the oil market. As always, follow the money. As I recall, Vietnam was substantially about controlling access to a vital resource: bauxite used to make aluminum. And of course, the US always needs enemies to maintain the MIC because war is a highly profitable business.

    1. digi_owl

      Supposedly the US pulled out of Vietnam after the offshore oil fields had been mapped. Then once the south had been defeated, and the communists were looking for some way to get money into the economy, hello off shore drilling…

  26. Plenue

    At this point it doesn’t much matter what the US believes or what narrative it pushes. We don’t have much of a say anymore, at least in Syria.

    On a related note, I’ve found myself having to disagree with people I very much respect and usually listen to, like Phyllis Bennis. Peace activists have been keeping up a constant repetition of “there is no military solution to this conflict”. Wrong. Any peace talks are an utter farce. Russia and the SAA just cut off the last supply line into Aleppo, and the Kurds are about to launch an offensive for control of another portion of the Turkish border. There is a solution to this conflict, and it involves copious amounts of Russian bombs.

  27. digi_owl

    The while thing in the middle east brings to mind the 30 year war, and how it started with an argument over church doctrine.

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