Sunday, November 16, 2003

Another Viet Nam: Wishful Thinking

As we become increasingly mired in an Iraqi morass, it's hard for any of us not to think of Viet Nam.  Regardless of whether we compare or contrast, we too are mired, but in the wrong neighborhood.  Would that Iraq were a Cold War conflict in which governments and economic-political ideologies were at play.  Wishful thinking.  2003 is a very different place.  Unlike Viet Nam, we are not putting ourselves in the middle of a civil war because of some domino theory.  While long since discredited, at least it had a logic and a consistent context.  The idea that entering Iraq, a plan that we now know for sure was hatched long before 9/11, was part of a war on terrorism is more than a stretch.  It's not credible.  Iraq had to do with egos (personal and national) and oil.  Controlling natural resources, harks back to an age-old purpose of Colonialism.  But even here, the past is not necessarily the most valuable teacher other than to say that locals still dislike foreign takeovers, even when they are portrayed as transitional and short term.

When I open my day with the BBC news and the New York Times, it's not Viet Nam that comes to mind, but something geographically much closer.  Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.  It's here that the parallels are so obvious and so very disturbing.  The Intifada, which manifests itself largely in attacks against the innocent, is horrendous.  The right of Israel, born out of a Holocaust in which there were enough dirty hands to circle the globe, to exist is not a question.  But the response that the Israeli government has mounted, one that I would describe as "a head for an eye" simply isn't working.  If Palestinians on the Street were unhappy and frustrated at the start, they are now filled with fury.  Sure the lack of constructive leadership from within must be blamed for that as well, but not as much as what military people euphemistically call "collateral damage."  I like to say that minor surgery is something that happens to someone else.  Collateral damage is much the same.

The idea of turning the other cheek is not only difficult, thoughtful people reasonably argue that it sends the wrong message.  Few Americans, caught up in September horror, opposed going after the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.  But were Gandhi and Martin Luther King irrational idealists?  I don't think so.  Quite the opposite, they were thoughtful strategists who took difficult and unconventional steps  to reach their goals.  Their rationale was simple.  If you want to have significant movement, you have to change the conversation.  Someone has to say stop, and more importantly to act on his own call for inaction.

So we are now proceeding with our own "West Bank" retaliation and each day gaining less and paying more.  We're facing an Intifada in which terrorist tactics are used by desperate outgunned people who feel colonized and we simply don't know what to do except follow the Sharon strategy.  Consequently, the innocent Street is confused and getting increasingly angry.   Every day we are looking more and more like the enemy not the liberator.  A rush trip to Washington for instructions and a return with frantic cosmetics crafted in the Spin Rooms on Pennsylvania Avenue.  A more rapid turn over of "power."  And while we're waiting, substantially increased use of force to send a message.  The "Peace Process" and the tanks.  Sound familiar?

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