by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
1966, two years after Congress approved the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that authorized U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, deplored both the decision and the debate surrounding it.
"We Americans," he writes in his classic critique of U.S. policy, The Arrogance of Power, "are severely, if not uniquely afflicted with a habit of policy-making by analogy: North Vietnam's involvement in South Vietnam, for example, is equated with Hitler's invasion of Poland and a parley with the Viet Cong would represent 'another Munich.'"
"The treatment of slight and superficial resemblances as if they were full-blooded analogies -- as instances, as it were, of history 'repeating itself' -- is a substitute for thinking and a misuse of history," he warned.
Fulbright, of course, was completely vindicated in his argument that Ho Chi Minh was neither the equivalent of Adolf Hitler; nor was he the puppet of an expansionist international communist movement orchestrated by Moscow and/or Beijing, as the hawks of the 1960s insisted.
Nonetheless, the mis-analogy led directly to the loss of more than 50,000 U.S. lives, not to mention an estimated two million Vietnamese.
Yet 36 years later, it appears that Americans have utterly failed to rid themselves of this affliction, if the ongoing debate over what to do in Iraq -- and now North Korea, as well -- is any indication.
For months now, the public debate has been ringing with renewed warnings against appeasement and Munich, as well as other analogies taken from World War II which, despite the Vietnam debacle, remains the war of choice for modern-day hawks, probably because, more than half a century later, no one doubts that Washington was on the right side of a "just war."
In the hawks' view, anything less than destroying the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein amounts to "appeasement," if not of the same kind as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's notorious sell-out of Czechoslovakia at the 1938 Munich conference (after which he claimed credit for achieving "peace in our time"), then comparable to the more esoteric failure of France and Britain to respond forcefully to Adolf Hitler's unilateral repossession of the Rhineland in 1936.
"When Hitler occupied the Rhineland and the Anschluss in Austria, no nation tried to stop him," thundered Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens during the Senate debate over Iraq earlier this month. "Instead, the world repeatedly gave in to an obnoxious, aggressive leader to avoid war."
"But as one who fought in China," he went on, "I see the next Hitler in Saddam Hussein."
This leitmotif has been repeated ceaselessly by the hawks on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and the National Review, as well as in interviews, speeches and testimony by those most closely associated with Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
In an interview with Fox News in August, for example, Rumsfeld made a direct parallel between Hitler and Hussein.
"Think of all the countries that said, 'Well, we don't have enough evidence (to attack Germany)', said Rumsfeld. "Mein Kampf (Hitler's infamous book) had been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. 'Maybe he won't attack us' (they said). Well, there are millions of dead because of the miscalculations."
Similarly, Richard Perle, the influential chairman of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board (DPB) has cited Munich as a justification for the administration's new policy of pre-emption against rogue states, beginning with Iraq. "A pre-emptive strike against Hitler at the time of Munich would have meant an immediate war as opposed to the one that came later," he said recently. "Later was much worse."
While some analysts have conceded that Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness and regional -- as opposed to global -- ambitions may have offered some rough parallels to Hitler's early moves, the fact that the United States under George Bush Senior did respond to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and that U.S. warplanes over-fly daily more than half the country should have ended talk of appeasement.
Now, according to ex-Vietnam hawk Patrick Buchanan, the analogy is farcical.
"Hitler conquered all of Europe from the Arctic to the Aegean and from the Atlantic to Stalingrad," he wrote recently. "And Saddam? He invaded Kuwait, a sandbox half the size of Denmark, and got tossed out after a 100-hour ground war."
"His country has been over-flown 40,000 times by U.S. and British planes and he has not been able to shoot a single plane down. He has no navy, a fourth-rate air force, a shrunken, demoralized army. His economy is not one percent of ours."
The hawks have more recently added another Second World War analogy, to the question of what to do with Iraq after a U.S. invasion, a question the administration can still not clearly answer.
Already last summer, prominent neo-conservatives outside the administration began suggesting a parallel between U.S. efforts to rebuild -- indeed re-make under extended U.S. military occupation -- in Germany and Japan after the Second World War and what would be needed in Iraq.
Among the first was Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-founder with William Kristol of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a largely neo-conservative think tank whose positions on the "war against terrorism" have largely pre-figured policies adopted by the Bush administration.
"If the Bush administration is serious," he wrote in The Washington Post, then the United States is on the verge of making a huge commitment in Iraq and the Middle East, not unlike the commitment it made in Japan more than a half-century ago."
"American policy in Japan, as in Germany, was 'nation-building' on a grand scale, and with no exit strategy. Almost six decades later there are still American troops on Japanese soil," he went on. "Iraq may not be that different."
Sure enough, within two months, anonymous senior administration officials, evoking the memory of Washington's pro-consul in Tokyo, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, began telling reporters that Baghdad may have to be administered by U.S. military authorities for at least a few years.
That analogy unleashed a storm of critics.
"Nothing that went on is a model for Iraq," said John Dower, the foremost expert on the U.S. occupation of Japan. "Virtually everything that made the occupation of Japan a success is absent form the current situation."
Chalmers Johnson, one of the U.S.' leading Japan specialists, noted that Japan, completely unlike Iraq, was a homogeneous society undivided by ethnicity or religion. "The Bush White House and the Rumsfeld Pentagon seem to know next to nothing about Japan," he added.
November 1 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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