A born-again American idiot

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No, not George Bush: Christopher Hitchens, who became an idiot in 2001 (well, some would say earlier!) and an American more recently than that.

He wrote this article in yesterday’s Observer, taking apart George Bush’s comparison of Iraq with Vietnam. Hitchens outlines a number of differences between Iraq and Vietnam, among them the fact that the Viet Minh were on the Allied side during World War II, unlike the Baathists, that the Vietnamese were the victims of chemical warfare, not its perpetrators as were the Baathists, and that the Iraqi Communists supported the Americans, unlike (obviously) those in Vietnam. He also notes that Ho Chi Minh invoked Thomas Jefferson in his country’s Declaration of Independence, “a note that has hardly been struck in Baathist or jihadist propaganda”. (More: Umar Lee.)

There are a few issues Hitchens overlooks here. First, Ho Chi Minh was a communist from his youth. With or without American intervention, there would have been no guarantee that Vietnam would have become a democracy if Ho Chi Minh had been allowed to govern all of it. Communists were freely elected in Czechoslovakia in the 1940s, and rapidly turned the country into a dictatorship.

Second, the Iraqi communists have nothing like the popular support they had in Vietnam. Like the Worker-communists of Kurdistan, who get column space vastly out of proportion to their popular support, they are alien to the Arab way of life. Can anyone think of a single Muslim country which has a substantial communist party, or communist resistance to the prevailing régime? Has communism ever been imposed on any Arab or Muslim country other than by force from outside?

Third, people do not compare Iraq with Vietnam because of the specifics Hitchens described, but because of the common factor of the Americans and their allies getting bogged down in the invasion and occupation of a foreign country in the name of “freedom”. As in Vietnam, the Americans knew little, and the evidence suggests they cared little, about the culture of the country they invaded. As with Vietnam, the invasion was carried out on dubious if not outright false grounds. As with Vietnam, those who avoided fighting then have avoided personal involvement now. And so on.

I suspect that the article was more aimed at opponents of the war than at Bush, but then some of us saw Bush for what he was even before 9/11, and never had any confidence in him as someone who would bring democracy to Iraq. I’m sure some on the left did support it in good faith, but there were also those, like Hitchens, who were vitriolic in damning those of us who did not share their utterly misplaced confidence - even if we might have supported the removal of Saddam Hussain in other circumstances. It says a lot about Hitchens that he calls it “a blunder too far” when Bush compares Iraq with Vietnam, as his opponents often do, rather than at any other time in the disastrous four years since the invasion.

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