Labor Advocate Online

Tonkin II? Bush Doctrine Makes This Sequel Different
by Bill Onasch

When Congress started debating the Iraq war resolution I, along with the rest of my generation I'm sure, had a flash back to a resolution adopted 38 years ago—the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. An incident had been fabricated alleging a Vietnamese torpedo boat had attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in waters just off north Vietnam. With overwhelming bipartisan support Congress passed a joint resolution that became the legal basis for the Vietnam War.

The Iraq resolution is similar in one important respect—it gives legal cover to a likely new war. It should be a wake up call to those of us who want to avoid going down the road of war once more.

But there are many important differences today.

In 1964 the strategic perspective of the U.S. Establishment was containment and deterrence. This policy initially flowed from deals made at Yalta, assigning spheres of influence to the super-powers emerging victorious at the end of World War II. It was reinforced by some important challenges. When UN troops got too close to the Yalu River China entered the Korean War, forcing a bloody stand off. When the Soviet Union sent missiles to Cuba the world was taken to the brink of nuclear war before a deal was made that both sides could live with.

LBJ's policy of gradual "escalation" during the Vietnam War was conditioned by this reality. The series of small steps rather than giant leaps was done so that they could pause at each point to judge the reaction of the Soviet Union and China. There was no question of seeking "regime change" in Hanoi—that clearly would have been unacceptable to Moscow and Peking. The U.S. was committed to saving the Saigon regime fighting for its life in a civil war.

Today the Soviet Union no longer exists. Its component parts have adopted all of the worst features of capitalism. China is even more advanced down this path and is a major trading partner of the U.S. Even Vietnam has embraced Nike, catfish farms, dirt cheap coffee exports.

This new world reality has produced delusional arrogance within sections of the U.S. ruling class—including the faction now installed in the White House. The Bush Doctrine calls for military intervention anywhere, any time, the President sees fit. If he doesn't like a regime he feels free to change it.

Initially it looked like Bush would quickly steamroll his doctrine through Congress. The Democrat leaders were scared stiff with the threat of being branded unpatriotic or weak.

But the fact is that the Establishment is deeply divided over this sharp departure in U.S. strategy. The divisions are not ones of principle. All of them favor military intervention and regime changes when necessary. But there are sharp tactical divisions.

Of course no one in these circles believes that Saddam Hussein has any connections to Ossama bin Laden. Secular Baghdad and Islamic fanatics are sworn enemies. Nor do they believe that Iraq is any kind of real threat to use weapons of mass destruction. They know these lies are standard operating procedure for governments trying to motivate public support for war.

Opposition from dissidents at the top center on these factors:

While Saddam Hussein may be a disagreeable fellow there has never been any problem with getting oil from him since he was forced out of Kuwait. In fact the whole oil producing region of the Middle East has rarely been so stable. Invading Iraq will almost certainly upset this stability.

A serious invasion of Iraq will be much different than the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqi forces were half-hearted in their defense of Kuwait. But an invasion of the Iraqi homeland is another matter. Fierce resistance can be expected with great casualties on both sides.

There is no reliable replacement, with any real base of support in Iraq, for Saddam Hussein. This means a long period of occupation by U.S. armed forces.

In 1991 allied Arab regimes picked up the tab for the war. That's not going to happen this time. The U.S. will largely go it alone both in forces and money. U.S. budget deficits will soar leading to more political tensions at home.

And, not least of all, there is fear that Bush's reckless adventures will undermine U.S. credibility among the European and Asian powers and cost Washington its leadership role in world affairs.

Reflecting these concerns we saw some important political figures finally stepping up to try to slow down this ill-considered war drive: Kennedy, Byrd, then Carter and Gore. Encouraged by this even AFL-CIO President Sweeney, long silent in the debate, finally issued a guarded statement allowing that war should be a last resort.

This kind of ruling class division was not present at the time of the Tonkin Resolution—though it did develop during the course of the Vietnam War.

Members of Congress on both sides have acknowledged that letters and phone calls have been overwhelmingly opposed to war. There have been a number of major demonstrations against the war drive. This kind of opposition didn't develop around Vietnam until after substantial numbers of casualties among GIs.

But while Carter may have won the Nobel Prize Bush is still in charge and feeling wind in his sails with the backing of Gebhardt, Daschle, Carnahan, Hillary Clinton, and Dennis Moore—to name just a few of the War Democrats blessing him with the joint resolution.

We can't count on tactical squabbles among our masters to save the peace. We need to build a principled movement that opposes the imperial objectives of the Bush Doctrine, opposes the sacrifice of our young men and women to the greed of corporate America, that opposes the squandering of our taxes on destruction rather than meeting human needs. While welcoming those of all classes who share these objectives we will have to rely mainly on the working class and student youth to forge such an effective mass movement.