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L. Neil Smith's
Number 525, June 28, 2009

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Vietnamization in Iraq
by Jim Davidson

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

The retreat from the cities has begun, according to CNN. Their reporter on the scene in Iraq did not use the term "withdrawal" or "strategic retrograde motion," but "retreat."

Apparently, other newsmedia around the globe have a similar view. Here's an article from Malaysia about the retreat.

Naturally, the removal of occupation troops has been welcomed by some and used as a pretext for more violence by others. More bombings and other violence has been taking place. What should we expect?

We are not encountering the first USA military occupation of a foreign country that has become completely unworkable financially and militarily. Another example would be Vietnam.

The costs of escalating the Vietnam war beginning in 1964 with secret bombings of Laos and a huge increase in troop presence by president Johnson were so great that as soon as he set off on that path, he confronted the problem of American currency. Simply keeping the country in pocket change was going to have an increasing cost in buying silver back when coins were still 90% silver. Planning as he was to fund the war through monetary inflation, Johnson promptly declared silver "too valuable to be used for money" and debased the coins.

As a result of this choice, many people overseas began to redeem their dollars for gold. Americans were still prohibited from owning gold, but some wealthy Americans were able to get their dollars to foreign bankers who performed the redemptions. It is fair to say that the high cost of the war in Vietnam prompted monetary inflation under Johnson and Nixon to the point where the world price of gold was much higher than the dollar redemption figure.

Imagine being able to redeem $3500 for 100 ounces of gold, worth $4200 on the world market. Sell the gold for dollars and redeem again. Multiply by the world's offshore holdings of dollars. Little wonder Nixon closed the gold window in 1971.

Nixon was not a very nice guy. Among other things, he favored abortions for mixed race babies according to recent revelations from the national archives. He was, as we all now know, a liar and a cheat.

In 1969, Nixon announced a new doctrine of withdrawing USA troops from allies. So far, nobody has applied that doctrine in Germany, Japan, or Korea. But in Vietnam, the doctrine was applied, and came to be known as Vietnamization.

How was the policy implemented in Vietnam? First, Nixon ordered an enormous but secretive bombing of Cambodia. Ultimately, this would last five years, drop about 2.8 million tons of bombs, make Cambodia the most bombed country in history, and slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians. In March 1970, the Cambodia national assembly deposed Prince Sihanouk and closed its borders to North Vietnamese troops.

The expansion of the war into Cambodia was seen in American cities as a further escalation. Rioting ensued. Four young people were killed in Ohio and twenty were wounded by vicious thugs in military uniform allegedly acting under the orders of the governor of Ohio (though the national guard had been nationalised in 1916 under the hated tyrant Wilson).

Nixon responded by promising to withdraw 40,000 troops from Vietnam by Christmas. North Vietnam responded by pushing further into Cambodia with its supply trail (the Ho Chi Minh trail) and supporting the Khmer Rouge. South Vietnam responded by sending troops into Cambodia who rampaged through the countryside engaging in slaughter, pillage, and rape, further alienating the Cambodian people.

In 1971, the South Vietnamese military invaded Laos. They were met by a force of 60,000 North Vietnamese troops. Instead of fighting a guerrilla style war, the North Vietnamese fought pitched battles with armor formations, heavy artillery, and substantial anti-aircraft batteries. The USA military supported the South Vietnamese with air support and Vietnam-based artillery support but did not send USA troops into Laos (the Pentagon Papers scandal having made such incursions political suicide). About half the South Vietnamese invasion force was killed or captured.

Australia and New Zealand took the opportunity to withdraw their troops from Vietnam. USA military troop presence was reduced in 1971 to about the level in 1966.

The war continued in 1972 with North Vietnamese forces arrayed in conventional style invading in force across the demilitarised zone. They took several northern provinces and were met by a South Vietnamese counter-attack supported by USA air power. The USA military engaged in bombing North Vietnamese cities in the first offensive operation of its type since 1968.

Some of the captured territory was restored to South Vietnamese control. Brutal fighting cost the invading North Vietnamese army half its forces, and its commanding general was relieved of command.

Also in 1972, electoral politics and Chamberlain-style peace negotiations became part of the process. Nixon ran against McGovern who was somewhat anti-war (though nothing like anti-war primary challenger Eugene McCarthy). Kissinger made some alleged progress in the Paris peace talks with the North Vietnamese claiming at one point "peace is at hand" rather like "peace in our time" claims of an earlier poser.

Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1973 as a result of this false claim of peace in Vietnam. He would later be accused of numerous war crimes for his military and intelligence work in Vietnam, Chile, Indonesia, and Argentina. Many of these investigations, including law suits and demands for his testimony are ongoing.

In August 2005, Kissinger said, "Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy." In 2006, Kissinger was meeting frequently with Bush and Cheney on the Iraq War. But we're getting ahead of our story.

After having certain felonies committed by his re-election team, Nixon was re-elected in 1972. He promptly re-started the bombings of civilian populations in the region. Nixon blamed the bombings on the growing diplomatic impasse in the peace negotiations, causing one commentator to refer to the bombings as "war by tantrum."

Peace negotiations were concluded in a treaty in January 1973. The North Vietnamese released some prisoners of war in February. USA troops continued to be withdrawn.

In December 1974, North Vietnam opened the Ho Chi Minh campaign. Saigon fell at the end of April 1975.

So how does all this relate to Iraq? The war in Vietnam was very unpopular by 1969. The war in Iraq is unpopular in 2009. Fifty-three percent of Americans consider the war in Iraq a mistake.

The withdrawal of troops from Vietnam began in 1969. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq began in 2006.

Violence escalated as the troops were being pulled out of Vietnam. The Nixon administration responded with a bombing campaign to obliterate civilian populations in Cambodia and North Vietnam.

Violence escalated as the troops were pulled out in 2006. Bush responded with the "surge" in 2007.

In spite of assurances that the USA military has been successful with the surge in violence and retaliation, the current retreat from the cities is again marked with an escalation in violence.

Here are some recent events in Iraq, from the BBC.

"At least four policemen were killed by a roadside bomb in a village near the town of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

"A car bomb killed at least two people at a bus terminal in a Shia district in the south of the capital.

"The attacks come ... a day after a bomb blast killed nearly 70 people in Baghdad. More than 130 people were injured in the blast in a market place in Sadr City, a predominantly Shia area of the Iraqi capital." [Source: BBC]

Is there any reason to think that the military occupation of Iraq is going to go any better, over the next several years, than the military occupation of Vietnam? The country is, if anything, even more bankrupt financially now than in 1972. There were at least peace negotiations then, but there are none, now. It isn't even clear with whom one would open negotiations at present.

In 1972 there were about 152,000 troops in Vietnam. Today there are an unknown number of troops in Iraq. Figures vary from 132,000 to 150,000 and no definitive source seems to be available.

The plan in 1973 was to keep 24,000 troops in Vietnam. The plan in 2009 is to keep about 50,000 troops in Iraq, possibly forever.

So, is the future occupation of Iraq going to be more like Vietnam or more like Germany? My best guess is Vietnam.

Of course, the situations, while parallel in some ways, are also very different. There are diverse populations in Iraq of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish backgrounds. There is continuing violence among the different populations, especially Sunni on Shi'a violence. It is arguable whether Iraq would continue as a single country.

Prior to 1919, as parts of the Ottoman empire, the territories now encompassed by Iraq were called Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul by the Turks. The first two of these were unified under British rule in 1921 and the third added in 1926. The British withdrew some of their occupation troops in 1932, invaded again in 1941, and finally withdrew in 1947.

As with many other countries where artificial borders were drawn by foreigners, dividing some populations (such as the Kurds) into different countries or encircling divergent populations into one country, the way to set the odds would be in favor of continuing violence. Unless the international and Western authorities (powers that be, etc.) want to give up their idea of inviolate borders, an allow the ongoing proliferation of countries to continue or even escalate in growth in numbers, there is very little reason to suppose a lasting peace is possible.

Meanwhile, the USA economy has collapsed. Two more years of economic depression are forecast by the World Bank. Funds to continue military operations in Iraq are likely to be reduced in favor of military operations in Afghanistan, or troop withdrawals to the continental USA to be used in attacking civilian populations here.

Predicting the future course of events in any sphere is always difficult, and it never pays to be too precise. However, I would anticipate the withdrawal of USA military forces from many countries in the next few years as the economic situation worsens, foreign funding for the USA government debt becomes increasingly reluctant, interests rates escalate, and monetary policy comes under greater scrutiny.

Vietnamization ultimately failed in Vietnam, costing the lives of many Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and others in the region. The policy, hatched by villains like Nixon and Kissinger, which failed in Vietnam seems destined to fail as well in Iraq.

Currently, the war continues. Lancet and other estimates suggest as many as 1.3 million deaths since the war began in 2003. Since the current war is a continuation of anti-Iraq policies going back to 1990, several hundred thousand deaths would have to be added.

About 11,525 Iraqi police and military have been killed since Saddam's government fell in 2003.

At least 4,634 coalition troops have died, including 4,316 USA troops.

Around 31,354 coalition troops have been wounded.

About 1,314 contractors have been killed and a further 10,569 wounded, with up to 100 missing or captured.

About 10,000 Iraqis were killed in combat during the invasion. About 24,000 insurgents have been killed in the occupation.

The USA holds 12,794 "detainees" or prisoners, all of whom are being tortured, some of whom have been tortured to death.

The Iraqi puppet government is holding something over 24,000 prisoners of war including political prisoners, all of whom are being tortured, some of whom have been tortured to death.

In other words, the human toll of the war and occupation is enormous.

War, what is it good for?

Jim Davidson is an entrepreneur and author. He is currently pursuing a no-state wedding registry project (with birth, death, and divorce registries to follow) and two film projects. His feature film project is Alongside Night and detailed at and his documentary film project is Destination Resorts in Orbit detailed at


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