[Marxism] Iraq and the Vietnam Syndrome

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Apr 7 18:59:46 MDT 2004

Walter, in disagreeing with Jack Barnes, cites the armchair 'leader' as
"The U.S. rulers and their officer corps are no longer 
plagued by the Vietnam Syndrome-a phenomenon in mass 
psychology stemming from U.S. imperialism's defeat in 
Vietnam that has mostly died out with the older 
generations that were directly affected by it." Barnes
added "Washington is not facing a "quagmire" in Iraq."

I agree totally with Walter that Barnes' view that the US is not facing
a quagmire in Iraq is totally wrong (and, in fact, pretty much nuts).

Last year some of us on this list argued that we shouldn't worry at all
about the ease with which Bush smashed the Saddam regime, because the
regime was incapable of organising any serious opposition to the
invasion.  Rather, we argued, the opposition would start once Saddam was

And, wow, has this been confirmed.

The attacks a couple of days ago, which took place in a string of
cities, gave Washington probably the biggest casualties in the whole
period since the invasion began, and involved gun battles that went on
for hours, indicate just how much of a quagmire Bush has got himself

(In fact, early last year I tended to doubt that Bush would go ahead
with the invasion because it was obvious that an invasion would create
precisely this quagmire.  It is a major imperialist stuff-up.)

Washington is literally up shit creek without a paddle, as we say here.
If Bush were to hand over to an Iraqi underling government and withdraw,
it would be a clear defeat, with an ignominious withdrawal, tail between
legs.  If Washington stays, they are going to have to massively step up
the repression, which is likely to provoke even more intensified
resistance, precisely because while Saddam was beaten the Iraqi people
weren't and aren't.  More repression is also likely to provoke
inter-imperialist disagreement and more domestic opposition to the
occupation throughout the imperialist heartlands.

The one place I partially disagree with Walter is over whether the
Vietnam Syndrome still applies.  The problem with the Vietnam Syndrome
is that it was never hostility to US intervention abroad per se - it was
hostility to interventions in which lots of US soldiers got killed or
maimed.  To me, this is why promoting conscious anti-imperialist
politics within the broader antiwar movement is vital.  (Without wanting
to start a whole debate about the anti-Vietnam War movement in the US, I
think this was a major weakness of that movement, and that the US SWP
bears a lot of responsibility for that political weakness.)

So it is only with escalating US casualties in Iraq - which also,
inevitably means even more greatly escalating Iraqi casualties - that
opposition within the US to the occupation is going to grow.

While the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US (and all allied)
armed forces from Iraq is the principled basis for building a mass
antiwar movement, the role of Marxists has to *incorporate* building an
anti-imperialist consciousness and current within that broader movement
or, afterwards, we'll be back to square one all over again.  This
doesn't mean trying to foist "Victory to the Iraqi Resistance" slogans
on broad antiwar groups, but it does mean serious political work to
promote an anti-imperialist perspective within the broader movement and
not just being the 'best builders' of mass 'out now' actions.

It also means finding ways of linking imperialist wars abroad with
domestic issues, which ANSWER, and the UCPJ, seem to be trying to do and
which sections of the left in countries like New Zealand are also trying
to do.

Philip Ferguson


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