Sunday, January 29, 2006

We seem to have problems learning from history, don't we?

Am adding an excerpt from a rather lengthy recent interview with Daniel Ellsberg over at the Daily Kos.
This is just a small excerpt from what looks like a 6 part extensive interview. At this point Ellsberg has been comparing America's Vietnam experience to our involvement in Iraq:

"Q: We seem to have problems learning from history, don't we?

A very sad thing, and it isn't just Americans. When I try to draw lessons from history and pre-history, I've reached some unhappy conclusions about the nature of our species. Not just about Americans or capitalists. And part of it is that our concern for other people is very selective and very easily manipulated by leaders and by propaganda. And people are capable of being very little concerned about masses of deaths and suffering of other people - foreigners, far-away, invisible, not related, different languages, different religions.

They can be led by leaders to be concerned about that, but it's also very easy to distract them from it, into not being very concerned about it at all.
And it's very hard for Republicans to learn from Democrats. And the Vietnamese, I think, didn't learn all that much from having been invaded. They went into Cambodia and didn't really do very well. The Chinese went into Vietnam and got a bloody nose.
The Soviets really reproduced our Vietnam experience in Afghanistan. The only difference is the weather. I must say, that was one case where I wasn't wrong. I looked at that situation very early on when a lot of people were saying the Soviets would not have their one hand tied behind their back. They won't have problems with the press and the public, so now they're going to do it tough, the way the Israelis would do it.
So even despite the fact that they didn't have any of those domestic factors that we did, they didn't do any better and they were just as brutal as we are in Iraq.

Here's another one that didn't turn out as costly for us as I thought it would: our own invasion of Afghanistan. I thought we'd have the same trouble as the Soviets. That really didn't work out, but why not? First of all, the U.S. very much limited its penetration of Afghanistan. It's left almost the whole country, except for Kabul and Kandahar, to the warlords. It hasn't been ambitious at all about controlling most of the country. I didn't expect them to leave it at that. In retrospect, why did they? Because they were preparing for Iraq, which I have to say is another one I didn't foresee particularly. I didn't know about the Project for a New American Century. I didn't know the neo-cons at that point. I don't recall looking at Iraq particularly at all in 2001 or early 2002.

People say, Of course, we don't plan to stay in Iraq. We just plan to stay until there's a democratic government, a democratic government that will ask us to stay in our bases there and which will be friendly to Israel, and assure US that women's rights will be observed and so forth, but above all that the contracts will be recognized that we're signing now for all the deals about oil. We don't have to be there indefinitely, all we need is a government that is friendly in all these respects, as Chalabi promised us.
Well, that's a recipe for staying forever. Even if this administration lets go of all the other conditions, I don't believe they'll give up on the bases and the oil. Nor will its successors, Republican or Democrat. So I think that's what we will be doing, staying forever. Unless the rest of us, outside the government, force change on the leadership of the Democrats as well as the Republicans, which will be difficult and take a long time.

Q:And that's why there's such a resistance to naming a timetable and calling everybody traitors who want a timetable.

Absolutely. Those same words were used to Nixon throughout his time on Vietnam. People were asking him to set a timetable. The weeks that I was copying the Pentagon Papers in October of 1969, a bunch of us at RAND were also putting forth a proposal to get out in one year, by 1970. Nixon was saying, no, no, no, no, that way they'll be able to wait for us to leave and then move in. We can't do that. And he was giving all the arguments that Bush is giving now. In fact, I wonder if Bush has actually opened the old drawers or brought down one of Nixon's memoirs from the shelf or something and simply copied the speeches, because that's what he's saying.
I'm still convinced - though most people aren't - that Nixon didn't mean at all for Saigon to be Communist in 1975 or 1978 or 1980. The reason he was rejecting the notion of having all American troops out by setting a deadline, setting a timetable, was not because he objected to that particular timetable or to having a timetable, but because he had no intention of giving up American presence altogether. Ever.

And that's where I think we are today. What are the secret intentions or plans of the White House, specifically of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld? I think it is not their intention or expectation or willingness to see a total removal of U.S. influence and presence in Iraq. Ever. In light of that, I don't think what people need to face up to is what I regard as a likelihood that this war is going to go on much longer than two years or four years or eight years. I think that figures like 30 and 40 and 50 years should be considered. That's what they have in mind. When I say that, I'm not talking just about their hopes or expectations, because of course Nixon had hopeful expectations that were frustrated. I'm talking about intentions that I think may very well be fulfilled by Democrats as well as Republicans, intentions to hold on to bases and oil at all costs. I'm not at all confident that Democrats will be willing to give up those bases.

But the point is people need to start facing up to the fact that when Bush talks about being out of there, he's either lying or being incredibly wishful. Again, we come back to the question, can Bush possibly be persuaded that he really is going to get all he wants and that Chalabi is going to be vindicated in the end? I don't know. I can't figure Bush out, when it comes to his expectations. But I think he is determined to get what he wants, and realistically that won't let him reduce our troops all that much while he's in office."

Q: If, as you've said before, you fear us going into Iran, won't we have to have a draft? Won't that create so much protest they can't move forward with their plans?

No. First of all, the draft didn't stop Vietnam. It went on and on and could have gone on longer. I think we were very lucky in a number of ways that it didn't go on a lot longer. Anyway, it wasn't the draft, it was the large casualties and that was a result of Westmoreland's search-and-destroy missions and attrition strategy. That was known by many of the generals and they weren't willing to take a stand and take responsibility for reining him in on that. They were very critical of his strategy and the great American losses that we were suffering, but they wouldn't tell him not to do it.

If they had stopped that and really changed the strategy and gotten the U.S. casualties down greatly, they could have stayed in Vietnam and they would not have been forced out of it, because Americans are very tolerant of bombing and they're very tolerant of foreigners dying.
Q: And that appears to be Bush's strategy for the next year.
That's what he hopes for.

Q:He's going to go to air power and pull some troops out.
And Americans will go along with that."

So this is from part 5 of the interview: A direct link is:

Fascinating reading. Especially for those of us who lived through the Vietnam War and can remember the release of the Pentagon Papers.

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