Thursday, June 29, 2006

Vietnam and Iraq: A Drunken E-mail Exchange

The literatus, undergraduate drinking buddy of the Pithlord and present-day neighbour of Vietnamese refugees, challenges Pith & Substance's program for Iraq:

You got to admit, if that whole dovish Viet-quag analogy holds up here, it's a historical necessity that post-Yankee Iraq get, er, newly invaded, rebrutalised and shot to pieces in a way that makes the original intervention look mellow. (Cambodia = Iran? Sunni insurgent boffos = VC? Saudi = China?) If the metaphor holds true of course, the world-historical next chapter in Iraq's nightmare will be kinda, erm, underpublicised, while the Western world tut-tuts about glamourous American guilt and self-examination. Hey, I'm cool with it, so long as you Yankees-Out sorts take * full* responsibility for your dream coming true, and *keep paying attention* to the Messed-Up Potamians after GI Joe's gone home to talk to his shrink about his screenplay...

Some ancient curse of a disgruntled fairy godmother compels me to respond to all of the literatus' drunken e-mails, and so I did:

There are basically two possibilities in Iraq:

1. A deal between ethnic and sectarian factions with enough clout to crush those outside the deal.

2. Civil war.

Truth is, though, that nobody outside Iraq can have any real influence on which of these happens. We could send some mediators to propose equalization payments and asymmetrical federalism arrangements. A deal that could make everybody better off exists. But we can't ensure that all the necessary people agree to it. And if the deal doesn't exist, we can't prevent civil war.

Foreign troops just make it harder to force the relevant people to come to the available deal. Those not part of the government get to claim they are fighting for national liberation. Those who are part of the government can fantasize that the imperialists can be tricked into crushing their enemies before they, in turn, are required to leave.

I'm not an "Out Now" type. I'm a "Set a Date" type. Are you a "permanent bases" type? Or a "keep doing this until we have to leave anyway" type? Or is there another option, because I'm not seeing it now.

Am I responsible for bad consequences that follow on my preferred option? Not really. All I can propose is the course of action that is the least bad.

My basic retrospective objection to Vietnam was the assassination of Diem. That's the real analogy to deposing Saddam Hussein. The idea, if you will recall, was that Diem was a bad-ass right-wing Catholic dictator, and the Kennedy administration thought that they could replace him with some Swiss-style social democratic fellow who would be nice to the Buddhists. Trouble is that such people were not the sort to make it to the top of 1960s Vietnamese politics. So the US allowed itself to become the government of South Vietnam. Trouble with humans is that there mostly like you, [literatus]. They would rather be ruled by their own kind, even if they are Commies or corrupt with dragon-lady wives.

Once the Americans assassinated Diem, they were pretty much honour bound to stay to the end. Which is why you shouldn't do stuff like that.

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