June 20, 2004

Unlearned Lessons


Above is our cover illustration for the May 2004 issue of The Intellectual Activist. Contrary to what some on the right my think, there are dangerous parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, though not in the way the defeatist, anti-American leftists would have us believe. In the cover article, editor and publisher Robert Tracinski writes:

Iraq is not and need not be Vietnam. But the similarity is not merely the wishful thinking of the left-leaning media. The similarity is not the nature of the conflict itself, but in the reaction to the conflict by America's leaders.

For many of our nation's political leaders, the Vietnam War was one of the most profound events in the early years of their lives and careers. [...] The great irony of the conflict in Iraq, however, is that none of these men learned the lessons of Vietnam. They are bringing to this new conflict the same premises that crippled American power and made victory impossible 35 years ago.

The reason our leaders did not learn the lessons of Vietnam is that those lessons were not primarily military or political lessons; they were philosophical lessons.

Tracinski goes on to show how philosopher Ayn Rand's analysis of the Vietnam war (a 1975 essay titled "The Lessons of Vietnam" available in the book The Voice of Reason) is relevant to today's war in Iraq. For example, Ayn Rand wrote:

In compliance with epistemological irrationalism, it [the Vietnam War] was a war and a non-war at the same time. It was a modern monstrosity called a "no-win" war, in which the American forces were not permitted to act, but only to react: they were to "contain" the enemy, but not to beat him.

That could be a description of America's contradictory strategy in Iraq, where, as Tracinski explains, we have both an "occupation" and a "liberation," where the enemy is allowed to shoot at Americans during "cease-fires," and where we seek legitimacy from illegitimate organizations like the U.N. (whose U.S.-approved envoy in Iraq declared, "There is never any military solution to any problem.").

Even some of the political goals in Iraq compare to those of the Vietnam War. Ayn Rand wrote:

In compliance with modern politics, the [Vietnam] war was allegedly intended to save South Vietnam from communism, but the proclaimed purpose of the war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system -- it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to "national self-determination," i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming). [...]

Picking up the liberal's discarded old slogan of World War I days -- "the self-determination of nations" -- the American conservatives were trying to hide the American system, capitalism, under some sort of collectivist cover.

In Iraq, the Bush Administration's oft-stated goal -- besides the laudable goal of defending America from terrorists -- has been the "liberation" of Iraq for the sake of "democracy," even if that means allowing Iraqis to vote themselves into a Iranian-style theocratic dictatorship (which Secretary of State Colin Powell said we would "have to accept").

Tracinski asserts that to avoid defeat in Iraq and in the broader War on Terror, America needs political leadership "that will establish policy goals consistently shaped by America's interests and the requirements of victory, uncorrupted by any element of consensus-worship and appeasement," policy goals that are integrated "from top to bottom, from the White House down to the commander in the field."

In my opinion, there's no indication that presidential candidate Senator John Kerry would ever adopt such a pro-American, self-interested, military-oriented policy. So I will continue to voice criticisms of the Bush Administration and hope that President Bush, if re-elected, will do better.

There is far more analysis in "The Unlearned Lessons of Vietnam" than I can summarize here, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. If you're interested in the full article, we highly recommend that you contact TIA for a copy of the May issue.

In the meantime, we also highly recommend that you take advantage of the free trial offer for Robert Tracinski's TIA Daily. Just enter your e-mail address in the space below and click to arrow to receive TIA Daily free for 30-days:

In TIA Daily, Robert Tracinski and others provide an individualist perspective on the news five times a week. I look forward to every e-mail. Here is a sample of Tracinski's commentary relating to "unlearned lessons":

After losing hundreds of fighters in a lame uprising against US forces -- then vowing, just a few days ago, to die fighting -- al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has now declared victory and disbanded. And they have won, at least in the short term: al-Sadr has escaped punishment for murdering a rival cleric, and he has gained a base of support that he can use to push his theocratic agenda in the new Iraqi government.

How al-Sadr and the terrorists in Fallujah are treated in the coming weeks will be the real test of the Iraq turn over. Keep track with TIA Daily.

Posted by Forkum at June 20, 2004 08:58 PM