Accountability and Questioning Authority

There it was in the news, “US and Vietnam stage joint naval activities”. The article mentioned the training marks 15 years of normalized relations between the US and Vietnam. Hospitality reigned supreme as Vietnamese military and government officials were hosted on the USS George Washington.

Capitalism is alive and well in Vietnam. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Vietnam had a real growth rate of 5.9% in 2011 preceded by a 6.8% rate of growth in 2010. Vietnam joined the World Trade Association in 2007, agreeing to enforce international contract laws. The United States is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 18% of their total exports.

It appears Jane Fonda was right all along. This Vietnamese government with the world’s 45th highest growth rate and the military we are conducting joint exercises with is the same government we spent 58,151 American lives to keep from coming to power.

Whenever the flags fly and the politicians tell how our brave soldiers fought and died in Vietnam to protect our freedom, we should cringe. Those soldiers were brave, they fought and died, but the rest is just one more lie that insults our intelligence and desecrates those heroes’ memories.

Our involvement in Vietnam was based on lies presidents from both parties told us. The Geneva Conference specified elections to unify Vietnam would take place in July, 1956. According to the Pentagon Papers, “President Eisenhower is widely quoted to the effect that in 1954 as many as 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, as the popular hero of their liberation, in an election.” Although our government continually stated we wanted free elections in Vietnam, it was our policy through four administrations to make sure they never took place.

The Vietnamese did some terrible things to us and we did terrible things to them. Back home, our military used the fear factor throughout the war. Better to fight the Communists over there. Yet, when we lost in Vietnam, there never was a domino effect of falling Asian governments and the battlefield never moved to Los Angeles. The Vietnamese cleaned up the mess we left behind in Cambodia, whipped the Chinese Army when they made an incursion into Vietnam and then set about being some of the world’s worst Communists with market based reforms.

The saddest chapter in our involvement in Vietnam was no one in the US government was ever held accountable for all the lies, 58,151 unnecessary deaths and the wasted lives. We never learned if the Gulf of Tonkin incident used as a pretense to our huge build-up in Vietnam actually occurred. U.S. laws were broken in our engagement in Cambodia and no one was ever tried. Sadly, those who ignore history tend to repeat it.

Given this background of requiring no accountability from our leaders, we shouldn’t have been surprised George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 with the flimsiest of reasons.

What we do know about that war is:

  • We were told Saddam Hussein was building up an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that threatened our security.
  • Our NATO allies scoffed at the Bush Administration’s evidence.
  • Dr. Hans Blix, former chief of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission stated on March 7, 2003 that he would resolve the key remaining disarmament tasks, which he would “present to the (United Nations Security) Council before the end of this month”.
  • Bush launched his invasion of Iraq on March 23, 2003.
    • No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq and the country was never a threat to us.
    • We were told Iraqis would welcome us as liberators.
      • Over 100,000 Iraqis died fighting their liberation and in sectarian conflicts resulting from the breakdown of their government.
      • The sectarian violence in Iraq continues claiming lives.
  • Typically, presidents fire the heads of security agencies that provide inaccurate information.
    • CIA Director George Tenet provided Bush with the inaccurate information on “weapons of mass destruction” he used to get Congressional war powers approval.
    • President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to retired CIA Director Tenet.
  • Neither Valerie Plame, a former covert CIA operative, nor her husband, Joseph Wilson, a State Department diplomat, received medals.4,488 U.S. Service members are dead because of Bush’s War. Many thousands were physically and psychologically maimed.
    • Joseph Wilson, stated in a New York Times op-ed on the basis of his “experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war”, he has “little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”
    • Lewis Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, revealed Plame’s identity, effectively ending her CIA career.
    • Although not indicted for actually leaking Plame’s identity, the investigation led to the federal criminal trial, United States v. Libby. The trial resulted in Libby’s conviction on four felony counts, none relating directly to the Plame revelation but rather to his failure to cooperate with the subsequent investigation into the revelation. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a fine of $250,000.
    • President Bush commuted Libby’s prison sentence.

What we don’t know is:

  • The extent of Bush’s involvement or of others in his administration and the intelligence community in the weapons of mass destruction charade.
  • Was there a pervasive attitude in the CIA that the only way to achieve personal success was to deliver reasons to invade Iraq?
  • Or, was there no administration pressure on the intelligence community and the spies were just plain incompetent?
  • Was there some other reason the only member of Bush’s Axis of Evil that didn’t have an active nuclear weapons development program was singled out for invasion?
  • Was the war in Iraq all about killing Saddam in retaliation for allegedly trying to assassinate George Bush senior in 1993?

After World War II, we hung Nazis and Japanese for launching “unprovoked wars of aggression”. Hypocrisy is too mild a word if we fail to find the truth about what led up to our unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq.

Accountability isn’t a witch-hunt. Ideally, it starts with a thorough and complete investigation by a committee similar to the Senate Watergate Committee with a large budget and subpoena powers, charged with finding the truth about the events leading up to our invasion of Iraq.

We don’t know if we have war criminals in our midst, but never demanding accountability all but guarantees we will send U.S soldiers to die in another war that has nothing whatsoever to do with our national security. If we demanded the same level of accountability from our leaders that we demand from the leaders of other countries, would we have wasted away so many lives in Iraq and Vietnam? Former Texas Governor George W. Bush spoke often about that state’s capital punishment being a deterrent to future crime. Maybe we should listen to him.

What all this teaches us…

When President Barack Obama talks about our intelligence community’s assessment of nuclear arms in North Korea or Iran, the world listens and believes. Virtually everyone simply assumes the mistakes made leading up to our invasion of Iraq were the result of weak intelligence leadership prostituting themselves to provide the Bush Administration justification for their goal of invading Iraq and killing Saddam Hussein.

While history continually repeats itself for countries that refuse to learn from it, we as individuals can act on our own. The most important lesson we learned from Iraq and Vietnam is to always question authority. Those presidents who proclaim to protect our security with the lives of our young people may actually be far more interested in settling personal vendettas or in Vietnam protecting their place in history by not being the first American president to lose a war.

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