Light at the End of the Tunnel?

If I could sum up modern American culture with one sentence it would be this: we want it all, we want it right now, and we want it for free. You can see it in the ridiculous Republican strategy of never ending tax cuts. Like starting two wars while cutting taxes is fiscally responsible? And you can see this attitude throughout the prosecution of both wars. Rummy was so convinced that these wars would be fought “on the cheap” that Osama bin Laden (remember him, the guy Bush swore he would hunt down four years ago?) was allowed to escape from Tora Bora. Despite the recommendations of the military that way more troops would be required on the ground in Iraq, the Rumsfeld plan was followed again. Oh sure, we heard all the assurances: the war will be quick, it won’t take that many troops, and it won’t cost America much in lives or money.

Well here we are, two years since we were told “mission accomplished.” But it wasn’t accomplished, was it? There is chaos in Iraq, American soldiers are continuing to die at a rapid clip, and we can only wonder how many Iraqis have been killed. Nonetheless, Cheney gets on TV to tell us that the insurgency is in its “last throes.” Yes, indeed, we have turned a corner alright and it won’t be long now until Iraq will be the democratic beacon of the Middle East.

Seems to me that America has heard this before. Let’s cast our minds back to December, 1967, when LBJ’s national security advisor Walt Rostow said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel.” The invitation to the New Year’s Eve party at the US Embassy in Saigon even read: “Come see the light at the end of the tunnel.” One month later there was fighting inside the embassy as the Tet Offensive was unleashed. Seven years and tens of thousands of deaths later Saigon fell.

I bring up Vietnam because after only two years in Iraq, you can see how Americans are getting sick of it. And not just lefties but an increasing number of moderates and even some right wingers as well. Bush’s approval rating is sinking, as the cheerleading of his administration contrasts sharply with the news coming out of Iraq. Two years later some people have finally woken up to the idea that this will be neither quick nor easy. And it certainly won’t be free.

So let’s take a look at Vietnam. The US had troops there for over 10 years but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Vietnamese first fought the Japanese in WWII, then the French after that, and then the Americans. They struggle against various imperial powers for over 30 years, at a huge cost in lives but with undiminished ferocity. This just goes to show how much of a fight an angry and determined people can offer, no matter how many tons of bombs you drop on them. So what reason do we have to think that the situation in Iraq is getting better? What reason do we have to think that fighting will end this year or next year or the year after that? None, apart from the American desire to have it all, right now, and for free.

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