Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg compared President Bush’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that ignited the Vietnam War.
MINNEAPOLIS — MintPress News is proud to host “Lied to Death,” a 13-part audio conversation between famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and social justice activist Arn Menconi.
Menconi wrote that these interviews are a “mixture of historical, political science and Dan’s sixty-year scholarly analysis as a former nuclear planner for Rand Corporation.”
For more information on the interview and Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.
Chapter 9: American ‘hubris’ will create more blowback in the Middle East
In this chapter, Ellsberg compares America’s military strategy in the Middle East to its strategy during the Vietnam War, illustrating how imperial ambition and “hubris” lead the United States to repeat the same mistakes time and again.
During the Vietnam War, he said, the U.S. removed most South Vietnamese generals and government officials from power. While their replacements were more loyal to America and could be trusted not to negotiate with communist forces, they were far less experienced than their predecessors.
“They really were absolutely terrible,” Ellsberg emphasized. “They had no ability to run a country or a military campaign.”
Similarly, he said, when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and deposed the country’s president, Saddam Hussein, the military also eliminated the Sunni-dominated Baath party, which had run most of Hussein’s government. This not only created a power vacuum in the country, but also contributed significantly to the rise of Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL) by forcing moderate Sunnis into alliances with extremists to better oppose the U.S.
Ellsberg also pointed out another similarity between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq: both were based on lies. The whistleblower said that when the Bush administration claimed to have absolute proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, “[t]hat was as much of a lie as the alleged evidence of an attack on our ships in the Tonkin Gulf.”
In the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the U.S. fabricated claims that the USS Maddox had been attacked by North Vietnamese forces. The claimed attacks were later used to justify putting boots on the ground.
In fact, as Ellsberg pointed out, according to a 2003 White House memo published in 2006, President George W. Bush proposed a similar plan to British Prime Minister Tony Blair by suggesting that their nations fly a jet painted in United Nations colors over Iraq in the hopes that Hussein’s forces would fire on it in violation of international law.
Ellsberg drew another parallel between the foreign policy of the past and present: the belief that any war can be won with enough boots on the ground. Just as the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President John F. Kennedy to commit massive amounts of ground troops to the Vietnam War, Ellsberg believes the Pentagon also pressured President Barack Obama into agreeing to a “surge” in Afghanistan. He suggested the buildup in U.S. military ground forces announced in 2009 had been planned for some time, and that U.S. generals like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal had threatened to oppose Obama’s re-election if he did not agree.
Now, he believes the Pentagon is pressuring the White House to commit to putting boots on the ground to fight Daesh. Unlike the Vietnam War era, when the pressure was merely internal, Ellsberg noted the military now openly opposes Obama in the media.
However, he argued that rather than eliminating Daesh, the old, deadly mistake of putting boots on the ground will likely strengthen the organization.
Watch Chapter 9: American ‘hubris’ will create more blowback in the Middle East:
About Daniel Ellsberg
As sites like WikiLeaks and figures such as Edward Snowden continue to reveal uncomfortable truths about America’s endless wars for power and oil, one important figure stands apart as an inspiration to the whistleblowers of today: Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” over 7,000 pages of top secret documents, in 1971.
A military veteran, Ellsberg began his career as a strategic analyst for the RAND Corporation, a massive U.S.-backed nonprofit, and worked directly for the government helping to craft policies around the potential use of nuclear weapons. In in the 1960s, he faced a crisis of conscience while working for the Department of Defense as an assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton, where his primary duty was to find a pretext to escalate the war in Vietnam.
Inspired by the example of anti-war activists and great thinkers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., he realized he was willing to risk arrest in order to prevent more war. Lacking the technology of today’s whistleblowers, who can carry gigabytes of data in their pockets, he painstakingly photocopied some 7,000 pages of top secret documents which became the “Pentagon Papers,” first excerpted by The New York Times in June 1971.
Ellsberg’s leaks exposed the corruption behind the war in Vietnam and had widespread ramifications for American foreign policy. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state at the time, famously referred to Ellsberg as “the most dangerous man in America.”
Ellsberg remains a sought-after expert on military and world affairs, and an outspoken supporter of whistleblowers from Edward Snowden to Chelsea Manning. In 2011, he told the Chelsea Manning Support Network that Manning was a “hero,” and added:
“I wish I could say that our government has improved its treatment of whistleblowers in the 40 years since the Pentagon Papers. Instead we’re seeing an unprecedented campaign to crack down on public servants who reveal information that Congress and American citizens have a need to know.”