Bill Moyers
May 11, 2007
Marilyn B. Young on the War in Iraq

BILL MOYERS: My friend and colleague Charlie Rose conducted a remarkable interview this week with Condoleeza Rice. It was mesmerizing because as Charlie pressed her with questions about an endgame in Iraq, Secretary Rice's language seemed as removed from reality, as it was four years ago before all the blood and chaos that has followed America's invasion.

Here are just a few excerpts from what she said:

[Excerpt from Charlie Rose]

SECRETARY RICE: America's credibility remains, I think, strong. Yes, people are concerned. For instance, the issues about the intelligence in Iraq, that's been somewhat difficult to overcome. I'll be very, very straightforward with you on that.

CHARLIE ROSE: On weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah, because people now say when you give them a brief, "Are you sure?" And yes, that's an issue and you say, well, it wasn't just America's intelligence services, of course, that thought that he had weapons of mass destruction; this was a worldwide intelligence problem, because the UN thought he had weapons of mass destruction. The United States is in Iraq because the Iraqi Government asked us to be there and they asked us to be there on a UN Security Council mandate. Now, everybody understands the Iraqis are not yet able to secure themselves. And no one — I can tell you, when you go into the region and you talk to people, the first thing they say to you is: "You're not leaving, are you?" Because they are concerned that if the United States withdraws precipitously and leaves a vacuum there, that it's going to filled by Al Qaeda, it's going to be filled by extremists from Iraq and it's going to be filled by neighbors playing games against one another.

SECRETARY RICE: Our friends in the neighborhood need to know and the Iraqis need to know that we are not looking to leave Iraq. That's not why this President went into Iraq and it's not how —


SECRETARY RICE: Charlie, we are not going to leave an Iraq that is not capable of defending itself and with a foundation for future reconciliation.

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you believe you'll have the support of the American people to do that?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that the American people are looking for progress, and so are we.

[End excerpt from Charlie Rose]

BILL MOYERS: With me now is the historian Marilyn Young. Winner of many awards for her research and teaching. She is a professor at New York University. Marilyn Young has published many books and essays on foreign policy, including The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990. Now, with Lloyd Gardner, she has edited this collection of essays, Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: or, How Not to Learn From the Past. You will not read a more timely or essential book.

Marilyn Young, thanks for joining me.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: It's a pleasure, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think, watching Secretary Rice?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Smooth and slick and full of deception.

BILL MOYERS: Deception?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Oh, yeah. There are a number of places where the deception is really quite extraordinary. But it's deception always with a half truth, which is the best kind of lie, the most persuasive lie. So she says, "It wasn't just our intelligence service that talked about weapons of mass destruction." That's true. The Germans looked into it and said, "you know what? Your information is wrong, it's useless." So there were other intelligence services involved, but they disagreed with ours, which she didn't say.

Then she said the U.N. thought there were WMD's. But that's for people with really bad short-term memory loss. Because Hans Blix, who was in the U.N. as inspector, was quite persuaded that in fact, there were no weapons of mass destruction. The most extraordinary one, though, the really — one that just takes my breath away, is where she says we're in Iraq because the Iraqi government invited us there. And we're there under a U.N. mandate. Saddam Hussein certainly didn't invite us in. And the UN mandate that she refers to, it's a resolution, it's not a mandate — it says, after all, we're all agreed that everyone should help in the reconstruction of Iraq. That's all. It's not a mandate for occupation, at all.

BILL MOYERS: The words seem detached from reality.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, I wonder if she wasn't thinking of other wars. For example, it was always said that Ngo Dinh Diem invited the United States.

BILL MOYERS: Into Vietnam?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Into Vietnam. So perhaps she got a little mixed up.

BILL MOYERS: Vietnam seems to be in the heads of all these people.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, just like when you were talking to Jon Stewart, and you slipped and said Vietnam, and you meant Iraq. She said, the government invited us in. Maybe she was thinking of Vietnam. I don't know.

BILL MOYERS: How can she be believed after what she said throughout the past four years?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, because she remains a person of authority; because she is absolutely amazingly implacable in her re-statement, statement and re-statement of half-truths and outright lies. And that kind of certainty in one's own authority and the correctness of one's own position can look very persuasive, especially on TV, especially when you're not pressed.

BILL MOYERS: Charlie did keep coming back to her, trying to get her to talk about this —

MARILYN B. YOUNG: What he came back to over and over again was an exit strategy. And she said, as they've all been saying, there is no plan B. We're going to succeed with plan A. And she made it very clear, as was also clear in the newspapers the other day, Petraeus says we'll have —

BILL MOYERS: General Petraeus?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: General Petraeus says we'll have an assessment in September.

BILL MOYERS: She seemed to be backing away from that. She seemed to be saying September doesn't really matter.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Because the general under Petraeus, Odierno — Raymond Odierno, I may not be pronouncing his name correctly — he said, Spring '08, not September. A year from now. And that's there's — that was in the newspaper article about the arranging for the further deployment so the surge — how a surge gets maintained? When does a surge stop being a surge and become a plateau? I don't know. The language is pretty interesting. But Odierno clearly indicated spring 2008.

BILL MOYERS: I heard Condoleeza Rice say, if we leave, our credibility will suffer. If we leave, the dominos will fall. If we leave, we'll have to fight them here.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, first of all, we can't stay there forever. It's impossible. 74 percent to 80 percent of all Iraqis of all factions want the United States to withdraw.

BILL MOYERS: And just this week, although it got very little attention in the American press, over half of the members of the Iraqi parliament asked us to leave. "Give us a timetable," they said, "we want the occupation to end."

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Exactly. Nobody wants that occupation. Now, the United States cannot confer legitimacy on an Iraqi government. That's not possible. It's quite right that the Iraqis have to gain legitimacy for themselves. But they can't do it so long as there's an occupation.


MARILYN B. YOUNG: The very fact of an occupation compromises the legitimacy. They're all locked up there together in the green zone. Condoleeza Rice says, "you ask anybody in the region and they say please, don't leave." Well, where exactly is she walking around in the region? In Iraq, she's only walking in the green zone. She can't walk anywhere else. And it's likely that the odd person she meets in the green zone is going to say, "yes, yes, welcome, welcome, please don't go." But this is nonsense as a measure of who wants the United States to stay and who wants the United States to leave.

BILL MOYERS: Her message seemed to be, "give us a little more time."

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Always, over and over again.

BILL MOYERS: But she might be right. Right?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, there's always that possibility. What we know is as of this moment, the killing goes on massively. It's very interesting. The United States military command will not release statistics as to trends in civilian deaths. They won't release it, they say very explicitly — there was a story in The Washington Post — because they don't want to give ammunition to critics of the policy.

So we just don't have the statistics. Insofar as we have statistics, it is not the case, as is sometimes stated confidently but wrongly, that the number of incidents have gone down. That the number of civilian deaths have gone down. So what we do know is that the United States is occupying a country where the majority of people do not wish us to be. That's one. That there's nonstop death and destruction. That it is likely there will be more when we leave. Or maybe the same levels. We don't know. But we certainly are not contributing to the stability of that country. Not at all.

BILL MOYERS: You will remember that she once told us that what you've just described, she called the birth pangs that will bring forth a new age in the Middle East. Now, you can't blame her for not wanting to cut off the mission just before it succeeds, can you?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, yeah. But it's ever receding. There has to be some logical formula for an ever receding goal. No. I think that they don't want to leave on their watch. I think that seems to be plain. The one thing we can hope for is that on their watch, they won't attack Iran. That's a really scary thing.

But let's assume that they won't, that calmer heads prevail, and that no attack on Iran occurs. This administration wants to stick it out, stick it out with more deaths, more destruction of Americans and Iraqis, to no end I can see. To no good end I can see. The thing about the dominos, I mean, they always say — it's a kind of — it's actually, if you really listen to it, it's a kind of ugly sentence. We got to kill them there, so they don't come and kill us here.

BILL MOYERS: You know, Lyndon Johnson said that about the war in Vietnam. He said if we don't stop them there, they'll be in California.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Yeah. But weren't you always puzzled by that, Bill? Because how did he expect them to get here? I mean, were they going to surf into California?

BILL MOYERS: There's a difference now. We know how the terrorists got here on 9/11.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Yes, that's right. And to prevent that, Iraq is of complete irrelevance. Total and absolute irrelevance. There was this very recent arrest of a group in New Jersey that apparently had in their heads to attack Fort Dix. But they were from Kosovo or Albanians. That's the country that this administration and others have said the United States helped most. So it's very hard to see where — I mean, what dominos are going to fall.

BILL MOYERS: Remember what Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last August? Quote, "If we left Iraq prematurely as the terrorists demand, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan, and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't show their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines." I mean, there go the dominos.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: That's ridiculous. I mean, it's really absurd. Look who's at, first of all, let's just take Afghanistan. Because of the recent spate of civilian killings by American troops in Afghanistan —

BILL MOYERS: Twenty-one lives by air strike just the other day.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Right. There's been a big protest. And in fact, there's some Afghan parliamentarians, these are not terrorists, these are parliamentarians. This is the parliament of which the United States is very proud. The parliamentarians are asking for negotiations with the Taliban to end the occupation in Afghanistan. Now, that's not terrorist.

Similarly in Iraq, it's not the terrorists — I mean, terrorists — anyhow, who are they? Terrorism is a tactic. It's not an ideology. It's not a person. It's a tactic that groups use. In Iraq, those groups that want us out include, as I said, 74 percent of the population. Those are not terrorists. The issue of, they'll follow us here. You know, if you take these Albanians as an example, they, whoever they are, are already here. We have to deal with them here, and their issues here, it seems to me.

BILL MOYERS: You say in your book, "The specter of Vietnam looms darkly over Baghdad." How so?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Oh, it's everywhere. Condi Rice claimed that American credibility hadn't been affected. American credibility in Vietnam went right down the tubes because every time Lyndon Johnson said, we lose our credibility if we leave, the real answer was, you're losing your credibility daily by staying. The same thing is true in Iraq.

BILL MOYERS: The longer we stayed, the worse it got.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Yeah. And the same thing is true here. That's one way it's similar. The other way it's similar is in the manipulation of the population and the increasing resentment of the population that realizes it's been manipulated.

BILL MOYERS: We are being manipulated?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Right. Look, people in Iraq know what's going on. People in Europe know what's going on. People in the region, as she calls it, the neighborhood — they know what's going on. It's this country that is often kept in a kind of twilight sleep. I wouldn't say in the dark. It's just sort of twilight. It's a little hard to see what's going on. Every now and then it becomes more clear, and people are really angry.

BILL MOYERS: You know, the first President Bush, after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, said, "by God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." Remember that?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Oh, sure. I remember very well.

BILL MOYERS: And one reason he fought the war was to kick the Vietnam syndrome, wasn't it?


BILL MOYERS: Fear of using American power?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Well, a number of things about that. First of all, you can't kick a syndrome if you re-excite whatever it is that makes syndromes activate themselves. You can't kick a syndrome if you keep behaving in ways that resemble the original enterprise. And this does.


MARILYN B. YOUNG: In so many different ways. Well, deception, obviously. There's an essay in our book that looks at Tonkin Gulf in comparison to the whole work up to the war in Iraq. The WMD deceptions. Deception after deception. In Vietnam, in Iraq. That's one way. It's not that Iraq and Vietnam are alike. It's that the United States in some of its operations is the same.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I was in the Johnson White House when the President —

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Yeah, I remember that.

BILL MOYERS: — escalated the war in Vietnam. And as with the Bush administration, intelligence was fixed to support the policy. The President brought Congress aboard without telling them the whole truth. The domino theory was our mantra. If we don't stop them there, they'll be here. I mean, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, the foreign policy elites. Is there something in our DNA?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Oh, no. I hope not. Or at least DNA is such a complicated question that I won't go there.

BILL MOYERS: But in the structure of the way people in power look at the world?

MARILYN B. YOUNG: First of all, an inability to say this is stupid, let's stop. And there are very few politicians who can say that when they're in office. Some can say it when they get out of office. But when they're in office, they have trouble.

And then there is this effort to, in the present, correct errors of the past. So, there are those in the Bush administration, particularly among the neo-conservative ideologues, who felt that America had, during the Vietnam period, become corrupt. Morally, weak willed. Unable to exercise power. This fascination with the exercise of will and powers is quite frightening. And it was their mantra.

And it existed in the Clinton administration as well, in a minor voice. But it was there. When Madeline Albright asked Colin Powell, "well, what do we have a military for if we're not going to use it?" And then there is a kind of enormous arrogance that I think is fed by the nature of the American military apparatus, and by being the remaining superpower. Although now, as one author puts it, forlorn superpower. So there's an arrogance that's born of power, a tremendous arrogance born of power.

BILL MOYERS: The book is Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: or, How Not to Learn From the Past. Marilyn Young, thank you for being with us.

MARILYN B. YOUNG: Thank you Bill.

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