empire defeated - vietnam war, lessons for today by Peter Taaffe
6. The antiwar movement - in the US and Vietnam
The struggle over the war was as much for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the American people as it was for those of the Vietnamese.
Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was the first antiwar challenger to Johnson, and thereby set in motion the process which saw the abandonment of any further presidential ambitions by Johnson, stated at the time: “I said the opposition to the war would begin when the bodies started coming back to the small towns. Something would happen in the country.” 1
Johnson, ‘while seeking peace’ nevertheless still prosecuted the war. In 1968, the bodies of young soldiers returned at an even greater rate than before, at least 1,000 a month. Coming back to the US in canvass bags inside reusable aluminium containers they were delivered “on average every half hour of the day”. The “front line” now extended to a “thousand more places across America every month”.2 This set alight the antiwar movement, which in both the US and in Vietnam was to shake the US ruling class to its foundations and ultimately inflict on it a humiliating defeat.
The antiwar movement had burgeoned from handfuls at the beginning of the war to sizeable demonstrations in 1965, particularly and perhaps primarily from amongst the radicalised students and middle class. However, the impression was given at the time and since that opposition to the war was confined to these groups and that the mass of working people supported Johnson and the prosecution of the war. It is true that opinion polls through 1966 and even in 1967 indicated the majority of Americans supported Johnson’s policies. There was, moreover, an attempt made to organise pro-war demonstrations, some by right-wing trade union leaders. Later Spiro Agnew, who became Nixon’s vice-president, famously organised the ‘hard hats’ (building workers), including demonstrations in support of the war. By 1969, however, this pretence of a solid pro-war working class and union movement, pitted against ‘irresponsible’ students, could no longer hold water, as for the first time at national level the trade union movement, led by the 6.5 million strong Alliance for Labor, came out firmly against the war.
The impression had been given that the working class was largely on the side of those prosecuting the war. However, this was and is a gross distortion of the real moods of the mass of working people. As we have seen, most of the US soldiers were drawn from the ranks of the most oppressed: white, black and Latino working people. As the number of victims grew, so the effects were felt more keenly amongst working class people. There was also growing opposition amongst students, eager not to be drawn into the bloody pit of Vietnam, and middle class parents concerned about the fate of their children in a remote Southeast Asian country.
It was the working class who supplied most of the 58,000 victims of the war from the US. The return of the bodies, as McCarthy predicted, affected communities the length and breadth of the US. It was, moreover, working class young men and women coming back from the war who told their friends and families of the horrors visited on them in Vietnam which spread the circle of discontent.
The most visible aspect of the war was, however, in the first instance, the opposition of the middle layers of US society. In 1965, beginning in the University of Michigan but spreading spectacularly to the University of California at Berkeley, the ‘teach-in’ developed. This became a method of struggle for future generations of students long after the Vietnam War. In the US a mass student movement also began to develop at this stage around ‘Students for a Democratic Society’ (SDS), with a claimed 100,000 members on college campuses, and responsible for the first sizeable anti-Vietnam War demonstration in April 1965, with 25,000 people attending.
“The whole world is watching”
The antiwar demonstrations grew in 1967 precisely because the wounded veterans, who came home in sizeable numbers, were highly visible and often led demonstrations. This, in turn, led to the formation of ‘Vietnam Veterans Against the War’ who, within a short time, numbered 600. It is entirely false to suggest, as Hollywood has done in a number of movies – with the myth perpetuated by subsequent accounts of the plight of veterans – that hostility was directed at those who fought in the war. The Vietnam veterans found massive support in the antiwar movement and in society at large, particularly in the working class areas from which most of them came.
By the time of the US presidential elections in 1968, terrible havoc had been wreaked in the South and an unprecedented bombing campaign in the North had returned parts of North Vietnam almost to the Stone Age. This bombing campaign, initiated by Johnson and McNamara, was supposed to have resolved the war within six months but had lasted seven times as long, producing really awesome and terrible statistics, particularly as far as the North Vietnamese were concerned. Three hundred and fifty thousand US missions had been flown, 655,000 tons of bombs were dropped over the North, 918 US aircraft had been lost and 818 American airmen killed. This was just up to the time when Johnson had decided to ‘end’ the war.
In this period, McNamara had estimated that a thousand North Vietnamese civilians were being killed each week. This amounted to roughly 180,000 to 200,000 civilians dead up to 1968 in the air war alone against the North. The terrible destruction even had an effect on the top echelons of the US government, with McNamara declaring in a secret memo:
“There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny, backward nation into submission, on issues whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.” 3
The 1968 presidential election brought a little respite to North Vietnam while the bombing was ended, in reality suspended. The North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi for once did not sound to the war sirens nor were the ‘manholes’, through which the three million population escaped to avoid the bombing, used on election day. Near the partition line, 70,000 people emerged from an underground city “for their first full day in the sun in three and a half years”.4 Urban life had been virtually destroyed in Hanoi and other cities, and life in the villages had been reduced to the simplest level. The resistance of the Vietnamese produced a level of self-sacrifice and ingenuity, characterised by a peoples’ war. Some of their innovations were quite unique.
In the run-up to the 1968 Democrat and Republican conventions, there had been a pronounced vote for peace, yet the Democrats stood against this, in order to back the policy of Johnson. Hubert Humphrey, the Democrats’ candidate, paid for this, when he was defeated in the presidential election in November. The Democratic Party convention, moreover, witnessed violent confrontations between Mayor Daly’s thuggish police and protesters. The smell of tear gas penetrated into the cosseted halls of the convention, while Democrat senators declared live on television that the police were using “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago”. The demonstrators, mindful of the televisual media age in which they lived, chanted at the police and the armed National Guard: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” which was true.5
1968 was, of course the year of the worldwide revolt of the youth, which led to a massive working class movement. Processes were unleashed worldwide which were to have a profound effect on all corners of the globe in radicalising millions and moving them into action against capitalism.
36 million oppose war
This mass movement, as mentioned earlier, culminated in millions demonstrating against the war in 1969 and touched every layer of society. In commenting on the massive 15 October mobilisation, the headline of the report in Militant proclaimed that an astonishing “36 million oppose Vietnam War”. We stated that it was,
“In fact…a mass strike against the Nixon administration – hardly a part of the USA remained untouched by some kind of protest against the Vietnam War. Newsweek magazine commented: ‘Certainly no-one – friend, foe or neutral – could deny that the demonstrators reached into every nook and cranny of the land.’ [Newsweek, 27 October, 1969] …The Times estimated that something like 36 million participated in one way or another. Practically every stratum of the population demonstrated for an end to the war and the withdrawal of American troops.” 6
The ‘Businessmen for Peace’ and other pro-capitalist but antiwar organisations sprang up. On the day of the October 15th mobilisation, share prices actually went up. Time declared: “True, some industries profit from the war. But investors are well aware that, contrary to the cruel myth that capitalism generally thrives on war, the Vietnam War aggravates social tensions that are bad for business.”7
Even the most enthusiastic previous prosecutors of the war, such as McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, saw their own children protesting against the war which they were responsible for. Paul Nitze was the official in charge of organising the defence of the Pentagon on the occasion of a mass demonstration through Washington, with signs saying both “Negotiate” and “Where is Oswald when we need him?”8 (Lee Harvey Oswald was the alleged assassin of President Kennedy.) Nitze was shocked to discover that three of his four children were demonstrating against him that day. In October 1969, when Nixon was besieged in the White House, a presidential speechwriter took a break from work to walk on the White House lawn. He wanted to examine the type of people on the protest and was alarmed to see his own wife and children walking against him on the other side of the fence.
The method of the US top brass of conducting the war also facilitated the interaction of ex-soldiers, some of them with war medals like Purple Hearts and others more highly decorated, with the American people as a whole. The rapid rotation between the ‘battle front’ and the ‘home front’ led to a specific ‘fraternisation’ between the army and the mass of the American people. Indeed, both ‘fronts’ in time became indistinguishable. The very fact that soldiers, highly decorated and some mutilated and disabled, came out so furiously against the war was an important factor in changing the consciousness of the American people towards the war.
In Vietnam itself, an elemental revolt against the war manifested itself in many and varied forms, which alarmed the military top brass and the strategists of US capitalism. This went from simple opting out to demonstrating and also to the widespread use of drugs. It has been estimated that between 1969 and 1971, those using drugs ranging from cannabis to heroin increased from about five per cent to 40 per cent of the force. A congressional review described heroin addiction amongst the Vietnam troops as an “epidemic”. Indeed, most accounts say this was a gross understatement, with estimates claiming that the “great majority” of the troops were using various drugs which, obtained at source, were more powerful and addictive than in the US. Heroin – which then cost $2 a capsule on the streets of Saigon compared with $50 in New York – was 98 per cent pure as against to three to twelve per cent pure in the US.
In 1971 fewer than 5,000 American soldiers required treatment for combat wounds. Four times that number, 20,529, were treated for serious drug abuse. This was not an issue just for Vietnam; poor demoralised US soldiers came back from that country addicted to various drugs and to violence, which in turn led to a climate of violence in America in the period that followed. In 1981, a US government survey found that almost 25 per cent of those who saw combat in Vietnam had been arrested on criminal charges since their return home – most of their crimes were drug related.
This went hand in hand with a revolt against the officer caste, which was dragging reluctant US soldiers into combat against an enemy they feared more and more, and moreover, in a war widely perceived as already lost. If the Viet Cong had been a conscious socialist, Marxist, working class force, then this could have led, as it did in the Russian Revolution, to foreign soldiers going over to the side of the revolutionary forces. But, as we have seen, the NLF, while it possessed a social and national element – which meant widespread popular support amongst the peasantry in particular, for both its programme and its methods – it held no attractive power for US troops. The majority were working class and came from a much more developed ‘democratic’ society.
The attitude of the US troops was, of course, reinforced by racist indoctrination against Orientals in general, and particularly the Vietnamese. One Special Forces member commented: “We were always told, ‘As long as you don’t make human contact with them, you will always see them as the enemy’.” 9 It was this kind of dehumanising indoctrination which resulted in the massacres of My Lai and other crimes perpetrated by the forces of US imperialism in Vietnam. A conscious working class force would have had an effect in radicalising the bulk of the US forces – outside of the hardened, dehumanised, Nazi-like squads of hired killers – who could have been neutralised or won over to the side of a conscious, socialist revolution.
Even the Portuguese army in the 1970s, which had also carried out brutal ‘counter-insurgency’ methods against the revolutionary forces in Angola and Mozambique, was radicalised by its experiences. The Portuguese army, at the top at least, was somewhat different to the Americans, in the sense that it was drawn from a much broader base. As a drawn-out colonial war was fought in Africa, many of the officers, as well as the ranks, were drawn from the conscripts. They were also profoundly affected by the revolutions under way in Angola and Mozambique. This helped to increase opposition to the dictatorship of Marcello Caetano in Portugal itself. The officers’ movement initiated the revolt on 24 April 1974 which set in motion the overthrow of this dictatorship and begun the Portuguese Revolution.
This shook the world bourgeoisie, with the spectre of the socialist revolution looming in the heart of Europe. Many of the Portuguese soldiers, who organised themselves into the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), became the backbone of the Portuguese Revolution, proclaiming themselves as socialists, many as avowed Marxists. At one stage, the MFA declared itself in favour of a ‘workers’ state’. Undoubtedly, they could have become a conscious democratic revolutionary force for the socialist transformation of Portugal. This could have led to a similar process throughout the whole of Western Europe, beginning with Spain which was then erupting against the ailing dictatorship of General Franco. That this did not happen is largely accounted for by the absence of an authoritative mass revolutionary party, able to lead the working class to establish a democratic and socialist Portugal. The parties that were created in the heat of the Portuguese Revolution, like the Socialist Party of Mario Soares, together with the long established Communist Party of Alvaro Cunhal, became the main obstacles to achieving this.
The situation was different in Vietnam for a number of reasons. The American army revolted against the war and began to disintegrate but did not go over actively to the side of the Vietnamese Revolution. (The Portuguese army did not go over in an active sense, in the main, to the revolutionary forces in Mozambique and Angola. But officers and men were radicalised, began to embrace socialist and Marxist ideas and looked towards social change in Portugal. Portuguese society, with a radicalised working class, a large Communist Party with significant influence, a poor country under a dictatorship, was different to the US. This was a ‘rich’ country, where the working class had yet to be radicalised in the same way as in Portugal.) Indeed, all the reports showed that the main feeling was negative: to get out of the ‘hell-hole’ of Vietnam.
However, a revolt of American troops did take place. Nixon’s victory in the 1968 presidential election, using the slogan “peace with honour”, with the clear implication that the war was in the phase-out period, convinced most of the soldiery that they would soon travel home to the US, away from the nightmare of Vietnam. Yet, year by year, the combat kept escalating: the bombing of Cambodia, 1969; the invasion of Cambodia, 1970; the invasion of Laos, 1971; a new offensive by the North Vietnamese and unprecedented retaliatory bombing. Nixon, instead of ending the agony, had secretly decided to prolong it. In Vietnam itself, a vast army of 500,000 US troops ‘watching the clock’, nerves fraught, was an army clearly rotting and angry enough to take it out on those who they perceived as responsible for perpetuating their trauma.
One of the manifestations of this revolt was the growth of what famously (or infamously) became known as ‘fragging’, the hurling of fragmentation grenades at unpopular officers who were perceived as endangering the lives of their troops in totally fruitless combat operations. While there were some incidents of this up to 1969, the incidents of fragging grew from then onwards in particular. And it was not an accident that 1969 marked the period when these methods developed. Maclear comments:
“Quite tangibly, the US army in Vietnam lost heart from the time Lyndon Johnson did. He had led them into the war, and no matter what the reasoning or lack of it they were pursuing a military outcome: there was valour, if only in duty.” 10
However, fragging was not conducted arbitrarily by the troops, as pictured in some accounts of the Vietnam War. It was only the most obtuse officers, those who were prepared to sacrifice their men’s lives so they could chalk up military honours, who received this treatment. Moreover, it was only after a number of warnings, usually three, and only when the offending officer refused to desist from actions that put his men at risk, that attacks were made. Not all of them resulted in death; there were many more incidents than in the official accounts and many incidences of attacks on officers not strictly under the heading of fragging. These could include concealed incidents where officers were killed on patrol by their own men.
The number of incidents of fragging and deaths, officially admitted and quoted above, is probably a gross underestimate; the number of such incidents leading to the deaths of officers and non-commissioned officers has been put at over 1,000, most of them between 1969 and 1971. The mere threat of fragging was enough sometimes to intimidate officers into acceding to the demands of the ranks. In such a situation the officers became completely useless as far as the US High Command was concerned; they were no longer a transmission belt for orders from above to be blindly obeyed. Fragging was sometimes used as a means of pressurising officers into negotiating and, as in all such movements in the army, tended to split the officer corps, with some of them leaning towards the ranks. This led to the formation of the Concerned Officers Movement, especially strong amongst naval officers, which reflected the widespread discontent at the war situation and the role of the troops within this, particularly in the post-1969 situation.
Even Westmoreland, in his memoirs, comments on the effects of this on the officers under his command:
“The communications gap was real and the deferred man often brought his antiwar militancy with him when he finally got into uniform. Abetted by such activists as film star Jane Fonda, many tried to discredit authority by fighting haircut regulations, publishing and distributing underground newspapers, sponsoring or participating in protests, trying in any way possible to ferment unrest.”
In order to combat this he explains:
“One method of seeking to ameliorate the differences between non-commissioned officers and those men whose deferments had expired after they had received baccalaureate or graduate degrees was to set up advisory councils among the lower ranks. When used to complement the chain of command, those worked well. Since second lieutenants also were fresh off disturbed campuses, some commanders extended the advisory councils to include the new lieutenants. When enterprising lieutenants set out to unionise all second lieutenants and prepared ‘demands’ to be presented to senior commanders, the practice had to be discontinued.” 11
Nevertheless, sections of the officer corps remained intransigent to the criticism amongst the ordinary soldiers, some betraying their men in battle. For instance, in the famous Battle of Hamburger Hill – so named because US troops were chewed up into ‘hamburger meat’ by the NLF, and later immortalised in a Hollywood film of the same name – a company commander reneged on his men and left the field of battle hastily. This earned him the denunciation of the troops as a ‘coward’. More to the point, the GIs collected an estimated $10,000 to ‘put on the head’ of this officer. Such activity was not uncommon and indicated the depths of the revolt in Vietnam itself.
In 1971, an aerial photograph of a giant peace symbol which had been carved into the Vietnamese countryside by the men of the 101st Airborne Division was carried by many GI newspapers as a sign of the feeling of the troops that they wanted out. Nor was this revolt confined to Vietnam. In the US itself, in military bases where troops were assembled for embarkation to Vietnam, from the mid-1960s agitation had been conducted by socialist and revolutionary organisations, such as the American Socialist Workers’ Party (unconnected to the SWP in Britain), then the largest Trotskyist organisation in the US (it has since broken from Trotskyism). In line with traditional Bolshevik and Trotskyist practice, it had organised inside the army against the war and had produced a journal Vietnam GI, which established an authoritative position amongst the troops in some military bases and assembly points. The American SWP pursued a policy amongst at least some of its members of entering the army. The top brass, however, realising the effect it could have on the ordinary troops, refused to draft its members or, if drafted, tried to keep them away from ordinary soldiers, often without much success.
Following this, other GI newspapers were formed and these efforts multiplied dramatically. It has been estimated that a total of 245 GI newspapers opposing the war were produced at this time. The top military echelons did not accept this lightly, with courts martial, prison sentences and dishonourable discharges used against mutineers and potential mutineers. Nevertheless, both in Vietnam and at home, the revolt was unstoppable. The sheer hatred of the officer caste, which was perpetuating the troops’ misery, is indicated by Maclear, when he states:
“There were too many officers, yet too seldom seen. In the last years, American officers in Vietnam comprised 15 per cent of the total personnel, compared to seven per cent in World War Two and nine per cent in Korea. The Grunt slogan of CYA – ‘Cover Your Ass’ – was also the higher sentiment. The officers were generally despised for directing combat operations from helicopters and distant command posts (CPs). There was a derogatory epithet for each officer class, and collectively they became known… as REMFs. ‘That’ says multi-medal winner Dave Christian, ‘stands for “Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers”. And that is what we thought of them. They were collecting their combat pay at our expense, and telling their war stories at our expense.’” 12
This mood led naturally to a growth in combat refusals by individual soldiers and whole platoons. According to congressional data, US army convictions for “mutiny and other acts involving wilful refusal” in Vietnam rose from 82 in 1968, to 117 in 1969, and 131 in 1970. Moreover, it was precisely in the period when half of America’s troops were being withdrawn that
“official figures show that the desertion rate was the highest for the US forces of any year of any war; 73.5 per 1,000 men. The absentee rate was 176 per 1,000 men [in 1972], double the 1968 figure, so that the combined desertion and AWOL (Absent Without Leave) numbers meant that about one in four of the US world forces had mutinied or were defying military orders (desertion is administratively defined as being absent more than 30 days; AWOL is less than 30 days.)” 13
This mood was fed by a form of ‘fraternisation’ that was adopted by the NLF, which stated publicly that, with the peace negotiations under way in Paris, they would not fire on units who did not fire on them. This was not always carried out but many soldiers wore red armbands as a signal to the Viet Cong that they did not want to fight. Many more throughout Vietnam just refused to patrol. When they were compelled to, rather than ‘search and destroy’, they adopted a policy of ‘search and evade’! In its simplest form, this consisted of going on patrol or search operations and ‘intentionally not finding any enemy’. Either the patrol just sat down shortly after leaving the patrol base or searched an area known to be free of the enemy. The patrol leader returned with a false report of his route and a negative report of enemy contact.
Bombshell of the Pentagon Papers
The officer caste, witnessing every day the disintegration of their ‘command’, took fright, as did the bourgeoisie later on. In 1971, Colonel Robert Heinl, who was a Marine Corps historian, wrote in the Armed Forces Journal the following:
“The morale, discipline and battle worthiness of US Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding, or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited, where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam the situation is nearly as serious… All the foregoing facts – and many more indicators of the worst kind of military trouble – point to widespread conditions amongst American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies, and the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.”14
This sent a shiver down the spine of the American bourgeoisie and was calculated to do so. This was added to by the sensational publication of excerpts from the Pentagon Papers. Its actual title was History of US Decision-Making in Vietnam, 1945-68. They were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, “not a long-haired antiwar radical but one of us: a Marine officer, an insider's insider,” an ex-CIA officer said recently.15
Ellsberg was also one of “Kissinger’s boys”.16 He had lectured at Kissinger’s defence policy seminars at Harvard in the 1960s and was an integral ‘part of the system’. However, after working at the Pentagon with access to top secret information, he recalled telling Kissinger: “After you've started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information… you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don’t. . . and that all those other people are fools.” 17
He gradually became disillusioned with the progress of the war and the lies employed by Nixon and Kissinger to continue it. In his recent memoir he comments that, “We were not fighting on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.” As with many others, the Tet Offensive was a catalyst; it dawned on Ellsberg that “President Johnson could not get away with his deceptions any longer”.18 But the trigger which set in motion his decision to reveal the secrets of the Pentagon Papers was the lifting of murder charges against Green Berets and his knowledge that Nixon and Kissinger had given
“the orders to stop the prosecution - which was exactly what Ellsberg had suspected… ‘It occurred to me that what I had in my safe at Rand [Corporation] was seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four Presidents and their Administrations over 23 years, to conceal plans and actions of mass murder. I decided I would stop concealing that myself.’” 19
He had copied 47 volumes of the Pentagon Papers but when a full set was given to a Democrat Congressman, “Courage, then as now, was in short supply. No Senator… accepted his offer.”20 The New York Times decided to publish them after they had ‘lifted’, without permission it seems, a full set from the apartment of Ellsberg’s wife’s younger brother. Without revealing to Ellsberg their intentions the Times worked at a feverish pace to get the papers ready for publication, which took place on 13 June 1971. They exploded on the American public with the force of a political bomb. The White House was furious, hiring some of the gangsters who were later involved in the Watergate conspiracy to ‘break his legs’. They began proceedings to put Ellsberg on trial and tried to ensure his conviction by secretly offering the proposed judge for the case the position of Director of the FBI. Before these plans could be implemented, however, the Watergate conspiracy exploded and, the following year, all charges against Ellsberg were dismissed. These papers are as relevant today as at the time of their publication in showing the behind the scenes manoeuvres, the lies and vicious, criminal measures employed by the ruling class when it believes that its interests are at stake. Ellsberg’s comments apply to most US presidents:
“For Kennedy, as for Johnson, in fact, it was the President who was deceiving the public, not his subordinates who were deceiving him.”21
History turns full circle
US imperialism feared being sucked even further into the ‘quagmire’ of Vietnam. This was the reason why these papers were published by authoritative bourgeois journals and why the Watergate conspiracy resulted in the threat by Congress to impeach Nixon. This war was being conducted by an administration virtually out of control, without the normal constraints in the US system of ‘checks and balances’. The fears of the US ruling class were entirely justified, given the subsequent escalation of the war in Vietnam and its extension to Cambodia and Laos by Nixon and Kissinger. Through their reaction to Watergate and the threat to impeach Nixon, they were determined to exercise greater control over the state to prevent a repetition of future adventures.
However, history has turned full circle. The present Bush regime in the wake of 11 September 2001 bears a comparison with the Nixon administration 30 years ago. Gloomily, Chalmers Johnson states: “The Federal Government has become so remote, the corruption of Congress so complete, the meaninglessness of elections so obvious, that it is hard to imagine the revelations [today] that might make a difference.”22 He goes on: “I fear the culture of the present Government has become extremely hostile to the kind of courage shown by Ellsberg.”23 Ellsberg was later satisfied that the US had been re-established as “a democratic republic - not an elected monarchy - a government under law, with Congress, the courts and the press functioning to curtail executive abuses, as our Constitution envisioned.”24 Now, however, such faith is unconvincing even to bourgeois ex-CIA analysts: “I wish that were true,” comments Chalmers Johnson, “My own conclusion is that it was more like the final surge of a consumptive, the false sense that good health has returned actually signalling that death is near.”
John Dean, former White House counsellor in the Nixon administration, would appear to agree with this. He wrote: “If I thought I had seen dirty political tricks as nasty and vile as they could get at the Nixon White House, I was wrong.” He was referring to the ‘outing’ of a CIA operative whose partner had criticised the Bush regime. Dean’s comments appeared in an article in American Prospect, a ‘left-leaning magazine’ that had stated: “We are very much into Nixon territory here.” But this was an understatement, according to Dean, who wrote: “This is arguably worse. Nixon never set up a hit on one of his enemies’ wives.” 25
Valerie Palme was a covert operative for the CIA, whose name was allegedly leaked to the press by a Bushite ‘senior administration official’. This was done because her husband, Joseph Wilson, was the former US Ambassador sent by the Bush administration to Niger to check whether that country had supplied uranium to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in preparation for the production of nuclear weapons. He reported to Bush that Niger was not involved in the supply of such material. This did not stop Bush from following Blair by stating on 28 January: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” This statement was made in the knowledge that it was a complete lie. Consequently, after the invasion of Iraq, Wilson stated: “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” 26
Therefore, in a parallel with the British government’s ‘outing’ of David Kelly, the British biological weapons expert who later apparently committed suicide, the US media creatures of the Bush regime, notably right-wing columnist Robert Novak, leaked the original story that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent. He denied that anybody in the US administration consciously set out to leak this information. He had merely picked up an ‘offhand revelation’ from a senior administration official during a conversation. However, the divulging of “the identity of a CIA official is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison”.27 This incident is further proof of the unravelling of the Bush regime’s ‘case’ for the war against Iraq. It is probably also an indication of attempts to bring the Bush administration to heel. There is now opposition from sections of the US ruling class and the state machine, specifically the CIA – whose noses were put out of joint by the Bush regime in the preparation for the war in Iraq. When ‘thieves fall out’, some of the rottenness at the heart of US capitalism is revealed. But the regeneration of the USA is only possible on clear democratic lines through the embrace of the socialist perspective by the working class in the US, potentially the mightiest detachment of the world working class on the planet.