Thursday, September 23, 2004

Nixon's letter to er... JFK - SEPT 24, 2004

Nixon's letter to er... JFK - SEPT 24, 2004: "Nixon's letter to er... JFK
TO: President-elect John Forbes Kerry
FROM: Richard Nixon (deceased)
DATE: Nov 3, 2004
RE: JFK, beware the ghost of RN

Mr President-elect,

History may not repeat itself exactly, but it has a nasty habit of rhyming.

You first burst on the national scene in 1971 when you returned from Vietnam as a war protester. 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake,' you famously asked in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I was president then.

But guess what, you are now the Democrats' Dick Nixon. Just as I inherited a war initiated by my predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, you have inherited one initiated by yours, Mr George W. Bush. Just as Lyndon's Vietnam became my albatross, so too will George's Iraq become yours. 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?' Well, Mr President-elect JFK, you are about to find out how it felt to be RN.

There are only two options before you: One, you can say Iraq is a distraction from the war on terrorism, wash your hands off George Bush's war and withdraw from Iraq.

Or two, you can try to beef up United States forces in the country, plead with or threaten allies and friends to contribute forces, wage a bitter urban war to flush out jihadists holed up in towns and cities across the Sunni triangle, and leave only after you have stabilised the country.

As tempting as it might be to adopt the first option, you can't. I couldn't withdraw from Vietnam and neither can you from Iraq. In fact, you are probably in a worse position than I ever was in Vietnam. For one thing, there is no entity on the other side with whom you can negotiate a face-saving 'peace treaty' before you begin scuttling out of the country. There is no Vietcong or North Vietnam in Iraq, and no Soviet Union or China before which you can dangle carrots, as I did, to entice them to rein in a client state.

For another, failure in Iraq will have far worse consequences than failure in Vietnam did. Firstly, when the US abandoned South Vietnam, there was a viable state to inherit it - North Vietnam. If the US abandons Iraq, there will be no state to inherit the mess, only a terrifying vacuum. Imagine Taleban-run Afghanistan - but a hundred times worse.

Secondly, the dominoes didn't fall after Saigon fell, but they most certainly will if you bug out from Baghdad. My friend, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, once told me South-east Asian dominoes might well have fallen if the US had not taken a stand in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Our presence bought Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia valuable time, and they became strong enough to stand on their own by the time we left Vietnam ignominiously. The US debacle in Vietnam was containable because Asean was no longer a basket case by 1975.

A US debacle in Iraq will not be containable because the Middle East in 2004 is worse than a basket case, it is a seething cauldron of religious fervour. An Iraq riven by civil war - with Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs butchering each other and both butchering the non-Arab Kurds - is a scary enough possibility, but it is not the scariest. Scarier still is a nuclear-armed Iran gobbling up oil-rich southern Iraq (with its Shi'ite majority), and Turkey gobbling up oil-rich northern Iraq (with its Kurdish majority). And scarier yet is Sunni Iraq, or all of Iraq, becoming a base camp for Terrorist Internationale.

You can be sure the dominoes will totter then - and not just in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and the Greater Middle East. The dominoes will totter in Western Europe, too, with its sizeable Muslim minorities, as well as in South Asia and South-east Asia.

America is bound to be attacked again too, and this time not by planes flying into buildings but with dirty bombs set off in downtown Manhattan or vials of anthrax sprinkled across the Washington Mall. 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?' I'm afraid you must. Unlike Vietnam, this is a mistake that cannot be contained and will continue spawning new horrors unless it is fixed.

Which brings me to Option Two: Forget about bringing the troops home soon. Instead, you've got to send more there. Forget about being the most popular American in Europe. Tell them to haul their asses to Iraq fast, or the US will rethink its commitments to Nato. You have no alternative but to finish the job that George botched, and perhaps should not have embarked on in the first place.

If you succeed, the Democrats will finally be trusted again on defence. If you don't, you guys will be out of the White House for another generation.

Come to think of it, it might have been better for Democrats in the long run if you had lost. Bush's war would have remained Bush's war then, and the Republicans would have been saddled with the consequences of his policies on everything from taxes to the war.

But you asked for this. JFK has now no alternative but to metamorphose into his eternal opposite, RN."

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