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Call to 'Stay the Course in Iraq' Echoes Vietnam

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 12, 2005

Bush Call to 'Stay the Course in Iraq' Echoes Pronouncements Made During Vietnam War

- Interview with Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst, conducted by Scott Harris

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In the face of declining public support for the war in Iraq and growing doubts about the justification for the invasion and occupation, President Bush addressed the nation in a televised speech on June 28 to make a case for staying the course in the conflict. Using hundreds of soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. as a backdrop, the president asserted that the sacrifice of U.S. lives in Iraq is worth it and is vital to the future security of our country.

Bush rejected any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and offered no new strategies for winning the war against an insurgency that daily seems to grow in strength and sophistication. The president's only exit strategy is based on his hope that one day U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers will be able to take over for American occupation forces. The president invoked the 9/11 terrorist attacks five times in his speech to defend his decision to go to war, echoing his similar pre-invasion references to al Qaida.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Ray McGovern, a retired 27-year veteran CIA analyst. McGovern was among a group of administration critics who testified before a June 17 unofficial congressional hearing investigating the British Downing Street memos, which many observers believe provides evidence of the dishonest White House justification for launching its invasion of Iraq. McGovern takes a critical look at President Bush's recent national address and his strategy for fighting the Iraq war.

RAY MCGOVERN: I think that the editors of the New York Times said it best the morning after that speech, where they said that they were shocked that the president, would, in their words, "would raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks." Well, in the article I wrote that same morning, I gave the Times kudos for the insight, but complained that it came three years too late. The president, with no doubt, the encouragement of Karl Rove, has used 9/11 in an incredibly cynical way to wage this war on Iraq. Most people -- I dare say, if you took a survey today -- there would be at least 50 percent of the American people, who believe that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. By mentioning it five times in this speech, the president certainly wanted to cultivate that notion. And I find that despicable, because now we're in a quagmire for sure. Now when Americans are asking for answers: How are we going to get out of Iraq? When will we get out of Iraq? Defense secretary says, "Well, might be 12 years. The vice president says, "Well, they're in their last throes, those terrorists." Who are we to believe? Why is there no discussion of this?

Back during Vietnam, we had William Fulbright, a prominent Democrat, head of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Who do we have now? Well, unfortunately, we have (Sen.) Joe Biden, who was wrong on the war from the beginning and continues to be wrong on the war. Nobody seems to have lived through the experience of Vietnam. Nobody seems to realize that these same things were said at the same time in Vietnam. So, what we need to do here, very simply is to recognize two things. Number one, we have to be honest and say, What's going to happen if we pull out our forces? We don't know. It is impossible to say. Number two, what's going to happen if we keep our forces in, in the numbers that are now in there? Well, we do know the answer to that. Two years from now, four years from now, six years, maybe even 12 years from now, the situation will be at least as bad as it is now and probably worse.

So, we have two choices. We can "stay the course" and send still more cannon fodder into this calculus and incure more enmity throughout the Muslim world -- and there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, let me remind your audience -- or we can try to figure out imaginative ways to get out of there. And there are two premises: The president has to publicly disavow any intent to have permanent military bases in Iraq. He hasn't been willing to do that. He needs to do that. Number two, the president has to promise that he will compete just like any other country, for the oil that lies under the sands of Iraq.

Once those two things are acknowledged, then our European friends, then our friends in India, around the world, will say, "All right, the U.S. is serious now. Let us see if we can help them, let us see if we can fill in behind them, let us keep them to their commitments for economic aid, to repair the damage, let's put the U.N. back in and help these factions sort things out." Then we'll get the international help that is necessary to solve this thing.

But, if we don't do that, if we say we're going to stay the course, just stay there until we get the Iraqi soldiers all trained up, well, that's Vietnam all over again.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I wanted to ask you about Iraq and its future. Given that the Shiite majority has control of the government right now, at the same time the United States is rattling sabers at the government of Iran for what they say is its role in the axis of evil and its possible nuclear weapons program, the members of the government of Iraq seem to be fast friends with the Iranian regime. Ironically, it looks like the government the U.S. helped to install in Iraq may become an ally of a U.S.-declared enemy. What are your thoughts?

RAY MCGOVERN: It's the height of folly for U.S. policy planners to give majority power to the Shiites, because the Shiites as you know, are very much penetrated by Iranian intelligence. If the Shiites end up in a sort of a position of predominance now, they will be no friends to the United States, given their close identification with Iran. And Iran will have as much influence in what happens in that part of Iraq as the United States does. That's the supreme irony here. These folks, one might conclude, really don't know what they're doing -- these folks being the neoconservatives who are running our policy.

Until his retirement in 1990, McGovern led one of two CIA teams conducting the most secret daily intelligence briefings at the House.

Related links and more on our website at

- "Stay the Crooked Course"


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending July 15, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.



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