Vietnam to Iraq: Lying Is The American Way - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Vietnam to Iraq: Lying Is The American Way

On Tuesday, March 19, 2013, we marked the 10th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. If you believe President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney started the war under false pretenses — in other words they lied — you might also wonder what made them think they could get away with it. Well, number one: so far they have gotten away with it. No one in that administration has been held accountable for sending millions of our men and women to a foreign country on “bad intelligence.”

But this is the second and more alarming reason: the precedent was set 35 years before Bush, Cheney and their neocon administration ginned up phony reasons to attack Iraq.

In 1968, while campaigning to become our 37th president, Richard M. Nixon committed treason by sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks that could have ended the Vietnam War in 1968.

In July 1968 when President Johnson heard the North Vietnamese government might have concessions that could bring an end to the war, Johnson thought he might get back into the race via the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Because the Secret Service said they couldn’t guarantee his safety Johnson dropped the idea, but he knew that if the North Vietnamese government did agree to a peace deal before the election, his successor, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, would be assured victory in November.

The “October Surprise” came in 1968 when North Vietnam proposed major concessions for a peace deal. On Halloween (October 31), just days before the election, President Johnson went on television and announced peace was at hand in Vietnam as progress was being made in the Paris Peace Talks. Johnson halted all bombing of North Vietnam, known as “Rolling Thunder.”

For some reason the government of South Vietnam was displeased with the announcement, declaring the U.S. had acted unilaterally in the decision to stop bombing the North, so they pulled out of the talks, thereby ending whatever progress had been made.

Candidate for president Richard M. Nixon in 1968. He didn't just benefit from the "October Surprise," he orchestrated it.

Candidate for president Richard M. Nixon in 1968. He didn’t just benefit from the “October Surprise,” he orchestrated it.

Five days later Richard M. Nixon won the election and became the president-elect.

South Vietnam pulling out of the peace talks worked out great for Nixon. Part of his campaign platform was a promise to end the war that no one in the country supported and he was largely elected on that promise.

In 1994 a BBC reporter, Charles Wheeler, got wind of a story and decided to investigate. Wheeler spoke with key players in the Johnson Administration, including Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford. The one problem at the time: the Johnson White House tapes — secret tapes that Johnson had made to document his presidency — were still classified. The actual evidence of this couldn’t be made public, so the story languished.

The tapes were declassified in 2008 but by then all the principles in the story, including the reporter, Charles Wheeler, had died.

What the tapes revealed was Nixon’s treasonous act of interfering with official diplomatic efforts with his secret connection to South Vietnam.

Shortly after President Johnson learned of possible concessions from North Vietnam in the summer of 1968 Nixon heard about the news and set up a back channel to the ambassador from South Vietnam. Nixon’s emissary was Anne Chennault, one of his campaign advisors.

Chennault told the ambassador that if Richard Nixon had a message for South Vietnam it would come through her. For a variety of reasons both candidates from the major political parties in this country are briefed on foreign affairs developments during the general election campaigns so that whichever candidate wins he (or she) will be up to speed on current events.

When Nixon found out peace might be at hand and President Johnson was announcing a halt to Operation Rolling Thunder (bombing of North Vietnam), Nixon had Anne Chennault tell the South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to pull out of the peace talks and wait until after the election, when Nixon, if he won the election, would give him a “better deal.” Thieu complied and the rest is history.

Unbeknownst to even President Johnson at the time, the FBI, still under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, had illegally bugged the South Vietnamese embassy and caught all of the conversations between Chennault and the South Vietnamese ambassador on tape.

When presented with the evidence of Nixon’s treasonous act Johnson called Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and told him of Nixon’s plot and had the senator tell Nixon to stop undermining the peace negotiations. That is all caught on tape as well because Johnson was recording all of his calls into and out of the White House.

Along with the FBI wire-tapping, the National Security Agency (NSA) had been intercepting the messages between the Embassy of South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese government in Saigon.

President Johnson also gave the information to his vice president, the Democratic candidate for president, Hubert H. Humphrey. Had either Johnson or Humphrey revealed Nixon’s duplicity with South Vietnam, it would have sunk Nixon’s election campaign and left Nixon vulnerable to charges of treason. But that didn’t happen.

Publicly Nixon was telling people he couldn’t understand why South Vietnam was pulling out of the peace deal. Privately he was planning to win the election, knowing the war would continue.

Johnson chose not to expose Nixon because he didn’t want the American people to know their government was conducting illegal surveillance on its own citizens. For years J. Edgar Hoover had been secretly, without proper authorization, wiretapping and bugging people, including presidents, members of the administrations and Congress.

President Johnson visiting the troops in Vietnam. he almost had a peace deal with North Vietnam in 1968.

President Johnson visiting the troops in Vietnam. he almost had a peace deal with North Vietnam in 1968.

He was more worried about the consequences of the American people finding out that information than if the citizens learned one of the major candidates for president, the man leading in the polls, was committing treason. And of course the future deaths of Americans in that war didn’t sway Johnson to reveal Nixon’s plot.

Hubert Humphrey, who was the Democratic candidate, had been behind in the polls since the summer of 1968. He was seen as an extension of the Johnson Administration and therefore responsible for the war in Vietnam. But in the closing weeks of the campaign Humphrey had closed the gap in the polls so when he was given the information that Nixon had plotted to thwart the diplomatic efforts of our government, he chose not to expose Nixon because he, Humphrey, thought he would win the election anyway. As we know he didn’t win.

For nearly eight more years the United States was dragged through an unpopular war, with over 20,000 more Americans giving their lives because one man was more concerned about winning a political campaign (Nixon), one was more concerned about appearances (Johnson) and a third was ignorant enough to believe his own hype (Humphrey).

None of these men seemed to be all that concerned about the will of the American people, not enough to change their behavior and decisions, and it’s absolutely clear the deaths of Americans and Vietnamese that followed wasn’t a big concern. The Vietnam War could have ended seven and a half years earlier than April 30, 1975 — think about that.

Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Lee Judge, both of the Marine Corps, were killed in action on April 29, 1975, during a rocket attack one day before the fall of Saigon. They were the last two men to die for another man’s political ambitions.

In May of 1971 Navy veteran John Kerry testified before a U.S. Senate hearing and referred to the Vietnam War as a mistake. By 1971 the war had gone from being a mistake to a campaign tool for Richard Nixon.

In May of 1971 Navy veteran John Kerry testified before a U.S. Senate hearing and referred to the Vietnam War as a mistake. By 1971 the war had gone from being a mistake to a campaign tool for Richard Nixon.

In 1971 Secretary of State John Kerry, as a Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist, asked the Senate during a hearing, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” After 1968 it wasn’t a mistake. It was a calculated subterfuge to win an election and the people who were in a position to stop it didn’t. Johnson said Nixon had “blood on his hands.” Because he chose to do nothing that blood is on Johnson’s hands as well.

Thirty-five years later we had a presidential administration willfully lie to Congress and the nation to invade a country that was no threat to us, which had not attacked us. In fact the war we had with Iraq prior to 2003, in 1990-91, was the U.S. and its allies attacking Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Justified or not, the fact is Iraq didn’t attack us then either. Until August of 1990 Iraq had been one of our allies.

As we mark the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq War, we have to ask ourselves why did we let this happen, why were we so eager to believe the administration and denounce anyone with an opposing viewpoint.

Ten years later the people who told us those lies to start that war are rewriting history to cover their asses. They aren’t about to admit they made a mistake, let alone lied.  Today their story isn’t about WMD or links to al Qaeda; it isn’t about the “smoking gun” being a mushroom cloud over America. They don’t even claim it was for the second largest oil reserve in the world. Now their reason for invading Iraq was to free the Iraqi people. After we killed hundreds of thousands of them. In some alternate universe that might seem logical.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn wrote an excellent book about the plot to start the war in Iraq, called Hubris. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow created a one hour special based on the book. There are many other books about how the U.S. — and the coalition of the willing (remember them) — came to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein and his regime.

The information is there. The question today is: why are we letting the architects of the war get away with this? The answer is: that is the American way.

My guess is 30 years from now people will look back on the Iraq War with the same detachment people have when looking back on the Vietnam War. That’s old news.

There on tape is one of our presidents, the only president to resign his office — in disgrace no less — committing treason and the only news agency reporting about it is from another country — The BBC. No major news organization in the U.S. has picked up this story. Rachel Maddow did a segment on it once, but other than that the facts surrounding Nixon’s act of treason are going unreported.

The only reason Nixon’s administration fell apart after the break-in at the Watergate in 1972 was that two reporters kept digging for answers about how and why the Nixon Campaign was involved in a botched burglary. We have an investigative press these days, but we don’t have political leaders willing to do the dirty work of investigating and then prosecuting those who committed crimes at the highest levels of government.

The media isn’t blameless though. At the time the Bush Administration was ginning up support for the Iraq War not one major news organization in this country was willing to challenge the political leaders who were demanding we invade Iraq. Why was the media so complicit in selling the lies to war?

Articles in the New York Times for instance would have ten paragraphs supporting Bush’s lies for going to war and then in one paragraph at the end of the story quote CIA analysts who said there was no evidence to support the claim Hussein had ties to al Qaeda or that Hussein was building or stockpiling any WMD. The editorial staff didn’t follow up on those kinds of revelations. The truth is, few people wanted to risk being called unpatriotic after 9/11. And in the months leading to March 19, 2003, the people who wanted to rush to war in Iraq were real quick to label anyone who questioned it unpatriotic. We began to hear “Love it or leave it!” again.

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomnplished" on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, 30 miles off the coast of San Diego, CA.

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomnplished” on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, 30 miles off the coast of San Diego, CA.

Four thousand four hundred eighty-eight American lives later, what did the war in Iraq get us? Besides three trillion in debt?

This isn’t even the first time a president and his administration lied to put troops into a war. President Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin attacks to start our combat involvement in Vietnam. Before that lies were used to start the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the Mexican-American War in 1846.

  • That is the reason California is now a part of the U.S. and I get to sit in San Diego typing this.

President Obama isn’t going to ever investigate how and why we were lied to in the run up to the Iraq War, so he won’t be prosecuting the people who are responsible. As his staff explained on a White House chat early in Obama’s first term, he didn’t want to get mired “looking back” into the previous administration because he had so much on his plate “looking forward.”

Once again we will let this slip into history where it will be forgotten by all but the very few who will wonder why no one is ever held accountable for the lies told by our elected officials.

The simple answer is: that’s our track record — it’s the American Way.


About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.

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