Monday, 17 May 2010

Nationalism, the Vietnam War and the US war on terror

Narrow forms of ideology or philosophies generally trump broad, grand versions of belief systems. If nothing else, all-encompassing dogmas are subtly adjusted to meet local cultural norms.
Pan-Islamism gives way to 'local' versions of Islam. (I have often written about the differences between Malay Islamic traditions and Pakistani traditions.) Communism gives way to 'Maoism' which is superseded by 'Communism with Chinese characteristics.' The Europeans sought to learn from Napoleon's and Hitler's versions of pan-Europeanism and developed the European Union from the humble beginnings of the European Coal and Steel Community.
Painting of the USS Maddox, the US Navy ship involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam

Thus, was born the narrow concept of the nation-state and nationalism. Being more easily definable than religious or continental affinities, nationalism has been a powerful force in recent history. Nevertheless, nationalism remains a problematic concept even in the most culturally homogenous nation states.
Consider the ephemeral notion of 'Americanness' to different segments of the US population.
To some, being American implies a 'Christian' way of life. A theory supported by emphasizing the historical fact of European religious pilgrims travelling to the New World to create a new Promised Land. A more recent Mexican immigrant probably focuses on economic opportunities and the ability to create a better life for himself. For a Muslim cleric, the freedom to practice and preach Islam without fear, especially in these troubled times, may be the most important part of the American way.
Even when a country's 'National Interest' has been defined, the path to achieving the goal is often murky. After all, few Americans doubt the need to reduce the public debt but can anyone agree on the best way to reduce spending or raise revenue in the next ten years?
Public disagreements, such as concerning budgetary measures, are innocent enough. But what about the seamier side of aggressively pursuing the national interest, such as actions by the Deep State in Turkey or the American intelligence community in international jurisdictions.
One can discuss the American use of drones for assassinations in Pakistan, perhaps the most overt of US covert operations; or the 'renditions' of suspected terrorists undertaken by the US with the assistance of foreign intelligence agencies.
Mug shot of Oliver North, key player in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan presidency

Ultra-nationalists (remember Reagan's National Security Adviser Colonel Oliver North and the Iran-Contra scandal?) are always guided by the best of intentions but sometimes cross the line between legal and illegal. Often their behaviour provides legitimate cover for more mainstream action.
Perhaps the best example of such an incident is the second Gulf of Tonkin battle between the US and North Vietnamese navies of August 4, 1964. Unlike the reports of the day, recent information reveals that there was apparently no naval battle on that day and all reports to the contrary provided to President Lyndon Johnson were false.
The war reports were used to justify the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which authorized the US President to use 'conventional forces,' i.e. to deploy troops, in Vietnam to assist in the battle against communism. In other words, the Resolution effectively marks the beginning of the Vietnam War.
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do not believe 9/11 was carried out by the CIA to justify attacks against Islam. Nor do I believe one should read too much into the individual actions of crazy people, Muslims or otherwise, to substantiate broader conspiracies.
However, can I be completely certain that no member of the Afghan security establishment supports the Afghan Taliban? Or that no members of the Pakistani intelligence community, legitimately or otherwise, maintain active communication lines with the Afghan Taliban?
By the same token, one can surely not discount instances 'created' by ultra-nationalist members of the US and allied intelligence communities to discredit Islam and Islamic militants as a means to help attain their broader national security objectives in the war against terrorism.
Naval ships of the Combined Task Force 150 patrolling the Arabian Sea

How many Americans will question the US security establishment if a Pakistani or Yemeni were picked up on vague 'terrorism' charges which later proved to be unfounded? It will probably be easier to put together a lynch mob than a sympathetic petition for the unfortunate soul who may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes all is not as simple as it seems.

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