Feb 7, 2005
The Bush administration's trumpeting of the elections in Iraq may seem familiar to those who lived through the Viet Nam era.
Twice during that war, the U.S. government trotted out elections for a new South Vietnamese government. Twice, the U.S. president spoke of a new beginning for freedom and democracy.
And both times, it was all a sham, putting back in place the U.S.-backed dictator.
In 1967, with anti-war protest on the rise and an election in the U.S. coming up, Lyndon Johnson wanted something to divert the U.S. population. He pushed for a convention to form a new constitution, and elections to elect a congress and president in September. U.S. officials and other dignitaries paraded through Viet Nam, proclaiming the proceedings to be "democratic" and "fair." Of course, they ignored the fact that any candidates who had advocated peace with North Viet Nam were banned from the ballot!
Nguyen Van Thieu, one of the two generals heading the country, won the election for president with 35% of the vote. He promptly had a number of his opponents arrested.
The U.S. presence in the war continued to grow.
In 1971, it was Richard Nixon's turn. Anti-war protests had really taken hold, including a march of 200,000 on Washington, D.C., with veterans taking a more and more active part. Nixon pretended that the October 1971 Viet Nam election proved that the South Vietnamese were taking charge of their own destiny, and that democracy was being built. Thieu won reelection, after he disqualified his main opponent and another one dropped out of the race. More of his opponents were imprisoned afterwards.
The war continued for another four years. During this time, the U.S. tried to hand the fighting over to an armed force made up of Vietnamese soldiers – who proved very reluctant to fight – while U.S. military "advisors" directed the army and the government. This continued even after the official U.S. pullout in 1973. It finally ended when the U.S. was pushed completely out of the country in 1975, and its puppet government in South Viet Nam fell.
All along, it was never in doubt who really controlled the South Vietnamese government: The United States. It's also clear who was NOT in control: the South Vietnamese people. These elections were basically elaborate shows, aimed at slowing down opposition in this country.
It sounds an awful lot like what we're being told today. And just like then, we know that what we're being told has nothing to do with reality.
The war won't be over until the very last troops are out of Iraq.