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Was ‘troop surge’ Bush’s Cambodia?

By 1970, it was clear to most that the United States could not win the war in Vietnam. But a defeated imperialist power is not a power without teeth. Before it finally left in 1975, the U.S. twice escalated the war massively. The first was April 30, 1970, when then president Richard Nixon announced a joint, U.S./South Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. The second was in late 1972, when Nixon ordered a horrendous bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and its principal harbour, Haiphong.

The anti-war movement today has been bracing for our own “Cambodia”. We, like the earlier generation, know that the U.S. cannot win in Iraq. But how will it cover its retreat? Will it be an attack on Iran? Will it be an attack on Syria? Should either of these take place, the movement will need to get tens of thousands onto the streets as has been done again and again. We know what can happen when an outrage against war comes up against imperialist adventure. In May 1970, in the aftermath of the invasion of Cambodia, came one of the great student protests of all time. “Over one third of all the colleges and universities in the country simply shut down as faculty and students joined in protest.” This was the context in which six students were gunned down – four May 4 at Kent State, and two May 6 at Jackson State.[1]

But is it possible that we have already had “our Cambodia,” that the so-called “troop surge” of 2007 was George W. Bush’s last-gasp face-saving measure, and that he will not be able to get away with an attack on Iran? This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the extraordinary report from the Director of National Intelligence, released December 3. The report reads in part:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon. … Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might – if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible – prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.[2]

Once you interpret the dry as dust prose of these Washington spies, this excerpt from the report is more fraught with tension than a Len Deighton spy novel.

The report was released on the authority of Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which “serves as the head of the Intelligence Community”[3] in Washington. For this Chief Among Spies to go public with a report which, in plain language, says a) that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb; b) has not been developing one since at least 2003; and c) that the Iranian regime makes decisions on a “cost-benefit” basis, and not on the basis of some unspecified fanaticism – this is the Chief Spy saying to George W. Bush: “go to war if you want to, but let the world know what we think – Iran is not a threat.”

This is the “WMD” scandal of 2003 coming back to haunt an increasingly isolated president. The war on Iraq in 2003 was justified by the supposed presence of WMDs – Weapons of Mass Destruction – in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Two days before the launch of the war, Bush announced that:

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” George W. Bush told The Nation two days before he launched the war on Iraq. … “We know for a fact that there are weapons there,” Ari Fleischer declared in January. A month earlier Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “It is clear that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. The issue is not whether or not they have weapons of mass destruction.[4]

But there were no weapons. And as the years went on, Bush again and again would cover his tracks by pinning the blame on the “intelligence” community, quoting among others former CIA director George Tenet as telling him that it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam possessed WMDs.[5] Tenet took the blame for a while, but early in 2007 went public with his version of events.

“[T]he hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on Meet the Press on the fifth year (anniversary) of 9/11 and say, ‘Well, George Tenet said slam dunk,’ ” Tenet says. “As if he needed me to say ‘slam dunk’ to go to war with Iraq.” Leaking the “slam dunk” quote, Tenet says, was the “most despicable thing that ever happened to me.”[6]

It was only October 17, 2007, that Bush told the press, “I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran] from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”[7] But McConnell does not want to be 2007’s George Tenet. He has released a report, which completely undermines the position of the president.

This is a sign of a split in the U.S. ruling class at the very highest levels. Bush might still launch an attack on Iran. (Or for that matter, so might Hillary Clinton, if elected to office). But there is a growing fatigue in the U.S. public with the never-ending parade of dead coming from Iraq – a figure that is now approaching 4,000.[8] That fatigue has Bush’s approval rating sitting at extremely low levels, creating the conditions for the incredible split at the top, described in these paragraphs.

The first weekend of December, 1,200 delegates from 26 countries met in London, U.K., for a “World Against War Conference” and called for actions March 15-22 to the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.[9] With Bush in a weak position, but still seemingly committed to spreading his war, we need to, again, organize to put thousands on the streets against imperialist war in Iraq (and in Canada’s case, Afghanistan).

© 2007 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 248.
[2] National Intelligence Council (NIC), National Intelligence Estimate – Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November, 2007,
[3] “About the ODNI”,
[4] Editorial, “Missing WMD Scandal,” The Nation, June 23, 2003
[5] CNN, “Woodward: Tenet told Bush WMD case a ‘slam dunk’”,, April 19, 2004
[6] Richard Willing, “Tenet: Bush administration twisted ‘slam dunk’ quote,” USA Today, April 26, 2007
[7] “World War III Threat?”, October 18, 2007
[8] “U.S. Casualties in Iraq”,
[9] “World Against War Conference, Dec 2007: A call for international demonstrations on 15-22 March, 2008,” Stop the War Coalition,

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