The Phoenix Program will be recalled as a culminating horror of America’s war in Vietnam.
Everything else having failed, the CIA and its hired killers committed thousands of “targeted” assassinations in an attempt to decapitate the insurgency. This is a doctrine Israel has also adopted. There is a lot about Phoenix here but much of it (including the Wikipedia entry) is fiercely disputed.
Phoenix showed the very few restraints there are on a cornered American president although the central point – whether such a tactic can ever work – is largely undiscussed. I suppose it constitutes a perogative of power if you are a president or prime minister to get a list of the folks you have had killed overnight – while you were sleeping!
As is now perfectly clear, in Vietnam this technique had no influence at all on the result of the war, which America lost. Vietnam is now a booming hub for banks, factories, BMW showrooms and tourists.
In fact the Vietnam war was already lost when the program began. Phoenix was never a war-winning move as much as a desperate attempt to snatch a sort of non-humiliation from the Vietnamese quagmire.
It is not odd that the Americans and their allies seem now to be engaged in some form of similar enterprise in the bloody remains of Baghdad.I refer to the interesting and underappreciated story May 29 by Thom Shanker in The New York Times (available here from the International Herald Tribune ).
In recent weeks, as the final elements of the troop increase ordered by Bush began arriving in Iraq, Special Operations units have captured or killed senior officers of the militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric. Senior officers said one mission this month killed a militant Shiite commander, Azhar al-Duleimi, who is believed to have organized a deadly attack on a government compound in south-central Iraq in January.
“The first thing I want to know is how did we do last night,” Petraeus said in a recent interview on National Public Radio in the United States, explaining how closely he follows the operations of the secret special-mission units.
To read Iraq Slogger is the reality check. We are being sold a “big picture” of Iraq in which Bush talks of “victory” and Blair of staying “until the job is done” none of which accords with the mosaic on the ground reported in Iraq Slogger where the picture is of a country that has fallen apart.