It was announced today on the TV news website TV Line that Jane Fonda has joined the cast for Aaron Sorkin's new program, which is currently titled Newsroom. (No relation to the classic Canadian show of the same name.) Within moments, a website that reports on casting news, ratings, and spoilers for American TV shows was spam bombed by angry objectors calling for Fonda's hanging, her trial for treason, the elimination of HBO and more than a few times, the term "Hanoi Jane" was thrown around.
Nearly 40 years after the fact, some people still carry a bitter, frothing resentment for Fonda and her 1972 excursion to North Vietnam where she was famously photographed laughing and clapping while posing on an anti-aircraft gun with a group of VC soldiers. This capped a week where she renounced American war policy on the radio, and visited with American POWs in Vietcong custody. On this latter point, it's been a persistent rumour for decades that Fonda was given messages by POWs for their families back in the States and she never delivered, a rumour that's as patently untrue as the notion that they filmed the moon landing on a soundstage in Burbank.
It's interesting that this should come up today, because if the TV Line junk pile on Hanoi Jane four decades later is a reminder of anything, it's that America doesn't lose wars well. To put the failure of American foreign policy in Southeast Asia across three different presidencies at the feet of Fonda is disingenuous and simplistic; Fonda did her country no favours, and she has acknowledged as much in print interviews, TV sit-downs and even two books by her own pen in the years since. It makes me wonder though, on whose fault will responsibility lie for the failure of the Iraq War: the administration of George W. Bush, or Michael Moore and the Dixie Chicks?
Today, in a low-key ceremony at the Baghdad Airport, the Iraq War officially came to an end. American troops will withdraw to Kuwait and then make their way back Stateside over the next couple of weeks. Nearly nine years after promises of imminent danger, weapons of mass destruction, Axis of Evil, and promises of a bright and shiny Iraq free of dictators and tyranny, the final chapter of the Iraq War ends not with an exclamation point, or even a period, but a question mark. What happens from here is about as unpredictable as the course of the last nine years of combat action in that country.
In 2003 there was a lot of promises. " I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators," said Vice-President Dick Cheney. "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N.
And when both these notions proved to be wrong, Cheney doubled down on the war, first at the 2004 at the Vice-Presidential debate where he said, "What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do. If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action." But the next year, as the violence refused to die down, and Americans were becoming more and more pessimistic about what was happening in Iraq, Cheney once again offered a prediction that wouldn't come true: the insurgency, he said, was "in the last throes."
But as the war winds to a close, the man that promised so much, for such a high cost, and to ultimately deliver so little, remains non-contrite. The other day while talking about recent incident where an American drone crashed in Iran, Cheney told his interviewer that he believed that President Barack Obama's request to Iran to return the drone was a weak response to the situation, and had it been his call, he would have ordered an air strike to destroy the drone before it was taken into Iranian custody. That's probably for the best because in the old days they used to call that an act of war.
But Cheney's hardly alone in his criticism of the President. Many of the Republican candidates for President are criticizing him for leaving Iraq in a state of disarray, "leaving before the job is done," as they'd say. What they don't apparently realize though is that the Obama's withdrawal from Iraq is because of law passed in 2008. Their confusion is understandable though seeing as how George W. Bush announced the final withdrawal date at the same press conference where a disgruntled Iraqi threw a shoe at him.
But the failure of the Iraq War is academic; my interest is in how this nine year escalator to nowhere got started in the first place. Mostly though, I wonder why the vocal few who recognized what a disastrous endeavour the Iraq War would be have never been apologized too. Not just people like the aforementioned Michael Moore and Dixie Chicks, but Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was exposed as a CIA agent in retaliation for his opposition. There were also world governments who were vilified, particularly the people of France and their president Jacques Chirac (remember "Freedom Fries?"). Anyone associated with the United Nations, particularly Executive Chairman of the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Hans Blix, was painted as some kind of apologist for daring to suggest that maybe Iraq wasn't as locked and loaded as even he initially thought.
But mostly, one cannot say that it was a government system acting rogue, leading its unwilling people to support a military action against a country that not only had nothing to do with the attack on the United States on 9/11, but actually wasn't a clear and present danger to the U.S. in any other practical way. The Iraq War also lead to the rise of an renewed and embolden Iran, particularly the cementing of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a regional power player, could be contributed to the removal of Iran's former, immediate adversary in the region: an Iraq lead by Saddam Hussein. No, the people were willing participants, cheering the military machine forward to a engage Operation: Iraqi Freedom.
When in the summer of 2005 public opinion significantly turned against the War in Iraq, it was with a typical attitude that the supporters were sold a bill of goods. In so much as they felt betrayed by their government, there was no equal feeling of contrition towards those that suggested that this was the potential outcome from the get-go: an expensive, bloody mess that would cost more in manpower and money (blood and treasure) than was honestly copped to in the beginning. In a bizarre way, the quiet departure of U.S. forces from Iraq is the only honest and genuine act of the conflict. There's no presumption of success, no Mission: Accomplished banners, no jingoistic speeches about the military might of the U.S. doing what had to be done, just we did what we can, and the Iraqis want us gone now.
Hopefully, there will never be an endeavour like Iraq again. Lesson learned. But then again, I'm sure people watching the helicopters take off from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975 thought the same thing. Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it, but it seems that Jane Fonda is the only one that must pay for it till the end of time itself.