Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Horror! The Horror!

The Iraq/Vietnam analogy that was launched as a new talking point last week by the White House has had holes torn into it by far more competent people than myself, but I would like to add a few thoughts nevertheless - inspired by Mr. (Colonel) Kurtz and Joseph Conrad as well as other luminaries that motivated this blog in the first place.

No doubt President Bush, from his hard-won frontline experience with the Texas Air National Guard, has better first-hand knowledge of the horrors of war than I, who was too young to be drafted into the US armed forces at the time. As the Vietnam War drew to a close, I was but a wee Hippo frolicking with other amphibious mammals of my age, many of whom were American army brats. My conception of war in 1975 was limited to playing with Marx plastic soldiers.

My level of understanding at that age as to what armed confrontation was all about can be gauged by the fact that the difference between "soldiers" on the one hand, and "cowboys and indians" on the other, was still pretty blurry to me. Nevertheless, I have a clear memory of my parents explaining to me in hushed tones one day that my friend was having a bit of a rough time, as his dad had just returned from Vietnam and was behaving strangely. What was Vietnam, and how was he behaving strangely, I wanted to know. I was told that Vietnam was a place where American soldiers, like my friend's dad, were fighting in a jungle (a big forest, as far as I understood) and had bombs thrown at them on a regular basis. And my friend's dad was exhibiting unusual behavior because he had had bombs thrown at him too many times. It seems that the first night after he returned, a police car went by their house with its siren blaring. The next morning, when his wife woke up, he was nowhere to be found. After searching the whole house for her husband, she finally found him fast asleep under the bed. He had heard the siren in the night and, without waking up, had rolled off the bed and back under it to take cover from the "incoming shells".

Before discussing the merits and flaws of a comparison between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, a few words about the White House spin machine. It is notable that up until last week, anyone who compared the two conflicts was dismissed by the neocons as a defeatist or worse, since the ignominous end of America's engagement in Southeast Asia is still remembered as one of the deepest humiliations of US military power ever - until Iraq, that is. Although... there are some who still insist that it was not a defeat for the US, and their worldview is captured pretty neatly in this dialog between Archie and Otto in A Fish Called Wanda:

- You know your problem? You don't like winners.
- Winners?
- Yeah. Winners.
- Winners like... North Vietnam?
- Shut up! We did not lose Vietnam! It was a tie!
- I'm tellin' ya, they kicked some ass there. Boy, they whupped your hide real good!
- No, they didn't.
- Yes, they did.
- Oh, no, they didn't.
- Oh, yes, they did.
- Oh, no, they... Shut up!

The highest form of propaganda consists of not just distorting the truth a little bit, but of proclaiming the opposite of what everyone knows to be true. (Thus, for example, commenting on the resignation of disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has the gall to accuse the Democratic Congress of "dangerously politicizing the Justice Department", which is of course exactly what Gonzales has been doing.) So it should come as no surprise that after years of pooh-poohing any resemblance between the Vietnam debacle and the Iraqi quagmire, the White House now turns around and cites the example of Vietnam as a reason for supporting the continued occupation of Iraq. You gotta hand it to these guys: They distort reality at breathtaking levels of altitude, where most ordinary mortals would find it difficult to operate even with oxygen masks and sherpas carrying their bundle of lies for them.

Of course, such obviously false parallels can easily be shown to be wrong by anyone with even the most basic knowledge of history and international relations. Refuting the lies of the Republican spin machine is easy; but one wonders whether it is worth the effort, since by the time their claims are exposed as false, the spin doctors will have moved on to the next mind-boggling distortion. Nevertheless, here goes; we will first of all discuss why the parallels that Bush drew between Iraq and Vietnam in his recent speech are wrong, and then look in detail at some of the real differences and similarities between the two conflicts.

Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) association in Kansas City, Missouri, Bush claimed that
“America’s withdrawal was paid for by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.’”

Concerning the vengeance of the Communist regime on Southern Vietnam after the US retreat, it is worth noting that the Viet Minh movement was not always an implacable enemy of the US or the West. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor organization of the CIA, cooperated with Ho Chin Minh and the Viet Minh against the Japanese occupiers of Vietnam in 1945. It was only when they realized that the US would not support their bid for independence that the Viet Minh and their successors of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam turned towards Communism. That is to say, the refugee crisis and re-education camps were largely an outcome of US intransigence since the end of the Second World War and Washington's sustained support for a corrupt South Vietnamese regime after France pulled out of Indochina; to blame these deplorable developments on the US retreat is simply a reversal of cause and effect.

It is similarly ahistorical to attribute the "killing fields" to the US withdrawal from Southeast Asia. The rise of the Khmer Rouge to power in Cambodia, culminating in the capture of the capital, Phnom Penh, on 17 April 1975 (a mere two weeks before the fall of Saigon), can largely be attributed to the US bombing capaign against Cambodia during the previous years. In order to interdict North Vietnamese resupply routes through the neighboring country, Nixon ordered a secret strategic bombing campaign against Cambodia, which in turn enhanced the popularity of the Communist Khmer Rouge guerillas, whose rule of terror later led to hundreds of thousands of deaths on the so-called killing fields. Notably, it was the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that ultimately ended the reign of Pol Pot with an invasion of Cambodia in 1979. Again, the notion that the deaths of approximately 1.5 million Cambodians were due to the US withdrawal from Vietnam is a gross distortion of reality.

Having established that it was US interference in Southeast Asia, not the decision to withdraw, that caused the phenomena wrongly attributed by Bush in his recent speech, we should also look at some of the actual historical similarities and differences between Vietnam and Iraq.

The main difference is that the Iraqi resistance has no support from a superpower, unlike North Vietnam, which received supplies and diplomatic backing from Moscow as a Soviet proxy in the context of the Cold War. Despite the attempts by the neoconservatives to frame Iran as acting in such a manner, both the Maliki puppet government in Iraq and the Karzai regime in Afghanistan report that Iran has been a constructive force in the recent regional turmoil, meaning that Tehran has not been extending significant support to insurgents in either country. On the one hand, Iran certainly retains that option if certain parameters should change - for example, if it should become the target of US attacks. On the other hand, Tehran's long-term interests include the establishment of a stable situation in the region, preferably with an enhanced role for itself.

A secondary difference is one of geography. Iraq has no forests offering cover and retreat areas for large bodies of insurgent fighters, and the various militias and armed groups cannot move across the desert in sizeable formations. Of course, that means that there are no massed targets for the US military to attack and destroy in open engagements. This is also why most of the US casualties have been incurred in urban environments, and due to roadside bombs. The densely built-up areas of Iraqi cities are the contemporary equivalent of the Vietnamese jungle.

Conversely, the similarities between America's two worst military debacles in the past 50 years are fairly evident.

In both cases, the justification to go to war was based on patent lies. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing US President Lyndon B. Johnson to use force in Southeast Asia was obtained by distorting and inflating a minor or non-existent confrontation between the US Navy and Vietnamese ships; the Iraq War Resolution was based on many months of sustained propaganda and disinformation campaigns directed at the US Congress, the American public, and a skeptical world at large. Among the outright lies disseminated by the White House were
  • the claims about 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta having met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague;
  • lies about alleged Iraqi attempts to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (leading to the Plamegate scandal);
  • Bush and Blair referring to a non-existent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency supposedly claiming Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon;
  • plagiarized reports on Saddam's Iraq, some of which referred to the state of affairs 12 years earlier.
None of the above falsehoods were due to "faulty intelligence"; they were all known to be wrong at the time they were made.

Also, just as in the case of its support for the Diem regime in Southern Vietnam, the US is repeating its mistake of over-reliance on weak and corrupt local allies that lack legitimacy among the Iraqi population. Ahmed Chalabi, the designated puppet at the start of the war, was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan after the collapse of his Petra Bank. He managed to convince the neocons surrounding Bush in 2002 that his opposition group of Iraqi exiles, the Iraqi National Congress, should be installed as the new government as soon as Saddam was overthrown. He was reportedly exposed in 2004 as a spy for Iran. Chalabi's nephew Iyad Allawi was subsequently named prime minister, but has since fled the country and now lives in London.

Perhaps the most dangerous misjudgement both in Vietnam and in Iraq has been a near-complete misconception, or perhaps misrepresentation, of the US enemies' motivation. Concerning Vietnam, US defense secretary Robert McNamara claimed that if the country were allowed to fall into the hands of the Communist Ho Chi Minh, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow (the "domino theory"). Of course, that never happened; even after the ignominous defeat of the US, most of the neighboring Asian countries remained safely in the capitalist camp, and until the 1990s, the "Tiger states" of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan displayed some of the world's biggest economic growth levels. Vietnam today has become a de-facto capitalist state, though it retains its one-party government. Most historians agree that Uncle Ho was fighting a war of national liberation, which had started with resistance against China and Japan and continued through the French colonial period until the conquest of Saigon and the US withdrawal. That is, Communism was an ideology used for mobilizing the Vietnamese people against foreign domination, but the National Front was essentially a national liberation movement rather than conceiving itself as part of a global movement or aiming to export revolutionary fervor to the region.

Similarly, the Bush White House insists that the armed groups resisting the US occupation of Iraq are "jihadists" (the latter-day "Commies") and al-Qaida franchises, since acknowledging that most are local sectarian militias opposed to the US presence would undermine the rationale for the war effort, which has been implicitly, and wrongly, linked to the 9/11 attacks. Bush claims that "we are fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here"; that narrative would implode if it were acknowledged that 95% of the Iraqi resistance have no ties to al-Qaida or other foreign Wahhabi groups.

This blog post is growing far longer than intended, so I will sum up a few of the other more important similarities in brief. The Iraqi militants, like the Vietcong, are flexible and employ asymmetrical tactics against the US occupation forces; as a result, after losing its sense of invulnerability in the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US is now experiencing the destruction of its myth of invincibility on the battlefield, together with its international reputation, both of which it had painstakingly rebuilt after the humiliating experience of Vietnam.

"The smell of victory"

Some other obvious similarities between Iraq and Vietnam were noted by Martin van Creveld, one of the leading military historians of our times, as early as September 2004 in an article on "Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did". This paper describes a trip to Vietnam undertaken by Israeli general Moshe Dayan in 1966 at the invitation of Walt Rostow, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, and McNamara. Having spent several weeks in the country, including patrols on swift boats as well as on foot with the Marines and the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Dayan came to the following main conclusions: The US effort was going badly because it
  • lacked intelligence,
  • was losing the battle for hearts and minds, and
  • was seen by global public opinion as a bully "beating down on the weak".
Van Creveld also offers this stark assessment of how Dayan, who had a great degree of admiration for the US in general and especially for the US troops he had encountered, regarded the justification for the war:
As to what he was told of the war’s objectives, such as defending democracy and helping the South Vietnamese people, he considered it “childish” propaganda; if many of the Americans he met believed in them, clearly nobody else did.
In conclusion, I would like to refer to Barbara Tuchman's excellent book "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam", which dissects America's blunder into the Vietnam conflict as an example of why and how governments pursue policies that are contrary to their own interests. She attributes the mistakes of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations to "follies", including over-reaction ("the invention of endangered 'national security', the invention of 'vital interest', the invention of 'commitment' which rapidly assumed a life of its own..."); the "illusion of omnipotence"; "wooden-headedness", which she also describes as the "Don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts habit"; a refusal to "take the enemy's grim will and capacity into account; and "'working the levers' as a substitute for thinking", or the "absence of reflective thought about the nature of what we're doing".

If all of the above "follies" are strongly reminiscent of the current US "surge" strategy, it is surely no coincidence. These are the only comparisons between the Vietnam war and the Iraq occupation worth making, and the only ones from which tangible lessons for the present quagmire can be drawn. However, I fear that we are soon to see a final historical parallel: As Bush attempts to postpone a withdrawal of US forces into the administration of his successor, we can discern the beginnings of a blame-shifting process.

The White House is trying desperately to pin responsibility for the disastrous course of the neoconservative Iraq adventure on anybody but the neocons themselves.
The Republican Party, supposedly the party of individual responsibility, now blames its own catastrophic failure on the Iraqi government, al-Qaida, Iran, and - in a final twist of propagandistic desperation - the Democrats, as well as anybody else who is opposed to the war or dares call for a withdrawal of US forces. And here we can expect a final repetition of history: The Dolchstosslegende.

Just as the German military reactionaries after the First World War blamed the Social Democrats for having signed the peace treaty with the Allies and thus having delivered a cowardly "stab in the back" to the brave soldiers on the frontline, "unvanquished in the field", as the legend went ("im Felde unbesiegt"); and just as the right-wing conservatives in the US until today blame "peaceniks and hippies" for having lost the Vietnam War, the current administration and its lackey pundits will try to pass the buck to those who have tried to inject a voice of reason, rationalism, and realism into the debate.

America must avoid repeating this historical mistake, or its refusal to face up to its own failures may lead to a Weimar Republic scenario. Already today, ultra-conservatives in the US have a good deal of contempt for democracy, pluralism, and progressive politics - including the notion that military force is not always the best approach to solving foreign-policy problems. If the US should choose to continue the present course or even to embark on a military adventure in Iran, for example, and if it should end up suffering a complete defeat in the Middle East, it is not inconceivable that American democracy itself would be under threat, as the nascent German democracy was in the 1920s and 1930s.

Let us hope that 40 years from now, this historical analogy will turn out to be just as flawed as Bush's preposterous remarks before the VFW last week.


A postscript, 10 September 2007: I am currently reading Pausanias, "Description of Greece", and came across the following passage that I felt should be included with this discussion of Vietnam and Iraq.
About sixty stades from Marathon as you go along the road by the sea to Oropus stands Rhamnus. The dwelling houses are on the coast, but a little way inland is a sanctuary of Nemesis, the most implacable deity to men of violence. It is thought that the wrath of this goddess fell also upon the foreigners who landed at Marathon. For thinking in their pride that nothing stood in the way of their taking Athens, they were bringing a piece of Parian marble to make a trophy, convinced that their task was already finished. Of this marble Pheidias made a statue of Nemesis [...] Neither this nor any other ancient statue of Nemesis has wings, for not even the holiest wooden images of the Smyrnaeans have them, but later artists, convinced that the goddess manifests herself most as a consequence of love, give wings to Nemesis as they do to Love.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bad Cop

At the G8 summit in Heiligendamm in June, three masked police officers acting as agents provocateurs tried to incite non-violent demonstrators to attack the uniformed police. Accounts of this incident can be found here and here (in German); a video is available here - the scene of the undercover cop being returned to his colleagues is at 1:40 min.

The leaders of the US, Mexico, and Canada held a meeting of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP; wonder who it is that comes up with these neo-Orwellian names?) in Montebello, Québec on 20 and 21 August. On this occasion, a similar scene was caught on camera and posted on Youtube. The clip shows an elderly man, belonging to a group of people (apparently trade union members) trying to separate the police from a group of younger protesters, telling another guy dressed in black "anarchist" garb to drop the rock he is holding. The confrontation heats up when the older man accuses the man holding a rock and his two buddies of being cops:

For a minute or so, it's just Coles being a good samaritan, trying to stop a potentially violent confrontation and demanding that one of the men who picks up a rock put it down. It's already extremely tense by the time that someone starts pointing at the masked protestors and chanting "policier!" Coles demands that the men take off their masks, and the majority of the crowd join him––some even reach for the bandannas themselves––and accuse the masked men of being cops, police provocateurs hired to start a riot. When Coles actually looks at one of the men dead-on and says, "you're a police officer," the masked men all freeze, seemingly dumb-struck. And then they kind of start being aggressive again, until a little over two minutes in, when there's the weirdest police takedown you'll probably ever see.

The three men then sidle towards the police line until they are gently pulled over, pushed down, and "taken into custody" in a way that is entirely unbelievable considering they are supposed to be violent anarchists who just tried to lob a dangerous missiles at the cops "arresting" them, lending more credence to the notion that they are agents provocateurs.

This is the kind of cynical manipulation that not only increases general distrust of the police - whether in Germany, Canada, or elsewhere; it also raises the degree of cynicism about the idea that the political system we live in can be changed by legitimate public protest. Also makes you wonder how the uniformed police officers feel about their colleagues trying to goad demonstrators into attacking them. Are they pissed off, or looking forward to a bit of aggro?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Protecting the Bush Bubble

The Washington Post reports on a manual handed out in advance of George Bush's public appearances, to ensure that the Republican Beloved Leader is protected from dissent and to prevent the ugly reality from intruding on the White House's carefully stage-managed events:
A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential
advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring
potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around
the country.
Of course all members of the audience are carefully screened ahead of such events, as they should be; it is not inconceivable that someone might so actively dislike the Frat Boy President that they would try to hurt him, which would not only be wrong, wrong, wrong, but the ensuing backlash would actually help his party. So I'm not against tight security at public POTUS appearances. And that is also why I'm not surprised that prospective audience are mainly handpicked ticket-holders, i.e., loyal Bushies, and that placard-wielding hippie types are generally not admitted. But, as the WashPost continues:
that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so
long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a
specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their
views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to
designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably
not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."

Adds a new twist to the ages-old cop cliche "Move on, there's nothing to see here." Also, the local event organizers are encouraged to set up Conformity Squads (my own label) to prevent any disruption, i.e. dissent:
To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to
create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards
or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in
strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming'
throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems,"
the manual says.
However, as the immortal Robert Burns reminds us, even "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men / Gang aft agley". In a worst-case scenario where Islamofascistodefeatocrats have been able to insinuate themselves into a visible spot and are disseminating their heinous opinions, the White House manual recommends that the Conformity Squads move to Plan B:
"These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators," it
says. "The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as
shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the
demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive
chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort,
security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."
Republicans - you gotta love them. Didya hear me, son? You GOTTA love them! Or you're out on your ass!

By the way: The heavily redacted manual was acquired by the ACLU

as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004.
Remember: They hate us for the freedoms we enjoy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Marg Bar Amrika!

In the careers of almost all more or less successful bands, there comes a time when one or several members are sick of playing the same old sh*t over and over again. Every night, the fans will be clamoring for the greatest hits, even though the group may think it has moved on and would like to try out some new stuff. Internal disagreements over how to deal with this situation may then lead to the dreaded "creative differences", as often as not causing hiatus or breakup of the whole project. Everybody who has ever played in a band (including this Hippo) can tell a story or two about this phenomenon.

The popular boy group "The Islamic Republic of Iran" is no exception, apparently. In a new biography of the combo, which reached the apex of its popularity under founding member and frontman Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi "Imam" Khomeini, it is revealed that the ayatollah was tired of playing that hoary old chestnut “Death to America” and "favoured dropping the mantra". This is according to Khomeini's successor as band leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has just published his memoirs of The Republic's hard-prayin' and hard-rockin' days on the road.

In the end, it was the untimely demise of The Imam that prevented a fatal falling-out among the band members and cleared the way for Rafsanjani to succeed him as singer and lead guitarist. The velvet-voiced Rafsanjani was later ousted from The Islamic Republic by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose gritty singing has been received by rapturous fans as a return to the band's former "ass-kicking" sound. "Marg Bar Amrika" remains the signature tune of "The Islamic Republic" and is heard every Friday in stadiums all over Iran.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Screwing the Pentagon

The world's two most expensive washers were purchased by the Pentagon at a slightly unreasonable price of US$1 million, according to The Guardian:

The most expensive washers in history were part of $20.5m the company stole from the Pentagon over the last 10 years. The company shipped plumbing and electrical parts to US bases round the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

But oh, wait, that wasn't the price of the washers themselves; it was the cost of sending them to the Pentagon:
The company claimed $998,798 for sending the two washers, which could have been put in an envelope and posted through normal mail for a few dollars.

However, for the scammer, this may have been the most expensive million dollars she ever made:
Charlene Corley, 47, co-owner of the plumbing and electrical firm C&D Distributors, who supplied parts to the military, is awaiting sentence after pleading guilty yesterday to defrauding the Pentagon. She faces 20 years in jail. [...] She admitted her role in the fraud but lawyers placed most of the blame on her sister and co-owner, Darlene, who committed suicide in October after being approached by investigators.
Twenty years in jail and her sister is dead. Pretty costly way of getting rich. Personally, I prefer my peace of mind...

Viking Descendants Say 'Sorry'

Danish Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen, on an official visit to Ireland, apologized last Wednesday for the behavior of the Vikings who raped, pillaged, and looted the British Isles from the 8th to the 11th centuries. His visit to Dublin came on the occasion of the arrival of the replica Viking longship Havhingsten fra Glendalough (Sea Stallion of Glendalough), which sailed from Roskilde in Denmark on 2 July. The 30-meter ship can carry a crew of 60 to 70 Norse pirates and is a faithful copy of the Skuldelev 2, built in 1042 AD from oak beams felled in Wicklow County, Ireland, and now to be seen in the Viking museum of Roskilde.

"In Denmark, we are certainly proud of the ship, but we are not proud of the damage done to the people of Ireland after the Viking invasion. However, the warmth you have shown us today shows us that all has been forgiven," Mikkelsen added.
His apologies may have been prompted by the desire to patch up an emerging disagreement between Denmark and Ireland over the return of historic artifacts under new EU regulations that took effect on 1 April this year. Essentially, the terms of the deal now reached stipulate that Denmark will loan the replica to the Irish National Museum for a year in order to avoid having to return the remains of the original Skuldelev ship (more info on the Havhingsten project website).

Like their warlike forebears, the crew of the Havhingsten sailed to Ireland by circumnavigating the northernmost tip of Denmark, passing by southern Sweden, and crossing the North Sea. From the Orkney Islands (which were under Scandinavian administration for 600 years, beginning in 875 AD) they sailed down the Scottish west coast and across the Irish Sea. This is more or less the same 1.700-km route that in 795 brought the first Viking raiders to Ireland, at the time a European center of early medieval Christian scholarship. The wealthy, but largely undefended monasteries were easy prey for the Norse looters.

In the first few decades, the Vikings only came to Ireland during the summer months, returning to Scandinavia when the raiding season was over in autumn. But from the mid-9th century onwards, they began to build fortified settlements in order to be able to remain in Ireland during the winter months. In addition to significant settlements at Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford, they founded the current capital of Ireland, Dublin. At the end of the 9th century, the Vikings shifted their focus to England and the European continent, but at the beginning of the 10th century they returned to Ireland with a vengeance (the surprisingly effective resistance of the Anglo-Saxons under King Alfred the Great may have contributed to this renewed shift towards the West). The Scandinavians are supposed to have been decisively beaten by Irish High King Brian Bóruma at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 AD.

My professor of Old English, Stephen Tranter, liked to point out the differing viewpoints in the respective Norse and Old English records of those heady times. While the Anglo-Saxon chronicles would state something to the effect that "The evil heathen Norsemen came to Wessex this year, plundering the monasteries, raping our daughters, and exhibiting generally loutish behavior", the corresponding Scandinavian saga would record something like "Snorri and Haakon travelled to England with 12 ships and engaged in profitable trade with the Englishmen all summer long"; i.e., what the Anglo-Saxons perceived as plunder was viewed by the Vikings as simple mercantile activity, though admittedly they got the better deals.

Brian Mikkelsen's apology coincided more or less with the withdrawal of the last Danish troops from southern Iraq. Had the Vikings been able to witness his shameful display of remorse on their behalf - 1200 years after the fact, no less! - I wonder how they might have reacted to this milquetoast character.

Quite possibly, they would have considered him a candidate for what was known as a "Blood Eagle":

The Blood Eagle was reportedly a method of torture and execution that is sometimes mentioned in Norse saga literature. It was performed by cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds.
Yes, I believe that is what they might well have done.

This strange story had me imagining a distant descendant of George Bush visiting Iraq in the year 3203 to apologize for the shameful invasion, rape, and plunder of the country by the US many generations ago - possibly on the occasion of a replica M1A1 Abrams medium battle tank being donated to the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which by that time will hopefully have been restored to something resembling its former glory, though certainly minus many of its national treasures which are, at the time of this writing, being flogged off by unscrupulous antique dealers in Europe and the US.

The legacy of the Viking settlement in the British Isles is felt even today - the Scandinavian influence can be traced in the English language; in place-names all across England, Scotland, and Ireland; and even in the English legal system, especially in those parts of England that were under permanent Scandinavian control, known as the "Danelaw". I wonder whether the US influence in Iraq will be similarly long-lasting and deep-rooted, but I doubt it; although there are significant efforts underway to build permanent settlements (read: "army bases"), to rob the country of its national treasures (from Babylonian sculpture to crude oil), and to shape the country's legal system according to the requirements of US "mercantile activities" (in the Viking sense...).

One thing the US can learn from the not-so-warlike Danes of today is this: It's never too late to say 'I'm sorry'.