For US, Gaza is modern Vietnam and might lead to Biden's downfall

US President Joe Biden. [AFP]

The United States faces a new Vietnam in Gaza, reverberating in American colleges the way it happened in the 1960s.

In both periods, the US government appeared to betray American ideals by mounting a war in Indo-China or by appearing to condone and fund genocide in Gaza. The original Vietnam sprouted in the youth rebelliousness of the 1960s, inspired by civil rights activities, as baby boomer students questioned US foreign policy.

As students occupied key college buildings such as the Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, there was a virtual civil war in the American streets and campuses questioning the Cold War logic of US imperialism in Vietnam. That civil war drove two US presidents - Lyndon Baine Johnson and Richard M Nixon - out of office. There is the possibility of Gaza, as the new Vietnam, similarly driving President Joe Biden out and at least shifting American attitude towards events in the Middle East.

Diverse groups made their presence felt in the 1960s and created an internal civil war atmosphere within the US; assassinations of prominent Americans compounded the atmosphere. Besides the civil rights, the logic of the war came into question because it violated American ideals and eroded US standing. As boxer Mohammed Ali rejected the military draft, claiming he had no quarrel with them Vietnamese, civil rights leader Martin Luther King died after criticising the war.

When CBS Broadcaster Walter Cronkite questioned the war, Johnson decided not to run for office in 1968. There was chaos in Chicago as the youths invaded the Democratic Convention and threatened to nominate a pig as a candidate as long as it was 35 and natural born.

As in the 1960s, there is an internal civil war in the US as government officials appear to lose common sense and adopt policies that make little sense. If university officials seemed unable to uphold the Israeli line, they were forced to resign as happened at Harvard and UPenn. While the US previously automatically exonerated Israel from any blame for whatever it did in the Middle East, this appears to be changing.

Fear of offending Israel, however, disappeared when University of Southern California (USC), claiming security concerns, stopped a Valedictorian from making her graduation speech, mainly because she was Palestinian, in order to avoid offending Jewish sentimentalities. Students across the country believed the stopping violated American ideals and condoned Israeli genocide in Gaza.

Subsequently, what started at USC spread and discredited various officials. Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken struggled to appear to press Benjamin Netanyahu to cooperate on ‘ceasefire’ with the Hamas and not to attack Rafah. Although Netanyahu rebuffed them, Blinken still tried to blame Hamas for failure to persuade Israel to cooperate on Gaza.

The inability added fuel to campus demonstrations which no longer accepted the official US line that Israelis were innocent victims of Hamas, and probably Iranian, schemes. The belief that universities had become part of the Gaza genocide through investments led to demands that they divest from Israel and take positions against genocide. The breakout of violence in some campuses seemed to threaten American social fabric, just as it had done in the 1960s. Gaza is modern Vietnam.

With Gaza as the new Vietnam within the United States violating American ideals, there is substantial shift in public perceptions. In more ways than before, there is a new development that questions the supposed Israeli stranglehold on US policies.

The old argument of defending Israel to do whatever it wanted is no longer acceptable to Americans just as the anti-communist claims made little sense to critics of Vietnam in the 1960s. Biden is likely to be a casualty of his inability to convince a growing number of Americans that condoning Netanyahu’s war in Gaza is in the US interest. Having seemingly betrayed American ideals, Biden looks like Johnson in 1968.