Tuesday, August 30

Iraq is not Vietnam

John Hardy commented on a previous post:

Are you serious Sean? I mean clearly there are differences with Vietnam but the scenario of propping up a govt of occupation in the face of an indigenous resistance movement that has made large swathes of the country ungovernable sure seems to ring a bell for me. Where do you think this analogy actually breaks down?

Up front, I'm certainly a lot more 'hawkish' on Iraq than you are, John, so I doubt we're going to agree here. I am serious about the 'Iraq is Vietnam' analogy being ill-suited. Some ways:

+ Iraq is more strategic and, at the same time, we don't have to worry about the nuclear-bearing-Communist-domino threat.
+ this insurgency is subtly different in that we have already taken down the enemy government and are occupying the country. there isn't a whole 'North Vietnam' within which we can't operate with impunity. you can say Iran, Syria, et al. can fulfill that role, but it's not enough the same.
+ we never committed to win in Vietnam. we have won the war in Iraq. now we need to win the peace/occupation, which is proving very difficult (as everyone should have known and planned for up front).
+ we're responsible. we broke it. we need to fix it. we need to stick this thing out. the investment of American and Iraqi blood precludes anything short of a free nation, free to choose their own form of government, but not 'free' to be taken over by violent minorities and foreigners.
+ Iraq is not a 'quagmire' in the sense that Vietnam was. you will think i'm crazy, but i think there have been some good results from this war.  we're seeing some positive developments in Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia - small moves toward democracy and peace. we've got a long way to go, but these are positive developments.
+ Something else that could be different and should be different, but isn't different-enough yet, is that Vietnam was a lower priority militarily and politically than holding the line in the Cold War. The USSR was always public enemy #1. That's not the case this time. Fighting terrorism in job 1 and Iraq fits that bill fine. Now that we're in it we need to fight it as our top priority. One way we're getting distracted here is by old school warriors and politicians who want to keep out Cold War capabilites intact when we already have submarines and airplanes that are non pareil for years to come. We had more opportunities in this Base Realignment and Closure Comission to retool our force, but too many people looked out for what was 'best' for themselves and their constituents and not for the US and global security (more on this later).

- They are similar in how the public perceives the war, and that could be self-fulfilling.
- They are similat in that we need to fight on to win and we probably need to fight harder - commit more troops and equipment.

Things may look bad these days re: the constitution, but it's just a desperate, Sunni power grab. If they don't play ball they'll get stuck out in the cold with no oil and a rong of forces around their 'region' until they learn how to play nice. Then we'll see about their insurgency.

All in all, I don't really have a 'dog' in this fight. If someone wants to call Iraq Vietnam, that's ok. I want the outcome to be different and there's no doubt in my mind that it can be. My thinking these days is largely sharpened by Tom's, which is so germane to my own. Some of his recent posts on this topic:
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