Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I recommend a very good paper published by the U.S. Army War College, in which two scholars (Record and Terrill) compare and contrast Iraq with the Vietnam War. Allow me to summarize it, as interpreted through my biases.

The first portion (regarding military aspects) belabors a point that seems self-evident: the military dimensions of the two conflicts are dissimilar. Vietnam was a much larger, and costlier, war than Iraq; the Iraqi militants are far more dissipated, and do not have the benefit of surreptitious support from a "sponsor" nation. It makes for a very interesting read, though, as a piece of military history. The authors do a very good job of illustrating the failures of the Vietnam war, and aren't afraid to blame U.S. military decisions in doing so. Nevertheless, the length of this section and the emphasis upon it seems designed to mollify those that wish to emphasize the differences in the two conflicts. The reason for comparing the two has never been the military aspect; it has been in the political dimension.

Thus, the second portion regarding politics seems more prescient, and more chilling. In Iraq, we have even less to work with than we did in South Vietnam. We have to invent a government from scratch, give it legitimacy without favoring any one group, and then create (from scratch) an army that will ensure security without posing a threat. Record and Terrill do a good job of illustrating the problems with the present Iraqi government, and the wide-open question of how the various interim governments and constitutions will gain that necessary legitimacy. Their most favorable assessments are almost back-handed: we have to start from scratch, but at least we will not have to support the rampant corruption and incompetence of the Diem and Thieu administrations.

The most incisive part comes last: American political opinion. They come to the same conclusion that I had reached: the most grave error of Vietnam was in lying to the American people about the progress of the war. The Tet Offensive was an utter disaster for the VC, and it left America in a perfect position to wage a conventional war against the NVA -- the war we had been wanting to fight all along. Simply put, if Johnson had given Westmoreland his additional 208,000 troops, the war would have been over by the end of 1969. But it was too late. America had discovered that the administration had thoroughly lied to the public about the war, claiming that the Communists were in full retreat. Tet caused spasms of doubt and dissent, and prevented the full-out offensive that would have allowed us to take advantage of the opportunity. And rightly so. Many blamed the messenger of the press, but the Right had no moral high ground to work from.

Record and Terrill are quite frank: it is not that Americans have no tolerance for deaths, it is that they have no tolerance for a mere "war of choice." They show that public opinion regarding Iraq is plummeting, largely because of the proven inaccuracy of the reasons for invading and the proven incompetence of the plans for building a new Iraqi nation. As Iraq becomes a "war of choice," it becomes less defensible and each error is less forgivable. This is the largest connection between Vietnam and Iraq, and American public opinion has the largest effect on our future plans for the region.

I said it in my last post, but I want to say it again. The neoconservatives did not learn from the political dimensions of Vietnam. But those that oppose the war must rise above this, and learn from the errors of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement.

Three Lessons From The Anti-War Movement

1. Like it or not, we bought it. Having "broken it," and thus "bought it," (to use Powell's analogy) America cannot put "it" down on the shelf and walk out, whistling innocently. When Nixon declared "peace with honor" to satisfy the protestors, he unilaterally withdrew American troops leaving 200,000 NVA troops in South Vietnam. "Peace with Honor" equated to certain death for South Vietnam. We cannot allow another Republican administration to make such an error.

Having invaded Iraq, we cannot leave until we can leave a nation capable of running itself peaceably. It sucks that we have to do this. It sucks hard. It will be horrifically expensive in money and lives. But the alternative is even worse: immoral, and un-American.

2. We must be clear what we oppose, and whom. Opposition to the Iraq quagmire must be (1) patriotic and (2) in full support of our troops. We must hold that line even when others claim that opposition is unpatriotic. Indeed, we must support our troops even when those very troops react with bitterness toward us. They've earned the right to be bitter. Pundits are different; pundits that equate dissent with a lack of patriotism can bite my ass.

Thus, we oppose the idiots running the war, not the men fighting it. We believe in America so much that we refuse to let the Bush administration besmirch our honor any more.

3. Mere reaction is worthless. The Bush administration's lies are not an answer in themselves. That is, it is not enough to oppose Bush because he lies. We must propose alternatives based on the facts, despite Bush's unwillingness to admit them. Moreover, we must go past "us vs. them" analysis, because it creates the dangerous impression that positive developments for our troops are not welcomed by the Left. We celebrate the victories, we can agree on many things. It's just that we're the ones that want to fix the problems that led to this quagmire.

 1:42 PM

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