Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Bush's Iraq-Vietnam comparison could easily backfire (like the war itself)

So Bush compares Iraq to Vietnam (sort of)... isn't that what many in the anti-war camp have been doing all along? And when you're trying to push victory in a war, I don't think Vietnam, largely seen as a military and political failure for the United States, is the best thing to cite.

President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

"The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

The price of America's occupation was also payed by the lives of many, in both Vietnam and Iraq. (And what about the Cambodians bombed needlessly and the other casualties of the horrendous, often covert, US policy of the Cold War?)

Mr Bush said the Vietnam War had taught the need for US patience over Iraq.

Patience, or the unneeded costs — in a humanitarian as well as a monetary sense — and blowback wars like Iraq and, notably, the old Soviet war in Afghanistan result in, not to mention loss of political face at home and abroad for those on the losing end(s) of such wars.

President Bush had already made a connection between the US-led occupation of Iraq and the Cold War-era Vietnam conflict in October of last year.

A sketchy connection of past conflict to present conflict
Semi-neocon Christopher Hitchens disputes the Iraq-Vietnam link, offering plenty of contrasts between the Iraq and Vietnam wars, which I myself have my reservations about. In a way, one can compare the Cold War against 'communism' to the global 'war on terror'; Vietnam and Iraq were major fronts of those 'wars', respectively. They both have ideologically-driven parties involved — one might say Saudi Arabia and Iran are Iraq's China, etc., during the Vietnam war. However, the parties involved in the current Iraq conflict are even more of a blur, and at this point America is fighting insurgents while trying to get Iraq to be able to walk with its own too.

Another shared trait of both wars is the unorthodox guerrilla warfare used by the insurgents/communists. Then again, things are much more wishy-washy in Iraq and there is no one enemy. Also Iraq fell with Saddam; America never fully conquered Vietnam (the north ended up taking the south).

Bush's logic that the 'terrorists' will take over Iraq just as the communists did in Vietnam has plenty of holes. For example, just the fact that there is no one group of insurgents hurts his argument. In addition, his new comparison of Iraq to Vietnam, mostly in a domestic political sense, makes it all too easy for those on the other side of the spectrum to argue that Iraq is a failed war, like Vietnam, and even the president who has constantly pursued the war can make that connection.

Not apples to apples
Iraq is complex. With so many outcomes, and so many parties involved or allegedly involved, the policy debate will no doubt rage on in Washington and Baghdad. Iraq can be compared to Vietnam. But it's not a comparison where all the common traits — or at least enough to make a good case — match up.

There are plenty of other comparisons and non-comparisons of the Iraq war to Vietnam, but saying Iraq 'is' Vietnam or saying the reverse (i.e. 'it isn't at all') gets a but too absolute. Things are not that clear cut. Jumping to polar extremes is one of the things that got the United States into this Mideast quagmire in the first place. Hopefully others won't make similar errors in their logic.


Anonymous said...

A fine article,
but considering the deeply insulting attack on our collective memories as to the REAL lessons of Vietnam, and considering there is probably noone on Earth less entitled to mention it at all, never mind as a means of supporting his own senseless atrocity called Iraq, I think you let him off easy.

Oh yeah:
"..unorthodox gorilla warfare.."

It's 'guerrilla' for God's sake.

clearthought said...

Yeah I have grown soft as Bush's presidency has descended into chaos ;) (not really)

Thanks for letting me know about the typo.

American Interests said...

Good post!

This is very interesting strategy on the part of Bush. Is he attempting to draw interest to Iraq and gain attention? After all, even some Democrats are reporting that the surge is showing signs of improving the situation in Iraq, something the world media are only giving scant attention.

This may prove positive for the administration but it can also turn perilous as evoking Vietnam reminds Americans about the consequences of defeat. Accordingly some may interpret this as a President preparing his people for just that kind of announcement. This being the case, the population may well question why the troops are still there. Bear in mind, that of the 58,000 American service men and woman who died in nam, some 25.000 died after Washington knew that the strategy was flawed.