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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Would you know a quagmire if it bit you in the butt?

While fiddling around on the computer this morning, I was listening with one ear to the Sunday morning news/talk shows.  I'm not sure which one it was, but one of them had a brief riff on how "What's being said about our efforts in Iraq now" sounds just like "What was being said about our efforts in Vietnam back then."

This is a topic on which I have an opinion based on first-hand evidence, albeit old evidence.  I started getting really interested in the war and politics during the 1968 presidential campaign, when I was in the fifth grade.  (I was an unabashed hawk, by the way, and one of the greatest disappointments I've ever had was when someone explained to me that with my lousy vision, there was zero chance that I could ever qualify to be a fighter pilot.)  I watched Cronkite, or Huntley & Brinkley, every day back then with the eager hunger for news that comes from being a potential future enlistee or draftee for that war.

And my opinion is that this riff was an accurate observation, but nevertheless extremely misleading.

From the point of view of the North Vietnamese leaders, they were fighting a war against colonialism; with considerable factual basis, they viewed their nominally democratic counterparts in South Vietnam as token lackeys of Americans-as-successors-to-the-French imperialists.  The "other superpower(s)" of the world (the USSR and China) facilitated the North Vietnamese's and Viet Cong's armed struggle.  By contrast, by no stretch of the imagination did the Ba'athist regime of Saddam in Iraq represent a puppet government of foreign imperialists, and there is no "superpower" facilitating the efforts of the "insurgents" in Iraq today.  (There are, however, national "powers" that are doing so, including most notably Syria and Iran; but their lack of superpower parity with the US sharply limits how much they can do to facilitate the terrorists now fighting in Iraq or elsewhere.)

Notwithstanding these huge differences in the two conflicts' origins and participants, however, it is true that the United States was engaged in something that may be generally labeled as "nation-building" in both South Vietnam then and Iraq now.  Regarding the success or failure of our efforts, there was spin going on then (and counterspin), and there's spin going on now (and counterspin). 

And spin apart, there was also genuine substance with real successes in our efforts then and now.  So of course there will be similar reports of those successes.  Likewise, there will be failures, and reports thereof (just as there were in post-WWII Germany and Japan).

I am not one of those who believes "our cause" in Vietnam was wrong, although I have plenty of strong opinions on how we mucked things up then.  And I definitely am not one of those who believes 'our cause" in Iraq is wrong, but I am certainly willing to entertain constructive criticism of what we're doing and how we're going about things now in Iraq.  (This puts me in the same camp as, say, Donald Rumsfeld, whose recent leaked memo was essentially a solicitation for constructive criticism of those efforts.) 

But even if I thought "our cause" was a wrong-headed or inevitably losing one in Vietnam, I wouldn't conclude from the similarity of news reports in the two places that some valid parallel could be drawn to "prove" the wrong-headedness or inevitably-losing nature of our efforts now in Iraq.  You simply can't draw that broad a conclusion from superficial similarities.

Posted by Beldar at 06:12 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) LazyMF made the following comment | Nov 16, 2003 6:58:35 PM | Permalink

Have to agree with you here.

I think Ho Chi Minh was fighting a revolutionary war against any and all comers (Japanese, French, US, corrput Catholic southern regimes). He also played the USSR and China against each other brilliantly when it served his best interests.

I think what is going on in Irag is more analogous to the Korean war. You have a native popoulation (Baathists, Some Shiites, reactionary numnuts) fighting the other legitimate native population (Kurds, other Shiites, Christians, rational Sunnis). This is similar to the communist Koreans vs. the republican Koreans.

Then you also have other powers fighting their wars and using the country as the battlefield (US vs. China - domino theory/Cold War). In Iraq you have foreign terrorists and possible Iranian agitators fighting a holy war against the US and our allies).

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