Friday, June 24, 2005

Iraq the new Vietnam?

Eric linked to an interesting blog post last week which drew 15 comparisons between the Iraq war and the Vietnam war. It's an interesting, albeit not entirely original, idea and a well thought out analysis that is worth the read if you haven't already done so. (Yes, I'm a little behind the times, I know.)

Certainly the lack of planning in both cases is the most compelling issue at hand. Perhaps a closer look into how we lost the battle for hearts in minds in Vietnam would provide valuable lessons in the present situation. Perhaps analyzing the pitfalls of fighting a new type of war with outdated tactics in Vietnam would help to alleviate similar problems in the deserts of Mesopotamia in the present day. Or perhaps the U.S. government could learn a valuable lesson about preparing the public for a long road ahead instead of consistently painting a rosy picture of a troubling situation. Indeed the similarities are striking. However, there were some specific and general flaws that I would like to tackle here.

When Vietnam started going badly, desperation led to expansion of the war into Cambodia and Laos. Frustration is also leading some to call for military action in Iran and Syria.
Frustration with the direction of the war is not the catalyst for calls for military action in Iran and Syria. There is little doubt that foreign forces are entering through Syria and Iran, are being supplied by Iranians and Syrians (if not those respective governments) and are successfully recruiting in those countries. Furthermore, the idea of taking action against either Assad's government or the Mullahs of Iran has not been seriously (or at least publicly) discussed. Yet. If the U.S. military does eventually engage with the enemy in Syria, Iran or elsewhere in the mid-east, frustration will certainly not be the cause.

As the casualties increased year after year in Vietnam, defenders of the war protested that pulling out would "dishonor the sacrifice" of those troops who had already died. We're now beginning to hear that withdrawing from Iraq too early would mean those who have died would have done so in vain. Both wars have given rise to a perverse logic by which death is only valid and honorable if it's followed by more death.
Baloney. The aim of continuing a war is not to create more death but to achieve victory. In this case that means bringing peace to Iraq, flushing out and eliminating the terrorists in country, establishing a working and effective government and military for and by the people of Iraq while providing a haven for democracy and freedom in an area of the world heretofore devoid of such basic rights. It would be a dishonor to those who died for these causes to disengage before achieving them, especially since our war aims remain within reach. To agree with the sentiments of the author on this point one must be convinced that this war is already lost, a point which I am far from willing to concede.

The tragedy of any war is the toll it takes on innocent civilians. Two remarkably similar pictures capture this perfectly: this one from Vietnam , and this one from Iraq. Apologists for these sorts of tragedies are fond of repeating the mantra that "these things happen during war." Indeed they do. And precisely because they do, war should always be a last resort---because when it's not, the inevitable outrages and tragedies cause the aggressor to lose the moral high ground. We didn't hear much about human rights violations American troops may have committed in Japan or Germany during World War II, did we? All wars are not the same; when in doubt, see Pyrrhus. Or Abu Ghraib.
I am not sure if the author is implying that American Troops did not commit human rights violations in WWII. I would be absolutely shocked if there were not similar--and worse--occurrences during that war compared to what has happened over the past two years. Furthermore, were there not enormous tolls taken on civilians all over the world during WWII? Did the U.S. not lock up thousands of Japanese Americans during that war? Finally, is the author saying the atrocities in Abu Ghraib prove that all wars are not the same? Do prisoner abuse reports determine the righteousness of the larger cause? I'm not sure what he means here, but I am positive he's wrong.

Specific issues aside, my main problem with the author is his apparent contention that if two situations have several parallels (no matter how stretched) then they surely will meet the same fate. Any war historian worth his salt can take two wars at random and create 15 reasons why the two incidents are similar. Obviously many of the reasons on this list are compelling. Methinks this is as much a product of the unique times and situations of the respective wars as the contended mishandling of the operations. The Vietnam war was the first war broadcast into the homes of the American public. No longer did soldiers alone bear the brunt of the awful scenes and memories of battle. In Iraq, the 24-hour a day media is able to capture the images of every bombing, every shooting and every personal tragedy for anyone and everyone to witness around the world. It is impossible for the public to consume these things for an extended time and not have their stomachs turn eventually. "Shock and Awe" was cool; live video of bloodied Iraqi mothers crying over their dead children is not. My critics will argue that such public broadcasts are beneficial in that support for a war without knowledge of what happens in war is blind faith. That is a fair point, but the fact that "all wars are awful" does not translate to "no wars are worth fighting."

The media, military technology and telecommunications all contributed to the speeding up of the Vietnam War (and now the Iraq War) in comparison to earlier conflicts. Major decisions are made and implemented at the drop of a hat, information can travel between allies (and among spies) faster than ever, and there is very little that is not exposed to the public and the enemy concerning the daily operations of the military and state department. As in Vietnam, we are fighting an enemy that cannot withstand a battle against us in traditional warfare. Instead they use their mobility and ruthlessness to their advantage. The face to face fighting of, say, WWII was replaced by jungle ambushes in Vietnam and IEDs in Iraq.

In short, the "Cunning Realist" does a fair job of analyzing the connections between Iraq and Vietnam. His premise, unfortunately, is to compare two recent wars the U.S. has failed in. Not only is this a false premise on its face, but it misses some of the deeper connections between the two. Connections more indicative of the times in which we live than anything else.

UPDATE: Check out this op-ed from Brendan Miniter in the Wall Street Journal's online edition.



Blogger Drew Brohammer said...

hahaha....deserts of're KILLING me over here, dude. RUEBEN!...MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You gotta call me on this one...we have much to discuss

--Richard Nixon

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got a snake man!

5:57 PM  

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