June 15, 2005

Iraq As Vietnam Redux?

B.D. isn't one of those who has bought into the 'Iraq as Vietnam' meme--but if you are looking for an honest, right-leaning New Yorker to make a strong argument that we are tragically repeating history--well, look no further.

Posted by Gregory at June 15, 2005 03:39 PM | TrackBack (3)

That was an excellent post.

One key difference between Iraq and Vietnam is the ethnic dimension.

Posted by: guy at June 15, 2005 10:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's another difference:
In Vietnam, we were supporting an elite, wealthy religious minority government. In Iraq, we're not.

Here's a similarity:
In Vietnam the left exaggerated the level of support our opponents had, exaggerated their military capabilities, and exaggerated stories of problems within our military.

In Iraq:

Posted by: exhelodrvr at June 15, 2005 11:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Another similarity, perhaps time will tell.

In Vietnam, Pham Xuan An, a South Vietnamese correspondent for Time magazine used his position to spy for the North Vietnamese. He played a key role in identifying targets for the Tet offensive.

It's not just the Iraqi Army that is targeted for infiltration.

Posted by: philomena at June 16, 2005 12:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh yea, he's cunning alright.

Posted by: Michael B at June 16, 2005 04:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I read the "Vietnam as Iraq" post Greg linked to and thought it was excellent. Well thought-out, historically accurate, and compelling. A good, worthwhile read.

Posted by: IntelSpook at June 16, 2005 05:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Spent 3 months in Fallujah with a platoon of infantry Marines. Heading back next week for another 3 months.

The post is typical of the Barnes&Noble analysis of the war so common in common in the blogosphere and the MSM.

It sounds really intelligent in Barnes & Noble in Herndon, Virginia, but the reallity on the streets of al Anbar shreds the psuedo-sophist writings to shreds.

Posted by: JD at June 16, 2005 05:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jeezus Greg

Just read the comments. The post was pretty much blown to hell. There is NO WAY one can compare the miltary capabilities of the Viet Cong to the Jihadis. Keep in mind also that these attacks are coming form a minority of a minority in Iraq. All they need to do is blow people up and grab headlines and they are suddenly military geniuses??

Steady on, old chap.

Best Regards

Posted by: Chuck Betz at June 16, 2005 05:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

“The Cunning Realist” (self-described as a late thirties New Yorker) doesn’t begin to understand the reasons for either the Vietnam War or the GWOT.

In his first list item, he simply trivializes the reasons for both. (And his other points can be similarly critiqued.)

The Vietnam War was fought to oppose Communist totalitarianism, which between 10 and 15 years earlier had successfully taken over all of eastern Europe, China, & North Korea. The Gulf of Tonkin “incident” was at most a minor wave on that tide of causality -- however much it may have been sensationalized for this or that political purpose.

Similarly, the Iraq war is being fought to oppose Islamic fascism, which is attempting to take over the Middle East, the Islamic world generally, and eventually the entire world. “Saddam’s WMD” and other such justifications are also merely single waves on this new tide.

People who cannot understand this point cannot understand this war.

Posted by: Tom Paine at June 16, 2005 01:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And in Saigon there was a main street 2 km. long... Exactly like in Baghdad. It's the same, the same, the same.

I'm a little surprised by your latest quotes, Gregory.

Posted by: e.r. at June 16, 2005 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Calling Iraq Vietnam - or calling one war another war - is intellectually lazy. No two wars is alike. Further, just because Vietnam was lost, it does not meant that it could not be won.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at June 16, 2005 07:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Please, please Minh-Duc, do not repeat the age-old canard that if only we had "stayed the course" we could have won in Vietnam. Everyone involved with the war -- even grand architect Robert McNamara -- admitted it was unwinnable and a mistake. You can't win a war of liberation when the people you are liberating hate you and want to kill you.

I thought Iraq would be different and that we would win, and I actually think we could have if we had performed even minimal planning and preparation. Now, we've lost too many hearts and minds. The best we can hope for is to get out with minimal carnage and minimal loss of face. But victory along the lines of Bush's aircraft carrier stunt is no longer a possibility, no matter how tough we get.

Posted by: richard at June 16, 2005 11:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


But we did win - the counter-insurgency part of it. By the 1971 the Communist insurgency ceased to exist. Everything after was conventional war of tank, artillery, and mass formation. Even that would have been won too if we went on offensive instead of fighting a defensive war. Nobody in the History of Warfare ever won fighting defenssively.

Of course, McNamara would say that Vietnam could not been won; he is not going to admit that he was incompetent and clueless (which he was); and he was responsible for loosing a war that should have been won. McNamara was the one who came up with the idiotic concept of "containment."

The Communists were free to attacked the South from the North, Lao, and Cambodia. When they lost the fight, they simply withdrew back into their sanctuary and we were not allowed to pursuit them. They rested, refitted, and attacked again. We gave our enemies the innitiative of where to fight and when to do it.

McNamara stupid strategy forced us to prepare to fight everywhere since we did not know where the enemy would choose to strike; and had no time to rest and refit since we did not know when they choose to strike. An additional effect is our force had to be everywhere, therefore thinly stretched. On the other hand, the Communist could concentrate their force at any point along the borders of three countries and strike when they were ready.

The correct strategy should have been to wrestle the innitiative from the enemies by taking the fight to them - fighting on their territory, not our. People who claim that the Vietnam War could not be won simply does not understand military strategy and history - and that includes Clueless McNamara.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at June 17, 2005 12:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem of foreign jihad infiltration of Iraqi security services is significant; see the examples
of Ahmed Ghandi, the Mosul barracks bomber; Hadi Mubarak Quahtani, the Al Quaim bomber: another Mohammed Quahtani, (yes of the same
family as the 20th hijackers; whose job was to
decapitate the Congress on 9/11) so that makes
the whole idea that they'l stop after we withdraw
from Iraq is silly. What's the solution, though, more
troops, that makes them more targets; We don't
have a database of every likely Saudi, Syrian or
Iranian jihadists; and we're not likely to. The retreat from Indochina, led to the prison camps
and the boat people on one hand, and the Cam
bodian holocaust on the other; it also led to the Soviet desire to over extend themselves into
Afghanistan, which opened the floodgates of future
jihadist, it emboldened the reactionary forces in
Iran, which reignited the embers of the Lebanese
Civil War; encouraged the Nicaraguan REvolution,
which had the paradoxical effect of reinforcing the
more ultramontane regimes in Central and South

Posted by: narciso at June 17, 2005 03:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg -- the original post is so much crapola. I'm shocked you'd even put it up.

Leaving aside the military dimensions, the political aspect of the two wars are NOT the same.

In 1991 George HW Bush encouraged the Shiites and Kurds to rise up against Saddam, but let him fly his helicopters to slaughter them and did not intervene. Estimates are that around 300,000 to 500,000 people were slaughtered by Saddam. Moreover, Saddam and people before him had ruled through the Sunni elite over the vast majority of Shias and Kurds (80%) as second class citizens, bringing racial, ethnic, and religious components into the struggle that did not exist in Vietnam.

However, the primary political aim of the North Vietnamese was unification under a "patriotic" command which would then theoretically rule the country in traditional Confucian consensus according to national and patriotic anti-colonialist principles. The vast majority of the South Vietnamese did not violently disagree with these high-minded principles (the actual practice was brutal and horrific and gave us massive refugee flows).

By contrast, EVERY Shia and Kurd either has a family member or friend who was killed by Saddam, often brutally. Some have vivid stories of witnessing "slicing machines" that Saddam used to slice people into bits, or feeding people into industrial shredders. The Baathists and Sunni tribal bandits want to bring that regime back, and the Shia and Kurds already know what that is like. They are willing to fight, perhaps even to the death, rather than be fed inevitably into slicing machines or shredders. This political resistance on a massive popular scale did not exist in Vietnam.

Next, the Jihadis coming in from Saudi or Syria are relatively few, and of course foreigners. They seek religious and ethnic rule over non-Arabs (Kurds who reject Salafism/Wahabbism) and by their views, apostates (the Shias). Al Qaeda has already labelled them infidels and urged jihadis to kill them. Their simply isn't going to be any political acceptance of this goal either; Kurds and Shias seem willing to fight, also to the death, against this enemy because the enemy is implacably opposed to their interests (free commerce for the Kurds; their own religious sect for the Shias).

IF the US were to leave tomorrow, absent Saudi coming in with modern weaponry, the Shias and Kurds would simply kill as many Sunnis as possible and settle the question. THAT is the political dimension we face which is so radically different from Vietnam it is laughable.

Vietnam is only understandable from McNamara's desire to avoid a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets and Chinese, and not have another Korea with a million Chinese soldiers pouring over the border. This explains his strictly limited war, half-measures, and constant "signaling" to achieve a political settlement. We face no such superpower threat in Iraq and thus no constraints on our actions. If we wanted to, for example, other than domestic political opinion there is no reason why we could not destroy by any means available Damascus, Riyadh, and Teheran. I'm not arguing for that, mind, just saying that if we wanted to we could and no one could stop us or would even really care (beyond the stupid rhetoric).

Posted by: Jim Rockford at June 19, 2005 09:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When discussing Vietnam you should not leave out the fact that the US Congress denied promised aid to the South. A bit hard to fight a convential war when your logistics and air support is gone.

Posted by: Davod at June 21, 2005 11:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PS. Which is exactly what the Dems will do to Iraq and Afghanistan if they get hold of the purse strings - first pull out then deny promised support.

Posted by: Davod at June 21, 2005 11:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

islamo-fascists? jihadis? problem bout you guys is that you judge people based on your biased values, standards and so-called knowledgeable assumptions. your premise is already wrong! use the correct language! you had no difficulty using the term mujahidin during the afghan war in the 80s when it suited you to be nice to us. now we are a bunch of jihadis. you say shia as if they are not muslim. but the next door shia neighbour you label as a muslim fundamentalist/ terrrorist/intl' pariah/false democracy state?
and I wonder why you guys do not mention the religion, sorry type of Islam 98% of Kurds adhere to?

Posted by: ginosz at June 23, 2005 12:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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