Let Iraq Be Iraq

by on April 20th, 2004

Iraq is Vietnam. Iraq isn’t Vietnam. Iraq might be Vietnam. Well? The clock’s ticking. Which is it?

Every time America gets itself into any armed conflict of any type, whether it be Somalia, Panama, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Iraq (I) or Iraq (II), inevitably some wag in the press has to trot out the old canard, (hushed tones, please) “is this another Vietnam?”

Is his objective historical research? Careful debate about American foreign policy? Deep review of cultural differences?

More likely, his objective is to sell more magazines, get more viewers, please more voters, or get more website hits to keep the sponsors happy. This is not by any means an intellectual pursuit.

Vietnam is clearly a deep and still tender scar on the American psyche, and one that will take decades to heal. If you doubt me, note that there are still people in the United States who have strong feelings about the American Civil War — and that was nearly 140 years ago. But why is it our only point of reference?

A very few radical souls dared, at the beginning of our onslought towards Kabul, to compare what lay ahead of us to the Soviets’ experience in Afghanistan. That proved to be an ill-chosen rhetorical avenue, but at least it was at least to some extent comparing apples to apples. You never (or incredibly rarely, anyway) hear people comparing Iraq to the British Empire’s experience in the Middle East. When was the last time you heard someone liken Iraq to the British occupation of the American colonies? To say nothing of other relatively more recent American military excursions abroad — Grenada, Panama, Iraq (I), or Nicaragua. Could it be that these were too successful?

Vietnam lasted at least (counting from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) 11 years, cost 58,000+ American lives, and crossed three presidential administrations. Vietnam was, at least at its inception, about communism. Vietnam was about fighting a jungle insurgency largely financed by the Soviet Union. How is this even remotely like what is going on in the so-called Sunni Triangle today? Even if it might be a valid comparison someday, how can any reasonable thinker make such a judgement barely 12 months into the engagement?

Iraq is not Vietnam, any more than it’s the Battle of Hastings or the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 or Agincourt or Bosworth Field, Lexington, Iwo Jima, Grenada, Normandy, Ethiopia, the War of the Roses, or the Falklands.

It’s what it is and nothing more. Say what you will about anyone who might even be tangentially involved with what’s going on between the former no-fly zones today.

But please, for everyone’s sake, leave South East Asia out of it.

Marc C. Johnson