There is a kind of received wisdom sweeping certain parts of the political class and the public. It can be expressed thus: Iraq is Vietnam. By that it is meant that America is in a quagmire for no or obscure reasons in a foreign land where it has no business being. Americans are being killed for no purpose, except perhaps to assuage the ego of an out of control, war happy President. Therefore it is time to get out. Withdraw, redeploy, advance in retrograde, whatever phrase allows one to sleep at night.
The problem is that Iraq is not Vietnam. Indeed, as modern scholarship is increasingly showing, Vietnam was not Vietnam. Not in the sense that the guardians of received wisdom would claim.
In A Better War by Lewis Sorley, Triumph Forsaken by Mike Moyar, and other books, scholars are starting to conclude that the image of Vietnam that was conveyed to the American people by the media is very wide of the reality. Despite the many mistakes made by political and military leaders, the Vietnam War was all but won by 1974. The Viet Cong had been crushed and the North Vietnamese Army was being pushed back.
Unfortunately the Presidency of Richard Nixon, the unappreciated architect of this state of affairs, was consumed by Watergate. The political genius, the master of foreign policy, the tenacious political street fighter, had fallen in disgrace as a result of a “fifth rate burglary.” (There was more to Watergate than that, of course. But absent the break in, Nixon would have completed his term in January, 1977.)
As a result of the fall of Nixon, the Republican Party was decimated in the 1974 mid term elections. The most radical left Congress in the history of America was swept into power. And it had an agenda. Part of that was bringing Vietnam to a conclusion on its terms. That meant that by early 1975, just as the armies of North Vietnam prepared to launch an offensive, Congress cut off all aid to the government of South Vietnam. Not one more bullet. Not one more gallon of gasoline.
Inevitably, an army bereft of supplies cannot stand against another that is well stocked. South Vietnam crumbled like an empty beer can. The last helicopter filled with American diplomats and panicked Vietnamese left the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon. General Giap’s panzers entered the city in triumph. The tragedy of the boat people refugees and the Cambodian holocaust had begun.
It was the greatest triumph of the American Left. It is celebrated even today as a victory of peace over war, of right over wrong. The unquiet ghosts of the millions uprooted from their ancestral homes, of the millions murdered, of the tens of millions put under the yoke of slavery, do not even enter into the consciousness of people who view things this way, not even-one suspects-in their darkest dreams.
Fast forward over thirty years. Look at what is unfolding in Iraq. Haven’t we seen this movie before? And didn’t it make us sick?
The war in Iraq, which is really just a front in the wider war on terror, is in its fourth year. It is said that Iraq is a quagmire for no or obscure reasons in a foreign land where it has no business being. Americans are being killed for no purpose, except perhaps to assuage the ego of an out of control, war happy President. Therefore it is time to get out. Withdraw, redeploy, advance in retrograde, whatever phrase allows one to sleep at night.
Of course there are differences. The toll in Iraq is just over three thousand American dead in three and a half years of fighting. That translates to about two months of Vietnam at its height. Indeed it translates to a day or two of the heaviest fighting in World War Two, a conflict waged against as remorseless and evil a foe as the current one.
Nor is the Left, albeit triumphant in the last mid term elections, quite ready to cross the Rubicon and vote to cut off funding. Despite the purple rhetoric rising from the floors of the House and Senate that has been barely heard since the era of George McGovern, the Left (at least most of the elected part) is not yet ready to risk the consequences of their position. That begs the question: If all is lost, then why not cut off funds, bug out, leave Iraq to its fate?
It is possible, just possible, that there are whispers of doubt sounding in the heads of these Senators and Congressmen, besotted as they are by anti Vietnam War nostalgia. Victory may be still possible, the whisper might be suggesting.
Certainly George W. Bush, President of the United States and commander in chief, seems to think so. In a strategic move that many say constitutes the last throw in the great game in Iraq, he is sending over twenty thousand extra troops to Iraq to deal with the terrorists once and for all. The restrictive rules of engagement that have hampered our fight against the terrorists are being rescinded. A new General is being sent to command the effort.
Naturally, many people on the Left, who hitherto had urged that more troops be sent to Iraq, are now against sending new troops to Iraq. Because President Bush now proposes to do it.
Silvestre Reyes, the new chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is a case in point. In an interview with Newsweek on December 5th, 2006, Reyes proposed an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 troops in Iraq to deal with the sectarian militias once and for all. Yet, the moment that President Bush announced that he was doing just that, Reyes told the El Paso Times that such a troop build up is “unthinkable.”
Reyes was the Congressman who thought Al Qaeda was primarily a Shiite Muslim organization. It is, in fact, Sunni Muslim.
Another bit of received wisdom has crept into the media. The “Surge” as the reinforcement of troops is being called will not work. It is too little too late.
But a couple of events, reported by blogger Ed Morrisey, would seem to indicate that there is every chance that the “Surge”: can succeed. First, it appears that Al Qaeda is bugging out of Baghdad. The Iraqi leadership of Al Qaeda, remembering the thrashing they received in Fallujah, has concluded that their fighters cannot stand up to American troops in urban combat.
Second, it appears that the Iraqi Government has finally gotten serious about dealing with the sectarian militias, especially the Mahdi Army under radical cleric Al Sadr. The leadership of the Mahdi Army is being quietly rounded up. As Morrisey reports:
“The change has had an effect on the streets of Baghdad. Where the militias operated openly as late as October, most of the militia members have faded out of sight. Checkpoints run by the Mahdis have disappeared, and weapons no longer get flashed on the street. The luckier ones now try to get passports to get out of Baghdad and Iraq altogether, and the poorer fighters have worked to stay out of the way. Most impressively, all of this has happened while hundreds of Mahdis sit in jails; normally, that would start street fighting and massive protests, but the Mahdis have suddenly discovered discretion.”
So the left wing critics of the Iraq War may be in a bind. What if we succeed in Iraq? Where does that leave them? It leaves the United States in pretty good shape, of course, but that won’t matter to some people if it leaves the Left (once again) discredited.
But the left wing critics of the Iraq War need to ask themselves the following question. What if we fail? What are the consequences? The answer would very likely be paid for in unimaginable blood and treasure for decades to come.