I was recently having lunch with a group of associates and started
talking about the parallels between Iraq and Viet Nam. I know that this
is nothing new to many of us, but I suddenly realized that the oldest
person at the table apart from me was 39. These folks have no memory of
what the Viet Nam years were like. (For the record, when my student
deferment was cancelled I was close to 26, which was the maximum age of
men being drafted. I was called for a physical, but then was told I
didn't need to show up). Bush also avoided service, but apparently did
not learn any of the following lessons (or is learning them now, the
1. You can't win the "hearts and minds" of the people by killing them.
Inevitably, the US ground forces are killing and imprisoning innocent
civilians. This is just the lack of discrimination between "friendlies"
and "hostiles" that helped turn the Vietnamese people (and the rest of
the world) against our efforts.
2. You can't defeat a determined guerilla resistance with conventional
forces unless you are willing to use overwhelming force. This kind of
force is relatively rare in Western culture (thank goodness). In WWII,
if a sniper fired on a German patrol from a French village, the Germans
might line up all the men in the village and shoot every other one. The
US edged toward this sort of brutality in Viet Nam when our forces
burned villages to the ground for this sort of resistance, but the
public reaction stopped this sort of activity (when it was revealed).
The Iraqi prison scandals have also provoked this sort of reaction. The
U.S. will never have enough troops on the ground, with the kind of
license to kill required to defeat the multi-level resistance we are
encountering in Iraq.
3. When you are losing, you have no friends. Even though our goals in
Viet Nam were global, at least on paper (prevent SE Asia from "going
Communist") almost none of our allies contributed anything in Viet Nam
(I seem to recall some effort by Australia; the Paris peace talks
failed). A variation of this is "You break it, you own it". Kerry may
have a better chance of re-engaging our allies and the UN in Iraq but it
seems like a long shot. Bush has been openly scornful of the
non-coalition allies, and punished them by withholding reconstruction
contracts. (Of course there is no real coalition--for example, the
Japanese troops - about 500 storng - have yet to fire a shot).
4. You can't stabilize a region politically with a puppet government. In
Viet Nam, the CIA overthrew the semi-populist Diem regime in 1965, I
think. The US backed "Presidents" that followed never were able to build
support or consensus among the populace (or even among other political
leaders). Bush has pronounced it his calling to bring freedom to Iraq,
but the people of Iraq are not going to accept our version of freedom
(which is not grounded in their religion, culture or history).
Well, I had to get it down, and I hope particularly that you
"youngsters" find it of some interest.
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