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8/23/2007
IRAQ IS NOT LIKE VIET NAM EXCEPT WHEN IT IS

Perhaps it is too much to ask that President Bush just once try to be a little more realistic about what is going on in Iraq and the prospects for that nation becoming what he has defined as “free.” But if he was ever going to soberly address the enormous problems facing the Iraqi people and government - problems that must be addressed before we can claim any kind of “triumph” - he might not have been able to find a friendlier, more receptive audience than yesterday at the VFW Convention in Kansas City.

Bush delivered a well written speech to the supportive group of vets, touching all the familiar bases about 9/11, al-Qaeda, and the need for supporting General Petreaus and our military. But the closest he came to acknowledging the extraordinary challenges facing the Iraqi government was here:

A free Iraq is not going to be perfect. A free Iraq will not make decisions as quickly as the country did under the dictatorship. Many are frustrated by the pace of progress in Baghdad, and I can understand this. As I noted yesterday, the Iraqi government is distributing oil revenues across its provinces despite not having an oil revenue law on its books, that the parliament has passed about 60 pieces of legislation.

Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him. And it’s not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position — that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship. (Applause.) A free Iraq is not going to transform the Middle East overnight. But a free Iraq will be a massive defeat for al Qaeda, it will be an example that provides hope for millions throughout the Middle East, it will be a friend of the United States, and it’s going to be an important ally in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.)

There is no “pace of progress” with regards to political reconciliation in Iraq. There is, quite simply, no progress at all. And it might be an arguable point that Iraq is, in any sense of the word, a democracy - not when 15% of the population is frozen out of power sharing and hunted down like animals to be slaughtered.

That latter point is the direct result of Mr. Maliki’s inability (or unwillingness) to do anything about the Shia death squads inhabiting the Interior Ministry of his own government as well as their enablers on the Iraqi police force and in the army. The symbiotic relationship between Mr. Maliki’s government and the thugs, militia men, and criminal gangs that make life in the Capitol and elsewhere a living hell for ordinary Iraqis (while giving him the support he needs to maintain his position) will never be addressed as long as the President of the United States keeps his mouth shut about them.

Not a word in the President’s speech about the British withdrawal from the south which has already precipitated a civil war within a civil war between rival militias for control of that vital area. The hand of Iran is most prominent here and there is little doubt that the mullahs will try their best to back the winner in this conflict thus giving them effective control of nearly one third of the country.

And what of our friends, the Kurds? They recently threw in their lot with the Shias by signing a power sharing agreement that froze the Sunnis out of effective representation in Baghdad. Hailed by Maliki as a triumph, the agreement is a recipe for disaster in that it gives the Sunni insurgents a reason to fight on.

I could go on with the familiar litany of catastrophes waiting to happen, missed opportunities, “beat the heat” vacations by the parliament (which never has a quorum to pass anything anyway), the inexhaustible supply of insurgents and their sympathizers - numbered in the hundreds of thousands by our own military - and the hopelessness of most ordinary Iraqis about the security situation.

Does all of this overshadow the genuine progress being made against al-Qaeda as well as some encouraging news about some of the Sunni tribes switching sides? I think any rational, fair minded person who doesn’t have a partisan agenda would have to agree that despite the relative success of the surge to date, the daunting task to make Iraq “free” and achieve any kind of “victory” remains a pipe dream.

The most controversial part of the President’s speech came when he warned against a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq leading to another “Viet Nam” aftermath. Here, the President is on firmer ground - except if you’re a reporter for the New York Times:

In urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Mr. Bush is challenging the historical memory that the pullout from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies.

The speech was the beginning of an intense White House initiative to shape the debate on Capitol Hill in September, when the president’s troop buildup will undergo a re-evaluation. It came amid rising concerns in Washington over the performance of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, who has made little progress toward bridging the sectarian divide in his country.

I had to read that amazing passage about our pullout from Viet Nam having “few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies” several times before I could believe it. Is the Times actually trying to argue that there were no “negative repercussions” for Thailand or Cambodia, both of them close US allies at the time? And the fact that the collective security group, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, was destroyed by our pullout from Viet Nam didn’t have repercussions for the United States itself? Or that our pull out didn’t damage our ability to deter the Russians?

Our mad rush out of Viet Nam certainly emboldened the Soviet Union to meddle in Africa by using their flunkie Castro as a proxy in Angola as well as giving direct aid to groups like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the El Salvador rebels. To say that our pull out didn’t have negative repercussions for the US or many of our allies is insane.

The President spelled out what some of those “negative repercussions” were:

The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.

[snip]

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”

I think the New York Times, as most on the left in this country, have failed to come to grips with their abandonment of Southeast Asia to the communists. They have washed their hands of the bloodbath that followed, saying it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone in militarily in the first place. That is pure sophistry. The aftermath of Viet Nam - like the aftermath that will occur in Iraq - would have been manageable if we hadn’t pulled out so precipitously and completely. If we had made it clear to the North that bombing would have resumed the moment they reneged on the treaty and if we had kept a substantial residual force in Viet Nam with the promise that our troops would return if they broke the peace agreement, I doubt very much that Saigon would have fallen.

Now this position was not politically viable at the time. Ford was hamstrung by Congress in protecting the South from the North’s cynical refusal to abide by the Paris accords. The result was catastrophe.

Can we avoid a similar fate in Iraq? No one knows. But this quote from an unarmed official commenting on a much more pessimistic report than the President gave to the vets, highlighting the dire situation we face over the next 9-12 months seems to sum it up for both Democrats and Republicans alike:

The new report also concludes that the American military has had success in recent months in tamping down sectarian violence in the country, according to officials who have read it.

The report, which was intended to help anticipate events over the next 6 to 12 months, is “more dire in its assessments” than the administration has been in its own internal discussions, according to one senior official who has read it. But the report also warns, as Mr. Bush did on Wednesday, that an early withdrawal would lead to more chaos.

“It doesn’t take a policy position,” one official said. “But it leaves you with the sense that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, but we can’t let up, or it’ll get worse.”

If that doesn’t sober up both supporters of the war and those who wish a quick exit from Iraq, then nothing will.

By: Rick Moran at 8:09 am
21 Responses to “IRAQ IS NOT LIKE VIET NAM EXCEPT WHEN IT IS”
  1. 1
    gregdn Said:
    8:22 am 

    Sorry but I refuse to ‘blame America’ for the Cambodian genocide anymore than I would blame us for Sunni vs Shia violence if we left Iraq.
    Certainly the Cambodians and Iraqis can take some responsibilty for affairs in their own countries, huh?

  2. 2
    Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator Trackbacked With:
    8:26 am 

    Bush acknowledges frustration in Iraq

    President Bush acknowledged frustration with the troubled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Mali…

  3. 3
    Cernig Said:
    8:50 am 

    Rick, it took four years to withdraw U.S. troops completely from Vietnam. Is that your definition of withdrawing “precipitously”?

    I’m starting to think you’ve got two people writing one blog post here. The first half says Iraq is lost and the second says it’s not lost while the U.S. stays. Make your minds up.

    Regards, C

  4. 4
    Rick Moran Said:
    9:01 am 

    “Rick, it took four years to withdraw U.S. troops completely from Vietnam. Is that your definition of withdrawing “precipitously”?”

    The last 150,000 were brought out in 6 months. That is precipitously, yes.

    And Iraq is “lost” in the sense we will never achieve the President’s goals that even today he keeps insisting on trying to get.

    But as a disaster for US interests, there is still a good chance to avoid that calamity. The two issues are separate. The political calculation that the war is “lost” by the press, the left, and much of the world makes any notion of “victory” ridiculous. But creating conditions in Iraq that would keep the lid on the worst of the downside to our withdrawal is still achievable - which btw is basically what Cordesman, O’Hanlon, and Pollack were all saying after their trip to Iraq.

  5. 5
    Juan Paxety Said:
    9:24 am 

    I wonder if democratic government is even possible in a country where people regard their tribes as more important than a national government.

  6. 6
    Cernig Said:
    9:28 am 

    Rick,

    “creating conditions in Iraq that would keep the lid on the worst of the downside to our withdrawal is still achievable .”

    Like what? Be specific. If it doesn’t include political reconcilliation measures that are believable, a way to make Turkey happy-ish and workable reconstruction plans it doesn’t mean squat.

    The last 150,000 out in six months? I dispute that. The count at 1t Dec 1971 was 184,000 with another 45,000 leaving in Feb 72. These figures were a fraction of the peak of 549,500 US servicemen at 20th Jan 69.

    And while I’m here - did no-one in the “Defeatocrats lost us Vietnam” camp ever notice that there was exactly one presidential candidate who campaigned on the “out of Vietnam” ticket and was elected? What was his name again…Nixon? His successor signed the withdrawal bill. Who were Ford’s SecDef and Chief of Staff again?

    Regards, C

  7. 7
    Rodney A Stanton Said:
    10:55 am 

    For 3.5 years GWB and Karl told us over and over there’s *absolutely* no connection nor similarity between Nam and Iraq! And now the man I voted for flip flops and says they are almost the same thing!@#%@!*!
    I feel betrayed; - and a sucker for believing Karl’s lies.

    What ever happened to honest Republicans who said what they meant and meant what they said? No wonder we were crushed in 06 and will see the Dems win again in 08!

  8. 8
    V the K Said:
    11:04 am 

    Caller on the Laura Ingraham Show just made an excellent point.

    The surge in Iraq must be working, because the Democrats are now using the formulation “We are making progress in Iraq.” (e.g. Hillary “We’ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it’s working.”)

    When things weren’t going well, it was always “The Bush Administration was losing in Iraq. The Bush Administration failed policies were responsible for Iraq.”

    What’s this “we” kemosabe? You guys voted to surrender.

  9. 9
    Donklephant » Blog Archive » Is Iraq Freedom A Reality? Pinged With:
    12:38 pm 

    [...] I’ve often said not if we’re involved, and Rick Moran offers some additional insight in response to Bush’s speech yesterday… Not a word in the President’s speech about the British withdrawal from the south which has already precipitated a civil war within a civil war between rival militias for control of that vital area. The hand of Iran is most prominent here and there is little doubt that the mullahs will try their best to back the winner in this conflict thus giving them effective control of nearly one third of the country. [...]

  10. 10
    busboy33 Said:
    12:58 pm 

    @Rick:

    “The last 150,000 were brought out in 6 months. That is precipitously, yes.”

    I just moved across country — moving all the boxes from my apartment took 3 days. The last box took five minutes. Closing the door on my old apartment took less than five seconds. When people ask me how long it took to move, I don’t use the five seconds mark, or the five minute mark . . . I use the three day mark.

  11. 11
    gregdn Said:
    1:45 pm 

    V: One of the reasons the Surge appears to be working is that we’re bypassing the national government and negotiating dirctly with tribes and local militias.
    While this may engender success in the short term, what effect does it have on our stated goal of standing up a strong national goverment?

  12. 12
    Tano Said:
    3:36 pm 

    “The aftermath of Viet Nam – like the aftermath that will occur in Iraq – would have been manageable if we hadn’t pulled out so precipitously and completely. If we had made it clear to the North that bombing would have resumed the moment they reneged on the treaty and if we had kept a substantial residual force in Viet Nam with the promise that our troops would return if they broke the peace agreement, I doubt very much that Saigon would have fallen.”

    Sorry John, but this is just insane.

    You deserve much credit for trying to analyze the situation in Iraq in a clear-headed manner, something so rare amongst your fellow nuthouse inmates.

    But you seem utterly unwilling to face the reality of Vietnam.

    Whereas we saw the Vietnam war as a proxy war in the greater cold war with the Soviets, the actual people fighting us in Vietnam saw the war as the last chapter in their decades-long war of independence from foreign colonialism.

    Just like we Americans would have done if it had been our country, the Vietnamese would not have stopped fighting until we left.

    Most Americans began to understand this in the late sixties. Even as early as ‘68, Nixon ran on a platform of ending the war - having abandonded the fantasy of “winning” anything. Although he wasted tens of thousands of American lives, and well more than a million Vietnamese lives in an effort to withdraw “with honor”, the underlying decision, by the government and the people, that the war had been a mistake had long been made.

    Most combat troops were out by the end of ‘72, when the war was effectivly over for us.

    American culpability in the Cambodian killing fields can only be sustained by reference to the overthrowing of the traditional government by the CIA, and its replacement with a puppet military dictatorship - sparking a civil war that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Yes, the Times is right - it was our involvement in SE Asia that led to these tragedies, not our withdrawl.

    What madness is it that proposes that we would have maintained half a million troops in Vietnam, for another 5 years - and then what? Used them to invade Cambodia to stop the KR?

    In the end it was the Vietnamese that invaded Cambodia and stopped the killing fields, while the US, under Ford, Carter and Reagan continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge government.

    I imagine that the insights you have arrived at regarding Iraq should lead you to understand, on a deep level, how utterly dishonest and manipulative of real-world evidence so many of your colleagues on the right really are. This nonsense revisionism of the Vietnam era is part and parcel of their propaganda. The truth of the matter means nothing to them - these are fantastic arguments put forth for no other reason than to try to leverage some advantage in the arguments of today.

    I would advise some careful, dispassionate research and hard thought before repeating the nonsense that the right is putting out.

  13. 13
    Rick Moran Said:
    6:59 pm 

    Tano:

    I don’t dispute your main point - that the north would have fought until reunification.

    But could a political settlement eventually been achieved? Not in the context of what actually happened but with the clear understanding that the South’s legitimate concerns be taken into account.

    Remember, Ho was dead. The chances for reconciliation with the South would have improved over time.

    So you are correct in your assessment but I still think we left the South in the lurch and that a little more staying power on our side may have pushed the two sides together politically.

    Pipe dream, you say? We’ll never know.

  14. 14
    db Said:
    8:09 pm 

    It’s great to read quality writing and honest analysis, even when you disagree with the conclusions of the author. I’ll have to stop by the nuthouse more often…

  15. 15
    Callimachus Said:
    8:16 pm 

    Tano’s comment addressed “Vietnam” and elides the reality of “South Vietnam,” which, when we left it to stand on its own, was a coherent nation with a capable, if not spectacular, military force and without significant insurrection. It was culturally, economically, and politically distinct from North Vietnam and unified in a way Iraq never has been. It was as real a nation as South Korea or West Germany. The South Vietnamese were not “fighting to get us out” in any significant degree after about 1968.

    It was not so much the withdrawal of our troops that brought down South Vietnam and involved us in the guilt for what happened to people there afterward, so much as our failure to help protect that client country once the North attacked again in force. Popular revulsion at the war, expressed through congressional resolutions, had a lot to do with that, as did the weakness of the Ford Administration in the wake of Nixon’s crimes in the Watergate affair.

    The Vietnam War was one campaign in the Cold War. To say without reservation it was a mistake (for the U.S.) to even attempt it it seems to me you would have to replay history without it — let the communists overrun the whole of Vietnam unopposed in 1954 or so and see what the consequences were for Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore — and discover there was a better outcome to the Cold War.

    It is right to speak of culpability for the Cambodian killings and look beyond the borders of Cambodia, but it is curious to do so and ignore the communist governments that chose to make Cambodia a base for their war-making.

    Frankly, though, the entire political calculus of the Cold War was so morally warped by the death-struggle of the superpowers that I would not care to apply it to any decisions we can make now, freed of that ugly weight. And arguments based on historical comparisons typically are good for more heat than light.

  16. 16
    Jeff Said:
    10:37 am 

    “I had to read that amazing passage about our pullout from Viet Nam having “few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies” several times before I could believe it. Is the Times actually trying to argue that there were no “negative repercussions” for Thailand or Cambodia, both of them close US allies at the time?”

    This is a perplexing statement. You said you read that passage several times, but it seems it didn’t do any good. No, Mr. Moran, the NY Times said the U.S. pullout had “few negative repercussions”; they did not say there were “no” negative repercussions.

    “To say that our pull out didn’t have negative repercussions for the US or many of our allies is insane.”

    What’s insane is to claim that “few” means “no.” If you had been accurate, the question you should have asked is “Is the NY Times actually arguing our pull out from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for Thailand and Cambodia.”

    Basically you took down your own straw man. Nice job.

  17. 17
    Rick Moran Said:
    10:44 am 

    Are you arguing that I didn’t list more than “a few?” Sophistry.

    And perhaps you have a point about “few repercussions” for Thailand and Cambodia. But even the Times can’t be as obtuse as they seem to be when calling genocide on a scale committed by Pol Pot a “few repercussions.”

  18. 18
    dan Said:
    11:01 am 

    I personally don’t care what happens to the Iraqi people if and when we finally withdraw. I feel sorry for them no doubt. But I’ve felt sorry for them ever since we invaded their country and ruined their lives. What we’ve allowed to happen to them is disgusting and shameful. What will happen when we leave will no doubt also be disgusting and shameful.

    Nonetheless, I want our troops out of harm’s way. I see no reason whatsoever to have our troops getting killed indefinitely when there is no hope of the Iraqis resolving their numerous and unending issues. I support the troops, not the Iraqis. I’m sure you Rightwingers are shocked and awed that a liberal supports the troops since all your talking points say otherwise. Nonetheless, us lefties actually support the troops, with action not lip service. We want our troops out. Not because we’re soft. Because we’d prefer that they were attacking al-qaeda in Pakistan (you know that Osama guy W has forgotten about except when quoting him in speeches). Iraq has never had anything to do with al-qaeda and never will. Iraqis will destroy any al-qaeda remnants as soon as we leave. You think the sunnis and shiites are killing each other in preparation for letting al-qaeda take over Iraq?

    I’m curious how righties can continue to support W now that he’s labelling Iraq the New Vietnam. It’s gotta be tough carrying water these days in the face of this most recent and pathetic PR campaign. The only comparisons to Vietnam that should apply to Iraq are: 1. We should’ve never been there in first place. 2. We should have never stayed as long as we did.

    In closing, I’d like to ask why anyone should believe what W is telling us about what would happen if we were to leave Iraq? He hasn’t been right about a single thing other than the fact that it would “be hard work” when it comes to Iraq. Why should we believe him when he says that Iraq would turn out like Vietnam? He wasn’t anywhere near Vietnam. He has no military expertise that we know of. Why do people still act like he knows what he’s talking about?

  19. 19
    JB Said:
    1:02 pm 

    Great site. A few comments…

    Juan Paxety:
    “I wonder if democratic government is even possible in a country where people regard their tribes as more important than a national government.”

    If you live in America, you live under a deomcratic government in a country where people once regarded their States as more important than a national government. So… yes.

    Dan:
    “Why should we believe him when he says that Iraq would turn out like Vietnam?”

    It’s not a matter of believing George Bush. It’s a matter of using your brain and observing history repeat itself. Bush is merely pointing out what we can see for ourselves quite clearly.

    Rodney A Stanton:
    “I feel betrayed and a sucker for Karl’s lies.”

    What lies? First of all, you’re generalizing all of the comments made my Bush and Rove over the past 5 years into two wildly simplistic assessments - He says it’s like Vietnam, he says it isn’t. There isn’t enough space here to explain what’s wrong with that train of thought.

    Second, you’re judging those comments as fact when they are in fact opinion. You’re free to make up your very own opinion without needing to adopt those made by elected officials - even if you helped elect them.

  20. 20
    Callimachus Said:
    3:52 pm 

    “In closing, I’d like to ask why anyone should believe what W is telling us about what would happen if we were to leave Iraq?”

    Sometimes something might be true without reference to what George W. Bush said about it. Sometimes it’s possible to arrive at an informed conclusion about something without knowing what the president said about it. It’s curious (or not) that you presume we “right wingers” see reality only in terms of the pronouncements of the president, when, if you read the comments here, you seem more obsessed with his words than anyone else who has weighed in on them.

  21. 21
    irish19 Said:
    4:23 pm 

    As long as Vietnam is being brought up, try this on for size. Had Truman not supported deGaulle’s claim that Indochina should again be a French colony following WWII, the whole sorry mess never happens.

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