Thursday, September 08, 2005

Iraq Like Vietnam? Yes and No

Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann, who spent many years as a Vietnam War correspondent in Asia says here that while the Iraq war has some valid parallels with Vietnam, “they just aren't the ones the critics cite.” What are the similarities?

  1. The American people by and large retain their common sense about the war while the elites call for us to cut and run. Kann notes that while the media focuses ever more intently on the noticeably increased anti-war rhetoric, “it is far from clear that antiwar sentiment actually has been spreading,” as 60% of Americans still support the war.

  2. The antiwar crowd aims to weaken the resolve of the American people even as we experience increasing success toward achieving our goals. For example, while the elite successfully painted the Tet Offensive in Vietnam as a stunning defeat for the U.S. and the South Vietnamese, historians now know that the opposite is true – the North Vietnamese forces were crushed. Kann admits to being duped into believing the propaganda of communist success at the time. Likewise, the obsessive attention paid to the steady deaths of two or three soldiers daily in Iraq while ignoring the tremendous successes we are enjoying there aims to pull the same magician’s trick today. The elites want us to focus on the bug on the tree instead of the tree itself and thus assume that the whole tree is a mass of bugs. We did not lose the Vietnam War on the battlefield, we lost it at home on the political front. The elite want us to repeat that grave error.

  3. Just as Vietnam wasn’t only about Vietnam but the future of the entire region, Iraq isn’t simply about Iraq but is about the future of the entire Middle East.
Kann suggests that we need to take the long view and envision what we aim to achieve over the space of several decades in the Middle East as the result of our efforts in Iraq today. He does this by painting a picture of what has happened in Asia.

With 30 years of hindsight, it seems unarguable that Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War turned out very well, above all for Asians, but also for the U.S. The dominos we once worried would collapse not only held, but have since held out the promise of free people and free markets to the rest of the Third World. From Korea and Taiwan down through the whole arc of Southeast Asia, the political and economic systems we advocated have triumphed. This transformation did not take place despite the Vietnam War but because of it. It happened precisely because America, for all the pain of those war years, had the patience and persistence to buy the time the rest of Asia needed to change. In that sense, while we lost the battle for Vietnam, we won the wider war for the future of Asia.
Kann’s final words are a call to persistence:
Whatever the hopes for larger transformative events across the region, they clearly depend on America. At the very least, we need to buy time. Alternatively, to lose heart and retreat--after less than two years and with fewer than 2,000 casualties--almost surely means losing not just the battle but also the war, a far worse outcome than those who cite Vietnam similarities can seem to comprehend.
I believe that much of the incongruence between the popular American and the elitist views on Iraq can adequately be understood by their respective views of American Exceptionalism (careful, this link feigns objectivity, but ends up painting a very dark view of this concept).

Like most Americans, I believe that the U.S. is a special place with special privileges and responsibilities. See this interesting Yale University article by Keith Urbahn that aptly describes my feelings. No, it’s more than feelings – it’s something that burns within me. I’m not blind to America’s “imperfect[ions] and its history replete with undignified moments,” but I “recognize that there is something truly remarkable about our country and its values.”

Elitists, on the other hand, spit the term American Exceptionalism off their tongues like swear words. To them it means “violence, brutality, hatred, cruelty” and extreme conceit. While they accuse patriotic people of ignoring our country’s problems and messy history, they focus almost wholly on these faults while ignoring the bigger picture and the values to which our country aspires (though we sometimes fail miserably). These critics have nothing better to offer. In fact, they really have nothing worthwhile to offer at all.

I agree with Keith Urbahn. “The flames of oppression, poverty and hopelessness that generate terrorist groups and enemies can only be extinguished by the values Americans founded our society upon four centuries ago. Given the opportunity to adopt democratic and individualist ideals, a nation always will.”

If we have this clearly in mind we will succeed in the Middle East.


Anonymous said...

Who are these 'elitists' you talk about? Would you care to define that term? Are you suggesting that the leaders who got us into this war are down with the common people?

Being the grandson of a U.S. Senator, the son of a U.S. President, and a graduate of both Yale and Harvard Business School seems to fit the description of an 'elitist' if ever I heard one.

You may want to consider using a different rhetorical device.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Elitists are just that -- people who are too elite to understand or accept the average American. They are the same class of people that Marx and his associates rubbed shoulders with while privately calling the prolotariat class "stupid mules."

You obviously think President Bush qualifies as an elitist. However, I think the average American thinks he is one of them. It is not the amount of money or one has or the nature of one's genealogy that makes one an elitist. It is the way they think.