Fred Barnes has an absolutely frightening article about the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. But he’s not talking about the parallels on the ground in Iraq. He’s talking about the parallels on the political front in the U.S.
Barnes echoes what Richard Nixon says in his book, No More Vietnams (see my post here). The Vietnam War was essentially won. The U.S. had pulled all of its military personnel out of Vietnam, and South Vietnam was holding its own against the well-funded communist north—but only with significant aid from the U.S. But antiwar sentiment prevailed in Washington, and Congress slashed funding, leading directly to “a stunning and unnecessary defeat for America and for a free Vietnam.”
Indeed, that defeat resulted in untold volumes of death and human suffering. But somehow the fact that this was inflicted on residents of Indochina made it all OK for the antiwar crowd. This sentiment finds a parallel today. Lysis discusses this here saying, “Iraqi heroes fighting beside our troops count for nothing, their deaths not worth a moment’s outrage. At the same time [antiwar people] have spent years screaming about the vulgar prank pictures from Abu Grahib, or alleged toilet flushings at Guantanamo Bay.” Do Americans truly believe that having toppled Saddam, we are morally free to let the Iraqis fend for themselves against well funded terrorists?
Barnes says, “the lesson is clear: A war can be won on the ground overseas and lost in Washington.” Barnes then details the chain of small events that he says may constitute the beginning of a ground swell that culminates in another unnecessary defeat.
Barnes specifically points out the (dramatically failed) Murtha resolution, the disastrous Republican Senate resolution rebuking the President on the war, and former President Clinton turning against the war. He explains why each of these small events has greater meaning, and why when taken together they are “ominous.”
Barnes concludes with the chilling note that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, also sees parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. “In his intercepted email to al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said, "Things may develop faster than we imagine." He wrote that "the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy."”
As sentiment turns against the war and we see our politicians line up to score political points through antiwar grandstanding, terrorists are taking note. Barnes asks, “What message did this package of events send to the insurgents in Iraq? Stay the course, the Americans may be going soft again, just as they did in Somalia a decade ago, in Lebanon in the 1980s, and in Vietnam in the 1970s. What other conclusion could the insurgents draw?”
In the wake of 9/11, I frequently saw a bumper sticker with the words “These colors don’t run” emblazoned across an American Flag. Apparently a fair number of Americans think there should have been a qualifier attached that says, “… unless it gets too expensive or we grow tired of it or we simply wimp out, etc.” As in the Vietnam days, some antiwar folks are absolutely giddy about the idea of American defeat.
As a Scout leader I frequently tell boys on campouts that Scouts always clean up after themselves and that we leave our campsites better than we find them. (I know from experience that some leaders don’t insist on this and that means that someone else eventually has to take care of it). We’ve got the mess in Iraq now. We can argue about how we got there—which sounds like my kids bickering in the back of the van about who touched whom first—or we can roll up our sleeves and deal with the mess. Clearly, as was shown by the 403-3 vote against the Murtha resolution, just turning our back on Iraq and leaving is not the answer.