President George W. Bush — who missed out on the Vietnam war because he was busy protecting the borders of Texas and Alabama (?) from Communist invasions, wouldn’t know it from direct experience — but his war in Iraq is starting to have a few similarities to the war in Vietnam.
Here are just a few:
The escalation of the Vietnam military presence was based on an erroneous event, the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
The war in Iraq was based on an erroneous goal, the destruction of weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be non-existent.
The Tet Offensive was a series of battles in the South Vietnam. It was a major offensive by the North Vietnamese Army, Viet Cong, and civilian guerilla fighters. It involved military action in almost every major city in southern Vietnam and attacks on the US firebase at Khe Sanh. The NVA suffered a heavy military defeat but scored a priceless propaganda victory.
The current “insurgency” in Iraq is a major offensive occurring in almost every major city in Iraq, and is being perpetrated by a guerilla army in civilian guises. Whereas the U.S. will probably attain a ‘military victory’ over this current uprising, we stand to suffer a “priceless propaganda” loss.
In Vietnam, there was a gulf between the US public and the US government over support for the war and its progress. There were also tensions between the US military and their Vietnamese allies.
In Iraq, there is a gulf between the US public and the US government over support for the war and its progress. There are also tensions between the US military and their alleged Iraqi allies, the Shiites and the Interim Governing Council.
The strategy of the Viet Cong was effective because US leaders were at best misleading, and at worst, lying outright to the American public about what was going on in Vietnam, why we were there in the first place, and what the costs and exit strategy would eventually be.
The strategy of the Iraqi insurgents is effective because US leaders were at best misleading, and at worst, lying outright to the American public about what is going on in Iraq, why we are there in the first place, and what the costs and exit strategy will eventually be.
Media coverage of the Tet Offensive shocked the American public and its politicians. The US military reaction surprised the North Vietnamese leadership. The heavy US shelling of Ben Tre produced the famous quote, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”
Media coverage of the Iraqi offensive is shocking the American public and its politicians. The US military reaction will probably surprise even the rebellious Shiite and Sunni leadership. We’ll probably have to instigate the old approach of “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”
Iraq is not Vietnam, but the perception alone could turn into a nightmare for Bush and his Neo-Con cronies.
58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. So far 620 Americans have died in Iraq.
Terry Anderson, an expert on the Vietnam War, a veteran of the war, and currently a historian at Texas A&M University:
“I completely agree this is Bush’s Vietnam. Just like Lyndon Johnson, Bush has totally misjudged the culture in which they are fighting. Just like LBJ, we are trying to bring democracy to people who are not particularly interested in U.S.-style democracy — and just like LBJ, we are rotating out battle-hardened people with new troops. And just like LBJ, Bush is not telling Americans they are going to be there for years.”
Anderson adds that a big difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that public support for the war in Iraq has ebbed much more quickly. The American electorate began turning against the Vietnam war after two years of fighting, but with opposition escalating quickly after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
“You had massive rallies against this war even before Bush went in,” Anderson says, “because the Vietnam experience jump-started opposition to this war.”
Polls released this week show support for Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq hovering between 40 and 45 per cent, with many questioning the June 30 target for hand over of political power to Iraqis.
“You’re starting to hear that `Q’ word: quagmire,” pollster John Zogby said yesterday. That word has become synonymous with Vietnam, and “LBJ” might quickly become shorthand for “GWB.”
“The public seems confused,” Zogby said. “How do we get out? Do we send more troops? How do we cut casualties? It’s all becoming a big problem for Bush.”
Republican Senator John McCain (4/08/04): “We have to tell the American people that we are in this for the long haul. We cannot say, as we did in Vietnam, that the light is at the end of the tunnel”
The Bush administration continues to insist that the war in Iraq is a vital part of the fight against international terrorism, others are suggesting the opposite:
Hans Blix (04/07/004): “It’s clearly the negative aspects that dominate. Bush declared war as a part of the U.S. war on terror, but instead of limiting the effects of terror, the war has laid the foundation for even more terror.”