A new land-speed record has been established for calling an American military conflict "another Vietnam." New York Times writer R.W. Apple seemed to establish an unbeatable mark during the war in Afghanistan, by warning of a quagmire after three weeks of fighting against the miserable Taliban.
But now quagmires are apparently measured in days, not weeks. According to The Baltimore Sun, "This war in its early stages recalls the pitched battles and bloody skirmishes of the Vietnam War." Times columnist Maureen Dowd finds it "hard not to have a few acid flashbacks to Vietnam at warp speed." By the second weekend of the war, warnings of "another Vietnam" filled the media ether.
Well, maybe Gulf War II is like Vietnam -- except there's no Cold War, no rival superpower arming our enemy, no danger of escalation to nuclear war, no fear of China intervening and, oh yeah, so far the war has lasted two weeks, not 10 years.
There are other niggling differences -- the low casualties (roughly 50 combat deaths so far, compared with 58,000 in Vietnam), a high level of public support, a volunteer, highly motivated Army and a definable enemy, cause and endgame.
A real stickler might note still other distinctions -- we're not in Iraq to prop up a corrupt regime, but to eliminate one; we haven't escalated slowly, but sent 100,000 troops in almost immediately; there is no triple-layer jungle canopy to protect Saddam Hussein's forces; and our weaponry is more precise and more fearsome by several orders of magnitude than 30 years ago.
Finally, one last subtle difference -- Ho Chi Minh was never a target in the Vietnam War, but we took a shot at Saddam the first night of Gulf War II.
Those commentators who just can't help invoking "another Vietnam" are caught in a fatal romance with that war. They tend to believe that Vietnam was won by a bunch of plucky guerrilla fighters, bravely resisting the American colossus.
The Baltimore Sun darkly warns, "The Fedayeen are displaying the same passion and brutality as the Viet Cong." If the Fedayeen are still fighting a couple of decades from now, maybe that comparison would be apt. Even for the Viet Cong, however, passion and brutality weren't enough.
Guerrilla forces almost always need a conventional component to succeed. The Vietnam War was lost, ultimately, to an enormous conventional military assault from the totalitarian North. Saigon fell to an army of 570,000 North Vietnamese regular soldiers and some 900 Soviet tanks.
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