Iraq is another Vietnam

Rich Lowry
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Posted: Apr 15, 2004 12:00 AM

 It turns out that there is no cure for the Vietnam Syndrome. Liberal baby boomers contracted it sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s and have been infected ever since. Now they command the heights of the American media and political establishment, and are predictably filling the air with cries of "Iraq is another Vietnam."

    In the syndrome-addled brains of the press and liberal politicians, the U.S. military is caught in a Groundhog Day, forever re-fighting the same war. We were told that the first Gulf War, the Afghan War and the initial invasion of Iraq were all doomed to collapse into repeats of Vietnam. The only reason President Reagan's invasion of Grenada wasn't said to be another Vietnam is that it ended before reporters could file stories saying we were "bogged down."

    The differences between Iraq and Vietnam are much starker than the similarities, starting with the fact that in Vietnam we were confronting a force abetted by a rival superpower. But the Vietnam Syndrome is a hopeless condition. So let's speak a language that liberals can understand: Iraq is another Vietnam. Fallujah is another Tet. And that's exactly why our cause is just, necessary and can succeed, so long as the Left doesn't create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat -- just like it did ... in Vietnam.

    In all the commentary and Ted Kennedy speeches about Vietnam, no one mentions that our adversary there was vicious and murderous, deliberately slaughtering civilians as a strategic choice. In Iraq, our enemy is just as bloody. Saddam Hussein littered the country with mass graves, and our enemies now murder innocents without a flutter of remorse. Just as the United States in Vietnam sought to protect the Vietnamese people from conscienceless tyranny, Iraq has been a war of liberation seeking a better future for Iraqis.

    Can we succeed? The unrest in Fallujah and the Moqtada al-Sadr revolt have prompted comparisons to the Tet offensive. They are apt, just not how the people making them intend. Tet was a disaster for the Viet Cong. The South Vietnamese people resolutely refused to rally to its cause, and the Viet Cong suffered devastating losses. Al-Sadr today is retreating after Shiites rejected his putsch. In Fallujah, the United States is inflicting stiff casualties on the enemy. The insurgents there have done us the enormous Tet-like favor of presenting themselves to be killed.

    But Tet played in the liberal press as a world-shaking victory for the Viet Cong, just as a hyperventilating media has portrayed the Fallujah action and Moqtada al-Sadr's aborted revolt as the beginning of the end of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

    The relentlessly downbeat coverage matters, because national will is important, and as in Vietnam, the consequences of failure in Iraq would be catastrophic. Consider the humanitarian cost. More than a million South Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps after the U.S. defeat, and more than 2 million South Vietnamese fled the country in a mass flotilla of human suffering and desperation. Saddam's crushing of the revolt against him after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, killing tens of thousands, is a taste of what would come if former Baathists prevail in Iraq, and radical Shiites would be no less brutal.

    The humiliation in Vietnam also led to a broad retreat of American power. As historian Michael Lind has noted, allies were less willing to help us, our influence waned at the United Nations, and the Soviet Union was emboldened, advancing aggressively all over the Third World. Failure in Iraq would similarly discredit U.S. international leadership and make the Arab political context that has given rise to extremism and terrorism all the more poisonous.

    So in these ways, at least, Iraq is indeed another Vietnam. All the more reason for sufferers from the Vietnam Syndrome to be more responsible in their rhetoric and in their history. Unfortunately, they are very skilled at disparaging a U.S. war effort. They learned to do it during Vietnam.