Editors Note: As the death toll passed 2,000 in October 2005, I began to notice how even the far-right TV pundits like Bill O’Reilly were making comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. Then I realized why. Just as conservatives are now trying to blame liberals for having ruined the Vietnam War effort, they’re simultaneously setting up a scenario by which they can blame the Democrats for sabotaging the war in Iraq (and, by extension, the War on Terror). I hope the American people don’t let them get away with it, but being the diabolically clever guys they are (and we Americans being the not-so-clever guys we are), I’m guessing the Republicans will pull it off.

The Vietnam Paradigm — Screwing It Up

On those rare occasions when I attempt home-improvement projects, my wife — who’s better at such things than I am — has often commented that she wishes she’d married someone handier with tools. To which I usually reply, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you fix it.”

Unfortunately, by that point, the damage I’ve done is often irreparable, so my suggestion isn’t always practical. Taking a similar approach, right-wing apologists defend the mess in Iraq by charging that, although the left does a lot of carping, it offers no reasonable alternatives.

Opponents of the Iraq war often compare it to Vietnam. That earlier fiasco yielded the Zen-like statement, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Nowadays, an article of faith chanted by the GOP’s neocons is how much better off the Iraqis are since we began our foreign-improvement project there.

Were the Vietnamese better off after their civil war became one more theater in our Cold War? Are the Iraqis now prospering with our War on Terror transplanted to their neighborhood? I suspect many of them have become a bit skeptical of the claim that our invasion has improved their homeland security.

What if you had lost a son or daughter or your livelihood to a suicide bomber or a missile from an Apache helicopter? What if your hometown were reduced to rubble by the back and forth of American and insurgent occupations? Sitting in the smoldering ruins that were once your home, you might not be all that interested in Saddam’s upcoming trial. Would the fact that you can now vote compensate for your suffering?

Realistically, Iraq’s unending death and destruction isn’t the fault of the American troops. The blame must rightfully reside with the terrorists who commit most of the atrocities, but, absent the U.S. invasion, there’d be no insurgency. If you were an Iraqi, you might not consider the enactment of a disputed constitution worth the miseries you’ve endured.

But more to the point, can this war be won? Despite Dick Cheney’s assertion that the insurgency is in “its last throes,” the supply of terrorists never seems to run out. Even Don Rumsfeld has speculated about whether the occupation is producing more terrorists than our troops are killing in Iraq. And we can’t even keep illegal aliens out of our own country, so it’s unlikely we can control the borders of a desert wilderness surrounded by terrorist neighbors.

As Robert Duvall said in Apocalypse Now, “Someday, this war will be over.” But by that time, will we have destroyed Iraq in order to save it? There’s a good chance the country will be torn apart by civil war, and, despite our best intentions, this once largely secular nation will have been turned into a hotbed of Islamic fanaticism it never was under Saddam. And how many orphaned Iraqis will grow up hating America for replacing tyranny with civil war and anarchy?

If that should happen, let’s hope the American people don’t let the GOP get away with blaming this debacle on the liberals. Once their Pyrrhic victory has been declared, we need to remember who’s responsible for it, especially when we go to the polls.

His detractors routinely demean our president’s intelligence, but, in Iraq, he’s done a diabolically clever thing — gotten us entangled in a snafu so fouled up his opponents can’t even come up with an alternative. The intractable morass Mr. Bush has engineered presents no acceptable options.

The administration’s only strategy is to “stay the course,” and both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree that “failure isn’t an option.” However, stipulating that we can’t let the “dead-enders” triumph in Iraq is like mandating that members of Hezbollah and Hadassah link arms and sing Kumbaya or requiring Shih Tzus to perform Macbeth.

We have two distasteful options: We can withdraw immediately, which will almost certainly plunge Iraq into civil war. Or, we can soldier on indefinitely, because abandoning the conflict now would dishonor the 2,000 American lives already sacrificed. The problem with the latter option is that we’ll eventually have to declare victory and go home anyway — recall the “peace with honor” we achieved in Vietnam — after having filled even more graves with senseless sacrifices.

Meanwhile, as the Republicans incessantly intone, liberals aren’t offering any practical alternatives of their own. But what they don’t point out is the reason: Mr. Bush has ineptly painted us into a corner that has no satisfactory exit strategy. The only smart move would have been not invading Iraq in the first place, but it’s too late now to put that toothpaste back into the tube.

It’s also too late to unelect the commander in chief of this tragic Vietnam revival. But someday we’ll have the chance to rid ourselves of the neocons who’ve architected his disastrous legacy. If Dick Morris’s recent Republican PR tract, “Condi vs. Hillary,” is correct, Condoleezza Rice may run for president in 2008. We shouldn’t forget who helped provide our not-so-handy president with the tools he’s misusing so dreadfully in our names.

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