Editor’s 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,
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
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
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
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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