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Iraq is not Vietnam

By Alan Caruba
web posted April 12, 2004

I can remember being in Washington, DC to protest the Vietnam War. By then the US was well on its way to chalking up over 58,000 combat deaths. I think Nixon was in office by then. Lyndon Baines Johnson had literally lied America into a vastly expanded war although we wouldn't learn about that until the famed Pentagon Papers were revealed by Daniel Elsberg, an analyst who, during the Nixon administration, concluded that Americans had a right to know how badly things were going.

Iraq is not the same war as this one was
Iraq is not the same war as this one was

For those too young to know about Vietnam, other than we lost, the US had already been in a long Cold War with the Soviet Union since the end of World War II and there was a theory that, if Vietnam fell to Communist control, a whole string of other nations would as well. It was called "The Domino Theory." Divided between North and South, the Communists in the North wanted to unite the nation. In the 1950s, the US had fought in Korea when the same scenario unfolded. The stalemate of that war continues today. Under Kennedy, "military advisors" had been sent after the French, Vietnam's former colonial power, pulled out. Under LBJ it escalated into a full-blown US conflict.

It took several years, but after seeing the carnage on their television news every night, most Americans began to think it was the wrong war fought in the wrong place. It would be the first war America lost and, as it wound down, nobody cared much. We just wanted to get out and bring our military home. Ironically, the lessons of that war would be applied by one of its participants, Colin Powell, who, when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, applied what was be known as the Powell Doctrine. No future war would be fought with anything less than overwhelming force. It was the principle applied in the Gulf War and again in Iraqi Freedom to astonishing success.

Powell would tell you, along with the other Neocons surrounding Bush43, that they emerged from the Vietnam War determined to rebuild America's military into the most powerful the world would ever see. Defeat leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It would take until Ronald Reagan to make that goal come true. Reagan would leave Bush41 a military second to none. Modern warfare, a totally integrated fighting machine, began in the Gulf War and it restored national pride.

In the years that preceded the Gulf War, however, the US looked like a paper tiger. That impression didn't happen overnight. The Islamic Jihad had its first victory in 1979, seizing control of Iran along with our diplomats. The mullahs made Jimmy Carter look so lame, Reagan was elected. But Reagan, too, was tested in 1986 when more than 280 US Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Beirut. He pulled our troops out. Later, though, he would bomb Libya. Its dictator, Muamar Quadaffi, after last year's Iraq invasion, decided it was time to give up his arsenal and end his flirtation with Islamic illusions of brotherhood.

Something strange happened in American politics. Having elected conservatives like Reagan and Bush41, Americans voted for a Vietnam War draft-dodger who made little effort to hide his contempt for the military. The voters would change control of Congress, giving it to conservative Republicans, and then wait out a long, embarrassing, but failed process of impeachment. In the meantime, Bill Clinton would dither and dither when it came to using the military power at his disposal. He would fail to capture Osama bin Laden even when the Sudanese offered his head on a plate. Somalia would become a military mess.

Our enemies would take notice. In 1993, the first bombing of the World Trade Center took place. Under Clinton, it was treated, in the words of Sen. John Kerry, as "a law enforcement" problem. By 9-11-2001, it would become the cause for war. It is a war unlike Vietnam. It is unlike Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a war that has long since enveloped the whole world. It is a war being fought in Spain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bali, Kenya, Morocco, the Russian Republic. It is an "asymmetric" war fought against a fanatical vanguard of Muslims determined to impose Islam worldwide.

As the election campaign heats up, it is essential to understand that the Vietnam War was a very different war, fought for very different reasons, in a very different era of American history.

The notion that it is now being called up as an example of the supposed courage of Sen. John Kerry or a reason why the war in Iraq was a mistake could not be more wrong. Sen. Kerry spent about four months total in Vietnam. By contrast, Secretary of State Colin Powell served two terms of service there, experiencing plenty of combat before beginning his rise through the ranks. Sen. Kerry came home and denounced the war, called his fellow soldiers and sailors rapists and killers. He would become a politician.

It is no accident Bush43 chose a certifiable hero and veteran of the Vietnam War as his Secretary of State. It is no accident that the Democrats have done everything in their power to portray Bush43 as being "a deserter" whose military service was suspect. Bush43 wanted Powell to represent the nation's determination to meet and defeat the new enemy of freedom. Sen. Kerry, if elected, would find as quick an exit from combat as possible.

The Vietnam War presented the US with a choice and some historians suggest that President Kennedy would likely have withdrawn our small military presence there. His assassination ended that possibility. The Iraq War was not one of choice, though its opponents present it as one. Having driven the Taliban out of Afghanistan after 9-11, regime change in Iraq was absolutely necessary if the United States was to continue the transformation of the entire Middle East from being a constant threat to Western civilization. The Middle East, if this policy is continued, will be composed of modern nation states. The despots will have been driven from power. That will be our real security!

Waiting to be attacked again is not an option, not a choice. That is why Bush43 moved swiftly against Afghanistan, created the Department of Homeland Security, and asked Congress to pass the Patriot Act. The horror of 9-11 sucked a trillion dollars out of our economy and its effect is only now being overcome. The US economy cannot suffer another 9-11 without putting the basis of our power at tremendous risk. The war to liberate Iraq is just a down payment on a more secure future.

Alan Caruba writes "Warnings Signs", a weekly commentary, posted www.anxietycenter.com, the website of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004

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