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On Point

Iraq Isn't Vietnam

by Austin Bay
July 23, 2003

Iraq?isn't Vietnam. For starters, Iraq is much more important. Success in Iraq is absolutely central to long-term victory in The War on Terror. The deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul on Tuesday certainly contribute to achieving that goal.

Not so for Vietnam in the context of the Cold War, that long, gritty siege to contain the Soviet Union and its communist clients. Germany and Korea were the Cold War's central theaters, the spark points for global nuclear warfare. The Vietnam War -- so costly and destructive -- was a tough fight in a valuable but less-than-decisive region. Despite Vietnam's draining loss, the West won the Cold War.

Iraq, however, strikes dead center in the malign and medieval societies that murder and impoverish their own populations, nurture and use terrorists, and seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's two sons were poster boys for that warped mentality. Moreover, Iraq lies in the middle of what is arguably the planet's most politically dysfunctional and war-producing region, the fractious arc of Islamic instability that stumbles from Pakistan to Algeria.

Vietnam was strategic defense, an attempt to buy time while avoiding nuclear conflict until the Soviet Union "mellowed," as George Kennan opined. Iraq is strategic offense directed at the dictators and genocidal ideologues whose design for the 21st century is 12th century autocracy imposed by death squads and nukes. Iraq is about "rolling back" the source of terror, because 9-11 demonstrated terrorists armed with high technology cannot be contained.

Those are the "big picture" differences between Iraq and Vietnam, the ones that make or break history. They are also the ones that roll the eyes of TV talk-show producers, who say: "We've only a minute of air time. Now why isn't Iraq Vietnam?"

Because Vietnam was no Iraq. As a military pal recently said to me, if Vietnam were Iraq, the United States would have occupied Hanoi, killed or dispersed the Politburo and utterly destroyed the North Vietnamese Army. Laos and Cambodia would not have served as sanctuaries for communist troops and supplies. (Syria understands this difference.) Southerners from Saigon would be part of a new national council in the process of drawing up a democratic constitution.

That's the minute answer -- America won a big military victory, and did so quickly.

Is there a flickering "guerrilla-style" conflict? Sure, Baath remnants use hit-and-run tactics. Mao, however, said guerrillas are fish swimming in the sea of the people. Saddam's Baathists lack a sustaining sea of support -- they operate from a few isolated ponds of Baath-Sunni holdouts (like Fallujah). The men who kill Americans for cash are pond scum, not soldiers in a wider people's war. In time, they will be isolated and captured -- or, if they fight, they'll be slain, just like the 101st Airborne killed Uday and Qusay Hussein. As for outside jihadis coming to wage holy war, bring 'em on. The United States has the military instrument in place to kill them over there, instead of over here.

Vietnam and quagmire are hot-button media shorthand for blood lost in an endless, no-win conflict. Shorthand may serve useful purposes, but when combined with short attention spans, it's foolishness bordering on fraud.

Likewise, Iraq doesn't conform to another buzzword for disaster, "Mogadishu." That's slang for lack of resolve. It's also the frail thread Saddamite diehards cling to, that the United States is a nation of quitters, at best capable of fighting a "flash war." The Baath holdouts, like Osama bin Laden's minions, confuse the Hollywood Left with the American people.

America doesn't confront a quagmire in Iraq. It does face an extremely difficult task that requires blood, sweat, tears, treasure and faith.

Sadly, major stories, like an Iraqi national council backed by Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, get short shrift because they move slowly and are tough to explain. For me, the biggest tick are reporters who insistently portray American and British soldiers' bravery, professionalism and sacrifice as fruitless. Many in this crowd, such as the BBC's Andrew Gilligan and The New York Times' R.W. Apple, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom a quagmire even as CENTCOM was rolling into Baghdad.

Baghdad's long, hot summer of snipers is a test of nerve, a test of America's national will to persevere in a war of national survival. The American people are up to that test.

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