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
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
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
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
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.