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 whileavoiding nuclear conflict until the Soviet Union "mellowed," as GeorgeKennan opined. Iraq is strategic offense directed at the dictators andgenocidal ideologues whose design for the 21st century is 12th centuryautocracy imposed by death squads and nukes. Iraq is about "rolling back"the source of terror, because 9-11 demonstrated terrorists armed with hightechnology cannot be contained.
Those are the "big picture" differences between Iraq andVietnam, the ones that make or break history. They are also the ones thatroll the eyes of TV talk-show producers, who say: "We've only a minute ofair time. Now why isn't Iraq Vietnam?"
Because Vietnam was no Iraq. As a military pal recently said tome, if Vietnam were Iraq, the United States would have occupied Hanoi,killed or dispersed the Politburo and utterly destroyed the North VietnameseArmy. Laos and Cambodia would not have served as sanctuaries for communisttroops and supplies. (Syria understands this difference.) Southerners fromSaigon would be part of a new national council in the process of drawing upa 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, Baathremnants use hit-and-run tactics. Mao, however, said guerrillas are fishswimming in the sea of the people. Saddam's Baathists lack a sustaining seaof support -- they operate from a few isolated ponds of Baath-Sunni holdouts(like Fallujah). The men who kill Americans for cash are pond scum, notsoldiers in a wider people's war. In time, they will be isolated andcaptured -- or, if they fight, they'll be slain, just like the 101stAirborne killed Uday and Qusay Hussein. As for outside jihadis coming towage holy war, bring 'em on. The United States has the military instrumentin place to kill them over there, instead of over here.
Vietnam and quagmire are hot-button media shorthand for bloodlost in an endless, no-win conflict. Shorthand may serve useful purposes,but when combined with short attention spans, it's foolishness bordering onfraud.
Likewise, Iraq doesn't conform to another buzzword for disaster,"Mogadishu." That's slang for lack of resolve. It's also the frail threadSaddamite diehards cling to, that the United States is a nation of quitters,at best capable of fighting a "flash war." The Baath holdouts, like Osamabin Laden's minions, confuse the Hollywood Left with the American people.
America doesn't confront a quagmire in Iraq. It does face anextremely difficult task that requires blood, sweat, tears, treasure andfaith.
Sadly, major stories, like an Iraqi national council backed byShias, Sunnis and Kurds, get short shrift because they move slowly and aretough to explain. For me, the biggest tick are reporters who insistentlyportray American and British soldiers' bravery, professionalism andsacrifice as fruitless. Many in this crowd, such as the BBC's AndrewGilligan and The New York Times' R.W. Apple, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedoma quagmire even as CENTCOM was rolling into Baghdad.
Baghdad's long, hot summer of snipers is a test of nerve, a testof America's national will to persevere in a war of national survival. TheAmerican people are up to that test.