Thursday, March 16, 2006

Is Iraq War Arabic Vietnam of America? No.

Dilip D’Souza wonders whether Iraq War is another Vietnam to America.
This issue has been discussed and blogged to the death and as such there is not much new to say, nor much useful to come out of that as an input to America’s policy going forward. Clearly History in the end never repeats in a way and every war is unique in it’s own way; so it is not something of an intellectual feat to point out these differences. But having said that, I will not pass this opportunity to point our certain differences; if not for any other reason than to sketch the larger context. Dilip of course goes on linking his discussion about America’s Iraq War to the larger issues of Terrorism faced by India. I do not make any comments about those aspects here.

So here are some of the reasons why Iraq War is not or will not be Arabic Vietnam for America.

1. Vietnam was military defeat in a way. It was the war America lost without the war changing dramatically in between. It was the war conducted in an overall uniform manner over a long period against an easily identified and characterized state enemy. On the other hand, American forces decisively accomplished the first part of the Iraq War – Saddam regime change. It turns out to be the smaller of the total package of peace needed for America is a different story. After the fall of Saddam, the war in Iraq has truly changed – first insurgents against occupation and now civil war - fights among various factions of Iraq. In Vietnam, Communists and West backed Southern Vietnam; this division was there early on and never changed.

2. The casualty figure (50K+ in Vietnam and so far 2K+ in Iraq war) is also the second difference. Also the ‘draft’ and ‘no draft’ is big difference too. In latter years opposition to Vietnam was all pervading with fundamental changes in America society simultaneously happening (rise of Feminism and so on). None like that is happening at present. If at all, America is gradually turning more Conservative (even if Republicans go away from power in next few years).

3. Vietnam War coupled with Oil shock and Nixon Economic policies exerted prolonged recession in America. This time Iraq war cost will slowly act over a long period on American Economy with quite a few opportunities to rectify those pressures without too much of hardship as long as policy makers are not blind to any fixed ideology.

4. Vietnam War was in the context of Cold War and immediately it induced the feeling of traumatic and tremendous loss to America since China effectively came out victorious there. But subsequent war between Vietnam and China nullified all the gains for China and in the end Soviets went away. Whereas impacts of Iraq war are likely to be more serious and detrimental. As James Galbraith argues in Mother Jones
and many have pointed; Iraq war really negates the advantages America enjoyed as ‘sole super power’ after the break up of Soviets and the first Gulf war of early 1990s. Moreover, as the reality has started to sink; the real benefit of the war is accruing to Iran; the real nemesis of America about which America can do much less. So rather than improving any security to America, Iraq war quite obviously has strengthened one of her true enemies with devastating implication for America, Israel, Middle East and the world at large. Any fight over there in future with Iran will produce dramatic ‘oil shock’ with many countries impacted by that.

5. Finally, Vietnam War had political backing of the establishment from both parties – seed by JFK, basically waged by LBJ and Nixon not being any smarter in managing that losing proposition any better. Iraq war is all Bush affair and will remain as the Bush affair. In fact the best chance, for the mess of Iraq war getting addressed is when some one other than Bush comes along. The fundamental question for America is how do they get leaders who square with them about the reality; not the current leadership which sold war deceptively, executed war incompetently, short on transparency and never been able to avoid the temptation of using Iraq war for totally partisan, narrow political purposes. Frankly America, even today, would not mind giving serious commitments towards Iraq as long as leadership has some credibility and honesty. Unfortunately, that is not what Pres. Bush has and hence he has to wait rather helplessly for things to turn better in Iraq and meanwhile America’s dissatisfaction with this war continues to grow.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
March 16, 2006.

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