The big difference between Vietnam and Iraq

A couple of days ago Senator Kerry clarified his position  on the Iraq War.  At the Democrats' Take Back America strategy conference, in Washington, he said that his vote for the war was a mistake and that we should bring the troops home. 

His analogy is Vietnam — in Kerry's view we stayed too long in Vietnam and now 'it is time for us to go' from Iraq.  And there are superficial parallels between Vietnam and Iraq that many have remarked on — particularly that we are fighting an enemy who is hard for us to find, with much initiative on his side.

But there is a big difference between Vietnam and Iraq.  Ultimately, in Vietnam, we could choose as much war as we wanted.  We could, and ultimately did, retire without serious consequences.  That is not true for Iraq. 

Ho Chi Minh, whatever his faults, only wanted to get to Saigon.  Osama bin Laden and the radical Islamist jihad wants to get to New York and Washington.  That is the big difference. 

We are fighting in Iraq, yes, for the Iraqis, but also for ourselves.  This war is enlightened self—interest.  We fight and prevail over the Islamist forces in Iraq, which will go a long way to discrediting them, or we fight them here.  Yes, there is no assurance that we won't also have to fight them here anyway, but our offensive strategy in the War of Terror has been far more successful than anybody would have bet on after 9/11 — no major attacks in the U.S. in five years. 

Another attack will come.  We cannot seal ourselves off.  But it will come sooner and more ferociously if we surrender in Iraq.  For if we surrender there, where will we fight?  When, in a war, a country goes on the offensive, there are always endless alternatives, endless strategies, endless disagreements.  If people think that World War II was a royal road to victory with 'everybody agreeing' think again.  The Navy and the Army fought each other over the priorities of the Pacific and of Europe.  The British and the Americans fought over strategy in Europe.  If you read the memoirs of any of the leading players, particularly the more acerbic ones, you find little harmony.  It is simply a cost of doing business that there will be disagreements.  That we have them now, concerning how the Iraq War should have been or should be fought, well, welcome to reality.
 
Surrender is a seduction.  Surrender vs. pressing on regardless was the essential difference between the French and the British in World War II.  Surrender is the choice the French General Staff made in June 1940 — that it was the smart choice to give up than fight a great evil.  So history shows that this is not a decision that others have refused to take.  They have taken it.  The French were lucky that first the British and then ourselves stayed in the field and so they did not have to live with the consequences of their decision over the long term.

But we would live with the consequences.  Clinton is criticized for abandoning Mogadishu after the Black Hawk Down incident.  I have never agreed with that.  The mistake was letting our troops get into mission—creep: to go from guarding the UN food operation to going on the offensive against Aideed without the proper leadership and planning. 

The reason our guys got into trouble in Mogadishu is that the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group had been sent off into the Indian Ocean, the Marine amphibious unit had been sent back to the Gulf and the request for heavy equipment — tanks and artillery was refused in Washington.  There was no back—up for our light forces when they were bushwacked.  But, having made that mistake, Clinton was right to withdraw the troops (after securing the return of the captured helicopter pilot Michael Durant by sending Robert Oakley to tell Aideed that either Durant was released or we would flatten the entire city looking for him).  Why?  Because we had no real mission in Mogadishu.  And aside from securing Durant's release, it is not in the American character to engage in destruction purely for revenge.

But none of that applies in Iraq.  In Iraq we do have a mission — to defeat terrorism as a political tactic, both for the benefit of the Iraqis and for our own benefit.  If we fail in that mission, if we retreat, if we surrender, the price will be much higher and very likely to be paid closer to, if not at, home.  Iraq is not Vietnam, whatever the superficial similarities.  This time there is no substitute for victory now that we have been called out.

A couple of days ago Senator Kerry clarified his position  on the Iraq War.  At the Democrats' Take Back America strategy conference, in Washington, he said that his vote for the war was a mistake and that we should bring the troops home. 

His analogy is Vietnam — in Kerry's view we stayed too long in Vietnam and now 'it is time for us to go' from Iraq.  And there are superficial parallels between Vietnam and Iraq that many have remarked on — particularly that we are fighting an enemy who is hard for us to find, with much initiative on his side.

But there is a big difference between Vietnam and Iraq.  Ultimately, in Vietnam, we could choose as much war as we wanted.  We could, and ultimately did, retire without serious consequences.  That is not true for Iraq. 

Ho Chi Minh, whatever his faults, only wanted to get to Saigon.  Osama bin Laden and the radical Islamist jihad wants to get to New York and Washington.  That is the big difference. 

We are fighting in Iraq, yes, for the Iraqis, but also for ourselves.  This war is enlightened self—interest.  We fight and prevail over the Islamist forces in Iraq, which will go a long way to discrediting them, or we fight them here.  Yes, there is no assurance that we won't also have to fight them here anyway, but our offensive strategy in the War of Terror has been far more successful than anybody would have bet on after 9/11 — no major attacks in the U.S. in five years. 

Another attack will come.  We cannot seal ourselves off.  But it will come sooner and more ferociously if we surrender in Iraq.  For if we surrender there, where will we fight?  When, in a war, a country goes on the offensive, there are always endless alternatives, endless strategies, endless disagreements.  If people think that World War II was a royal road to victory with 'everybody agreeing' think again.  The Navy and the Army fought each other over the priorities of the Pacific and of Europe.  The British and the Americans fought over strategy in Europe.  If you read the memoirs of any of the leading players, particularly the more acerbic ones, you find little harmony.  It is simply a cost of doing business that there will be disagreements.  That we have them now, concerning how the Iraq War should have been or should be fought, well, welcome to reality.
 
Surrender is a seduction.  Surrender vs. pressing on regardless was the essential difference between the French and the British in World War II.  Surrender is the choice the French General Staff made in June 1940 — that it was the smart choice to give up than fight a great evil.  So history shows that this is not a decision that others have refused to take.  They have taken it.  The French were lucky that first the British and then ourselves stayed in the field and so they did not have to live with the consequences of their decision over the long term.

But we would live with the consequences.  Clinton is criticized for abandoning Mogadishu after the Black Hawk Down incident.  I have never agreed with that.  The mistake was letting our troops get into mission—creep: to go from guarding the UN food operation to going on the offensive against Aideed without the proper leadership and planning. 

The reason our guys got into trouble in Mogadishu is that the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group had been sent off into the Indian Ocean, the Marine amphibious unit had been sent back to the Gulf and the request for heavy equipment — tanks and artillery was refused in Washington.  There was no back—up for our light forces when they were bushwacked.  But, having made that mistake, Clinton was right to withdraw the troops (after securing the return of the captured helicopter pilot Michael Durant by sending Robert Oakley to tell Aideed that either Durant was released or we would flatten the entire city looking for him).  Why?  Because we had no real mission in Mogadishu.  And aside from securing Durant's release, it is not in the American character to engage in destruction purely for revenge.

But none of that applies in Iraq.  In Iraq we do have a mission — to defeat terrorism as a political tactic, both for the benefit of the Iraqis and for our own benefit.  If we fail in that mission, if we retreat, if we surrender, the price will be much higher and very likely to be paid closer to, if not at, home.  Iraq is not Vietnam, whatever the superficial similarities.  This time there is no substitute for victory now that we have been called out.