The Right Lessons To Learn From Viet Nam

Peter Rodman, one of the architects of our  military and political policy in Iraq and William Shawcross, liberal hawk now branded traitor by the left for his support of the Iraq War, have written what I believe to be an extremely important op-ed in the New York Times on why walking away in defeat from Iraq would be an unmitigated disaster:
"SOME opponents of the Iraq war are toying with the idea of American defeat. A number of them are simply predicting it, while others advocate measures that would make it more likely. Lending intellectual respectability to all this is an argument that takes a strange comfort from the outcome of the Vietnam War. The defeat of the American enterprise in Indochina, it is said, turned out not to be as bad as expected. The United States recovered, and no lasting price was paid.

"We beg to differ. Many years ago, the two of us clashed sharply over the wisdom and morality of American policy in Indochina, especially in Cambodia. One of us (Mr. Shawcross) published a book, “Sideshow,” that bitterly criticized Nixon administration policy. The other (Mr. Rodman), a longtime associate of Henry Kissinger, issued a rebuttal in The American Spectator, defending American policy. Decades later, we have not changed our views. But we agreed even then that the outcome in Indochina was indeed disastrous, both in human and geopolitical terms, for the United States and the region. Today we agree equally strongly that the consequences of defeat in Iraq would be even more serious and lasting."

So true. The only problem is, there is absolutely no way forward at present that would bring what the Democrats, the world media, the Arab Street, and the America-hating left would be willing to call “victory” in Iraq. These groups have a vested interest in an American defeat – economic, political, strategic – and will proclaim our surrender (along with Osama and his crew) no matter what the military or political situation when most of our combat troops are removed, probably before the 2008 election.

It is maddening to read the pious pronouncements from the left about how desperately they wanted American to succeed in Iraq (this despite the fact that they opposed the war in the first place) all the while deliberately undermining support for the war by the American people. And by “deliberately” I mean they had a game plan, a narrative that they have pushed for the last 4 years with the stated purpose of weakening the resolve of voters so that Democrats could ride the anti-war sentiment into power.

It hasn’t been the left alone that caused this drop off in support by the American people. Our war policies have been flawed from the get go and until recently, nothing we tried seemed to stem the violence in Iraq and indeed, made it worse in some respects. But there is a huge difference between mistakes made in planning and policy and the cold, calculated effort by the left to work to crush the morale of the American people so that they could use the Iraq War to vault back into power.

But if the left is trying to convince us that their withering criticisms of the justification for the war, its subsequent prosecution, and all the ancillary issues that have arisen because of it as well as vicious personal attacks on the President were only for the purpose of improving our policies so that we could achieve victory, only little children who still believe in Santa Claus take them at their word. Therefore, one must conclude that their stated reasons for wishing an American defeat in Iraq – that we “deserve” it or that it would teach us a lesson in “humility” – are a true reflection of their beliefs and thinking.

And that kind of thinking, as Rodman/Shawcross point out, is sheer, unadulterated lunacy. It would repeat the mistakes we made in getting out of Viet Nam:

The 1975 Communist victory in Indochina led to horrors that engulfed the region. The victorious Khmer Rouge killed one to two million of their fellow Cambodians in a genocidal, ideological rampage. In Vietnam and Laos, cruel gulags and "re-education" camps enforced repression. Millions of people fled, mostly by boat, with thousands dying in the attempt.

The defeat had a lasting and significant strategic impact. Leonid Brezhnev trumpeted that the global "correlation of forces" had shifted in favor of "socialism," and the Soviets went on a geopolitical offensive in the third world for a decade. Their invasion of Afghanistan was one result. Demoralized European leaders publicly lamented Soviet aggressiveness and American paralysis. 
How does this lesson travel across the years to become relevant in Iraq:

"Today, in Iraq, there should be no illusion that defeat would come at an acceptable price. George Orwell wrote that the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it. But anyone who thinks an American defeat in Iraq will bring a merciful end to this conflict is deluded. Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.

"As in Indochina more than 30 years ago, millions of Iraqis today see the United States helping them defeat their murderous opponents as the only hope for their country. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have committed themselves to working with us and with their democratically elected government to enable their country to rejoin the world as a peaceful, moderate state that is a partner to its neighbors instead of a threat. If we accept defeat, these Iraqis will be at terrible risk. Thousands upon thousands of them will flee, as so many Vietnamese did after 1975."
No word from the Democrats or the left on what to do with these brave Iraqis who are constantly at risk of being assassinated for helping us and their government. In their world, they don't exist or worse, are stupid dupes fooled by us evil Americans into helping to legitimize a puppet government. And our government has shamefully denied most Iraqis visas, setting a strict limit on the number of Iraqi immigrants who can come to this country (a total of 692 so far). While security concerns are paramount, it would seem to me that Iraqis who have served American interests should have their visa applications expedited. Indeed, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has just recently put procedures in place that will do just that, allowing 7,000 more Iraqi citizens the opportunity to live in the United States.

Rodman/Shawcross conclude by pointing out the necessity for maintaining our credibility:
"Osama bin Laden said, a few months after 9/11, that "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." The United States, in his mind, is the weak horse. American defeat in Iraq would embolden the extremists in the Muslim world, demoralize and perhaps destabilize many moderate friendly governments, and accelerate the radicalization of every conflict in the Middle East.

"Our conduct in Iraq is a crucial test of our credibility, especially with regard to the looming threat from revolutionary Iran. Our Arab and Israeli friends view Iraq in that wider context. They worry about our domestic debate, which had such a devastating impact on the outcome of the Vietnam War, and they want reassurance.

"When government officials argued that American credibility was at stake in Indochina, critics ridiculed the notion. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he and his colleagues invoked Vietnam as a reason not to take American warnings seriously. The United States cannot be strong against Iran - or anywhere - if we accept defeat in Iraq."
Already, a chorus is growing on the left that Iran is not a threat, that evidence for their aggressive intentions has been fabricated "just like the evidence that got us into Iraq." To call that kind of myopic twaddle "suicidal" gives bridge jumpers a bad name. We may very well end up going to war with Iran - or not. But to dismiss them as a threat to the United States, our friends, and our interests is childish and stupid.

Even Barak Obama sees Iran as a serious threat and has not taken the military option off the table. Nor has Hillary Clinton or any other serious Democratic candidate for President. Only those who live in their little Bush-hating cocoons and view every action taken by the government as more evidence of the President's deviousness can possibly believe we are "manufacturing" evidence in order to justify military action against Iran. Why bother? The Iranians have supplied us with plenty of justification without us having to manufacture anything.

We must find a way through to a satisfactory ending to our involvement in Iraq. There is no alternative. Even if the rest of the world crows about our "defeat" in Iraq when our combat troops depart, governments in the region - including Iran - will know better and base their actions on what is going on in the real world and not the desperate imaginings of fanatical jihadists, the anti-American Arab street, and bitter leftists whose desire to see America humbled has so unbalanced them that it is impossible to tell the difference between the language urging the defeat of the United States used by our enemies and the rhetoric that emanates from supposedly respectable liberal quarters in Congress and on the internet.

That too, evokes memories of Viet Nam, the last time our "humiliation" was seen as a good thing by the left.

Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nuthouse.