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Iraq is Vietnam Without Honesty


Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by the Korea Herald
by William Pfaff

PARIS - There is inevitability to what is happening in Iraq that was visible from the start. The Vietnam war had been, so to speak, an honest war. The Iraq war is a dishonest war. The outcome will be identical.

President Lyndon Johnson, the Bundy brothers, Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk really did believe that the Chinese Communists ran the Vietnam war, and would exploit victory there to motivate Communist uprisings throughout Southeast Asia and beyond.

They didn't appreciate that the world isn't so simple. The Communists won and nothing happened.

The people who invaded Iraq didn't care whether the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction. They wanted to control Iraq for economic and strategic reasons (and possibly for personal ones, in the case of both the Bush family and Donald Rumsfeld, who had dealt with Saddam Hussein when the United States backed Iraq's war against Iran).

Like their Vietnam predecessors, they could not imagine that the United States wouldn't easily prevail. They learned that the Pentagon is incapable of successfully fighting a war that is not the high-technology war for which it stubbornly prepares, despite the absence of an enemy capable of fighting such a war.

The most deadly enemy weapon against American convoys in Iraq is the buried or camouflaged roadside bomb (or "IED," as the military bureaucracy prefers: "improvised explosive device" - the acronym making it sound like a high-technology innovation).

The Pentagon countermeasure, reportedly already being tested by the aerospace industry, is "a power source (which would project) a big spike of energy from a truck or aircraft-borne emitter, (to) fuse the circuitry of a blasting cap or pre-detonate it before the convoy gets there."

The lower-technology counter-countermeasure, of course, would be for the enemy to go back to mechanical detonators.

Iraq is identified as "a new kind of war." It actually is a peculiarly vicious and indiscriminate form of guerrilla war, used by the American colonies against British troops in the revolutionary war, by Philippine nationalists against American occupation (1899-1901), the SOE, OSS and European Resistance forces against the German army in World War II, and the Vietnamese against the United States three decades ago. In every case, national integrity versus foreign occupation was the issue.

The force of American public opinion now is turning against the Iraq war. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll says 55 percent of the public disapproves of George W. Bush's leadership, and only 39 percent wants U.S. troop levels in Iraq maintained.

The discovery that the vast array of American military power simply isn't working in the real world had the Bush administration near panic even before Hurricane Katrina. It was understood for the first time that the United States risks defeat in Iraq. This is interpreted as bringing with it terrorist triumph throughout the "Greater" Middle East and catastrophic loss of American credibility, not to speak of defeat in "World War IV" (as the more alarmist neoconservatives call it).

The latter insist that the United States must press on or be revealed a "pitiful, helpless giant," as Richard Nixon said of defeat in Vietnam. However, the sky did not fall then, and the United States survived Vietnam - only to put itself in exactly the same situation 30 years later, attempting the same remedies.

"Iraqization" of the war is current U.S. policy, on the model of "Vietnamization," with similarly unpromising results. Some analysts want Iraq partitioned into three states. That would make a gift of Shiite Iraq to Iranian influence, could bring Turkish intervention to prevent an independent Kurdistan, and would continue to be resisted by the Sunni Arabs.

The best-publicized recent proposal has been that of Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. in Foreign Affairs magazine, endorsed by David Brooks in the New York Times as "blindingly obvious."

It is an "oil spot" strategy, which envisages extending a fully secured zone in Iraq from the present Green Zone in Baghdad (and similar places in other cities), neighborhood by neighborhood, and village by village, until all of Iraq is secure. (Does he know how large Iraq is?)

This, Krepinevich says, "would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties ... an enduring U.S. presence (of at least a decade) and hundreds of billions of dollars."

Indeed it would, and it was tried and failed in Vietnam (one version was the notorious Phoenix program), since there is no way to assure that the "secured" zones are not full of unsecured people.

Not even Saddam Hussein's secret police could deliver zones purged of insurgents, their sympathizers, friends, families and fellow-tribesmen. Nor could the country function under such circumstances.

Like Phoenix, it is another version of the "strategic hamlet" program applied successfully in the (then) British Federation of Malaya just after World War II when a part of the Chinese minority rebelled.

The Chinese were forcibly moved into secure hamlets, isolating them from the population and their foreign supporters. Considered a China-sponsored Communist revolt at the time, no one seems to remember that it was also an old ethnic-based conflict between two readily identifiable peoples. If the insurgents in Iraq were Chinese, Krepinevich's plan might work.

Since they are not, and since the Iraq war is all about the American presence in Iraq, opposed by both Shiites and Sunni, the real choice is between negotiating a schedule to leave now - which might still be feasible - and staying on for "decades" and billions of dollars more, and leaving then, defeated, with the American electorate in revolt.

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