Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How eerily similar is the Tet offensive to Iraq?

Elizabeth Sullivan is the Foreign Affairs columnist for the Plain Dealer of Cleveland. It took her all of 5 years to come around to seeing some similarities between Vietnam and Iraq at a time when those similarities are ceasing to exist. The Tet offensives that she mentions in her article republished in the Spokesman-Review were in fact the Viet Cong organizing armies and making invading runs against the southern Vietnam, its government and civilian populace, the Vietnamese Army and the U.S. Military. In Iraq, there is no organized military making Tet offensive style sweeps from a secure position in that country into territories held by the Iraqi government, Iraqi Army/police force and the U.S. Military. What we have is an insurgency, guerrilla forces that the U.S. Military continually chases around the country and as Bill Maher put it, only about 20% of it actually has any connections to Al Qaeda. So no, there are no "Tet offensives" in Iraq, but there is a definite souring on the war in Iraq as ultimately Sullivan and I can agree is correct.

But Sullivan and Senator McCain can't seem to get to the basis of why our continued presence in Iraq is no longer palatable to the American public. So let me count the ways: The Bush administration set a timetable for the invasion, reconstruction, and ultimate troop withdrawal. Anyone who knows about invading other countries, especially a nation where the culture is not only alien but also potentially hostile to our way of thinking, would recognize that GW's timetables would be unrealistic. And his western style plans for a Middle Eastern culture would be highly unworkable. It is from this initial bungling esp. from a refusal to face the facts, that the presumptive "cake walk" became a protracted war. We had a similar arrogance toward the Viet Cong until they showed us a thing or two. This is where Vietnam and Iraq have their similarities. And since GW never served in Vietnam, it is a lesson in history that he would not likely learn. Vietnam did hold its nationalist sentiments, those were captured by the Viet Cong. Iraq has its nationalist sentiments now as well as sectarian divides and hatreds. In both cases, by not respecting that, the U.S. offered a heavy ham hand in dealing with it. Before the U.S. entered the Vietnam fray, the French had set up a western style, corrupt government that was also a puppet to French interests. The U.S. then was asked to step in and support what the French had originally created in a colonial society. Our defeat in Vietnam came about because the Viet Cong would never stop fighting until they got the country they wanted. And yes, they did go after all the remnants of people who had been favored by French colonialism and American support. Without question, a lot of suffering and death followed after the U.S. pulled the plug and withdrew from Vietnam. For all of GW's claims that Iraq is not Vietnam, yet Vietnam imagery is behind every argument opposing the idea that at some time we have to leave a country we labeled sovereign. And we end up only doing what the French did in Vietnam and the British did in Iraq: engage in extreme hubris regarding a foreign people and the future of their nation. What is most telling about Sullivan's article is that McCain would refer to Vietnam as to why we should not leave Iraq. And the same cold war "domino theory" is applied to terrorism having sanctuary countries from which to launch attacks against this country as was once applied to the Soviets vis a vis Vietnam. We withdraw, they have won. And yet, terrorists have launched attacks against our allies and Americans anywhere in the world. Our continuing presence in Iraq hasn't prevented, for example, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And fears of terrorism caused the evacuation of a British oil rig in the North Sea because someone saw a suspicious device on board. To put it bluntly, the terrorists have already won. Now, how do we fight back? Staying in Iraq for the next hundred years, no matter how much it is spun, isn't fighting terrorism effectively. At some point, we have to leave. Giving recognition to the fact that a sovereign people must accept responsibility for their future. McCain can't deal with that, he shouldn't have the job.

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