I was too young to have any meaningful opinion on the Vietnam War. I was just a kid. But I do remember the last US troops leaving Vietnam. Silly kid that I was, I thought that meant that we won the war. It turned out that when the other shoe dropped, we lost the war. The post Nixon Democratic surge in Congress killed meaningful military aid to South Vietnam, leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government within two months. The North Vietnamese annexed the rest of the country, sent thousands into re-education camps, and launched a mass exodus of Vietnamese boat people. The iconic image is of US helicopters fleeing the American embassy in Saigon, a graphic symbol of our defeat and humiliation. The US suffered over 58,000 causalities, and ended up accomplishing nothing.
Here we go again.
I started to have that sinking, “here we go again” feeling back in January when Fallujah fell to the Al-Qaeda related group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Considering the effort that the US put into taking that town from Al Qaeda, that was a little heartbreaking. For those involved in actually taking Fallujah, it’s a lot heartbreaking.
The romp across Iraq by ISIS has been stunning. Outnumbered 20-1 by the Iraqi Army, they’ve taken Mosul and Tikrit, and are heading south, presumably for the big prize, Baghdad. Meanwhile, back in Washington, as recently as two weeks ago the administration was still touting ending the war in Iraq and defeating Al Qaeda as their two major significant foreign policy achievements.
Of course, “ending the war in Iraq” doesn’t mean the conflict ends, only that the US isn’t playing. I’m sure the Democratic House in the 1970’s also felt like they were ending the war in Vietnam, if of course; you count a pretty spectacular defeat as ending the war. It’s hard to believe that the Obama administration hated the Iraq war so much that they would rather have an ISIS governed Iraq rather than to try to help stop that advance. Although they’ve already turned down requests from the Iraqi government for air strikes on militant positions. These guys just aren’t Sunni’s that want a piece of the pie, they have the serious goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate, the old Al Qaeda goal, except unlike Al Qaeda, ISIS actually controls real territory and has an actual army, not merely terrorist bombers.
Interestingly, the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was detained by US forces in Iraq and released in 2009.When he was released, he said, “I’ll see you guys in New York.” That seems a lot less of a joke and more of a promise, particularly if ISIS succeeds in establishing its own terrorist state as a launching pad for worldwide terrorist attacks.
I hope that the Obama administration can put politics aside and take this threat seriously. When we lost Vietnam it was a devastating blow and crippled US foreign policy for decades. Although betraying another ally after we lost interest would be devastating for US foreign policy for decades to come, at least Vietnam didn’t become a terrorist state, threatening world security. If Obama doesn’t start taking seriously his role as world leader (and there is more evidence to the contrary than not over the last 5 years), the US and the world may find itself in a far more dangerous position than it has since 1939. Obama has a choice to be Churchill or Chamberlain in the next few days, and I don’t have much confidence he’ll make the right choice.