Iraq: Vietnam Redux?

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.


U1835718 (Photo credit: tommy japan)

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.


7 thoughts on “Iraq: Vietnam Redux?

  1. An ex-orthodox jew told me many years ago that religious extremism is the most dangerous force in the world. I thought he was being overly dramatic and didn’t quite get what he was talking about until 9/11. Just as dangerous, or perhaps even more dangerous, is the progressive denial that there is any real danger or threat from extremists, because to think that would be racist etc.. When this military operation began not long after 9/11 my comparison was not to Vietnam but to the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, where the big guy was also dealt a humiliating defeat. Perhaps they didn’t understand the power of religious extremism either.


    • Progressives don’t deny that religious extremism is dangerous; they just narrowly define it to Christianity. Of course they broadly define Christianity. That’s how atheist Timothy McVeigh becomes a “Christian Terrorist.”

      But beyond that yeah, because they can’t take religion seriously, they can’t really imagine anyone doing anything like a 9/11 for religious reasons. It has to be poverty, racism, oppression and so on.We better unlearn that lesson soon.


      • Of course, excellent point. And apart from the occasional “Christian” like McVeigh, the main threat from religious extremists is the attenuation of abortion rights, not global jihad.

        After 9/11 we lost our tv reception since the transmitters were on the towers (we had an ancient thing called an antenna).So I listened to the radio a lot. On NPR there was a live broadcast of an Upper West Side community symposium concerning the attacks. I remember one woman taking the mic and suggesting that perhaps young muslim men need more extracurricular activities to sway them from making bad life choices. That’s when I turned off NPR for good.


  2. Pingback: Vietnam war, Iraq war, and the media | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when ISIS gets far enough south that they run into reconstituted Shiite militias similar to the Jaysh al Mahdi and the Badr Brigade. By the end of the surge, it was groups like that who were providing the lion’s share of the resistance to coalition forces. I’m certain that those groups have been busy rearming as the Sunni ISIS has been marching south. The real question is whether Iran will provide the Iraqi Shiites the kind of assistance they did during OIF. If they do, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up seeing a protracted civil war in Iraq. That being the case, there would be no good outcome for the US. We’ll wind up with either an Iranian puppet state, or an al Qaeda-supporting Caliphate.


    • I think you’ve offered a pretty good analysis, contingent on the Shias getting their act together and how much help Iran provides. If the eventual outcome was simply a separate Shiite and Sunni state (I think the Kurdish independence is a foregone conclusion) that would be something the US could live with. I don’t think we could live with a ISIS dominated Sunni state that becomes a launching pad for expanding a caliphate and is a safe haven for planning terrorist attacks against the West.


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