Iraq War – Should we Leave? Part II

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

In the last post in this series I have looked at some of the reasons given for why we should leave Iraq. Probably the most serious argument for leaving is the claim that we cannot win and that the sooner we leave the better, often with a comparison to Vietnam. The comparison to Vietnam is very problematic for many reasons, not the lease of which the historical ignorance of most Americans. For example one student who received a B in history, when asked about WWII did not know what year it ended, could not name any general or any battle, and did not even know who the President was during the war. (Some answers: 1945; Eisenhower, Midway, Roosevelt) However she did remember details about the Japanese internment camps, as “We talked a lot about those concentration camps” This pretty much epitomizes the modern “liberal” education; what is important is that the student come away knowing how bad American has been. I don’t expect that historical knowledge of Vietnam is any better, especially given the political nature of the war.

Senator Kennedy summed up what is probably the view of many, assuming they know anything at all, when he said, “In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy. The Department of Defense kept assuring us that each new escalation in Vietnam would be the last. Instead, each one led only to the next. There was no military solution to that war. Echoes of that disaster are all around us today” I agree that echoes of Vietnam are all around us, but not in the way Kennedy sees it.

For sake of space I will skip the complexities of how our involvement began, and instead focus on how it ended. Most of those still alive at the time can still remember the humiliating defeat suffered in Vietnam which has come to be symbolized by the photographs of the helicopters on the roof of the US embassy evacuating as many as they could. What is hazy is the sequence of events leading up to that defeat. Following his election in 1968, Nixon pursued a policy of Vietnamization (the transferring the fighting to the South Vietnamese army), bombing, and negotiations. By mid-1969 troop reductions began, and in January 1973 a peace agreement was signed, which called for the withdrawal of all US troops and the return of POWs, which was completed by the end of March of that year. In many respects this was the ended of the war and at this point it was not a defeat. In fact it could be called a victory.

It was also about the time that Watergate was growing into a major scandal that a year later would force Nixon to resign. With the Presidency weaken, Congress began to limit the ability of the president to respond, and contrary to our commitments under the peace agreement, reduce our funding to South Vietnam. These reductions greatly impacted their ability to defend themselves. In December 1974, North Vietnam decided to test the resolve of the new President and violated the peace treaty. Because of congressional restrictions, there was little that Ford could do other than protest diplomatically. Seeing that they had little to fear from the US, North Vietnam began to plot a takeover of the South, which began in March 1975.

Some have argued that the South Vietnamese were not worth it because they would not fight for their country. Perhaps. We will never really know. Certainly some did run, but other did fight bravely. Yet given underfunding by the Congress, and the fact that the Soviets were fully funding the North, combined with the limitations Congress place on the President, the South never had a chance. So did those who ran, run because they would not fight for their country, or did they run because they could see the writing on the wall? Determination to fight does little good when your guns are out of bullets and your tanks are out of gas. In any event, by the end of April it was all over, and you had the helicopters on the roof of the US embassy, a little over two years after the end of the military conflict. That was when you had the humiliating defeat, a defeat brought on more by Congress than the military.

So our defeat in Vietnam while very real, can in no way be consider a military defeat. Despite the Hollywood stereotypes, our troops served valiantly and militarily succeeded, even in engagements such as the Tet offensive. The Tet Offensive is commonly viewed as a defeat and the turning point in the war. Yet in military terms it was a significant victory. But, as in the current war (and for that matter most wars in the last 100 years) the battle for public opinion at home is as significant as the military conflict itself. Negative images, often very misleading shown on the nightly news, and a steady stream of negative information turned public opinion turned against war. With presidency weakened, the anti-war forces were able to block the fulfillment of our obligations under the peace treaty and ensure the fall of the South and thus our defeat.

Echoes of Vietnam? Sure. In both cases the anti-war advocates push for a withdrawn at any cost. In both cases the anti-war advocates were driven by a tremendous hatred for the President. And in both cases they show very little concern for what would happen if they got their way. However there is one big difference. In Vietnam, there never was any concern that the North Vietnamese would follow us back to our country if they won. The same cannot be said about the terrorists.

Jun 25th, 2007

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