Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Why Iraq is not, and is, like Vietnam.

If Iraq turns into another Vietnam, everyone this side of Wolfowitz would agree that it was a big mistake. I think that although there are some differences, there are also some worrisome similarities.

First, the differences. Thankfully, Iraq's opposition doesn't have a hardened army on hand (we took care of that already), nor does it have a General Giap to lead it.

Next the sort-of-differences. The North Vietnamese were supported by Chinese/Soviets. The Iraqi insurgents will be supported by various sketchy rich people in the Persian Gulf, probably hailing from, among others, Syria, Iran, and our good friends in Saudi Arabia (note: sarcasm). North Vietnam's patrons were prepared to give it much more organized aid than what the Iraqi insurgents' patrons can supply. So I think that the bad guys in Iraq can expect some help, but not as much as the North Vietnamese got.

Now the similarities. It seems to me that one fundamental problem with Vietnam was that we were supporting a losing horse or, rather, a series of losing horses. Every South Vietnamese government was, for one reason or another, no good. But no matter how many coups occurred, the new government wasn't any good either. We knew who we were fighting against, but it was unclear who we were fighting for. And all along, it was clear that without us, the South Vietnamese government would collapse. This is what I see as the big similarity between Vietnam and Iraq. We could install a puppet government in Iraq, of course, but unless the Iraqi people support it, we'll again be in the position of outsiders supporting a series of losers. Are we going to fall in behind Chalabi? I hope not! But if we do, I can't see him lasting (or living!) long. Presumably we're going to be fighting against insurgents, but who are we going to be fighting for? The central government? What if it turns out to be oppressive? Will we overthrow it? if there's a civil war, who will we support? Will we fight for the Kurds? Against them?
I don't know. I sure hope Bremer knows, but I'm not convinced. I've read nothing indicating that W has even really considered the matter. I don't want us to be stuck in a quagmire there.

n.b.-many of these same arguments apply to Afghanistan, but in that case we had no choice but to go in. It appears that Hamid Karzai is at least someone we can support. I don't see anyone like that coming forward in Iraq.

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