Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Saturday, June 25, 2005

Iraq, Vietnam: Two different places
Written by: Dave

One of the most frustrating things I constantly read and hear in the media is analogies comparing Iraq to Vietnam. These analogies usually argue that just as in Vietnam, we will never be able to quash the insurgency in Iraq. It's amazing how much credence this argument is constantly given. We seem to have a college freshman-like infatuation with the Vietnam War and can’t view any foreign conflict in terms that aren’t framed around Vietnam.

But looking at Iraq as another Vietnam is not only wrong, it doesn’t make any sense. For two main reasons:

Reason #1.

Iraq is not Vietnam. They are different countries. They are filled with different people. This is not 1969. It’s 2005. These are different times and Iraq is a different place. As a result, different things are going to happen.

Any good military officer or historian knows to look to the past for some lessons and patterns, but he also knows that history doesn’t replicate itself. Countries that base their military strategies off their last wars have generally gotten very bad results. France in WWII is a good example.

If each war replicated the last, then we’d defeat the terrorists by crossing the Delaware on Christmas Eve.

Reason #2.

Now watch where you step, because this is going to shatter a whole lot of conventional wisdom. Vietnam was not a successful insurgency. “Sacre Bleu!” you must be saying to yourself. “Surely that must have been a typo.”

No it wasn’t. Vietnam wasn’t a successful insurgency. Notice I am not saying that we didn’t lose the war. We did lose the war. What I am saying is that the Communists didn’t wage a successful insurgency.

Read any well-written history of the Vietnam War and you will come across this fact. The Tet Offensive, despite being a tremendous psychological victory for the Communists, resulted in the VietCong and its infrastructure being largely wiped out. The VC ceased to be an effective force. From that point forward the war was mostly a conventional war, waged between the North Vietnamese army and the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies.

The North Vietnamese didn’t finally win the war until 1975, when they staged a conventional invasion of South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese folded after they realized we weren’t coming to their aid with air power. The VC insurgency had little to do with it.

So not only is Vietnam not the same country as Iraq, but the Vietnam War wasn’t an example of a successful insurgency. So the analogy with Iraq is almost entirely bunk.

If there is one main parallel between Iraq and Vietnam, however, it is that the center of gravity may lay in American public opinion. So ironically enough, Vietnam may prove to be our undoing after all, as we continue to falsely believe that the Vietnam War offers indisputable proof that insurgencies are invincible.

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