Iraq vs. Vietnam

One of my friends challenged me recently to post something in my blog about Ted Kennedy’s comments about Iraq being Bush’s Vietnam. Here’s what I wrote. I’d like your feedback, including additional parallels you might think of.

Here goes:

Iraq or Vietnam?

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you know that Senator Ted Kennedy drew some parallels between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War. To rebut those claims, Senator John McCain, a former POW, said the following:
“I happen to know something about Vietnam, and I know we don’t face another Vietnam.”
If that’s the case, tell me which war I’m referring to with the statements I make below.

  1. Ostensibly, we’re fighting to bring democracy to a nation thousands of miles away that has not known democracy. This nation is also strategically important to us.

  2. There’s significant controversy over whether we’ve committed enough troops to achieve our mission. Soldiers are being asked to stay longer than they were originally committed. Congress is considering whether or not we need to send more troops to accomplish our mission.

  3. Soldiers are having a good deal of trouble in figuring out who the enemy is. The enemy is hiding among innocent civilians, using guerrilla tactics to strike at our troops. To determine who is friendly and who is an enemy, our soliders are searching for weapons from house to house.

  4. Our soldiers are under constant threat of ambushes and guerrilla attacks. Curiously, the native security forces, which are supposed to be fighting for democracy alongside us, are absent or present only in small numbers.

  5. Back home, the country is split over whether or not the war is justified.

  6. Our troops are fighting against forces that utilize weapons made by the Soviet Union.

  7. Our forces use air support to strike at concentrations of enemy troops (when and where they’re able to identify those concentrations of troops) and then come in with infantry and tanks on the ground to take care of the close-quarters fighting.

  8. If we pull out, the most likely scenario is civil war.

  9. We’ve witnessed unexpected major offensives by the enemy on days that are considered holy.

  10. Nations that border the one we’re fighting in have taken political advantage of the situation and have backed the forces we’re currently fighting against.

  11. Our major fear is that, should we fail, the entire region will be destabilized. So we fight to make the region “safe for democracy.”

  12. Some of our soldiers are being exposed to health risks by a substance they use in fighting the enemy. Long-term effects of this substance on our troops are not yet fully understood.

  13. Cities we thought we controlled at the time have been taken over by the enemy. We’ve underestimated the number of hostile forces threatening these cities.

  14. Civilians who support us are often afraid to speak out in support of our efforts because they fear retaliation from underground forces and people who live side-by-side with them every day.

So which war is it?

Darn, I was kinda hoping this thread would speculate on a war between Iraq and Vietnam. Vietnam wins handily, since their soldiers are more determined and better trained, by the way.

In any case, drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam is like drawing parallels between Lincoln and JFK. It’s a mildly amusing exercise with no objective validity whatsoever.

Incorrect, they have known democracy. We know the results - we just overthrew it.

Not nearly on the level the questions were raised in Vietnam. We clearly have enough troops present to maintain control, though of course, not over every inch of the country. If we had 200,000 troops there, they wouldn’t be doing any better in containing Sadr.

Welcome to modern warfare.

For the record, I wouldn’t call the South Vietnamese “security forces… absent or present in only small numbers” - a hellubva lot more of them died than Americans died.

What’s new? That happens every war since the dawn of mankind. Thinking it is a modern concept, or new to Vietnam or GW2 is foolish. We’ve been split on pretty much every war this country has fought. The term “war hawk” isn’t a recent invention. The difference is the mass media - it is more visible to see the dissent.

You mean AK-47s? Most countries use AK-47s, because they are cheap and the Soviets flooded the market with them. In any even, that is a spurious link between the two wars.

That is how we have fought since we came up with airplanes. O_o

Tends to happen when you overthrow regimes.

You’re comparing Tet to what now?

Tends to happen when you invade a religiously linked region.

Fair enough, but that is simply a holdover from the Cold Warrior mentality that dominates the Bush administration, and it ignores the fact that we initiated the destabilization.


Welcome to war. O_o

Welcome to war. O_o

It is a rather generic modern war, actually. Your above points can be condensed into that is is am unjustified guerrilla war in a theocratic/ethnic region.

The ties between Vietnam and Iraq are very loose, to say the least, much less to conclude that they are the same. There are many more differences between the two wars than there are similarities. If you don’t realize that off the bat, you don’t understand the history of Vietnam and are simply looking to make the Iraq conflict look as gory as possible.

  1. The conflict has been sold as a part of a “war” on an idea or concept.

  2. The oppositional forces use tactics and weapons that the American military is ill prepared to protect themselves against.

  3. The war will be a polarizing event in American history for decades to come.

  4. Tens of thousands of American citizens have participated in protests against the war.

  5. Those who express dissent regarding the war are declared “un-American”.

  6. Those charged with planning the war have little knowledge and little interest in the cultural aspects of winning hearts and minds.

I don’t want this war to get comingled with Iraq.

I want to keep them very distinct so that, in the future, people will remember that George W. Bush found whole new ways to totally screw things up.

Zagadka, I’ll respond to your comments a little later, but before I can, I need to know what “O_o” means.

Really? When was that?

I hope you aren’t referring to the “republic” instituted by Qasim after the 1958 revolution. All the power there rested in the hands of the Sovereignty Council, with Qasim at the head of that.

Le raising of le eyebrow O_o

Nonetheless, Iraq went through stages of the Republic until Hussein gained leadership, and indeed, Hussein’s regime was known for relatively high expectations early on.

Corrupt or not, it is not fair to say that Iraq has “not known democracy.” In fact, it may be important to note that Iraq has known democracy, and does not approach it with open hearts and blind faith that all will be well under it.

Considering that this entire thread is about raping and distorting history for political purposes, I think it would be a nice to inject a bit of history in.

McCain’s point that Iraq is not Vietnam is correct. But he does not acknowledge the plainly obvious: there cannot be a historical analogy that does not fall apart once closely scrutinized, because only idiots take literally the cliche that “history repeats itself.”

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn lessons from history, which I think was Kennedy – in ham-handed, sound-bite terms – was probably referring to.

Hell, even McCain acknowledged that Vietnam is somehow relevant to the war in Iraq:

"Our defeat in Vietnam nonetheless holds cautionary lessons. We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting, and because we limited the tools at our disposal… We can win the war in Iraq, but not if we lose popular support in the United States of America. The United States will fail in Iraq if our adversaries believe they can outlast us… " [McCain, speech for the Center for American Progress, 11/5/03]

I had to ask earlier this week as well. It’s a raised eyebrow. And it’s bloody annoying when someone uses it five times in the same post.

Re: The OP, how about some things which make Iraq and Viet Nam dissimilar:

  1. Iraq mostly desert, Viet Nam mostly jungle or wetlands.

  2. Iraq a single country (at least for now) with ground forces able to roam at will, Viet Nam split in two, with northern half off limits to US ground forces

  3. US involvement in Viet Nam began as trickle of military “advisors” to resist a guerrilla campaign instigated by the North against the South, which morphed into a combat force as resistance by Viet Minh (and later Viet Cong) strengthened; US involvement in Iraq began as massive, multinational assault to evict Iraq from Kuwait, became a low-level conflict made up almost entirely of air strikes against mostly military targets over most of a decade, then ramped up to another full-scale assault. Not the slightest comparison, really.

  4. US entered Viet Nam conflict specifically to resist what it saw as Soviet expansionism; US has entered Iraq at least in part what most see as a form of US expansionism.

  5. US claimed to enter Viet Nam conflict in part to prop up an allied government; US entered Iraq in part to depose what it considered an enemy government.

  6. Guerrilla insurgency in Viet Nam survived mainly on logistical help from the off-limits North; insurgency in Iraq (so far at least) appears to be surviving mainly on small arms sourced from former Iraqi army stocks, and there seems little or no sign that these can or will be replenished from bordering countries.

  7. Guerrilla insurgency in Iraq covered more than a decade of fighting; guerrilla insurgency in Iraq is less than a year old.

To my mind, there’s not all that much point to comparing the two conflicts. The way the fighting has evolved is what one would expect: the US has an unquestionable technical superiority, and will always prevail in a pitched battle, so any resistance necessarily must be of a guerrilla nature to have a chance of success. As there are onloy so many ways to fight a guerrilla-style conflict, ther naturally be similarities.

I think a more interesting comparison would be between Iraq and the Soviet efforts to bring Afghanistan under its control.

Jeepers, sorry about the typos in the last couple of paras.

  1. Guerrilla insurgency in Viet Nam covered more than a decade of fighting; guerrilla insurgency in Iraq is less than a year old.

I’m with Neurotik - Iraq has never known any kind of functioning democracy. The term Republic for the post-1958 period does not refer to a democratic process, it is a period of breaking from the earlier monarchy (which had a parliament that was a rubber stamp, but that doesn’t make a democracy, either).

And there were reformist efforts during the early stages of Saddam’s rule, but that does not mean democracy. A few quotes from the Library of Congress’ history of Iraq about those periods:

The whole thing is interesting reading, and not terribly long:
See Chapter One

I love you, too.

Whether the experience was good or bad, corrupt or functional, it was an experience with “democracy” (in that very vague use of the word). If the OP had stated, “western-style liberal democracy,” that would be a different story, or maybe even “functional representative democracy.” Either way, a lot of people don’t have faith in democracy meaning all abounding peace and happiness.

shrugs It is a nitpick on both sides, and has little to do with the premise from the OP.

>> We can win the war in Iraq, but not if we lose popular support in the United States of America. The United States will fail in Iraq if our adversaries believe they can outlast us… " [McCain,

The Iraqis will outlast the Americans in Iraq. The Americans can go home while the Iraqis are fighting for their home and have nowhere else to go.

  • Why are you fighting us?
  • Because you are here. Go home and the fight will stop.

BBC: Is Iraq another Vietnam?

I don’t love, hate you or think anything much at all about you. I just think you overuse the raised-eybrow deal, to the detriment of your arguments. Carry on.

BTW, it was 4, one was a wordless reply, and one wasa copy and paste.

This entire topic causes me to raise an eyebrow, as in, “are you freaking SERIOUS?” It is a stretch to connect the wars for the sake of making a shakey political point - there are plenty of reasons to oppose the Iraq war without trying to compare it to Vietnam, which was a different beast altogether.

Do you have a citation for this assertion that we’re already at the point of diminishing returns re troop levels?

If this were true, one would have to wonder why there’re suddenly extended tours of duty, (and multiple stop-loss orders that extend the actual enlistment periods), despite the recent influx of fresh troops.

Cite? No. I do have some logic for ya, though.

We have approx. 120,000 troops in Iraq at the moment, correct? Now, given those reserves of 120,000, one would presume that we could instantly crush any pathetic, unorganized army of a few thousand civilians. However, we seem to be having a rather rough time of it. Primarily, we can only have so many troops in a given area and operate at peak efficiency. America doesn’t fight with its numbers, it fights with its tactics. Thus, even if we had (and I’ll arbitrarily raise the number for emphasis) 500,000 soldiers in Iraq, we would still be using the same number of troops to actually quell the uprisings. The other 450,000 would be sitting around playing cards, not engaged in combat.

Hell’s bells, half of the fighting going on is happening against the few thousand foreign troops - specifically, the Salvadorians, Spanish, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and the like.

That’s because we are “suddenly” looking at an extended deployment. It has little to do with having more troops in the area- but rather, the logistics of keeping those in the area there and rotating them with fresh units properly.

Throwing more troops at the situation won’t make it better. We aren’t involved in that kind of a war (at this time) that requires more troops to be thrown at it.

This is another example of the differences between Iraq and Vietnam. 'Nam was a broad deployment of troops in a combat situation in uncontrolled territory between organized armies. Iraq is a counter-insurgent security occupation in allegedly controlled areas. Apples and oranges.