WASHINGTON - There are a hundred reasons why Iraq
, but a few where the similarities are chilling.
First, let's examine the big differences.
The Iraqi guerrillas aren't the Viet Cong. They don't swim like fish among the 24 million citizens of Iraq. They're overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims and they're largely confined to the Iron Triangle defined by the Baghdad suburbs in the south, Tikrit in the north, and Ramadi and Fallujah to the west.
They don't fight to unify their homeland, but to regain a brutal minority's power over an enslaved majority. They were the privileged class under Saddam Hussein and they don't want to let go of the BMWs, the mansions and the other perks.
If they tried to swim among the peoples they oppressed for 40 years, the Kurds and Turkomens in the north and the Shiites in the south, they wouldn't last a New York minute.
They have no Ho Chi Minh to put a kindly and photogenic visage on their campaign. They soldier under the banner of the fugitive Saddam, who tortured and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to keep himself, his family and his Tikriti tribe in power.
They don't have a China or a Soviet Union to pump in weapons and ammunition and carry the ball for them in the United Nations and internationally. They don't need them. Iraq is one huge arms dump, with a million tons of unguarded weapons and explosives.
They don't have the sanctuaries that afforded easy shelter and protection for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. No Cambodia. No Laos. Iraq's borders are long and porous, but not even Iran among its neighbors wants to be caught providing sanctuary for these people.
The Iraqi guerrillas can use SAM-7 missiles or rocket-propelled grenades to shoot down the occasional U.S. helicopter; drop a few mortar rounds into this compound or that; send truck bombs against soft targets of opportunity, such as the U.N. headquarters; build roadside explosive devices triggered by cell phones; and fire RPGs into soft-skinned Humvees.
But that's all they really have to do. That and survive. A presidential election is approaching in the United States and Americans and their allies are already growing impatient with the cost of this war, both in blood and in treasure.
So where are the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam? They reside in Washington.
The failures of American political leadership that plagued this country in Vietnam are being repeated in Iraq. Lyndon Johnson used a dubious excuse, the Tonkin Gulf incident, to march his countrymen into Vietnam. George W. Bush, under the tutelage of Dick Cheney, waved the threat of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda to march America into Iraq.
Johnson and his secretary of defense, Robert Strange McNamara, were contemptuous of their senior military advisers and spurned their counsel at every turn. Although President Bush keeps a comfortable distance from such matters, his vice president and his secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, seem equally contemptuous of their military subordinates.
If you want one more similarity, consider the incredible egos of McNamara and Rumsfeld. McNamara listened only to his small staff of Whiz Kids; Rumsfeld listens to a similar coterie including Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and the dark prince himself, Richard Perle.
They share a breathtaking arrogance. They brook no word of opposition. They persist in believing that somehow they can graft Jeffersonian democracy onto ancient Mesopotamia, a land bathed in blood and ruled by terror for millennia. When they're wrong, they never admit it. Never.
A large part of the trouble unfolding in Iraq can be laid directly at the feet of Cheney, Rumsfeld and their people. They made no plans for postwar Iraq. No plans to secure the buildings and symbols of government in Iraq. No plans to rebuild a shattered economy, infrastructure and nation. No plans to secure law and order in a fractious, violent place.
They listened instead to their own counsel and to the whisperings of exiles who hadn't lived in Iraq in 40 years. They ignored the warnings of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. They ignored nearly a year of detailed studies and plans for postwar Iraq because the study was done by the despised State Department.
It took Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon nearly a decade to fail in Vietnam. Cheney and Rumsfeld could do it in Iraq in a year.
[Have an opinion on this article? Sound off here
.]© 2003 Joe Galloway. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.