Green Left Weekly: Iraq - Vietnam Replayed

Published: Thu 11 Dec 2003 12:10 AM
Iraq: Vietnam Replayed
By Doug Lorimer
Green Left Weekly
“It is not Vietnam, and there is no way you can make the comparison”, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US general in Iraq, snapped at a reporter during a November 11 Pentagon press briefing in Baghdad. The reporter had asked Sanchez whether the war in Iraq resembled the early days of the US war in Vietnam.
While the White House and Pentagon brass desperately want to avoid the US people drawing any such comparisons, with US troops dying every day at the hands of guerrillas who clearly have popular backing, more and more Americans are coming to realise that the war in Iraq is a replay of the Vietnam War.
In a November 16 article on the parallels between the two wars, Troy Moon, a reporter for the Florida-based Pensacola News Journal, observed that on the surface, the differences between the two wars “are vast: jungle warfare versus urban fighting, the amount of time invested in each conflict, the number of casualties. In Vietnam, 58,000 Americans died in a nine-year period. In Iraq, more than 400 US troops — and growing — have died since the invasion of Iraq eight months ago...
“Others say that the parallels cannot be ignored. `In Vietnam, we were basically fighting guerrilla warfare', said retired Air Force Colonel Pat Ham, who spent two tours of duty in Vietnam and who, as a foreign military sales officer, has had extensive dealings with countries throughout the Middle East. `And that's exactly what's going on now. They'd fire mortar rounds into the base and hit headquarters or barracks. It wasn't strategic military victories on their part. It was a constant thing you lived with, and it`s very similar to the situation in Iraq now'.”
“I think it's a very different war, but the tactics are starting to get very, very similar to the guerrilla warfare we experienced in Vietnam”, Santa Rosa County commissioner Don Salter, a Vietnam War veteran whose half-brother, Sergeant Jimmie Brooks, was killed by sniper fire in Vietnam, told the Pensacola News Journal. “We're going to continue to see five, 10, 15, 20 bodies a week put in body bags and sent back to the United States. It's the same concept used in Vietnam, because they know Americans won't stand by week after week after week seeing our men and women killed and sent home in body bags.”
`Sounds like Vietnam to me'
In an article posted on the web site of the US Veterans Against the Iraq War (< >), Stewart Nusbaumer noted that “the word `Vietnam' is being heard more and more in the US, in homes, in bars and cafes, on call-in radio talk shows, where people think and discuss without the heavy censorship of the corporate media”. “Iraq is turning into another Vietnam”, a disabled Vietnam veteran wearing a cowboy hat with a POW-MIA patch on its side, commented to Nusbaumer.
The US big business media has finally turned to the analogy of Vietnam, notes Nusbaumer, “but only to discredit the idea that Iraq is another Vietnam”. He cites as an example, the arguments made by the NBC television network's military analyst, retired US Colonel Jack Jacobs, in various interviews in recent weeks.
In Vietnam, Jacobs claimed, the US fought against large military units, while in Iraq US troops are confronting only small groups of combatants, often only two or three fighters. Nusbaumer responds: “But what Vietnam is the retired colonel comparing Iraq with? In the earlier stages of the Vietnam War, when French troops did the fighting, and later when US military advisors became active, the opposing Vietnamese forces were nearly always organised in small guerrilla units.
“It is normal for insurgents to conduct their military operations in small units, only later, after they become better equipped and better organised, do they band together into larger fighting units.
“As for Iraq, this war is at an early stage, so guerrillas are conducting operations in small hit-and-run formations and using remote control bombs to strike where US forces and their allies, and local collaborators, are most vulnerable.
“It is crucial to remember that the goal of guerrillas — including the Iraqi guerrillas — is not to militarily defeat the larger and stronger military force, but to undermine security and increase the number of locals opposing (both passively and actively) the occupying forces. The Iraqi guerrillas are doing a sterling job. Security in Iraq is deteriorating, popular opposition to the US is increasing (a recent report by the CIA points this out) which will both embolden and swell the ranks of the insurgency and give them the civilian pool of supporters they need to be effective. Sounds like Vietnam to me.”
“In one sense”, Nusbaumer added, “Iraq does appear to be different to Vietnam: Iraq is deteriorating faster than Vietnam did, and Americans are seeing the truth faster than in the 1960s.”
US casualties
Indeed, more US troops have died in Iraq in the eight months since the US war began than were killed during the first three years of the US war in Vietnam, which the Pentagon says officially began on December 11, 1961.
A November 13 Reuters analysis of US defence department statistics showed that in Vietnam the US military had suffered 392 fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when US troop levels stood at just over 17,000. As of December 1, 437 US troops have died in Iraq since March 20, when the US invasion began. Of these, 79 died in November, the highest monthly casualty rate so far.
Estimates of total US casualties since the invasion of Iraq began vary, but according to Florida's Orlando Sentinel, almost 10,000 US soldiers have either been killed, wounded, injured in accidents or become ill enough to be evacuated. Pentagon numbers reported by the newspaper showed 9675 casualties as of November 28. This amounts to almost an entire army division having been put out of action.
It has also taken much less time for US public opinion to turn against the war in Iraq than it took to turn against the Vietnam War.
Taking the Pentagon's official date of December 1961 for the start of the US war in Vietnam, it was more than six years into the war before a majority — 53% — of US voters said the war was a mistake. It has taken only seven months of war in Iraq for a similar percentage to reach this conclusion, according to USA Today/CNN/Gallup polls.
Anti-war sentiment
This rapid collapse in public support for US President George Bush's handing of the war in Iraq — down from 75% in April — has also meant that participation in anti-war protests has grown much more rapidly in relation to Iraq than it did during the Vietnam War.
The first US national protest demonstration against the Vietnam War — held in Washington DC on April 17, 1965, more than three years after the official beginning of the war — attracted 25,000 participants. The first US national protest demonstration against the war in Iraq — held in Washington on October 25, seven months after the war began — attracted 100,000 people, four times as many participants.
One person who is in no doubt that the US war in Iraq is a replay of the US war in Vietnam and will end in the same way — with a US defeat — is Ray McGovern. A CIA analyst from 1964 to 1990, who regularly briefed George Bush senior when Bush served as US President Ronald Reagan's vice-president, McGovern argued in a widely posted internet article on November 3: “What is increasingly clear is that neither the present-day Pentagon whiz kids nor their patron, Vice-President Dick Cheney, have learned much from history.
“They encourage President Bush to insist, `We are not leaving'; and defence secretary [Donald} Rumsfeld to protest that this war is `winnable'. But most of those with a modicum of experience in guerrilla warfare and the Middle East are persuaded that the war is not winnable and that the only thing in doubt is the timing of the US departure.”
Recent White House and Pentagon “sloganeering is eerily reminiscent of a comparable stage in our involvement in Vietnam”, wrote McGovern. “We would have to `stay the course'. We could not `cut and run' — though that is precisely what we ended up doing in 1975 after 58,000 US troops and 3 million Vietnamese had been killed.”
“The US troop presence in Iraq is the problem, not the solution”, McGovern argued. The enemy of this troop presence “is every Iraqi with weapon or explosive who means to make the occupier suffer”.
“As long as the occupation continues, so will the killing of US troops and others”, argues McGovern. “The way to stop the violence is to end the occupation; the only way to protect our troops is to bring them home... But, many protest, we can't just withdraw! Sure we can, and better now than 10 years from now, as in the case of Vietnam.”
From Green Left Weekly, December 10, 2003.
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