By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
August 17, 2005
This is a major difference with another unpopular war fought by the United States in Vietnam four decades ago. The popular resistance to the Vietnam War, and the draft that nourished it, rose to such a level that Congress cut off funding for fighting in, over and around it, providing no loopholes. Former secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted the other day that even American air power could not be used to help the South Vietnamese army it left behind.
Kissinger still, after all these years, will not accept the reality that the United States had no strategic reason to be in Vietnam and lost no strategic ground when it pulled out and left the South Vietnamese to fight for themselves. The bitter lesson of Vietnam, he wrote in The Washington Post last week, is the same one applicable in Iraq: that "military success is difficult to sustain unless buttressed by domestic support."
What the United States lost in Vietnam wasn't strategic advantage, but a psychological one. Its enemies still trumpet the notion that the American will can be broken if they can remain brutal and ruthless enough.
Abandoning Iraq, Kissinger himself notes, carries far worse consequences for the United States and its allies than Vietnam did. That's why leaving out of "emotional exhaustion" would be a mistake, he argues now.
The Taliban, radical Islam, the bloodthirsty Shiite radicals of Iran, al-Qaeda, the resurrected Baathists of Saddam Hussein - whoever stands ready to pick up the pieces after an American exit - stands ready to do far more harm to U.S. interests than North Vietnam and the Soviets did after the American exit from Vietnam.
Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the case for the "falling dominoes" of Southeast Asia looks even more ridiculous than it did when Kissinger was running the war and we were losing hundreds of lives weekly for that dubious cause. An American can fly into Hanoi now and walk down the street unmolested as if there had never been any difficulty between our two peoples.
It won't be that way with Americans in Iraq or anywhere else in that part of the world after U.S. forces leave. Not for a long time. Under the baton of Americans demanding action, squabbling Iraqi constitution writers failed to meet Monday's deadline and took a week's extension.
At home, the prospect that President Bush now faces is that something like emotional exhaustion with Iraq has transferred itself into a general George Bush fatigue, according to the public opinion polls.
Bush has gone to work on fighting war exhaustion. Trying to pull the country back from its current out-next-year mindset, he warns that setting timetables for a premature pullout would be a "terrible signal" to send to the enemies.
His words didn't directly contradict Army Gen. George W. Casey, who said a pullout would begin next spring. Yet, the president's remarks left the impression that there was something of a struggle going on between the White House and his own military leaders. Bush seemed to be Lyndon Johnson incarnate, reminding all within hearing range that that this was his administration and there would be no cutting and running.
A fixed date for the pullout gives the enemy a time limit and a fixed quota for al-Qaeda suicide bombers. Al-Qaeda's leadership in Iraq only last week declared this to be a war of attrition with the United States.
A war of attrition within a fixed withdrawal schedule is not what the United States wants.
Democrats, however critical most of them were of Bush's strategy, were not joining Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, in calling for a pullout of troops. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that would be irresponsible. But Biden did say Rumsfeld should be fired for a botched occupation.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said the current timetable was reasonable and far different than the open-ended commitment in Vietnam.
There are individual levels of exasperation and disappointment with the administration's performance, but they do not yet add up to the beginning of a move to bring the troops home. That might come later, but not yet.