Comparisons of Iraq, Vietnam faulty after knowledge of both

I’m finishing up one of the best courses, in my opinion, I’ve ever taken at Penn State University — History 173 (Vietnam at War). The course was a sweeping review of the long history of Vietnam from its early conflicts with China to European colonization to its cultural development to, finally, America’s war in the 1960s and 1970s.

As you might imagine, the majority of the course focused on the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.

We sought to find out how and why we sent troops to Vietnam. What was the strategic value of Vietnam? How did the conflict escalate to the scale it did? How did we end up losing? Was the effort worth 50,000 plus American casualties?

What are the lessons of Vietnam?

These are just a few of the big questions the class attempted to answer. But as the class progressed, we found that there were no definite answers to these questions.

Several reasons were offered up in attempting to explain why we went to war in Vietnam, but there really wasn’t one that we could point to and say with absolute certainty that this was why we were there.

It definitely says a lot about the conflict when you spend an entire semester studying it and still can’t come to a consensus on the main reason for American involvement.

So why am I bringing this up to you?

Well, I think it’s pretty obvious. We’re at war in Iraq for reasons some say are still unclear (though I don’t think so), and we are fighting a committed and deadly insurgency with no exit strategy in sight.

We have prominent politicians like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) calling Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam” from the floor of the Senate and stodgy, unkempt filmmakers such as Michael Moore making unscrupulous documentaries portraying Bush to be more sinister than Saddam Hussein. In early action of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, doomsday critics latched onto any sort of bad news to call our efforts a quagmire hoping to eventually declare our defeat.

The reality is that the liberal elites in this country —- from Kennedy to Moore and his pals in Tinseltown to most of academia and all of the mainstream media — are obsessed with Vietnam. In every military action the United States has taken since 1975, these people declared that Grenada in 1983 to the first Gulf War in 1990-91 to Afghanistan in 2001 would be the next Vietnam.

On all counts they have been wrong. Yet they persist in their belief that what we face today in Iraq is already another Vietnam. But why is it that this crowd is so persistent in their belief that any military engagement we undertake will result in our defeat?

Because war isn’t the answer?

If you are of the opinion that Iraq is today’s Vietnam, frankly, you are quite wrong. For one, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong — the communist insurgents in South Vietnam — were not, as the hawkish leftist Christopher Hitchens says, “The enemy of the whole civilized world,” as those who we are battling in Iraq and elsewhere certainly are. The enemy we faced in Vietnam only wanted the U.S., like the French and Japanese before them, to leave South Vietnam so they could unify all of Vietnam under communist rule.

Secondly, in Iraq, if you’ve forgotten already, we actually achieved the strategic military victory. From the outset, the stated goal was the deposing of Saddam Hussein’s regime. We took care of that in three weeks.

From the time the U.S. engaged in heavy combat operations in Vietnam from January of 1965 to December of 1972 we never achieved the strategic victory of driving communist forces from South Vietnam. Indeed, once the last American officials left in 1975, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops stormed Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Mihn City, in honor of their communist hero.

Today in Iraq, the last insurgent hot-bed of Fallujah, while not wholly pacified, is back in American control, and elections in Iraq remain on schedule for the end of January. The road ahead is nowhere near easy, but the progress we’ve made so far both politically and militarily is exponentially greater than anything we achieved in Vietnam.

For this reason and many more that exceed this column’s 800-word limit, we should not lose hope in our effort. I believe it is a noble one, but only history can judge this to be true.