View Full Version : Some on Capitol Hill seem to yearn for a repeat of Vietnam.

06-28-05, 09:31 AM
The Defeatist Caucus
Some on Capitol Hill seem to yearn for a repeat of Vietnam.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 12:01 a.m.

At a press conference with the new Iraqi prime minister last week, a reporter noted slipping public opinion of the war and asked President Bush if his administration is now stuck in the mud. Mr. Bush responded with a joke, saying the reporter might even call it a "quagmire." The reference is to Vietnam, of course, and some in the press corps these days hardly seem able to hide their glee that Mr. Bush's war appears to be faltering. Tonight the president will strike back with a live, prime-time speech aimed at rallying public support.
We can hope that he will mention Vietnam because that metaphor is getting hard to escape. Not because the U.S. is embroiled in a far off, unwinnable war that is somehow compromising the nation's moral character--although convincing us of that is clearly the goal of the critics who never tire of using Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the Patriot Act to claim the administration is tossing civil rights to the wind. Those were the conclusions drawn by the antiwar left in the late 1960s and early '70s and ended up being apt as the pressure caused the U.S. to retreat and a betray our allies in Vietnam. This was the case even as on the ground, particularly after the Tet offensive in 1968, the communist forces were decimated by the American military. Rather the Vietnam metaphor is apt today because the U.S. is in a war it can win and is winning, if only those inside the Beltway would stop preferring defeat to victory and disgrace to honor.

As in Vietnam, the stakes in Iraq today are much larger than simply allowing millions of people in one country to descend into chaos and oppression. We fought it out for a decade in the jungles of Southeast Asia, losing more than 50,000 American lives, because we knew that handing communist insurgents one country made it more likely that they would soon grow hungry for another. Do we think it is now any different with Islamic insurgents just because there is no longer a Soviet Union out there ready to back them? If the U.S. walks away from this war and leaves it to Europe to hold back Islamic extremists, we might as well just accept right now that the terrorists will topple more of our skyscrapers--or worse.
In the end, South Vietnam was abandoned and conquered, and it descended into poverty and oppression. Some, not content to their fate in the re-education camps, took to the high seas, and many ended up in the U.S. But the oppression hasn't ended for those left behind. Dissidents, Buddhist monks and others are routinely pulled off the streets and out of their homes and tossed into prison. Some of the continuing human rights abuses were chronicled last week in congressional hearings.

If this was it, then maybe we could accept a defeat once in a while. But walking away from the overarching moral struggle proved disastrous across the world. After Congress shut off funding to the Republic of Vietnam, U.S. influence receded in the face of communist insurgency, and South Vietnam quickly fell in 1975. The emboldened Soviets were then free to press their interests in Africa, South America and, yes, the Middle East. The shah of Iran fell just a few years after Saigon. Radical Islamic terrorism got a big push from the Soviets.

This history is worth running through because some of those who led the effort to shut off funds to South Vietnam are in Congress today and are among the critics of the war in Iraq. It's not that Massachusetts's Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry learned nothing from the defeat in Vietnam. It seems that they learned all the wrong lessons and still have no problem with watching the U.S. lose an eminently winnable and moral war.

The history of the Vietnam War could repeat itself in Iraq if the Beltway class decides to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Yet we are winning the global war on terror by the only measure of success that matters: Terrorists have not successfully pulled off another attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. We are also succeeding in Iraq and at pressuring much of the Middle East to move toward accepting the antidote to the hate-filled ideology that spawns terrorists: democracy and freedom.
Partly our success can be seen by what's not happening in Iraq today. There are no more mass graves being filled. Nor is there a cruel dictator sitting atop one of the world's largest armies and wondering how best to acquire the weapons of mass destruction that might throw back Western forces. We also don't have to worry about Saddam Hussein handing off such weapons to terrorists from his prison cell. With Saddam out of power, an elected provisional government is now working on the nation's constitution. There will be more elections in the near future, including a referendum on the constitution.

On the military side of the war, U.S. forces have lost fewer than 2,000 people in more than two years of fighting in Iraq--an outcome that would have been dismissed as utopian before the invasion. Meanwhile our forces are armoring up and developing tactics and weapons to defeat insurgents. Even as the enemy is still pulling off deadly attacks, insurgents are finding Iraqi recruits harder to come by. Many of the "insurgents" aren't Iraqi at all but are terrorists from foreign countries. This is a welcome development--jihadis who head for Baghdad aren't heading to Brooklyn. It can also only go on for so long, especially now as the Iraqi Security Forces are growing in number and in their ability to lead counterinsurgency operations. It's telling that recruits to the ISF and tips on what the insurgents are up to are on the rise--both of which are used by the U.S. military to measure Iraqi resolve.

It took eight years of determined effort for Ronald Reagan to reverse the course of history by backing freedom fighters across the globe, building up our military capabilities and finding other ways to put the screws to the Soviets. During those years he was also roundly criticized for confronting the ideologues of oppression and, in the process, risking alienating our European allies. But shortly after President Reagan left office the evil empire collapsed in a heap. We had our holiday from history in the 1970s and again, under President Clinton, in the 1990s, with disastrous results each time. Now we've got the wind at our back and a president willing to confront the ideologues of hate by backing those seeking their own freedom around the world. We don't have to lose this war. But we could, if the nation loses confidence in fighting it.