A boxer who fails to answer the bell for a round by remaining on his stool loses the bout in a most inglorious way. Some might see that as analogous to the way U.S. forces left Vietnam in the only war America ever lost. Perhaps President Bush had that in mind when he vowed U.S. forces in Iraq will “stay the course.
The fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces was a debacle. The eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq also threatens to be disastrous. The Bush administration–or subsequent ones–could find withdrawing more difficult than invading Iraq.
After pouring its blood and treasure into Iraq, the United States ultimately may have to settle for an Islamic republic similar to the one in neighboring Iran. If so, the administration’s dashed dream of planting the seeds of democracy in Iraq could become a nightmare. Bush and most Americans evidently are unwilling to escalate the war by committing the large number of troops that would be required to win it.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who is considering a run for president in 2008, has called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2006. Feingold rejects Bush’s assertion that announcing a deadline would give insurgents a reason to continue fighting.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has his eye on the White House, says the war in Iraq bears a depressing resemblance to the Vietnam War, in which he was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds.
“We should start figuring out how we get out of there,” said Hagel, who believes the war has destabilized the Middle East. “Stay the course is not a policy. … We’re not winning.”
In the ornithological naming used during the Vietnam War, today’s hawks charge that the immediate withdrawal favored by some doves would be craven. But as the U.S. body count mounts, Bush may be forced by the increased number of war opponents to order a withdrawal.
His critics charge that he has no strategy for winning the war and lacks a withdrawal plan. The U.S. may be morally obligated to evacuate thousands of Iraqis who fought with us. Many of them could be in grave danger of reprisals if left behind.
When South Vietnam fell to communist forces, many Vietnamese who had been our strong allies were abandoned. Some of them spent years in “re-education camps.” It is a stain on our national honor.
As a reporter for United Press International, I watched the last helicopters fly from Saigon to U.S. Navy ships in the South China Sea. Panicked Vietnamese who had worked for Americans were left in despair outside the walls of the American Embassy. Many of them had been promised evacuation when the end came.
I remained in Vietnam for a month before the communist victors expelled the newspeople who had not left in the mass evacuation. Some had predicted the communist victory would result in a bloodbath of reprisals. There was no bloodbath, but many of our Vietnamese allies suffered, some remaining in hiding for years after the war.
Three decades later, Iraqis are struggling–with the help of American blood and billions of U.S. dollars–to put together a viable government acceptable to Islamic fundamentalist Shiites, Sunni members of Saddam Hussein’s former Baathist dictatorship, and the Kurds.
Sunni Arabs are behind the deadly insurgency in Iraq.
A draft constitution was bitterly attacked by Sunnis who complained they were unrepresented in the proposed constitution, which eventually must be ratified by a referendum.
The president insists the war in Iraq is a “noble cause,” but the evidence is mounting that invading that beleaguered country was a grandiose misadventure fueled by the president’s hubris. The pre-emptive invasion has landed the U.S. squarely in the middle of a raging war that may prove unwinnable and bears a remarkable resemblance to a Vietnam-style quagmire.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), writing about Vietnam in the forward to David Halberstam’s book “The Best and the Brightest,” said:
“It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay.”
Leon Daniel covered the Vietnam War for UPI and was UPI’s foreign editor.
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