Soldier On, Escalate, or Get Out?
This is "George Bush's Vietnam," railed Sen. Kennedy last week in a charge
that angered Sen. John McCain.
And by any traditional measure of war, McCain is right.
While Vietnam lasted a decade and took 58,000 U.S. lives, Iraq has lasted a
year and cost 650 U.S. dead. Even the Filipino insurrection of 1899-1902 was a
far bloodier affair. But one comparison is valid. A U.S. defeat in Iraq would
be a far greater strategic disaster than the loss of South Vietnam.
For what is on the line here is not only the Bush presidency, but the myth of
American invincibility, the "democratic revolution" the president has been
preaching, Tony Blair, the U.S. position in the oil-rich Gulf and Arab world,
and our standing as the world's last superpower. For it is the definition of a
superpower that when it goes to war, it prevails.
All is now riding on Bush's commitment to create a pro-Western, democratic
Iraq and not be forced out in a humiliating retreat and defeat by the
burgeoning insurrection. And as in Vietnam around 1963, we have come to a
turning point. The critical question before us: Do we go in deeper, or do we
cut our losses and look for the nearest exit?
With the battles for Fallujah and Ramadi, the seizure by the Mahdi Army of
Sheik al-Sadr of Kut, Karbala and Najaf, the fighting in Sadr City, the
recurring attacks on aid workers, the abandonment of their posts by Iraqi
police, the refusal to fight of one of four Iraqi battalions we trained, it is
clear: We do not have sufficient forces on the ground to crush and snuff out
So we must decide. How much blood and treasure are we willing to invest in
democracy in Baghdad, and for how long? Is a democratic Iraq vital to our
security? What assurances are there that we can win this war?
Finally, how lasting will any victory be? Lest we forget: When U.S. troops and
POWs came home from Vietnam in 1973, America appeared to have won the war. Not
until the spring of 1975 did a North Vietnamese invasion overrun the South and
President Bush faces three options. He can continue to draw down troops and
transfer power to the Iraq Governing Council on June 30, and risk a collapse
in chaos or civil war. He can hold to present U.S. force levels and accept a
war of attrition of indefinite duration, a war on which his countrymen have
begun to sour.
Or he can send in more troops and unleash U.S. power to crush all resistance,
while declaring our resolve to "pay any price" and fight on to victory, even
if it takes two, five or 10 years. The problem with playing Churchill is that,
as in Vietnam, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The incidence of attacks on our troops, aid workers and Iraqi allies is
rising. The more fiercely we fight back, the higher the casualties we inflict
on insurgent and civilian alike, and the greater the hostility grows to our
war and our presence. Indeed, if our occupation itself is the cause of the
insurgency, how do we win the war by extending and deepening it?
The Shiite regions are now inflamed to a degree they were not just two weeks
ago. Where Moqtada Al Sadr was then a thuggish and receding figure, by his
killing of U.S. troops he has made himself an adversary to whom our enemies
In dealing with him, we have three options. Kill him and make him a dead
martyr, which could ignite the Shiite population, compelling even Ayatollah
Sistani to condemn us. Arrest him and make him a living martyr. But if
arresting his deputy ignited the present uprising, imagine the hell that will
break loose if we take the sheik to Baghdad airport.
Or leave him alone. But then he will have shown Iraqis that one can kill U.S.
soldiers with impunity, even when Americans control your country. Not a good
message to send. Like Vietnam, Iraq, too, has porous borders. There is no way
to halt the trickle of foreign fighters slipping in.
Then there are the January elections. If militant Shiites and Sunnis run on a
pledge to expel the Americans, what do we do if they win?
Americans supported Bush's war because we were persuaded that the malignancy
of Iraq's leader and the horrific nature of the weapons he had or was seeking
meant we must destroy his regime or our country was in mortal peril. With that
threat gone, what we are fighting for? Democracy in Iraq? Or is it now just to
avoid defeat in Iraq?
© 2004 Creators
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