Magazine article Newsweek

Vietnam and Iraq Now Inextricably Linked as U.S. Geopolitical Disasters; the Middle East Is Engulfed in Chaos, with Al-Qaeda and Its Radical Sunni Offshoots Metastasizing and on the March, Not Just in Iraq but in Syria

Magazine article Newsweek

Vietnam and Iraq Now Inextricably Linked as U.S. Geopolitical Disasters; the Middle East Is Engulfed in Chaos, with Al-Qaeda and Its Radical Sunni Offshoots Metastasizing and on the March, Not Just in Iraq but in Syria

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Powell

Lance Corporal Victor Lu's friends in his Marine unit--the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force that fought in the brutal battle to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from insurgents in late 2004--used to call him "Buddha." The young Vietnamese-American man was 6 feet 3 inches tall, a black belt in Ju Si Tang Chinese kung fu and among the physically strongest men in his unit. But the imposing strength and physique belied a gentle, affable nature. Hence the nickname, which Lu liked so much he scribbled it onto the back of his Kevlar vest.

He had grown up in Los Angeles, not far from the University of Southern California, the eldest son of six children born to Nu and Xuong Lu, his mother and father. His parents had fled the country in the wake of the 1975 American withdrawal--and Communist takeover--of that country. Roughly 800,000 Vietnamese left the country from 1975 to 1995, with more than half of them settling in the United States.

Like many other young Americans, he had enlisted in the Marines after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and hoped, after the war, to join the Los Angeles Police Department. Before he went back for his second tour--before the assault on Fallujah--he told a friend he believed deeply in the mission. "We are bringing freedom," he said, "to people who deserve it."

Lu would not return from Iraq alive. In the early morning of November 13, 2004, the "3-5" was going house to house in Fallujah. When one front door jammed, Lu's fellow Marines called on him to use his bulk and strength as a battering ram. He rammed his shoulder into the door, it popped open, and almost immediately Lu began taking fire from three insurgents inside. He absorbed eight or nine rounds before his unit mates could return fire. He slumped to the floor, mortally wounded. He was 22 years old.

Blame Game

A decade later, Fallujah, in the heart of Anbar province, 40 miles west of Baghdad, again sits under the control of insurgents, this time the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)--the Al-Qaeda offshoot known as ISIS--radical Sunnis apparently working in concert with former Baath Party officers loyal to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. So too do the cities of Mosul, Tal Afar and Tikrit--all places where Americans at various times in the past decade fought bravely and, in many instances, brilliantly.

No American troops remain in Iraq, having pulled out at the end of 2011--though President Barack Obama announced on June 19 he would send 300 military "advisers" back into a country that now seems headed irretrievably toward a cataclysmic Shiite-Sunni civil war. Their role, at the outset, will be to determine which Iraqi military units are capable of fighting the ISIS insurgents.

The unfolding debacle in Iraq has set off a furious--and drearily predictable--partisan dispute in Washington over who was more to blame: former president George W. Bush, who decided to fight a war of choice (not necessity) in Iraq after deploying forces to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in late 2001, or President Barack Obama, who decided to leave Iraq to its own devices, with not even a residual force remaining under a so-called "status of forces agreement" (SOFA), which the U.S. has in several other countries in which it has fought since the end of World War II. Washington was unable to come to agreement with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the terms for a renegotiated SOFA--to replace the one put in place by Bush in 2008--and gave up trying in the fall of 2011.

The two wars that shaped the life and death of Victor Lu--Vietnam and Iraq--are now bound inextricably together. They were wars fought for high-minded geopolitical ideals that ended in disaster. They were American fiascos. The United States hasn't yet sent helicopters to Baghdad to evacuate an embassy under siege--the iconic, despairing image of defeat in Vietnam--but "nonessential" personnel have already been evacuated. …

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