Is Iraq Another 'Vietnam'?

Monthly Review, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Is Iraq Another 'Vietnam'?


THE EDITORS

An indication of just how bad things have become for the U.S. invaders and occupiers of Iraq is that comparisons with the Vietnam War are now commonplace in the U.S. media. In a desperate attempt to put a stop to this, President Bush intimated on April 13, in one of his rare press conferences, that the mere mention of the Vietnam analogy in relation to the present war was unpatriotic and constituted a betrayal of the troops. Yet the question remains and seems to haunt the U.S. occupation of Iraq: To what extent has Iraq become another "Vietnam" for American imperialism?

It is true that any direct comparison of the two wars points to the enormous differences between them. In Iraq the United States is not opposed, as in Vietnam, by a national liberation movement arising out of more than a century of revolutionary struggle against French and then American imperialism. The scale of the U.S. military intervention in Iraq is much smaller than in Vietnam and the number of casualties much smaller as well. The Cold War is long over. The geography of the war is different.

Nevertheless, Iraq, like Vietnam in the previous century, is coming to stand for the limits of American power. The United States is the sole remaining superpower, the greatest military power on earth. Yet its claim to omnipotence is now being shaken once again by popular resistance forces and hatred of the invader in a third world country. In April alone U.S. combat deaths in Iraq exceeded those from the beginning of the American invasion of Iraq to the fall of Baghdad--the period that was supposed to have constituted the full duration of the war. No stable political solution in Iraq that is acceptable to the United States ruling class seems possible. A military solution to the conflict does not exist. And the United States, it is frequently observed, has "no exit strategy"--if indeed it intends to exit fully at all. Under these circumstances the question of defeat once again arises, paralleling Vietnam. Although the world situation has changed dramatically one cannot help but be reminded of the lines of the Chinese People's Daily in 1966: "The more forces United States imperialism throws into Asia, the more will it be bogged down there and the deeper will be the grave it digs for itself" (quoted in the New York Times, August 31, 1966).

There is no doubt that the U.S. ruling class is acutely aware of the Vietnam analogy and concerned that U.S. imperialism is facing another disaster, which will only get worse the longer it remains in Iraq. At the same time there is an enormous momentum driving the United States toward a continuation and escalation of the war. On April 2, 1970, at a critical point in the Vietnam War, Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that the enemy "cannot drive us out of Indochina. But they can force on us the choice of either plunging in altogether or getting out altogether." * This describes the main dilemma that the United States experienced throughout the Vietnam War. It was able to plunge in deeper and deeper and did. But eventually it was compelled by its failures in the face of an implacable resistance to get out altogether--a result that was also encouraged by the growth of a massive antiwar movement at home. A similar unpalatable choice faces the United States in Iraq today. A major escalation is unacceptable to the mass of the world's population including the populations of the major U.S. allies, and is most likely unacceptable to the mass of the U.S. population itself. However, getting out altogether is unacceptable to the U.S. ruling class, which has real spoils of war to lose and is worried about the credibility of U.S. power. Under these circumstances an escalation of the war appears likely despite the global political fallout this will entail.

The general view of the U.S. power elite can be seen in a report entitled Iraq: One Year Later released in March by the Council on Foreign Relations. …

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