Friday, April 16, 2004

From Vietnam to Iraq

The Right protests that Iraq is no Vietnam, looking only at the numbers of troops and casualties. What the Right does not remember is that, long before casualties began to rise dramatically, Washington was already haunted by a specter of defeat in Vietnam. From 1956 through 1963, the total US casualties in Vietnam was no more than 195 ("Statistical Information about Casualties of the Vietnam Conflict"). (In comparison, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has taken 689 American lives, as of April 16, 2004.). And yet, on February 25, 1964, the specter of defeat was making itself felt in the conversation between Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara: "Then come the questions: how in the hell does McNamara think, when he's losing a war, he can pull men out of there," Johnson asked rhetorically (emphasis added, "'Fog of War' vs. 'Stop the Presses,'" January 7, 2004). It's the same dilemma that confronts Bush and Kerry today. They cannot hope to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, just as no US president could win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese; nevertheless, they cannot retreat -- least of all, when it looks like they are losing. Shiites and Sunnis have now joined hands in resistance to the occupation, making April the deadliest month of the Iraq war so far. The only solution that Washington can think of, fearful of losing "credibility" of imperial might, is to escalate: "We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police" (John Kerry, "A Strategy for Iraq," April 13, 2004).

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