Sunday, November 19, 2006

If Only Iraq Were Like Vietnam....

Some interesting comments from Condoleezza Rice,
Rice's remarks came in response to an American questioner who drew a parallel between "our recent misadventures in Iraq and the tragedy of the Vietnam War some 30 years ago."

The Bush administration rejects any such comparison, but Rice said Iraq could learn something from Vietnam's example. The country has thrived since making tough choices about its internal divisions and economy and is now Southeast Asia's fastest-growing economy.

"The Iraqis, if they do make good decisions, like Vietnam has made good decisions, if they will take tough decisions," and the world supports them, "they can and will have a better chance," Rice said.
Oh, yes... those tough choices it made. After the Americans left (call it "Victory With Honor" or "defeat", as you prefer) the North Vietnamese took absolute control of the entire nation and set about rounding up and punishing anybody who had collaborated with the enemy. Those who were fortunate enough to survive their reeducation (which included such tasks as using rudimentary tools to clear mine fields) and their families were excluded from employment and educational opportunity. Many fled the nation, at great risk to themselves. After some ill-considered military incursions by Cambodia, Vietnam conquered and occupied that nation, not withdrawing until reductions in Soviet subsidies left continued occupation unaffordable.

I don't wish to understate the progress Vietnam has made in the past two decades, but it is still a communist, totalitarian nation, and its unity results in no small part from the fact that at the end of the war the North could impose its will through a large, war-hardened army. It is not at all clear that Rice is suggesting that the parallel would include the ethnic conflicts of Iraq, with the Vietnamese of the north and south somehow analogized to Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq. But it would be a poor analogy.

Rice seems to imagine that the people on the streets in Iraq could look at Vietnam, understand its resentments toward colonial occupation, the two French Wars, and what it calls the American War, and understand that their nation can bypass the decades of recriminatio, retaliation, internal oppression, and warfare with and occupation of neighboring nations, if only they lay down their arms and embrace... er, an iron-fisted, totalitarian government that moderates its actions in order to attract foreign investment and tourism? When Rice praises Vietnam for meeting "international norms" and urges nations like Burma/Myanmar and North Korea to follow its lead, is she limiting her comments to economic norms?

I suspect this betrays the root of the neo-con dream, as intimated by Krauthammer a few days ago, that everything could be perfect (or close enough to perfect) in Iraq had only we imposed a corrupt, self-serving, but capitalist thug (Ahmed Chalabi) as leader, permitted him to demonstrate unbridled violence against any sign of dissent or disorder (e.g., "shooting looters"), and doing him the favor of crushing any coherent military force which might oppose him. Perhaps, like Krauthammer, she doesn't think that Iraqis (or Vietnamese) are sufficiently prepared for democracy, but as long as they are stable and can be profitably engaged in commerce, the rest is just talk.


  1. You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”

    The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

    How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

    Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

    From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

    This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

    This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

    We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

  2. "How can any newcomer, . . .understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?"

    I think the problem has more to do with the amount of money and political capital sunk into these programs then it does the "complexity" of the program. Rummie's efforts at "transformation" (whether you agreed with the goal or not) didn't flounder due to his failure to grasp the complexity of the weapon systems he wanted to cut. It floundered because it is hard to admit that we are flushing billions of dollars down a toilet when we cut a program. (Do you remember the A-12?)



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