Double Reverse With a Twist: Iraq and Vietnam
by John Isaacs
It happened in Vietnam and it is happening again in Iraq. For a second time.
The Vietnam War should have taught us that a large foreign military force can transform a genuine problem into something worse. Yet we repeated that disastrous error in Iraq in 2003 and risk repeating it again in 2014.
The United States spends billions of dollars to train and build an army in a foreign land whose culture we do not understand and where few Americans speak the language. We go there with apparently noble intentions: to fight Communism or to bring democracy and a better life to the people.
The United States armed forces leave after years of fighting and dying. A couple of years afterwards, the army that we have supported to the tune of many billions of dollars and years of training collapses in the face of a highly motivated force. An army built more for loyalty to the nation’s leaders than competence collapses, with many units dissolving and leaving their weapons behind.
A government, focused on retaining tight control of the levers of power rather than building a pluralistic society that might have brought strong support, finds itself inadequate to the challenge.
In both wars, the U.S. suffered many thousands of deaths and wounded soldiers. The Iraq War claimed 4,500 American lives and, according to one study, 500,000 Iraqi lives. Linda Bilmes, a Harvard expert in public finance, estimated that the total cost of the Iraq war will be $4 trillion.
The Vietnam War led to the deaths of about 58,000 Americans and 153,000 wounded. The deaths are marked on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. There were an estimated 800,000 – 1.1 million Vietnamese deaths.
The United States ended its military involvement in Vietnam in 1973. Much to the dismay of the American war supporters, later that year Congress passed legislation prohibiting direct or indirect military involvement in Vietnam and cut by half assistance to that country.
In January 1975, the North Vietnamese Army launched an invasion of the South; by April, the South Vietnam Army had collapsed and the remaining Americans and some allies were forced to depart the country from the roof of the American Embassy.
Now it is starting all over again. Slowly, with promises not to get too involved…
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