06/27/05 — Perspective, please: Don’t let Iraq war become a Vietnam

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Perspective, please: Don’t let Iraq war become a Vietnam

Quagmire. Vietnam. No end in sight. We’re losing.
These were familiar words in Washington as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers and other military leaders faced an Armed Services Committee last week.
The secretary and the generals were there to defend the U.S. position in Iraq.
Sen. Edward Kennedy was particularly vociferous and accusatory. But questions and expressions of concern also came from some friends of the Administration.
Then Gen. George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, responded to Sen. Kennedy’s “no end in sight quagmire” comment with:
“To represent the situation as a quagmire is a misrepresentation of the facts. You have an insurgency with no vision, no base, limited popular support; and an elected government committed to Iraq’s democratic process. And you have Iraqi security forces fighting for their country every day. Senator, that’s not a quagmire.”
Another Vietnam?
Let us get that in perspective.
We can blame the length — and the loss — of the Vietnam war on President Lyndon Johnson. Knowledgeable military leaders of that time say the war could have been favorably concluded in a matter or weeks or a few months had the effort not been hamstrung by the Oval Office.
Lyndon Johnson boasted that he wouldn’t “allow the generals to bomb an outhouse” without his permission.
While he claimed to grieve for the loss of every downed pilot, those airmen were subjected to greater risks because of restrictions put on their targets and on routes they were allowed to fly.
Lyndon Johnson, hoping to persuade the North Vietnamese to give up their aggression — and still placade critics at home — used a strategic approach of on-again, off-again bombing and gradually increasing ground pressure.
In effect, he cranked in just enough troops and air power to keep the blood mill running — while the communists continued their build-up and expanding their network of underground bases for troops and supplies.
And at home, opposition, led by people like Jane Fonda and including Bill and Hillary Clinton, snowballed.
The war didn’t end until Richard Nixon allowed the military to unleash relentless bombardment of North Vietnam. But by then it was too late.
President George Bush has not tried to micro-manage the war in Iraq or second guess the generals and field commanders. And he hasn’t misled those at home or in the field into seeing this as a short or easy conflict.
The likes of Sen. Kennedy and the short-sightedness of some well-intentioned and sincere members of Congress could, indeed, succeed in shortening the war.
But at tragic, unacceptable consequences negating the sacrifices of all who have served there.
It must not happen.

Published in Editorials on June 27, 2005 11:45 AM