“WASHINGTON — Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, likened the war in Iraq to Vietnam yesterday and said, ”The idea that the United States is going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong,” comments that drew immediate fire from Republicans.” [ Yahoo.news (AP)]
That short blurb points to the trap laid by many pundits & talking heads: equating Iraq with Vietnam. I am surprised and disappointed that Dr. Dean made that unfortunate – and highly inaccurate – comparison. He is by no means alone, but in his position he should damn well know better.
Better to point to this administration’s utter failure to follow the established and effective “Powell (Weinberger) Doctrine”. Citing Powell necessarily leads to a discussion of the reason behind the policy: 241 dead Marines in Lebanon, on Reagan’s watch, while attempting to insert the U.S. between competing factions in a civil war in the Middle East, with no set policy or exit strategy.
At what point does the party (and everyone else) realize that “Iraq” and “Vietnam” do not belong together in the same sentence? We need to make every effort to remove that comparison from any future policy speeches. Stop the tail from wagging the dog.
The thing that history teaches is that history should be taught.
Quotes below are excerpted from Colin Powell’s book on the Beirut Memorial site:
Not only did Weinberger want to sell his guidelines inside the administration; he wanted to go public that summer. We started considering possible speaking platforms, but White House political operatives nixed any such controversial speech until the presidential election was over. After Reagan’s reelection, Weinberger addressed the National Press Club on November 28. I went with him to hear him describe the tests he recommended “when we are weighing the use of U.S. combat forces abroad.”
(l) Commit only if our or our allies’ vital interests are at stake.
(2) If we commit, do so with all the resources necessary to win.
(3) Go in only with clear political and military objectives.
(4) Be ready to change the commitment if the objectives change, since wars rarely stand still.
(5) Only take on commitments that can gain the support of the American people and the Congress.
(6) Commit U.S. forces only as a last resort.
So the reason half the country is comparing Iraq to Vietnam rather than actually read and understand history is? Again, Colin Powell:
What I saw from my perch in the Pentagon was America sticking its hand into a thousand year-old hornet’s nest with the expectation that our mere presence might pacify the hornets. When ancient ethnic hatreds reignited in the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and well-meaning Americans thought we should “do something” in Bosnia, the shattered bodies of Marines at the Beirut airport were never far from my mind in arguing for caution. There are times when American lives must be risked and lost. Foreign policy cannot be paralyzed by the prospect of casualties. But lives must not be risked until we can face a parent or a spouse or a child with a clear answer to the question of why a member of that family had to die. To provide a “symbol” or a”presence” is not good enough.
For all those engaging in the debate over the Iraq war I would suggest going to the Memorial page to learn how our policy of engagement went from valid to vacuous under G.W. Bush. As you read the names, and watch those pictures scrolling across the screen every night, remember those unarmed and unprepared Marines in Beirut.
Another “Resolute Republican” president, in another time made exactly the same miscalculation in Lebanon in 1983. We don’t have to travel back to 1963 to find the correct analogy to Iraq.
Let’s be careful what we say out there, and stay out of the jungle.