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Iraq is not Vietnam, it is much worse

By Tom Clifford - posted Monday, 9 July 2007

Iraq is not Vietnam, it is much worse. To compare the two is insulting both to Vietnamese and the Iraqis. An American president who got political connections to save him from the draft, whose campaign poured scorn on his challenger's Vietnam record, who has consistently said that he has no interest in history, now uses the comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq out of political expediency.

One of this White House's most cherished, asinine beliefs is that the media lost the war in Vietnam. TV images of young, wounded, American soldiers being airlifted from paddy fields under the whoosh of a Huey's rotating blades was too much for Americans to accept in the comforts of armchaired suburbia, they claimed. What, in actual, fact made Americans feel uncomfortable was the lies emanating from Washington.

Well, this time it certainly is not the media who are losing Iraq, George. There are so few images coming from Iraq to disturb the chattering classes of the armchair set because the country is too unstable to cover.


Indeed, it was sections of the media that helped beat the war drums for this White House in 2002 and 2003. On August 24 last year, a New York Times editorial declared: "If we had all known then what we know now, the invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry." If journalists, especially in America but not just there, had not ignored their ethics and stuck to their primary task of revealing the facts then the lies of Bush and Blair would not have been so easily and unquestionably amplified.

So let's get a few things clear right from the start.

Iraq is not Vietnam, Baghdad is not Saigon and Ramadan 2006 certainly is not Tet 1968. Tet was a military disaster for both the Viet Cong and the Americans but the sight of fighting in the US embassy compound in Saigon revealed the hollowness of American statements that the war was being won.

Afghanistan, well that's another story. That does look like turning into Vietnam; it bears all the hallmarks of a Vietnam template.

If Bush had compared Kabul to Saigon then there may have been some historical justification. But he didn't. So if Iraq is not like Vietnam then what catastrophe does it resemble? The situation in Iraq today is similar to Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took over 31 years ago. America launched a secret bombing campaign of Cambodia in the mid-60s which rapidly destroyed the agriculture-based society of the rural areas.

Twin scourges

Just like in Iraq, the vacuum created by the twin scourges of imperial arrogance and massive bombing tore to shreds the institutions of state leaving it wide open for a militia, the Khmer Rouge, to take over and introduce their poisonous philosophy of Year Zero. No one can be in any doubt that if the Americans were to leave Iraq tomorrow, the country would succumb to a militia's version of Year Zero.


It would not be comparable to the disciplined forces of the Viet Cong who took over Saigon in 1975 and who have since rebuilt the country. When America goes and Iraq is taken over the country will not be a credible state. It is not today, it won't be in years to come. Let us also remember this. Iraq had been defined by Bush as the front-line in his so-called war on terror.

By comparing it to Vietnam is he softening the blow of the radical change in policy that is going to occur after the November elections? And if he has lost what he described as the frontline on the war on terror is he fit to hold the office of president?

There was no al-Qaida presence in Iraq prior to the invasion. There is a very real al-Qaida presence in Iraq today. The state does not exist in any meaningful form. That was never the case in Vietnam. South Vietnam collapsed but the Viet Cong were always able to implement the discipline of statehood. That was never the case in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over.

There is only one comparison that can be made between Vietnam and Iraq. The hollowness of the White House in 1968 finds an echo in today's White House.

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About the Author

Tom Clifford worked as a freelance journalist in South America in 2009, covering Bolivian and Argentine affairs. Now in China, he has worked for newspapers in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Far East.

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