Sunday, June 24, 2007

Iraq is not Vietnam: Learning Necessary Lessons

Bestselling author Dan Simmons has another message, this time about Iraq:
Iraq is not Vietnam.

As much as a few simplistic leading political leaders would like our departure from Iraq to be as simple as it was from Vietnam in 1975 – i.e. leave and let the locals suffer the consequences of our folly – it is not that simple. Even most of the leading Democratic candidates for the presidency, opposed as they are to the war itself, are responsible enough to acknowledge that simply packing up and leaving is not a real alternative.

When we bugged out of Vietnam, there was zero probability that the local insurgents (the Viet Cong) or their victorious North Vietnamese Regular Army allies would pursue American forces and interests around the world or back to the continental United States to continue the battle. There is almost 100% probability that victorious al-Qaida in Iraq and jihadists who have been fighting there for four years now – as well as their state sponsors (who are also the greatest state sponsors of jihadist terrorism in the world) Iran and Syria – will use the shattered, failed, and newly Islamist state of Iraq as a safe haven and recruiting and staging area for attacks on Americans and American interests everywhere, not excluding the continental United States.

In this very real sense, it matters not at all to Americans’ interests that we were responsible for turning Iraq into a failed state or that our bungling has made this jihadist victory and increased threat possible. History will deal with that. What has to matter to Americans’ interests is that total destabilization of the Mideast brought about by failure in Iraq not be allowed to occur, thus further jeopardizing American and Western interests and lives. Nor can we be allowed to make life worse for Iraqis, as will inevitably be the case should we abandon them to more years and decades of the current Hobbesian nightmare there.

The political steps needed to meet our objectives in a protracted counterinsurgency war in Iraq are much harder to achieve than military objectives, but they are equally as clear –

* An American president has to be elected who can reunite the country, acknowledge the mistakes and blunders of our adventure in Iraq to this point, and who can forge a new consensus of American policy and actions there that can be supported by a majority of the American people and by the majority of our traditional allies in Europe and the Mideast

* The current use of Iraq to promote short-term partisan, political goals has to stop. This is deadly serious business and members of both political parties have to begin behaving – if not like statesmen -- then at least as grown-ups who put America’s interests above their parties’ immediate interests and gains.

* The American people themselves have to start educating themselves on Iraq and the larger war-on-terrorism issues. To do this, they’ll have to get smarter fast. One way is to quit getting one’s news from Leno and Letterman and Bill Maher and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. There should be a wide, serious, and sustained dialogue among Americans on Iraq and visions of the post-Iraq world and this dialogue must go beyond politics and polls. All informed opinion should be welcomed. We are past the point where the constant deluge of uninformed opinion can be tolerated.

* The U.S. military has learned much in Iraq. The troops who have fought there have shown not just amazing courage and incredible professionalism, but the ability to learn quickly so as to survive. U.S. soldiers, Marines, and reservists returning for their third, fourth, and fifth tours in Iraq are much wiser than the troops who went their as “liberators” in 2003 and who could not understand why people there were trying to kill them, much less how to beat them. Now it’s time for the American political establishment and the American people to learn from Iraq.

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