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Vietnam and Iraq: The Tragedy of Unlearned Lessons

By August 18, 2006

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Comparisons between the US involvement with Iraq and US involvement in Vietnam were fairly common back in 2004. Perhaps the most famous comparison came in January 2004, when Robert McNamara -- US Defense Secretary in the 1960s -- did so in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail. From his 1995 book, In Retrospect, comes an outline of 11 mistakes from Vietnam that he believed were also mistakes in Iraq.

Slate closed the year with an article comparing fatalities: "After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal." Just like we need to "deflate" dollars to accurately compare outlays between 1966 and 2006, the authors argue we have to take technological advancements into account when comparing deaths.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Vietnam-Iraq comparison -- it's not been a 2006 soundbite. Until now.

Vietnam veteran and Chair of History & Politics at Converse College Dr. Joe P. Dunn has penned a thoughful essay, The Tragedy of Unlearned Lessons. He compares the current President Bush with President Johnson, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld with McNamara. He also cautions that Lebanon has changed things.

More relevant here though are the similarities between two insecure and intransigent Texans, Lyndon Johnson and the junior Mr. Bush, both of whom did their nation great harm. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bush and his zealous neo-con coterie continue to believe that they know better than the collective voice of scholars, State Department, CIA, JCS, and most of the international community. The official studies–the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, the Iraqi Democratic Principles Working Group, the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute's sobering analysis, and several CIA assessments–predicted the situation that exists in Iraq today. But all this hard analysis was rejected or ignored...

The chief culprit of our present Iraq morass is McNamara II, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose ego knows few bounds. Rumsfeld intended to reshape the U.S. military according to his singular vision; Iraq was his showcase. He imposed a 150,000 person limit on General Tommy Franks' war plan and pared away Franks' earlier "required" manpower needs. Even if the lesser numbers could succeed in the initial invasion, Colon Powell and others knew that three times as many troops were necessary to achieve the peace. JCS, the National Security Council, and RAND Corporation concurred that Rumsfeld's minimal force could not secure the borders, curb the influx of outside terrorists, deal with domestic looting and lawlessness, or quell the sectarian violence that toppling Saddam would unleash.

Those who questioned the manpower limits and strategy were swept aside.

Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was cashiered, and (in McNamara fashion) the rest of JCS was browbeaten into submission and the State Department ignored. The drive to launch the war prematurely prevented the necessary logistics build up. Americans died unnecessarily after proclamation of victory because the supply chain remained inchoate. General Richardo Sanchez protested that he did not have enough spare parts for tanks, helicopters, Bradleys, transport vehicles, or body armor to accomplish his postwar mission. Cobra II by Michael R. Gordan and Marine Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor provides a meticulous, judicious indictment of pre-war planning. Thomas Ricks' even more damning Fiasco is aptly named.

Suggesting that past is prologue, Dunn observes that "U.S. unqualified support for Israeli actions hurt us gravely in the region even with the moderate Sunni regimes who detest Hezbollah." And as data show, the situation in Iraq is, indeed, "increasingly precarious," as Dunn attests.

And not just because of casualties. Where, in mainstream media, are we reading data such as these?

We have one-third of our available combat forces committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, one-third just returned and awaiting redeployment (often for third tours), and one-third immediately preparing to go. This strain on our limited manpower cannot go on endlessly.

Moreover, the administration has failed to provide adequate funding for equipment replacement. In the harsh physical environments, equipment is rapidly degraded and demands repair and replacement.

The administration has provided approximately half the funding necessary for replacement tanks, vehicles, and other necessities. Reserve forces have been stripped of vital equipment already so many units train without the infrastructure that they will need on the ground. The Joint Chiefs report that not one of our Army reserve units meets preparedness standards to go into combat.

Our entire military capability is committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. We are spending $250 million a day -- every day -- with no end in sight, despite the mid-2003's prematurely triumphant "Mission Accomplished" Presidential fiat. All the while, ignoring calls for increased spending domestically on things like port security while spending boondoggle dollars on "security" in remote towns and villages.

Where -- and when -- will it end?

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Comments

August 30, 2007 at 10:12 am
(1) yemi cole says:

i think we should just leave iraq how it its and we have know bissness being their

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