Thursday, December 01, 2005
Iraq in Historical Context
Critics of America’s intervention in Iraq have generally pointed to Vietnam as the historical guide to what will happen when things go wrong. This is understandable given the Vietnam War’s relative proximity in American memory. Other, historically literate commentators have offered America’s occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War as a more relevant example of the burdens of imperialism. President Bush himself used the Philippines analogy in 2003 as an example of occupation that led to a democratic government. Prior to the invasion, minus the eventual happy ending, I too would have preferred the Filipino analogy. However, as America’ presence in Iraq continues, the Vietnam War comparison gains relevance. Democrats are calling for a gradual withdrawal of American troops regardless of the “facts on the ground.” Despite pledges to stay as long as necessary, the Bush administration is laying the groundwork for doing just this and speaking of turning the fighting over to Iraqi soldiers. As justification for this transfer the Bush administration is offering an avalanche of “metrics,” i.e. statistics showing that the war is being won. Almost every day the Pentagon releases numbers for insurgents killed in the latest offensive and optimistic estimates for the number of Iraqi soldiers ready to fight independent of American support. This is all reminiscent of America’s agonizing extrication from Vietnam. Democrat calls for withdrawal are understandable but, as the Washington Post pointed out today, the Bush administration’s “metrics” strain credulity. Iraq’s government, faced with major sectarian problems and a vigorous insurgency, is not ready to stand alone and needs American troops. Yet America’s invasion and occupation was the original cause of, and continues to fuel, the insurgency. There is probably no answer to this dilemma, as there was no answer to the problem of America’s involvement in Vietnam. As with Vietnam, the ending will likely be painful for the United States but devastating for the country it leaves behind.