The parallels between the current madness in Iraq and the Vietnam War in its early stages are becoming increasingly clear. The loyal anti-American insurrection, the dirty lies used to initiate the war, the brutal methods used to sustain it — the similarities are difficult to deny.
As the U.S. government sends more troops to Iraq, and as both Bush and Kerry share the sentiment that the United States needs to maintain the occupation, we see little hope in the war subsiding. In response to any crisis in Iraq, The Bush administration and his major Democratic detractors always have the same answer: escalate the war and send more troops. This leads inevitably to more violence used to subdue the Iraqi people, which results in more violent opposition to U.S. presence, which inspires the president to send more troops, which means more opposition, more death, more troops, more escalation, and so on. The notion of a cycle of violence is a cliché exactly because it has truth to it.
Those who do not buy into the analogy between Vietnam and Iraq raise some objections.
Hawks sometimes argue that the Iraqi insurrection lacks the support of a superpower, whereas the Viet Cong received help from the USSR.
This argument fails to undercut the overall truth to the Iraq-Vietnam analogy. First of all, the Iraqi insurgents can get support from fellow Arabs throughout the Middle East who resent what the occupation has come to represent: a war of the United States against the region. Furthermore, as far as alliances go, there are ways in which Iraq may even prove a worse quagmire than Vietnam. As Julian Manyon points out, Americans had more local support in Vietnam than they now have in Iraq.
Doves sometimes optimistically argue that opposition to the war now is much higher than at the first stages of Vietnam, and that we can stop the war before it kills nearly as many as the 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners who perished in Vietnam and Cambodia during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
When the Pentagon Papers came to light, support for Vietnam came crashing down. The lies that fueled Operation Iraqi Torture were clear from the beginning, and yet the mainstream media and most Americans still bought into it. The uranium-from-Niger deception was discredited before “Shock and Awe," but the newspapers did not drop the bombshell on that lie until after many more lethal U.S. bombshells hit Baghdad. Even though most Americans may now find themselves appalled by photos of torture in Abu Ghraib and massacres in Fallujah, most of them still do not think we can bring our troops home — how could we do that? Only after thousands of body bags came home did the lies in Vietnam translate into a swelling American outrage that forced Washington to pull the plug. The Iraq occupation may likely continue until Americans become comparably outraged by comparable numbers of American casualties.
While there exist differences between Vietnam and Iraq, the potential for a drawn-out, futile Vietnam-style quagmire is plain as day.
So if Iraq is Vietnam, what is the War on Terror?
Vietnam was a hot battle in the Cold War. It was only one theatre in a frightfully epic conflict between the United States and its allies, and the USSR and its. Iraq is, similarly, only one frightful installment in the War on Terror nightmare.
Some might want to stop me right here and point out that the Iraq War is a detour from the War on Terror, and actually serves to undermine it. Unfortunately, the neoconservatives are right when they say that Iraq is part of the War on Terror.
We must remember that the neoconservatives wanted to go to war with Iraq for years, and it was they who decided to use Afghanistan as a stepping-stone to get there.
Iraq might have nothing to do with catching those who attacked the World Trade Center, but neither does the War on Terror generally. Dick Cheney has said the War on Terror may last generations (by which time I imagine the engineers of 9/11 will have all died) and it should last so long because al Qaeda is "scattered in more that 50 nations" and it along with "other terrorist groups constitute an enemy unlike any other that we have ever faced."
According to the Terror Warriors, the enemy at hand may prove harder to defeat than the Nazis or the Communists, so we just might have to tolerate more American deaths and other losses than we saw in the epic struggles of World War II or the Cold War.
When the USSR fell, the Cold War ended, and Americans and people the world over slept a little better at night, less afraid that they would awake to the news of tens or hundreds of thousands of people wiped off the earth by a nuclear strike.
Today’s war has no clearly defined enemy, only the abstraction of "terrorism," and so it will never succeed in its stated goals. The Terror War will only fuel more terrorism, both in inciting hatred against the United States for its unprovoked attacks on innocents, as well as in funding deadly regimes in the Middle East who are our allies now, but if history’s any indication, may be our adversaries tomorrow.
Just as Vietnam is often seen now as a mistake in the otherwise necessary Cold War, the Iraq War, however discredited, may likewise go down in history as a forgivable error in an otherwise righteous global contest between Good and Evil. Considering the long run, we must never tire in our opposition to the mistaken premises of the War on Terrorism itself, which infer that the United States can use an aggressive military policy to root out terrorists and destroy them. This is an impossibly messy task, especially when foreign governments harbor terrorists, which explains the bipartisan obsession with regime change.
The assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq have made it painfully obvious that the U.S. government is much more interested in empire and nation building than simply apprehending those who murdered Americans on 9/11. Iraq is merely so far the most explosive front in the War on Terror, which has resulted in a sharp decline in civil liberties at home and massive death abroad, all with absolutely no progress in protecting Americans.
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut likes to say when casually describing such futile killing.
Whether the violence in Iraq escalates for a year or ten years, we must never lose sight of the insanity of the War on Terrorism itself. The U.S. government has already killed several times more innocent people in its responses to 9/11 than died on that horrific day. We must voice opposition not only to the War on Iraq — or the next war-in-the-making, whether on Syria or Iran or France or Spain — but to the entire War on Terrorism, which will continue to cost innocent lives, billions of dollars, and priceless liberties, until it comes to an end.
The innocents who have so far died in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Afghanistan, and Iraq have died in vain, and nothing can bring them back or vindicate the mass murder of the past. The War on Terrorism cannot be fixed or reformed or refocused or refined. It can only burden America with the perils of economic depression, conscription, cultural and political corruption, unspeakable bloodshed and repression, and terrorism, all to sustain a global policy of hubris, empire, and futility that crushes thousands of innocents beneath.
As long as the War on Terrorism is a sacred cow, politicians will milk it to drag us into nation-building projects throughout the world. We must unwaveringly oppose every one of the U.S. government’s aggressive foreign policies. As long as they continue, so will the terror they spawn.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.