Oliver North argues that “parallels between [the wars in Vietnam and Iraq] are practically non-existent.” In Vietnam (at its peak) we were fighting a well-trained, well-equipped invading North Vietnmese army supported by perhaps 100,000 well-organized Viet Cong insurgents. The cost in American lives was at least 15 per day. In Iraq, says North, we are facing less an “insurgency” than “anarchy” and the daily “kill rate” for Americans is approximately two.
The problem is that, while U.S. military action can defeat an insurgency, it’s not clear that it can defeat “anarchy.” To accomplish that, it seems to me, requires a strong effort by the Iraqi government. I doubt that the current Iraqi government is capable of such an effort. Indeed, given its apparent resistance to U.S. efforts to deal with Shia militias, it’s not clear that the Iraqi government is truly committed to stopping the bloodshed that plagues Baghdad.
At the same time, our interest in preventing anarchy seems less powerful than our interest in combatting an insurgency. The latter phenomenon could lead directly to a state within a state which anti-American terrorists then could use as a base of operations against our interests. Anarchy in Baghdad poses no direct threat to our security. To be sure, a resolution of the anarchy that brings anti-American terrorists to power would threaten our security. But that resolution seems unlikely — to the extent that an al Qaeda type element is part of the free-for-all in Baghdad, its prospects aren’t good.
Under these circumstances, unless our military genuinely believes that it can quell the anarchy in Baghdad, it seems unwise to attempt this. The better course may well be to focus on areas where a true insurgency exists, and to keep training Iraqi security forces to the point that they can secure most of the country and, should prospects improve there, effectively police Baghdad one day, as well.
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