(click to enlarge the cartoon)
Jeff Jacoby in his column today:
IRAQ WAR skeptics and critics have been invoking Vietnam almost from the day the fighting began. So Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was hardly breaking new ground when he joined the invokers on Sunday. ''We are locked into a bogged-down problem," he said on ABC's ''The Week," ''not . . . dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam."
Run-of-the-mill stuff on the the Democratic left, but since Hagel is a Republican, his words instantly leaped to the top of the news cycle. ''GOP Senator Says Iraq Looking Like Vietnam," was the headline on AP's widely reprinted story.
Yet in so many ways, Iraq doesn't look like Vietnam at all. Vietnam was never the central battleground of the Cold War, while Iraq has become the focal point of the war on terrorism. Americans had no reason to feel that their own security was at risk in Vietnam, whereas 9/11 made it clear that the enemy we face today poses a lethal threat here at home as well. The jihadis in Iraq don't have the backing of superpowers; North Vietnam and the Viet Cong were armed to the teeth by China and the Soviet Union. In South Vietnam, the United States was allied to an unpopular and incompetent regime; in Iraq, the United States toppled a brutal tyranny and is trying to nurture a democracy in its place.
But of all the ways in which the Iraq war is not like Vietnam, perhaps the most telling is the attitude of the troops.
''When I was in Vietnam," retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a 1969 Medal of Honor recipient who had just returned from a fact-finding trip to the Sunni Triangle, told NBC News in May, ''if you asked anybody what he wanted more than anything else in the world, he'd say: to go home. We asked . . . hundreds of soldiers, low-ranking soldiers, in both Afghanistan and Iraq . . . the same question. And the response, to a man and a woman, was, 'To kill bad guys.' . . . The morale is just over the top -- just really, really enthused about what they're doing. And I think the reason is they perceive that they're making progress. Success will do a lot to morale."
Indeed it will, as the ''Today" show's Matt Lauer discovered when he visited Baghdad last week. He tried valiantly to coax some Vietnam-style disillusionment out of the soldiers he met, but as NBC's transcript makes clear, the troops weren't having any of that:Lauer: We've heard so much about the insurgent attacks, so much about the uncertainty as to when you folks are going to get to go home. How would you describe morale?
Chief Warrant Officer Randy Kergiss: My unit morale's pretty good. . . . People are ready to execute their missions, and they're pretty excited to be here.
Lauer: How much does that uncertainty of knowing how long you're going to be here impact morale?
Sergeant Jamie Wells: Morale's always high. Soldiers know they have a mission, they like taking on the new objectives and taking on the new challenges. . . . They're motivated, ready to go.
Lauer: Don't get me wrong, I think you guys are probably telling me the truth, but there might be a lot of people at home wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you're facing and with the insurgent attacks . . .
Captain Sherman Powell: Well, sir, I tell you -- if I got my news from the newspapers also, I'd be pretty depressed as well.
Lauer: What don't you think is being correctly portrayed?
Powell: Sir, I know it's hard to get out and get on the ground and report the news. . . . But for of those who've actually had a chance to get out and go on patrols . . . we are very satisfied with the way things are going here.
How terribly shocking! The Troops believe in the mission! The Troops are satisfied with the way things are going!
I'm sure that the response of the antiwar, anti-American Left is one of sympathy and horror: Why those poor deluded men and women! Don't they read the newspapers? Don't they listen to CNN? Don't they know that we are in a quagmire? That the "insurgents" are winning? That there is iminent civil war among the Iraqis? That the body count just keeps going up?
But you see, the Troops are actually IN Iraq. They are actually fighting the battles there; building the schools; interacting with the people. Right now--today--in 2005.
They are not the one's traped forever in a '60's mental timewarp.