Friday, August 04, 2006

Tomgram: Judith Coburn on Flunking Counterinsurgency 101

On the April day in 2003 when American troops first pushed into Baghdad, historian Marilyn Young noted a strange phenomenon. In a single rush, the Vietnam War vocabulary had returned to our media. She promptly dubbed Iraq, "Vietnam on crack cocaine."

It's true that, for a while, the administration played an eerie opposites game, spending much of its PR time avoiding any whiff of Vietnam terminology. "Body bags" were renamed (and the homecoming dead hidden from the cameras); "body counts" were excised from the official military vocabulary -- or as General Tommy Franks, commander of our Afghan War, put it in 2002: "I don't believe you have heard me or anyone else in our leadership talk about the presence of 1,000 bodies out there, or in fact how many have been recovered… You know we don't do body counts" (except privately, of course).

But that was then, this is now. Here we are, well into the second term of Bush's Vietnam-on-crack-cocaine, Global-War-on-Terror policies. Significantly more time has passed, as Newsweek's Michael Hirsh recently pointed out, than it took the U.S. to win World War II in the Pacific:

"We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start (in case anyone's counting, 1,776 days have now passed since 9/11; that is more than a full year longer than the time between Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan, which was 1,347 days). The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it."

And, as if giving up in its titanic struggle against the undead of our Vietnam experience, the Bush administration is now openly recycling in ever more chaotic, violent, and disastrous Iraq ancient, failed Vietnam-era policies. It's enough to give old-timers that Post-Traumatic-Stress-Syndrome feeling, as Vietnam-era war correspondent Judith Coburn explains vividly below.

Of course, we all know that Iraq is not Vietnam -- and not just because of the lack of jungle or the different language. But here's one difference between the two eras that is perhaps worth a little more attention:

In Vietnam, the U.S. military, the mightiest force then on the planet, was fought to a draw and defeated politically by a remarkably unified Vietnamese national resistance movement led by North Vietnamese communists, but with a powerful southern guerrilla element. The guerrillas in the south were backed by the North Vietnamese (and, as the war went on, by enormous chunks of the North Vietnamese military); North Vietnam was supplied with weaponry and massive support by a superpower, the Soviet Union, and a regional power, emerging Communist China.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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