Is This the Package They're Trying to Keep Off the Subway?

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Cal Thomas explains why Iraq "isn't Vietnam":

While Vietnam is communist, Vietnamese did not attack America on September 11, 2001, nor are they infiltrating our country in an attempt to destroy us. To those who say Saddam didn't attack us on September 11, the answer the president can give is that terror is all part of the same fanatical package.

I think the main thing people have in mind when they compare Iraq to Vietnam is the intractability of the conflict and the difficulty of extricating U.S. troops. But I suppose they also mean that both wars had thin national security justifications, and Thomas is saying the argument for the war in Iraq was stronger because, while Iraq never attacked us, its regime was "part of the same fanatical package" as the people who did.

Even if Saddam Hussein occasionally took time out from oppressing and murdering his own people to, say, send a check to the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber, I'm not sure that makes him part of the same fanatical package as Al Qaeda, especially if neither he nor the bomber could accurately be described as an Islamic extremist. And what happened to making the world safe through democracy? Maybe the vision of freedom and tolerance in Iraq spreading throughout the Middle East seems too much like a benign version of the domino theory, which would remind people of Vietnam again.

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  1. monolithic kommunizm.
    monolithic terrorizm.

    and don’t forget the major lesson from fighting in Vietnam: DON’T FIGHT IN VIETNAM.

  2. vietnam was part of the same fanatical communist package.

  3. The presence of foreign troops on their soil wasn’t the real reason Vietnamese people joined the Viet Minh and Viet Cong. That’s just a PR excuse. Their real motivation was that they hate our freedom. And France’s. And Japan’s.

  4. good food there, tho.

    and don’t forget that Ho Chi Minh sent Ike a letter requesting help – and there was a wonder whether Ho was an Asian Tito.
    (that could deteriorate into the introduction to the platoon scene from “Biloxi Blues”)
    good food, tho.

  5. Is it now the War on Fanatical Packages?

  6. “To those who say Saddam didn’t attack us on September 11, the answer the president can give is that terror is all part of the same fanatical package.”

    How well would the coalition have contained that terror? …How well, that is, relative to the occupation?

    If Iraq descends into civil war or if large parts of it become some kind of state sponser of terror loosely affiliated with Iran, how well will the occupation have contained that terror? …Relative to the coalition?

  7. “and don’t forget that Ho Chi Minh sent Ike a letter requesting help”

    While WWII was still going on, Ho Chi Minh sent the State Department a letter asking that Viet Nam be named an American protectorate. I kid you not.

  8. “So, Cal… I couldn’t help but notice you eyeing my fanatical package…”

  9. I see very little distinction between the right’s cold war rhetoric and its “war on terror” rhetoric, to justify the use of military force in cases where the strategic justifications were weak. There are very few conservatives who really believe that the Vietnam war was a “U.S. mistake”, and I don’t think Cal Thomas really believes that either. The right has been craving a new ideological world war ever since 1992. If it wasn’t Islamic extremism, it would have been something else.

  10. Mr. Sullum must hate freedom.

    In Baghdad, all is well

    Just hope that M.A.D.D. doesn’t pick up any ideas of how to deal with problem drinkers.

  11. If it wasn’t Islamic extremism, it would have been something else.

    Let’s just say the Unitarians are very relieved.

  12. Joe:
    I know you’re not kidding!

    in Light at the End of the Tunnel (chapter 3?), an anthology of the vietnam war, there’s a copy of Ho’s letter to Ike.

    Just can you imagine the consternation of those who think that the domino theory and the concept of monolithic communism are good strategies today…
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/
    0842027130/ref=sib_rdr_dp/
    002-6076033-7471252?%5Fencoding=
    UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books

  13. Well, here’s one guy who totlaly supported the war on the need to halt a potential spread of WMDs who now feels that the war is a mistake. However, I do not believe that the president or his admin lied and I don’t think he’s Hitler and I don’t think it was all for oil and so on. I think he made a crucial error and now has no idea what to do. Does not make him eeeeeevil. People like Cal the T, however, feel an ideological need to stick with their manno matter what in the face of baseless and ludicrous accusations from the left, so that’s why he makes ludicrous arguments such as this one. Left (or dems,whatever you prefer), I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, behave and speak like responsibile and serious adults and you can win 06 and 08. Continue your emotinally crazy Bush Bashing, and votes will slip through your fingers.

  14. Hindsight’s 20/20.

    I see some big differences between the Cold War and the War on Terror specifically in regards to rhetoric.

    I became politically aware at a tender age–circa 1980–and the level of the threat to the American people during the Cold War seems to have been much higher back then than the threat posed by Al Qaeda does now. But when I listen to the rhetoric of the War on Terror, it sometimes sounds like we’re living in London during the Blitz.

    I suspect this may be because, like starting to boil lobsters in cold water, the heat came on us slowly. The Truman Doctrine was, what? …1940 something? We had a long time to get to the point where we could use that kind of rhetoric to justify something like Vietnam.

    …But even when we got involved in Vietnam, didn’t the USSR present a greater threat than Al Qaeda does now? That’s the big difference in rhetoric to me. I’m not saying that Al Qaeda isn’t a threat, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be worried about Al Qaeda. What I am saying is that the rhetoric about Al Qaeda often blows the threat they present way out of proportion.

    Suggestions that they’re gonna put Jennifer in a burka are pretty far fetched, I think. Looking back at the Cold War and considering the threat, the enormous dimensions of threat were very real.

  15. Seriously, can any of you imagine a workable, Islamic fundamentalist cycle of Red Dawn?

  16. “Seriously, can any of you imagine a workable, Islamic fundamentalist cycle of Red Dawn?”

    in a minute. i’m still imagining various hit and run posters scantily clad in burkas.

    actually, i’m gouging my eyes out with my I-pod charging stand to try to get that image out of my head…

  17. Tom Crick: In Iraq and Vietnam, U.S. strategic interests were only marginally involved. This assertion is self-proving with respect to Vietnam, which we lost without serious damage to U.S. interests. Hell, some of our allies, like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philipines, started buying abandoned U.S. equipment from the Vietnamese almost as soon as the war was over, which he then used to fight communist guerrillas in his own country! In the case of Iraq, we had to find out there were no WMD’s before we knew the war probably wasn’t worth it. The real problem with Iraq isn’t that we went to war, but that the pre-war diplomacy was handled by a bunch of Texans, so we now have very few friends to help us out of the soup.

  18. Cal Thomas is a pathetic bag of shit. Can’t the propagandists do any better? They’ve now had *years* to perfect and constantly adjust their Iraq “message,” and 2/3 of the this country — let alone the one these idiots invaded & occupied & turned into “Mad Max” — say it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

  19. “But even when we got involved in Vietnam, didn’t the USSR present a greater threat than Al Qaeda does now?”

    Tom, the official line from the War Party these days is that the Soviet and Chinese Communist leadership was composed of level-headed rationalists who had the best interests of their people at heart and thus would not commit rash or self-destructive acts. I kid you not.

  20. “Hindsight’s 20/20.”

    “we had to find out there were no WMD’s before we knew the war probably wasn’t worth it.”

    I’m trying to laugh at these assertions that no one foresaw the collapse of the WMD case, the Saddam/Osama connection, and the terrorism-growing post-war chaos before the war, but it keeps coming out as a sob.

  21. I largely agree with you Ron.

    The excerpt above suggested that the enormity of the threat justified side shows like Iraq just as the enormous threat of communism justifed side shows like Vietnam (and, one might presume, South America, Central America, Africa, Afghanistan, Korea, etc.)

    …I’m countering that, among other problems with this analogy, there’s a big difference between the realistic, relative sizes of the threats. The communists presented us with the real potential of obliteration, but Al Qaeda does not.

  22. Just for the record…

    “Hindsight’s 20/20” was in reference to the Cold War rather than WMD.

  23. “had to find out there were no WMDs”? Please, review the archived news articles prior to the invasion. Everyone except the US government knew there was nothing there. The Iraqis invited the US to pop over and look for them, but were told by bush et al to go to Hell. They wanted to believe, they got their war, I hope they’re happy.

  24. Fair enough, Tom.

    Though many of us were calling bullshit on the “monolithic communism/Domino Theory” arguments in real time, too.

  25. “Though many of us were calling bullshit on the “monolithic communism/Domino Theory” arguments in real time, too.”

    …and I learned from that.

    Hence my affection for the term “Reverse Domino Theory” rather than thoreau’s apparently preferred “Democratic Domino Theory”. If there was a flaw in the physics of Domino Theory, how much worse must it be assuming that nations will levitate themselves upright?

    P.S. Yeah I know, thoreau’s version is ideology neutral, and that’s a good thing.

  26. its regime was “part of the same fanatical package” as the people who did.

    even though it isn’t, except to a racist who thinks all arabs are the same.

    none of it makes any sense, mr sullum, i agree. iraq has become the limp by which one may know dictatorial national-religionist idiots.

  27. Tom-

    Anything that can be abbreviated DDT is cooler than something that’s abbreviated RDT.

  28. Whether or not invading Iraq was necessitated by a threat to national security, a bad ultimate outcome in Iraq — what is perceived as a U.S. withdrawal under fire followed by anarchy or civil war — certainly would threaten national security. An outcome like that would reduce our ability to deal with real, grave threats for at least a decade, as after Vietnam we had a period of Soviet expansionism fueled by a perception of U.S. weakness. That’s the unfortunate mess we’re in. Does anyone want a Saigon embassy scene in Baghdad soon? A focus on real, current options might prevent us from becoming mired in domestic recrimination while the war is lost, another Vietnam parallel.

  29. we had to find out there were no WMD’s before we knew the war probably wasn’t worth it.

    i can’t speak for you, mr ron, but i knew there weren’t any wmd before we jumped off — and if i knew, a lot of people did. you remember powell’s dramatic bit part at the un, i’m sure. my (and many people’s) reaction to that was how remarkably thin and circumstantial the case for the existence of wmd was.

  30. here’s what the nation had to say just after powell’s act.

  31. After Powell’s speech, I actually wrote to a friend in an email that he had “hit a triple,” and that the administration just needed to show some irrefutable evidence to bring him home. (She wrote that he didn’t hit a triple, that the case was obviously bullshit, and contrasted it to Hubert Humphrey’s (I think) speech during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bonnie 1, joe 0.)

  32. Does anyone want a Saigon embassy scene in Baghdad soon?

    there are two salient questions that, in american hubris and self-importance, rarely get asked:

    1) are we now a preventative or a causative of civil conflict in iraq?

    2) if iraq is going to splinter, is it within our power to hold iraq together?

    the answers to these questions are fairly clear, imo. the american authority behind the crown in iraq has made the puppet government far more exclusive of sunni participation than it would otherwise have been — from debaathification on down to the present. this has created the insurgency as it is. sunni insurgents are largely

  33. sorry, that should read:

    this has created the insurgency as it is. sunni insurgents are largely fighting for a greater role in iraqi governance, out of a legitimate fear of an iranian-controlled shi’a theocracy run by exiles like chalabi.

  34. One difference I’ll concede between VN and Iraq is that Kennedy got assinated just as he was revving up his war. That leaves a key historical question: Could the “King Arthur of Camelot” have extricated the US from VN sooner, or are all Presidents doomed to get sucked into wars like this?

  35. gaius marius,
    I agree with what you’re saying.
    How can the US be impartial when, of the three groups, the Kurds are the teacher’s pet?

  36. Gaius: I’m glad you and Joe figured out Iraq had no WMD before we invaded. Next time we need an intelligence assessment, they need to give you guys a call. My thought at the time, as I recall, was that the case that was presented was pretty thin, but their nuts were out of the fire if they actually found WMD. Where they really screwed up was that they hung their whole justification on WMD and ticked-off most of our allies in the diplomatic process. I believe that they could have gotten their broad coalition if they had just used a little patient diplomacy but, like I said, they’re a bunch of Texans. I believe this will go down as the some of the most incompetent diplomacy in U.S. history. They couldn’t even get TURKEY on board, for goodness sake.

  37. I was as surprised as anyone to discover that Iraq didn’t have WMD. I was shocked.

    …However, my opposition to the occupation of Iraq wasn’t predicated on WMD.

  38. I suppose “fighting for a greater role in” Country X’s governance is a phrase that can be applied to a variety of movements, from the Minutemen to the Khmer Rouge. The question is what they want to do with that role. The tactics of this “insurgency” seem directed, not at expelling the dread infidel, at blocking a U.S. withdrawal by crippling efforts to establish a functioning Iraqi government, and one should not be too generous about the motives of civilian bus bombers and perpetrators of beheadings. I prefer to take them at their word, and conclude that they mean to sow chaos, sieze power, and establish a terrorism-friendly Islamist dictatorship that would amount to several new pre-invasion Afghanistans in terms of the threat the U.S. security. I don’t think the lion will lay down with the lamb if we depart now.

    So, as unhappy as I am with the situation, the “better alternatives” box seems empty.

  39. Firstly, wasn’t one of the terms of the cease fire at the end of the First Gulf War the destruction of WMDs THAT IRAQ DID HAVE and the capability to make them?

    And the reason we had to have a second Gulf War because Saddam failed to comply to the cease fire terms of the first one?

    Secondly, all of these Vietnam comparisons are pretty weak. About the only thing they have in common is a guerilla insurgency. North Vietnam had 2 powerful allies, USSR and China, who were willing to provide the equipment by the shipload idefinately. America troops weren’t allowed to operate north of the DMZ. The North Vietnamese Army, not the Viet Cong, invaded South Vietnam and defeated the South Vietnamese Army who’s funding had been slashed by a Democrat controlled congress in 1975. A similar invasion was stopped in 1972 by American air power. In 1975, America was not allowed to intervene.

  40. That should have read:

    “but at blocking a U.S. withdrawal”

  41. Jonathan Cross: The problem is that our fearless leaders have so alienated the international community that they are going to get no help extricating themselves from the problem…not that this will keep them from pulling out abruptly and leaving the whole situation in chaos if they think staying will hurt their party’s chances in upcoming elections.

  42. Ron,

    If you read some of the commentary from the right at the time – National Review and Weekly Standard, for example – it’s clear that NOT building a coalition, and showing those cowards at the UN how useless they are, and how omnipotent and wise we are, was the plan from the beginning. We were sure going to show them.

    Mr. Cross, are you confusing the indigineous Iraqi insurgents with the international jihadists on purpose, or because you really don’t know the difference? The inability of the US and the government we installed to keep jihadists from blowing people up, or to keep crooks from looting everything in sight, or to keep widespread murder and kidnapping to develop into a cottage industry, is one of the reasons why Iraqis, even many of those who initially supported the invasion, are taking up arms and joining the insurgency.

  43. Next time we need an intelligence assessment, they need to give you guys a call.

    better us that ahmed chalabi, mr ron. 🙂

  44. I believe this will go down as the some of the most incompetent diplomacy in U.S. history. They couldn’t even get TURKEY on board, for goodness sake.

    it was, perhaps, mr ron — but let’s not substitute efficiency of diplomatic engineering for moral rectitude. even if they’d convinced turkey with buckets of gold, it would have been profoundly wrong to do what we did.

  45. And the reason we had to have a second Gulf War because Saddam failed to comply to the cease fire terms of the first one?

    except, of course, mr alkurta, that he did effectively destroy his wmd capacity and did abide the ceasefire rules to a very large extent. only the most truculent abolutists can stand on the idea that saddam somehow provoked us into invasion. the level of provocation didn’t even merit un action, frankly, and but for american belligerence would not have received it.

  46. Joe: That attitude would only have made sense if they really believed they were going to find WMD. I just think they were stupid not to have hedged their bets and gotten more allies on board. Then all of that stuff about making Iraq “safe for democracy” and getting rid of an evil dictator would have had some resonance even if there were no WMD. Instead, we are mired, without allies, and have virtually given free rides to greater strategic threats in the form of Iran and North Korea. This certainly belies the argument that Republicans are more competent in strategic and military affairs than Democrats.

  47. Gaius: Well, we part company if you think deposing Saddam was immoral.

  48. Thanks, both, for your comments.

    Ron, the point about international support is a fair one on some level, but nothing in the history of U.N. multinational military forces suggests that the war would be better prosecuted in that manner. It would relieve much of the U.S. burden, but it’s not a way to win the war. Srebrenica was a U.N. multinational force, and look how that turned out. On your second point, I guess we’ll see, and I hope it doesn’t unfold that way.

    Joe, I both know the difference and don’t think, functionally, that it’s necessarily relevant to whether we leave. Whoever is blowing up buses, attacking Shiite mosques to incite a civil war, killing foreign diplomats, beheading aid workers, and generally wrecking the country, the new government needs to be able to control those people, and then we should leave (and leave completely, and learn all sorts of things about when to send tanks across the border, IMO).

  49. “That leaves a key historical question: Could the “King Arthur of Camelot” have extricated the US from VN sooner, or are all Presidents doomed to get sucked into wars like this?”

    I sometimes think about this in regards to the Anthrax attacks. Had it not been for Anthrax slipping into our collective subconscious when it did, would we have invaded Iraq?

  50. Jonathan: I need to clarify what I mean by “international support”. It wasn’t material to me whether anybody supplied troops in more than a symbolic sense; in fact, I agree that multinational forces don’t work very well, but to allow France and Germany to emerge as potential strategic competitors aligned with Russia and China was stupid in the extreme. We just needed to get their acquiescence, not their active support. We didn’t even do what we needed to get that, which is the real disaster here, and one which we will pay for for years to come.

  51. Iraq Leader Paves Way for Legal Hangings

    So. The US is being successful in spreading her most deeply cherished democratic practises in an Arab land. And, “while Iraq never attacked us, its regime was ‘part of the same fanatical package’ as the people who did”. But now it’s not.

  52. Fanatical Package would be a good name for a rock band.

    Sorry. Thought I was at Dave Barry’s blog. I meant “Why do Fanatical Packages hate America?” Somedays, it’s tough to keep the stock phrases straight.

  53. Tom Crick,
    Would we have invaded Iraq without anthrax?
    Interesting point. Was it the straw that made the hoi polloi desperately need to kick some “foreign” butt?
    If a gallon of gasoline were ninety-nine cents right now, would the hoi polloi still be as keen to kick “foreign” butt?
    Could the US have “won” in VN if it hadn’t been for Watergate?
    As I’ve said before: complexity.
    Santa Fe Institute.

  54. Joe and drf- I’ve always found it interesting how so many of the dictators who gave us trouble in the last century began their careers as upstarts who wanted our support. Even Mao spent a period of time in the late 20s and 30s quietly trying to court American aid; seems he thought that the fact that we had a “People’s Revolution” and our lack of a history with the intervention and partition of China in the 1800s would make us less objectionable in the long run than the Soviets. Not that he was happy about it, mind you, but he did hate Soviets almost as much as some of the people here.

    Related to that, a really interesting read is any Chinese educational material covering the American Revolutionary War. The intellectual contortions that they go through to explain why a People’s Revolution didn’t end in Communism are fascinating.

  55. Unfortunately, I can’t suggest anything exact, as most of my books are at home, and not here in the dorm. Should have waited to submit until I checked, I guess…

  56. To put it very, very briefly. The element in common btw. the baathist Saddam and the salafists of Al Qaeda is their common “international revisionism” (something very similar to the communists in 1917, the fascists in the ’30 and the nazis in the ’40). This, from a very detatched point of view, is the very reason why the US and some (only some) other democracies are fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

  57. Ron,

    “That attitude would only have made sense if they really believed they were going to find WMD.” Oh, but they almost certainly did! Not because they had actual intelligence indicating that Iraq had active WMD programs and stockpiles, but because their ideology led inexorably to that conclusion. Remember, these are not “reality-based” people, with a commitment to old-fashioned enlightenmenit ideas about basing knowledge on facts. These are the new imperial masters, who don’t have to study reality, because they’re so busy creating it. Of course Saddam had an ongoing nuclear program. Of course he had stockpiles of germ bombs. Of course the UN and the Clinton administration didn’t succeed in destroying the remnants of his program. Of course Saddam was in bed with Al Qaeda. Any Right-thinking person knows this in his bones. Now go get me the intelligence to prove what we already know, or your ass is grass!

    Jonathan Cross, “Whoever is blowing up buses, attacking Shiite mosques to incite a civil war, killing foreign diplomats, beheading aid workers, and generally wrecking the country, the new government needs to be able to control those people, and then we should leave.” But there’s the paradox – the government will never be able to win that fight as long as we’re there. Our very presence swells the ranks of both types of insurgents, keeps their odd-couple alliance intact, and discourages the Iraqi government from standing up to them. We can’t leave until we win, and we can’t win until we leave.

  58. What bothers me most is that people insist on telling me why we are in Iraq. I know the powers are lying. But the dissenters seem to all think they know why we are there. And the powers are happy to let them think they do. We need to get out of that trap.

  59. I have a Vietnam question – did losing the war in Vietnam bring any increased national security threats to the US? Is there any evidence of increased Soviet espionage/infiltration after the withdrawal, when we showed that “we were weak”? I don’t think leaving Iraq would have the emboldening effect that many expect.

  60. Cal Thomas has never killed anyone, but he is an adult male and is therefore part of the “same fanatical package” of adult males who commit most murders in the world. Therefore, we must imprison Cal Thomas to ensure that he can never hurt anyone again.

  61. “I have a Vietnam question – did losing the war in Vietnam bring any increased national security threats to the US?”

    I don’t know of any increased national security threats per se.

    …but there were other ramifications. I think we had a moral obligation to deal with refugees. There was overspill in places like Cambodia and Laos which, I think, we shared at least some responsibility for and, thus, had some obligation to address.

    I opposed the Iraq War, in part, because I didn’t want to be responsible for those kinds of obligations. I consider those kinds of obligations a national security threat.

  62. I thought the lesson of Vietnam, earlier articulated by MacArthur and related to Korea, was “never fight a land war in Asia”

    How would that apply to Iraq? {consulting map.. rattling papers}

  63. Tom,

    If Cambodia and Laos had become Communist by being overrun by the NVA, I could buy that our losing in Vietnam was the cause. However, they became Communist by being taken over by internal forces. In the case of Camodia, part of our war effort was to weaken the government, and arming the Khmer Rouge was part of that plan. And then, of course, there was the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    It wasn’t our losing in Vietnam that caused these countries to be lost, so much as our fighting in Vietnam.

  64. “It wasn’t our losing in Vietnam that caused these countries to be lost, so much as our fighting in Vietnam.”

    Our withdrawal from Vietnam had consequences. To the extent that we were responsible for those consequences, we were responsible.

    …I rejected the occupation of Iraq, in part, because I didn’t want to be responsible for any of the consequences of a withdrawl from Iraq. In regards to Iraq, I think we should have stuck with the Powell Doctrine, at least as I understand it.

    Has the Pottery Barn Rule has become an official part of the Powell Doctrine?

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