We just passed the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. The war in Vietnam was the seminal event of my generation of baby boomers. It is a sad and tragic story of a war that was unpopular and it’s tragic effects on the people of Vietnam, and the people of America. As I get older I realize that it was a war that was not an issue that was as clear cut as it seemed for a young man in college at the time. The aftermath of the war left a generation in turmoil back home in America but it left many Vietnamese abandoned to an unknown fate for having worked with and having helped the Americans in our pursuit of what we perceived the war to be about, a fight against communism. We gave some of the Vietnamese the sense and the hope that democracy was a fight worth fighting for. We failed to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the people in Vietnam. But here we are now 40 years later. We are allies and forgiveness has helped bring our two countries together.
We did not understand the history of the people of Vietnam nor did most Americans even know where Vietnam was on a globe when the war started. The draft and the thousands of body bags and coffins brought the war home to America as did the pictures on television which showed quite graphically what war was about.
Now in many ways we face a similar quandary with the United States involvement in Iraq. After the fall of Ramadi, one questions the will of the government to fight to maintain what we have known as being the country of Iraq.
So what does America do and what can we realistically do regarding the real threat that ISIS represents? America has this can do attitude, we think we can fix most anything, and any problem.
We viewed Vietnam incorrectly. We viewed Vietnam through the prism of the Cold War believing that we were fighting communism. Yes, Ho Chi Minh was a communist, but he was above all a nationalist. He even came to America in the late 1940’s seeking our assistance in ridding his world of the colonial power, France. France being our ally, we refused to help the Vietnamese remove the scourge of colonialism from their land and country.
We won the battles, but not the war. The Vietnamese wanted to be free of outsiders, they wanted to be free to determine their own destiny. We won all of the battles but because we failed to understand the true dynamic of what was going on, we were doomed to lose the war, for their own independence. We did not understand their history. We were wrong to believe that Vietnam would be part of a domino effect. We failed to understand that the Vietnamese and China would not be allies because they had fought each other for around 1000 years.
Now, if you take a look at the situation in Iraq today and ask yourself the question how can we win a war in Iraq even if we win every battle? First and foremost one of the lessons of Vietnam is to understand the history and to understand your enemy. Iraq is part Sunni, part Shia and part Kurd. The government that we helped install has never solved the political problem of including the Sunnis in having a say in their own governance. Now the Sunni region of Iraq looks to the group ISIS as a group that may allow the Sunni to govern themselves, and in this case under hard core Muslim fanaticism.
If the government’s army is unwilling to fight what can we really do to defeat ISIS. It is a seemingly unsolvable situation. We can bomb ISIS and bomb them again and again. Our Special Forces can go in and defeat whomever they face, but once they leave where the victory took place, you have an aftermath that America can not control. You can hear the neo-cons beating the war drums, wanting boots on the ground to as they would have you believe win victory once more. But to be honest with you unless the United States is willing to have a military force stay in Iraq for an undetermined length of time, we can not fix Iraq unless the Iraqi people want to fix their own problems. It is looking more and more like the region is in the process of exploding into a conflict between the Shia Muslims and the Sunni Muslims. My question for the hawks is, if we send back 100,000 troops, when if ever can we leave and declare victory. They can’t defeat us in battle, but how do we bring ideas that come from the Age of Reason to a people who want to go back to the 7th Century?
Sorry, but a fight between the two Muslim groups is a conflict that we should stay out of regardless of the human misery that will go along with it. Those two groups have unresolved issues that they seem quite willing to kill each other over.
What the world does with ISIS is another issue. If ISIS insists on attacking Europeans and Americans to help their recruitment of young people for the cause, it is up to the world community to act, not just America. The group known as ISIS is very well on its way to form what is called a Caliphate.
The victorious powers after World War I are to blame for creating countries with build in problems of tribalism and religious differences, countries doomed to fail for the lack of common ground. George Bush’s War, was the last straw as it broke what stability their was. Now it is a battle for dominance between the Sunnis and the Shiites.
Our problem is to protect our country against the lone wolves who are passionate and radicalized by ISIS. And not only lone wolves but cells of recruited young people who have been brainwashed to attack Americans and Europeans. We live in dangerous times. The key comparison between the American attitude towards Vietnam and towards Iraq, is that some people think we can fix what is broken. The pottery is in shards, with no or little help of putting it back together. There is no solution. The people in the Syrian area of the Middle East and the three different groups in Iraq must determine their own future without the interference of the well meaning but helpless western world.