Hey, I’m delighted to see that George W. Bush has finally figured out that “Iraq” is Arabic for “Vietnam.” And I’m not convinced that what Kevin Drum calls the “military perspective” about the Tet Offensive — that the VC and the NVA basically got creamed, and that a failure of political will in the U.S. snatched defeat from the jaws of victory — is wrong. Yes, years of overoptimism from the Pentagon and the White House deprived their optimism about Tet of its credibility, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t finally right, just at the moment when no one believed them anymore.
So I don’t think that the Bush/Cheney line equating the current crisis with Tet embodies a false idea of what happened in Vietnam. But as an account of what’s happening in Iraq, it’s just batshit insane.
If the main problem in Iraq today were the coalition of Ba’athists, Iraqi nationalists, and foreign jihadists who resisted the occupation from the beginning, then the claim that those forces were burning themselves out in a final upsurge of violence — a “last throe” — would at least be comprehensible.
But in fact the main problem is that the Iraqi government, even with our help, is incapable of providing basic security to the population and preventing massive inter-communal violence (whether or not you call that condition “civil war” is a matter of terminology, not a dispute about facts). Worse, major elements of the Iraqi security apparatus are themselves engaged in that inter-communal violence. Worse yet, the Iraqi government, dependent for its political survival on the votes of Shi’a extremist politicians whose private armies are also engaged in sectarian terrorist warfare, is incapable of bringing its own police forces under control and preventing them from mounting “death squad” operations, “disappearing” opponents, and engaging in torture and massacre.
In Vietnam, we had an enemy: the VC and the NVA. In Iraq, we face a condition: sectarian violence, and a government without the political capacity, even if it had the operational capacity, to end it.
There’s no way to defeat a condition.
Had it not been for the (largely Sunni) insurgency, perhaps the militias wouldn’t have gotten out of control. But “defeating the insurgency” is no longer the issue. Therefore, the assertion that, in the current offensive, the insurgency is being defeated militarily — the point of the Tet analogy — isn’t just wrong, it’s unrelated to reality.
Trying to end the Iraqi conflagration by “defeating the insurgency” is logically equivalent to trying to cure Parkinson’s Disease with an antibiotic. It’s not a question of whether you’re using enough antibiotic, or the right antibiotic; if you’re even thinking about an antibiotic for a non-bacterial condition, you have no idea what disease you’re trying to cure, or alternatively you’re just trying to swindle the patient out of a fee.
So which is it? Are we being ruled by fools, or by charlatans?