Friday, October 20, 2006

John Keegan

Bush is wrong: Iraq is not Vietnam
"There is a good reason for the difference. The Vietnamese communists had organised and operated a countryside politico-military organisation with branches in almost every village. The North Vietnamese People's Army resembled that of an organised Western state. It conscripted recruits throughout the country, trained, organised and equipped them.

The Iraqi insurgency, by contrast, is an informal undertaking by a coalition of religious and ex-Ba'athist groups. It has no high command or bureaucracy resembling the disciplined Marxist structures of North Vietnam. It has some support from like-minded groups in neighbouring countries, but nothing to compare with the North Vietnamese international network, which was supported by China and the Soviet Union and imported arms and munitions from both those countries on a large scale.

North Vietnam was, moreover, a sovereign state, supported explicitly by all other communist countries and by many sympathetic regimes in the Third World. The Iraqi insurgency has sympathisers, but they enjoy no organised system of support and are actively opposed by many of their neighbours and Muslim co-religionists.

The recent upsurge of violence in Iraq in no way resembles the Tet offensive. At Tet, the Vietnamese new year, the North Vietnamese People's Army simultaneously attacked 40 cities and towns in South Vietnam, using 84,000 troops. Of those, the communists lost 45,000 killed. No such losses have been recorded in Iraq at any place or any time. The Tet offensive proved to be a military disaster for the Vietnamese communists. It left them scarcely able to keep up their long-running, low-level war against the South Vietnamese government and the American army."


dcat said...

All of those words to tell us that the analogy is not exactly correct? Of course it is not. But are we really saying that there are absolutely no lessons one can draw from past wars to inform present wars? Does an analogy have to fit like a puzzle piece to make it at all instructive?
The title of that article overreaches every bit as much as the headline for the article that received so much criticism below. I would argue that in the rudiments Bush accepting the analogy is not "wrong" as long as we limit the analogy and try to understand how the connevctions can be useful in helping is win a war. Saying that aspects of Iraq are like Vietnam is not (or at least should not be) the same as saying that Iraq IS Vietnam. One is subtle and nuanced and worthwhile. The other is an idiot's squawking. Historians need to recognize the difference.
Bush is wrong on lots of things. There may be no sense in throwing him under the bus for at best suggestive conclusions that on the whole are defensible and right.


Stephen said...

I find the original comment and the discussion that followed to be interesting and worthwhile. It would be interesting to hear a conversation between Bush and Keegan on the matter. I am sure they would not disagree. Yet the headlines would make one believe that they have opposing viewpoints, not easily reconcilable ones.

dcat said...

Which brings me back to the point I've been making about headline writing, your post up above notwithstanding.