There are quite a number of pretty stupid people around who can always be counted on to throw the obligatory Vietnam-quagmire-related quote when you really need one. Take Ted Kennedy, for example, who was recently quoted as saying that the Iraqi war is "George Bush's Vietnam". Then again, Teddy said the same thing about Afghanistan. Then again, Teddy's brother actually ran the country durng the Vietnam war. Perhaps it's important to remember that: after all, Teddy can be assumed to know failure when he sees it, as he has seen failure close up --- it was a family affair.
John Kerry, who actually served in Vietnam in case you didn't know, can also be counted on to make the Iraq-as-Vietnam analogy. He does so just about every day. Maybe that's just politics, but perhaps it's more the psychological reaction of a guy who was on the losing end of a war, who has the mentality and the demeanor of a loser, and who is part of a generation that wears the defeat as a badge of courage. There's a serious psychosis at work here.
The recent murder and desecration of four civillian workers in the Iraqi city of Fallujah is being likened to the begining of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam war. The two events , in fact, do have some things in common; Tet was the last gasp of a guerilla insurgency that had failed to achieve it's main political and military objectives, which were to get the South Vietnamese to either capitulate or change their way of thinking vis-a-vis communism by way of example. Once the South Vietnamese saw Viet Cong willing to engage in suicidal attacks for the sake of the cause, perhaps they would begin to see things the "right" way. The martyr dialectic at work: these people are willing to die for their beliefs, there must be something to it.
Fallujah is also a last gasp. Shi'ite Muslims, the majority population in Iraq, are attempting a last-ditch effort to assert their numerical edge in whatever passes for an Iraqi government when this is all over, and also to make Iraq safe for 7th Century religious statism, ala Iran. The martyr dialectic is at work here as well. The Shi'ites were a despised group under Sunni control, treated as little more than potential traitors and subversives under Saddam Hussein's regime. They probably were, since Iran is majority Shi'ite and Iraq fought the bejesus out of them for eight years. There's the element of payback, it seems.
The Vietnam connection is simply this: Tet was seen as a defeat because the American public, already predisposed to finding a way out of an unpopular war, was willing to believe that the Saigon Embassy, Hue and Khe Sahn were signposts on the road to defeat. The press, of course, did their level best to make sure that attitude was reinforced, since they also wanted the United States out of Vietnam for ideological reasons. In the end, American forces wound up destroying the Viet Cong as a military force, despite being surprised and undermanned. The television images, however, showed otherwise, and most people were willing to believe their eyes and to not think about what had happened. It was easier that way, and as we all know, Americans like things easy.
In the end, Tet became a defeat because the political will to follow up the victory had been weakened by the public perception. American commanders in Vietnam had tried for decades to get the Viet Cong into the open and annhiliate them, and the Viet Cong obliged, finally. The Commanders were right. Had Tet been followed up with an invasion of North Vietnam or perhaps a relaxation of rules of engagement that would unshackle the military from the political, Vietnam might have turned out differently. However, the wrong lessons were learned.
Fallujah is sort of the same situation. The United States has an opportunity here, and one presented to it on a silver platter by it's enemies as well. The "militants" are collecting in one place. They are coming out into the open. The Shi'ite dream of an Iranian-style theocracy is on display for all the world to see. It will be crushed.
The issue, after the fighting has ended, is what do the political leaders do afterwards? Do G.W. and company continue with this insane policy of allowing these groups to fester under the guise of "understanding" and "patience", or do they make an example of them to preclude a repeat performance by Sunnis and Kurds? Do they allow Iran to continue to make a statement about their say in a future Iraqi state, to be used as a buffer and proxy against the United States, or do we show them that any provocation will be met with overwhelming force?
Fallujah only becomes another Tet if we allow it to. Fallujah wil be leveled, the Shi'ite dream of another autocratic mullahocracy will be crushed and the people of the United States will stop comparing every situation under the sun to a lost cause. Especially the people who should know better. Fallujah does not have to be a sign of defeat --- it is already, for those who think, a sign of victory.