Wednesday, May 11, 2016

No, a Vietnam Analogy is Not Appropriate for Iraq

I'm not willing to say that the slow escalation of America's force commitment to Iraq War 2.0 reflects a Vietnam-like situation, but it is certainly true that the press would be making this comparison if a Republican was doing it.

Is this criticism appropriate?

The emerging policy shaping the Obama Administration's slow war against ISIS stirs very bad memories for the U.S. military -- Vietnam memories.

That policy is "gradual escalation." The Obama Administration does not use the term, but that is what we witness.

I won't jump on this line of criticism even though I think we aren't doing enough to win.

One, sometimes you really do just need to help a little bit to help your ally win. Colombia is clearly defeating leftist narco-terrorists although we could be accused of gradually escalating our help to Colombia over the decades. But that turned out not to be futile escalation but enough to win.

One reason gradual escalation failed in Vietnam was that North Vietnam and their Soviet and Chinese backers possessed the means to match our escalations. So where a rapid escalation of means could have defeated the enemy, a gradual escalation just upped the level of violence without disturbing the relative balance of forces.

With ISIL in Iraq War 2.0 there is no outside entity able to match our increased level of force, even if it is just a little.

Another reason the gradual escalation policy failed in Vietnam was because North Vietnam was safe.  Escalation was meant to signal our resolve to North Vietnam to get them to negotiate and not to actually defeat North Vietnam.

No escalation envisioned putting North Vietnam itself at risk, so Hanoi's rulers knew that no matter what we did, it was unlikely we would actually invade them. We barely touched the safe havens in Cambodia and Laos, so North Vietnam was almost assuredly out of bounds for our ground forces.

So Hanoi could match every escalation to prove resolve with their own resolve-driven response.

With ISIL, there is no safe haven. The objective--even if I am frustrated at how long it is taking--is to liberate Iraqi territory and eject ISIL, and eventually to do the same in Syria. Negotiations aren't on the table. (Not with ISIL, anyway. Assad is another matter.)

So I am not ready to accuse the Obama administration of creating a "new Vietnam" through their policy of gradual escalation.

I will say we should have committed these forces long ago (like 2011, if you ask me--but at least by late 2014 when President Obama decided that defending the achievements of the Iraq War justified Iraq War 2.0) because the need for these newly added forces has long been evident.

And I will say that the Left and their media allies would have been raising the cry of a "new Vietnam" if the president had been a Republican.

But even if our slow war has extended the time of misery and death for the Iraqi people under ISIL occupation, our gradual escalation may yet be enough to win.

Unless the enemy takes advantage of the time we are giving them, of course. That problem is separate from Vietnam analogies.