I have often felt over the last four years that the press (not to mention the government) strains mightily not to compare the mess in Iraq to Vietnam. Sometimes they do it, of course, but I often feel that Vietnam was such a trauma that to mention it in comparison to Iraq is the journalistic equivalent of dropping a nuclear weapon. It’s too harsh for ordinary reportage. Aside from which, we have to bear in mind some key differences: the draft, and the much higher number of American deaths.

However, as we march on through this absolutely insane, idiotic war, the parallels become too stark for me:

  • Johnson lied to get us into Vietnam with the Gulf of Tonkin incident; Bush lied to get us into Iraq with WMDs and an al Qaeda/9/11 link
  • The war has gone on much longer than the government said it would
  • The government has said innumerable times that we had “reached a turning point”
  • The population of the country that we were purporting to save want us, most urgently, to leave
  • As the war has gone on, the country has turned against it in vast numbers
  • The war has been run with incredible incompetence by the civilians in government, who keep over-ruling the military commanders

What I suspect is going to happen, honestly, is that we are not going to learn from history, and we are going to follow the who weary mess right through to the bitter end (sans the helicopter leaving from the roof of the embassy). Here’s what I see:

Like in Vietnam, the President who started the war will leave office without ending it. As in Vietnam, we will be forced to leave Iraq in some condition short of “victory” (whatever the heck “victory” means in this situation; I would argue we’ve already been “victorious”). Like Vietnam, Iraq will be split into multiple countries, perhaps two, perhaps three. (I envision an independent Kurdistan in the north, and a big ol’ mess in the south. Will there be a Sunni region and a Shiite region? Will there be a separate region, and Iran will absorb their coreligionists? I don’t know, but it will be ugly.)

If we’re smart, and the next President appoints a good team–and let’s face it, he or she could hardly appoint a worse one–we could leverage the situation and perhaps come out with some positives. For example, the Kurds, heaven forbid, actually like us; wouldn’t it behoove us to use that fact? Maybe set up an embassy there? One would think so, but the Bush Administration isn’t “reality based,” so it’s not going to happen in the next 17 months.

In any event, as someone who grew up outside Washington D.C. during the Vietnam era, it fills me with a painful combination of sorrow and rage to see history repeating itself so closely. Will we never learn? (Perhaps we would have if we hadn’t elected a couple of men who did their best to duck out of their Vietnam service.)