We now have a legitimate comparison between the Vietnam War and what is taking place in Iraq. That comparison was summed up nicely in a Wall Street Journal editorial last Friday about the untimely call by Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated Vietnam veteran, for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. The Journal recalled a comment made to historian Stanley Karnow in a 1990 interview by North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap: "We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war."
Vietnam and Iraq are significantly different, but Iraq could resemble Vietnam, if Murtha's advice is taken. We lost the war in Vietnam when we lost our will and failed to implement a plan for victory. There were no lasting negative effects on the United States, other than 58,000 dead Americans, but that failed effort is one of several post-World War II withdrawals by American forces prior to achieving objectives that inspired Osama bin Laden and his bloody terrorist brothers to believe that we are weak and so can be made to precipitously quit Iraq.
If we lose the peace in Iraq, it will strengthen the resolve of the terrorists to commit new atrocities, possibly again on our own soil. It would be nice if Murtha and others who have called for a fast pullout would say what they believe will be achieved. Do they foolishly believe we can say, "never mind," wash our hands of the matter and not be attacked again?
One indication that Murtha's comments can only encourage the enemy not to quit is that they flashed around the Arab world on al-Jazeera TV within moments of his making them. What must Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq, and Osama bin Laden think of this? Just that their prophecy is coming true: America doesn't have the stomach for war and if the terrorists can hold us off for a while, we will give up.
Those who would impose a timetable rather than seek victory have an obligation to say what they believe will follow precipitous withdrawal. If it's disaster for the Iraqis and for us, will they take full responsibility? Quitting before a stable democracy and self-sufficient Iraqi military is in place isn't a strategy. It is surrender.
Some of the same House Democrats calling for a pullout didn't have the guts to vote on a House resolution proposing exactly that course of action. The GOP majority forced an on-the-record vote last week. Rather than voting their supposed "consciences," most Democrats ran for cover and voted against the measure, which was defeated 403-3. Democrats, who have been playing nothing but politics since President Bush's approval numbers began to sink, accuse Republicans of playing politics. No they weren't. Republicans simply gave Democrats an opportunity to put their votes where their mouths have been. That they didn't do so exposes their political motives.
The biggest turncoat is former President Bill Clinton, who not only spoke out against the war and a sitting president, but also did it on Arab soil. As usual, Clinton tried to have it both ways, telling students at the American University in Dubai, it's a "good thing" Saddam is gone, "but I don't agree with what was done." Does Clinton think more diplomacy and toothless resolutions would have done the job? He didn't when he was president. On Oct. 31, 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, saying, "The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian makeup. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else."
He sounds like President Bush, who has adopted similar language. The hypocrisy of it all has escaped Bush-bashing Democrats.
Iraq isn't a political beanbag. This is a world war, the results of which can only end in defeat for one side. There is no "coming home" from this war. We are engaged whether we like it or not. Religious fanatics aren't going to participate in a U.S.S. Missouri moment, signing documents of surrender. They must be crushed and demoralized so that they will have no hope in this life or the next of achieving their dreams of a worldwide caliphate. Those are the stakes. Democrats had better ask themselves whether politics or national survival means more to them and what actions and words help or harm America and our troops.
- Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.