Charles Krauthammer: Not Vietnam, Not Tet
The first George Bush once said he thought the Gulf War would cure America of the Vietnam syndrome. He was wrong. There is no cure for the Vietnam syndrome. It will only go away when the baby-boom generation does, dying off like the Israelites in the desert, allowing a new generation, cleansed of the memories and the guilt, to look at the world clearly once again.
It was inevitable that Iraq would be compared to Vietnam. Indeed, the current comparisons are hardly new. During our astonishingly fast dash to Baghdad, taking the capital within 21 days, the chorus of naysayers was already calling Iraq a quagmire on Day 8! It was not Vietnam then. It is not Vietnam now....
Iraq is Vietnam not on the ground, but in our heads. The troubles of the last few weeks were immediately interpreted as a national uprising, Iraq's Tet Offensive, and created a momentary panic. The panic overlooked two facts: First, Tet was infinitely larger and deadlier in effect and in scale. And second, Tet was a devastating military defeat for the Viet Cong. They never recovered. Unfortunately, neither did we, psychologically. Walter Cronkite, speaking for the establishment, declared the war lost. Once said, it was.
The other major difference between Vietnam and Iraq is the social terrain. In Vietnam, we confronted a decades-old, centralized nationalist (communist) movement. In Iraq, no such thing exists. Iraq is highly factionalized along lines of ethnicity and religion.
Until now, we have treated this as a problem. Our goal has been to build a united, pluralistic, democratic Iraq in which the factions negotiate their differences the way we do in the West.
It is a noble goal. It would be a great achievement for the Middle East. But it may be a bridge too far. That may happen in the future, when Iraq has had time to develop the habits of democracy and rebuild civil society, razed to the ground by Saddam. ...