By Michael Shannon
That the situation in Iraq has devolved into a living, breathing
slice of Hell is beyond question, however comparisons with
the war in Vietnam remain a bit of a stretch. There are some
similarities but in general they remain wholly unique in most
The main point of difference between the two is that while
more than one American President misrepresented reality by
stating that great progress was being made over the decade-plus
of our involvement, none of them ever went so far as to declare
that "major combat operations" had been concluded. In addition,
while many a well-intentioned officer/administration official
was more than willing to point out the mythical "light at
the end of the tunnel," none were so full of themselves to
declare Mission Accomplished.
The war in Vietnam was precisely that: a full-scale war.
It was waged on the company and division level by both combatants.
Weaponry on both sides of the field was high-tech and in great
supply. The situation in Iraq (grading wars based on the level
of sophistication and size of opposing forces is apropos only
to commentators and historians - to those in the line of fire
the distinctions are entirely superfluous and irrelevant)
is much different in character and complexity.
Here we are seeing a classic example of a "little war." In
Iraq a force of tremendous strength and power is being contested
by a completely decentralized collection of disparate "deadenders."
Or so the standard Bush Administration spin would have us
The validity of their claims as well as the credibility
of the Administration's entire position on Iraq has suddenly
been laid wide open. And coming as they did after a week of
a White House-led PR campaign in which the administration's
minions all parroted the "great progress" being made, the
events of the past several days have been a particularly bitter
pill to swallow.
Over the course of the first thirty-six hours of the Muslim
holy period of Ramadan the Bush message of victory in Iraq
has been irreparably shattered. It is here that parallels
to Vietnam come clearly into play. The Tet offensive, which
originated on the Vietnamese holiday celebrating the lunar
new year, was not by any means a tactical military victory
for the North Vietnamese. What it was was a slap in the face
to the contention that the United States was winning. By striking
at targets from one end of South Vietnam to the other it became
self evident that the will to carry on the fight was very
much alive in our foes despite our enormous expenditure of
blood and treasure to end it.
The scope of the attacks which marked the onset of the Muslim
holy month was nowhere near as extensive or as powerful in
a military sense but they may very well prove to be just as
damaging from a political prospective.
Reminiscent of the Tet assault on the American Embassy in
Saigon, the attack on the El Rashid Hotel was an eyeopener
on a number of levels. By all accounts this building is among
the most secure in all of Iraq. Surrounded by blast walls
fifteen feet high it lies within the heavily guarded and fortified
American enclave which takes up a dozen square blocks in central
Baghdad. That it could be hit by multiple rockets shows that
there is no "secure" place to found in the new Iraq. A lesson
that was learned the hard way by Under Secretary of Defense
and uber-chickenhawk Paul Wolfowitz as he was rocked out of
bed in a manner he never imagined was possible.
This thoroughly audacious attack was followed within hours
by five nearly simultaneous suicide bombings wreaking havoc
on a extent and level that was unprecedented since the beginning
of this phase of the Iraqi war. By the end of this most bloody
of days, five American soldiers were dead, over two dozen
were wounded and Iraqi casualties were in the hundreds. After
a day like this, even Mr. Bush has to realize that this war
is far from over. Even the most committed of war supporters
has to dread the enemy we have come to know.
For what kind of soulless bastard would pack an ambulance
full of explosives, drive it up to the front door of the Red
Cross facility and push the detonator? Even by the Satanic
standards of the ever-growing legion of suicide bombers this
was an act that screamed contempt for civilization and human
decency. But removing the moral/ethical dimensions from the
equation, what is left after such an abomination is that such
a mind-set presents a daunting military challenge.
When you are facing an enemy who will willingly give up their
lives in the pursuit of their cause you are left with very
few options. An enemy that "refuses to lose" is one that must
be killed or otherwise incapacitated beyond repair. To accomplish
this may unfortunately take an application of lethal force
that will test the will and spirit of the not just the American
soldier but America itself, and even then victory cannot be
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