Gen. Odom Looks at Iraq and Sees Vietnam — but Worse

Gen. William E. Odom (ret.), ex NSA Chief, looks at Iraq through the prism of Vietnam and what he sees is not pretty:

Will Phase Three in Iraq end with helicopters flying out of the “green zone”� in Baghdad? It all sounds so familiar.

The difference lies in the consequences. Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on U.S. power that Iraq is already having. On this point, those who deny the Vietnam-Iraq analogy are probably right. They are wrong, however, in believing that “staying the course”� will have any result other than making the damage to U.S. power far greater than changing course and withdrawing sooner in as orderly a fashion as possible.

But even in its differences, Vietnam can be instructive about Iraq. Once the U.S. position in Vietnam collapsed, Washington was free to reverse the negative trends it faced in NATO and U.S.-Soviet military balance, in the world economy, in its international image, and in other areas. Only by getting out of Iraq can the United States possibly gain sufficient international support to design a new strategy for limiting the burgeoning growth of anti-Western forces it has unleashed in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

History repeats itself, this time as tragedy.

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3 Responses to Gen. Odom Looks at Iraq and Sees Vietnam — but Worse

  1. Jim Carlson says:

    I am one of those who say we should stay the course. We pull out now & in months Iraq is the foothold of the new caliphate, and the dominoes (Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, etc, etc) start falling (hmm, the Viet Nam analogy does fit, huh?). Does the General’s assessment sway me? How can it not…the man is more qualified by a couple orders of magnitude than I. But maybe the Viet Nam analogy ends when considering political will…it’s there in the present, where it wasn’t in the Viet Nam era. Many will opine that the political will is there to our detriment, and it is, especially to our troops’ detriment. It just gnaws at me that a pullout “sooner”, if translated to “as quickly & orderly as possible” is premature and a worse option.

  2. Craig says:

    I keep thinking of Colin Powell who more or less got it right in the first Gulf War: to paraphrase 1) Send in overwhelming force 2) Have an exit strategy 3) Have the public behind you which requires some straight talk and a sensible rationale for the war. Powell learned something in Vietnam and then, although he was a reluctant warrior, unlearned it in Iraq. Vietnam was a mistake but it had more of a rationale than the current war in Iraq.

    The United States has a long-term leadership problem that is still far from being solved. During World War II, we were lucky to have General George Marshall, adviser Harry Hopkins and FDR who made a powerful and effective team. With the rise of nuclear weapons after the war, there was an effort to turn a certain amount of analysis and strategic control over to civilians because there was a real fear of putting nuclear weapons into the hands of generals like Gen. Curtis LeMay, but the civilians with power too often turn out to be either very blunt and powerful lever pullers like Rumsfeld who has no real understanding of what he’s trying to accomplish or rationalizers like Paul Wolfowitz who are very adept at sticking their fingers up in the air and then fitting their life’s work to the prevailing winds. Not good. This makes two major wars where the most thoughtful and knowledgeable analysts, either military or civilian, are gagged and buried in bureaucratic fights.

  3. Half says:

    Craig, Not ‘a mistake’ — rather, a crime.

    Powell’s doctrine is of course irrelevant to Vietnam, where we used overwhelming force, had an exit strategy (‘Vietnamization’, which of course was nothing new: the idea that a local dictator should enforce the wishes of the master), and had the public very much ‘behind it’ in the early stages when it was mostly ignored, quite unlike the build up to the current situation, which was widely and sagely opposed, unfortunately to little effect.

    There’s no doubt we could have applied greater force in our attack on Iraq — but little evidence that would have led to a better outcome, and no evidence that it wouldn’t have led to worse outcomes.

    The important thing about Odom is that, like everyone who will be considered ‘reasonable,’ he is unconcerned with the impact of our violence and disregard for the rule of law on our victims — he understands that the only thing that matters is the impact on US power and prestige.

    Jim, what’s this ‘course’ you talk of staying with? Your talk of ‘political will’ is errant nonsense, as if we were too timid in our application of force in Vietnam. In fact it’s only a stale propaganda point from the war’s proponents: ‘the politicians wouldn’t let us win.’

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