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Vietnam War and the War in Iraq

Most people who query US invasion of Iraq and establishment of a successful democracy refer to the Vietnam conflict as an analogy. Others feel that United States of America involved in an indecisive foreign conflict which would put them in a quagmire. However, supporters of the Iraq invasion have dismissed the analogy as irrelevant. According to them, there are barely any similarities; they can only compare Iraq war to the destruction the Nazis in Germany. Nevertheless the Vietnam War and the Iraq war were both as a result of US foreign policies.

The former was a result of the doctrines of “containment” and “Domino Theory” which aimed at countering communism and the latter is a result of the fight against terrorism especially after the September 11 attack. Certainly there are major instructive comparisons between America’s current experience in Iraq and in Vietnam in 1960s. Initially, Americans had very little interest in Vietnam; however the post World War II was dominated by the cold war which was characterized by political hostility between the Americans and the Russians.

Isolating communism was one of the major policies of the United States and its allies. The Soviet Union and the United States who were the main protagonists in the cold war could not have risked a direct confrontation against each other; instead they used to participate in proxy wars whereby they used client states. Participation of the united states in this war revolved around a belief that communism was threatening to spread all over South-East Asia. Before the Second World War, Vietnam was a colony of the French but during the war the country was occupied by Japanese, who later withdrew .

This gave an opportunity for the Vietnamese to establish their own government led by Ho Chi Minh. At the conclusion of the war, the Allies gave South Vietnam back to the French while the North was occupied by the Chinese who supported Ho Chi Minh. The Chinese later retreated from North Vietnam in 1946 (VanDeMark, pp 25). Following the pullout of china, the French decided to reclaim the north which meant that the Vietnamese nationalist movement, Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh, had to fight for it marking the beginning of the war.

Despite the huge help from the United States, the French could not match the guerilla tactics which were used by the Vietnamese soldiers. During this time Minh received support from China and other communist states in the Eastern Europe including the Soviet Union. A French Parachute Regiment was sent to the north in May 1954 with the hope that it will defeat the untrained Vietnam guerrillas. The regiment was defeated by the Minh guerrillas until it surrendered and the French retreated from the north in the same month.

A meeting of the world’s powers in Geneva in April 1954 resolved that Vietnam be divided into two; the north to be led by Ho Chi Minh and the south to be led by Bao Dai. It was also agreed that election be held in 1956, to elect a leader who would rule the whole country. The election did not take place and a permanent split was eminent. In 1947, the US concerns on communism were transformed into the doctrine of containment, which interpreted that the goal of communism was to spread to the capitalist countries and there was the need to ‘contain’ it.

Then there was the concept of the doctrine theory which presumed that if one state fell into communism, then their neighbor would follow the suit. The two doctrines dominated the foreign policy of the United States for much of the cold war period. The Vietnam War was the victim of these two concepts of countering the spread of communism to the East Asia. The Domino Theory had already dominated the US foreign policy and it was now apparent that the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, who was the then leader of south, was going to receive support to prevent expansion of communism in Asia.

The desire of the United States to control the spread of communism could have been the main reason for the incremental participation in Vietnam War between 1950 and 1965. However, the Soviet Union could not participate directly; instead it provided support to china, its fellow communist state, which in turn equipped the North-Vietnamese who were fighting with the Americans. America regarded Ho Chi Minh as an agent of global communism which was viewed as a contagious disease and that promoted human rights violation, autocratic rule and pursed military aggression.

To combat the spread of communism in the region, United States supplied the French military with funds and advisers to counter the Viet Minh. In 1950, President Harry Truman approved a program for military and economic aid to the French. By helping the French in Vietnam, Truman thought that it will help non-communist states to develop whose destiny in some way was tied to the preservation of Vietnam. The policy makers in United States thought that prevention of communism in Vietnam would have offered free world market as opposed to communist ideologies where they preferred closed states (Rotter, para 4.

). When the French forces were defeated at Dienbienphu in 1954, the French was forced to accede to the formation of a communist regime in the North. This arrangement was strongly opposed by President Eisenhower who instead fabricated a government in the south through Ngo Dinh Diem who built a political entity that took over from the French. Diem was the first proper leader of South Vietnam who hated communist ideologies. President Eisenhower dispatched central intelligence agency and military advisers to conduct military training in the south. Before his assassination, John F.

Kennedy had sent 400 Green Beret forces, which were meant to train the South Vietnam army on the counterinsurgency war against the communist guerrillas which had occupied the south. Despite the best efforts by the Americans to provide South Vietnam army with advisers and military aid, the quality of the army remained poor. As America involved itself in the war in 1965, there were concerns about the possibility of sustaining South Vietnam government since it was viewed as a functional non-entity (Tan, pp 6). Iraq war is a military war ongoing and is also referred to as invasion of Iraq or the second gulf war.

The war began on March 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by the coalition forces led by US and UK. According to the Bush administration, the primary objective of Iraq invasion was to democratize Iraq people from brutal rule of Saddam Hussein and to stop Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. The Iraq war is also justified as part of a larger war on terrorism sparked by the attacks on World Trade Center on the September 11 by terrorists. In both wars the truthfulness and integrity of the American government was questioned.

Some people felt there was deceit and fabrication to justify the two wars. For example, invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on false intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, United States tolerated violation of human rights and absence of democracy in Vietnam making it clear that US involvement in Vietnam War was meant to promote its policies. US government failed to convince its citizens that the war was worth the sacrifices in soldier and civilian deaths as well as the huge expenses. US participation war in Vietnam was incremental.

It started by supporting South Vietnamese military against the communist insurgents in the North and eventually it ended up as a war between US and North Vietnamese army. According to Record & Terrill (pp 8), North Vietnamese force waged a revolutionary war with a detailed economic and political program mobilizing peasant support. The Vietnamese forces had acquired experience from the past war with the French and they also enjoyed external support. On the other hand US and the coalition forces invaded Iraq and crushed the Iraq forces within a short period and entered into counterinsurgency operation with the militants and terrorists.

The insurgency in Iraq is relatively small and it is mostly urban based. The insurgency is not centrally and well coordinated and no declared mission as in Vietnam. There is also a major difference in terms of the scale of the war. By 1969, the American military forces were about 543, 000 which included the army and marine forces. An extra 87,000 military personnel were supporting in-country forces outside Vietnam. South Vietnamese were 820,000 in 1968 and grew to about 1,000,000 by 1972. Allied forces from South Korea, Australia and other countries, which were deployed in South Vietnam, were 65,000 by 1968.

In 1963 the north communist troops were numbering 300,000 and about 1,000,000 by 1973. The insurgents in Iraq are relatively small estimated at about 5,000. Aerial bombing in Iraq was on a large scale. In fact it consumed half of the total war expenditure (Record & Terrill, pp 10). During the eight years of the major combat operations in Vietnam, America suffered more casualties than in Iraq war. By 1972, 55,750 troops had died while 292,000 were wounded. This is equivalent to 19 deaths per day in Vietnam War compared 1. 5 deaths per day in Iraq in 2004 (Record & Terrill, pp 12).

The justification of both wars was based on the America’s foreign policies and political objectives. America involved itself in Vietnam due to its domino theory that aimed at countering the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and in particular, the spread of communism in South Vietnam. By the virtual of its intention stop the spread of Islamic extremists especially after 9/11 and democratize Iraq, United States wanted to be a revolutionary power in the Middle East. One of the reasons for the failure of Vietnam War was the failure by the US government to sustain domestic political support.

The policy makers underestimated the time the Americans were going to be patient in supporting the government in accomplishing of its political objectives in Vietnam. Secondly, the failure of the US government to create a strong and viable government in South Vietnam also leads to the failure in Vietnam War. Even though it is a bit early to predict whether America will accomplish it policy objectives in Iraq, repetition of the Vietnam failure could have ha disastrous consequences on the foreign policy of the US.

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