Is Iraq Another Vietnam?

By Is Iraq Another Vietnam?
Sunday, November 19, 2006

The most impressive thing about Is Iraq Another Vietnam? (PublicAffairs, $24) is that Robert K. Brigham doesn't treat the title's question rhetorically. In this readable book, he emphasizes the military distinctions between the two conflicts: The United States does not have half a million troops in Iraq, many of them drafted; Iraq's insurgents lack the support of a sympathetic superpower and are unlikely to find a single galvanizing leader such as Ho Chi Minh; and while Vietnam began as an insurgency and escalated into a conventional war, Iraq started with a conventional invasion and deteriorated into a messy insurgency.

Still, notes Brigham, a professor of international relations at Vassar who previously coauthored a book with Vietnam-era defense secretary Robert S. McNamara, some important larger similarities have emerged: The stated rationales for going to war have been discredited in both cases; both missions morphed into attempts to build stable societies from chaos; and declining U.S. public support may presage an "Iraq Syndrome" that limits future U.S. interventions just as surely as the Vietnam Syndrome did. Today, he writes, "The United States seems to have come full circle. Once again it finds itself engaged in a war characterized by no clear boundaries, no clear exit strategy, no definition of victory, little allied support, no UN authority, growing public unrest, rising costs, and perhaps an inadequate number of troops for the job." U.S. policymakers decided to wage war in Vietnam and Iraq, Brigham concludes, "with the expectation that a distinctively American story would emerge." It would be a distinctively American tragedy if those stories turned out to be the same.

-- Nathaniel Fick

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