The Digital Journalist
May 2004

by Ron Steinman

If I were an editorial writer, you might find the following in your morning newspaper.

Explain something, please. Why do we have this fear of calling Iraq a quagmire when it is, even if different from Vietnam? Nothing will be like Vietnam again, and that is good. Most, and I emphasize most, journalists, editorial writers, columnists, academics, and our leaders in the military, many who were never near Vietnam, say the comparison is wrong. They are almost correct. Forget the comparison, if possible. Take the mess in Iraq own its own merits.

The terrain is different. The climate is different. The people are different. The religion they practice, or in the case of Vietnam, the many religions, are different. The cultural divide in Iraq is so wide it defies the imagination and I believe in Iraq it is beyond bridging. I believe we should not have been there in the first place. The argument for going to war was specious. Pre-emptive war is imperialism at its worst. However, now that we are there and losing our young men and women everyday, there is no way we can leave. If we retreat, it would put that country through chaos the likes we have yet to see. By staying in Iraq, we have the opportunity to complete what we started, but I wonder at what price. Unhappily, I believe our effort is doomed. This is where the quagmire we refuse to recognize will suck the strength out of us. It will not let us pursue the bottomless pit of terrorism, the be all and end all of the disaffected in the Muslim world, and most of the worlds outside our Western orbit. I do not believe we will convince the Iraqis or their cultural cousins elsewhere in the Middle East, that our way of life, with its hope for equality, its possibility for success, its potential for peace, is a way of life they have a desire of attaining.

In spite of this chasm between cultures, we will continue to send troops to Iraq. Our young men and women will continue to die. America will be in Iraq for more years to come than anyone can safely estimate. Our generals keep asking for more troops and, of course, more money. More troops means greater security, but they, too, will be stretched beyond their limit across a larger swath of territory. Once additional troops are in place, the need for more troops will be even greater as we move to fill the emptiness of Iraq's forbidding landscape. I can hear the sucking sounds now as our leaders in the defense community aim to leverage the finite number of troops at their disposal. In Vietnam, it was different. We had the draft, currently a reviled concept in America. More men were available to fill the holes of the dead, the wounded, and the living who were rotated home every twelve months or so. In Vietnam I sat in countless briefings, both open and classified, where generals and their staffs, intelligence and operational, made the case for increasing the number of troops in a war that many of us thought we could not win. Unlike Iraq, Vietnam had hundreds of fronts. Every patrol each day created a new and often dangerous front line. Each demanded coverage by our troops. In the end, though the number in Vietnam reached almost 550,000 men, it was never enough. When I close my eyes and hear the clipped cadence of the generals in Washington and Baghdad today, I recall the same clipped and studied cadence of the generals I observed in Vietnam. Nothing has changed.

Each American youngster who dies in Iraq is one less individual who can reach his potential. Each dollar spent in Iraq means lower teacher salaries, fewer classrooms, fewer police and firefighters, reduced healthcare, and equally important, less money for the war on terrorism.

We lost in Vietnam because of failed American policies that helped create failed military polices because we faced a determined, never satisfied enemy we never understood. Is that what our troops are facing now in Iraq and will face in the future?

© Ron Steinman

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