Loose Canons

The Vietnamization of Iraq

The idea is to destroy public support for the war and allow Democrats to carve victory out of America's defeat.

By 11.27.05

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As hard as it is to think of Ted Kennedy as a political visionary, his April 2004 statement that "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," was way before its time. In the last presidential election year Kennedy started down a path that would have been political suicide for Kerry. But Kerry's approach -- feigning support for real action against terrorism -- lost. The Dems will not make the same mistake in 2008. The architects of our defeat in Vietnam have dusted off their old plans and are adopting them to Iraq. They are working hard to make Kennedy's statement come true.

The whole Democrat menagerie has embarked on a campaign to Vietnamize Iraq: to make it a demonstrable defeat and by so doing regain the White House regardless of the consequences. If they succeed, Iraq will become a far greater failure than Vietnam was because the stakes are much higher abroad and at home. The next presidential election will, like the last one, be a referendum on Iraq. And if Iraq is a failure, the Democrats will be a success.

"Vietnamization" once meant arming, training and supporting an ally so that it could defend itself and thus relieve Americans of the burden. But to the Democrats and the Chernobyl Republicans who are trying to Vietnamize Iraq, Vietnam is not a nation but an outcome. To succeed in Vietnamizing Iraq, they must treat the nation's uncertainty like uranium ore, refining it in stages into politically fissionable material. First, they must catalyze the nation's uncertainty into doubt, and then refine public doubts about the war into conviction that America should not fight it, and that the Iraqis must be left to their own devices. Sen. Joe Biden -- who rarely has an unexpressed thought -- has shed a dim light on the Democrats' strategy.

On Meet the Press yesterday, Biden said that the 79-19 Senate vote two weeks ago for John Warner's three-part antiwar resolution was a "vote of no confidence" in Bush's prosecution of the war. In response to Tim Russert's questions, Biden's Republican pal Warner didn't even manage a decent harrumph. The Senate resolution -- even with so many Republicans supporting it -- wasn't a vote of no confidence. But it was a message to America that a strong Senate majority was unhappy with Mr. Bush's conduct of the war. It was a long step toward achieving Vietnamization of Iraq by destroying public support for the war.

Biden perhaps revealed too much. He linked his desire for a Vietnam-like timetable for withdrawal from Iraq to the timetable for 2008 presidential aspirants, including himself. On Meet the Press, having said we have only a six-month window of opportunity to get it right in Iraq, Biden later said that his presidential ambitions depend on his ability to raise money in those same six months. If Biden and his ilk can Vietnamize Iraq in six months, they believe they can regain the White House. And the only way they can do either is to destroy America's will to win, just as they did in the Vietnam War. The old protest drums are pounding out the old messages: we can't win, we got into this because we were lied to, and our enemy is no worse than our ally.

CHRIS MATTHEWS HAS BEEN beating the "Bush lied" drum as hard as anyone. Two Sundays ago, as I wrote in AmSpecBlog that day, Matthews said that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution -- which LBJ used to expand the American involvement in Vietnam -- was based on lies just as was the Iraq war resolution. The Tonkin Gulf resolution, passed by Congress and authorizing expanded military intervention in Vietnam, has always been used by the party of George McGovern to condemn the Vietnam war. The problem that the antiwar left has is that the Tonkin Gulf attack -- and the threat of Saddam -- weren't fiction.

As I wrote in 2003, "the destroyer USS Maddox -- gathering intelligence for the South Vietnamese -- was attacked by four North Vietnamese patrol boats on August 2, 1964. Maddox -- aided by carrier aircraft -- severely damaged the attackers, leaving at least one dead in the water." The next night, another attack was detected, but due to the overcast skies, U.S. aircraft couldn't find them and they couldn't find the U.S. ships. One pilot who flew that second night e-mailed me that he was confident the enemy boats were there. In that e-mail, he told me, "We were being vectored by a radar operator. He could see our aircraft and he could see the targets on the water. We were vectored to a surface target, but without flares we could not see it. I know for certain there were targets on the water, but like the WMD in Iraq, we could not visually find them."

We shall only indulge in the briefest restatement of the facts about Saddam's WMD. The fact we haven't found the WMD in Iraq proves absolutely nothing about whether they existed or whether Saddam wasn't doing his best to obtain more. Sen. Jay Rockefeller gave Saddam almost a year to move them after his January 2002 trip during which he told the Saudis, the Jordanians, and the Syrians that the president had already decided on war. When we fiddled and diddled at the UN for six months beginning in September 2002, hundreds of trucks carried we know not what out of Iraq, according to the Dulfer Report. There was no lie by the president. But the Dems exhibit a most fundamental lack of understanding about Iraq, what is at stake there and what Iraq's neighbors are.

Once again, Biden is the best orator of ignorance and naivete. In his Saturday WaPo column, Biden -- assuming the best of intentions in wonderful nations such as Iran and Syria -- wrote, "Iraq's neighbors and the international community have a huge stake in the country's future. The president should initiate a regional strategy -- as he did in Afghanistan -- to leverage the influence of neighboring countries." Iraq's neighbors do have a huge stake in Iraq. Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia cannot afford democracy to take root in Iraq because it would threaten their despotisms and support for terrorism. Biden's vacuity can be effective if he is not answered. And another key step to successfully Vietnamizing Iraq -- silencing those who support the war -- has been very effective.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY HAS, at long last, been speaking out strongly against those who are accusing the president of lying us into a war. He has said, with precise correctness, that "One might...argue that untruthful charges against the commander in chief have an insidious effect on the war effort." The WaPo's Michael Kinsley characterized that comment as "ugly and demagogic," writing on Friday that "the administration now concedes that the country went to war on a false premise." The administration does no such thing, and Kinsley's hyperbole seeks to do precisely what he accuses the Vice President of doing.

What Kinsley is doing is essential to the success of the Dems' campaign. Kinsley smears as "ugly and demagogic" those who criticize the antiwar types. In Kinsley's book, it's perfectly permissible to call the president a liar, but totally out of bounds to say that we are fighting an existential war against terrorists in Iraq and in many other places. Kinsley, and the rest of the MSM, are working hard to produce the result that Jane Fonda and John Kerry did in the 1970s. When they achieved media acceptance of the wrongness of the Vietnam War, they also managed to marginalize as a warmonger and a fool anyone who believed Vietnam was a war worth fighting. Kinsley and his brethren in the MSM will only tolerate variances on the theme of how and when we'll quit and run from the war against terrorism.

There is only one answer to this: presidential leadership and faster achievement on the battlefield. Americans are entitled to have doubts and uncertainties. The war has, thanks to the media, become a Vietnam-like daily bloodletting. The war's opponents -- even the Dems -- are right in that we cannot continue this way indefinitely. The president needs to do three things. First, he needs to tell Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Pete Pace to deal with terrorism at its sources, wherever they may be, at the greatest speed they can manage. Second -- as I've said over and over -- he needs to be out and about, leading the country and the world by telling us long, hard and continuously what we are doing, where, how and why, and why it's worth the cost in blood and treasure. He must do this every day from now until he leaves office. It's the burden of a war presidency, and he hasn't shouldered it. It's his job and it's high bloody time he did it.

Third, Mr. Bush should pick up his veto pen and kill the misbegotten Senate resolution, including the McCain amendment. Let's raise the temperature on the Chernobyl Republicans. If they can't take it, maybe some of them -- such as Messrs. McCain and Hagel -- might well come around.

TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.