Interesting piece on Iraq in the NY Times:
IRAQ is not another Afghanistan. Notwithstanding what President Bush said in his speech on Tuesday, our primary problem in Iraq is not terrorism, and the administration’s single-minded focus on terrorism may help explain why we have not yet adopted a true counterinsurgency strategy or properly tackled so many of the country’s other problems.
Nevertheless, critics of the president who make parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are equally wrong. Iraq is far more important. Because of its oil wealth, its location in the most politically fragile region of the world, and its importance in the eyes of Arab nations that wonder if democracy is possible for them too, Iraq is critical to American interests in a way that Vietnam never was.
There is one way, however, in which Iraq is like Vietnam: how the United States is handling it. We lost in Vietnam for a complicated set of reasons. But the most important was that we refused to use an effective counterinsurgency strategy. We focused more on hunting down Vietcong guerrillas than on protecting the Vietnamese people, which in turn prevented the South Vietnamese economy from growing and giving the people an economic incentive to support our side of the war. We also tolerated a series of corrupt, unstable South Vietnamese leaders who made little effort to connect with the people and spent their time squabbling over power and graft.
Iraq, however, may not be doomed to the same fate. For one thing, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his government are far more popular and better-intentioned than President Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam and his kleptocratic colleagues ever were. And, because the Iraqi insurgents are as happy to blow up Iraqi civilians as American convoys, they do not enjoy the broad appeal of the Vietcong (let alone the firepower of the North Vietnamese Army).
So it is unfortunate that we are squandering these advantages by repeating many of our own mistakes from 40 years ago, and in doing so alienating the Iraqi people and raising the risk of chaos and civil war. So how do we save the reconstruction of Iraq? Again, Vietnam – as well as Northern Ireland and other guerrilla wars – has much to teach. There are at least five specific lessons that must be adapted to today’s cause…
Read the five and tell me what you think…