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September 26, 2003

QUAGMIRE?....If you're a fan — or a detractor — of the quagmire theory (i.e., Iraq is another Vietnam), who better to argue for the prosecution than Stanley Karnow, Mr. Vietnam himself? He makes the case for quagmire today in the LA Times.

I don't especially endorse or reject this argument, but I think it's worth pointing out that the quagmire analogy doesn't really apply to the military struggles themselves, even if guerrillas figure prominently in both. Rather, as Karnow correctly points out, it applies to the similar political situations. Karnow makes two points:

  • The domino theory as an overarching geopolitical justification: "As they oozed into the region, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson each justified his commitment by expounding the "domino theory"....Similarly, Bush — permeated with evangelical fervor — has portrayed himself as a crusader and Saddam Hussein as the evil genius behind international terrorism....But just as his precursors in the White House failed to prove their case that Vietnam was indispensable to U.S. security, Bush has produced no solid evidence to back his allegations."

  • Lack of candor about progress and goals: "Perhaps the most striking similarity is this: Those of us who covered Vietnam were regularly inundated by civilian and military bureaucrats with piles of glowing details, charts and statistics devised to show progress....Today, as I listen to Bush and his spokesmen deliver euphoric accounts of the headway being made in Iraq, they remind me of the bulletins from Vietnam that reassured us that "victory is just around the corner" and that "we see the light at the end of the tunnel." As the war escalated in Vietnam, members of Congress privately began to oppose what increasingly seemed to be a futile enterprise. But they never failed to vote funds for the venture on the grounds that "we can't let down our boys." For the same reason, they will grant Bush the $87 billion he has requested."

Friends and foes may now fire away.

Posted by Kevin Drum at September 26, 2003 09:03 AM | TrackBack


Iraq was justified by an inverse of the Vietnam domino theory. We went into Vietnam to stop the communist dominoes. Similarly, Gulf War I was meant to stop the spread of Saddam (first Kuwait, then Saudi Arabia, then the world). But we went into Iraq this year to start the freedom dominoes. I don't think the security threats arguments against Iraq this time around fall very neatly into a domino framework -- the concern was more that Saddam's weapons and terrorist connections would directly threaten the US, and less that they would encourage the spread of Ba'athism to neighboring countries.

Posted by: Stentor at September 26, 2003 09:16 AM | PERMALINK

tsk. Congress gives bronze stars to just any whacko liberal elitist nowadays...

Posted by: squiddy at September 26, 2003 09:16 AM | PERMALINK

Whoops, my bad. Joseph Galloway wuz what got the Bronze Star, fer some stupid thing no one ever heard about, and no one cares what he has to say now, either. Especially if it's not about Ben and J-Lo. That's all we care about. And Kobe.

Galloway story

Posted by: squiddy at September 26, 2003 09:22 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, in a comment on a previous thread, someone cited this claim:

"McEnroe: I don't know. I thought the BBC was completely biased. Three days into the war, they were calling everything a quagmire, and reporting that everything was bogged down."

If they were calling it a quagmire, it wasn't three days into the war -- searching their site reveals four hits for "quagmire", one reporting in July that Rumsfeld rejects the term, and another in August reporting that the Arabic press uses the term. I don't see the term "bogged" (as in "down") in any BBC stories related to the war.

Maybe they're talking about BBC television news or something, but I don't see the support for McEnroe's hysterical claim on the BBC site itself.


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett at September 26, 2003 09:30 AM | PERMALINK

When your investment of men and treasure doesn't pay the expected return, that's failure. When your situation demands the continued investment and and a continued lack of results, that's quagmire. Until there is an exit strategy and we are seeing tangible results Iraq looks and smells like quagmire.

Posted by: LowLife at September 26, 2003 09:31 AM | PERMALINK

One other point made in the article is that, like Vietnam, we can't easily tell the good guys from the bad guys. People willing to blow themselves up to kill Americans look just like those who want to work with us.

Posted by: Dale at September 26, 2003 09:31 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the $87B is going to go all that easy, and it may prove to be the congressional gagging point, especially the $20B in reconstruction funding. Actual, authentic honest conservatives are wondering why we're paying for a study of the postal service or building "planned communities:"

Even the $67B, which should sail through this time, is a red flag for the next funding request....

Posted by: howard at September 26, 2003 09:37 AM | PERMALINK

LowLife hit the nail on the head. Somebody send this comment to the strategists behind the Democratic presidentail candidates. A club to beat Bush with.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan at September 26, 2003 09:38 AM | PERMALINK

Yep, it's a quagmire:

Iraq R&R: First U.S. Troops Arrive as Pentagon Revives Vietnam-Sized Home Leave Program

LINTHICUM, Md. (AP) - The first U.S. troops to get a two-week vacation from their work in Iraq landed on the East Coast early Friday and were looking forward to seeing their families, eating home-cooked food and getting some sleep.

"The first thing is, get a good nap," said Pvt. Bryan Harper, 23, a member of 173rd Airborne Brigade from Portland, Ore.

"Two weeks is not a lot of time to spend on leave," he said. "I've learned on leave you don't make plans because they never work out. Just spend time with family and friends."

Harper and the other 191 soldiers who arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 6 a.m. are the first wave in the military's largest home leave program since the Vietnam war. ...

Posted by: David W. at September 26, 2003 09:53 AM | PERMALINK

I don't really see how its productive to compare this engagement to the Viet Nam war. That was a defensive war in which we were not able to defeat the enemy in battle in over 8 years of fighting. This was an offensive war in which we defeated the enemy in less than 3 months.

We are now in a period of reconstruction - a stage never reached in Viet Nam. So while we may be having some problems, all analogies to VN are absurd.

Posted by: Buda at September 26, 2003 09:56 AM | PERMALINK

This is insane. All available evidence shows that the security situation improving. Attacks on our soliders are less frequent, and we are restoring order. We should be able to get out of Iraq with less than 1,000 American dead. We might even do it with less than 500, though I doubt it. It is discomforting to refer to "only" 1,000 American deaths as an indicia of "success," but in military terms it is a huge, resounding success. Please note that Barry McCafferty, and many other generals were predicting 4,000 American dead *in the battle for Baghdad alone.* We lost more soldiers in one *hour* during D-Day!

There is very little restance to us outside of the Sunni triangle, and none in the Kurdish areas. We have put more Iraqi police on the streets.

Most importantly, we have stopped an evil monster. That seems like a pretty good indiciation of success to me.

The Vietnam left desperately wants a quagmire. An American victory would shatter their cynical and pessimistic worldview.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at September 26, 2003 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

When you pick a rationale for War, make it stick.

If you are not sure about your main reason, either a) Don't go to war, or b) get a better reason.

What's amazing about the Iraq WMD situation was that, there were plenty of legitimate theoretical issues which could have been the basis for a "just war:"

• The political collapse of a major Oil producing nation (i.e., Saudi Arabia), with a subsequent fundamentalist extremist group taking control of the country and its oil reserves;

• The political collapse of a nuclear power (i.e., Pakistan), with a subsequent fundamentalist extremist group taking control of the country of its nuclear weaponry; A secondary threat would be provocation by terrorist groups of nuclear war between India and Pakistan;

• A bio/chemical terrorist attack on Israeli population center, producing casualties orders of magnitude (10,000-100,000 civilian deaths) than the present suicide attacks. In the event of such a catastrophic event, an Israeli nuclear response is a considered possibility.

Any one of these threat scenarios might have justified a premptive move. And, 'cause they are off in the future and not verifiable, there would not have been a drumbeat of "Where are the WMD?"

Posted by: Barry Ritholtz at September 26, 2003 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, McCafferty was predicting 4,000 casualties in Baghdad, not dead. Still, his prediction was way off. I don't recall anyone predicting that we would have suffered only 350-odd casualties in the invasion, much less during the reconstruction.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at September 26, 2003 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

all analogies to VN are absurd

The faulty analogy here is that defeat in formal battle is the point of highest attainment. That wouldn't have been true in Nam, it is demonstrably true here.

Posted by: D. Case at September 26, 2003 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

You must lend me those rose-colored glasses of yours, Joe. I need to improve my outlook.

I'm not saying that Iraq is a quagmire (yet), but it's nowhere near as rosy a picture as you're painting. In particular, this sentence, " All available evidence shows that the security situation improving," is flatly wrong.

Posted by: PaulB at September 26, 2003 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Schmoe:

There is very little restance to us outside of the Sunni triangle, and none in the Kurdish areas.

From the Wires:

Fri September 26, 2003 05:11 AM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A rocket-propelled grenade attack killed a U.S. soldier and wounded two others in the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk, the U.S. military said on Friday.

Is Kirkuk not in the Kurdish areas? None?

Posted by: David Perlman at September 26, 2003 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yep Joe everything's improving, why there hasn't been an attack, since well 9 pm Thursday. and a soldier hasn't died since 11 pm. Everythings a- ok.

Posted by: Rob at September 26, 2003 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

This is insane. All available evidence shows that the security situation improving. Attacks on our soliders are less frequent, and we are restoring order.
There is very little restance to us outside of the Sunni triangle, and none in the Kurdish areas. We have put more Iraqi police on the streets.

Joe Schmoe -

I'm happy to see a good contrarian argument, and I'll readily agree that the Vietnam analogy is WAY overdone, but some of your evidence looks a bit shaky to me:

"All available evidence shows that the security situation improving. Attacks on our soliders are less frequent, and we are restoring order."

Uh, what available evidence, exactly? Fatal attacks may be somewhat less common, but I continue to see references to 12 - 20 attacks per day. As for restoring order, see any of the recent stories about the Baghdad morgue: 30+ violent deaths a night in Baghdad.

"There is very little restance to us outside of the Sunni triangle, and none in the Kurdish areas."

Actually, one of the more alarming recent trends has been the increase in violent attacks in the north. Mosul has been the scene of most of these, but the most recent US military fatality occurred in an RPG attack in Kirkuk yesterday.

I don't think this is anything close to a Vietnam yet, but it could be an Algeria if we screw up and antagonize enough of the population. And even in a best-case scenario, I have a hard time envisioning a secure Iraqi government ruling a unified Iraq without a large foreign military presence to provide security.

Posted by: Dave L at September 26, 2003 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Joe, there were all kinds of projections about how the "active combat" phase of the war would go, from those who thought it would be a cakewalk to those who thought that there was a high risk of bloody, hand-to-hand combat in baghdad, which fortunately didn't happen (the pentagon, of course, was among those who feared the latter). I personally thought the war would be easy and the post-war terrible. What does that have to do with anything?

Now, as for the security situation "improving." On what basis are you possibly saying this? It is perfectly clear that not all attacks are reported, it is perfectly clear that the enemy's capabilities have grown more sophisticated, it is perfectly clear that jumpy, jittery US soldiers are reacting to all kinds of things by shooting, it is perfectly clear that targeted assassinations are increasing, it is perfectly clear that there are "security" events happening even in the south and the north, it is perfectly clear that strategic sabotage continues.

Iraq may or may not be a "quagmire," it may or may not play out beautifully as you keep confidently predicting, but being in denial about the conditions on the ground isn't going to help anyone.

Posted by: howard at September 26, 2003 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I just came to the realization that the flypaper theory is
just a variation of the domino theory only that the domino
effect would be bad while the flypaper effect would be good.

The domino theory was that if Vietnam fell to the commies,
all those other Asian countries would fall to the commies
and follow the whim of the commies. Bad.

The flypaper theory is that if Iraq falls to the US, all
those Middle East/Arab countries would fall to the US and
follow the whim of the US. Good.

Posted by: Dan the Man at September 26, 2003 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

I was just reading "Lies Across America" about the many monuments to the Spanish-American war that usually just pull in the war in the Phillipines. The author noted how similar our actions in the Phillipines were to Vietnam, and yet America has completely forgotten the war (I sure don't remember it from H.S. history). Points of interest:
- Started in 1899, was declared over in 1902 but major conflicts continued through 1916
- We'd been prior allies of the leader, then later decided he was evil and had to go.
- Lies from the government about things going much better than they actually were.
- American press kept in the dark.

There's more, the book's at home and I'm at work now. But while the book was just drawing parallels between Phillipines & Vietnam, it all sounded eerily like Iraq right now.

Posted by: Stoffel at September 26, 2003 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

But if it wasn't for the spanish American War we wouldn't have Gitmo and then where would we stick prisoners to avoid national and international law?

Posted by: Rob at September 26, 2003 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting to note that the soldiers being rotated home for two-week vacations receive gov't paid transportation only as far as the Baltimore port-of-entry, and must pay their own way from there, and back to there, after the two weeks are up.

But we're "supporting our troops"!!!

Posted by: Chuck Nolan at September 26, 2003 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Re: 4,000 casualties.Did McCafferty say casualties or DEAD? Because isn't the definition of war casualty not just DEAD but WOUNDED? The Centcom estimates are 1,322 wounded in action, another 322 in accidents as of Sept. 25. That's on top of the 363 fatalities. And that's what? seven a day since March? There might not be fatalities every day, but there seems to be at least one soldier, if not more, wounded daily.
Might not be 4,000, but it's still a lot. And according to the Washington Post, it's straining the military medical system, since we're talking about a lot of guys losing a lot of limbs. It seems their employment possibilities after rehabilitation, depending on their training, goes way down too.

Posted by: Lou at September 26, 2003 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Chuck Nolan - They must've caught too much flack over their earlier plan to fly 'em to Germany if there was any room left after the injured went first. (Sorry I can't cite a link...can't remember where I read that one.)

Support the troops, indeed.


One reason deaths are down is that more soldiers have received the ceramic inserts for their bulletproof vests. One of the generals said during the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing the other day that all soldiers should have those inserts by December.

Nice planning, there, Pentagon.

Posted by: Lindsay at September 26, 2003 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

The son of a friend is back from Iraq for his "vacation" and he's a wreck. He can't sleep, he has recurring nightmares, he's hostile, angry, and ready to blow at the slightest offense. He spends his time running - literally - so that he can shut his eyes for a while without the dreams happening. He has seen buddies killed, watched as an Iraqi kid he befriended was blown up, and more that he won't talk about. The "advice" he's gotten from the higher-ups is to "toughen up and be a man".

It sounds like any soldier over there who is suffering these stress-related effects is tabbed a pussy for seeking help, so they don't. His mother, who was all for him going into the service, is now trying to figure out how to get him out - and she's a Republican.

Is this beginning to sound like Vietnam yet?

Posted by: pessimist at September 26, 2003 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure the soldiers and airmen on the ground in Iraq would agree with Buda that we have "defeated the enemy" and "are now in a period of reconstruction." From what I've read, both the number and rate of casualties after our "victory" are the same or greater than before it, and certainly the reports about day-to-day activity in Iraq make it sound like it is still a place of active armed hostilities.

And I'm afraid Joe Schmoe's figures about casualties are wrong also. We've suffered 350+ deaths, the very large majority of which were due to hostile action (vs., say, accidents). The number of casualties -- which frequently include such permanent and life-shattering injuries as loss of one or more arms or legs, and which have been essentially unreported by the US media -- is approaching 2,000.

That said, of course this is not comparable in scale to Vietnam, where we lost more than 57,000 dead, and where we were involved in combat for over 15 years. I think the question is, is this similar in kind?

And I have to say, the dishonesty and dissembling of senior government officials (and their consequences for political unity and trust), the terrible expenditure of blood and treasure (and the huge opportunity costs and downstream economic effects), and the imperial hubris (and its long-term geopolitical consequences) of Iraq look awfully similar to those of Vietnam.

Even the debate resembles that of Vietnam: polarized, simplistic, and angry.

A helluva thing for "a uniter, not a divider."

Posted by: bleh at September 26, 2003 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

I acknowledged my mistake on the casualties/death distinction in an earlier post. I think the historic (post-WWII, when modern medicine first started to make a real difference) ratio is something like 2-1 or 3-1 casualties/death.

Remember, McCafferty was predicting 4,000 casulaties for the battle of Baghdad *alone*.

Pessimist, lots of people go through traumatic experiences. Most deal with it, some don't. My friends have been in combat. It was stressful, but today they are fine. Some relatives have had cancer. They managed. Others are paralyzed. You deal with it.

The soldier who is back from Iraq needs help and support -- no one should tell him he is a "pussy," he needs people who work with him and care for him to help him deal with his trauma and his feelings --- but we as a society shouldn't get all hysterical and teary-eyed because he's having nightmares. We need to show a little backbone.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at September 26, 2003 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

To my fellow Democrats: please, please, please stop pushing the idea that Iraq should be compared to Viet Nam.

The situation on the ground in Iraq is NOTHING like the situation in Viet Nam, nor is there any prospect of it emerging in the near future. What is missing in Iraq that was present in Viet Nam? How about: a well-organized, highly disciplined corps of regular troops and cadres of undercover operatives; supplies of arms and aid streaming in from major military powers (China and Russia); sovereignty over half the country, into which US units did not penetrate; perhaps most importantly, a nationalist leader who had gained legitimacy by helping save his people from starvation and leading a victorious campaign against a colonial occupier (nos amis, les francais); and, oh yes, a phenomenally corrupt alternative in the South Viet Namese government. In terms of cause, morale, materiel, positional advantage, there is no comparison.

And the casualty numbers bear it out. While even the present level of casualties is tragic, more than 58,000 Americans died in VietNam. At present, about 400 Americans have died in Iraq.

(2) Politics is about expectations and framing. If Democrats run around saying that Iraq is Viet Nam, we look foolish. It is OBVIOUSLY not Viet Nam. If the situation changes, then by all means, call it by its right name. But for now, don't you think Karl Rove would be thrilled to have Democrats saying that Iraq is Viet Nam? To swing voters, it makes us look unworthy of trust in foreign affairs.

(3) Last point. If you are serious about the Viet Nam analogy, I think the natural conclusion is we get out ASAP. Is that what liberalism stands for? We destroy political authority in Iraq, and leave the people to their fate? We did not do that in Kosovo, and we were absolutely right not to. That was a moment about which *liberals* should be proud. Granted, this administration is too vain and arrogant to understand the gravity of what it undertook, or the importance of allies. But we can't therefore wash our hands of what we've done. We need to turn this administration out and do what we can to make the best of a bad situation. We broke it, we bought it.

Posted by: TedL at September 26, 2003 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

This thread gives me a chance to update my list of the striking similarities between Iraq and Viet Nam:

1) The president lies about the justification and goals of the war;
2) There is no strategic plan for victory [no exit plan];
3) The war is fought on the cheap;
4) The nationalistic religious nature of the people is ignored;
5) The UN and Europeans are dismissed;
6) Better to fight there than here on the Streets of Laredo;
7) The US Army falls apart when the lifers cycle through for their second and third tours; and
8) Troops get R & R out of theater.

Posted by: Jim S at September 26, 2003 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not convinced the analogy is a valid one. Instead what I see are two instances that are each symptoms of a similar general cause.

The administration went into this thing half-cocked, and now find themselves in a terribly constrained situation. They seemed to think that just because they had a bunch of guns that they were invulnerable, and that no other means to an objective was to be considered except theirs. In fact, they suggest -- even now -- that unless their plans are the ones agreed to, that those who disagree with the plans disagree with the objectives.

There is no way out of this sort of narrowness. Defensiveness, paranoia, lashing out at others, and a spiraling cycle of failure all come from these closed-minded approaches.

Get the terrorists, get the commies, what's the difference? When decisions are made in a climate of ideological hysteria, and reasoned opposition is baited to the margins, there rarely is any other result in the long run other than vainly following a blind path paved with emotionally vested choices regardless of their consequences.

Posted by: Spinning Tops at September 26, 2003 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Most importantly, we have stopped an evil monster. That seems like a pretty good indiciation of success to me.

It depends on the cost. A tyrant is better than anarchyy in many ways. Bush I chose to leave Saddam in power after Gulf War I, knowing everything about his character that we know now. He and Baker wanted to keep Iraq a single country as a counterweight to Iran, and they tried to encourage an Army coup to get rid of him. But it was a choice of order and predictability under a monster to unpredictable chaos. It isn't clear that they made the wrong decision.

The cost includes our combat casualties and a large number of Iraqi deaths and injuries. Some of these we caused directly, but the number due to rampant crime appears to be much larger. The family and friends of those casualties are going to blame us, rightly or wrongly.

What does this do for the electoral chances of a political party supporting our continued presence? And how does this affect the chances that we can allow a democratic election?

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 26, 2003 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

All good points.

One thing I'd like to add is that although North Vietnam did have a well-organized, outside-financed, well-led opposition my thoughts from following the Iraq aftermath (attacks and sabotage) are that Iraqis may have started with nothing, but as it goes along, they too may have all of the above: they appear to be piecing together an organization, may be getting funds/aid from outside sources/terrorists and eventually a leader may emerge to consolidate the action.

It may be too soon to call it analogous to Vietnam, but as the days stretch into weeks into months...into years?...

Posted by: chris at September 26, 2003 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

The 1:1 isomorphic tally to various aspects of our Viet Nam adventure or lack thereof is not the point. Calling this another Viet Nam is simply high-concept short-hand for the whole collection of clusterf*** that we see wrt our Iraq adventure. Just as Ascroft's Justice department isn't really the reincarnation of the Gestapo, and the radical wing of the GOP aren't really neo-Nazis, it's just easier to use the short-hand iconographic phrases to describe the collection of behavior. In future times, when this sort of thing rears it's head again perhaps they'll talk about 'another Iraq', or 'just like Bush' and defenders will point out how the comparison fails on some minor points.

Posted by: catalexis at September 26, 2003 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

" An American victory would shatter [the "Vietnam left's"] cynical and pessimistic worldview."

Joe, Joe! You're so like totally wrong!

As everyone knows, Liberals are NAIVE OPTIMISTS. We sing Cumbaya all day and wrongly believe people are inherently good.

Think I'm wrong? Let me quote no less an authority than Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post July 26, 2002:

"As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about... we all agree that liberals are stupid.

"We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe -- here is where they go stupid -- that most everybody else is nice too...

"Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good...

"Liberals suffer incurably from naivete, the stupidity of the good heart."

From No-Respect Politics - Charles Krauthammer

Now, Joe, you can be stupid and naive about people or stupid and cynical about people. But you can't be naive AND cynical. That's called a contradiction. Therefore, either you're wrong. Or Charles is wrong.

Or you both are.

Make Love, Not War


Posted by: tristero at September 26, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

anyone see the lates harper's index? one stat in there stood out: (i'm paraphrasing, not sure of the exact #s)

# of GI's killed in Vietnam 1963-64: 350

# of gi's killed in iraq and afghanistan 2002-2003: 354

Posted by: bing at September 26, 2003 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Attacks on our soldiers are less frequent
I track casualties here IRAQ Coalition Casualties Attacks are not less frequent. In September Fatalities are down, but WIA's are up(40-60 a week) as are civilian deaths.
Iraq is a quagmire, but not Vietnam.
The Vietnam War analogy does not fit, there is no North Vietnam, no Cambodia, no real "popular resistance". Algeria is closer analogy.

Posted by: elvis56 at September 26, 2003 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Joe, please, for the last time, what mccaffrey did (or did not) say about street-fighting in baghdad (I sincerely doubt that he "predicted" in the sense that people "predict" football scores, although he may indeed have said "I fear x casualties," or "we could incur x casualties" or what have you) is completely irrelevant.

That well-known bastion of liberal cynicism, the pentagon, worried plenty about street fighting in baghdad and the risks. They ran simultations, and recognized, quite sanely, what might occur.

Fortunately, it didn't, but what real military people do - what real planners do everywhere - is plan for a variety of contingencies and do whatever they can to maximize the likelihood of the best contingency occurring.

Unfortunately, joe, you don't do what good planners do: you keep repeating here, incessantly, in comment posting after comment posting, how well you believe everything is going to turn out.

There were lots of people who believed that way about vietnam, too, which takes us back to one of the key points here in the first place: optimism is not candor. hope is not a plan.

Posted by: howard at September 26, 2003 01:04 PM | PERMALINK


I didn't say casualties are less frequent. I said attacks are less frequent. I think this is an important distinction.

Do you have information on the frequency of attacks? One of the op-eds in the New York Times from a few days ago said they are down to fifteen or so per day from 40 per day.

Today is September 26. How do September fatalaties compare to those in August? July? June? May? April? How about wounded?

By the way, teriffic site. One of the best!

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at September 26, 2003 01:04 PM | PERMALINK

In terms of cause, morale, materiel, positional advantage, there is no comparison.

There is a similarity in the response of the US electorate. They do a rough cost/benefit analysis and come to a conclusion. In the case of Viet Nam, this was that the cost in lives and money was way disproportionate to the benefit, although the initial objectives were sensible and in some ways noble. Some of this calculation is present already in the questioning by Congress of why we need to give $20 billion at the expense of domestic expenditures.

One reading of the history is that the efforts of the Left were counterproductive. People were very troubled by disruption of college campuses and terrorist activities like bombings and bank robberies. Nixon benefitted greatly from shifting the blame for our loss to the Left, although he and Kissinger finally settled for a result they could have had in 1968.

If this is a correct reading, opponents of the war have little to gain by demonstrations or extremist rhetoric. OTOH, many of the unpopular leftist movements of the late 60's would have happened anyway, and got bundled with the anti-war effort secondarily. There is little danger of a repeat of the disastrous 1972 convention, entertaining though it was.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 26, 2003 01:07 PM | PERMALINK

Also, could you please try to control for things like major offensives? We were going on a lot of raids a few weeks ago, and surely this increased the casualty count.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at September 26, 2003 01:08 PM | PERMALINK

Joe, it's nice that you are trying to get at the facts, but it's a fact that not every "attack" gets reported. There's lot of evidence to support this, of which the most recent is that General Sanchez inadvertently said that there was no misconduct in the shooting that killed 10 police in fallujah recently, when, in fact, he meant an earlier shooting of police in fallujah.

that had never been reported, that is.

In addition, how do you control for the variable that US troops are much more cautious about coming out in public now?

Spare yourself embarassment and don't assert that attacks are down; the security environment is not good, and even the backbone administration acknowledges this.

Posted by: howard at September 26, 2003 01:32 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with TedL, Iraq is not Vietnam, and is not even close. While there are political similarities in the domestic scene, that is where it ends. An American administration was mendacious and callous about American deaths in Vietnam, and the present administration seems to have some of the same disease. But the similarity ends there, and there is no point in comparing Iraq to Vietnam.

A note on casualty figures: I read somewhere (don't know where at present) that the ~2000 casualty figure is considerably understated by the Pentagon: the real number should be 6000+. Anyone remember where I might have read that?

A final thing. Our quick victory in Iraq is part of what is giving us problems now. We didn't really defeat the Iraq army or paramilitary -- they simply disolved into the countryside. We took out their armor, and made sure that they had no Air Force and limited artilery before they went, but it seems that most Iraqi foot soldiers were not captured or killed. The army just dispersed.

That is, I think, part of why we are having the trouble with violence that we are having in Iraq. There are still plenty of people willing and able to carry out hostile actions against us, because we really didn't take them out before.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at September 26, 2003 01:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am too young to remember Vietnam but it seems to me just as incorrect to compare the rebuilding of Iraq to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan as comparing Iraq to Vietnam. Such comparisons are, in my opinion, the thinking of a mind trapped in "Old Europe." Our military is not the same as the military that fought Vietnam, WWII, or even Gulf I. We are a generation ahead of the second most modern army in the world.

General McCaffrey may have gotten his estimates wrong because he was thinking in terms of the last war but the number of casulties we have sustained is far too high to claim success by a factor of ten. The problem with this war is that the administration does not know that "proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance." They went in with too few troops and are still there with too few troops. War are won by destroying the enemy's ability or willingness to fight. That is accomplished by an overwhelming force of arms.

We captured Baghdad with the 3rd ID and the 1st Marines. Sure, we won a war with only two divisions. But that is not the same thing as finishing the enemy. There should have been more troops finding, fixing, and finishing the Iraqi army. Instead, we did it on the cheap and the Iraqis lived to fight a querilla war. And the same thing happened in Afghanistan.

If there is a similarity to Vietnam, it is that we risked enough blood and treasure to win the battles but not the war.

Posted by: Mike at September 26, 2003 01:45 PM | PERMALINK

funny why we stopped those night-time sweeps -- they were counter-productive.

yet hunkering down taking convoy ambush casualties like we did in 'Nam isn't exactly productive.

When all available strategies aren't productive, that's the q-word.

Posted by: Troy at September 26, 2003 01:49 PM | PERMALINK

Col Harry Summers was fond of relating an incident which occurred when he met PAVN Colonel Nguyen Don Tu in 1975. 'You know you never defeated us on the battlefield'; Tu pondered the statement a moment, then replied: 'that may be so, but it is also irrelevant'.

Posted by: Troy at September 26, 2003 01:54 PM | PERMALINK

Since August I have received threat condition warnings (a source inside Iraq sends them). They consistently list 8 to 12 attacks per day that result in KIA or WIA. I have not seen numbers as high as 15 - 40. Whenever there has been a lull, as there was two weeks ago, it has been followed by intensification in attacks.

There is an option on the main page to view fatalities by month (avg 1 a day in Sept, 1.39 in Aug). Yes, they are down but we are seeing more wounded.

The 6000+ figure is based on medivac numbers. It includes the sick (physical and mental illness) as well as the wounded. It may also include numbers from Afghanistan.

Posted by: elvis56 at September 26, 2003 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

Timothy, Elvis56 beat me to explaining to you the 6000 number, which surfaced about 2-3 weeks ago. Elvis56, as i recall reading it at the time, it was iraq-specific.

As for iraq-vietnam analogies, i think former senator cleland nails it perfectly in this column: many of the same mistakes are being made by washington decision-makers:

Posted by: howard at September 26, 2003 02:58 PM | PERMALINK

The iraq-vietnam analogy works for the reasons, not for the battles.
Vernon Loeb gave us his source for the 6000 but that person has not returned our calls (go figure, we're just a couple peaceniks with a website).

Posted by: elvis56 at September 26, 2003 03:41 PM | PERMALINK

Joe thinks things are getting better in Iraq -- the war is going well and soon, a flurishing democracy will bloom there. River of Riverbend seems to be not so sanguine as she watches the UN pull out because of security concerns -- leaving the Iraqis to face the danger without them.

What is particularly disturbing is that the UN is pulling out some of its staff for security reasons… they pulled out a third tonight and others will be leaving in the next few days. Things are getting more and more frightening. My heart sinks every time the UN pulls out because that was how we used to gauge the political situation in the past: the UN is pulling out- we’re getting bombed.

Elvis's own site has a post with the following quote from the UN personnel:

"I've worked from Somalia to Rwanda to Bosnia to Timor and I've never seen anything like this," said a U.N. security official.

Maybe it's not Vietnam, but it is a dangerous place with the potential to spiral out of control in ways we can't begin to imagine. My prayers go out to those sitting on this powderkeg, both the people of Iraq and the soldiers put there to flatter GWB's vanity. (It certainly wasn't to reduce the threat from terrorism.)

Posted by: Mary at September 26, 2003 08:41 PM | PERMALINK

It may be that the whole discussion here is off base. Vietnam became a quagmire around the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Public opinion wanted out and the political establishment followed. The only question was now to extricate ourselves without losing face.

Currently, the Administration apparently wants to stay and to use Iraq as a base for attacking other countries. This would explain the refusal to give up any political control as a condition of getting UN help. From the PNAC viewpoint, the more resources we pour into the country, the harder it will be to leave. The discussion here has viewed a quagmire as a calamity, but for the neocons it could be a goal.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 26, 2003 09:27 PM | PERMALINK

>>The son of a friend is back from Iraq for his "vacation" and he's a wreck. He can't sleep, he has recurring nightmares, he's hostile, angry, and ready to blow at the slightest offense.>Is this beginning to sound like Vietnam yet?

Posted by: Laurie K. at September 26, 2003 09:45 PM | PERMALINK

Laurie K.,
Be sure to catch this item

Sailor killed himself over Iraq war trauma

and while you are there look at this from Black Thursday

Four refugees who fled the U.S.-led war in Iraq set fire to themselves in a camp in Jordan to protest against deadlock over their asylum requests

UK soldier dies in Iraq

Rift Opens Between U.S., Iraqi Leaders

Eight U.S. soldiers hurt in north Iraq attack

Iraqi governing council member dies of wounds

U.S. forces kill nine as city bombings, ground attacks rattle Iraq

Bomb kills one at Baghdad hotel for US media

Attacks rattle Iraq as U.N. seeks solutions

U.S. Soldier dies in vehicle accident

Centcom: 1 soldier killed and 2 wounded

Centcom:1 soldier died and 1 was injured

Posted by: elvis56 at September 26, 2003 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

pessimist and Laurie,

It's called "combat fatigue", among other things. Everyone has an individual threshold for it. As a stress response, it's part of our biology, so it goes back a long way. But it was first a major problem in WW I, because of the long periods of unrelieved stress in trench warfare. Previous wars tended to have major battles followed by periods of relative calm. In WW I it was treated as a moral failing, and even with courts-martial, but this was counter-productive. The approach in WW II was non-judgmental and amounted to just taking the individual out of action for a while. This wasn't accepted by some career officers -- see the controversy related to Patton's abuse of a patient. But was much more effective, in that the affected individuals could often be returned to duty, a major goal of military medicine. Nam didn't produce a lot of classic combat fatigue because of the conditions of a guerilla warfare and the provision of frequent R&R, but it did produce the famous "post-combat stress disorder" in some individuals. Conditions in Iraq sound more like Nam than WW II, but the lack of any time off and daily exposure to danger would be expected to result in a higher rate of it than Nam.

I haven't read about this in a while. There is probably some good material available on google, using some of the terms in my sketchy account.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at September 26, 2003 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Wounded In Action Since 9/22
9/22: 21
9/24: 13
9/25: 13
9/26: 18

Posted by: elvis56 at September 26, 2003 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the links elvis. I was already aware that people are being killed and wounded in Iraq (and Afghanistan) and I assure you it saddens me a great deal. I was merely commenting on the validity of extrapolating the experiences of one person to the experiences of tens of thousands, as well as determining the "meaning" of an entire geopolitical event.

Thanks, Roger, for the insight into "combat fatigue." It wasn't until much later that my dad shared some of his experiences related to this. With my parents' generation, there was, and still is, something of a stigma attached to anything having to do with matters psychological. Thanks again.

Laurie K.

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