Oops! Cancel That Previous Thought

For almost two-and-a-half years, writers for the editorial page of the Washington Times have gleefully lacerated anyone who dares to compare Iraq to Vietnam. Now these same contributors have been given a fresh target slightly closer to home— themselves.

In an editorial yesterday titled, “To Win in Iraq,” the Washington Times offered the U.S. military several suggestions for improving the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

“As Americans witness almost daily scenes of terrorist-perpetrated carnage in Iraq, it becomes apparent that, for all the good that the United States has done in ending the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and giving the Iraqi people a chance at a democratic future, we have not managed to give Iraqis something that is no less important: protection from terrorists who are determined to destroy any decent future for them,” wrote the Washington Times. “And that may prove impossible to achieve if the United States fails to rethink its tactics on the battlefield and adopt a better strategy to help the Iraqi people confront the jihadists.”

Where, according to the Washington Times, should the U.S. military look for these so-called better strategies?


“Critics of the war effort attempt to make the mendacious — and demonstrably false — claims that Iraq will inevitably become a carbon copy of America’s unsuccessful effort to prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam,” wrote the Washington Times. “Still, there are lessons to be learned from Vietnam.”

The editorial writer went on to suggest that the U.S. military should employ counterinsurgency measures “that were used with considerable success during the latter part of the Vietnam War.” For instance, noted the paper, U.S. troops should “remain in areas where terrorists have been driven out until such time as the Iraqi people are able to assume most of the responsibility for defending themselves.”

Not exactly radical suggestions. But the fact that the Washington Times is now dipping into the Vietnam playbook may be another sign that even the President’s staunchest defenders are starting to doubt the administration’s sunny outlook for the future of Iraq. After all, until yesterday, comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq had been the ultimate taboo at the Times, where carping on the shortcomings of the analogy is practically its own genre.

A recent contribution by William Hawkins, a senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, is typical of the erstwhile attitude. “If the media fawning over Cindy Sheehan’s “peace” vigil outside President Bush’s Crawford ranch had not been enough, Jane Fonda has announced a cross-country bus tour to protest U.S. military actions in Iraq,” wrote Hawkins, on August 26. “Mrs. Sheehan and ‘Hanoi Jane’ prove that on the left it does not matter who America’s enemies are, communist or jihadist - the U.S. remains their enemy….Opponents of Vietnam and Iraq are more similar than the wars themselves.”

Dig a little deeper into the paper’s archive and the theme is the same. “Iraq is not Vietnam,” James Phillips, a Middle Eastern studies research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, wrote on July 12. “A more accurate analogy than Vietnam is Algeria in the 1990s.”

“Iraq’s no ‘Nam,” echoed writer Jennifer Harper on August 29.

“This war is not the same as Vietnam,” Hannah Rosenthal, executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, was quoted on January 2003.

Last year, on May 11, the Washington Times ran a front page story under the headline, “Vietnam War ‘fixation’ endures; Obsession irks White House.” The story quoted several top Bush Administration officials, from Karl Rove to Colin Powell to Condoleezza Rice to the President, venting their irritation at the media’s Iraq-Vietnam comparisons.

“The press is fixated on Vietnam,” Powell said in the story. “Everybody says, ‘Powell and all those generals still suffer from Vietnam Syndrome.’ No, I don’t.”

“That’s an inevitable part of this culture we’re in, which is there’s a lot of writers that remembered Vietnam and were legitimately concerned that the nation would get bogged down in another Vietnam,” said President Bush. “On the other hand, I’ve got a different perspective.”

“The media, in my opinion,” said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, “kind of wants to relive the Vietnam experience.”

And now, so too does the Washington Times.

“Clearly, a new and better approach is needed in taking the war to the terrorists,” noted yesterday’s editorial. “The Pentagon should consider making use of counterinsurgency strategies successfully employed in Vietnam.”

Felix Gillette

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.