Vietnam, a Lesson for Iraq?

President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was one of the black periods in modern US history. It cost it more than 50 thousands lives, not to mention the injured and those who were mentally affected by it, whether because they took part in it or as a result of the loss of the loved ones. The history/memory of this war was revived because of the ongoing situation in Iraq. On the BBC there is an interesting analysis by Paul Reynolds,
BBC World affairs correspondent.

The war that lasted 8 years achieved little in Vietnam as far as the US is concerned. It entered it with all its might to uproot communism in it and to make of it a liberal country. But it left it in the hands of those it had come to fight. The important gain the USA had is that it limited the spread of communism in Asia-Pacific that would have toppled non-communist governments in other countries like the Philippines. That could have been disastrous for the US as communism would have swept the most part, if not the whole, of Asia. In this case, US relations with Russia and China could have worsened, making international relations even more critical.

The US succeeded over the years to establish itself in Asia-Pacific through its military bases in allied countries, mainly South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Its withdrawal from Vietnam didn’t bring peace to the region as tension remained in countries like Cambodia and wars erupted between China and Vietnam. The Americans were left to assess their war while the regions remained plunged in human catastrophes through boat people, genocides in Cambodia, not to mention the abject poverty of the people whose countries were taken by revolutionaries who had only speeches full of ideology and promises to give, but little means to bring prosperity.

The lesson for the USA is that Iraq and the whole region can fall in a disastrous situation if the Iraqis are left to fight each other without the presence of a coalition force that can at least protect an allied government while the Iraqis are exposed to the daily risks of suicide bombing or car bombs. The USA has relatively few losses compared to those sustained in Vietnam. Losing just more than 3,000 soldiers in Iraq in four years looks small compared to the loss of 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam in eight years. By keeping the insecure situation in Iraq, it is securing the stability of allied countries in the regions, especially the oil rich Gulf States and by this securing the interests of US oil companies and the other companies that have huge investment there. So in a sense any dollar spent on the war is returned by hundreds. Just a simple example, the Gulf States have signed the purchase of hundreds of Boeing planes. This purchase can be cancelled in case of grave instability costing the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

Iraq may be the New Vietnam of the 21st century. For the US, with Bush Administration or the next one, the political calculations make staying in Iraq a bit longer less risky than losing influence and interests in the region for ever due a hasty withdrawal.

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