President George Bush’s answer to the question of whether the experience in Vietnam offered lessons for Iraq is worth contemplating for what he didn’t say.
He didn’t draw any parallels between Gulf of Tonkin subterfuge and cherry-picked intelligence on Iraq as reasons worth going to war for. Neither did he cite the untenable position of trying to defeat a motivated, guerilla enemy on their own turf, whether it utilized jungle warfare and native booby traps or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), mass kidnappings and video-taped executions. You can’t bomb your way to victory against movements, zealots and death-wish jihadis who only have to play offense.
What the president did say was that, “We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile.”
And, indeed, it did take a while for Vietnam, a Third World rice paddy state, to become a member of the World Trade Organization and the fastest-growing Asian economy after China. But it didn’t start happening until after we had left.