What we really have here is an effort by the Bush administration to somehow mask a huge foreign policy blunder and save a presidential legacy. We saw it in Vietnam when, faced with what had obviously become an unwinnable war, it was decided that increased training assistance and embedded American troops under a program of "Vietnamization" would permit our country a graceful exit.
We had already "surged" troops in increments to more than 600,000, with no measurable effect on the war. "Vietnamization" was a desperate, transparent public-relations ploy that attempted to somehow convince the world that a third-rate nation could not bring a superpower to its knees. After "Vietnamization" and a respectable time period to follow, the inevitable defeat could be blamed on South Vietnam, for we had done all we could do.
"Vietnamization" never really worked, and those of us forced to participate in this political sham regret not speaking out to this day. Unfortunately, more than half the 58,000 deaths of American service personnel in Vietnam came after the "new" presidential strategy of "Vietnamization." So much for our uniformed sons and daughters as "American heroes"; they are the pawns of uncaring powerful bureaucrats with self-serving interests in personal legacies, post-term biographies, their treatment in history books and presidential libraries.
With this in mind, I hope that the Democrats do not forget why they were elected in November. We need only reflect upon the lessons of Vietnam to realize that decisions made during the next 60 days by this administration, if left unchallenged, will take us down a path of more bloodshed with no effect on the outcome in Iraq. In fact, as in Vietnam, it could aggravate the situation, as those we train may well become increased firepower for the parties involved in an escalating civil war.
I have no doubt that the implications for this country of a defeat in Iraq will be enormous. We should have thought of that before Colin Powell presented the case of "absolute certainty" to the United Nations that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We should have thought of that before our president lied in his 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger. We should have been smarter and seen through the bogus administration suggestions that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and the tragedy of 9/11. We should have been smarter than to initiate an unprovoked and pre-emptive attack against another sovereign nation, and give all the rogue nations in the world cause to believe they have to protect themselves from the global ambitions of the United States.
The most obvious parallel between Vietnam and Iraq remains a mystery to many in government. Ancient cultures involved in civil wars or "insurgencies" want, first and foremost, for their country to be free of foreigners. There will never be peace in the Middle East until the United States has withdrawn its destabilizing presence and allowed for some measure of self-determination by the countries in the region. There is little we can do at this late date to salvage Mr. Bush's war and repair the shattered lives of the more than 3,000 service families who have lost a loved one, or the more than 40,000 wounded for whom the war will never end. There is much we can do to protect our troops from further danger and to redirect our diminishing military resources against the real war on terror.
Bob Resling is a 1967 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He flew more than 770 combat sorties as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Air Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his combat service.