Iraq and Vietnam, Part II

While far fewer Americans have died in Iraq, it’s a worse catastrophe for American security than was Vietnam.

We felt the need to fight and stay in Vietnam in large part because of the Domino Theory. That always seemed to me to show far too little confidence in the power of democracy and capitalism, though that view is admittedly easier to come by for those of us who weren’t born until after we left Vietnam.

Today, there is still no reason to believe that there’s any better system than democratic capitalism, and there’s no state competitor ready to exploit our departure from Iraq.

The difference is that the threat of our times, terrorism, is about hitting us at home in a way that communism never did.

Plus, during the Cold War, proxy wars were part of the scene. But in the post-Cold War era, nearly unilateral invasions of countries were not. The Iraq invasion has had a worse impact on perceptions of the US than did Vietnam.

The groups that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq is extremely unpopular there. It will not long survive our departure. But by stirring up a hornet’s nest, we have increased the resentment that helps breed terrorism.

We have also diminished the allure of America, increased willingness to accept Chinese influence, and discredited the concept of democracy— or at least its advocacy by the US— in at least the Middle East and Central Asia, and probably beyond.

The situation in Iraq itself, and what it symbolizes, will haunt us for years in very real and visible ways, unlike the supposed impact on our psyche of Vietnam. We should be so lucky as to see our relations with Iraq and its neighbors in 30 years be like our relations with Vietnam and its neighbors today.

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