- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

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.

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.

Mrs. Sheehan picked up the lingo about American “fascism” and “imperialism” as quickly as Miss Fonda did before her infamous trip to boost morale among North Vietnamese troops. Mrs. Sheehan’s misguided antics undoubtedly encouraged the Iraqi terrorists who killed her son.

Opponents of Vietnam and Iraq are more similar than the wars themselves. The Vietnam War was far larger than the Iraq struggle. U.S. forces in Vietnam peaked in 1968 at 536,000. During the height of the war, from 1966-1970, U.S. troop strength averaged 443,000, threefold the current level in Iraq.

The larger American force was needed to combat the regular North Vietnamese army invading South Vietnam. Hanoi ruled a territory from which it could raise and equip a million-man army (NVA) and had massive aid from the Soviet Union and China.

There is no enemy conventional army in the field in Iraq contesting for control of the country. There is an insurgency, but its basic tactics are car bombs, drive-by shootings and kidnappings. It is a campaign of terrorism, not conquest, at the lowest end of the conflict spectrum. American should not find this kind of minor war effort difficult to sustain.

There was also an insurgency in South Vietnam, but its back was broken when the Viet Cong failed to spark a mass uprising during the 1968 Tet Offensive. The Iraqi insurgents have also not been able to spark a general uprising. Indeed, the large turnout for the Iraq elections should be considered a mass uprising against a return to tyranny.

The United States won militarily in Vietnam but lost politically at home. The defeat of the communist offensive in 1968 was falsely reported by the liberal media as an American debacle, just as today the press hypes every terrorist act as if it were a Napoleonic victory. Yet, after Tet, the U.S. drove the North Vietnamese army (NVA) into the hinterland.

In 1970, the U.S. swept into Hanoi’s sanctuaries in Cambodia. Defeating the NVA was a precondition for American troop withdrawal and bought the Saigon government time to expand and train its own forces for self-defense.

By 1970, South Vietnam had its own million-man army (ARVN). In 1972 that army was tested when Hanoi launched another major invasion, hoping that with U.S. ground combat units withdrawn, the country could be overrun. But the ARVN held, backed by the return of heavy American airpower.

President Richard Nixon stayed the course and won a landslide victory in 1972 against antiwar candidate Sen. George McGovern. The Democrats continued controlling Congress.

To create the myth the war was unwinnable, partisan critics had to make sure the war was lost. Congress cut aid to South Vietnam by two-thirds in the years after the Paris Accord. Saigon’s military was starved for ammunition, aviation fuel and other equipment and supplies. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was arming North Vietnam to the hilt (Russia’s Vietnam veterans meet annually to celebrate the victory over U.S. imperialism).

The Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign in August 1974. His successor Gerald Ford was politically weak. By year’s end, Hanoi had drawn up plans for another invasion. Congress had voted to prohibit any U.S. military operations “in or over” Indochina, so Mr. Ford did not lift a finger. Assurances of support given South Vietnam at the time of the Paris Accords proved hollow. NVA tanks rolled into Saigon in April 1975.

U.S. strategy in Iraq is also based on building up local forces for self-defense so American forces can withdraw. Such an approach will work, if the process is not rushed under political pressure, or undermined by a failure to sustain support over time. A Pentagon report released July 21 shows there is much work to do but this has also been progress.

Washington is still paying a price for its lack of post-war planning. Even so, most of the country is secure, with high risk of violence only in Sunni areas. Indeed, the Iraqi people seem less intimidated by the terrorists than is American public opinion. It may, however, be necessary to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq for some time to deter its militant neighbors.

With the North Vietnamese Army came concentration camps and mass graves that claimed millions of lives, followed by three decades of tyranny and poverty. While the rest of Asia progressed rapidly, Vietnam stagnated.

If Iraq were sold out, Baghdad would be another Saigon awash in blood with the entire region condemned to backwardness.

Just as Soviet forces were allowed to use former U.S. bases in Vietnam, a radical Iraq would host a variety of anti-American movements. These are the real comparisons Americans should not want to repeat.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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