- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The nation’s two highest military officials rejected comparisons yesterday between Iraq and Vietnam in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-war demonstration on the Mall that rekindled memories of an unpopular war four decades ago.

More than 100,000 people protested the Iraq war amid polls that show fewer than 50 percent of Americans support the battle to foster a democracy in Iraq. Demonstrators compared President Bush to President Johnson, who ordered more than 500,000 troops to Vietnam in the 1960s.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a Vietnam veteran, also have compared the 2-year Iraq war to the United States’ 12 years in Vietnam.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a fighter pilot in Vietnam, dismissed the comparison during an appearance in the Pentagon press room.

“I think anyone knowledgeable about history will note a great many more dissimilarities than similarities between the war on terror, or the situation in Iraq, and the situation in Vietnam,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, who did not give specific examples. “The differences are notable, many and marked.”

Gen. Myers, who retires Friday after 40-plus years in the Air Force including four years as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the stakes involved today in defeating al Qaeda are much higher.

“I fought in Vietnam and have a lot of comrades and friends that did likewise,” Gen. Myers said in his last press conference as chairman. But “the stakes today in the war on terrorism, of which Iraq is a key part … are much higher today. I mean, if we are not successful in the global war on terrorism, then our way of life is, indeed, at stake. … It’s just that simple.”

Gen. Myers said that during his recent visits to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa — three al Qaeda-infested areas — the troops understand why they are fighting.

“They always go just a little bit more than just the mission they’ve been given, whether it’s an orphanage or helping out in a village clinic somewhere, or whatever it is,” he said. “There’s so many differences” between Iraq and Vietnam.

Gen. Myers relinquishes the chairman’s post Friday to another Vietnam combat veteran, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace.

On the Iraq war itself, Gen. Myers talked about last weekend’s killing of the No. 2 man to terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose al Qaeda in Iraq network is responsible for deadly car bombings of Iraqi civilians and coalition troops.

Gen. Myers said the death of Abu Azzam deprives al Qaeda in Iraq of an experienced leader who ran operations in Baghdad. But in the end, Zarqawi will be able to replace Azzam, as he has replaced other killed or captured lieutenants.

“They’re going to have to go to the bench and find somebody that’s probably less knowledgeable, less qualified,” Gen. Myers said.

He said that, therefore, the political and economic components of the war on terror must dissuade young Muslims from joining al Qaeda and replacing its casualties.

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