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Lily Pads in Iraq
Iraq as Obama’s Vietnam

Earlier this week President Obama announced plans for a new military base in Anbar Province in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi troops in the fight against ISIS. The administration is also now considering creating a network of bases in Iraq, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey describes as “lily pads.”

The Administration is hoping that extra bases will help to empower the Iraqi government to beat back ISIS militarily, and to better engage Sunni tribes fed up with life under the Islamic State’s brutal rule. General Dempsey suggested that if more bases aren’t the answer, then the administration is prepared to try something different.“If we reach a point where we don’t think those game changers are successful,” he added, “then we will have to look for other avenues to maintain pressure on ISIL, and we will have to look at other partners.”

All of this calls to mind another liberal Administration, staffed with the best and brightest, which vowed to proceed along pragmatic, even scientifically guided lines, but found itself increasingly and incrementally committed to a divided country without a complete strategy in place. As the President of the CFR tweeted:

One has to be careful with Vietnam analogies, of course. But when discussing the increased deployment of advisors in place of, rather than as part of, a strategy, it seems appropriate to consider. (Incidentally, in another parallel, many of those first adviser units in Vietnam were sent to work with local tribes of Montagnards.)

For much of the early course of the Vietnam War, opponents of U.S. policy were demanding more involvement, not less. Jacksonian America does not relish getting involved in minor countries that haven’t directly attacked the U.S., but it cares even less for fighting wars with half measures. With more boots on the ground, casualties are likely; if casualties grow, so too will calls for more aggressive action. If an overall strategy has not been decided upon, this increased momentum could lead into blind alleys and disaster.

For a whole host of reasons, Iraq is not literally going to be Vietnam. But the increased resemblance of our planning process to a remake of The Fog of War should give those making the decisions in D.C. pause.

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  • Paul Linsay

    There is an analogy with Viet Nam but it’s to the end of the war not the beginning. By 1972 the US was only providing advisors and material to the ARVN, they were doing the fighting. The NVA invaded that year and lost badly, only fifty thousand of one hundred fifty thousand soldiers returning north. In 1974, after Nixon stepped down, the Democratic Congress voted to end material help to the South Vietnamese. The North invaded again but the result that time was the fall of Saigon and one million boat people plus who knows how many killed by the Communists.

    By 2008, we had won in Iraq after the Surge. There was supposed to be a Status of Forces Agreement but rather than leave troops in Iraq, Obama chose not to conclude an agreement and pulled them all prior to the 2012 election after he and Biden proclaimed that Iraq was stable and at peace. Things then deteriorated with infighting among the Iraqi politicians that destabilized the army. Had there been a SFA the US general in charge could have acted as a proconsul who could force the politicians to cooperate and the 30K US troops could have provided backup to the Iraqi army which would have snuffed ISIS out before it could become a major problem.

  • Arkeygeezer

    Another example of President Obama’s lack of trustworthiness. Now we go back to the Romans, the British, the French foreign Legion, and American Army tactic of establishing forts or fire bases in an area in order to control it. There is no popular support for this move either by in Iraq or the U.S. I wonder how many lives will be lost by this blunder. Iraq as a nation is finished. We will end up with a Sunni Caliphate, a Shia nation, and Kurdistan no matter what the U.S. does or how long it takes.

    • Pete

      Yup, Iraq will be divided into thirds, just like J.O. Joey Biden said a number of years back.

      • Andrew Allison

        Likely, but as a result of a long and very bloody process in which we should not be involved.

  • Andrew Allison

    There’s another significant difference between the screwups in Vietnam and the Middle East: the latter is much, much closer (in multiple senses).

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Any Strategy we chose must address the fact that the Islamic Culture continues to spawn fresh Jihadists.

    Bush tried a Strategy of planting a seed of the Superior American Culture in the middle of Islamoland in an attempt to drain the swamp of Islamic Culture spawning the Jihadists. Unfortunately the worst President in American History couldn’t abandon the seedling planted at such great cost in blood and treasure fast enough. This despite the proof that it was working as the Arab Spring uprisings demonstrated.

    That leaves us with a strategy of containment, or divide and conquer, where the Sunni Jihadists are encouraged to use all their resources to kill the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. This strategy has the virtues of costing almost nothing, and leaving the Jihadists few resources left for murdering innocents in the west. This would work provided the American Infidels stay away and don’t become a unifying target that both flavors of Jihadists agree on should have their heads cut off.

    • Dan Greene

      Just out of interest, how do you reconcile the notion of using military force to impose a cultural reformation on an entire region with your libertarianism? I can see the Jacksonian part, But your narrative sounds more Jacobin than libertarian: We must force the people to be free.

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