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''Parallels Between U.S. Occupation of Iraq and U.S. Involvement in Vietnam''

by Erich Marquardt Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003 at 10:20 AM

Iraqi guerrillas are most likely aware that they will not be able to crush the U.S. military occupation in Iraq. They do know, however, that if they continue to kill and maim U.S. soldiers, it will only be a matter of time until the American public demands a return of U.S. troops and applies political pressure to the Bush administration. General Abizaid admitted as much, recently warning, "The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily. The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave."

''Parallels Between U.S. Occupation of Iraq and U.S. Involvement in Vietnam''

American officials have gone to great lengths to make sure the American people understand that the American military cannot possibly be defeated in Iraq. "I want to emphasize to the people that there is no military threat in Iraq that can drive us out," assured General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command. "We have the best-equipped, best-trained army in the world positioned in the most difficult areas we have to deal with ... They are confident, they are capable, they know what they are doing."

General Abizaid is correct: the attacks launched against U.S. forces in Iraq are not the type required or intended to defeat the United States militarily. But the general cannot dismiss the fact that Washington is not operating in a military vacuum. The strength of the U.S. military means little when faced with an increasingly skeptical U.S. public who has the potential to force Washington to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. In addition, while Washington cannot be overwhelmed by sheer force, there is no evidence that the guerrilla fighters in Iraq can be defeated that way either.

In Vietnam, Washington faced a similar predicament. There was an increasingly organized and brash guerrilla force preventing the U.S. from bringing stability to South Vietnam. Due to the massive technology gap, Vietnamese guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army stood little chance of defeating the U.S. militarily. Just the same, however, Washington stood little chance of defeating the Vietnamese guerrilla movement militarily. While U.S. forces killed and maimed large numbers of the Viet Cong, they never addressed the fundamental land and wealth inequality that led to the popularity of the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front in the countryside.

The effective guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were a military strategy in and of themselves, aimed at sapping the political will from the U.S. public. This was well known at the time and was often articulated in the speeches of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Always aware of U.S. public opinion, North and South Vietnamese military and guerrilla leaders worked to undermine Washington. When they launched the massive Tet Offensive in over 100 different cities of South Vietnam on January 31, 1968 -- successfully storming and occupying the U.S. Embassy in Saigon -- the attack was orchestrated shortly after U.S. military leaders and politicians claimed that the war in Vietnam was almost over.

For example, near the end of 1967, General William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, told the American people that he could see the "light at the end of the tunnel." Westmoreland argued that U.S. forces had the Vietnamese guerrillas on the run, telling an American journalist, "I hope they try something, because we are looking for a fight." Even though the Tet Offensive resulted in a military failure for the insurgency, in the end it turned the tide of U.S. public opinion against U.S. involvement in Vietnam; the American public could simply no longer reconcile the "credibility gap" between Washington's rhetoric and the reality on the ground.

The strategy of Vietnamese resistance fighters proved to be successful, and it looks as if resistance fighters in Iraq are following a similar one; more recent guerrilla conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya fought by the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation provide historical precedents for the viability of such guerrilla methods.

Iraqi guerrillas are most likely aware that they will not be able to crush the U.S. military occupation in Iraq. They do know, however, that if they continue to kill and maim U.S. soldiers, it will only be a matter of time until the American public demands a return of U.S. troops and applies political pressure to the Bush administration. General Abizaid admitted as much, recently warning, "The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily. The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave."

It is evident that the Iraqi guerrillas have been somewhat successful in this goal. According to a CBS News poll released on November 13, only 50 percent of the American public now believe that removing Saddam Hussein was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq. If the losses of U.S. troops continue to mount, this number can be expected to drop further, endangering the reelection prospects of the Bush administration. If President Bush is voted out of office in 2004, his administration's strategy in Iraq may leave the White House with him, since most of his contenders have been critical of U.S. involvement there.

Therefore, the strategy of anti-U.S. guerrillas in Iraq will be to launch high profile attacks on U.S. and also coalition troops, such as the one that may have targeted U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz while he was staying at the al-Rasheed Hotel in downtown Baghdad. The recent targeting of U.S. helicopters is also part of this strategy, as each successful attack can cause far more casualties than most other guerrilla methods. The bomb attacks on major installations -- such as the explosion at the Italian Carabinieri base in the southern city of Nasiriyah on November 12, which killed 19 Italians -- also work to erode domestic and international confidence in the U.S. occupation.

Whether or not Washington is able to bring stability to Iraq before the U.S. public becomes disenchanted with U.S. objectives there largely depends on the size and capacity of the guerrilla movement. General Abizaid claimed on November 13 that the insurgency against the U.S. occupation "does not exceed 5,000." Yet, at the same time, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a report, titled "appraisal of situation," written by the CIA station chief in Baghdad, which contradicted Abizaid's claims, warning that the insurgency could contain 50,000 guerrillas.

Furthermore, the CIA report concluded that more and more ordinary Iraqis were siding with the insurgency due to their disillusionment with the U.S. occupation and because of the instability plaguing the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein's hold on power. These assessments indicate that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is becoming increasingly precarious, and it is not yet clear how the U.S. public will respond to deadlier and bolder attacks launched on U.S. forces.

Report Drafted By:

Erich Marquardt

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of All comments should be directed to

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