From the Tigris to the Mekong, Vietnam Metaphors Flow

Vietnam! The word that stirs up America’s worst old nightmares is today being openly pronounced in Washington. And not only by peaceniks marching and chanting “U.S. go home!” A highly decorated war hero whose conservative Republican [credentials] are impeccable, Sen. John McCain, and another war hero, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, are drawing parallels between Iraq and the war in which they once fought for a lost cause.

If the word Vietnam comes to mind, it’s because the U.S. Army appears more bogged down each day on the banks of the Tigris, as it was in the 1960s on the banks of the Mekong, pounded by guerrilla forces that are increasingly well organized, as the terrorists’ Ramadan offensive is proving. It’s also because [George W.] Bush stubbornly continues to claim that everything is going, if not fine, at least in the right direction, a man just as blind or as prone to lie as his predecessors in the Vietnam era, who said they could see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” And who assails the media, which he accuses of painting an unfairly dark picture of the situation. Finally, the men and women in power are starting to rip into each other as they settle scores. The hawks have already lost a lot of feathers. “We are at war,” Secretary of State Colin Powell recently admitted...six months after Bush declared an end to “major combat.”

To be sure, the hundred or so American soldiers killed in those six months can’t be compared with the hundreds of American deaths that took place every week at the height of the Vietnam War, and the Iraqi terrorists are very far from having the political support and the military weight that the Vietnamese communists did. But their strategy is nonetheless clear: chase every  foreign entity other than the U.S. Army out—groups like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross—and sow terror among Iraqis who collaborate with the Americans. As with the Vietnamese guerrillas long ago, the Iraqis fighting America know that you have to dry up the sea to catch the fish, which in this case means asphyxiating the GIs. Apocalypse Now isn’t showing in Baghdad yet. But tomorrow?