Published on Monday, april 12, 2004 by the Capital Times / Madison, Wisconsin
Comparing Iraq and Vietnam
U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who so ably opposed the Bush administration's rush to attack Iraq in 2003, continues to offer the steadiest and wisest criticism of this deeply misguided war.
On Wednesday, as some of the most violent fighting since the start of the war dramatically increased the death toll of Americans and Iraqis, Byrd said to the Senate: "Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development."
Byrd's words were not greeted warmly by Republican senators such as Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, a particularly unthinking enthusiast for the current fight. Chambliss accused critics such as Byrd of making "statements that tend to incite the opposition." That's an absurd charge. The fact is that most of the rest of the world has for some time now been discussing comparisons between the Vietnam imbroglio and the current mess in Iraq. Chambliss, who was elected to the Senate on the basis of a scurrilous campaign that impugned the patriotism of U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran, has absolutely no credibility on this issue.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has a record of independence and honorable service that must be regarded more favorably. But his attempt to invoke his status as a Vietnam War veteran to challenge the comparisons made by Byrd and others was ineffectual. The problem was that, while McCain's experience as a pilot and a prisoner of war must be respected, it is Byrd's experience in the Senate that is most significant here.
Byrd served in the Senate throughout the Vietnam War, as did one other member, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Both men made the mistake of voting for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that was used as an excuse to dramatically increase U.S. military involvement. They have not forgotten what happens when an administration deliberately deceives Congress in order to expand a war in which American troops have no place.
Now, both Byrd and Kennedy, who between them have almost 90 years of Senate experience, are warning Americans that the Bush administration has put this country on a dangerous course.
The bloody fighting in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities this past week was not a Tet offensive. Nor is it possible to find precise parallels between the degeneration of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam in the mid-1960s and the U.S. occupation of Iraq today.
But anyone who has heard the Bush administration's absurd claims that the current occupation is going pretty much as planned must, if they are being honest with themselves, hear echoes of Vietnam. At the heart of the matter is an echo that cannot be denied.
The United States should not have invaded and occupied Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
The United States should not have invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
Here's another echo: Ultimately, as with Vietnam, it is only a matter of time before the casualty counts and the fruitless attempts to pacify an occupied land will lead more Americans to echo the arguments made by Robert Byrd and other senators who recognize that this war is a disaster from which the United States must extricate itself.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times