Published on
the Toronto Sun

Damn, It's 'Nam

Eric Margolis

We all know what "deja vu" is. But I recently read of a condition psychiatrists call "jamais vu." That's where one sees something very familiar, but cannot identify it.

Both the White House and U.S. military seemed gripped by jamais vu.

Many of the same mistakes made in the Vietnam War are being repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but neither the White House, Pentagon, nor U.S. field commanders seem to recognize or understand them.

This week, Gen. David Petreaus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will issue a report on the "progress" his troops are making in Iraq in the face of serious problems, and hint at future troop reductions.

The report will speak of important security successes in Baghdad and Anbar province. Gen. Petreaus is a very smart, highly respected commander, but one suspects his report will unfortunately be the latest example of jamais vu syndrome.

U.S. commanders in Iraq, like their Canadian counterparts in Afghanistan, keep proudly reporting how their men have occupied villages or towns, killed scores of "suspected terrorists" (usually thanks to air attack), and forced the enemy to flee.

They do not seem to understand they are fighting a fluid guerrilla war in which territory and body counts mean little.


Mao Zedong perfectly described the principles of such guerilla war: "When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue."

The "successes" being reported from Iraq and Afghanistan are illusory.

We heard exactly the same story during the Vietnam War, when U.S. military spokesmen trumpeted daily glowing reports about enemy body counts, strategic hamlets created, Viet Cong tunnels blown up, hearts and minds won over, and smiling children waving little American flags.

While the U.S. was "winning" all these little daily battles, Communists were winning the war.

Institutional memory rarely exceeds 10 years.

Most of Vietnam's bitter lessons, paid for by the blood of 58,000 Americans, have been totally forgotten by the White House and Pentagon.

But don't blame the soldiers. Once again, U.S. fighting men in Iraq and Canadians in Afghanistan have been sent into no-win wars by their poorly informed, badly advised civilian masters, and ordered to keep coming up with rosy progress reports.

I have covered numerous guerilla wars in my time and have never seen Western powers win a single one. Yet we keep forgetting this hard lesson.

We have also forgotten the great Gen. Douglas MacArthur's warning after Korea, "never fight a land war in Asia."

The much ballyhooed Petreaus report will be a key part of the game of political chicken President George Bush is playing with the Democratic-controlled Congress, which wants to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq.


Bush appears determined to keep the war going until his term expires to avoid blame for defeat in Iraq.

Congress is trying to lay all the blame on Bush, get him to admit defeat, and evade its own shameful role in authorizing the trumped-up Iraq War.

But Congress is in a jam. If U.S. troops do withdraw, Iraq may fall into even worse chaos than it now suffers -- which a Democratic president will inherit.

In an election year, Republicans will blast Democrats as "defeatists" for "cutting and running" and "losing Iraq."

That's why worried leading Democrats are now backing off calls for total withdrawal and mumbling about partial pullbacks and "training Iraqi forces."

Meanwhile, the administration refuses to admit Iraq has no real government or army, and is an anarchic stew of competing Shia militias, tribal chiefs, death squads, 22 Sunni resistance groups, and breakaway Kurds. Iran is becoming the real power in Iraq.

Polls show 80% of Iraqis want U.S. forces out. The U.S. occupation is largely responsible for unleashing Shia ethnic cleansing that has created four million Iraqi refugees.

History does not repeat itself, but men's mistakes and follies do.

The latest sombre example is Iraq, where our memory of Vietnam is ... jamais vu.

Copyright © 2007, Canoe Inc.

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