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Thread started 04/19/04 5:09pm



"The Vietnam Analogy"

The Vietnam Analogy

Published: April 16, 2004

Iraq isn't Vietnam. The most important difference is the death toll, which is only a small fraction of the carnage in Indochina. But there are also real parallels, and in some ways Iraq looks worse.

It's true that the current American force in Iraq is much smaller than the Army we sent to Vietnam. But the U.S. military as a whole, and the Army in particular, is also much smaller than it was in 1968. Measured by the share of our military strength it ties down, Iraq is a Vietnam-size conflict.

And the stress Iraq places on our military is, if anything, worse. In Vietnam, American forces consisted mainly of short-term draftees, who returned to civilian life after their tours of duty. Our Iraq force consists of long-term volunteers, including reservists who never expected to be called up for extended missions overseas. The training of these volunteers, their morale and their willingness to re-enlist will suffer severely if they are called upon to spend years fighting a guerrilla war.

Some hawks say this proves that we need a bigger Army. But President Bush hasn't called for larger forces. In fact, he seems unwilling to pay for the forces we have.

A fiscal comparison of George Bush's and Lyndon Johnson's policies makes the Vietnam era seem like a golden age of personal responsibility. At first, Johnson was reluctant to face up to the cost of the war. But in 1968 he bit the bullet, raising taxes and cutting spending; he turned a large deficit into a surplus the next year. A comparable program today — the budget went from a deficit of 3.2 percent of G.D.P. to a 0.3 percent surplus in just one year — would eliminate most of our budget deficit.

By contrast, Mr. Bush, for all his talk about staying the course, hasn't been willing to strike anything off his domestic wish list. On the contrary, he used the initial glow of apparent success in Iraq to ram through yet another tax cut, waiting until later to tell us about the extra $87 billion he needed. And he's still at it: in his press conference on Tuesday he said nothing about the $50 billion-to-$70 billion extra that everyone knows will be needed to pay for continuing operations.

This fiscal chicanery is part of a larger pattern. Vietnam shook the nation's confidence not just because we lost, but because our leaders didn't tell us the truth. Last September Gen. Anthony Zinni spoke of "Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies," and asked his audience of military officers, "Is it happening again?" Sure enough, the parallels are proliferating. Gulf of Tonkin attack, meet nonexistent W.M.D. and Al Qaeda links. "Hearts and minds," meet "welcome us as liberators." "Light at the end of the tunnel," meet "turned the corner." Vietnamization, meet the new Iraqi Army.

Some say that Iraq isn't Vietnam because we've come to bring democracy, not to support a corrupt regime. But idealistic talk is cheap. In Vietnam, U.S. officials never said, "We're supporting a corrupt regime." They said they were defending democracy. The rest of the world, and the Iraqis themselves, will believe in America's idealistic intentions if and when they see a legitimate, noncorrupt Iraqi government — as opposed to, say, a rigged election that puts Ahmad Chalabi in charge.

If we aren't promoting democracy in Iraq, what are we doing? Many of the more moderate supporters of the war have already reached the stage of quagmire logic: they no longer have high hopes for what we may accomplish, but they fear the consequences if we leave. The irony is painful. One of the real motives for the invasion of Iraq was to give the world a demonstration of American power. It's a measure of how badly things have gone that now we're told we can't leave because that would be a demonstration of American weakness.

Again, the parallel with Vietnam is obvious. Remember the domino theory?

And there's one more parallel: Nixonian politics is back.

What we remember now is Watergate. But equally serious were Nixon's efforts to suppress dissent, like the "Tell It to Hanoi" rallies, where critics of the Vietnam War were accused of undermining the soldiers and encouraging the enemy. On Tuesday George Bush did a meta-Nixon: he declared that anyone who draws analogies between Iraq and Vietnam undermines the soldiers and encourages the enemy.

Diplomatic Dead End
Published: April 18, 2004

To the Editor:

Iraq is worse than Vietnam in a larger strategic sense as well ("The Vietnam Analogy," by Paul Krugman, column, April 16).

Unlike the Bush administration, which has abandoned arms control and disarmament, adopted a policy of unilateralism and sanctioned pre-emptive warfare, the Johnson and Nixon administrations took multilateral steps to counter the impact of the Vietnam problem. During the worst years of fighting in Vietnam, these administrations concluded the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a strategic arms control treaty and the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

The Nixon administration improved relations with the Soviet Union and opened a strategic dialogue with China. Sadly, the Bush administration has created a cul-de-sac for American diplomacy.

Washington, April 16, 2004
The writer is a professor of international security, National War College.
© Bart Van Hemelen
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Reply #1 posted 04/19/04 5:59pm



true. very sad too. adding insult to injury, or vice versa, our men and women in uniform are suffering some serious physical consequences simply by BEING in iraq right now whther or not they're actually in battle:


'Baghdad boil' afflicts U.S. troops


WASHINGTON -- Sgt. Eric DiVona didn't notice the small bumps on his face and left earlobe until he returned from serving nine months in Iraq. Nothing much, he thought, probably just a spider bite.

But soon those bumps erupted into open sores, one growing to the size of a half dollar. The left side of his face puffed up, a swelling that wouldn't go away. And he noticed he was not the only one in his unit with such symptoms.

"A lot of people started coming down with sores," he said, sitting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with an IV taped to his right arm. "It was like, 'You ain't cool unless you got it.'"

What DiVona thought was a spider bite was actually caused by a tiny sand fly with a fierce parasite stewing in its gut, an organism that causes stubborn and ugly sores that linger for months.

Scientists and doctors refer to the disease caused by the parasite as cutaneous leishmaniasis. But soldiers serving in sand-fly rich Iraq call it, with little affection, the "Baghdad boil."

The sores are not painful or contagious, but left untreated they can last up to 18 months and leave permanent, burn-like scars. Since the flies bite exposed areas, many soldiers have sores on their necks, faces and arms.

Doctors at Walter Reed have seen 653 cases of leishmaniasis, and the hospital's infectious disease wards until recently overflowed with soldiers undergoing a 20-day treatment regimen.

"We see a few cases every year, but not the numbers we saw come out of Iraq," said Col. Dallas Hack, chief of preventive medicine at Walter Reed.

The military has made a big effort to treat leishmaniasis, even pulling soldiers out of the field who have confirmed cases and flying them back to Washington for medical care.

But Walter Reed doctors say it was almost inevitable that they would see a high number of cases this year.

Leishmaniasis occurs in hot and tropical countries where sand flies dwell, Hack said. Still, only about 20 soldiers got leishmaniasis during the first Gulf War, and a handful more contracted it in Afghanistan.

This time, though, American forces arrived in Iraq during the peak season for sand flies and were in the field much longer. Many slept outside at night, exposing themselves at the sand fly's favorite feeding time.

Iraqis have also done little to control the problem, such as using insecticide to kill off the flies, Hack said. Local residents have come to accept the disease, he said, exposing young children to sand flies in hopes of building immunity.

Doctors have told soldiers in Iraq what to look for and implored them to wear bug spray. Medical teams with front-line combat troops have tested sand flies for the parasite.

But with enemy bullets flying, the first concern of most soldiers was not slathering on bug spray every morning.

"You didn't think about leishmaniasis too much," said Maj. Eric Moore, who contracted the parasite on the Iran-Iraq border with the 4th Infantry Division.

The lesions will eventually go away on their own and would not affect a soldier's ability to serve. Even so, the military thought it was important that soldiers with bad cases be flown out of Iraq for treatment so they wouldn't be disfigured.

"For most soldiers, it isn't a war stopper," said Lt. Col. Glenn Wortmann, an infectious disease physician at Walter Reed. "But most patients want treatment so the thing will go away."

Walter Reed is one of only two hospitals where patients are sent because the treatment can only be done in a clinical trial setting. With domestic cases a rarity, Pentostam is not licensed in the United States. However, the Army is developing a treatment that can be used in the field.

Many soldiers didn't realize they had the boils until weeks after exposure. DiVona remembers being bitten constantly by flies, but he and other members of his unit didn't see any sores until after they got home in November to Fort Campbell, Ky.

In Moore's unit of about 750 men, more than 200 came down with leishmaniasis during a 10-month tour that ended in March. He was relatively lucky - he has only one quarter-sized sore on his left arm. Others had lesions all over their bodies, he said.

Moore isn't too worried about scarring. He predicts it will delight his children, especially his 3-year-old, who has a fascination with Band-Aids.

"They will probably think it's cool," he said while getting his daily dose of a drug called Pentostam. "They'll probably say, 'Daddy has an ouchie.'"
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