Politics & Policy


The Vietnam Syndrome lives.

I am convinced, based on everything I have read, it won’t be a hell of a lot worse than it is now. — Rep. John P. Murtha

Jack (redeploy to Okinawa) Murtha was speaking of Iraq after an American pullout. He’s not worried. Nor are most Democrats now urging America to flee Iraq. There really ought to be a name for the “it can’t get worse” fallacy. For the moment, let’s just call it Democratomyopia. It has a long pedigree.

One thinks of March 1975. Liberal New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis scoffed at warnings of a coming bloodbath in southeast Asia. “Some will find the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now?” Most Democrats agreed with Lewis.

Six weeks later, the last Americans lifted off in helicopters from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, leaving hundreds of panicked South Vietnamese immediately behind and an entire region to the mercy of the communists. The scene was similar in Phnom Penh. The torture and murder spree that followed left millions of corpses. The psychological effect on America — despite dozens of declarations that the Vietnam Syndrome is dead — has not yet been transcended.

Democrats like Murtha and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (“I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together”) represent the myopia school. But to be fair to the Democrats, there is another perspective; call it the TDB school, best represented by Rep. David Obey. Asked by the Los Angeles Times whether he didn’t think Iraq might experience violence akin to that in Bosnia during the 1990s, Obey responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s horrendous. The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there’s slim hope for that.”

And then, a perennial: The diplomacy first, last and always school. Sen. Carl Levin, co-sponsor of a withdrawal resolution, calls for the United Nations to appoint an Iraq mediator. (Of course! Why didn’t we think of that before?) Sen. Harry Reid believes we should withdraw our forces in Iraq immediately to be replaced by “tough and strong diplomacy.” Threaten me one more time with that IED, and I might just have to convene a roundtable discussion!

The Democrats have convinced themselves, once again, that the enemy is us — or at least our fault. There was no al Qaeda in Iraq before we invaded the country, they argue. If it exists now, it’s entirely our own doing. It is our presence that causes the violence in Iraq. In fact, our presence in Iraq is the greatest recruiting tool the terrorists have!

Why don’t the Democrats argue that our presence in Afghanistan is equally provocative to the terrorists? One would think it would be more so. Nor is it the case that before the allied (remember the others?) invasion, Iraq was irrelevant to the terrorist threat worldwide. Saddam was a faithful and generous supporter of numerous terror groups — a fact cited by the many Democrats who voted for the war.

But even assuming (and it’s a dubious assumption) that America would be better off if Saddam were still in power, there is the problem of reality. We are faced with either perseverance and determination to support Gen. David Petraeus and his so far pretty successful strategy to stabilize the country, or we can unilaterally decide to declare defeat.

Now, if you want to see a recruiting tool for al Qaeda, you cannot possibly do better than this story line: “We chased them out of Iraq just as we chased the Soviets out of Afghanistan. They cannot defeat us! All of their smart bombs and guided missiles and up-armored Humvees cannot defeat a few soldiers of Allah!”

If the Democrats’ withdrawal script is followed in Iraq, as it was in Vietnam, there is no question that the resulting violence will make today’s chaos seem like an idyll. John Burns, the respected reporter for the New York Times, recently offered the view that “the United States armed forces here — and I find this to be very widely agreed amongst Iraqis that I know, of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds . . . are a very important inhibitor against violence. . . . I think it’s a much larger truth that where American forces are present, they are inhibiting sectarian violence, and they are going after the people, particularly al Qaeda and the Shiite death squads, who are provoking that violence.”

Never say “it can’t get worse.” It reveals a terrible poverty of imagination.



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