The Differences Between Iraq and Vietnam

Alan Dowd of posted an excellent article entitled “The Truth About Iraq and Vietnam”.  In it, he questions whether Americans have the stomach or the stamina to attack at the roots of terrorism. 

I think it’s safe to say for the most part, no, they can’t.

Nothing is perfect, and neither is the President.  However, the President did try to prepare the American populace for a long war.  He stated that “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have seen.”  Additionally, he stated that “it is not possible to predict the scope and duration of these deployments [or] the actions necessary to counter the terrorist threat to the United States.”

If folks would have listened, it’s pretty clear this was not going to be a short conflict.  Alas, the ‘feel good, I want it now’ folks, see the ghost of Vietnam in the Global War on Terror.  The bad guys see it as the chance for victory.

So for those of you who can’t see the difference between Iraq and Vietnam, here’s some points to consider:

  • Vietnam was an undeclared war.  Iraq is not.  Congress authorized the conflict, whether they’re flip flopping or not.
  • Iraq is the US’ unfinished business.  Vietnam was France’s.
  • The loss of American life is considerably smaller.
  • The US in not alone in Iraq.
  • The military is all-volunteer.  They knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line.  Military families are sacrificing in this war, but the American people are not.  There is no draft.  The American people have not been asked to sacrifice, and by some accounts that I have read and seen for myself, they don’t want to hear about it.
  • Both Iraq and Vietnam represent local fronts in global wars – the War on Terror and the Cold War.  As you may recall, Communism was the real threat that was “seeking it impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.”  Today’s War on Terror is a direct result of the hole that still exists in my skyline, but give credence to the many acts of terrorism that went unanswered for decades.
  • US intervention in Iraq and Vietnam was the right thing to do.  In Vietnam we know because of the carnage and bloodshed that occurred when we left, in Iraq because of what preceded America’s intervention.

Dowd’s final words, quoted from Robert Kaplan’s essay entitled “The American Interest”, are the most compelling;

“An inward looking America is prone to act passively or avert its gaze from dangers.  Simply to never get involved anywhere, except in the smallest deployments or in the bigger ones without the absolute certainty of a clean victory, invites defeat by an abdication from the responsibility that comes with power.”


  1. 2LT Carlos Ramos (CA

    Many persons make analogies and comparison and contrast Iraq with Vietnam. I appreciate your making effort to enlighten alot of Americans who are – emotional about this matter.
    Lets look even further back than Vietnam to another time – this time being the convening of the Continental Congress of 1775. On the hot seat at this convention was none other than General George Washington. “But George so many people are being killed!” General, the costs of this war are steadily rising!!” “General, what about the men, they are ill-equipped to fit a war..” “The weather General, its snowing , its cold, there is no food to see them through.” and General Washington, we have no money and the people of our republic cannot stand a protracted conflict such as this – you have to end this and soon!”
    “Gentlemen – you cowards! You will feed my men, you will equip them as well. They are doing this new nations toughest bidding and they above all shall be cared for, fed and continuously supplied!”
    “You asked me to defeat these British and just like the Congress of 2003, this Continental Congress of 1775 will see my Armies through dammit!” “I tire hearing lip service only to shortly down the line have to cover my ears to filter out the I knew it couldnt be done negativism!” “Each and every one of you, stand by your word that you gave in the beginning AS I am standing by mine.”
    Of course this is not the actual dialog between General Washington and the CC of 1775 but as a certified Military Historian, I can have some fun with presenting what truly was the sentiment felt by this great American and our first president George Washington.
    Today George Bush is facing no less than the same “i told you so’s” and has borne witness to Congress’s withdrawing its support just as the Continental Congress was prepared to do in 1775. I tried to piece this scenario together an dsend it to our president last year but at that time, I was not quite yet as disgusted with this cowardly and evil Congress as I am today.
    If they will look away from 2008 for a moment and realize that ‘Oh I sound so terrific saying I cannot support an open-ended war!” Its bound to get me elected in 2008. Well if we quit with our goals and support of our SOLDIERS not TROOPS,
    we WILL HAVE SENATORS, OPEN-ENDED TERRORISM on our territory. I understand that the Congress has to vote again to support a war that proceeds for more than two years – BUt as this fine writer says: Our president prepared the country to the fact that this would be a long war.
    Last – we need another draft. Its easy to make negative comments against the war but think of this. My uncle Manuel Cisneros an American of Mexican heritage fought in WW II battles in the Pacific “for the duration” as was inscribed on his Selective service card. These are men who made up what military history describes as “The Greatest Generation” Ms Clinton and Schumers and ilk such as this are where they are owing to the sacrifices of men like my Uncle Manuel, unk Conrado, unk Roy Herrera, unk Paul, unk Daniel, and uncle Raul. Much more the men who fought along side George Washington and who went on to defeat the British Armies and win our Freedoms and Independence in 1776.
    I think that the quote holds true here as well:
    To have a Congress “avert its gaze from dangers. Simply to never get involved anywhere, except in the smallest deployments or in the bigger ones without the absolute certainty of a clean victory, invites defeat by an abdication from the responsibility that comes with power.” Robt Kaplan
    Thank you

  2. tantheblackhearted


    All I can say is no truer words said.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. WFlowers

    Carlos, very profound and interesting comments. Although I share some of your points, I would like to express some different comments.
    General Washington and the troops back then where fighting for our country’s independence. There was no clear end to the war, but there was a clear strategy.

    I, as well, criticize those congress men and women who flip flop constantly, who rather abandon the war than see it through, who do not value the sacrifice of the service men and women and their families; but I also criticize those who have put their personal gains in front of those of the country, those who have put men and women in harms way in order to engrave their names in history. The President’s father served honourably, but he never did, and neither did Mr. Cheney or his main top advisors. (By the way, my father served 2 tours in Vietnam, my brother just retired as an Army officer; I have many other family members who have served in recent years, in Korea and in WWII).

    Congress approved going into war based on false facts. Although I do agree Hussein was a danger, you could see bigger threats looming in Iran and Syria (Iraq and Hussein had been tied down by economic sanctions for more than a decade) a threat that is now more real than ever.

    Last but not least, as a historian you should know that your duty is to record history as it took place, study and analyze it, inform about it and keep records for generations to come. But you have to be careful when interpreting history facts, for your personal views may not be shared by others and could eventually be misleading.

    Please, I do not care to fight, I came to listen to other points of view and share my own. Thank you and please keep up the great writing and sharing of information that I have seen in this blog.

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