“Most discussions of U.S. policy in Iraq assume that it should be informed by the lessons of Vietnam. But the conflict in Iraq today is a communal civil war, not a Maoist “people’s war,” and so those lessons are not valid. “Iraqization,” in particular, is likely to make matters worse, not better.”
Stephen Biddle in Foreign Affairs:
Contentious as the current debate over Iraq is, all sides seem to make the crucial assumption that to succeed there the United States must fight the Vietnam War again — but this time the right way. The Bush administration is relying on an updated playbook from the Nixon administration. Pro-war commentators argue that Washington should switch to a defensive approach to counterinsurgency, which they feel might have worked wonders a generation ago. According to the antiwar movement, the struggle is already over, because, as it did in Vietnam, Washington has lost hearts and minds in Iraq, and so the United States should withdraw.
But if the debate in Washington is Vietnam redux, the war in Iraq is not. The current struggle is not a Maoist “people’s war” of national liberation; it is a communal civil war with very different dynamics. Although it is being fought at low intensity for now, it could easily escalate if Americans and Iraqis make the wrong choices.