(Editorial/opinion): U.S. repeats past mistakes

by George Lopez

Iraq, like Vietnam, already has become a quagmire for the United States, with few easy exit options. Driving both Vietnam and Iraq: a set of unquestioned, flawed assumptions held by a president and his policy team. Our latest quagmire is sustained by four familiar, misguided beliefs.p. — Our battle there is about more than this war. Fighting in Vietnam was justified as the key to winning the war against a larger, more ominous enemy: communism. Victory in Iraq is presented as the key to winning the war on terrorism. In reality, in both cases, prolonged military commitment derailed real progress in achieving those wider goals. Worse yet, the military and policing operations confirmed communist — and now terrorist — ideology about our imperial intentions. And it boosted the enemy’s recruitment of new fighters.p. — We know the enemies and their purpose. Just as we first saw only an invading North Vietnam and not until later a home-grown Viet Cong in South Vietnam, we now see only Saddam Hussein’s supporters and foreign terrorists. Both assessments ignore the growing numbers willing to fight the U.S., which they see as an occupying power. Over time, our actions swell their numbers.p. — We remain wedded to the commitment to see the job through. When events on the ground go badly, leaders don’t re-examine their assumptions about goals and means. Instead, they reorganize who is in charge of policy and resolve to remain on course — even as the course is becoming lost in a fog of uncertainty and opposition.p. — This effort is not about politics. As in Vietnam, the military mission in Iraq runs into a presidential campaign. This increases the imperative not to fail, not to withdraw before Iraq is fully stable and to blame failure on others. The result: a quagmire.p. We must replace these dead-end mind-sets with a critical and frank discussion about new options.p. In Iraq, the U.S. needs to turn reconstruction over to the United Nations, reconstitute the Iraqi army and draw down its troops. That’s the only way to prevent an Iraq syndrome from plaguing us for decades.p. George A. Lopez is director of policy studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

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