Boots are Moot
It is my contention that Iraq is more similar to the IRA experience than to the Vietnam experience. The Northern Irish battle has been ongoing for 600 years; the Shiite vs. Sunni rift has existed 1,400 years. There will never be trust between the adversaries, but a tendentious coexistence will emerge. Northern Ireland, like Iraq, will only be solved politically, not militarily. The Irish troubles are more recent and have been ongoing, but the IRA/Sinn Fein has the sense to negotiate. In Iraq, there may be a brutal, bloody civil war, but ultimately, an accommodation will have to be arrived at between the sects.
In contrast to this, North and South Vietnam could put their differences aside and form a unity government, albeit, a communist one. Everyone might not be happy, but they do enjoy safety and security. In fact, it's doubtful anyone gets tortured in Vietnamese prisons. (If they do, it's a holdover from the French experience, and not the benign American effect.)
Some more dissimilarities from Iraq: The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese cause enjoyed the sympathy of American liberals. Now, no liberal would dare voice support for the Iraqi combatants. In addition, the defeat of RVN was effected by an external army. In Iraq and Northern Ireland, the threat is indigenous and city-based. The only question is that of tactics, not objectives.While the Irish Republican Army (IRA) stance in Northern Ireland does not equal terrorism, terrorist tactics are used in that conflict. The following are some characteristics of the IRA:
- They are an army
- They wear a uniform
- They have a military chain of command
- They generally abide by the Rules of War as outlined by the Geneva Convention (GC)
- They carry weapons openly
So the IRA are the shooters of the Irish Nationalist movement, and they do have legitimacy if they abide by the Rules of War as outlined by the GC. Separate from the IRA is the PIRA, which uses terrorist tactics and is not composed of legitimate soldiers. The PIRA is analogous to the terrorists in Iraq, while the IRA is analogous to the guerillas. In truth, the separation is probably arbitrary in both cases, and I will outline the Iraqi scenario later.
Both the IRA and the PIRA are supported actively and passively by the majority of Catholics. So as in Iraq, these groups have religious affiliation and fealty. Even though Catholics may not support or endorse the actions of the IRA, they will never rat out the IRA, whether through fear or loyalty. In addition, the IRA has a social agenda, which is to remove the British presence and to establish self-determination. They want equality with the Protestants in their society.
Other characterizations of the IRA are:
- It is often allied with other activist groups. There was cross-fertilization with the Palestinians in the 1970's and 80's.
- The members are treated as terrorists when they are captured by the British, and they are often tortured and assassinated by the Brits.
- Has interior lines of supply and defense.
- Receives support from the Republic of Ireland, and has sympathizers across porous borders.
- Its shooters are folk heroes.
- The shooters and soldiers receive pensions and death benefits from the IRA.
- They train outside of Northern Ireland.
- Their cause is a Northern Ireland free and independent of England.
- They are similar in appearance to the Protestant population, and at first glance are indistinguishable. Because they arise from a homogenous social group, British soldiers can't distinguish friend from foe often until too late.
- British soldiers were never safe out of their safety zone. They could expect an attack anytimes they ventured into Catholic enclaves. It should be noted that the Catholic and Protestants live in enclaves, just as the Shiites and Sunnis do.
Considering the parallels to the current Iraq situation, the Iraqi fighters and the IRA sound mighty similar.
Now to the North Vietnam and Viet Cong experience:
Vietnam was a Maoist Guerilla war, until about 1969. Animating the peasants in the countryside was key to the predominant theory of that war, if not the total practice. And it basically came to pass, as the VC were basically agrarian, and attempted to control the countryside. Since that was General Westmoreland's theory, that was the way we executed the war.
The present Iraq war will never transition into conventional military tactics, as it did inVietnam with the entrance of the NVA units. We are not fighting a Maoist guerilla war, with distinct phases of evolution. Instead, we're fighting a level II threat, and it is very doubtful that it will ever evolve into a conventional warfare phase. It was that phase which, after 1972, destroyed the Republic of Vietnam.
U.S. operations in Vietnam were generally in the hinterland, with the concept that this secured the cities. The U.S. had conventional combat power in Vietnam addressing a military threat that was often portrayed incorrectly as external to the people. After Tet '68, this myth was blown to smithereens.
In Iraq, the opposite is true; we seem to be concerned with securing only the cities. Obviously, there are combat operations outside the cities, but these are not the main thrust of U.S. operations. However, similarly to Vietnam, the U.S. government is spinning Iraq as a battle against Terrorism when really, it is a groundswell movement to evict American power from Iraq.
In Vietnam, the level of engagement was in the area of conventional combat operations, with full power brought to bear. The Vietnamese were grabbed by the balls, and their hearts and minds had to follow.
In Iraq, it's just the opposite; the threat resides well-ensconced within the indigenous population. Obviously, we could bomb them further back into the Stone Age, but this approach does not square with the concept of freeing them. Destroying towns to save them is absurd. Full combat power cannot and should not be employed. Therefore, more boots are moot. What could they achieve, other than providing more targets?
The British in Northern Ireland never brought conventional combat power to bear in the cities. The situation is the same for us in Iraq; at least, we should not, if we're trying to win hearts and minds.
In Vietnam, the experience was tied into an international agenda of communism, and it had the support of China and Russia. Though the Viet Cong had popular support, it was nothing similar to that seen in Iraq; 61% of Vietnamese didn't espouse killing Americans, and 77% didn't want America to get out.
As flimsy as the pretext was, the Vietnamese government did invite the U.S. to help in their fight. I stress this was flimsy, but it's still conferred more legitimacy on our presence than we have in the present Iraqi invasion.
North and South Vietnam were split by the Geneva Accords. The North Vietnamese war was to reunite the country and institute communism in the South--a forward-looking nationalistic agenda. If anything, the factions in Iraq welcome fracture, and its agenda is backward-looking.
The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong had extended vulnerable lines of communication and supply. This differs from the Iraqi and IRA experience; the Vietnamese would welcome Russian support after they expelled the Americans, whereas the Iraqis most likely will not enlist the aid of any Westerners after they are expelled.
Back to Iraq, the Iraqi Unity government is the moral equivalent of Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein, and performs loosely the same function. They are associated with the shooters who are fighting the Americans (as is Sinn Fein vis a vis the IRA against the British), regardless of their protestations to the contrary.
In one dissimilarity from Iraq, the IRA does have some U.S. support, especially in the Northeast. Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, even had dinner with former President Clinton, so they enjoy a veneer of legitimacy in the American viewpoint. Many Americans believe the IRA is justified in their fight. As mentioned previously, American liberals might have also supported the North Vietnamese cause, but you will not hear that same support for the Iraqi guerillas today.
The tide of history is against Britain in Northern Ireland and America in Iraq. the times are gone when you can arbitrarily occupy another country. The good days for colonialists are over. (One of the objectives of WWII was clearly stated in the North Atlantic charter was the end of colonialism.)
Call it what you will, the occupation of northern Ireland and Iraq is neocolonialism, and it's no small wonder that the U.S. and Britain support each other in these endeavors.