By Col. Daniel Smith (retired)
"......Ghost of Vietnam
Last, like the spirit of the unburied dead condemned to roam the earth, the ghost of Vietnam haunts the entire Iraq debate. The ghost of Vietnam is clearly on display in Congress, but also in the military where, albeit largely unconscious and psychological, it still drives the military's can-do attitude regardless of the events on the ground.
This contradiction from the Vietnam era, between political reluctance and military overcompensation, is illustrated by the famous exchange between an American and a North Vietnamese colonel. It took place at the conclusion of the 1973 Paris peace talks that saw the final withdrawal of US combat forces from South Vietnam. The American asserted that the United States never lost a significant military encounter of the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese colonel agreed, but then noted that his side won the more important political war.
Two years later, North Vietnam's victory became clear: Saigon fell to the North's army as the last Americans were evacuated from the roof of the US Embassy. In the United States, those two years - the notorious "decent interval" between military and political outcomes - proved sufficient to insulate politicians from a massive policy failure but was insufficient to insulate the Pentagon from charges that it "lost" Vietnam. After all, wars are fought and won (or lost) by the military, not by politicians.
In this context, it is noteworthy that President Bush remains insistent that the generals in Iraq, not politicians in Washington, will be the decision-makers. This insistence may be adding to the lack of clarity on Iraq policy. The three- and four-star generals and admirals still on active duty are the last of the Vietnam War veterans. They were part of the US Army that withdrew from South Vietnam. They lived through the post-Vietnam reduction-in-force, the transition to the all-volunteer army, and the mid- and late 1970s when there were more bases and units than volunteers to fill the ranks.
Most are on their last assignment. At the end of their careers, they do not want to be associated with anything that suggests failure. Thus they will search for every flash of good news as evidence that sustaining political pressure on Baghdad will - like sustained pressure converts carbon into diamonds - transform the country's current chaos into a durable, shining democracy."