The Vietnam Meme

I was a bit surprised to see centrist Republican Senator Lugar coming out for withdrawal from Iraq right in the middle of a major offensive. Why now? One clue is Lugar’s reference to the Baker report as the basis for an alternative Middle East policy. Here is an excerpt from his remarks, as reported in the Chicago Tribune:

He said the current strategy in Iraq is hindering U.S. ability to support allies in the region and protect long-term access to oil supplies while allowing Iran to enhance its influence.

“I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war and other calamities,” Lugar said. “But seizing these opportunities will require the president to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options.”

Wretchard at The Belmont Club puts his finger on the core of what I believe to be Lugar’s thinking here:

At heart, Senator Lugar’s recommendations seem to be an attempt to reposition for what he believes to be a larger fight ahead. He does not want to quit so much as fight another day. Fight the Big One, which will require bipartisan support. Although the Senator doesn’t say so openly, it is strongly hinted that what is at stake is the edifice of US alliances with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The calculus runs thus: events in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza have suggested that Iran and its clients are gaining in strength vis a vis Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. If this trend is not reversed, it will eventually threaten America’s position in the Middle East. Therefore Lugar is calculating that America must cut its losses and fall back.

After reading the report of Lugar’s bipartisan remarks I found myself getting a sense of where America may be headed. I think we are going to get a charade from the center of the Democratic party led by Hillary (and supported by Republican centrists like Lugar) that is a lot like what Nixon did in 1968 with the Vietnam war. He talked peace but once in office pursued a policy of Vietnamization and disengagement of American forces while supporting the South Vietnamese with airpower and military aid. He had no intention of walking away. Nixon’s approach kept the North Vietnamese army at bay in 1972 when they attempted to invade the south. It failed after Nixon got himself deservedly thrown out of office and Congress defunded the South Vietnamese.

I think we will see something similar occur from whoever is elected in 2008. Bush will be the fall guy and the new administration will pretend to be cleaning up ‘the mess in Iraq’ with some form of redeployment. The question will be the real intent behind our ‘redeployment.’ Will the US maintain a presence in Iraq to keep Iran at bay? I think so. Certainly in Kurdistan whatever happens in the rest of Iraq as both Hilary and Obama have already said. All but those that really think the jihadies are not a serious problem know that we can’t just walk away from the Middle East. If nothing else, oil and US national interest are connected and the Democrats know this as well as the Republicans.

Even though everyone will pretend that Bush’s policy of introducing democracy to the Middle East has failed whether it does or not, the political process will continue in Iraq. A democratic government will continue for while at least. Then there is the three clocks theory. The military clock in Iraq, the political clock in Iraq and the political clock in the US. Lugar’s defection reminds us that the US clock is running and I think it is going to run out regardless of the events in Iraq. The final act is already written no matter what happens on the ground in Iraq militarily and politically. But that does not mean that the Iraqi government and military can’t save themselves from chaos and the rise of a new dictatorship – Sadrist or Saddamist. In any case the Iraqi clocks are running on different schedules that the US clock.

This war has never been the Vietnam war and the endgame always much more serious. Things are very different than they were in either the 90s or the 70s with the advent of a nuclear Iran and Iraq with an uncertain future. Not to mention what is going on with Hezbollah and Hamas and Israel. Whoever becomes the next US president, they will face a novel situation requiring new thinking and new policies. Refighting the last war doesn’t work for the military even though, apparently, it does for the press. The politicians, no matter what they pretend, will have to deal with the reality on the ground.

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