Iraq: Vietnam of Bush administration - Bob Paslay

When Ted Kennedy said the other day that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, it was kind of ironic since it was Kennedy's older brother who got us involved in that Asian disaster.

Granted that when the bullet tore through the president's head on the still frozen in our mind afternoon in Dallas, there had not been the number of deaths and casualties that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would bring about. But we were already ankle-deep in the quagmire.

The president who was ever present in my formative years in the '50s was President Eisenhower. I don't know how great a president he was, but he was one fine general and while I might not take his advice on picking a vice president I would listen intently if he gave military advice.

As the transition was under way, President Eisenhower told President Kennedy not to get involved in a land war in Asia. You cannot win, he said.

Kennedy did not listen and America paid the price.

If President Eisenhower were alive today I suspect he would give President Bush similar advice. Don't get involved in a land war in the Middle East. You can't win.

We don't understand the dynamics of this whole region. Presbyterian Americans who are visiting friends in another part of the country don't think anything about going to their Methodist or Baptist church for Sunday services. We in America just do not understand religious hatred and the whole dynamics of it. We didn't really understand why two red-headed, green eyed Irish guys would try to kill each other because one was Catholic and one was Protestant. But they were both Irish, we said. They both believed in the same God.

We especially don't understand religious zealots, kids who should be playing sports or goofing around with friends strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing up people.

It is no secret that when strong dictators fall from some of these countries, the factions break apart and start killing each other. For all his many faults, Tito held Yugoslavia together.

It is getting so I don't even want to turn on the evening news or read the national papers for fear of hearing about a dozen more American Marines killed in Iraq. One of my jobs as a young reporter was to go by the houses of the families of soldiers killed in Vietnam and get mug shots of the dead soldier to run in the paper.

I think of all the promise, all the goodness and decency and optimism in these young soldiers. I think of all the lives affected by the loss.

I am the eternal pessimist when it comes to things like this. I believe there are thousands of Iraqis who are plotting how to kill more and more of our soldiers. The whole issue of sending even more soldiers over there sets off an echo of General Westmoreland saying, just give me a thousand more, just a thousand more and we will win the war. At some point, and I wish it was even sooner, we will have to get out of that land war in Iraq. I don't even want to think about what is going to happen after then. I suspect that the country will implode in racial, ethnic warfare. I can see the oil wells burning. I can see neighbors like Iran trying to figure out what they can get out of this chaos. The American exit from Vietnam was a nasty, ugly scene of truly fleeing, helicopters taking off with people trying to cling onto them. It was a dark day for America.

As nice and well meaning as Americans are, in fairness we went through and are working out our own problems without interference from other countries. We went from a country in which one human being owned another like chattel to a country in which we tried to make each citizen an equal partner. Now we are coping with being the land of plenty and enticing millions of Hispanics to our country and the assimilation that all brings about.

I guess what makes me mad is that we have a system in which soldiers go where they are told and do what they are told without any say in whether it is a good or bad decision. The part that makes me mad is we need to know more about these other countries, about all the ethnic, racial dynamics before we send our best and brightest young Americans over there to be mowed down. When men and women in suits with Ph.D. degrees think they know it all, it is up to the soldiers in the field to deal with it. We need to think about what happens when the Tito or other strong leader is gone and whether the country can be managed. We need a clear vision of what we are trying to accomplish, our chances of accomplishing those goals and how many of our best fighting men and women are going to be lost in this effort.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.