Right now the most divisive issue in the country seems to be the Iraq war. It is becoming another Vietnam, and unfortunately people derived the wrong lessons from Vietnam. The biggest lesson we should have learned from Vietnam is that if the people do not back the U. S. military effort, we will lose.
In Vietnam, we were winning. The Tet offensive was a desperation move by the other side, and all military people who have evaluated the situation in retrospect agree that it was a major defeat for the North Vietnamese. But because Communist sympathizers in the U. S., as well as pacifists who saw no reason to maintain the struggle against world Communism, prevailed upon the Congress to withdraw support for our military efforts, we gave up, and today Vietnam is one of four countries in the world (the others being China, Cuba, and North Korea) still under Communist domination, even after Communism has been erased in the country where it first took power (Russia) and everywhere else where it had taken over except for those four.
We did one thing very right in Iraq -- removed the genocidal dictator, Saddam Hussein, from power. We did one thing very wrong there -- refused to accept that Iraq is an artificially-united country, which should have gone the way of Yugoslavia, divided into a number of smaller, more homogeneous nations. A Kurdish state in the north, a Sunni Arab state in the center, and a Shi'ite state in the south would make more sense than a united Iraq. But once we got in there, it is imperative that we not give al-Qaeda the satisfaction of knowing they could drive us out. They would certainly impose a Taliban-style theocratic dictatorship there, where even most Sunnis could not feel at home.
What we need to do now is to try to establish some sort of order in Iraq, while building up the pro-democracy forces in all three communities. I do not know how we can back out of our support for a single united Iraq, though we need to find a way to do so. A multi-ethnic federal state can only work if all parties want it to: Switzerland is a successful example; Yugoslavia an unsuccessful one; Belgium is a question right now.
But withdrawing now, or even promising to withdraw by some specified date, is simply a recipe for insuring a Vietnam-style failure. If we say we will withdraw by some specified date, al-Qaeda's leaders only have to sit tight till one day after that date. This is not the way to go.
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