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Springer Journal: Another Vietnam?

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PINEHURST, N.C. — More and more these days we read and hear of the conflict in Iraq becoming another Vietnam ala the 1960's and 1970's. There is the oft repeated "quagmire" term used to reflect how the United States and Coalition forces are bogged down. There are the daily reports on casualties to these forces. We also hear or read of the need to bring the forces home "now" and let the Iraqis solve their own problems.

If only it were so easy. If only there would be no repercussions to the Iraqis, the Middle East, the United States, and yes, the entire world. But it isn't easy. It is not without serious consequences.

A few weeks ago, a well respected member of congress made a plea to start bringing the troops home from Iraq now. Many years ago I met Congressman John Murtha ( D-Pennsylvania). I was impressed by his genuine concern for military members, their families and their well being. Having served with honor in Vietnam and remaining as a Marine reservist for a few decades, Murtha knows and understands the military. I too served in Vietnam and I remained on active duty for several decades, but I respectfully disagree with Congressman Murtha.

I do not agree that we should "bring the troops home" before the mission in Iraq is complete. And that mission is not yet complete. Of course, there is also much debate about what that mission should be. I will be presumptuous and give my definition of mission success. Notwithstanding the merits of the original intent for invading Iraq in the spring of 2003, the mission now must be to insure a stable and democratic Iraq. It may not be a democracy as we know it here at home, or maybe not as we would like it to be. But we must insure that Iraq does not again become a nation where a tyrant or terrorists can rule the more than 25 million who now look forward to a better way of life.

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) recently returned from a brief visit to Iraq. In a November 29th Wall Street Journal column he noted that an Iraqi poll taken for Iraqi universities showed that "Two thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today." As Senator Lieberman concludes, this is not the time to walk away from this important undertaking.

As I have noted in past columns, we Americans are by nature an impatient society. We tend to expect immediate results in many things. War and constitution building are just not that easy. They take time, and they are both rife with difficulty. Let's compare our own struggle for independence and the drafting of a constitution with that of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was deposed from his dictatorial position in April, 2003. Slightly less than two years later, Iraq had their first elections and a few months later had developed an interim constitution. Within a few weeks they will hold an election to determine who will rule the country for the next four years. All of this in less than three years. And yes, there have been American casualties and tens of thousands of Iraqis have also been killed. As I write this column in late November 2005, we have had 1649 U.S. military members killed in combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Another 457 have died as a consequence of non-hostile actions. I, along with most Americans, mourn these losses.

Let's review our nation's timelines and casualties as we struggled to gain our independence and establish a democracy. We look to the date of July 4, 1776 as our Independence Day. That was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Revolutionary War had been ongoing for some time and would continue. It was not until September 17, 1787 that a constitution was drafted and June 21, 1788 before it was ratified by the states. Almost 12 years from declaring independence until a constitution was ratified. Compare this with the less than three years for a constitution (albeit an interim one) in Iraq. And consider also that our founders were far more homogenous from a religious perspective than are the three major factions in Iraq. By the time our war for independence was over, more than 25,000 Americans had died.

The noted historian, David McCullough, in his excellent book 1776 writes "The war was a longer, far more arduous, and more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate. By the time it ended, it had taken the lives of an estimated 25,000 Americans, or roughly 1% of the population. In percentage of lives lost, it was the most costly war in American history, except for the Civil War."

History is simply too important to be ignored. Iraq needs our help today, just as we needed, and received, the help of France and the Netherlands in our war for independence in the late 18th century. We need to insure they have a military and police force capable of securing their national borders and providing domestic security. Again I quote Senator Lieberman, "... I am convinced ... almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country."

I do not believe that Iraq is "another Vietnam", but there could be a terrible similarity if America does not stay the course. If Americans lose the already fragile political will necessary to sustain our efforts, then there may well be a sequel to our endeavors in Southeast Asia decades ago.

It might just be time now for Americans to stop the political rhetoric and venom that flows too freely, and reflect on who we are and what we stand for in this country. It may also be time for Americans to learn of all the positive aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom so as to provide a balanced perspective. I would call on our elected leaders, our appointed officials, our senior military officers, and yes, our media, to paint the whole mosaic. We owe it to our men and women who have sacrificed life and limb for a calling they believe in.

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