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SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Readers are right: Iraq war different from Vietnam War

The nearly 60 percent who said in last week's DAILY online poll that the war in Iraq is not similar to the Vietnam War are right. While there are some similarities, there are many more differences between the two conflicts.

In Vietnam, the United States' participation was prompted by our country's desire to protect our ally, South Vietnam, from communist North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong). The war occurred during the so-called Cold War, when communism was considered to be the biggest threat to democracy.

Ultimately, U.S. troops withdrew from Southeast Asia before we accomplished our mission and before the enemy was defeated.

In Iraq, the United States for the first time invaded another country before having been attacked by that country. The war was not in defense of an ally, but in defense of our country and the rest of the world against the common enemy of terror. It is the result of President Bush's preemptive war philosophy, expressed during graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June 2002, that we "must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront his worst threats before they emerge."

So we, along with a coalition of the willing that included primarily the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq in March 2003, ostensibly to disarm Saddam Hussein and relieve him of his weapons of mass destruction, which he had not hesitated to use on his own people before the 1991 Gulf War.

After about three weeks of "shock and awe," coalition forces took control of Saddam's palaces and the brutal dictator went into hiding.

On May 2, 2003, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and, in a speech delivered from the ship's flight deck, declared our "mission accomplished."

Then, on Dec. 14, Saddam was captured.

But our young men and women are still in Iraq, taking bullets and improvised bombs while carrying out "our mission" more than two years after it was accomplished.

And because we remain, the support of the rest of the world wanes. Because we remain, the terrorists have a reason to unite, recruit and wage war on Americans.

The differences between the Vietnam War and the Iraq war are many.

  • We withdrew from Vietnam when it became evident the war could not be won and the insurgency could not be defeated. We remain in Iraq long after our mission was accomplished, giving the enemy the fuel it needs to recruit young warriors.
  • The fighting in Vietnam was limited to Southeast Asia. The fighting in the Middle East has spread to London, Madrid, Indonesia and other parts of the world.
  • The Vietnam War focused resources and troops at the point of the threat. The Iraq war diverted resources and troops from the larger and more important war on terror, which at the time was being fought in Afghanistan against a regime that supported the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on our country.
  • During Vietnam, we did not hold or torture enemy combatants — let alone American citizens — indefinitely in detention camps without the benefit of a hearing or legal representation.
  • During the Vietnam War, protesters in America were allowed to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Last week, war protesters — including parents of military personnel serving in Iraq — placed symbolic headstones outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch to commemorate the brave men and women of our military who have died. So-called "patriots" drove over those headstones with their pickups.

    One major similarity shared by the Vietnam War and the Iraq war is that our participation in both conflicts was authorized by Congress relying on information provided by administrations that were less than forthcoming about the reliability of intelligence.

    But for the most part, the two wars are quite different.

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