Holbrooke: Iraq worse than Vietnam


First Suzanne:[INDENT]He and our own Mort Halperin now agree that Iraq is worse than Vietnam both in its consequences and the policy challenge posed by the need to extricate. Neither thought they would ever say that about any foreign policy quandary. It’s astonishing that with 1000 days left Bush is already saying he plans to hand this to his successor — its a guaranteed 2000+ more casualties. Plus our international standing will only continue to wane.
Administration’s dilemma is whether to draw down troops for political reasons or increase troops for strategic reasons…If Bush buck-passes as is his stated intent, it now looks like the 2008 election may be a referendum on Iraq. In office, a new president will have to end the war to have a hope of reelection in 2012.
[/INDENT]And Michael:
[INDENT]Holbrooke intoned all of this as if he were reciting a dirge. Ominous is far too light of a word, and if he was only pessimistic he might as well have been dancing. Holbrooke seemed haunted and depressed by the darkness of a vision, and unquestionably convinced of the central premise of his vision — that Iraq is “worse than Vietnam.”

On a related note, here’s an exciting set of dualing quotes about how long we’ll be in Iraq.

The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.

New York Times
Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access
To Four Key Bases in Iraq
April 20, 2003
The impression that's left around the world is that we plan to occupy the country, we plan to use their bases over the long period of time, and it's flat false.
Donald Rumsfeld
Press Conference
April 21, 2003
From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of American bases designed to last for years.
Chicago Tribune
14 `enduring bases' set in Iraq
March 23, 2004
"Is this a swap for the Saudi bases? I don't know . . . When we talk about enduring bases here, we're talking about the present operation, not in terms of America's global strategic base. But this makes sense. It makes a lot of logical sense."
Brig. Gen. Robert Pollman,
chief engineer for base construction in Iraq
Chicago Tribune interview
March 23, 2004

Eh? That’s ridiculous. There are many similarities, but worse? Vietnam was much larger in both scale and intensity, and despite the administration attempting to sweep various massacres under the rug, I’ve yet to hear of anything similar to Operation Phoenix. Toss in Agent Orange, My Lai, carry over into neighboring countries, cold war rivalries, etc. and IMHO this is pure hyperbole.

I mean, I hate what’s going on as much as anyone here, would happily cart those running the show off to the Hague, feel that the war is already lost and only making things worse, etc. But worse than Vietnam?! IIRC US casualties alone for the Vietnam War were somethinig like 200,000.

Then again, if you roll it in with all of the constitutional abuse and winnowing of our freedoms and consider them together… Yah, I guess I’d agree things are worse. But involves quite a bit more than the war itself, even if it is related.

I’m just happy that we’re still able to do this on the cheap. Thank god we can get this bad boy done for $50-60 billion.

Until they reinstitute the draft, it ain’t.

He and our own Mort Halperin now agree that Iraq is worse than Vietnam both in its consequences and the policy challenge posed by the need to extricate.
Not worse in every way, but worse in these two. Vietnam stabilized reasonably quickly when the US forces withdrew, and the consequences of the war for the rest of the region and the world, aside from the damage from the war itself, wasn’t as bad as what we arguably might see from Iraq. There’s no North Vietnam ready to roll in and take over if the US retreats, just the potential for a long, confusing civil war threatening to destabilize the region. That makes a US withdrawal in Iraq arguably much more complicated both domestically and internationally than was the case in Vietnam.

The draft is here, it’s just that right now the only eligible people are those whose term of service in the military is about to end.

Yes, I sure breathed easier when my time in the Inactive Ready Reserve was over.

What Bill said. If you measure success by how small the body count is, yeah, Iraq is less of a failure. If you measure it by how much worse the US strategic position has gotten, it’s way worse. The strategic downside to the US on losing Vietnam was…well, it’s hard to think of anything really significant, other than the PR hit. Iraq could screw the world’s oil supply.

That’s supposed to be irony, right? At least I hope you just forgot the ;-).

I’ve seen estimates of the cost far higher than that.

Oh yeah. Bitter, bitter irony. I just hate the wink. But because so much of the net uses it, I use it half the time. I then end up hating myself, and only having my sarcasm understood about half the time.

I used to feel it was cheezy too, but some sort of substitute for body language helps so much that I switched camps. Better to be understood, even if you look cheezy.

Oh, and on the body counts: does anyone know where to get overall US casualty rates (per 1000 soldiers/year) for troops in general, combat troops, etc for Vietnam and Iraq? I’m curious how much of the thankfully-lower Iraq body count is medical (would probably show up in the wounded to death ratio) and how much is other factors.

I always forget where the best such sources are, but in a pinch Wikipedia is decent, although their sources are hard to pin down. They match up reasonably well with what I remember reading in more authoritative locations.

Fatality to wounding - 1/6
250,000 troops, 2,700 deaths in 3 years
83,000 troop/years
Troops have 1/39 chance of getting killed or wounded per year.

Fatality to wounding - 1/2.5
~ troops, ~58,000 deaths in ? years

I can’t find a troop strength timeline for Vietnam.


You will probably find the wounding estimates are rather low. The practice is to only count soldiers whose wounds require evacuation as ‘wounded’. Soldiers that can be treated in Iraq are not normally counted in the figures.

When the S.A.S. think that a force is too brutal, then things have gone seriously wrong. What on earth is the US doing?

Edit: That was supposed to be rhetorical, but it matters not.

Imperialism, and not very well.

Most of the criticisms I have heard from those in the counterinsurgency field, such as SAS and “others”, have had to do with the overall strategy (or lack of) and/or particulars of certain tactics. At no point have I heard “too brutal” from people who know what they are talking about in regard to wars of this nature; rather, the criticism is that the the brutality is often amateurish and misdirected. Certainly, you can take the sort that reach for the headlines directly at their word, but I’d think twice before I’d take lectures on morality at face value from the SAS, or anyone who has a hand in this business.

Thanks Raife. Vietnam timeline is something like this:

1964 23000
1969 545000
1970 334000
1972 100000
1973 0

So average of 235,000 or so for 9 years.

Fatality to wounding - 1/6
250,000 troops, 2,700 deaths in 3 years
83,000 troop/years
Troops have 1/39 chance of getting killed or wounded per year.

Fatality to wounding - 1/2.5
235,000 troops, ~58,000 deaths in 9 years
Troops have 1/10 chance of getting killed or wounded per year.

So Vietnam was much nastier for the people fighting it, even assuming some data fuzz or troop data not quite being right.

Keep in mind that a lot of the Iraq data is skewed by the exponentially better medical treatment, which keeps grievous injuries out of the KIA category. Iraq data is also heavily impacted by the highly concentrated areas where casualties take place as opposed to Vietnams more general spread; if you were to treat Al Anbar and Baghdad as a separate set (and further adjust for base only personnel) you would get very different stats for the majority of US troops in Iraq.