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The Incurable Vietnam Syndrome

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
October 19, 2009
Weekly Standard


President George H.W. Bush thought that after the victory in the Gulf war we had "kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." How wrong he was.

The syndrome was on full display during the 1990s, when pundits and politicos rushed to compare American interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, which resulted in no American casualties, to the worst military defeat in our history. Announced a military analyst in the Los Angeles Times on June 3, 1995: "If you liked Dien Bien Phu, you'll love Sarajevo-this policy is nuts." The analogy industry really hit overdrive in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. "Echoes of Vietnam Grow Louder," a Newsweek headline ominously proclaimed on October 29, 2003. The next month, a New York Times article began, " 'Quagmire,' ‘attrition,' ‘credibility gap,' ‘Iraqification'-a listener to the debate over the situation in Iraq might think that it truly is Vietnam all over again." Howard Dean certainly thought so. He told Dan Rather, "We sent troops to Vietnam, without understanding why we were there     and it was a disaster. And Iraq is gonna become a disaster under this presidency."

Iraq was difficult, but hardly an irretrievable disaster and certainly not a Vietnam-size disaster. After six and a half years of war, the United States has lost over 4,300 service personnel in Iraq-a sobering and substantial figure but still 13 times fewer fatalities than we suffered in Vietnam.



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