A Vietnam lesson for Iraq

My friend Quang X. Pham penned an excellent editorial in today’s O.C. Register and I am reproducing it here for my readers:

The Orange County Register
Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Vietnam lesson for Iraq
U.S. military needs to make sure Iraqi forces are capable, before we leave

By Quang X. Pham

Former U.S. Marine Quang X. Pham, an entrepreneur and author, is exploring a run for Congress as an independent. www.quangxpham.com

The first Americans I met were military advisers, much like the ones who are training security forces in Iraq. That year, 1970, the United States was in the process of Vietnamization – turning the war over to the South Vietnamese as U.S. troops simultaneously departed.

I remember as a boy visiting my father’s South Vietnamese Air Force squadron and shaking hands with U.S. pilots who wore reassuring smiles, green flight suits and pistols.

Today, three years into the war in Iraq, memories of Vietnamization come back when I hear President Bush talk about his eventual plans to withdraw U.S. troops. “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” he has said.

Yet, Vietnamization is not the model for Iraq.

If U.S. troops cannot extinguish the insurgency and end the carnage from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), should we expect the Iraqis to fare much better with less than two years of training? Today, not one Iraqi battalion is capable of fighting independently. Now, as more members of Congress clamor for withdrawal of U.S. troops, the lessons of Vietnamization appear to have been forgotten.

Last weekend, an unprecedented conference took place at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, featuring American historians, journalists and leaders from the Vietnam era. Not a single Vietnamese was invited to speak.

How we got into Iraq should not matter as much for now as how we will exit. Two of the key participants in Boston, Jack Valenti, a special assistant to President Johnson, and Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state and national security adviser for President Nixon and the mastermind behind the “peace with honor” strategy in Vietnam, offered no solutions for Iraq. Kissinger lamely reflected, “I know the problem better than the answer.”

In 1961, U.S. pilots began training South Vietnamese pilots, including my father, when President Kennedy dispatched advisers en masse to Vietnam. They didn’t leave until the cease-fire agreement 12 years later.
The Iraqis, too, are doomed as an independent military force if the United States makes the same critical mistakes made with the South Vietnamese:

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