By: Avi Lopin  | 

Iraq — Echoes of Vietnam in the Middle East: A Global Perspective (Vol. 56, Issue 3)

Colonialism and Imperialism were enduring themes in Vietnamese history for over a thousand years. At the end of World War II, the French, who occupied Vietnam at the time, denied Vietnam's quest for independence and for the next ten years Vietnam was swept by anti-colonial rebellion led by Ho Chi Minh. The American govemment at first, saw no need to send troops to Vietnam. They saw no threat directed at them.

At times, throughout history, many Arab nations strove for unity but were fragmented by · bitter rivalries. In recent times the Arabs were hampered by numerous revolutions, rebellions, civil wars, and their own Cold War of 1958. American involvement in the Middle East was minimal because they saw no threat directed at them.

Significant events proceeded in the late Forties and early Fifties which changed America's foreign policy towards Vietnam. The advent of the Cold War in 1947, the Communist takeover in China, and the Korean War, all produced new anxieties about a Communist expansion in Asia. In America, Ho Chi Minh was now looked upon as an agent of world communism. There was fear of the 'red amoeba' spreading throughout Asia which threatened to usurp America's superpower status. For American national interests, they had to intervene.

Iran and Iraq's latest war, The Persian Gulf War, ended in 1988 and generated great economic hardship for Iraq. Iraq's leader Sadaam Hussein, unwilling to sit back quietly, invaded the oil-rich Kuwait two years later. The U.S. was convinced that Hussein was playing a dangerous game of dominoes. The U.S. perceived the invasion of Kuwait as the first domino to fall in Hussein's quest for an eventual Iraqi takeover of much of the Arab world. The U.S. saw their international prestige and economic interests threatened; they had to intervene.

In the early Sixties, America finally sent its troops into the unknown terrain of Vietnam. Both John F. Kennedy and later Lyndon B. Johnson convinced an entire nation that the purpose of sending "our boys" into Vietnam was to protect South Vietnamese freedom from the aggressors of North Vietnam and to maintain world order. "We will always oppose the effort of one nation to conquer another nation," declared Kennedy. ''We find ourselves with continued responsibility for the defense of freedom," was Johnson's reason for escalating the war to new heights. They failed to emphasize to the public the real reason for intervening. America feared that Communism threatened their international stature as the number one power of the world.

Immediately after Hussein's Aug. 2nd invasion, Bush responded by intervening militarily. Bush explained his actions to the public as "a fight for a country's freedom and independence" as well as avoiding a future international economic disaster. Bush rarely spoke the truth that he feared that unless he intervened, a shrewd and ruthless madman would gain control of 40% of the world's proven oil reserves and acquire nuclear capability to protect his gains. This would jeopardize America's prominence in world affairs and politics.

The public approved Kennedy and Johnson's decision to escalate the war. “We must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny and only in such a world will freedom be secure," insisted Johnson. With time, however, people grew impatient with being misinformed about the realities of the war. The public realized that the U.S. was playing a game of hopeless stalemate in Vietnam and wanted a 'go in and win — or get out' policy. Another concern was that pressing domestic issues, such as the war against poverty, equal rights, and improvement of schools, were temporarily put on hold in favor of the Vietnam War. Demonstrations slowly began sweeping the country and the troops in Vietnam began to feel the strains of an ambiguous an unpopular war. The war was inevitably bound for failure for this and for the inherent flaws in a play of global containment.

Bush's decision to send troops into Saudi Arabia met with public approval. The public truly believed (or believes) that President Bush's actions stemmed from his moral conscience aimed at granting Kuwait its independence and maintaining an international economic balance. This in turn would restore world order. Recently, the public's patience. has come to a halt. On Sat. Oct. 20th, 16 cities across the country coordinated demonstrations protesting America's role in the

Gulf: Chants of "Hell no, we won't go; we won't fight for Texaco," and "money for peace, not for war," were screamed by thousands of demonstrators. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, England, and Italy also demonstrated against intervention in the Gulf. Additionally, the public is frustrated with the government's failure to address domestic issues such as our towering debt, the homeless, and the drug war. The troops abroad are growing impatient with the international stalemate. Thousands of letters have been sent in from Saudi Arabia demanding some course of action very soon. An army reservist in America, refusing to go to Saudi Arabia said, "I believe in the economic sanctions and in honest negotiations, not war. If I have to go to jail, I'll go." 

Is the Gulf crisis following the same pattern of Vietnam? Can the two be compared? We ·

can only speculate, but the parallelism is strong. Let it also be known that people throughout the country, including many Vietnam Vets, are drawing the same conclusions.

But how are we, as Jews, sensitive to the survival of lsrael, view the possibility of war? Do we want another war? Ideally, we should obliterate Hussein with his fanatic advisors without engaging in war. Unfortunately, our goals cannot be accomplished without military action. We, therefore, understand that for the sake of the survival of Israel there is no other choice but to advocate war now. In a few years Hussein will have amassed a nuclear arsenal.

Are we being selfish and insensitive? Perhaps, but there are a few underlying issues which can support our stance. First, Israeli survival is at stake. Hussein, time after time, has threatened to annihilate Israel and to once and for all put an end to the "colonial Zionists dream for a greater Israel." With nuclear capabilities in the near future he'll fulfill his dream. Second, the United Nations has successfully demonstrated its two faced, Anti-Semitic, and hypocritical qualities. We cannot depend on them for a peaceful settlement. Finally, the only true friends Israel are the people who understand and are sensitive to the realities of Israel's vulnerability. Therefore, we must always do everything in our power to assure Israel's survival now and in the future.

May there be only peace in the future and let Moshiach make his mark at a time when he's so desperately needed.