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Iraq-Nam

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Matt Yglesias has some interesting observations regarding parallels between Vietnam and Iraq:

The good news is that it’s hard to see US casualties — and especially US fatalities — getting anywhere near the levels reached in Vietnam. On just about every other front, however, we’ve made a bigger mistake — even if we manage to “win” in whatever sense that’s now realistically possible.

Read the whole thing, because there are several other important observations in there. Yglesias, among others, argues that Iraq is MORE important to our strategic interests than Vietnam ever was. I can see the argument, but I’m not certain that I agree with it. Not because I think that the stakes were particularly high in Vietnam; never have as many Americans been killed so pointlessly. I’m just not certain that failure in Iraq, however devastating in the short term, is going to be a real problem in the long (15 or 20 year) term.

What’s the worse case scenario? Iraq disintegrates and turns into a terrorist haven, potentially destabilizing several neighboring states. This is bad, but could be worse. We’re likely still to have the friendship of Turkey, Israel and Kurdistan (what a trio!), and the potential for rapproachment with Iran will remain. Iran is likely the only state to really benefit long term from the disaster, but I just still can’t see Iranian and American interests in that much conflict. The U.S. has supported Iranian hegemony in the Gulf before, and can do so again.

Yglesias is right that the Iraq War has detracted from the fight against Al Qaeda, and has strengthened the hand a radical Islam in the Gulf. I still very much doubt that any Gulf regime will ever cease selling oil to the United States for a meaningful period of time. The incentives are simply too great. We will probably see more terrorist attacks, but, frankly, we were going to see those anyway; the War on Terror was unwinnable even before we invaded Iraq.

No, the real long term downside of the Iraq invasion is to the people who live in the Gulf, not us. They will suffer more from strengthened radicalism than we will, and the Iraqis in particularly will probably face a very bloody civil war that will make them long for the years of Saddam Hussein. I don’t see Israel really benefitting from this, either, as there is already a heavy anti-Israel backlash in Europe, and I expect that there will be one in the United States at some point. Sharon et al have never been particularly sensible about thinking in the long term, and by supporting the U.S. invasion they’ve managed to buy themselves that much more relentless hostility, plus the spectre of a disintegrating, radicalized Iraq. And Tel Aviv is a lot closer than New York.

The United States? We’ll be okay. Just like Vietnam, the real costs will be paid by the people in the places we decided to “save”.

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