It’s not like Vietnam…

Fred Halliday, writing in on the US predicament.

Many analogies are being made with Vietnam, but it is perhaps the analogy with the Soviet war in Afghanistan which is most telling. When the Soviets sent the Red army into Kabul in 1979 they sought to limit the political and economic costs by restricting numbers to around 120,000 i.e. to that necessary to garrison the major towns: hence the official term “limited contingent” for their troops in that country over the following ten years.

The US in Iraq has faced a similar problem, in that it has not been able to commit the full level of forces it could and which was necessary effectively to control the country. Those limits have now had their own consequences – in a US force increasingly restricted and vulnerable, without adequate local counterparts, and with almost no significant intelligence on enemy plans and dispositions.

The reply of the Iraqi guerrillas to Bush’s Annapolis speech on 30 November was incontestable: with a lightly-armed unit, and recorded by video cameras, they took control of an important Sunni town, Ramadi, and held it for several hours; a few days later, and also observed by video, they attacked a US patrol and killed ten of its members. Bush, Cheney and the US army have by now realised they are in an unwinnable situation: how long it takes them to act on this remains to be seen.