A Wider Lens: Wartime, facts and politics

By Aaron Okin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Over the past week and a half, the United States and its allies have experienced dozens of troop fatalities in Iraq during the bloodiest days of the war since the fall of Baghdad. And with these deaths and the general rise in instability, as would be expected, there has been a new intensity added to the political firestorm.

The left has been hitting the president hard, both in Congress and in the press. Former Clinton administration drug czar and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey commented in this week's Time Magazine that "there are no more U.S. troops to send to Iraq." Several senators have taken issue with the administration's handling of the situation in Iraq, and in particular, the originally planned handover of control to the Iraqis on June 30. These attacks are in addition to those thrown at the president by John Kerry.

Perhaps the most disturbing ideas thrown around are the ones that draw parallels of the operations in Iraq to those in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Why are these assertions more problematic than the others the public is being exposed to? The individuals making them have their slants like everyone else, but they vocalize these ideas with the intent to strike the public with a false sense of alarm.

Everyone knows that when Vietnam is mentioned, images are stirred within the minds of Americans ÷ the nine-year-long conflict is pretty much embedded in the psyche of anyone who has gone through a high school American history class. Video clips of operations in the jungles, stories of prisoners of war and accounts of protests in the United States all act to shape how those events are perceived. It would be very difficult and shocking, in fact, if a person could be found who looks at Vietnam as anything but a tragedy.

While Kerry calls the Republicans "crooked" and "liars," his henchmen are taking opportunities in media outlets to stoop to intellectual dishonesty and emotional games to gain support.

What is the expected response from the public when a former general who was an official from the last administration says there aren't enough troops to conduct the requisite activities in Iraq? In the context of a broad comparison to Vietnam, citizens may begin to think a draft could be looming in order to build up the pool of soldiers.

Such a thing would be a notable departure from the past 30 years' policy ÷ and it is ludicrous to expect it to occur. Whether you think they misled the American people over why to invade Iraq, administration officials surely aren't stupid. Undoubtedly, they realize it would be political suicide to reinstate the draft, and they would not have allowed a plan to go forward if that was a significant risk öö in no small part because of public perceptions of Vietnam.

The Vietnam parallel, when thoroughly evaluated, really does not hold much validity. It's just another instance of the left bashing the right without looking at history ÷ both in the wider context and in terms of the Democratic Party ÷ with the goal of swinging people's emotions to their side and their votes along with them.

Senate Republicans, led by Arizona's Jon Kyl, released a document last week that crystallizes, in 16 points, how misguided the allegations on the issue are.

The points refer to such differences in congressional approval and support, the number of troops deployed, how many were drafted (2 million in Vietnam, zero in Iraq) and the end results of the actions (25 million liberated Iraqis versus zero liberated Vietnamese). Kerry's campaign was quick to speak out that the facts being brought to light were "disturbing" and reflected a disposition of the Bush administration that's more concerned with succeeding in "spin" than in Iraq.

The Kerry position seems to be one of running on experience as a soldier, voting to not support currently deployed troops and crying foul when the Republicans try and ward off attacks on Iraqi policy with actual information. If that's not politicization of the current conflict, I'd be curious to know what is.

Aaron Okin is a regional development and political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.