Islamic deja vu
Muslim peoples excel at expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla war. So wrote Patrick J. Buchanan six months before Operation Iraqi Freedom. “They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon,” he reminded us.
Lacking institutional memory, Congress is blissfully unaware the history now being written on Capitol Hill will add yet another chapter — “they also drove the Americans out of Iraq.” And the scenario is eerily reminiscent of how Congress ensured a U.S. defeat in Vietnam when lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to sever any further military assistance to our Vietnamese allies.
Betrayed by Congress, the South Vietnamese quickly understood there was no point in further resistance. In Hanoi, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap had to improvise a general offensive in 1975 to take Saigon, which he reckoned (in his memoirs) was an opportunity at least two years away.
Similarly, Gen. Giap, who once said the U.S. could not be defeated militarily, conceded the 1968 Tet Offensive was an unmitigated disaster for Hanoi. And he was astonished to see Walter Cronkite, America’s most trusted newsman, had declared Tet a decisive defeat for the U.S. Most of the Saigonbased press corps followed “Uncle Walter’s” lead.
Gen. Giap defeated the French empire — in 1954 at Dienbienphu. But America’s defeat was on the home front and in the halls of Congress. Hanoi achieved final victory with a 2,500-year-old blueprint for victory — Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” The template was undermining home front morale. In Hanoi in September 1972, this reporter met two French communists who bragged about organizing antiwar demonstrations in the United States.
Israel’s Martin van Creveld, one of the world’s foremost military historians, has drawn many parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. With 17 books on military history and strategy, he is required reading for U.S. officers. He says almost all countries that have tried to fight similar wars since World War II have ended up losing.
The multiparty electoral system, says Mr. van Creveld, has institutionalized and consolidated Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian and tribal divisions — precisely the sort of thing that should be avoided when attempting to democratize. Free elections and democracy are not synonymous.
“Vietnamization,” the process whereby U.S. troops handed control to local forces in South Vietnam (ARVN), is now under way in Iraq. But Mr. van Creveld says the chances of that succeeding look even bleaker than in Vietnam. The new Iraqi army is weaker, less skilled, less cohesive and less loyal to its government than ARVN was. Worse still, in Mr. van Creveld’s judgment, there is no equivalent of the North Vietnamese regime poised to take over.
Those who argued against the invasion are apprehensive about what might happen once U.S. troops leave. Terrorists from around the world were attracted to Iraq but they didn’t go for the “flypaper.” A few were caught. But Iraq spawned a new generation of terrorists who acquired the kind of expertise that can be used in other parts of the world for a long time to come.
Iran is the real victor in Iraq, and the world must now learn to live with a nuclear Iran, says Mr. van Creveld, the way we learned to live with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China. But what about Israel — and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to wipe it out? “We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack,” he answers in the June 2007 issue of Playboy magazine. “We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us. We cannot say so too openly, however, because we have a history of using any threat in order to get weapons [. . .] thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany.”
“Our armed forces are not the 30th-strongest in the world, but rather the second or third,” according to the Dutch-born Mr. van Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem since 1971. “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets that can launch them at targets in all directions. Most European capitals are targets of our air force. [. . .] We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that this will happen before Israel goes under.”
As for a future Palestinian state emerging from the present chaos in Gaza, Mr. van Creveld doesn’t see it. In any event, Israel should not attempt to facilitate the birth of a stillborn, failed or failing state. Some 40,000 Israeli settlers now on the east side of the physical barrier should be brought back to live in the protected settlements on the west side. This would leave some 30,000 Israelis in Palestinian territory. Next, everything between the barrier and the pre-1967 war border should be officially annexed to Israel.
Thus, the Palestinians would be left to their own devices to fight among themselves — or to make peace and build a country with the economic assistance of the Arab oil producers of the Gulf. This could also be a recipe for another half-century of on-again-offagain Arab-Israeli warfare.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.