Those who invoke the memories of Vietnam in speaking of the current situation in Iraq fear that we are involved in a quagmire that can only get worse. Some say that our troops should withdraw right away, and others would like to see a timetable for withdrawal.
Even if there are parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, what is the lesson to be learned from the former conflict? Is it that we should pull out before the situation escalates any further? However, maybe we need to take a different view, and look at the consequences of not doing what it takes to finish the job. Victor Davis Hanson examines the real lesson of Vietnam:
The perception of American weakness prompted communist adventurism from Afghanistan to Central America. Few in the Middle East thought there were any consequences to taking American hostages, or killing American soldiers and diplomats. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein alike little feared "the pitiful, helpless giant" (Richard Nixon's phrase).
There are lessons here. When the United States has stayed on after fighting dictatorial enemies — admittedly for decades in Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and the Balkans — progress toward democracy and prosperity ensued. Disengagement from unresolved messy problems — whether from Europe after World War I, Vietnam in 1973, Beirut after the Marine barracks bombings, Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat, or Iraq in 1991 — only left murderous chaos or the "peace" of dictators.
This present war is not just about the Sunni Triangle, but whether reformers of the Arab world will step forward to emulate a fragile democratic Iraq that survives the jihadist counterassault. For the last three decades, Middle East autocratic regimes either attacked their neighbors or reached understandings with Islamic terrorists to shift blame for their own failures onto an apparently unconcerned United States.
That deeper pathology was at the root of the September 11, 2001, attacks on America. If not stopped now, it will result in many more attacks to come here at home.