Wednesday, August 20, 2003

It's deja vu all over again. The Asia Times has a very good analysis about how our involvement in Iraq looks a whole lot like our experience in Vietnam, with the depressingly same outcome:
Iraq now is already like Vietnam after the 1968 Tet Offensive. The Americans could have left Vietnam any time - but this would have meant to lose face, in an Asian sense, and to admit defeat: ultimately, this is what happened when that last helicopter abandoned the US Embassy in Saigon in April 1975. Even if they had any intention of doing it, which they don't, the White House and the Pentagon - although they have declared victory - simply cannot leave Iraq. They know that as soon as the US leaves, a democratically elected, Shi'ite-dominated, anti-American Iraqi government will come into power - as an anti-American communist government took over Vietnam. If the US remains in Iraq for "years" - as the Pentagon would have it - there's only one question: how many body bags does it take for the US public to demand a withdrawal?

The Iraqi resistance's attacks are being conducted by small, mostly well-trained groups who generally manage to escape without losses. They follow classic Giap thought: to demoralize American soldiers and at the same time increase the already unbearable distress suffered by the population, thus nourishing resentment against the occupying power. Asia Times Online has learned of many former high-ranking army officials - now unemployed - who have been called to join the resistance: they answer that sooner or later they will "if the Americans continue to humiliate us". Others are financing small guerrilla groups to the tune of thousands of dollars. The reward for someone launching a rocket against an US fighting vehicle is about US$350 - enough for many to buy what is now the rage in Baghdad's at least partly free market: a color TV with satellite dish.

In Vietnam, the resistance was organized by the Party. In Iraq, it is organized by the tribes. Tribal chiefs - practically all of them loyal to Saddam - are about to reach the deadline of the "grace period" that they conceded to the Americans. The resistance can count either on former Ba'ath Party and army officials, as well as on unemployed youngsters following the appeal of Sunni clerics, their own tribal chiefs and, more broadly, Arab patriotism.

The resistance can potentially count on almost 600,000 individuals who have been demobilized by the American proconsular regime. With more than 20 years of war, virtually all the male population in Iraq has been militarized. More than 7 million weapons were distributed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Millions of rockets and mortars were abandoned when the regime collapsed. Organized armed struggle in Iraq - in the Giap sense - may still be in its infancy, but the results are increasingly devastating. The "popular war" is getting bolder: surface-to-air missiles launched against military transport planes; sabotage of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline. US Central Command admits there may be as many as 25 attacks a day.

These Sunni Iraqi mujahideen - the counterparts of the Sunni Afghan mujahideen now fighting the anti-American jihad in Afghanistan - can count on the active complicity of the local population, just like in Vietnam. It's all becoming a "popular war" in the sense that people in any given neighborhood will know who organized an attack, but obviously they won't tell the invaders about it. But what about Saddam's tapes inciting a jihad against the Americans? Saddam is no Ho Chi Minh - a legitimate leader of a national-liberation struggle. There is not a lot of Saddam nostalgia in Iraq. And former army officials are not nostalgic either - or over-optimistic, for that matter, about the success of the guerrillas. They know that the Iraqi people once again will be the greatest victims - as the Americans are obsessed with their own, not the Iraqi people's, security. But these former officials are ready to join the resistance anyway.