I bought a new shirt a few days ago. Oxford pinpoint cotton. Good material. Nicely sewn. When removing the pins and plastic and cardboard, I glanced at the tag that indicates where the shirt was made. Vietnam. And it reminded me that what the nation is undergoing right now—a seemingly intractable war and an obstreperous president surrounded by a seemingly indictable bevy of hacks—is something that we've previously experienced.
In effect, we left Vietnam. Packed up and shipped out. For many people in that country—remember, there was "North Vietnam" and "South Vietnam," just as there're were the "North" and "South" factions during our civil war—our departure was a heinous thing with hideous consequences. Still it was eventually—belatedly—determined that the U.S. position there was untenable. And so we left. And some 30 years later I am able to buy a dress shirt made in Vietnam.
We are told by President Bush that we must be "successful" in Iraq because the consequences otherwise would be awful for us. Somehow, and indeterminate number of terrorists would, as, for example, Senator John McCain maintains, follow us back to the U.S. When did the avoidance of that become the objective of the war in Iraq? Weren't we ostensibly removing Hussein and the potential are what are apparently non-findable weapons of mass destruction? The first has been accomplished and the second are still, perhaps, somewhere we haven't' looked. And as we know all too well, the bad guys know how to buy airplane tickets.
So what happens if—no, make that when, because sooner or later, regardless of who is elected president next time, or the time after that, something is going to change—we leave? There will be a continuation of bloodletting between warring factions in that country. There will undoubtedly be escalation. Perhaps escalation to the degree that others (e.g., members of the European Union) might find that it is in their best interests to try to resolve it. It will not be pleasant. But it isn't pleasant now.
The mission continues to be something of a mystery. There is discussion of the nascent democracy, and the parallel of how long it took the group of 18th century entities to coalesce into what became the United States is trotted out. But isn't there a significant difference in that there was evidently a critical mass of people in those entities who wanted to form a democratic government and they did what it took to make it happen without a third party making significant contributions?
To be fair, the parallel presented here with the Vietnam experience is no more valid. Chances are, 30 years hence I won't be buying a dress shirt that had been produced in Iraq.