essentials of the Iraq Study Group:
of the War"
Tran Binh Nam
Note: This is the English version of an
article in Vietnamese posted in this home page on Decmber 7, 2006. Please link
In the morning of December 6, 2006, the Iraq Study Group (ISG), which includes ten
bi-partisan members (1)and was created in March 2006
by Congress, released their report about Iraq to the press. This was after meeting with president Bush and officially submitting the report to him.
The report was 160 pages long, containing all aspects of the Iraq quagmire, with suggested solutions.
There were 79 proposed items that may be summarized in
four words: "Iraqization of the war",
exactly as the American strategy 38 years ago (after the Mau Than campaign)
when the US decided to go to Paris for negotiations. The difference
between the two were that in the long document about Iraq, the phrase "Iraqization
of the war" was never mentioned. The ISQ did not wish to revive the Vietnam syndrome.
"Iraqization of the war" evidently was in the
mind of the bi-partisan committee, and probably what President Bush was
considering. Generals in the Joint Chief Staff, officials in the National
Security Council, as well as high ranking officials in the State Department may
see it as the only way out of Iraq, and time is running out.
In summary the ISG suggests:
- Train the Iraqi armed force so as they can assume the
country security and prevent a widening civil war.
- The US may cut financial supports if the Iraqi government
continues to be incompetent.
- The US military forces will redeploy (i.e. withdraw) based on
amelioration of the country security. The US stop participating in the fighting
starting early 2008.
- Get help from Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq as well as the Middle-East.
- The US should try its utmost to find a solution to the
President Bush should act quickly before the ISG
recommendations became worthless.
Looking back to Vietnam, after the North Vietnamese
debacle on the battlefield in the campaign of Mau Than, General William
Westmoreland requested 208,000 troops to win the war, President Johnson turned
it down.Instead he decided not to run for the presidency and invited Hanoi to
the peace talk in Paris to start his program of Vietnamization of the war.
Vietnamization of the war had three main columns: First:
increase the number of South Vietnamese troops to enable them to fight the
Vietnamese already in the South. Second:
US troops would withdraw based on the capacity of South Vietnam to defend itself, and third, call for the assistances of
the Soviet Union and China to end the war.
The cornerstones of the two programs in Vietnam and in Iraq were the withdrawal of the US troops. Training and increasing the number of South
Vietnamese and Iraqi troops were just pretexts. However, the two had a big
The Vietnamization of the war would have been successful
had the Paris Agreements forced Hanoi to withdraw their troops from the South. The South Vietnamese were not led by talented
generals(they all were trained by French in an
accelerated curriculum back to 1930-1940). However, its young officers trained
in the military academies in Da Lat and Nha Trang were well trained and well
motivated to fight for freedom against the imposition of the Communist
dictatorship (unfortunately South Vietnam collapsed before they became its leaders). In another
aspect, the South Vietnamese soldiers were battle tested, except in the some
units the rate of desertion was high.
The surprise attack of the North Vietnamese during the
mutual agreed upon ceasefire during the Tet holidays, when about 50% South
Vietnamese soldiers were on leave, and the US army was on a "wait and
see" mode (to test the newly elected president Nguyen Van Thieu) did not
result in general chaos to the South. After regrouping the South Vietnamese
army defended valiantly against the communist attack.
Another thing need to be mentioned: During the gradual
withdrawal of the US
was a country in order. Coming back from the front the US soldiers could enjoy their good life in almost all the
cities, and the Vietnamese soldiers were safe with their families in the
The US troops have no such luxury in Iraq now. No place is safe for them, except the Green Zone
where is located the US Embassy, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Congress and
the many American headquarters.
With uncontrolled violence between the Sunnis and
Shiites, the Green Zone may bcome unsafe in a short period of time. Senator
John McCain suggested more troops to Baghdad to quell the civil war (the civil
war was there already has became more deadly day by day) but in his mind the
additional troops may be there to protect the Green Zone in case the US had to
withdraw under untenable pressure.
President Bush kept stating that there would be "no
timtable for troops withdrawal. The US withdraws only when its mission is accomplished."
The president may be good to his words with the understanding that the
"mission" is to maintain a somewhat western friendly government in Iraq. No quarrels between Republicans and Democrats about
In principle, the US will withdraw its troop based on the progress of the
Iraqi army in its capacity to keep the country in order. But the meaning of
"progress" is -- ironically -- a political one. When the US needs to withdraw some military units (due to political
internal necessity) the politicians will declare that the situation on the
ground has progressed enough to permit a withdrawal.
That was what had happened in Vietnam. From 1968 to 1973, US gradual withdrawals were based on
the progress in Paris and not on the progress in the ground in Vietnam.
The US politicians know very well that when US troops were out of Iraq the civil war will intensify between the Sunnis and the
Shiites to control the country. But the US will not leave Iraq without looking back as it did in Vietnam, because the US has a tremendous strategist interests in the Middle East.
The US needs to help the winning party (in the civil war) to
keep a friendly government in Iraq. President Bush was hesitant in handling the Iraqi army
to prime minister Nuri al-Maliki as requested. He does
not trust Maliki. Sunnis loyal to Saddam Hussein may take power in a short
period of time. A Sunni government may not be as friendly to the US as a Shiite government.
The ISG had want an
"Iraqization of the war" with that purpose in mind. And the
Democratic Party would do the same thing. The Democrats know the American
people want the retrieve the troops out of the sloppy ground of Iraq, but they do not want to "cut and run" and not
to leave the rich reserve of oil there in the hands of an adverse government.
The Party that helps to guide the United States through this storm to a safe landing will benefit from
the confidence of the American people in the presidential election of November
2008. Both president Bush and the ISG said there will
be no time table for troops withdrawal, but the ISG suggested early 2008 as the
best time for the US
to stop fighting in Iraq (a Christmas gift from Baker III to president Bush, a
member of the family!). Early 2008 is the starting season of the presidential
election. The country will be absorbed by it.
There has been too much ink and paper about the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Therefore, I don't have any intention to compare
these two wars in this short essay.
They end with the same strategy, "Vietnamization of
the war as a declared strategy," and "Iraqization of the war as an
implied one." But the origin of the two wars were
The war in Vietnam was a by-product of the cold war and came through many
policy adjustments and serious debates under many Presidents from President
Eisenhower of 1954 to President Johnson of 1968. On the contrary, the Iraq war happened as an improvised and hastened decision by a
group of politicians without vision and experiences taking advantages of the
9/11 attack on US soil.
The Vietnamization would have succeeded had the military
not been led by Robert McNamara fighting a new war with computers; had not been
with a deceitful Kissinger as the National Security advisor and then as the
Secretary of State Department; had not had President Nixon entangled with
Watergate and then forced to resign; had not had President Ngo Dinh Diem
handling unwisely the religious dispute between the Roman Catholics and the
Buddhists. Also if South Vietnam had good leaders like de Gaulle of France or Pak Chung Hee of South Korea.
On December 3, 2006 the US press disclosed that Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld had submitted to President Bush a memorandum about what he thinks
about the war in Iraq. What surprised the media was that the contents of his
memorandum were quite opposite of what he repeatedly said from the days he
launched the Iraq attack in summer 2003. He said the administration policy
in Iraq was not successful, and he advised the president to
prepare psychologically the people for an adjustment of policy. He advised to
redeploy the US troops in Iraq from 55 camps to five camps to safe provinces in Iraq or in Kuwait ready for intervention. Also he said the US should cut aid the hopeless provinces of Iraq.
He proposed some “under the lines” propositions like an
international conference in the form of Dayton conference in 1995 to solve the
problem of Bosnia, and ready to send more troops to Iraq in case.
The Rumsfeld memorandum reminded observers about the
change of heart of Robert McNamara in the Vietnam war.
The difference was McNamara realized by himself the contradiction of the US involvement in Vietnam after reading the "Pentagon Papers" that he
himself had ordered a group of Pentagon experts to compile. And the memorandum
of Donald Rumsfeld may be the result of a strategy to help the president and
the Republican Party to retrieve themselves from the
failure in Iraq.
Weeks before the release of the ISG report, President
Bush ordered the National Security Council, the Chairman of the General Chief
Staff and the State Department to do their own research
for solutions of Iraq (that have not been yet submitted). The President wants
to have all solutions at hand so that he can chart a safe course for the Party
and make it an asset for the presidential election in 2008. That is a page he
wants to keep for him in the US history books.
It seems there is no other solution for Iraq than "Iraqization of the war." If after safe
redeployment of troops, the US could maintain a friendly government in Baghdad, that will be labeled as a success. Otherwise, it would be a
liability for the US
interests in a foreseeable future. The Middle East
became a breeding ground for hatred of America in the world.
Tran Binh Nam
(1) Two co-chairs James Baker III, State Department
secretary under the first president George H. W. Bush; Lee H. Hamilton, Democratic representative, former chairman of the
Foreign Affairs Committee in the House; and eight members: Vernon E. Jordan Jr., White House advisor under President
Clinton; Edwin Meese III, attorney general under President Reagan; Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme
Court associate; Lawrence S. Eagleburger,
former State Department secretary (in place of Robert Gates when the latter was
nominated to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense secretary); Leon L. Panetta, White House
Chief-of-staff under President Clinton; William
J. Perry, Defense Secretary under Clinton;
Charles S. Robb, former US
Democratic senator for Virginia: and Alan
K. Simpson, former US Republican senator for Wyoming./.
Trần Bình Nam