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Christopher Hitchens: Not Vietnam, Not Lebanon

Christopher Hitchens, in Slate (April 12, 2004):

Of what does this confrontation [between the coalition and Iraqi insurgents] remind you? Why, of Vietnam, says Sen. Edward Kennedy. No, more like Lebanon in 1982, says the New York Times. The usually admirable Colbert King, in the Washington Post, asking how we got ourselves into this, compares pro-American Iraqis to the Uncle Toms on whom liberal opinion used to rely for advice about the black ghetto. And Thomas Friedman, never more than an inch away from a liberal panic of his own, has decided that it is Kurdish arrogance—in asking to keep what they already have—that has provoked theocratic incendiarism.

If the United States were the nation that its enemies think it is, it could quite well afford to Balkanize Iraq, let the various factions take a chunk each, and make a divide-and-rule bargain with the rump. The effort continues, though, to try and create something that is simultaneously federal and democratic. Short of that, if one absolutely has to fall short, the effort must continue to deny Iraq to demagogues and murderers and charlatans. I can't see how this compares to the attempt to partition and subjugate Vietnam, bomb its cities, drench its forests in Agent Orange, and hand over its southern region to a succession of brutal military proxies. For one thing, Vietnam even at its most Stalinist never invaded and occupied neighboring countries (or not until it took on the Khmer Rouge), never employed weapons of genocide inside or outside its own borders, and never sponsored gangs of roving nihilist terrorists. If not all its best nationalists were Communists, all its best Communists were nationalists, and their combination of regular and irregular forces had beaten the Japanese and French empires long before the United States even set foot in the country, let alone before the other Kennedy brothers started assassinating the very puppets they had installed there....

As for Lebanon: Gen. Sharon in 1982 set out to "solve" the Palestinian problem by installing a fascist-minded Phalange Party, itself a minority of the Christian minority, in Beirut. (To watch American policy in Iraq, you would never even know that there was a 6 percent Christian minority there.) And Sharon invaded a country that already had a large population of Palestinian refugees, a country that had committed no offense against international law except to shelter those Palestinians—against their will and that of Lebanon—to begin with....

Here is the reason that it is idle to make half-baked comparisons to Vietnam. The Vietnamese were not our enemy, let alone the enemy of the whole civilized world, whereas the forces of jihad are our enemy and the enemy of civilization. There were some Vietnamese, even after the whole ghastly business, who were sorry to see the Americans leave. There were no Lebanese who were sad to see the Israelis leave. There would be many, many Iraqis who would be devastated in more than one way if there was another Somalian scuttle in their country. In any case, there never was any question of allowing a nation of this importance to become the property of Clockwork Orange holy warriors.