Many thinking Americans believe that comparisons between current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Vietnam conflict of 40 years ago are inappropriate and unnecessary. I disagree and would like to share several similarities I've discovered. Here are just a few:
Congress never declared war in Vietnam and did not fulfill this Constitutional obligation for Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, Congress abrogated its responsibility and deferred these critical decisions to the president and his advisors. As a result, the United States was deprived of the opportunity to openly argue, debate and analyze the consequences of war before placing so many young Americans in harm's way.
The stated reasons for all these wars are suspect. In Vietnam, it was the dubious Gulf of Tonkin Resolution while in Iraq the elusive weapons of mass destruction justified an invasion. Committing our troops without debate and analysis allowed misinformation, fear and clouded judgment to establish foreign policy that the United States has endured for decades.
In Vietnam, U.S. military leadership seriously underestimated the determination and resolve of those "little guys in black pajamas" while in Afghanistan, the British, Russians and Americans were stunned that illiterate mountain tribesmen could go toe to toe with the best trained and equipped armies in the world. Only arrogance can explain this critical lapse in judgment.
Geopolitical considerations have influenced all of these conflicts. Remember that Cambodia and Laos were largely off limits to the U.S. incursions during the Vietnam War and were safe havens for our adversaries. Today, the rugged, frontier border regions of Pakistan and Iran pose similar problems for military planners.
Finally, our impatient, high-tech, push-button approach to warfare is at odds with hit and run tactics of elusive guerrilla fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan just as it was 40 years ago in the jungles of Vietnam. Asymmetrical warfare continues to befuddle our military strategists who promise surgically precise operations and quick results.
So, what is gained by comparing past and present armed conflicts? Perhaps if we reflect on where we've been we can better determine where we are going as a nation. And maybe Congress will face up to its most important constitutional obligation and challenge our chief executive when the issue is whether or not to send our people into war.