Army Embraces Iraq-Vietnam Analogy

In April 2004, President Bush rejected analogies between Iraq and Vietnam, saying such a comparison “sends the wrong message to our troops“:

QUESTION: What does that say to you and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?

THE PRESIDENT: I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message to the enemy.

But the Wall Street Journal reports today that America’s military commanders are looking to Vietnam for lessons on how to deal with violence in Iraq:

The last time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad, back in December, the top U.S. military commander there gave him an unusual gift.

Gen. George Casey passed him a copy of “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” written by Lt. Col. John Nagl. Initially published in 2002, the book is brutal in its criticism of the Vietnam-era Army as an organization that failed to learn from its mistakes and tried vainly to fight guerrilla insurgents the same way it fought World War II. [“¦]

Col. Nagl’s book is one of a half dozen Vietnam histories — most of them highly critical of the U.S. military in Vietnam — that are changing the military’s views on how to fight guerrilla wars. [“¦]

The embrace of these Vietnam histories reflects an emerging consensus in the Army that in order to move forward in Iraq, it must better understand the mistakes of Vietnam.

Rumsfeld should read Col. Nagl’s book carefully. Maybe then he’d stop making false comparisons between Iraq and post-WWII Germany.