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Déjà Vu All Over Again

The news from Iraq is very bad, and discomfortingly familiar. Anyone old enough to be haunted by the televised images of those helicopters lifting off from the embassy in Saigon, our erstwhile friends and allies clinging desperately to the skids in fear of the approaching enemy at the the desultory end of a long and hard-fought war, is already dreading the same scene being reprised in Baghdad.
The fall of Saigon occurred two years after America’s military had left the unpopular war in Vietnam, and was accomplished by a single column that marched down the country with no fear of the American air strikes that could have annihilated the troops. The impending fall of Baghdad will be accomplished by a ragtag army of terrorists traveling in sports utility vehicles with no fear of an American military that could easily repel them, but the American military was pulled out of the unpopular war two years ago and likely won’t be coming back. Many of the last Americans remaining in the country have already been evacuated from an air base in the terrorists’ path and plans have already been made for the evacuation of the Baghdad embassy, where our erstwhile friends and allies will likely be clinging to the helicopter skids in fear of the approaching enemy, and thus another long and hard-fought war seems to be coming to another desultory end.
The analogy is imprecise, as historical analogies always are, but the two events have the same glum feeling. The results will once again be horrific, and the same improvable arguments about who’s to blame are have already begun.
Just as the fall of Saigon led to violent upheavals in Laos and Cambodia, and left America’s South Vietnamese allies in the brutal hands of their communist conquerers, the march of that ragtag army of terrorists toward Baghdad began in war-torn Syria and will have repercussions throughout the Middle East and beyond. The communist takeover of all of Vietnam entailed inhuman re-education camps and spread boatloads of refugees around the world, even if the Vietnamese communists proved pikers compared to the mass-murdering zealots of their ideological compatriots in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, while the terrorist army marching on Baghdad has already demonstrated a medieval cruelty in its conquests of Iraq’s second- and third-largest cities. The fall of Saigon represented a defeat in a larger and more crucial struggle against communism, and the fall of Baghdad will be at least as disastrous a moment in the fight against the Islamist ideology of that ragtag terrorist army.
Many of those who had opposed America’s war in Vietnam  welcomed the fall of Saigon it as sweet vindication for their stand, regardless of its consequences, and we expect that those who opposed the America’s war in Iraq enjoy the same reward after the fall of Baghdad no matter how bloody it proves. Just as the hawks of the Vietnam era argued plausibly but improvably that a couple of carrier-launched sorties could have enforced the peace that had seemingly been negotiated two years earlier, the last remaining Iraq hawks are arguing plausibly but improvably that the great victory loudly proclaimed two years earlier by the president could have been preserved by his quicker and more nimble response with the necessary military force. Neither side can offer with any certainty a happy scenario that would have resulted from their preferred policy, but once again the wrong lessons are likely to be learned.
Anyone reading the smart magazines or watching the movies in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Vietnam knows that resisting communism’s international expansion was futile, and one can expect that the same sources will now explain the resistance to Islamism’s growing reach. The defeat in Vietnam was followed shortly by the election of a president who prided himself on not having an “inordinate fear of communism,” and his sanguine philosophy prevailed through the spread of communism of in Central America and Africa until the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan forced him to take such stern measures as boycotting the Moscow Olympics. The current president has taken an even more preening pride in his sensitivity to even the most Islamist strains of Islam, but will likely claim sweet vindication when the beheadings commence in Baghdad. The smart magazines and the movies will concur, and the Islamists’ expansion will continue apace.
That scrap in Vietnam can be seen in retrospection as a mere battle in the broader war against communism, and that ultimately turned out well, That brief but disastrous interlude of a merely ordinate fear of communism, along with a naive embrace of an Islamist regime in formerly friendly Iran, as well as a sputtering economy, led to the election of an old-school cold warrior whose confrontational approach to the Soviet Union led to its demise. One can hope for such a happy ending to the latest debacle, but it remains to be seen
That scrap in Iraq will eventually be recorded as just another battle in the war between Islamism and the west, which has been waged from Mohammad’s attacks on the trade caravan’s of the long lost word order his day to the Gates of Vienna to the Iberian Peninsula to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but it will probably be at least a couple of years after the defeat before America rejoins the war. The current president has already proclaimed victory, the presumptive next president is the Secretary of State who voted for the Iraq as a Senator but quickly joined the coalition clamoring for defeat, and there’s an unsettling sense that it will take another few thousand Americans killed on homeland soil to rouse the country’s martial spirit. That presumptive next president is defending the current president’s decision to release five high-ranking terrorist leaders, much as the leader of that ragtag army marching on Baghdad had been released, by saying that it only threatens still-occupied-by=American-forces-Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan and not any American interests. America has arrived at a moment when it does not have an inordinate fear of Islamism, and might not recover in time.
The chaos and terror atop that embassy in Saigon was all the more unsettling because it seemed so symptomatic of the times, when American influence seemed at a low ebb throughout a troubled world and at home the economy and culture and spiritual core of the country all seemed in precipitous decline. With America’s enemies emboldened from the Crimea to the China Seas and the pop culture consumed with bigoted basketball team owners to homosexual defensive backs, there’s a depressingly familiar feel to the latest news.
History never repeats itself verbatim, however, and there are any number of possible outcomes in Iraq. News reports indicate that the insanely Shia rulers of the nutcase Iranian regime that came in to power back in the ’70s might defeat the insanely Sunni ragtag terrorist Army that is descending on Baghdad. Anyone not insanely Shia would be hard-pressed to see this as a positive outcome, however, and none of the other possible scenarios are promising, The American people might yet steel themselves for the challenges ahead, but we fear it will require unspeakable horrors.

— Bud Norman

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