For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam War, one question won't go away:
Will Iraq turn into another Vietnam?
While it may be too early to answer conclusively, there are enough parallels to cause concern.
In 1965, shortly after he was re-elected in a landslide, Lyndon Johnson spoke these words referring to Vietnam. They could easily be part of any recent George W. Bush speech about Iraq:
"Why must we take this painful road? Why must this nation hazard its ease, and its interest, and its power for the sake of a people so far away? We fight because we must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny. And only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure."
As with Vietnam, U.S. soldiers face a determined enemy who will resort to whatever tactic available—terrorist attacks, village assassinations and car bombings.
Iraq, like Vietnam, is an ugly guerilla land war fueled by growing anti-American sentiment.
The Bush administration is at a crucial juncture. Bush faces the same choices as Johnson did nearly four decades ago:
To escalate presents serious problems.
Bush would have to realistically assess the troop needs in Iraq, something he seems unable to do. The consensus is that to stabilize Iraq about 400,000 additional troops are required.
Where will they come from? The Bush administration insists there will be no draft. But the Reserve and National Guard are close to fully mobilized. About 40% of the soldiers in Iraq are made up of Reservists or the National Guard.
Quotas for new enlistments have not been met. And, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in its November 25th story titled ["Guardsmen Say They're Facing Iraq Ill-Trained," By Scott Gold] morale is dismally low and new recruits will be hard to come by. What options remain but the draft?
If you believe, as I do, that things are very bad in Iraq and if you further believe, as I do, that Bush will not walk away from Iraq, then a draft is inevitable.
But ratcheting up the Iraq War—and footing the post-war reconstruction bill—means that other Bush programs will suffer especially in light of the existing record deficits.
Remember that Johnson could not pull off his "Guns and Butter" approach to waging war in Vietnam and building the Great Society at home.
Option number two, winding the war down, might be the best solution but is inconsistent with anything Bush has indicated he is willing to do.
The Vietnam War dragged on for more than a decade before the U.S. finally pulled out. And since we have "only" been in Iraq for eighteen months, it seems improbable that the administration would consider withdrawing.
The final option, maintaining the status quo, is perhaps the least desirable of all. The current plan—if you can call it that—is headed toward disaster.
Things in Iraq did not improve after we conquered Baghdad or after we killed Uday and Kusay or after we captured Saddam or after we turned over sovereignty.
And conditions will not improve if and when January elections are held.
The reason is simple: insurgents cannot be defeated on their own turf.
So the Bush administration—and the nation—finds itself between a rock and a hard place regarding Iraq.
The stakes are high.
One of the soldiers who was willing to be interviewed for the record by the Los Angeles Times is Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Dominguez, 45.
Knowing that his candor could result in court-martial, Dominguez nevertheless spoke out about what he described as the demoralized, prison-like camp he finds himself part of:
"Some of us are going to die there (Iraq) and some of us are going to die unnecessarily because of the lack of training. So I don't care. Let them court-martial me. I want the American people to know what is going on."
President Bush has not yet begun his second term.
In his inaugural address, if not before, he should come clean with the American people.
We deserve to know what his exit plan is for Iraq.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.