It’s been a repetitive phenomenon of these last years–when fears about disaster (or further disaster, or even the farthest reaches of disaster) in Iraq rise, so does the specter of Vietnam. Despite the obvious dissimilarities between the two situations, Vietnam has been the shadow war we’re still fighting. The Bush administration began its 2003 invasion by planning a non-Vietnam War scenario right down to not having “body counts,” those grim, ridiculed death chants of that long-past era. His administration, as the President put it before the November mid-term elections, wasn’t going to be a “body-count team.” But the Vietnam experience has proven nothing short of irresistible in a crisis. Within the last month, after Bush himself bemoaned the lack of a body count in the vicinity, the body count slipped back into the news as a way to measure success in Iraq.
And that was only the beginning. With the recent plummeting of presidential approval ratings and the dismal polling reactions to Bush’s “new way forward” in Iraq, the Vietnam scenario is experiencing something like a renaissance. Sometimes, these days, it seems as if top administration officials are simply spending their time preparing mock-Vietnam material for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. The recent “surge” plan, for instance, brought that essential Vietnam vocabulary word, “escalation,” back into currency. (It was on Democratic lips all last week.) Even worse, the President’s plan was the kind of “incremental escalation” that military commanders coming out of Vietnam had sworn would never, ever be used again.
In any case, when Republican Senator (and surge opponent) Chuck Hagel questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the E-word last week, she denied it was an appropriate moniker. Here’s what she suggested instead. “I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad.” (And, of course, Stewart promptly pounced…)