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The War Nerd April 16, 2004
It's Not Nam, But It'll Do
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 4
Every time I hear that I want to ask them why? Isn't Iraq bad enough for you?

It's dumb, the Iraq = Nam talk. No war ever repeats exactly, because the technology is changing so fast. And if you had to pick two countries in the world that have nothing in common, it'd be Iraq and Vietnam. The Vietnamese were the most dedicated, disciplined army since Prussia disappeared. If you want to know how dedicated the VC were, read this book, The Tunnels of Cu Chi, about the VC who lived in this huge tunnel network around Saigon. (Back when it was Saigon.) Men and women spent months down there with the spiders and scorpions, no fresh air for weeks, shitting into a bag. They had hospitals down there where they amputated hands with no anaesthetic. This VC doctor said, "Half would die of shock, but half would live."

Iraqis aren't like that. They're noisy where the VC were quiet. They're flighty where the VC were coldblooded. They mob up and get each other excited, where the VC could just coldbloodedly do it.

But the thing is, Vietnam isn't the only way you can lose a war. Look at what happened to the Israelis in Lebanon. Iraq is a hell of a lot more like Lebanon than Nam.

22 years ago the man in charge of Israel was Menachem Begin, a real weirdo. He and Ariel Sharon were sick of taking mortar rounds from PLO in south Lebanaon. They decided they'd invade Lebanon, push the PLO into the sea.

It went fine, as long as the Israelis were heading north, attacking via combined arms. Their airforce destroyed the opposition. The Syrians lost 82 planes; Israel The IDF zoomed all the way to Beirut in record time, bombarded the PLO district and pushed Arafat into exile in Africa. They lost only about 400 men, but killed thousands of PLO. They kicked ass.

Then came phase two, the occupation. And that was the biggest military disaster Israel ever had. Sound familiar?

What happened to them is exactly what's happening to us: they woke up the Shiites, who turned out to be way, way scarier than the PLO. In Lebanon, just like in Iraq, the Shiites were the lowest of the low, basically terrorized into keeping quiet and doing all the crummy jobs the Sunni didn't want. And just like in Iraq, the Lebanese Shiites lived either in urban slums or in villages in the South.When the invasion came, the Shiites went from welcoming the invaders to warning them to leave, then to open warfare. Exactly the same script, 20 years apart, Lebanon and Iraq. Once the Shiites started to fight, they showed why it's better not to mess with them.

Shiites are big on martyrdom, and guerrilla wars make a lot of martyrs. Just last week, two Shiites purposely jumped in front of American tanks and got turned into catfood under the tracks. A lot of this Arab bragging about loving death and craving martyrdom is bullshit, but some of it isn't, especially when it's Shiites saying it. After all, their hero is a guy who charged at the Caliph's whole army with 30 men.

It was the Shiites in Lebanon who taught the Palestinians to fight. It was Shiite kids, even some girls, who started driving cars full of explosive at Israeli patrols in Lebanon. Pretty soon there were Shiite militias like Hizbollah attacking harder than those softies in the PLO ever had. Israelis and their local proxies, the South Lebanon Army, were getting picked off at a slow steady rate until the Israelis finally gave up and went home a couple of years ago.

That's the likely scenario for Iraq: another Lebanon, only way, way bigger. Now that the locals see how easy it is to pick off foreign troops who don't have a clue about the neighborhood, they'll bleed us non-stop.

So could it have been any different, as in "better"? Probably. Starting with disbanding the Iraqi Army. This was one of Bremer's first moves, and like all our biggest screwups it was because they really thought Iraq was going to turn into Minnesota after we invaded. Wolfowitz and the boys figured the old Iraqi army was full of bad elements. Which it was. But those bad guys were for hire, willing to work for anybody who paid them. They had the local street-smarts, the connections and snitches, to keep the streets quiet.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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