Still in the Army in April 1975, I watched from the U.S. with raw emotion the end of that war. A war that arguably commenced as soon as the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu had consumed our nation for a decade, led to presidential malfeasance, and killed a heinous number of young Americans and allies while decimating Vietnam and much of Southeast Asia.
With the fall of Mosul and Tikrit and more, the American defeat about which I first wrote in April 2004 is now assured. And, make no mistake -- this is an American defeat for a war of choice we commenced and prosecuted for yet another decade. We created this war, and now it ends. We own this defeat.
For those of us old enough to recall late April 1975, imagine countless U.S. helicopters landing in Baghdad's gigantic "green zone" to extract tens of thousands of US Embassy personnel, American contractors, NGO employees, and special Iraqi friends. Another Air America to extract the CIA? Marine helicopters atop the gigantic US embassy in Baghdad, bigger by many factors than in Saigon? These scenarios are not far away.
The Kurds can probably protect themselves since the Peshmerga are well trained, equipped, experienced, and motivated. But for the rest of Iraq, there is little hope. The idea of training Iraqis to defend themselves -- well, we now have excellent examples of how effective that has been in Mosul and Tikrit, or earlier in Fallujah. They don't fight; they run.
Do we recognize any similarity to when the South Vietnamese ARVN melted away in the face of NVA and VC offensives after the US withdrawal? I was not in Saigon in 1975, but knew what was coming far earlier. Just like in Iraq in some ominous ways. The defeat was in the air in 1970 when 6000 Americans were KIA in Vietnam that year alone including a kid from Guam who I will never forget...or in 2004 during the deadly battles in Fallujah and the surrounding province. American Marines retook Fallujah at great cost but it was the Marines, and secondarily the Brits, who fought.
The immense and tragic sacrifices that followed have been for naught. And it pains me and any patriotic American to say so particularly to families. Re-building the Iraqi army after we dismantled it was, from the outset, the dream of some Pentagon planners, Bush administration political appointees, and eagerly supported by those who gained consulting contracts.
Maliki is a corrupt sycophant for Iran and Assad. Sure, American air power could blunt the onslaught for a while, and won't that be a wonderful alliance -- Iran, Syria's Assad, American air power, and Kurds defending their homeland. But, Maliki's Shiite government has no internal allies, and evidently no reliable army or police force. Soon Maliki will "rule" a crumbling regime in Baghdad and little else. The Green Zone will be his last redoubt until he is airlifted to Teheran.
An extremist Al-Qaeda linked alliance (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS) will effectively rule most of Iraq (excluding Kurdistan) and including some territories in Syria.
In Afghanistan, watch when the last ISAF troops depart from combat roles, although a small residual component may remain as a deterrent in Kabul and Kandahar. For years, Karzai and his clan have led nothing except a small enclave in Kabul. Now his successor after the run-off election will have to manage the demise. And, it will be a demise. He will leave on an American helicopter in all likelihood.
Pakistan -- been to Karachi recently? No it's not just the airport. Karachi's entire expanse of 18,000,000 people is rife with daily heinous violence and extremism. Were I heading State Department security, I'd get most American personnel and citizens out of Karachi, also close the consulates in Peshawar and Lahore, and retreat to Islamabad. When I was last in Karachi a short time ago, the hotel was a fortified imprisonment, foreigners confined to the top floor forbidden to dine or visit near the first floor or lobby, and any outside travel in an armored vehicle with Pakistani rangers in armored trucks before and following.
The American policy that led to this ever-widening defeat was that of the George W. Bush presidency, and specifically hatched by neocons such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Barack Obama has sought to responsibly extract us from disaster, regroup and reallocate scarce resources. Alas it was too late to prevent thousands of American and allied dead, tens of thousands maimed and psychological scarred that now inundate VA hospitals, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghan deaths, and worldwide Islamic antagonism to America and Western countries.
Bush-era policies set the stage for defeat via the invasion of Iraq, which destabilized the entire Islamic Middle East, Northern Africa, and surrounding regions. The reverberation of Iraq's dismemberment, Syria's civil war, Afghanistan's chaos, and Pakistan's unstoppable Taliban insurgency--and the list can continue on and on ranging from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Al-Shabaab in Somalia stretching south in East Africa, Yemen and the so-called "Arab spring" -- is now a cacophony of violent political unrest fueled by virulent extremism.
Had Bush built, instead, on the well-spring of global support after 9/11 and confined the immediate military response to overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and pursuing Bin Laden, things would now be vastly different. Now, we and our few allies confront a rising tide of extremism abroad -- and home grown extremists as well.
So where are we? Soon expect an ISIS march on Baghdad, retreating Iraqi forces and abandoned weapons, vehicles, and erstwhile government institutions. Belated American airstrikes may delay the push, but then there will be a rush to extract Americans and friends, joined perhaps by other countries with nationals in Iraq.
It is over. We have seen defeat before, but we never learn. We sacrifice people and treasure, thinking we will make over entire cultures and nations. These do not happen. Germany and Japan, advanced countries and sophisticated cultures, were defeated, reconstructed, but they had all the tools to remake themselves as they ultimately wished. South Korea stands out as a rare post-war success, but not until after vicious war and domestic tragedy.
Iraq, and soon Afghanistan, will join Vietnam as classic American misjudgments that cost dearly -- thinking that killing the enemy in cities or mountain valleys can rebuild nations, construct democracy, and direct the future. In making such horrible misjudgments we forget our own past of inhumanity, civil war, and painful transitions that are not yet finalized.
*Dr. Daniel Nelson now leads an international consulting firm in Virginia. He has served in the US Army, State and Defense departments as well as for the House Majority Leader. Further, he has led academic programs at several universities and been a senior member of several DC-based think tanks and on boards of international advocacy organizations.