On the news last night there was footage of U.S. troops hunkered down in an alley in Iraq. They were being peppered with bullets or rocket fire, it was hard to tell. But chunks of the building they were hiding behind kept breaking off and spraying around their heads. One soldier looked to be about 10. But then nearly all of them look that way to me with their unlined faces and wide-eyed innocence. Like they're barely old enough to drive or teenagers in camouflage playing paint-ball.
I remember watching similar scenes when my brother was in Vietnam only the backdrop was the menacing Mekong Delta not the mean streets of Baghdad. It's hard not to dwell on the obvious parallels. Then as now there was the preposterous notion that if we just brought in more U.S. troops, the South Vietnamese army could stand up to the Viet Cong, democracy would triumph and eventually we'd withdraw, mission accomplished. Instead 58,000 American dead and god knows how many wounded and psychologically maimed later, we fled in panic and disgrace. Disgrace not because we "lost" or "failed" or were "beaten" by the enemy, but because our foreign policy was so utterly delusional and destructive.
Then as now there was the macho posturing from an administration mired in denial and arrogance. That refused to consider what ordinary Americans knew: Vietnam was not a regional security threat and we were wrong to invade. So with Iraq. At least Johnson later felt remorse about Vietnam. I doubt Bush ever will about Iraq, no matter how many American and Iraqi lives are lost, no matter how many trillions of dollars he wastes. That would require the maturity and wisdom of being able to admit your mistakes. That would require actually caring. Something he can't fake no matter how many amputtees he trots out slaps on the back.
Here's what Bush said this morning during a briefing with military leaders about those pesky minions in Congress opposing his escalation of the war: "I'm the decision-maker" on Iraq!
We'll see about that.