Some parallels between Iraq and Viet Nam are prevalent. In Viet Nam the US went in to fight what they knew to be a conventional war. The North Vietnamese didn't do things by the "rules of war" as they were known in the 60's. They dug tunnels, sometimes miles and miles long; they transported materiel underground; they used tactics of deception and surprise; and they did things that were not conventionally "expected." The Viet Cong waged a "terrorist hit and run" war and they learned it from the very best: The American Revolutionaries!
The Colonists waged a guerrilla war that they learned from the Native Americans. Instead of standing out in the open in formation as the British and the rest of the "civilized" world fought wars at the time, they hid behind trees, they picked away at small pockets, and they made the decision where the right place was to have a major battle. In other words, they fought unconventionally for the norms of the day.
In Iraq the new unconventional method of warfare is really not that different than the American Revolutionaries or the Viet Cong. It is guerrila/terrorist war and does not follow what is thought of as the conventional type of warfare. The allied forces in Iraq are much like the British standing out in the middle of the field fighting for space - to keep a foothold.
Josh over at The Conjecturer in a post entitled "The Importance of Ideology" outlines an argument that the reason behind warfare today has shifted from one based on geopolitics [eg WWII] to ideology [fundamentalist Islamism].
With WWII, Hitler needed to expand the fatherland to maintain his idea of superiority because Germany was not limitless in resources. He also had the support of the German peoples due to his charismatic war machine. Japan followed the exact same thinking. Both fought to expand their sphere of influence in order to keep their civilization from demise. The Allies needed to stem the expansionistic plans of the two first, to stop the physical growth and second, to check the ideological growth of totalitarianism on the part of the Reich. By far, the first reason was tantamount. The second came from a hatred of dicatators.
Today, Al-Queda and all fundamentalist Islamists are fighting for the spread of everything Muslim and specifically Sharī'ah, Islamic law and government. They are not fighting for an expansion of land, per se. They are fighting a jihad to promote and expand what they believe is ordained by their god. What their god wants, in their minds, is a world based solely on his wants. They do not believe that anything secular promotes Sharī'ah.
As a result, the "insurgents" in Iraq, or whatever anyone wants to call them, have taken the next logical step in the ideological (r)evolution of warfare. They have taken it to the people or, rather, at the expense of the people with direct attacks on the populace, trying to wear the citizenry down, encouraging fear at all costs, turning the "liberators" into monsters, and making life more miserable than ever. Of course, WWII saw the beginning wholesale attacks on the general population rather than just on the military with the Blitz, Dresden and Hiroshima, the ultimate attack. Territory was gained either to stop or continue the onslaught or to end the war. Killing civilians has gone from "collatoral damage" to de riguer.
The Iraqi insurgents are not conducting war to gain territory. They want much more than that. The small attacks we are seeing now are meant to "wear down" rather than eliminate or conquer. This acts not only as a psychological deterrent but as a type of slow collective mind control. They want Islam to be the prevalent theocracy in the world.
Their rhetoric encompasses rebukes, condemnations, vilifications, and tirades against all things secular and non-Islamic. They assail what they believe to be against the will of Allah and Mohammad based on their own interpretation of the Koran, and they see all things Western and, especially, American as evil and to be eliminated. They are a small number of people trying to sway the course of a current that has taken over the world ever since WWII - to become all things Western.
The problem fundamental Islamists have is a dichotomy between what they want and what the people may want. The citizens of Iraq have repeatedly shown they want things Western. [The recent vote might be an indication of that.] But, how free do the people feel to express that?
I have often found in travels and in readings that everyone else in the world wants to be "ideally" like the US. The Soviets would pay exorbitant amounts of money for Levi's jeans. The French want the McDonald's and Pizza Huts. The Italian designers have extravagant homes in the US. What exactly is behind all of this? Do they want to become the US? Would they give up their history, customs and heritage to be mini-americans? I'm not sure this is what is behind the "adoption" of US mainstays. They're all an outward manisfestation. I don't believe it's what people are really after. They aspire to the premises and promises behind the semiotics of Western culture. The freedoms to design, create and possess these things.
For many decades, US politicians have talked and acted on exporting democracy. The mistake they've made too often is thinking, no matter how much they argue to the contrary, that only the US form of democracy should be used. I agree completely with Josh's idea that, What we should be pushing is liberalism.
The ideology of liberalism means that each individual is as or more important than the whole. Others see the promise of freedoms that we enjoy but don't see the struggles we endured or continue to have to keep it alive. They see change happening violently all around them where we change slowly, over time, in a cascade of dicussion, discourse and non-violent actions and elections. We have also had our John F. Kennedy's and Martin Luther King's who sacrificed the ultimate to keep us on the right track. The rest of the world also doesn't realize that we don't believe that what we have is perfect but actually alive and constantly changing.
Sadly, we, the West, sometimes take all of this for granted. We don't have to fear that someone is going to be on the bus with us wearing a bomb like in Isreal. We don't have to be careful that our funerals won't cause more death because we belong to the wrong faction or tribe like in Iraq. We don't have to worry that the "thought" police are going to ban our favorite weblog because it goes against the party line like in China. We don't actively particiate in the struggle liberalism is to maintain.
We have come a long way from Viet Nam being Enemy #1. We have become partners in many areas with mutual interests. Today, we purchase fruits and vegetables that are produced in Viet Nam. We wear clothing that is made in Viet Nam. We use electronics that are constructed in Viet Nam. Travel to Viet Nam is no longer prohibited. Young Vietnamese study in the United States. Thirty-five years ago no one could have imagined this.
My hope is that what is happening in Iraq now will have the same ending as Viet Nam. Can it happen? Only time will tell.
An old Hopi Indian adage says, "When hope is gone, life is over."
[My thanks to Josh for getting me thinking.]