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September 16, 2013 at 7:41 am

Commentary: The New Historical Link between Vietnam and Iraq

Matt Jacobs, a Ph.D. student in History at Ohio University who studies 20th century U.S. foreign policy, wrote a commentary for History News Network on the debate over the U.S. role in Syria. His area of study is 20th century foreign relations and his research interest is U.S. Public Diplomacy in Latin America during the 1960s. Jacobs also is pursuing the College of Arts & Sciences Contemporary History Certificate.

Vietnam War MemorialAs fighting raged in Iraq during the mid-2000s several commentators and politicians began making comparisons between the conflict and the war in Vietnam. Images of U.S. soldiers engaged in an unconventional war with no apparent end in sight aided in the belief among some that we were replicating what occurred in Southeast Asia over forty years ago. Senator Edward Kennedy bluntly declared that “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam.” With the end of the war, the comparisons receded.

Yet, the current debate over what, if anything, should the United States do in Syria has created a new link between the two wars. Several years after the United States’ defeat in Vietnam the term Vietnam Syndrome became common. Ronald Reagan was the first president to use it, though its exact origins remain unclear. The overwhelming public response against American intervention in Syria begs the question, is their now an Iraq Syndrome?…

The debate over the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons and whether an American intervention is necessary have taken place with the specter of the Iraq War in many minds. Just as Ronald Reagan bemoaned a Vietnam Syndrome anytime the use of American military power was contemplated, the Obama administration has been quick to counter critics by simply stating that “this is not Iraq.” Even with the fact that a Middle Eastern Dictator, with ties to terrorist groups, has employed chemical weapons, the American public is still not convinced an intervention is necessary or justified. Several U.S. Senators have even judged the events as not having any relation to the national security of the United States. President Obama’s declaration that no ground forces will be introduced has done little to sway people who remember the many promises made prior to the Iraq War that never came to fruition.

Read Jacobs’ entire commentary.


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