Is Iraq the New Vietnam?

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

The world’s attention has been riveted this month on Iraq. Brutal assaults by U.S. forces have been met by fierce resistance across much of the country. This has dealt the occupiers a sharp political blow.

Thousands of Iraqis have taken up arms to oppose the occupation forces. Grass-roots solidarity between Iraqis of Sunni and Shiite communities is growing. Protests across Iraq have condemned the failure of occupation authorities to restore basic public services and to improve the catastrophic economic conditions. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have rallied to oppose the attempt to impose a U.S.-controlled constitution and government.

Entire cities, such as Fallujah, and large neighborhoods in other towns and cities have become “no-go” zones for the occupiers, who, in turn, have mounted sieges and carried out horrific acts of reprisal.

After a year of occupation, the U.S. and its allies seem further than ever from imposing their will on the Iraqi people. Around the world, people are saying, “Iraq is the new Vietnam.”

Opposed camps

The comparison of Iraq to Vietnam is made by people in two opposed camps, for quite different reasons.

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy and other capitalist political leaders raise this cry to pressure the U.S. rulers into allying more closely with its imperialist rivals and thereby to shore up the beleaguered occupation.

Opponents of the war and occupation, by contrast, refer to Vietnam in order to underline the gravity of events in Iraq and express their hope that the courageous Iraqi fighters, like the Vietnamese before them, will ultimately drive out the invaders and win their country’s independence.

In this second sense, the comparison is accurate. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the world’s mightiest military power has hurled its formidable means of destruction at a small, poor, and defenseless nation–only to be confounded by a people that refuses to surrender and that fights back against all odds. But the comparison is helpful only if we understand how the Vietnamese won their long struggle for independence.

Revolutionary victory

In the course of a 40-year independence struggle, the Vietnamese people overcame numerous imperialist occupiers, principally Japan, France, and the United States. Taking inspiration from the Russian revolution of 1917, they forged an authoritative liberation movement, overcame the phony division between “north” and “south” Vietnam, and carried out an anticapitalist social revolution.

Arrogant and merciless, the U.S. government refused to heed the voices of world protest against the war in Vietnam, even when a clear majority of U.S. citizens favored withdrawal. A succession of Democratic and Republican party administrations responded to every setback by extending the war geographically and escalating the level of destruction, until the number of Vietnamese dead numbered not thousands but millions.

The massive international movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam coincided with a rise of revolutionary struggles around the world. Radical, working-class governments came to power in countries such as Cuba and Algeria. In Africa and the Middle East, peoples threw out their colonial masters and achieved independence. Millions strove to carry out Che Guevara’s call to “Create two, three, many Vietnams.”

In Canada, the movement against the war condemned Canadian government complicity with Washington. It was reinforced by the rise of a mass struggle in Quebec for independence and by a rise of labor struggles throughout the country.

In the United States, the antiwar movement coincided with the revolutionary struggle for Black freedom. The fighting capacity of U.S. forces in Vietnam was sharply reduced as soldiers, influenced by the heroism of the Vietnamese people and the firestorm of protest around the world, became convinced that the war was immoral and unjust. By the early 1970s, the pillars of capitalist stability in the U.S. were beginning to shake.

Only when all other options were closed did the U.S. turn tail and run, shamefully refusing to pay a penny for the devastation it had caused Vietnam.

New beginning in Iraq

The Iraqi people, by comparison, are only now setting out on the long road to liberation. The progressive impulse of their 1958 national, democratic revolution was dashed by the Baath Party dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. Only now are they beginning to organize again, and they have not yet established an authoritative, progressive leadership. Among the world’s governments, their only reliable friend is faraway Cuba.

Yet this is a time of great economic uncertainty and instability in the imperialist home countries. Working people and youth in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere are told to accept the so-called “war on terrorism,” yet we find our conditions of life and work and our democratic rights under unprecedented attack. In most Third World countries, social catastrophe is unfolding. Latin America is gripped by a rise of mass struggles, most notably in Venezuela. In the Mideast, there is deep opposition to the brutal attacks on the Palestinian people and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Altogether, these are favorable conditions for bringing new forces into the fight against the occupation of Iraq and making the connection between struggles there and at home.

Mass demonstrations against the occupation will not in themselves convince the warmakers to change course. But they provide tangible solidarity with the embattled Iraqis. And they form an indispensable part of building a worldwide movement committed to driving U.S., Canadian, and other occupation forces out of the Middle East and, ultimately, overthrowing imperialist power entirely.

In Canada, we have a special responsibility to oppose the warmakers in this country. The Canadian government speaks hypocritically of peace while assisting the U.S. war in Iraq and sending its own forces to occupy Afghanistan, Haiti, and other countries.

May Iraq’s April uprising inspire us to redouble our efforts for Iraqi independence and freedom. Let us continue to organize protest and resistance, demanding Occupation forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan; freedom for the Palestinians.