It is now very intuitive and fashionable for some people, inside and outside the United States, to compare the US-led war in Iraq with the US's military intervention in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
Given the differences in time and space as well as some similarities in other tangible and intangible factors, is Iraq and Vietnam comparable? To what extent the two cases are comparable? How would these differences and similarities affect the final outcome of the current Iraq War?
Recently, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Prof Lee Poh Ping - an expert on US policies in East Asia - delivered a critical analysis of the question in an academic seminar held in the Bangi campus.
Later, this writer conducted an email interview with Lee who is a long-standing observer and commentator of US foreign policies for his insights.
The full text of the email exchanges is published here:
There is a school of thought pointing out that, in the 1960s and 1970s, the united military power of the former Soviet Union, People's Republic of China and their allies could provide a global and overarching strategic balance of power stretching geographically from East Asia to Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe that worked to the military, diplomatic, political and psychological disadvantages of the US intervention in Vietnam, but, in 2003, it seems that there is no such real and tangible balance of power anymore to serve as a structural constraint or impediment to US in the case of Iraq. What is your opinion?
You are right. One crucial difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that the Vietnamese communists i.e. North Vietnam and the Vietcong had the backing of two powerful nuclear communist states, the then USSR and China which borders North Vietnam. This meant that the US would be extremely careful about invading North Vietnam (which they ultimately did not) as this could drag the two communist powers, particularly China, to war with the US. Thus, crucial aid could flow to the Vietcong from North Vietnam and also from the two communist giants which the US could not interdict successfully. Iraq has no powerful allies bordering it to turn to for help against the Americans.