The will is vital

A New York Times story says the Iraqi Army Is Willing, but Not Ready, to Fight:

… asked whether that army is ready as a national defense force, capable of protecting Iraq’s borders without American support, Lieutenant Mahmoud gestures toward his battalion’s parking lot. A fifth of the vehicles are rotting trucks and bomb-demolished Humvees that, for some complicated bureaucratic reason, are still considered operational.

“In your opinion,” Lieutenant Mahmoud says, “do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?”

Well, good. An army travels on its stomach, but in vehicles.

But I’m struck by the difference between Iraq 2008 and Vietnam 1970. The policies are roughly the same — US forces providing a decreasing amount of security as local troops and police take over. But the results are proving so very different, because the Iraqis do, indeed have the vital will to succeed.

The so-called Vietnamisation policy of President Richard Nixon was going fully into effect in 1970. US troops were on their way out by the division. (All US combat forces were gone by 1971, four years before the war ended with the 55-day communist offensive that took Saigon.) South Vietnamese troops were being touted as both ready (true) and willing (untrue) to keep back both the guerrillas and regular forces of the communist enemy.

There is still a lot of argument over whether Nixon and chief adviser Henry Kissinger actually believed the hype that Vietnamese forces were both ready and willing to replace the Americans who simply had to go home or see the country enveloped in a truly harmful conflict with the anti-war armies of the left in America.

History shows, whatever the belief at the time, that the Vietnamese were unwilling to fight. They had loads of trucks, tanks, helicopters and warplanes. They only lacked one thing.Frantic Vietnamese try to flee An Loc battlefield, 1972

When the communists launched their second-last major attacks, the Easter Offensive of 1972, the South Vietnamese armed forces did not just retreat; they ran. The entire division of men at the vital North-South Vietnam Demilitarised Zone border threw down their arms and hot-tailed it south, leaving the few willing units in the region exposed. The upper province of Quang Tri was overwhelmed.

At An Loc (photo) frantic, undisciplined troops were photographed even trying to hang on to helicopter skids, anything to flee the combat. And An Loc was 60 miles north of Saigon, a key defence post for the capital.

Here is a terrific sign (and from a news agency that has for years called for US defeat in the war) that Iraq is getting it together and is, indeed willing to fight for its future.

The McClatchy Group reports from Baghdad that the longing by defeatists for civil war did not, and likely will not come true. Iraqis not only get along, but are united. In a story from Baghdad, McClatchy correspondent Nancy A. Youssef reports:

For years, when she approached Iraqi Army checkpoints and produced an identification card for soldiers to study for clues about her sect, Nadia Hashim used a simple formula to signal the mostly Shiite Muslim force that she, too, is a Shiite.

“I am one of you,” she’d say.

The soldiers would harass Sunnis, but they’d simply wave Hashim through.

Now her pat line gets her an official reproach.

When a relative used it recently, a soldier admonished the driver and the passengers. “’We are Iraqis, and you shouldn’t say such a thing,’” recalled Hashim.

It is a thing of beauty, frankly, that Iraq and its security forces are willing to stand up for their country. It’s encouraging that the most anti-American sections of the US mainstream media are willing, even eager to report it.

As someone who watched and reported, then experienced the effects of the unwilling South Vietnamese to defend their country, I am optimistic that the desire to do the job is even more important than having the best and most modern means to do it. Good luck to Iraq.

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