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Iraq Is Similar to Vietnam

In the new issue of Foreign Policy, Robert Kaplan begins his article with this well-worn nugget:

[T]he armed liberalism and the democracy-promoting neoconservatism of the 1990s shared the same universalist aspirations. But alas, when a fear of Munich leads to overreach the result is Vietnam-or in the current case, Iraq.

And thus began the rehabilitation of realism, and with it another intellectual cycle. “Realist” is now a mark of respect, “neocon” a term of derision. The Vietnam analogy has vanquished that of Munich.

Indeed, it has. But why? Can Kaplan cite a year, a period, a phase of Vietnam’s existence that resembles today’s Iraq?

Actually, I can. Vietnam, circa 2009. If Iraq bears any resemblance to Vietnam then it does so in regard to today’s Vietnam, not the lawless and flaming jungles of decades past. Don’t take my word for it. Freedomhouse in 2008 gave Iraq a score of six on political rights and a score of six on civil liberties. The same year, it gave Vietnam scores of seven and five, respectively. On average, in regard to freedom (not an insignificant indicator of national health), the two countries are identical.

However, the analogy between the two present-day states admittedly does crumble upon the airing of more data. The Economist’s democracy index from 2008 ranked Iraq at 116 out of 167 countries in terms of viable democracy, and places it in the class of “Hybrid Regimes.” It ranked Vietnam down at 149, and listed its government under “Authoritarian Regimes.”

Anyone want to wager on which of the two countries will climb more rapidly in the coming years?

So not only do comparisons between present-day Iraq and war-era Vietnam fail, but Iraq is quantifiably freer and more democratic than present-day Vietnam. Sorry, I got side-tracked. What’s Kaplan’s point about realists and neoconservatives, again . . .



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