Iraq: Another Meme Beats the Dust

Mark Steyn tells us of “The ‘civil war’ that wasn’t” in his latest column:

AND so the “looming Iraqi election fiasco” joins “the brutal Afghan winter” and “the brutal Iraqi summer” and “the seething Arab street” and all the other junk in the overflowing trash can of post-9/11 Western media fictions. The sight of millions of brave voters emerging from polling stations holding high their purple dye-stained fingers was so inspiring that, from America’s Democratic Party to European protest rallies, opponents of the war waited, oh, all of three minutes before flipping the Iraqis their own fingers, undyed.

“No one in the United States should try to over-hype this election,” warned John Kerry yesterday before embarking on the world champion limbo dance of Iraqi election under-hyping. He has a point. One vote does not a functioning democracy make. To be a truly advanced, sophisticated democracy you need an opposition party that knows how to react to good news by sounding whiny and grudging and moving the goalposts. “The real test is not the election,” he declared, airily swatting aside 8 million voters. “The real test is…”

I dozed off at that point, so I’m unable to tell you what moved goalposts the senator inserted. But no doubt they involved, as they always do, the Bush administration needing to “reach out” more effectively to involve the “international community”. “International community”, by the way, doesn’t mean Tony Blair, John Howard, the Poles, Japan, India, Fiji, et al but Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan, a pantomime horse in which both men are playing the rear end. But, in an advanced, sophisticated democracy, that’s how we define the “international community”: no matter how many foreigners are in your coalition, it’s unilateral unless Jacques is on board.


How lame do you have to be to be the last guy on the planet to do the old “Iraq on the brink of civil war” routine? Just as “the brutal Afghan winter” that was supposed to mire shivering US forces in the graveyard of empire is now one-third of a decade behind schedule, so Iraq has now been “teetering on the brink of civil war” for coming up for two years. Brink-wise, that’s quite a leisurely teeter. There’s no danger of a “long-running civil war in Iraq”. Instead, we’ve had a long-running hysteria about impending civil war in Iraq.


To hold a civil war you need two sides. Iraq fails to meet that minimum requirement. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — not an Iraqi, incidentally — has a few foreign jihadi, some enthusiastic head-hackers and a dwindling supply of suicide bombers, a job in which by definition it’s hard to get people with experience. On election day, his guys bullied a kid with Down syndrome into taking the gig. You can’t have a Sunni-Shia war because Zarqawi doesn’t represent the Sunni.

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens has an essay entitled “Beating a Dead Parrot,” which explains, yet again, “Why Iraq and Vietnam have nothing whatsoever in common.”

Whatever the monstrosities of Asian communism may have been, Ho Chi Minh based his declaration of Vietnamese independence on a direct emulation of the words of Thomas Jefferson and was able to attract many non-Marxist nationalists to his camp. He had, moreover, been an ally of the West in the war against Japan. Nothing under this heading can be said of the Iraqi Baathists or jihadists, who are descended from those who angrily took the other side in the war against the Axis, and who opposed elections on principle. If today’s Iraqi “insurgents” have any analogue at all in Southeast Asia it would be the Khmer Rouge.

Vietnam as a state had not invaded any neighbor (even if it did infringe the neutrality of Cambodia) and did not do so until after the withdrawal of the United States when, with at least some claim to self-defense, it overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. Contrast this, even briefly, to the record of Saddam Hussein in relation to Iran and Kuwait. Vietnam had not languished under international sanctions for its brazen contempt for international law, nor for its building or acquisition, let alone its use of, weapons of mass destruction. Vietnam had never attempted, in whole or in part, to commit genocide, as was the case with the documented “Anfal” campaign waged by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds.

In Vietnam the deep-rooted Communist Party was against the partition of the country and against the American intervention. It called for a boycott of any election that was not an all-Vietnam affair. In Iraq, the deep-rooted Communist Party is in favor of the regime change and has been an enthusiastic participant in the elections as well as an opponent of any attempt to divide the country on ethnic or confessional lines. (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is not even an Iraqi, hates the Kurds and considers the religion of most Iraqis to be a detestable heresy: not a mistake that even the most inexperienced Viet Cong commander would have been likely to make.)

There’s more, of course, but that about sums it up. Lest we forget, Hitchens’ support of the Iraq War is from the Left, not the Right:

I suppose it’s obvious that I was not a supporter of the Vietnam War. Indeed, the principles of the antiwar movement of that epoch still mean a good deal to me. That’s why I retch every time I hear these principles recycled, by narrow minds or in a shallow manner, in order to pass off third-rate excuses for Baathism or jihadism. But one must also be capable of being offended objectively. The Vietnam/Iraq babble is, from any point of view, a busted flush. It’s no good. It’s a stiff. It’s passed on. It has ceased to be. It’s joined the choir invisible. It’s turned up its toes. It’s gone. It’s an ex-analogy.

Sadly, it’s merely resting.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JakeV says:

    The Vietnam analogy is indeed totally inappropriate.

    But it’s remarkable to see Mark Steyn criticizing others’ predictions on Iraq, given his own predictions, made shortly after the invasion:

    Here’s one:
    “There will be terrible acts of suicide-bomber depravity in the months ahead, but no widespread resentment at or resistance of the Western military presence.”

    On WMD:
    “Horrible things will turn up, but will never be ‘conclusive’ enough for the French, who’ve got all the receipts anyway.”

    On crime:
    “A year from now, Basra will have a lower crime rate than most London boroughs.”

    On the overall state of things:

    “In a year’s time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly governed state in the Arab world and, at best, pleasant, civilised and thriving. In short: not a bad three weeks’ work.”

    If I had written these predictions, I’d probably be more hesitant to mock the predictions of others.

  2. LJD says:

    “How lame do you have to be…” The Viet Nam analogy is worn out. You must learn from history, not dwell on it.

    IS there “widespread resentment and resistance”?

    Have NOT “horrible things” turned up?

    Don’t know much about the crime rate in London. I do know THOUSANDS have been murdered in the U.S.

    Iraq is NOT “the least badly governed state in the Arab world”? What about when their constitution is written? What about when they conduct their own open elections?

    There is a deafening silence on the left following the successful Iraqi elections (and the lack of widespread attacks). I guess they’re busy concocting the next doomsday prediction that will never come to pass. Should be interesting.

  3. JakeV says:


    1. By “horrible things”, Steyn meant WMDs. He made that comment to mock the claim that no WMDs would be found. And what else would the French supposedly have the receipts for? Do you think that WMDs were found, for which the French have the receipts? If not, then Steyn blew the prediction.

    2. Steyn said Iraq would be the “least badly governed country, at a bare minimum” in one year after his prediction was written. One year after his prediction was last spring. It was Steyn’s choice to put the 1 year limit on. Would you call that a remotely accurate prediction?

    3. I’m not sure what the raw number of people killed in the US has to do with the crime rate in Basra vs. the crime rate in London. While I don'[t have crime rate information about Basra (does it even exist?) I’d be very surprised if London were more dangerous than Basra.

    4. As far as widespread resentment and resistance goes, “widespread” is a nice vague term, but I think you’d have to interpret it awfully narrowly to say that 1400 coalition deaths and thousands more wounded, an insurgency which supposedly still numbers in the tens of thousands, and violent uprisings among both Shi’ites and Sunnis, would not count as widespread resistance. I won’t even get into resentment.

    I’m not going to try to defend the stupid Vietnam analogy– and likewise I don’t think you should try to defend a lamer like Steyn.

  4. Jack Tanner says:

    One similarity between Vietnam and Iraq is again the left is siding with the totalitarian mass murderers. What’s with those guys?

  5. anjin-san says:


    Totalitarians? You mean Bush’s buddies the Saudi’s? Or Egypt? Or China? Or……………….

  6. LJD says:

    No defense of Steyn whatsoever, just shedding light on the “widespread” assumptions of the left.

    1. WMDs have been found. Ten tons of it would have to be shoved up some individual’s posterior for them to believe it.

    2. What is your rationale for rating the governments of the Middle East? Stability? Freedom? The argument can be made that liberty is the single most important factor. Strangely enough, the LEFT doesn’t understand this.

    3. Apples and Oranges comparisons. Another trademark of the hysterical left. There was just a war in Iraq. Things are getting better. They will be even better. The difficulties in Iraq are not unprecedented in history. Even with the difficulty, great, unprecedented successes have been accomplished by our troops. Something to be proud of.

    4. The “resistance” is not widespread. The data and comments by officials regarding the number of insurgents is cherry picked to appear larger than life. The number of Iraqi police and military is similarly reduced in number. If you have been paying attention, there are many recent reports of the insurgency weakening. The lack of attacks during the elections is only the latest evidence. I don’t think looking at the history of the last two years says anything about the state of the insurgency today.