Many people are comparing Iraq and Vietnam, but there is a big difference in how the United States became involved militarily in these two countries. And there should be a difference in how we view the leadership that took us there.
In the case of South Vietnam, the Eisenhower Administration had to deal with a French withdrawal from Southeast Asia that left South Vietnam with a government of limited popularity, uncertain legitimacy and weak military capacity. But there was no question who the enemy was: it was the North Vietnamese Communist regime supported by the Soviet Union and China. At the height of the Cold War and just years after the war in Korea-during which the North Koreans got major military assistance from the Soviet Union and particularly from China-no American administration could dismiss the North Vietnamese Communist threat or the possibility of a domino-style impact in the region.
Also very important, there was no single point at which an American president made a clear-cut, conscious decision to invade South Vietnam. The escalating U.S. presence there grew step by step, often based on a desire to protect at first U.S. military advisors and later U.S. troops. And the existing South Vietnamese government fully welcomed this.
In contrast, Saddam Hussein's government clearly did not want the American "liberation" of his country. The initial invasion was an instant success because Iraq was practically without friends-unlike North Vietnam. Iraq's relationship with Iran was outright hostile and its ties with Syria were uneasy at best. We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no serious links to Al-Qaeda and a weak military. Thus it was not a major threat to the United States or even to its neighbors. Hussein was a bloody tyrant, of course, but this somehow did not stop the United States from supporting him against Iran and having a generally good relationship with him before the invasion of Kuwait-despite the well-documented gassing of the Kurds in the 1980s. . . .