Ted Kennedy recently called the Iraq War, "Bush's Vietnam." The tendency to such analogies seems rampant, but what do they really mean? What Ted was supposedly trying to say is that Bush, like those unwitting prezzes who got us into the Vietnam debacle (including his older bro JFK), has entered an unwinnable war and so it's time to pull out. But if there's a history lesson from Vietnam it's: "don't enter unwinnable wars." Too late for that! And since most of those on Capitol Hill approved of "the war plan" way back when....
The point of comparison is that a war is unwinnable when there is no final realizable goal. In Vietnam it was: to demoralize North Vietnam so that they would surrender any claim to South Vietnam, or to drive them to the table to agree to our terms. Never quite happened. The other point was to prevent "the spread of Communism," which was just the trumped-up rhetorical version of the WMD: the ostensible causus belli. Neither really panned-out in the long run, but it didn't matter since their strategic purpose was to create the "launch" mentality. LBJ did that with just the Tonkin incident to (fudge and) drum up support; GB2 had the World Trade Center attack. So, yes, we must rush to war. Oh shit, it's not going our way (after years). Now what?
The other point of the Vietnam analogy is: just when everyone thought the war was being won, they decided, after the Tet offensive, it was really lost. It wasn't either. But that was enough to turn everyone against an effort that shouldn't have been made in the first place but that, once committed, had to be seen through. In that sense I find myself in the ridiculous position of actually agreeing with Bush! (inasmuch as the "I am in blood steeped so far that returning were as tedious as go o'er" mentality of Macbeth applies -- in other words, if you can't be ruthless, why go to war?).
The point at which to pull-the-plug was before GB2 got started, not now (so why was there no serious opposition then?). Could Nixon have "won" the war he inherited? Doubtful, but he at least was working toward diplomacy with China so that the vast "communist threat" argument was weakened and the question of what to do about North Vietnam might've become a more general geopolitical question, not just an effort by the U.S. to set up an unpopular regime in the South and call it the ruler of both Vietnams.
Is there any hope of attaining an actual goal in Iraq? I have no idea because I don't think anyone really knows what the goal was to begin with. To get Saddam, yes. Did that. But then what? Uh... watch democracy take root. Er, build-up more economic dependence on the U.S. and install government friendly to our interests in the area? Um, try not to get killed too much while trying to stop others from killing each other as they wrestle for power and attack the U.S. simply for being there at all?
But the point about "winning" is that, for civilians, it seems to mean that we send in the military with "a job to do," and they do it and come back home and the place is now all the better after our "intervention" (invasion). But, historically, if you invade, you take over (which means constant military presence), but no, we don't really want to do that! (Of course not, that would be imperialist). BUT, for the military, being "in action" is the entire point. To be a presence -- policing, subduing, invading -- is its purpose and the military "wins" when it is allowed to press on into such a situation. Thus the doublethink of our news reports with their sentimental "support our boys and girls at the front" -- because these are real lives being risked and lost -- must avoid any recognition of what the U.S. military is as a purposeful entity in the world. The general view seems to be: it's "ours" and so "we" support "it." But we don't want it doing what it trains itself to do if too many lives or too much money is lost. Thus any checks upon it come only from "public opinion" exerted upon politicians, which has little grasp of the strategy or the purpose of taking a military action.
The analogy between Vietnam and Iraq stands because in both cases Prezzes following their own agendas committed the U.S. in situations that were much more complex and vexed than they realized, depending on military know-how to bring the situation to order. In both cases, the military went about its actions according to its lights, with no end in sight (unless some diplomatic coup occurred). The political purpose of the engagement was left to the politicians, but there was no real consensus on what that should be, so the engagement simply ran on and on, until everyone at home got so tired of it, they pulled the plug on the venture, pulled out the military, and let hell come down. Hey, we tried. Now let's find somebody to blame.